Buying Black Gemstones for Jewelry
Shopping for black gemstones and jewelry? Black gemstones can make stunning jewelry. There are actually very few gemstones that occur in black, but there are still a handful of varieties to choose from, which may be hard to believe, since black gems are rarely ever seen in jewelry retail stores, apart from perhaps black onyx cufflinks and various other men’s accessories. The lack of black gemstone availability could be owed to the morbid association with the color black and the dearly departed. During the Victorian era, the variety of black gemstone options seemed almost endless, due to the heavily commercialization of black gems, though mostly for the production of mourning jewelry, and many of the materials were man-made.
In the present day, it would seem that black gems have long been forgotten and are no longer in production, but this is not the case. Black gemstones are still very much available, but like many other colored gemstones, especially lesser-known or collector's gemstones, you'll need to look online and source them from specialized gem dealers. When buying gemstones for your jewelry, it's important to choose the right gem, which can depend on several different factors. Since jewelry is designed to be worn, one should always consider the overall durability of a gem when choosing a stone for a particular jewelry design. For example, when it comes to jewelry prone to daily wear and tear, choosing a tough gemstone is important; while for jewelry, such as earrings or pendants, which are less prone to hard knocks, any gemstone is perfectly suitable as long as some level of care is taken when it is worn.
Here are some of the best black gemstone varieties available today for your custom-made jewelry:
Black jasper is not as common as agate or onyx, since jasper is almost always known to be multicolored with blotches and patterns. However, unicolored jasper is not unheard of, and black is a color that can be found, though the color is usually not as deep as other black gemstones. Jasper is especially rare in solid colors because it tends to contain a high percentage of impurities which are what give jasper its unique colors and patterns. As a member of the quartz family, jasper is closely related to agate and onyx, but jasper is classed by itself because of its grainy crystal structure. Since black jasper, agate and onyx are opaque, they are almost always cut en cabochon, though some faceted gemstones can be found. One variety of quartz, known as rutile quartz, which is usually known for its golden needle-like inclusions, can also be found with black rutile inclusions (as well as other colors too). Many rutilated quartz gemstones are so heavily included that they can appear near-opaque, but most exhibit only small areas or clusters of black rutile inclusions. While most other gem types lose value when heavily included, rutile quartz is one of the few gems that gains value as it becomes more heavily included.
Black Garnet Back to Top
Garnet is most popular for its red and green gemstone varieties, but there are a couple of varieties of black garnet gemstones available too. One black garnet belongs to the same garnet group as rare green demantoid garnet; black andradite. Green demantoid andradite garnet is considered to be one of the rarest and most valuable garnets, while black andradite is a much lesser-known variety. However black melanite garnet is known to exhibit an excellent luster and high refractive index, just as fine demantoid does, thus making melanite one of the finest black jewelry gemstones available. Melanite is opaque with a glossy black color, which is caused by the presence of titanium, earning it the trade name of 'titanian andradite'. With an excellent hardness and durability, black melanite is suitable for all types of jewelry, including rings, earrings, pendants, charm bracelets, necklaces and anything else imaginable. The black color of melanite is comparable to that of black tourmaline, but it is not often faceted like tourmaline. Melanite usually has a more attractive luster than tourmaline, but unlike tourmaline, melanite is not usually found in such huge sizes, with most average cut gemstones ranging from around 5 to 10 carats in weight. Melanite's excellent hardness and lack of cleavage makes it extremely versatile, so it can be cut into a variety of different shapes and styles. Rose cuts are quite popular as the faceted tops bring out melanite's best reflective qualities. In addition to black melanite garnet, star garnet is also often found with near-black color. However, black star garnet is usually a mix of garnet species, so the color is usually more reddish-black, rather than jet-black like melanite. When viewing star garnet under direct light, it exhibits an asterism like star sapphire, but usually with much sharper stars; although the rays are usually much thinner, they are much more distinct.
