Semiprecious Stones Are Precious, Too

This vintage 14K yellow gold link bracelet is set with Citrine, Garnet, Amethyst, Moonstone, Ruby, Turquoise, Pearl, Tiger’s Eye, Coral, Blue Topaz and other semiprecious stones, $2,500 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Auction Gallery of Boca Raton

We have the ancient Greeks to thank for how we categorize gemstones. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds they considered precious; every other one was merely “semiprecious.”

But are these classifications relevant today?

While it’s true the four precious gemstones are the most noticed at auction, there are times when certain high-quality semiprecious stones are actually rarer, and will realize a higher auction value.

In the end, it all depends on what “precious” really means to you.

There are literally hundreds of semiprecious gemstones ranging from the well-known opal, tiger eye, lapis lazuli and turquoise to ones that are not usually associated with fashionable jewelry such as musgravite, tanzanite, and alexandrite — with so many others in between. We’ll just focus on the gemstones most collectors are familiar with here, their birthstone, which will help provide a general idea as to the wide availability, value and collectibility of gemstones overall.

January – Garnet 

The birthstone for the first month of the year is garnet, a silicate that is mostly red with many variations from light to dark. There are other colors, like green (rarest of all), yellow and orange. Expect a garnet to be valued at about $500 a carat, depending on its size, cut, clarity and color.

February – Amethyst

The birthstone for February, amethyst contains an iron oxide and other minerals like manganese that brilliantly project its wonderful dark-purple color. Mined mostly in Brazil and Uruguay, amethyst is a larger coarse-grain quartz easily bought for under $10 a carat.

March – Aquamarine

According to the Zodiac, March is Pisces (or fish), so it makes sense that the birthstone for the month is aquamarine, from the Latin for seawater. It is classified as a variation of a beryl with color mostly in the light greenish-blue hues. Aquamarine is mined primarily in Pakistan with an auction value of about $600 a carat or so.

April – Diamond

One of the four precious stones, diamond has its own category of desire both as jewelry and an adornment for thousands of years. Made from highly pressurized carbon in the deepest Earth, diamond is brought near the surface by underground volcanic activity over millions of years. One carat of cut and polished diamond can easily start at about $1,800 or so with variations up to $12,000 at auction.

May – Emerald

The second of the four precious stones, emerald is a member of the beryl family, like aquamarine, except with the addition of chromium that renders the color green. Most emeralds are mined from Colombia; a good-quality, one-carat emerald stone can start at about $550.

June – Pearl

This unusual gemstone isn’t as much a mineral as it is a living fossil. Made in nature from calcium carbonate secreted by a mollusk in saltwater (called nacre), a pearl is less a stone than it is a gem. Its natural hues range from stark white to black with many variations in between. A natural pearl can start at about $300 a carat.

A group of 26 semiprecious gemstone eggs of rose quartz, malachite, lapis lazuli, agates, snowflake obsidian, goldstone, rock crystal, and others in a silver-plate basket, $1,000 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Auctions at Showplace

July – Ruby

The third of the precious stones, ruby, can be confused with a garnet, especially when both have a similar deep-red color. To tell the difference, hold either up to the light — if there are two rainbows with no yellow or green bands, it’s a garnet. A one-carat ruby can start at about $350.

August – Peridot

Not as well known as other gemstones, the peridot nevertheless is classified as olivine, its shade of green similar to that of green olives. It’s not exactly mined as it is found within lava after volcanic activity, making them not as rare — except for the ones of gem quality that start at about $60 a carat.

September – Sapphire

The fourth of the four precious stones, sapphires, from the corundum family like ruby, are normally recognized as a deep blue, but they come in a variety of colors ranging from black to yellow, orange, green and even colorless (called fancy or parti-colored sapphires). A one-carat sapphire can start at about $450 and higher depending on quality and color.

October – Opal

What attracts so many to the opal is its iridescent colors that sparkle on a background of silky white, gray, green, blue and other colors with black being the rarest and most valuable (common opal is mostly just a white background and not as valuable). Patterns of color determine its value with a precious opal of white with fair iridescence having a value starting around $20 a carat with more color patterns having a much higher value.

