Understanding Gemstones—Before You Buy or Sell

Valentine’s Day is on the heart and mind, and nothing says romance like a romantic red ruby or regal purple amethyst. Various gemstones make popular gifts, but before you buy a gemstone, there are some things to know about how it’s graded and appraised. Thinking of selling some of your gemstone jewelry? These tips will also guide you on how to get the best price on your pieces.

The first step is going to a reputable jeweler/appraiser that uses the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) standard of grading gems. The GIA’s rating system is the industry standard worldwide. When a gem is GIA-certified, sellers, jewelers, vendors and insurance companies can trust the appraisal. The jewelers at Empire Jewelers, Inc. are GIA-educated professionals.

Understanding precious versus semiprecious

In the past, precious and semiprecious stones were categorized simply as: diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires were considered precious, while all others were considered semiprecious. Today, classification is not as simply defined. The GIA rates gems by four basic criteria: color, clarity, cut and if a gem has been “treated” or not. Other factors, such as the whims of fashion and market availability also influence rating and thus value.

GIA’s Rating System

  • Color. On GIA’s system, or scale, color is described by hue—the spectral color, such as red, blue or yellow. Tone is how light or dark the color is, from very light to very dark. Saturation is the purity of color, from grayish to vivid.
  • Clarity refers to the transparency of the gemstone and gemstones are rated for clarity against stones of their same type. Type I gemstones have few if any inclusions, Type II gems usually have some inclusions and Type III gems almost always have inclusions.
  • Cut. The colored gemstone is described by shape, then graded for cut. Cut refers to the gem’s proportion and finish. The deeper the cut, the more the gemstone will sparkle. Proportion is composed of face-up outline, profile and brilliance.
  • Treatment. Gemstones are commonly treated to enhance appearance by heating, coating, oiling, irradiation, filling or dyeing. Some treatments are legitimate practices, while others are considered deceptive and have a negative impact on value.

Your taste is what matters

While there are ratings standards for gemstones, the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” also applies. The beauty and appeal of a gemstone can vary widely, depending on the taste of the buyer. Whether or not the gem you are selling is technically “flawless” has nothing to do with its ultimate appeal. The gem you are no longer interested in and are selling may be a treasure to the person who buys it.

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