Because of the beauty and rarity of gemstones, there is a demand. In different cultures, there is a demand for different variety of gems.
For example, in the Asian culture, we value the imperial green jadeite-jade. 98% of jadeite-jade is produced in one mine in Myanmar, Pharkant. As the imperial green quality is very rare, the supply is hard to meet the demand. Hence, this material is highly sought after.
Another example is diamond. “Diamonds are a girls’ best friend.” This slogan by the marketing agency of De Beers has popularized the use of diamond in an engagement ring so much that it created an in-flux of demand for diamonds.
High quality diamonds like a 5 carat, D colour, Internally Flawless and excellent cut piece is rare and hard to come by.
The royal crown jewels are an important set of jewellery because it tells the history of a nation. The royalties are an icon to the nation and perhaps even a role example for others around the world.
When Prince William and Prince Harry got married, the trend of using a blue sapphire and aquamarine for an engagement ring went up tremendously. During these seasons, the demand increased. Some quality-grades of the gems were very difficult to get too.
This is an interesting factor. Portability can also be understood as “transportability”. Gemstones are small and lightweight. It is even better when set into a piece of jewellery. One can wear it and travel around the world (with insurance of course!).
One of the stories that we have heard from our Director, Mr. Tay Thye Sun, happened in 1997. It was during the Asian financial crisis. A lady from Indonesia who looked really normal and unnoticed came into his gem testing laboratory.
She look a piece of diamond for testing and evaluation and found that it was about USD5000 at that time. She then went on to test another diamond of about 1 carat in weight. This diamond was evaluated to be worth about USD15,000 at that time.
The next thing we know, she took out a small pouch and poured out all the diamonds in that pouch. All in all, the diamonds in that small little pouch was worth a few million dollars (there were 5 carat diamonds too).
So now we can see how portability can affect the value of gems! In fact, gemstones are seen to be very good commodities to “invest” in to keep value because of this factor!
Knowing these 6 factors can then help you to understand the value of gems in a practical manner. In the 3rd part of this series, we will share with you some practical things you can do to gain market experience.
Inclusions contain important information about the gemstone and the natural history of our earth! Of course, most people that are familiar with diamonds would say, the more inclusions the diamond has the lower the quality. In grading gemstones, we are more forgiving in terms of clarity grading (here a brief article to explain it, https://www.gemsociety.org/article/colored-stone-grading-system/).
In this video, we would find out more about emeralds from Colombia! Those so called “flaws” that some people refer to are actually precious inclusions that tell so much about the gemstone! In the 4th stage of the mine to market story, a gemologist would examine the gemstone, test the physical properties and try to give the gemstone an identity (what gem it is), whether it has been treated and if possible where exactly or generally the gemstone is from (origin determination, one important mine for colombian emeralds is the Muzo mine http://www.muzo.co/en/millennial-legacy/muzo).
From an identification perspective, inclusions give you alot of information, from a valuation perspective it can add tremendous value if it does not affect the physical beauty of the gemstone, especially if the gemstone is from a renowned mine like Muzo for Colombian emeralds.
The moment you look at gemstones through a microscope, you will suddenly realise that there is a world of its own in the gemstone. Sometimes, these internal characteristics look to me like a snap shot of time, a snap shot of how the gemstone formed, a work of art and wonder.
You can watch this video to see some inclusions that are characteristic to Colombian Emeralds.
Featured in this video is the book called Photo Atlas by Dr E J Gubelin and Dr J I Koivula (you can get it at https://rubin-and-son.com/products_list.php?category_id=713). It contains photographs and explanation of many different inclusions in gemstones such as ruby, sapphire, emerald, alexandrite, fluorite, the list goes on.
Most gemstones form in the Earth’s crust. Only two gemstones form in the Earth’s mantle – the diamond and the peridot. These are gems that crystallise at extremely high temperatures.
Fun fact: Diamonds may actually be the most plentiful crystals in the earth, but they just aren’t the easiest to reach
Diamonds are formed in the earth’s mantle.