November – Citrine

If you heat-treat an amethyst, the result will be a citrine, a yellowish gemstone in the quartz family, but it will show straight cracks under high resolution; a natural citrine will be cloudier. Citrines are available from as low as $10 a carat with a higher value for the more brilliant orange hue.

December – Blue Zircon

Another gemstone that isn’t particularly well known, the blue zircon is a nesosilicate that comes in a variety of primary colors, with the blue zircon being the most desired. Blue zircon will fade in direct sunlight, but its color returns when back indoors. Auction values will show blue zircon starting about $20 a carat.

Our list of gemstones is only a very small fraction of the hundreds of gemstones available in every color, brilliance, rarity, and radiance. Onyx, jade, agate, moonstone, obsidian, malachite, sunstone, and all manner of quartz also engender strong personal connections.

Just be careful. Many semiprecious stones can be confused with other gems, and there are artificial gems, as well, but they “completely different physically, chemically and optically” from the natural gems they copy, says In spite of those inherent differences, some lab-generated gems may be very similar to authentic natural examples. Don’t be afraid to ask a jeweler about a gem’s background before making a purchase.

Hardness of semiprecious stones matters, too, especially when designing personal jewelry. The Mohs scale classifies each stone, precious or semiprecious, as to its ability to withstand constant use with 1 being the softest (talc) and 10 the hardest (diamond). You don’t want a soft stone, such as amber, to be used on a ring that is worn daily.

David Yurman design featuring two large, faceted blue topaz pendants of about 125 carats each, $650 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques

With so many semiprecious stones to choose from, it’s no wonder that they are so affordable overall, with most selling within the $20 to $50 a carat range. It all depends on size, color, hue, rarity and setting. Of course, the rarest and most valuable gemstones, such as alexandrite, at $70,000 a carat; or musgravite, at about half that; are just as collectible as diamonds.

“You might assume high-end gems and jewelry make good investments, but that’s not necessarily the case. Gems of lesser value often appreciate more and are easier to liquidate. Many well-informed investors choose low to moderately priced gems,” according to the International Gem Society’s article “Making Money Investing in Gems: 5 Top Rules.”

Semiprecious stones aren’t just for wearable jewelry — they’re found in decorative objects like this globe with jade, abalone and others, $225 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Hill Auction Gallery

Simply stated, if you buy semiprecious stones with an eye toward later resale, you should always make your purchases from trusted sellers and consider decorative settings later on if your goal is to increase the value of your investment. The first rule of collecting, however, is that you should always buy what you like first. Unless you buy for resale, the investment aspect should be a secondary consideration.

There’s a lot to learn about semiprecious stones, and the Gemological Institute of America and International Gemological Institute are among the trade groups that can help you to become an educated buyer. Just know that there is a gemstone — precious or otherwise — that the natural world created just for you. When you find it, you will feel a connection to nature.

Garnets symbolize friendship, fidelity

NEW YORK – Garnets, like all gemstones, are timeless. To quote The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, “The love of precious stones is deeply implanted in the human heart … All the fair colors of flowers and foliage, and even the blue of the sky and the glory of the sunset clouds, only last for a short time, and are subject to continual change, but the sheen and coloration of precious stones are the same today as they were thousands of years ago and will be for thousands of years to come.”

Indeed, garnets boast an illustrious history. Bronze Age tombs yield garnet-graced buckles, bracelets and pendants, while ancient Egyptian ones yield garnet talismans, necklaces and carvings. Moreover, Biblical scholars surmise that the red “carbuncle,” one of 12 gemstones decorating the breastplate of Aaron, the first Biblical High Priest, was a garnet.

Exceptional garnet intaglio ring depicting Mercury, messenger of the gods,
intaglio .375in x .625in; opening .7in wide x .875in high; weight: 12.7 grams. Gold quality: 90% gold, equivalent to 20K+, Roman, circa second to third century. Realized $1,700 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Greeks and Romans prized golden, garnet-studded earrings, pendants and bracelets. Some, in addition, stamped wax-sealed documents with intaglio-carved garnet signet rings. Frankish Merovingian nobility (c. 450-750 A.D.) boasted garnet-jeweled fibulas, scabbard-belt mounts, sword hilts and shield fittings. Byzantine clergy and aristocracy favored elegant garnet-encrusted crosses, pendants, brooches, rings and earrings.

