Friday, May 1, 2009


How to Buy a Gem

All gems were definitely not created equal.

Within each gemstone variety, quality dramatically affects price: a ruby can sell for $10 or $1,000,000. Most experts recommend buying the best quality gemstone you can afford. In general, smaller gemstones of higher quality appreciate more over time than larger stones of lower quality.

If your budget is too small to buy the quality you want, consider buying a higher quality gemstone from an unusual variety. Well-known gemstone varieties like ruby, emerald and sapphire - which have been treasured for centuries - are more valuable than more recently discovered gemstones which are also beautiful and rare. You may be surprised how beautiful and affordable garnets, tourmalines, tanzanites, and other exotic gemstones can be.

Value factors: Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight
Gemstone quality and value are evaluated according to the "four Cs": color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.

Color is the key factor. A common misperception in judging gems is people assume that the darker the color, the better the stone. That isn't true: color can be too dark, like some sapphires that look more black than blue. If a gem's color is too dark, it is subdued and lifeless. A much better rule of thumb is the brighter and more rich and vivid the color the better. In general, within each gemstone variety, a clear, medium-tone, very intense and saturated primary color is the most preferred. Muted colors or colors between hues, which you might find very attractive, are usually less expensive. Look at the color in different kinds of light.

The next most important factor affecting value is clarity, with clear transparent gemstones with no visible flaws being the most valued. Some gemstone varieties, notably emerald and red tourmaline, are very rare without inclusions of some kind so the price structure takes this into account.

Some gemstones are valued for their inclusions! Phenomenal gemstones owe their stars and eyes to inclusions. Tiny inclusions reflecting back light put the eye in cat's-eye chrysoberyl and the star in star sapphire. Inclusions can also be a birthmark, telling us where a particular gemstone was mined.

A good cut is something that may not cost more but can add or subtract a lot of beauty. A well-cut faceted gemstone reflects light back evenly across its surface area when held face up. If the stone is too deep and narrow, areas will be dark. If it is too shallow and wide, parts of the stone will be washed out and lifeless. The best way to judge cut is to look at similar gemstones next to each other. Ask your jeweler to show you a well-cut gemstone.

Gemstones are generally sold by weight not by size. The price will be per carat, which is one-fifth of a gram. Some gems are heavier than others so the same weight stone may be a different size! The carat weight also affects the price: large gemstones are more rare, so the price per carat is higher.

In general, gemstone pricing within each variety follows common sense: the more beautiful the gemstone, with the final visual effect of all the quality factors, the more valuable it is. Don't be afraid to choose what looks best to you!

Where You Shop is Also Important
You can learn a lot about gemstone quality by shopping around. But make sure that you are not comparing apples and oranges. This is the most common mistake that people make when shopping for a gem.

One thing you cannot do is remember the exact color of a stone as you go from store to store. Most gem dealers cannot even do it: many of them carry master stones that they are very familiar with and they use these to compare with the ones they are considering buying. The problem is that there are too many variables: the lighting, the background, the setting, the time of day.

So what do you do? While you are shopping around, look for a jeweler who has a good selection, can tell you about it and is willing to show you a range of qualities side by side. Does the store have a wide selection of loose and mounted gemstones? If not, chances are the owner does not have much enthusiasm for gemstones and only has limited knowledge of them.

Be wary of stores that claim that their gemstones are worth more than what they are charging, stores that tell you a gemstone is worth more than it looks because it comes from a certain country, and stores that give you appraisals or certificates that state that the gem is worth more than you paid for it.

One final point about where to shop: avoid buying a gemstone that you cannot see for yourself. The web is a great place to learn about gems but it is not a very good place to buy them because you are unable to really see what you are getting. Papers are no guarantee, particularly when you do not know who you are buying from or where they will be tomorrow.

The best place to buy gems is a jewelry store which has a wide selection of gemstone varieties, some really fine gemstones, and a staff who love gemstones and enjoy sharing their knowledge on this subject with you.


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