The Basics of Understanding Gemstones (Part 2)

Understanding Gemstones Part II


Let’s recap the first three categories of gemstones in Part I:

  1. Crystal Systems
  2. Organic Gem Materials
  3. Phenomenal Gems

The next three categories of gem materials are as below:

  1. Rare Gems
  2. Imitation
  3. Synthetic

Rare Gems

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.

This is an old collection we have. Small and fragile.
Crocite, USA. This is another small piece we have that is very fragile and is crumbling apart.
Wulfenite, USA. Wulfenite is a lead molybdate mineral with the formula PbMoO4.



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.

jade imitation
Dyed quartzite imitating jadeite-jade.
Natural Jadeite-jade.
Serpentine carving that is often mistaken as Jadeite-jade.


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.

natural rubies
A set of natural rubies put together to compare its colour quality.
synthetic rubies
These are synthetic rubies that have the same chemical and physical properties as natural rubies.

The Basics of Understanding Gemstones (Part 1)

The Definition of “Gemmology”.

noun: gemology
  1. the study of precious stones.

Our Mission…

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.

gemstone crystals
An overview of the 7 Crystal systems
cubic system
Examples of cubic system: Diamond, spinel, garnet, fluorite
Aquamarine is in the Hexagonal crystal system.

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.

Fossilized Coral

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!

star sapphire
A star sapphire set in a ring.
Labradorite exhibits an optical effect that is due to interference caused by the layering of the material.

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!

Celebrating our 2nd Anniversary

“No valleys, no mountaintops.” – B.C. Forbes

On 1 June 2017, we celebrated The Gem Museum’s 2nd Anniversary. We are grateful to everyone who has been supporting us in various ways since we opened in 2015.

For the purpose of our 2nd anniversary, we have invited the press and media from various publishers in Singapore and around the region to grace a special event on 10 unique diamonds.

10 unique diamonds showcased on our anniversary
Setup for the 10 unique diamonds

Before the 10 unique diamonds were presented, we brought our guests through a journey from “Mine to Market”. Special thanks to Mr. Tay Thye Sun for contributing many of the gems and rock samples to educate about geology and gem formation, the first section of the museum. Here, we have a “Rock Garden”, featuring some of our collections from different countries such as Australia, China, Indonesia and Madagascar.

Geology & Gem Formation
Geology & Gem Formation

Of the 10 unique diamonds, the most special diamond is a 1.5ct heart-shaped Chameleon Diamond. We also want to give a special shoutout to our friends from Hong Kong, who are avid diamond collectors, Mr. Si and family. Without which we would not have such great fun showing a beautiful piece of diamond to our guests.

Chameleon Diamond
Heart-shaped chameleon diamond

At the end of the event, there was good interaction with questions and answers. Some of the questions include “How does one become a gemmologist?”, “Which is the most valuable gemstone or diamonds we have seen?” etc. It was a great time of sharing knowledge and experiences.

exhibit demonstration
Mr. Tay Kunming speaking with the guests

Once again, we sincerely thank everyone who had helped us and supported us in one way or another throughout the last two years.

The next exciting event coming up would be the “Moons & Stars” exhibition that we will be setting up during the Singapore’s Night Festival along the Bras Basah and Bugis (BBB) district. Do look out for updates in the next few months!

Crystals, Minerals & Rocks

A brief understanding of Crystals, Minerals & Rocks

Quartz crystal, Madagascar

What are crystals?

Crystals are solid material in which the atoms are arranged in regular geometrical patterns. The crystal shape is the external expression of the mineral’s regular internal atomic structure. Temperature, pressure, chemical conditions and the amount of space available are some of the things that affect their growth. Many crystallise from watery solutions, some from molten rock as during volcanic eruptions when lava cools rapidly.

Each mineral will always form in a range of crystal shapes. Although there are literally thousands of minerals, their crystal shape can be grouped on the basis of their symmetry into seven systems of three dimensional patterns, namely: octagonal, tetragonal, trigonal, hexagonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic and triclinic. (source:


copper mineral
Close up of copper mineral

What are minerals?

Minerals are made of elements. Elements are simple substances that cannot be broken down into any other substance. The name of an element is written down as a combination of letters called a symbol, e.g: sodium is Na; chlorine is Cl. Salt, a combination of sodium and chlorine is thus written as a formula symbol NaCl. Many minerals are made up of large numbers of elements, so their formulas are complex. The most common minerals are those based on silicon and oxygen, Si04.

People value and search for minerals for many different reasons. Most are useful as they are the raw materials of the metals we manufacture into goods. The lead in a pencil is the mineral graphite mixed with clay. Precious metals are used in commerce and other minerals are valued as gems.

Minerals are either found in shapeless lumps which we call ‘massive’ or they can form into the special shapes we recognise as crystals. Most minerals form within the spaces between other minerals and grow into rough shapeless masses. However, if they are able to form freely in a hole or cavity in the surrounding rock the mineral takes the form of a crystal and these crystal lined cavities are called geodes, vugs or pockets. (source:


mushroom tourmaline
Mushroom Tourmaline, Myanmar

What are rocks?

Rocks are combinations of one or more minerals that we find in nature. They can be big or small. There are three types of rocks: igneous (where you find quartz), metamorphic (where you find jadeite), sedimentary (where you find sandstones). Only a few minerals are rock forming and most rock is made from a combination of the commonest of these such as feldspars, quartz, mica, olivine, calcite, pyroxene and amphiboles. Most other minerals, of which there are over 3,000 different types, are rarely present in quantities large enough to be considered rock forming. (source:


If you would like to know more about crystals, minerals and rocks, come and visit The Gem Museum where you will find a whole array of these samples. We look forward to welcoming you!