Victorian Etruscan Revival almandine garnet, seed pearl and 14K yellow gold brooch, approximately 42.6 x 36.3 mm, weight 13.49 grams. Realized $475 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

These blood-red gems, in addition to beauty, held great charm. Many believed that, powdered or whole, they shielded people from harm, safeguarded travelers and protected warriors, rendering them powerful and victorious. Moreover, they allegedly healed wounds, improved vitality, countered melancholy and soothed troubled souls. In addition, these gems were associated with comradery and constancy.

Gold scabbard-belt mount with beaded border, convex garnet cloison upper face, central garnet cabochon, bronze slider bar to reverse, 14 grams, 25mm, Merovingian Period. fourth-fifth century. Realized £1,400 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of TimeLine Auctions Ltd. and Live Auctioneers

The word “garnet” is related to granatum, the Latin word for “pomegranate,” a fruit clustered with lustrous, jewel-like, red seeds. No wonder, when mentioning them, that visions of tiny, ruby-hued, rose-cut Bohemian garnets come to mind. Their intricate, glistening designs, “paving” gold brooches, bracelets or bangles, were hands-down Victorian favorites. So were larger, dramatic stones, brilliant cut to maximize their radiance.

Bohemian garnet grape cluster pendant locket/brooch, 8-9K, 2.5 x 1.5in. weight 21.4grams. Realized $900 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Reverie and LiveAuctioneers

Because Almandine garnets are darker than Bohemians, many find them more desirable. If cabochon-cut, these commonly found beauties not only rival rosy tourmalines, spinels and rubies. To many, they also evoke the Biblical carbuncle of old.

Yet not all garnets are red. “If your hand were a model of a garnet molecule, all garnets would share the arrangement of atoms represented by the palm,” explains the International Gem Society site. “However, the atoms represented by your fingers are interchangeable.” Altering their chemical compositions creates a rainbow of shades.

Early 20th century gold demantoid garnet pendant suspended from matching floral spray, Russian marks, L. 5.5cms, 6.6gr. Realized £540 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

Gem-quality spessartites, for example, range from orange to reddish-brown, while hessonites are yellow, cinnamon or honey-hued. Diamond-bright demantoids, once prized by Russian royals and Fabergé alike, are light to dark green. Mandarins, aptly named, are pure-orange. Tsavorites, more brilliant than emeralds and most expensive of all, are deep, forest-green. Umbarites are pink to pinkish-purple

18K gold link bracelet featuring 64 amethyst cabochons accented by 320 round-cut tsavorite garnets, total weight 5.30 carats, length 7in, 28.2dwts. Realized $3,250 + buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“One of the things I love about garnets,” explains Nigel O’Reilly, acclaimed contemporary goldsmith and jewelry designer, “is their color diversity. Color plays a huge role in my work and garnets come in such rich and unique colors. They add a real depth to any piece they’re incorporated into. My most recent garnet piece, a ring called Dante’s Garnet, used a fancy cut umbalite garnet set in rose gold. The darker, warm hues meant that I could complement the center garnet by setting the rest of the ring with tsavorite garnets, blue sapphires, orange sapphires and blue diamonds while maintaining the original depth of the center stone.”

Dante’s Garnet, featuring fancy cut umbalite garnet set in rose gold highlighted by tsavorite garnets, blue sapphires, orange sapphires and blue diamonds. Image courtesy of Nigel O’Reilly at

Since garnets suit all tastes and pocketbooks, choosing a traditional January birthstone is a joy. As of yore, many believe that they promote health, foster peace of mind, increase energy, raise self-esteem, spark creativity and grace the heart with love and passion.

Yet this was not always so. No one knows why or when Europeans began signifying specific times of birth with particular gemstones. Perhaps nobility – whether relating to superstitions, astrological zodiac signs, Aaron’s breastplate, or pure fashion, began wearing them during the Middle Ages. Birthstones apparently became attainable by the masses, however, centuries later. In 1870, for example, Tiffany & Co. published “some verses of unknown author” that match each month with its traditional stone.