The most common black gemstone on the market today is tourmaline. It is one of the most easily available gems and may sometimes be referred to as 'schorl'. Almost all tourmaline is black, which is why it is one of most affordable varieties of tourmaline. Black tourmaline also has the advantage of enormous size availability, so for anyone requiring very large black gemstones, tourmaline is the best option. Cut gemstones can be easily found in weights close to 100 carats. Like all other color varieties of tourmaline, black tourmaline shares the same excellent gemstone qualities which make it perfectly suitable for all types of jewelry. Black tourmaline is also one of the only black gems that are commonly given a traditional facet cut, rather than simple cabochons or rose-cuts with flat bottoms and faceted tops.
Black Spinel Back to Top
Faceted gems will always display the best brilliance when it comes to jewelry. The rose cut (and modified variations) is one of the most popular cutting styles given to opaque black gemstones, which are usually finished with oval, round or baguette shapes. This is particularly noticeable with black spinel. One reason is because spinel is rarely found in large sizes, and through expert cutting, a gemstone can give the illusion of appearing larger than it really is. Black spinel is, however, more often found in larger sizes than any other spinel color, so even gems weighing 5 to 10 carats can be sourced relatively easily. Spinel is considered to be one of the finer black gems, so when compared to agate or onyx, black spinel jewelry will be more expensive. Sourcing black spinel may be tricky since many haven't even heard of spinel, but online gem dealers should have plentiful stock in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most important black spinel sources include Thailand and Australia. Due to its excellent hardness, black spinel can be worn in any jewelry design.
Black Jet Back to Top
The gemstone known as jet is an organic gem quality mineral composed of fossilized wood. Jet, also referred to as 'lignite' is technically a mineraloid and not an actual mineral. It is a precursor to coal and is formed by the preservation of decayed wood under extreme pressure. It was one of the most popular gemstones used for black mourning jewelry during the Victorian era, and the term 'jet-black' came from the appearance of this material. Jet is very light in weight, making it suitable for jewelry that requires large gems, but it is also rather soft, which limits its use to jewelry that is not prone to hard knocks and blows. Jet is now rather hard to source, and many authentic jet jewels are highly sought after by gem collectors.
Obsidian is a naturally occurring glass formed by lava extruded from volcanoes. As the material cools, it hardens without crystal growth, which makes it quite unique and not an actual mineral. Obsidian has been used for tools and jewelry since prehistoric times, and because it has such fascinating properties, it is a unique material that has a variety of applications, including surgical blades, as well as cut and polished gemstones (typically cabochons). One variety of obsidian forms with small, white, radially clustered crystals of cristobalite, which result in a very unique black glass with blotchy snowflake patterns. In some cases, obsidian may also settle with various other impurities which can result in a highly attractive iridescence, often with a gold or rainbow-like sheen. Obsidian's natural, dark glossy color makes it ideal for fashionable jewelry, for both the young and the old, as well as for ladies or men. Obsidian can be easily shaped into gothic, vintage, Celtic or punk-inspired designs, or modern, edgy pieces.
Black Pearls Back to Top
Pearl is known as one of the most luxurious gems in the world, and one type of pearl is known to occur with a near-black color. Black pearls are often larger than other colored pearls, and most come from Tahitian waters. Many Tahitian pearls can be found in sizes well over 10 millimeters. Black Tahitian pearls can also come in a variety of shapes, but spherical and symmetrical pearls demand the highest premiums, particularly gems with excellent luster and very few surface blemishes. Almost all pearls available today are cultured, but naturally occurring black pearl can be found. The color of pearls can vary depending on the water and type of mollusk, as well as the color of the upper layer of conchiolin. Although pearls are rather soft, they are quite durable and compact. They are best suited for earrings or necklaces, but pearl rings are also very popular and elegant.
Diopside is mostly known for its chromium-rich green gemstone variety, referred to in the trade as chrome diopside. But, diopside can also be found in black or sometimes very dark greenish-black. The black gemstone is highly sought after by collectors as it is one of the few gemstones known to exhibit the rare optical phenomenon of chatoyancy, usually in the form of asterism (the star effect), and occasionally cat's eyes as well. These star diopsides are cut en cabochon and usually feature 4 rays, rather than 6, which is one of the easiest ways to distinguish it from similar-looking black star sapphire. Star diopside has a hardness of just 5 to 6 on the Mohs scale, rendering it best for earrings, pendants or occasional-wear cabochon rings that are worn with care. Most star diopside is sourced from India, earning itself the nickname 'the Black Star of India', though it can be found in various other localities.