Diamonds crystallise in very hot and fluid magma about 110 to 150 miles (117 to 241 kilometres) below the Earth’s surface. Because of the heat and fluidity, this magma is able to force a pathway up through the Earth’s crust at greater speeds and violence than other volcanic eruptions! These are called “kimberlite pipes”.
Magma pocket comes in contact with a weak area in crust.
A quick explosion results, carrying diamond-bearing magma from the lower mantle to the surface. During the eruption, a cone builds on surface.
The pipe eventually cools, leaving carrot shaped pipe.
The cone quickly erodes away, leaving the diamond-bearing rocks where people can reach them.
If the rising of magma were any slower, the diamonds would likely not survive, as the changing temperatures and pressure would likely have caused them to vaporise or recrystallise as graphite.
This video shows a simple set up at The Gem Museum. It shows the formation and mining of diamonds in the world.
Geologists believe that peridot first crystallises on rocks floating in the mantle about 20 to 25 miles (32 to 89 kilometres) below the Earth’s surface. Then an explosive eruption brings them near the Earth’s surface, and weathering and erosion brings them close enough to be mined and found.
Igneous rock is formed when magma from the mantle rises up through the Earth’s crust, and cools and solidifies; or when lava on the Earth’s surface cools and solidifies. Igneous rocks are primarily created with heat.
Found in igneous rock: The quartzes (including amethyst, citrine and ametrine), the garnets, moonstone, apatite, diamond, spinel, tanzanite, tourmaline, topaz and zircon.
Metamorphic rock is formed when intense underground heat or pressure alters the existing atomic structures of minerals within rocks, and transforms them into other minerals. In essence, metamorphic rocks are created when heat and pressure change existing minerals into something new.
Found in Metamorphic rock: The beryls (emerald, morganite and aquamarine), jade, lapis lazuli, turquoise, spinel, ruby, sapphire, alexandrite, chrysoberyl and zircon.
Sedimentary rock is formed when rock is worn down and the fragments are carried by water or the wind, and these sediments are finally compressed together over time.
Found in Sedimentary rock: Jasper, malachite, opal and zircon
The Gem Museum presents The Rock Cycle
The Gem Museum is set up to educate visitors on the story of “Mine to Market”. The very beginning of understanding gemstones is to learn about the rock cycle that is a very essential part of the formation of gemstones.
Come and visit us if you are in Singapore! We are opened Monday to Friday, 12pm to 5pm. Admission is free!
Coco Chanel wanted to “cover women with constellations”. Like stars that pattern the night with light, jewels adorn the woman. But before being fashioned into jewellery, a gemstone is usually first a mineral (a naturally-occurring, inorganic solid with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement) formed by geological processes in the Earth’s crust.
Emeralds, for instance, are formed of the mineral Beryl, a chemical compound containing beryllium, aluminium, silicon and oxygen. Its colour comes from additional traces of chromium and vanadium, but different trace elements will produce different colours, allowing the mineral Beryl to form semi-precious stones such as Aquamarine.
Rubies are formed of the mineral Corundum, and its red colour comes from traces of chromium. Sapphires are also formed of Corundum, and can come in different colours depending on its trace mixtures of iron, titanium, and chromium.
A single rock can be composed of different minerals. From rocks, mineral crystals are mined, cut and polished into precious or semiprecious gems.
How do minerals form in the Earth?
The International Gem Society has a very comprehensive article on how minerals form. In summary, minerals crystallise when conditions of temperature (heat), pressure and time to grow are right, and when there is space to grow.
Heat and Pressure determine the type of mineral formed.
Some minerals (such as Quartz – below left) require very little heat and pressure to form, and will melt or break down under great heat and pressure.
Other minerals (such as Pyrite– below right) need a lot of heat and pressure to form, because at low temperatures, its raw materials can stay mixed up with other minerals’ raw materials.