Their January entry reads:

By her who in this month is born,

No gems save garnets should be worn;

They will insure her constancy,

True Friendship and Fidelity

Diamonds complement colorful gemstones in Jan. 29 sale

Large, colorful precious gemstones, complemented by fiery brilliant diamonds in contemporary settings, are offered in a 400-lot fine jewelry auction being conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

AGL-certified 26.14-carat oval Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring, 18K white gold. Estimate: $220,000-$264,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

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Colorful Stambolian jewelry starring in online auction Jan. 22

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, Jasper52 will conduct an online auction devoted exclusively to the designs of the Stambolian House of Jewels, the fine jewelry brand specializing in 18K gold, diamond, and precious and semiprecious stones. More than 300 lots of Stambolian jewelry, all handmade in the United States by highly skilled and experienced artisans, will be offered.

Stambolian 18K gold bangle bracelet with pink sapphires (12.25 carats) and diamonds (4.30 carats). Estimate: $16,000-$19,000. Jasper52 image

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Celebrate New Year’s Eve bidding on big colorful gemstones

From certified emeralds to glowing sapphires, tourmalines and rubies, a diverse loose gemstones auction presented by Jasper52 showcases a variety of cuts, stones and a and kaleidoscope of colors. The 486-lot online auction will take place Tuesday, Dec. 31, beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

GIA certified step-cut aquamarine, 36.48 carats, 21.91 x 18.27 x 12.56 mm, very minor inclusions visible under 10x magnification. Estimate: $17,000-$20,000. Jasper52 image

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Aug. 27 auction sparkles with magnificent loose gemstones & diamonds

NEW YORK – On August 27, Jasper52 will bring on the bling with a diverse selection of loose gemstones in a variety of cuts and colors. The 376-lot online auction running exclusively through LiveAuctioneers is brimming with fine gems, from certified diamonds to glowing emeralds, and more.

Whether your purchase of gems is driven by an interest in geology or you’re simply looking for a stunning “rock” to set in a special piece of jewelry, you’re sure to find just what you’re looking for in this wonderfully diverse sale.

Estimate: $19,000-$23,000. Image courtesy of Jasper52

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Exceptional loose gemstones offered in online auction July 23

A diverse loose gemstones auction will be conducted by Jasper52 on Tuesday, July 23. This 470-lot auction showcases a variety of cuts, stones and colors. From certified diamonds to glowing tanzanites and more, bidders will find unique treasures among this kaleidoscope of colors.

4.53 carat natural pinkish red ruby from Madagascar (unheated), fine VS-Clarity rich. Estimate: $25,000-$30,000. Jasper52 image

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Colored diamonds add radiance to Jasper52 gemstones sale June 4

Four hundred lots of colorful loose gemstones, highlighted by fancy colored diamonds, are offered in a Jasper52 online auction taking place Tuesday, June 4. Certified natural emeralds, sapphires, opals and topaz are also featured in the auction.

Natural diamond, fancy deep yellow-orange cushion shape, 1.51 carats, GIA certification no. 5243311705, 4.44 x 4.22 x 3.16 mm. Estimate: $16,000-$18,000. Jasper52 image

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Kaleidoscope of colors will dazzle in gemstones sale April 3

Jasper52 will present an online auction of diverse loose gemstones auction on Wednesday, April 3. The 388-lot auction boasts a variety of cuts, stones and colors. From certified diamonds to lustrous emeralds and more, bidders will find a unique treasure among a kaleidoscope of colors.

Natural blue topaz, 33.62 carats, emerald cut. Estimate $350-$400. Jasper52 image

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Coral: treasured since ancient times

NEW YORK – Although coral reefs resemble underwater branched plants, they are actually colonies of tiny organisms living on limestone exoskeletons of their ancestors. Precious coral, as the decorative type is commonly known, ranges from pale pink to deep red. Since it is colorfast and polishes to a high sheen, this gem-like matter harvested mainly along the Mediterranean coasts of France, Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Algeria has been esteemed for its beauty since ancient times. It was also prized for its purported restorative and protective powers.

The ancient Greeks, believing that coral transformed from plant to stone when exposed to air, endowed it with wondrous powers. Many Greeks carried coral amulets to deter ghosts and witches, deflect lightening, neutralize poisons, avert shipwrecks, cure scorpion stings and repel curses.

