Is it a Gemstone?

I often see many large globs of rock, mixed minerals, or tiny chips referred to as “Gemstones” here in the forums. Sometimes yes, there may be a small object pried from a rock with a crystalline appearance, but does that really make it a gemstone?

A gem is usually an already identified mineral, that has an intrinsic value. However, we can agree that even organics can be referred to as a gemstone. No problem to broadly use the term for something of rarity and value that might be made into a piece of jewelry.

The question is how broadly do we want to continue to use the term gemstone? Is a big chunk of sedimentary rock with a dusting of microcrystalline quartz on some of its rind considered a gemstone?

I would like to have this discussion (maybe as a sticky post) so we can all see how we want to continue to use the term gemstone as used on the forum.


Agreed, this is a discussion worth having.

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I think for a person just getting into the hobby of rockhounding learning terminology would be the first recommendation (as i am learning) Sorry to bring a question so vulgar in terminology to a forum that has very knowledgeable, intellectual, and skill persons. I thank you for voicing your opinion as it will only help me.

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The term gemstone is widely accepted as generally meaning a mineral fashioned or included into a decorative object for personal wear, and is usually associated with rarity and high value. Being prey to fashion, availability, and therefore fluctuating value it is difficult to pin down the definite value of any one gemstone as it is also relative to what already exists in the marketplace. To the beginner, most decorative and interesting rocks appear to be potential gemstones. Such rocks inspire learning which is often life long and so should not be impeded by semantics on what constitutes a “gem”.


A gem is properly defined as a mineral that is cut and polished for ornamental purposes. There are a few exceptions based on historical usage, including pearls, coral, amber, jet etc. A “precious” gem is one that has high value; “semiprecious” is defined as having less value than precious. These are dictionary definitions. As applied to gems these terms are totally meaningless and should have been abandoned long ago. For a more thorough discussion see “Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones” and a complete copy is available (free) on my website

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Well put Joel. I have a couple of copies of your book… one of which was signed that I obtained from Dr. Don Hoover. You probably remember him? He passed earlier this year. In going through some of his early paperwork, I had even seen some correspondence between you and he.
I agree also about the semi-precious nomenclature. I think even AGTA considers semi precious usage unacceptable today.

Ivan, we can agree that even though some gemstone values may fluctuate a bit, for the most part there is always an intrinsic value there. Yes, that citrine may only be $12, but it is readily identifiable as a gemstone in spite of the ruby next to it being $12,000. Acceptable?

Where I am having difficulty with is where interesting looking rocks are quickly referred to as a gemstone, (say by a rockhound here looking for some type of affirmation, value and sight ID by others).

Yes, it may remotely have potential after some substantial transformation to give it some added value and beauty as an established gem. But shouldn’t we stick with a clearer definition as accepted by the gemological community as opposed to calling every rock a gemstone?

Proper definition can offer clarity of understanding and contribute to the understanding of what is acceptable in professional gemology.

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Hi beargems, I don’t dispute that professionals need concise definitions and in fact can only communicate efficiently through using such definitions. However, the beginner mineralogist/gem finder etc faces a jumbled assemblage of historical fact now layered by modern science with increasing technology/alteration/synthesis of gemstones. Unfortunately, the Web has created the impression that identification is just a matter of visuals seen in a photograph. As you know, there is no substitute for traditional tests and optical microscopy. Therefore, persons submitting photographs to this forum should ideally be asked to provide information regarding specimen hardness etc .and provenance/locality.

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Is a synthetic sapphire a gemstone?
A spinel, CZ, moisenite, crestonite, rubilite, tourmilite, jadite etc syn quartz Ametrine

Sorry for spelling spell check was not worth fighting you get the idea.

So I find the materials wonderful especially to learn a new cut before cutting on a 10 ct tsavorite.

So are these gemstones even if worth little on the market? Why not. The craftsmanship of the cut defines the outcome. Side by side you’d be hard pressed without lots of experience telling the difference in many cases.

As a layperson here that started out as a rockhound, it makes me sick when people call faceted glass, or CZ and the like “Gemstones”.

For example if I want to search for a “Gemstone” Bracelet or Ring, I want a real Gemstone, whether that be Amethyst, Citrine or Ruby etc. I don’t want a CZ Bracelet or a fancy Glass Bracelet. If that makes any sense.

Lab created to me is still a Gemstone if it is the same composition as the Natural stone as long as it is disclosed. And nothing is a Gemstone until it’s finished i.e. Cabbed/Faceted. It is just rough.

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