Gemstone Trade Names
The gemstone trade is a business, so it's not surprising that we encounter some creative marketing from time to time. One popular marketing strategy is the introduction of trade names for gemstones, with the goal of making the gems appear more enticing or romantic. Some of the attempts to introduce trade names have been successful; many have failed, usually with good reason.
Every gemstone type needs to have a name. Since many gemstones have been known throughout the ages, their names are historical. The name "topaz", for example, is thought to be derived from the name of an island in the Red Sea, once known as Topazos. When new gem types are discovered, they are given proper mineralogical names (usually ending in "ite"), and are typically named after a location, discoverer or a unique property of the material. Thus labradorite was named after the Labrador region in Canada, and rhodochrosite was named in reference to its distinctive rose color.
Creative marketing usually begins not with the names of gem species - which are rarely up for grabs - but with the names of gem varieties. Varieties belonging to the same gem species share a crystal system and chemical composition, but vary with respect to color, optical phenomena or distinctive inclusions. Many gem varieties do not receive special names. While red corundum is known as "ruby", all the other corundum colors are known as "sapphire" and there are no special names for yellow sapphire or pink sapphire.
When a new gem variety - or its commercial potential - is first recognized, gem marketers may try to introduce a trade name to generate some excitement about the new stone. It happened with a chrome green grossularite garnet that was first discovered in Tanzania in 1967. Tiffany & Co. marketed the new variety under the name tsavorite, with considerable success. Another gem discovered during the same year in Tanzania was introduced by Tiffany & Co. as tanzanite, and the new gem has had a huge market success, despite being softer than ordinary quartz.
Other successful examples of trade names include kunzite for pink spodumene, and morganite for pink beryl. The former was named in honor of the gemologist George F. Kunz and the latter in honor of the financier and gem collector, J.P. Morgan.
Some marketing names have not been so successful. There has been an attempt to market green quartz (prasiolite) under the name green amethyst. Since amethyst, by definition, is violet or purple quartz, green amethyst is a contradiction, even if the green color is produced by heating amethyst. Similarly, the attempt to brand rare red beryl (sometimes known as bixbite) as red emerald should be destined for failure.
- First Published: October-21-2008
- Last Updated: January-22-2019
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