Snail brooch, 18K gold, featuring carved coral body, Boucheron, Paris; French maker’s mark for Bondt and guarantee stamp, signed, 33.9 grams, 2½ inches long, realized $4,750 in 2010. Image courtesy of Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Other Greeks believed that coral was born of blood. As the legend goes, when mighty Perseus beheaded the snake-haired monster Medusa, her blood, as it seeped into seaweed, hardened into red coral. So, amulets featuring Medusa’s likeness were deemed especially protective. In addition, people reputedly relied on powdered coral to cure internal bleeding, diseases of the spleen and bladder ailments.

Romans, too, believed that coral held therapeutic powers. Besides using it to treat snake bites and arouse libido, scores of them used powdered coral to quell life-threatening blood loss. Romans also draped pieces of coral around their children’s necks to guard them from harm.

Coral and bone carved yad (pointer) for reading a Sefer Torah, 11.4 inches long, 68 gr, 20th century, realized $1,700 in 2017. Image courtesy of Moreshet Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

From the first century AD onward, coral traders plied “coral routes” to the Arabian Peninsula and through Central Asia to the Far East. Eventually, communities they served integrated this valuable “red gold” into their local traditions.

Berber women in Morocco, for example, favored bracelets, ear ornaments and brooches featuring delicate coral beading or inclusions. Many also wore lavish necklaces or filigreed silver amulets enhanced with amber, silver beading, metallic coins and bits of coral.

Berber Moroccan silver, coral and amber necklace, 11 inches long, with enameled amulet, 3.23 inches wide, realized $400 in 2013. Image courtesy of Westport Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The Chinese, who perfected the art of hardstone carving, have long prized coral for its rarity and beauty. Artisans favored it because of its softness, which made it easy to “work” in fashioning pieces of wearable or decorative art. This craft rose to new heights during the Qing Dynasty, (1644-1912) when artisans, under Imperial patronage, carved fine, red coral figurines, jewelry and sculptures as royal tributes and ornaments. Their finest works, large, organic pieces featuring incredibly detailed images, frequently embodied auspicious wishes for good luck, wealth or longevity.

Sculpted Buddhist Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) with dragons, Qing Dynasty, China, about 15 inches x 19.6 inches, 6.19 pounds, realized $80,070 in 2014. Image courtesy of Cambi Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

Coral jewelry was especially fashionable during the Victorian era, when British women embraced ostentatiously carved cameos, densely designed floral trinkets, and flashy gold, diamond or sapphire-set brooches resembling beetles, bugs or dragonflies. Yet, British journalist G.A. Sala noted in 1868 that coral jewelry “carelessly selected, clumsily set and ignorantly arranged … may become one of the most vulgar and unsightly of all ornaments.” Today, happily, Victorian coral jewelry, which is widely collected, is available in abundance.

Spanish conquistadors introduced fine, red Mediterranean coral to the American Southwest in the 16th century, possibly as rosary beads or ornaments on najas, silver pendants hung on horses’ foreheads to avert the Evil Eye.

Old pawn Zuni sterling silver cuff bracelet, Irene Paylusi, 5⅜ inches round with 1¼-inch gap, 24.9 grams, realized $200 in 2012. Image courtesy of Santa Fe Gallery Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

It was not until much later that Navajo, Hopi and Zuni craftsmen began gem-working commercially. Their inlay work, delicately fashioned from coral combined with bits of turquoise, mother-of-pearl and black jet, often depict traditional tribal images like Rainbird, Sunface and Thunderbird. Alternately, many brooches, bracelets belt buckles, and bolo ties feature restrained, repeating coral beaded patterns. Coral necklaces range from impossibly petite, tube-shaped heishi beads and graduated, horny twigs to plump, shaped and polished cabochons. Contemporary Native creations, such as pins and rings, may dramatically integrate bits of unworked coral into traditional designs.

Graduated natural-piece coral necklace with 14K gold linkage, 19½ inches long, realized $125 in 2016, image courtesy. The Popular Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Coral amulets remain popular, as of old. Many Italian men, for instance, carry or wear slightly twisted, horn-shaped coral cornicellos to deflect the Evil Eye. Their wives and daughters may prefer more delicate coral-twig earrings, pins or pendants.

Today, too, enthusiasts scour auctions for authentic precious coral creations – superb sculptures, decorative natural specimens and enticing pieces of jewelry.