Black Opal Back to Top
Arguably one of the rarest gems on Earth, fine quality black opal is indeed one of the most stunning natural materials in the world. Black opal is the most valuable variety of opal, with fine quality gems demanding very high premiums. Almost all of the finest quality opal is mined from Australia, but as of recently, Ethiopia has also become an important opal provider. However, material from Ethiopia often requires treatment to obtain the deep, dark color of Australia's naturally occurring black opal. It is the presence of iron oxide and carbon elements that are responsible for black opal's stunning deep color, which acts as a canvas from which the brighter and more vivid play of color is exhibited. Black opal is rather soft like all opals are, but if worn with care, opal can be worn in cabochon ring designs. If choosing to wear black opal in a ring, it is best to choose a protective setting such as a bezel-set mounting rather than prongs.
Black Scapolite Back to Top
Scapolite is often confused with diopside, especially since they share similar hardness, color and the ability to exhibit chatoyancy. However, black scapolite is known to form with cat's eye chatoyancy rather than asterism (the star effect). Black scapolite is not very well-known, but for those seeking unusual and unique jewelry, it is certainly durable enough for most designs, as long as some care is taken when it is worn. Scapolite is not always black and often it is very near-black or brownish, usually with a slight violet or purple hue. Scapolite is usually opaque, but on rare occasions, transparent scapolite can occur, often with an attractive rainbow-like iridescence. These transparent scapolite gemstones are traded as rainbow scapolite and are almost always cabbed to maximize the iridescent effects.
Black Jade Back to Top
Jade is available in a variety of colors, and although emerald-green is the most valuable color, fine quality black jade is also highly sought-after. Jade can be either one of two minerals; jadeite or nephrite. Most black jade available today is nephrite, and jadeite is considered to be much rarer in occurrence. The black jade that is most treasured is the greasy black 'seed-jade' found in the Hotan region of China. Jade from Hotan is highly sought after and is traded as Hetian jade. Black-seed Hetian jade is one of the most valuable and well-known of jade varieties, perhaps second only to creamy white 'mutton fat' jade. Although China is the best-known source for black nephrite jade, it can also be found in other areas of the world. Jade may not have the same level of hardness as some of the other gem types out there, but it is still very tough in regard to durability due to its compact, fibrous composition. For men, jade jewelry is often found in the form of chunky rings, tie pins, cuff links, or amulets and pendants. For ladies, jade is often worn as pendants, and beaded jewelry such as necklaces or bracelets. Pure jade is often carved into bangles, rings, earrings and various other ornaments.
Black Diamond Back to Top
Last, but certainly not least, is black diamond; diamond is considered to be the world's most precious and valuable gemstone, though it is not necessarily the rarest. Black diamond is composed of carbon, just like white diamond, but technically, it isn't really diamond due to its polycrystalline structure. Graphite is also composed of pure carbon, but because it does not have the same crystal structure as diamond, it does not qualify as diamond. In fact, black diamond is actually the product of carbon formation between that of graphite and diamond. Black diamonds absorb light, so they do not sparkle like white diamonds, which refract rather than absorb light. Black diamond is sometimes called 'carbonado' because it is still pure carbon, but technically does not fit the definition of true diamond.
Most black diamonds sell for prices close to that of white diamond, as they are heavily marketed as 'fancy' diamonds, but still there is very little consumer demand for fine quality black diamond. In many cases, the color may appear to be very dark gray and near-black, rather than jet-black. Black diamond is quite rare and therefore, much of the material on the market today has been treated, usually with irradiation, to enhance the color. Almost all of the black diamond available is sourced from Brazil, but it can also be found in Central Africa. Black diamond is known to be very porous and pitted, and therefore, it can be difficult for gem-cutters. If you're able to find a well-cut black diamond, rest assured you are wearing one of the most precious gems on Earth.
If dark colors are to your taste, you may consider black gems, which are suitable for both men's and ladies' jewelry styles. Black gems for jewelry are not completely dark, but have a glittering luster and a sheen that makes them special and sets them apart, in a class all of their own.
- First Published: September-24-2015
- Last Updated: August-15-2017
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