What are the differences between precious and semi-precious gemstones?

Erm, nothing!

OK, I’ll elaborate … A gemstone is a mineral (or an organic material like Jet, Amber and Pearl) which is cut and/or polished to create jewellery or other decorative embellishments.

Technically, only The BIG THREE - Corundum (Sapphire/Ruby), Diamond and Emerald were considered “precious”. The term was introduced in the mid-19th century to designate gemstones that were valuable, beautiful and rare. Pearl, Opal and Amethyst were also considered to be precious gems. Amethyst was demoted when large deposits were found in South America in the early 1800s and it lost its rarity. But in fact the traditional distinction between precious and semi-precious does not reflect modern abundance, availability and costs of certain gemstones. For example, the vibrant green garnet called Tsavorite can be far more valuable than a mid-quality emerald because they are hard to find, harder to mine and found in much lower qualities than Emerald. Many natural pearls garner huge prices, often worth more than an average quality diamond, ruby, emerald or sapphire.

Use of the terms 'precious' and 'semi-precious' in a marketing context is misleading in that it implies that the ‘Big Three’ above are intrinsically more valuable than the rest of the gemstones out there. It also keeps their prices higher than perhaps they should be in terms of supply and demand.

Here is a shortlist of gemstones that are rarer than Diamonds: Jadeite, Alexandrite, Natural Pearls, Red Beryl, Black Opal and two of my absolute favourites:


Paraiba Tourmaline

Tourmaline comes in an array of beautiful colours, but some of the Tourmalines in my collection are rather special! Paraiba Tourmalines (particularly those actually from Paraiba in Brazil) are one of the most sought-after gems in the world.

Their neon blue brilliance is caused by the presence of copper. And, boy are they beautiful! There are three places in the World where they can be mined: The original find in Brazil in the 1980s, and more recent discoveries in Nigeria and Mozambique (mine are from Mozambique). So rare are Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines, that it is not unusual for them to sell for $100,000s per carat.

For every 10,000 diamonds mined, only one Paraiba tourmaline is found. Tell me that doesn’t make Paraiba Tourmaline precious!

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Tanzanite is so rare because it is found and mined in a small area only 4km wide and 2km long at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania. Tanzanite is a thousand times rarer than diamond. At the current rate of mining estimates suggest that the mines will be depleted within the next 25 years. As a result, top grade Tanzanite (like the Tanzanites I have sourced) make a great choice of Investment gemstone. That makes Tanzanite pretty precious too!

In fact all of the gemstones I have sourced for my jewellery collection have a reason to have been picked; either their rarity, calibre or beauty have made them precious to me and hopefully to you too.