Above: precision-cut rhodolite garnet without window.
What are 'windows'?
More and more people turn to the internet buying gemstones
for jewelry, investment or simple fascination with color and sparkle.
Updated and expanded in 2022.
Here you will find advice on how to...
Judge a Gemstone online:
Different Shapes (new)
Gems in Jewelry (new)
Blue, Padparadscha, Yellow, Green, Purple, Pink, White
Color-Change Sapphires (new)
The Mild and the Wild
Ruby vs. Sapphire
Tsavorite, Pyrope, Hessonite, Almandine, Rhodolite & Raspberry, Color-Changer
Judging different shape/cuts online:
There are not as many shapes, cutting styles and types as gem varieties, also they are less defined than you may think, or wish. A recent survey amongst lapidaries has found no less than six names for the same cut and shape worldwide (princess). Since there are more lapidaries in the world than gem varieties, somebody will always disagree.
Here are the main shapes and a few words to their presentation on monitor. BTW, even the terms cut and shape are merging in definition. There is a Portuguese cut in round shape, or a brilliant cut in square cushion. Strictly spoken we're looking at shapes, not cuts.
We disregard cabochon and free form here but see 'shape' for stars as an important point decreased above. Also, view our section on precision cuts for the high quality today demanded of many disconcerting buyers. Precision cuts will be found in many classic shapes and fancy cuts.
The seven main shapes, roughly along decreasing availability and increasing demand:
Oval: Used for the majority of all rough. Because it is weight-sensitive and follows the natural crystal shape of most varieties, a good half of all gems reach in market in this shape. Oval covers all between cushion and round with the former being the 2nd most used shape but the latter the most desired. They like to end in windows (the see-through fish-eye effect and bane of all good gems), are often irregularly shaped or/and off-center. The higher priced a gem variety the more ovals will you find. Rubies and alexandrites are rare in round and demand way higher prices than a plain oval. Buyers beware if you want to purchase a cheap oval and have it recut. Count with a half loss to change into round, and a third to emerald shapes. To avoid windows, watch the center for a weaker or different hue, black holes or other irregularities. Facets must fill the whole gem's back including the centre. The outer shape should be geometric. The more facets, the better, but ovals are not the ideal shape for highest brilliancy. There is little escaping ovals on the web (or offline) but their images are telling. With some experience a front shot of an oval gives away cutting flaws, true color and inclusions alike.
Cushion: They can take all roundish forms between long rectangular (frequent) and square (less so) and have no standards. As the name says, they may look like any cushion but not round, oval or with strict 90degree corners. They may sport windows but less so than ovals. Such windows are harder to detect. Watch out for incomplete or missing center-facets AND photos/videos taken from an angle to hide off-center cutting. Again you will want more facets to increasing a gem's luster. Geometrically pleasing cushions are higher priced than crooked ones. Square cushions are more in demand than rectangular ones. They reflect more light than ovals, or should do so, thus the image may well show a full reflection where ovals tend to sparkle only in one third or half of the gem's width at one time.
Emerald: The choice shape for gems bought for color not luster. Often used in low dispersion varieties, dark tones or opaque rough. Emeralds come to mind first, but also color changers, opaque mandarin, deep blue sapphire or other gems paid for their strong colors. This shape does not hide inclusions well, has few facets thus less luster, should be highly symmetric with parallel sides and centered back-lines. If they are not symmetric, they will be difficult to set and look strange when set. Concave cuts in emerald-shapes do the impossible: add luster. They are a great add-on, will cover inclusions, but distract from a gem's main feature, namely color. Because they need special equipment, know-how, eat weight and not everybody likes them, they are difficult to find and quasi non-existing in some varieties.
Kite/Pear: Loved for pairs, this shape is the only born to be asymmetric at least along one axis. This means on monitor, as in person, one will find stronger colors, deeper hues in the tips but brighter tones in the wide sections. Asymmetric windows (if any) show in one half and perhaps disappearing in the other. They hide inclusions no more than other shapes and cuts. Look-up our section on pairs on this page if you are seeking material for earrings or sidestones. A fully closed back-side is a rare feat in pear. Except to pay a premium per carat for paired gems. Symmetry is wanted but not a kill-criteria. As far as brilliancy goes, expect at least the thicker part to show luster on photo.
