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Origins of The Word Precious Gemstones
While the classifications of precious
and semi-precious gemstones have been around since ancient times, ancient definitions were often based on the visual beauty or talismanic properties of the gem. The modern definitions of precious and semi-precious gems date back to the mid-1800s. One of the catalysts was the discoveries of big amethyst
deposits, which suddenly made amethyst - valued as a precious stone for centuries - not as rare and coveted. So amethyst dropped off the list, and the precious gemstones were defined as diamond
. All other gemstones, no matter how beautiful, were relegated to “semi-precious.”
In the late 1800s, large diamond deposits were discovered, and like amethyst, diamond should have been bumped off the “precious gemstones” list. However, the De Beers diamond conglomerate manipulated both diamond supply (by feeding diamonds
slowly into the market) and diamond demand (with their decades-long Diamonds are Forever campaign). Diamonds retained both a perceived rarity and an immense value, and kept their spot on the “precious gems” list.
But the familiar distinctions “precious gems” and “semi-precious gems” are not a good indicator of value, or even rarity. Jadeite, painite and musgravite can be worth just as much per carat as - if not more than - emerald, rubies
For that reason, most gem and jewelry associations discourage the use of “semi-precious” when describing gemstones.
We’ve kept the terms on the site, because most gem buyers are familiar with those terms. But we have put alexandrite in the “precious gems” section, because the value certainly matches that of the other “precious” gems.
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