Singapore – A great place to learn and practice jewellery design

By Tay Kunming

With a myriad of courses available out there in the marketplace, selecting a course that’s both financially rewarding and beneficial to the local arts and culture scene can be a challenge. Why not learn jewellery design?

As a jewellery designer and craftsman, I’ve noticed that there’s one type of people who are willing to spend on gemstones: the ultra-wealthy foreigners, including the Chinese and Burmese, whose population exceeds one billion and 55 million, respectively. And with more than one million Chinese with assets worth over $1.5 million, the number of rich Chinese is increasing rapidly, according to China Business Review’s report ‘Understanding Chinese Consumers’.

Furthermore, Singapore’s positioning as a world-class tourist hub helps to boost tourist spending, hence learning and practicing jewellery design is ideal.

This year, I was invited to be part of the judging panel for The Singapore Jewellery Design Awards. Looking at the certificate of appreciation that was awarded to me by the design council, I am reminded that as a craftsman, I have to do my part to create more opportunities for the next generation, so they’ll have the right exposure. And as I was speaking to a group of 17 students from Raffles Design Institute the museum partnered to launch an up and coming project titled ‘Gems for Generation’ on 10 November, I am certain that I ought to do more to create a conducive environment for learning and sharing for our next generation.

But for now, here are a handful of practical tips I have to guide jewellery designers and aspiring jewellery designers.

  1. Build good relationships with your craftsmen. Without skilled workmanship, your impressive design is nothing; it’d would be very difficult to create a good design – unless you are able to design and craft gems.
  1. Cultivate your presentation skills. As a jewellery designer, you will need good presentation skills and great ideas so you can sell them to your clients. Unlike a classroom setting where you are required to stand in front of your class to present your concept, you are likely to be sitting next to a prospective buyer, surrounded by gemstones and, possibly, coffee, explaining your design while selecting stones to place on his/her hand. Again, without these skills, your gemstones will be left sitting on your shelves collecting dust.
  1. Open your mind to greater opportunities. In my personal opinion, Singapore is a relatively small market, so don’t be discouraged if your designs are not appreciated by your own people. Instead, open yourself to global opportunities. For instance, selling your designs to the Burmese. With a burgeoning 55 million population, it isn’t hard to find a window of opportunity. Start by researching on a market that you think (and know) will appreciate your works and find all means and ways to penetrate.

sjda_certificate-of-appreciationHere’s something I’d like to share and to encourage all readers (above)!

Exhibition: Galaxy of Glowing Gems

An Exhibition of a Galaxy of Glowing Gems

As part of the 2016 Singapore Night Festival showcase, The Gem Museum and Far East Gems and Jewellery put together a special exhibition of gemstones and minerals that come to live in the dark!

Here’s what we did: We turned off all the lights in the museum, turning the entire space into a wonderland of glowing gemstones.

So nice, they are glowing gems!

amber under UV light exhibitionAn Amber fluoresces blue under long wave UV light.


Petroleum in Quartz from Pakistan. The petroleum flouresces yellow!


A beautiful pieces of spinel in marble matrix. The spinel fluoresces red under long wave UV light.

For visitors to the museum, it was a sight to behold. And I was delighted to see more than a hundred people attended the event – many are at the museum for their first time! On display were over 200 gemstones and mineral samples from Far East Gem Institute’s collection that showcases the natural fluorescent and properties of the gems, crystals and minerals. Additionally, we have put together a special presentation explaining how and why certain types of gemstones and minerals react under specific lighting conditions that dramatically transform the way they look.

Some interesting facts about glowing gemstones

  • Only about 15% of minerals have a fluorescence that is visible to people and some specimens of those minerals will not fluoresce.
  • Fluorescence usually occurs when specific impurities known as “activators” are present within the mineral.
  • These activators are typically cations of metals such as: tungsten, molybdenum, lead, boron, titanium, manganese, uranium and chromium.
  • Rare earth elements such as europium, terbium, dysprosium, and yttrium are also known to contribute to the fluorescence phenomenon.
  • Fluorescence can also be caused by crystal structural defects or organic impurities.

  • In addition to “activator” impurities, some impurities have a dampening effect on fluorescence.
  • If iron or copper are present as impurities, they can reduce or eliminate fluorescence.
  • Furthermore, if the activator mineral is present in large amounts, that can reduce the fluorescence effect.

  • Most minerals fluoresce a single colour. Other minerals have multiple colours of fluorescence.
  • Calcite has been known to fluoresce red, blue, white, pink, green and orange.

Pic: Calcite fluorescing in different colours.

  • Some minerals are known to exhibit multiple colours of fluorescence in a single specimen.
  • These can be banded minerals that exhibit several stages of growth from parent solutions with changing compositions.

Pic: Banded rock materials that fluoresces different colours under UV.

An important aspect…

  • In the early 1900s, many diamond merchants would seek out stones with a strong blue fluorescence.
  • They believed that these stones would appear more colourless (less yellow) when viewed in light with a high ultraviolet content.
  • This eventually resulted in controlled lighting conditions for colour grading diamonds.

Getting ready for next year!

This year, we had a successful exhibition on a Galaxy of Glowing Gemstones. Coming up next year, Singapore 10th Night Festival 2017, we are going to exhibit the theme of Galaxy of Moons and Stars! Do keep a lookout!

Pic: Star Sapphire