Trillion: My personal favourite, trillions combine the qualities of rounds in luster with the ability to show color as in emerald-shapes. They can hide inclusions, make for visually big face-ups but are not very heavy (read: they need more rough). A well colored lustrous garnet will not black-out nor be pale. In precision-cuts, the lapidary can show his/her craft but even a 'native'-cut can shine. The pits in trillions are windows because they easily cover most face-up. Luckily they are easy to point-out on photo. With few exception, I prefer trillions with straight sides but rounded ones capture more of the precious material and that is a thought to keep in mind. Trillions are perhaps the most wasteful shape of all. Any trillion that is not closed in the center on photo will be even worse in person. Trillions are easy to read on monitor and thus a pleasure to buy online. In jewelry, the corners should be covered to avoid damage to yourself, the gem or others. A sharp trillion in Moh's hardness 9, may have killed the first game our ancestors hunted for.
Marquise: This shape, basically a ship's body, can be understood as a pear ending in tips on both sides. Again, color concentrates in the tips, as in does in drop-shapes but here in symmetry. On the photo above, one clearly sees the concentration of pink into red towards the tips (and a bit of a window). The lab report will NOT take this into account, not as main color, nor secondary, or as color zoning. Inclusions are not well disguised in marquise, windows show (as in the hot pink sapphire), asymmetry looks bad but marquise makes good use of the common crystal shapes and thus does well in weight retention. However, it is a difficult gem to set, mainly used in pendants or brooches. A tilt window (see-through from an angle) is hard to avoid and might show on monitor. Be ready to compromise.
Round: The holy grail of most collectors is round. It maximizes brilliancy and is the main shape of diamonds whose natural crystal fits well to cut rounds, even two from one piece of rough. In sapphire or ruby, on the contrary, it means to disregard much of a full natural crystal shape. A total no-no are windows in this shape. They look plain silly and are equally a sign of bad cutting. The number of facets is most important. The more, the better, the higher a gem's brilliancy. The classic round Portuguese with 162 facets is a great example. Even relatively low dispersion gems can sparkle here. The above red Garnet gives a good example of a clean, well cut gem with no flaws (if the deep color is good for you). Avoid pale centres and presentation focused on a gem's front hiding windows and inclusions. Expect to shell out 30-40% more for a round ruby or sapphire compared to an oval. Do ask for a rounding re-cut if the outer shape is egg-ish. You will not loose much weight and avoid unseemly setting issues. Remember to have a report made before the recut and clarify the 'what if's' should something go wrong during re-cut, although it is not too likely since a rounding means a more cosmetic repair. This most expensive of all shapes is still the one most first-time buyers demand for ring stones or studs but needs time and study to judge correctly online.
Sets or combos: As visible in the far above gallery-image of seven round and one emerald-cut sapphire, any ONE image of different shapes and cuts will have the gems look different. This reflects the simple truth that different shapes and cuts bring out different aspects of every rough. A nod to their importance. Check on detailed advice about pairs in an dedicated section on this shape. Only perfectly matching sets will appear similar, or should. The zoom function will be limited (ask for close-ups of the main gems). Generally, some gems may be seen from an angle and showing tilt-windows even if they are closed in a frontal shot. Colors contrast one-another, red next to green will show stronger (hence the demand for neutral backgrounds like grey or white). Watch-out for the numeric dimensions of each gem to avoid later disappointments because the monitor will rarely show relations of size correctly. If feasible, ask for one frontal shot of each gem and one or two images showing the set in one go. Side-views help, too. Take your time to study enlarged views.
Color-Diamonds online: No problem, but know your colors
White diamonds make good 'glitteraties' but that is about all. As gems they are neither rare nor value-storing. 'Diamonds are forever' was perhaps the biggest consumer heist of last century. Rapidly falling white diamond prices across the board speak for themselves. We use white diamonds only to add luster via sidestones.
Colored-diamonds, on the other side, are value keepers. Rare blue or red, but also more frequent fancy yellow, orange, brown, even black diamonds give their owners pleasure not only of the visual kind. We focus on exclusively untreated diamonds. Color treated diamonds are mostly identified as such in the highly regulated market (as opposed to all other colored gems).
It is true that you need only a day to learn about diamonds but a life time of study for opals, or sapphires. Color give diamond an extra dimension to consider. It helps that diamond-reports are so detailed and strictly enforced that they are almost grading reports in their own rights. This does not mean abuse is impossible as the jailed lab employees of New York 2006 have shown.
On monitor, all do's and dont's of colored gems remain valid for diamonds. No color changes or -shifts, no pleochroism complicates their presentation. Plain what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) allows easy judgment under neutral light. Check for off-color backgrounds, suspicious shadows pointing to artificial lightning, digital enhancement, inclusion-hiding front-focus or cut & paste images, check colors named in report and other tricks described on this page.
Diamonds are mostly well cut, often precision, up to the so-called 'ideal-cut. They lead, next to some some others, the pack in dispersion and luster. Their rainbow of sparks defies all monitors but you may trust in their existence because that is what diamonds stand for.