The more time there is for the crystal to grow, the larger it will be, because minerals have an ordered atomic arrangement and it takes time for atoms to be ordered. Since ions are more mobile in water, the presence of water can help accelerate the mineral growing process.
The earth is like a beautiful bride who needs no manmade jewels to heighten her loveliness. – Kahlil Gibran
Most minerals found in the rocks around us are formed when molten rock (or magma) rises up through the Earth’s crust due to volcanic eruptions or by heat currents that keep the magma in constant motion.
As the hot magma cools, minerals crystallise.
If the cooling process is extremely rapid (seconds), no crystals will form, resulting in volcanic glass (not composed of minerals). However, over millions of years, the volcanic glass may crystallise.
If the cooling process is rapid (minutes, hours, days, or years), the components of the minerals will not have time to be ordered, and the crystals formed will be small (less than 1mm), resulting in a fine-grained rock.
If the cooling process is slow (decades to millions of years), the crystals formed will be large.
During a volcanic eruption, when there is a rapid drop in pressure, gas bubbles can form in the rising magma (Imagine popping a cork from a champagne bottle.) Sometimes these gas bubbles contain a high concentration of certain elements. If the right conditions of heat, pressure and time exist, minerals will crystallise.
When water (e.g. Rain) seeps down through the soil and meets with rising magma, hydrothermal fluids are formed. Such hydrothermal fluids continue flowing through fractures in the Earth’s crust, dissolving minerals along the way. When these mineral-rich hydrothermal fluids cool in “veins” and the right conditions of heat, pressure and time exist, minerals will crystallise.
When volatile-rich magma cools in cavities and the right conditions of heat, pressure and time exist, minerals will crystallise.
Metamorphism – when minerals form from other minerals
The Andes mountains, formed when the Nazca plate subducted under the South American plate
When magma forces its way into an existing rock formation, the intense heat breaks down existing rocks and causes minerals to re-crystallise into more stable forms.
Intense heat and pressure arises when tectonic plates below the Earth are shoved toward each other, forcing one on top of the other (This is how mountains form). As the temperature approaches the melting point of the rock, the minerals become unstable. Over millions of years, they change into new varieties.
When rainwater flows through the Earth, it deposits the minerals that are dissolved in it along the way into cracks in the existing rocks. Such deposits then lead to the formation of petrified wood, fossils and new minerals.
Gems formed in the Earth’s mantle
Further underground below the Earth’s crust is the Earth’s mantle. While most gemstones form in the Earth’s crust, some gems do form in the mantle, amongst which are diamonds and peridots. Read more about how they form here.
Colourful mineral deposits in the Earth’s landscape
Natural Gems and minerals (and jewellery of course!) are beautiful, intriguing and rare. We all know they hold a certain value and is something that everyone would like to own a piece.
So how do we know what value and how to value a beautiful piece of gem?
First of all, assessing value of gems requires a lot of experience. Experience can come in the form of buying and selling, or learning from the books and history of previous transactions, for example in auctions.
In this 3-part series of assessing value of gems, we will not be showing exactly HOW to assess value. But we will give you an insight on the factors to understand and consider, before you begin to assess the value of the gems.
What gives gems a value? What makes gems valuable?
Gems are valuable because of the following factors:
To begin, beauty is the first attribute that we can see with our naked eyes. For most part, the 4Cs have been a big contributor for understanding the beauty of a gem. These are: Carat weight, Clarity, Colour and Cut. However, the 4Cs probably applies more to transparent, faceted gems. Other gem materials like jadeite-jade and nephrite-jade has its own unique grading system. Therefore, the beauty of a gem may also be described as the ‘quality’ of a gem.
Rarity means uncommon, or unusual. Diamonds are rare because the yield of mining production is very low. For every 5carat total weight of diamonds mined, approximately 300 tons of ore needs to be processed. Similarly for rubies and sapphires, in many mining countries, the mining technique is still quite manual, although some are semi-automatic. Kashmir sapphires for example, are mined from very harsh conditions. Hence, explaining its rarity.
