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: Black and White Gems

Darkness and Light; Black and White Gems

Black Tourmaline and White Topaz Gems
Black Tourmaline and White Topaz Gems

Color is the most valuable trait of colored gemstones, therefore many colored gems are treasured for their color above all else. But while vivid color trends come and go, black is a classic dark color that never goes out of fashion. Similarly, white is timeless. An advantage of black and white jewelry designs is that they can easily be worn with anything.

According to Chinese philosophy, opposing forces complement each other, so that where there is light, there is darkness, and where there is yin, there is also yang. This is symbolized by the "yin yang" which shows black and white halves of a circle that each contains a part of the opposing, but complimentary color. This indicates that a balance of yin and yang is important for universal harmony. Black represents "yin", which is associated with femininity, passivity, night, softness and coldness. The white is "yang", which is related to masculinity, light, dominance, strength and heat. White has also been associated with purity, innocence and honesty, where black has been linked to evil, death and darkness. These negative associations with black may have stemmed from black being the color of mourning. However, this all changed when black became fashionable and came to denote elegance.

White is an achromatic color, which means that it is devoid of color. White reflects all wavelengths of visible light, whereas black absorbs almost all wavelengths of light and is entirely or almost entirely devoid of light. When it comes to black gemstones, internal clarity is not generally an issue because when gemstones are so dark, it is difficult to see any light passing through, unless the material is cut in a very thin slice. The way in which gemstones are cut to maintain carat weight means that black gems are too dense to allow light to penetrate. Black is a color without light and transparent black gems may appear opaque, so internal inclusions are not visible. On the other hand, the sparkle of black gems is a result of light reflected from the surface; the luster, which varies from the adamantine luster of black diamond, to the vitreous and slightly resinous luster of black tourmaline. Therefore, any surface imperfections will be noticeable on black gemstones.

Black Spinel and White Zircon Gems
Black Spinel and White Zircon Gems

With regard to transparent white gemstones, clarity is important, since inclusions can be easily discerned in such colorless gems which allow the most light through. This is why the clarity grade of white diamonds is important. For colored gemstones, the various clarity types must be taken into account when judging clarity grades. Some gem types or varieties are usually eye clean and others are typically included. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of the gem type before scrutinizing a transparent white gemstone and not to expect VS graded colored gems to look the same as VS white diamonds. For example, quartz, sapphire and zircon are type II gems and will usually have minor inclusions, whereas topaz is a type I gem, which is more often eye clean. The clarity and cut of white gemstones will affect their sparkle and brilliance and the best cut to bring this out is the round brilliant-cut (also called "diamond-cut" because it was developed to maximize the brilliance of white diamond).

Some gemstones occur in both black and white varieties, or may even have both black and white in the same gemstone. One such material is onyx, which is a black and white banded agate. Yet, it is rare to find one gemstone which exhibits both black and white, since most onyx gems are only black. Jade is another gem type that occurs in both black and white, however, these are rarer than green and other colors of jade. White jade is known as "mutton fat jade", since it has the color and greasy luster of mutton fat. Pearls are ideal black and white gemstones for those who prefer a softer, less dramatic color contrast, or more interesting combinations. Pearls have an extremely attractive iridescence, known as "orient". Furthermore, black pearls are not true black, but may be silver, greenish, bluish and even pink-violet. On the other end of the scale, pale pearls can be ivory, silver, cream, pinkish or golden. Both black and white pearls are complemented by white gemstones.

Black and White Snowflake Obsidian
Black and White Snowflake Obsidian

Another gemstone which is black and white is snowflake obsidian, an opaque type of volcanic glass usually sold as cabochons. It is a unique form of gray to black obsidian with cristobalite crystal inclusions that appear like white snowflakes. Black rutile quartz is a unique black and white gemstone. It is colorless quartz that contains black rutile inclusions usually appearing like black needles, contrasting with the colorless body of the gemstone.

When it comes to phenomenal gems, some of the most attractive are chatoyant gem varieties. With regard to star gemstones, the best known dark stars are star diopside and black star sapphire. Star diopside is also known as the Black Star of India, and can be black or blackish-green with a four-rayed white star. The black star sapphire from Thailand is has a unique, golden six-rayed star. White star gemstones are less common than black star gems, but when it comes to cat's eye gems, white quartz cat's eye is easy to find. Cat's eye scapolite can be found in black, but is quite rare.

For those who like the idea of yin and yang; contrasting but complementary opposites, or for those who simply prefer the clean lines of black and white, it is possible to create dramatic and elegant jewelry by juxtaposing black and white gemstones. The beauty is in the joining of the two opposites, for as they say, opposites attract.

  • First Published: September-24-2015
  • Last Updated: September-25-2015
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Gem varieties vary in density, so carat weight is not a good indication of size

Note: 1ct = 0.2g

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