When it comes to small colored diamonds (<50 points or 0.5ct), remember that in person (i.p.) the gem is only a few millimeter wide. Imperfect cutting in that size can be traded for rarer colors. Being as precious as e.g. ruby, even small rough is faceted and, as in ruby, the yield (post-cut weight) becomes more important. Thus, small colored diamonds are frequently not cut to perfection but to retain weight. Nevertheless, highly magnified presentations reveal on monitor what the eye will not notice. Give credit. They remain a bash i.p.
However, because of their value, colored diamonds are not for color-beginners. If color is in your mind, and budgets are limited, start with zircon or titanite to learn what color means on monitor. As a general rule, luster 'eats' color. The untrained eye can usually not focus on luster and color at once. To separate and judge them separately, training and experience is needed.
Color-Diamonds on monitor:
- All rules for colored gems are valid for diamonds, too.
- Colors are WYSIWYG as long as the light setting is neutral.
- Great luster is a given in diamonds even if not shown on monitor.
- Color over-rules perfect faceting in smaller sizes.
- Use titanite, sphene and zircon to learn about colors before diving into color-diamonds.
See our Color-Diamonds
Alternatives to consider: Sphene/Titanite, Demantoid, Sphalerite
Alexandrite online: Color-change comes first
Alexandrite, or color-changing Chrysoberyl, is perhaps the most challenging gemstone variety for any buyer (on- or off-line).
Their color-change performance may out-weight many flaws in cutting or clarity. The more valuable a material, the higher the demands on lapidaries for weight-retention (yield), the less likely are precision cuts and perfect shapes. To buy 'dramatic' color-change trade-in other factors to stay on budget.
However, color-change is also the most difficult feature to display online.
Given its price, Alexandrite is one of the most faked gems on the internet. A common trick is to take photos of a plain Chrysoberyl and then, with a click of the mouse, change one photo into red, the other one into green and re-name it "Alexandrite" to raise the price eightfold.
Less scrupulous, but still a scam, is to take a color-shifting Chrysoberyl and tweak the color-shift into a color-change; and then raise the price fourfold. The minimum color-change a Chrysoberyl must show to be called an Alexandrite must be 50% (obviously this is only a benchmark).
Finally, when legitimate Alexandrite refuses to be photographed correctly (or somebody dreads the extra work) people may re-produce the actual visible colors digitally. Some argue this is OK at times, but 100% trust and confidence in the seller is then required. Since such trust is rare, the challenge of buying Alexandrite online is detecting digital coloring.
Here are some hints:
1. Pure green to pure red color-change is rare in Alexandrite. If you find a 100% color change from ruby-red to emerald-green on photo you either pay for highest quality, or you better move on. Zimbabwe Alexandrite come close to 100% change without the price but they are almost always opaque in character and dark in tone. Purple, brown, violet, orange and green are common guests in most photos. This is because natural light is always a mix of light types and thus shows different parts of the colorwheel simultaneously. Don't worry about this. Their absence on photo is more worrisome (fake alert). Btw, this also makes Alexandrite a difficult gem in person. Light is rarely pure, so the colors will be mixed as well. Ideally, in person, you have purple/red and blue/green sparkling at the same time.
2. Colors in normal, yet still expensive, quality Alexandrite's will often look blurred on photos. Day-green will be mixed with blue or yellow and/or brown, while purple is diluting the red or is even the dominant color at night. Such quality may still be rightfully called Alexandrite but it needs to backed-up by a full gem report including at least two of the following:
a) That it is an 'Alexandrite' (not only a chrysoberyl)
b) Defining the two different colors (blue/green/brown to purple/red/orange)
c) Judging the degree of change (weak, moderate or strong)
Without a lab report, aka 'certificate', photos of Alexandrite are even less conclusive than those of padparadscha or ruby. Never buy without a report. Not even pros dare to.
3. Most traders will (or should) show day and night images. It is good and normal to detect the opposite color (e.g. some red in the green day-light, or some green-blue in the night photo). Exceptions exist but they are amongst the most expensive materials on earth.
4. It is theoretically possible to shot day/night images with two different light sources but 100% identical positioning, and identical luster and light pattern in both photos. However, such an identical light pattern in both day and night image are a good reason to suspect digital coloring. Individually shot day and night photos will always show different light pattern. Hence, if day and night photo look 100% the same regarding luster and position, do ask more questions and be sure who you deal with.
5. A genuine lab report can be used to sell a synthetic Alexandrite cut in the same dimensions. Against this there is little protection except asking for 'fresh photos'. Synthetic Alexandrite is plain ugly, in person as on photo. If you can't be sure what you are buying, ask for a new report or reserve the right to remake them (with extended return time). Note the exact dimensions of the gem as sold. It is difficult to recreate a gem with precise identical dimensions especially when in a traditional hand-cut (common in such precious material).
