It's a well-known fact in the jewelry industry that gemstones with difficult or confusing or obscure names are a hard sell to the average consumer. That's not a problem for our customers, who delight in the rare and unusual. But the mass market won't buy something it's never heard of or can't pronounce, no matter how good the stones look.
Probably many jewelers wonder how so many attractive stones ended up with such unattractive names. Was it really necessary to name fine gems spodumene and orthoclase? Why did a lovely blue-green stone end up being called apatite? And these are are not just isolated examples. Think of sphene and diopside. Even spinel and zircon and peridot are fairly oddball names. Charming and evocative names like moonstone and fire opal and aquamarine actually seem to be in the minority. It's like the gemstone industry forgot to hire a marketing person. How else can we explain a gemstone called chalcedony?
Gemstones are in the odd position of having one foot in the technical world of mineralogy and one foot in the commercial world of jewelry. The name that works in one world rarely works in the other. Sometimes the problem is solved by having 2 names, such as red corundum and ruby. But in many cases we have only one name, and it's the wrong name as far as the jewelry business goes. It's a rare event when a gemstone is renamed for marketing reasons, as happened when blue zoisite was renamed to tanzanite by Tiffany & Co.
But things could be worse, and in fact they once were. At one time, marketing names for gemstones ran rampant, and with all the fanciful names it was hard to know what you were really getting. Would you buy an Arizona Ruby? That was once a well known name for pyrope garnet. How about Brazilian aquamarine? Really just a blue green topaz. Fancy a Ural sapphire? Actually it's just blue tourmaline. Mexican diamond? Plain colorless quartz. You'd do better with Ceylon diamond. At least that was white zircon.
Because the danger of intentionally giving a misleading name is especially high in the gemstone trade, definitions for gemstones are now regulated through an international organization known as the Confédération Internationale de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie, Orfèvrerie des diamants, Perles, et Pierres. Since that's a bit of a mouthful, they usually go by the name CIBJO which, frankly, is not that much easier to pronounce. It's hard to avoid the thought that those folks have a naming problem of their own. But they do provide a very valuable service to gemstone dealers and buyers alike. We all need to know what we're really buying and selling. Names matter.
- First Published: December-07-2007
- Last Updated: October-08-2010
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