There are also some gemstones which are rare because of its phenomenal optical effects. In order to achieve perfect chatoyancy (cat’s-eye) or asterism (star), it depends on the rough material as well as the lapidary. When the best of the two comes together, the fashioned gemstone becomes very rare.
Gemstones are valuable because of its durability. It doesn’t get damaged easily and therefore keeps its quality the same for a very very long time. Therefore, some pieces of gems and jewellery can be kept and passed down from one generation to another. Family heirlooms have very intrinsic value that is very hard to quantify. When assessing value of gemstones, we also will look at how well it has kept its durability, i.e. how well it has been maintain at its highest quality.
Durability involves a few factors: hardness, toughness and stability (to light, heat and chemicals). We will discuss these in the future blog posts.
Meanwhile, we do not want to see chips and scratches on our gems!
Assessing value of gemstones to be continued…
We have discussed three reasons why gemstones are valuable. In fact, these factors applies also to diamonds and minerals, except for some variations in the details.
In the second part of this topic, we will continue to discuss on why gemstones are valuable.
Let’s recap the first three categories of gemstones in Part I:
Organic Gem Materials
The next three categories of gem materials are as below:
Perhaps this can be better described as unusual or uncommon gems. Some examples are like kornerupine and sillimanite. These gems are often not as popular because they either come in small quantities, or they are not as attractive as the others like rubies and sapphires. Nevertheless they are still very beautiful nature’s creations. Other examples shown in the pictures below are some collections we have in The Gem Museum.
Technically, these should not be described as “gems”. These materials are mainly man-made and artificial materials. The term ‘imitation’ means to ‘simulate’. It could be using a natural material to simulate another natural material of a higher value. An example is using serpentine to imitate a more valuable jadeite. Most of the time, due to the low cost and high consistency in production, glass is the most common material used to imitate many other gemstones. Green glass to imitate jade or emerald, red glass to imitate ruby and blue glass to imitate sapphire.
Many companies out there are selling synthetic materials, but not explaining clearly to consumers what synthetic really means. The emphasis is always on the fact that synthetic materials have exactly the same physical and chemical properties as the natural counterpart. These materials are considered artificial as they are “lab-grown” and sold in the market for less than half the price most of the time. Synthetic materials can be produced in large quantities at any one time. This includes diamonds. As such, the rarity factor of a ‘gem’ is hardly applicable for these materials. Although they are also beautiful, the value of these materials can never match up to a natural gemstone of the same quality.
The Gem Museum’s mission is to help people appreciate the value of gems through understanding quality and learning about authenticity. Therefore in this two part series, we would like to introduce to you 6 categories of gems and gem materials.
1) Crystal Systems
First of all, here is a need to first understand crystals, in order to understand the structural and optical properties of gemstones. It is from here that you can identify the gemstones. Most miners, for example, in Thailand, Sri Lanka or Myanmar, they do not have formal education. They grow up in mines and start mining for gems at a very young age. However, they could probably identify the rough gem materials, simply based on their observations of structural and optical properties of gems.
2) Organic Gem Materials
Most people do not realise that these are considered gems too. One of the classification of gem materials is ‘organic’ gems. Organic gems mean that the gem materials was formed through process involving life organisms and some examples are amber, pearls, and even petrified wood.
3) Phenomenal Gems
Finally, in this post, we will talk about some gemstones with special optical effects. Phenomenal Gems have very unusual optical properties. Not all gem materials exhibit optical phenomenal. The optical phenomenal of a gem material could be due to internal reflection of the inclusions, such as cat’s-eye. Another possibility is the structural arrangement of the material, such as moonstones that give the moonlight sheen, described as “Adularescence”. Most of all, our gem museum has a unique collection of double stars and we are still in the midst of searching for more double stars too!
In conclusion, there are many ways to categorise and classify gem materials. Hence, look out for the next part of this blog, so that you can understand more about gems and gemstone materials!