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Buyer's Guide

If you're new to buying gemstones, or just new to buying online, this guide will help you find the best gems to meet your needs. If you're already an experienced buyer, you may find some useful hints on how to use our website tools to quickly find the gems you need.

What Do You Need?
What Do You Want?
What Do You Look For in a Fine Gemstone?
Why are Some Gems Treated?
How Do You Keep Your Gemstones Looking New?

What Do You Need?

The first question to answer is: What do you want this gemstone for?

If you're buying a stone to be set in a piece of jewelry, please be aware that not every kind of stone is ideal for every kind of jewelry. Every stone has a hardness rating. Some stones are simply too soft for a ring that will be worn on a daily basis. However, some of the softer stones may be suitable for occasional wear rings. A harder stone may also be preferred for bracelets, while nearly every stone is suitable for pendants, earrings, pins and brooches. Keep in mind as well that some jewelry settings are more protective than others. So the first thing you should do is check the hardness rating of the stone you're considering

If you're buying a gemstone to be set in a piece of jewelry, you may need a stone in a "calibrated" size to fit a standard jewelry setting. Consult our calibrated size chart to find gems in in standard sizes. If you're having a custom piece made, a good jeweler can create a setting for any size stone, so you don't need to worry about calibrated sizes.

What Do You Want?

The next question concerns your personal preferences.

Do you have a favorite gemstone? A favorite color? A favorite shape? Are you searching for a birthstone or anniversary stone?

If you know what kind of stone you are looking for, click on the link for that stone on our gem list. That will take you to the page where you can review all the gems of a particular type. Then use the drop-down menu on the gem page to sort by color, shape, size, weight or price. You may also sort to see only lots (multiple gems) or single pieces. If you're looking for a matching set of gems for earrings, sort by "Lots only". In many cases we stock hundreds of stones of a particular type, so learning how to sort our inventory will save you time.

Click on the "Details" button for any gem to see larger photos of that stone. All of our photos are photos of the specific gemstone offered for sale, and we show each gem from 3 different angles. Please make note of the size of the piece you're looking at, since the gems are magnified to give you the best view of the stone's clarity, cut and color. But a 1 carat stone may look just as a big as a 10 carat piece in the photos!

If you are looking for a particular color, such as pink, but you're not sure what kind of stone you want, you can find all the different gemstones in pink by typing "pink" in the search box that you'll find on the right side of every page.

The same technique works for searching for all gemstones in a particular shape, such as "pear" or "octagon." Or you can make a combined search and look for all the "blue oval" gems.

To learn more about a particular kind of gemstone that interests you, please see our information pages. These pages provide detailed information on specific gems, including what to look for in that particular variety.

If you want to get very specific, you can use our Shop By menu to search by any combination of gem type, weight, size, clarity, shape or price.

What Do You Look For in a Fine Gemstone?

Colored gemstones, like diamonds, are valued according to the "4 C's" -- color, clarity, cut and carat weight. But where the diamond industry has a well-defined grading scheme for diamonds, there is no single grading system for colored stones. That's not surprising really, since there are more than 50 varieties of colored gemstones, and each has different characteristics. The standards for clarity in an emerald, for example, are quite different than they are for a sapphire, because even the most expensive emeralds have some natural inclusions.

But all gemologists would agree that in colored gemstones, it is color that is the most important single characteristic. Gemologists try to be quite precise about color, and they use a specific sets of terms for describing the color of gems: hue, saturation and tone. See our color page for detailed advice on evaluating gemstone color.

Cut and clarity are also very important, especially as they affect color and brilliance. Colored gemstones are typically graded according to a clarity scale, and every gem listing on GemSelect will include the clarity rating for the particular gem. In general, a gem that has no visible inclusions is preferred. But it is important to note that inclusions often add character and individuality to a gem. In fact gemologists use the distinctive character of inclusions to identify the origin of a stone. So while it is true that the higher the clarity grade, the higher the value of the gem, inclusions that don’t interfere with the brilliance and sparkle of a gem don’t affect its value.

Why are Some Gems Treated?

Many gems today are treated or enhanced in various ways to improve color and (sometimes) clarity. It is important to understand why some gems are treated, and what the different methods are.

The supply of high quality gemstones is falling as mines are depleted. At the same time, consumer interest in gemstones is increasing. These trends lead to a scarcity of fine gems, and a corresponding increase in prices.

The gemstone industry has responded to demand by developing certain treatments to maximize the color and clarity of the scarce yield from remaining gem mines. The most common of these techniques is heat treatment, which improves gem color through the use of high temperature, mimicking the effects of nature as she creates gems through heat and pressure. Other kinds of treatments include fracture filling, and the addition of certain chemicals such as beryllium to the heating process.

These treatments significantly improve the appearance of many gemstones, but they also affect the value of the stone. A treated stone is always less expensive than a similar untreated stone. But most of the stones that are routinely treated -- such as ruby and sapphire -- are now very rare in untreated form, and the untreated stones fetch a market price out of the reach of most consumers.

If you prefer to buy an untreated stone, you do have many choices. A number of popular gems, such as tourmaline, spinel, amethyst and garnet are almost never treated.

How Do You Keep Your Gemstone Looking New?

Once you've invested in a fine gemstone, proper care will help keep it looking new and vibrant for many years. Most gemstones are very durable and require only occasional cleaning. But some gems require special care, since they are sensitive to temperature change, excessive light exposure, or chemicals. Some gems, such as opal, have a significant water content, and have to be protected from dry air.

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