As far as inclusions, windows, cutting, brilliancy, cat's eye, crystal etc. are concerned Alexandrite is no different from other Chrysoberyl's. Check the section on Chrysoberyl for more.
Alexandrite on monitor:
- Artificial light-sources are a necessary evil to show color-changes.
- Neutral light-settings display mixed colors at the same time which may look unattractive. Give credit.
- The color-extremes (day vs. night) may appear 'forced' on monitor. Check hand-sots.
- In valuable material, less perfect cutting is more likely. Trade-off under a budget.
- Windows and inclusions are easily overstated in (artificial) light-extremes. Check side-view and neutral settings.
- Without a lab report, alexandrite is not to be trusted.
Below a legendary 8 carat Alexandrite cat's eye:
Above: Small but fine mint tourmaline
Precision cut online: Must be perfect.
Precision cut gems look terrific on photo. If they don't look perfect they probably are not. To say that any precise cut gem will look great may be far fetched, but that is the direction it goes. Nevertheless even precision cuts can go wrong. See examples below.
A perfect cut will mask gray, strengthen weak colors, cover-up inclusions and make even black-outs look sophisticated. Hence don't buy lesser quality at top rates just because of an exciting looking photo (unless perhaps there is an award-winning star-cutter or an artist involved). Even a precision cut gem must stand the usual scrutiny regards to color, clarity etc.
You have to be aware that, as far as material value goes, a pale included gem is still a pale included gem even if it is precision cut and thus looks very sweet on photo. Of course, the pale included gem will actually also look better in person than the same gem cut badly, but it still needs to be significantly cheaper than a top-end stone. Since precision cuts have a lower yield (% of rough post-cutting) than 'normal' cuts they are more costly and shunned in a (wholesale-) world where quantity still beats quantity.
Highest quality gems in flawless precision cuts are still the exception. These are the collector stones skimmed by collectors. They demand double premiums. To say 'no price is too high for such a gem' may sound self-serving but is true (also for us professional buyers). If you enjoy a precision-cut expect to pay precision mark-up.
Not all precision cuts are automatically high-end gems. For example, the following precision cuts make good presentations online but come from "normal" quality rough; they deserve a mark-up for great cutting but they must not be the most expensive in their variety:
Flawless precision cuts of 'normal' quality deliver great photos. Their cut is a plus to value and beauty but it is not the whole story.
Finally, even a precision cut may have flaws; precision cutters are only human, after all, nor do all rough permit perfection. Below such samples.
High-end gemstones in precision cut must look absolutely perfect on monitor. One can not be too critical here (but you will need a healthy budget). The best gems of each class get their first cut close to the mines and not many gems are, or can be, re-cut into perfection later.
Precision cutting needs size in rough and availability for cutters without the buying power of big cooperations. Hence one will find more topaz than demantoid, more off-color sapphire than Burma ruby in relatively 'wasteful' precision-cuts. If you want the latter, bring time and money.
What constitutes a precision cut? Any pro-cutter may add many more topics but these are the basics which should be visible in any image:
- Facets are exact and meet in one place
- Symmetry and order in every dimension
- Best polish ('invisible' surfaces, zero scratches, no abbrasions)
- Maximized brilliancy
Precison-cut on monitor:
- They always look terrific.
- But: pay a premium only for cutting, not for finer gem quality in general.
- In very costly material, expect double/treble-premium.
- The rarest, most costly gems are rarely avaiable in precision cut.
- They can have flaws, too. Pay a lower premium.
- Check for perfect facets, symmetry, smooth polish, and max brilliancy.
- Accept realitive smaller sizes.
- More 'useful' in luster-gems than in color-gems.
Here are some examples of high-end precision-cut gems:
From left to right: citrine, mahenge spinel, rhodolite, hessonite, topaz, amethyst, color changing fluorite.
See our precision cuts.
NEW '23: The dreaded WINDOWS are explained here!
Judging Natural Sapphire Online
Sapphire is commonly known as a blue gem (or red, then called "ruby"). However, in 2005 the so called "fancy" sapphire (neither red nor blue) surpassed ruby sales worldwide.
Padparadscha online: Delicate
The most famous of the fancy sapphire are called Padparadscha'. They are one of the most sought-after gemstone varieties with a long tradition and come with an outstanding mystical image. Described as a color merger of the lotus flower and a tropical sunset, they are a famous topic of discourse amongst gem color specialists.
However, anyone who knows how many colors the lotus flower shows (not to talk of a sunset), can imagine the confusion regarding the definition and usage of the term "Padparadscha".
The color effect of a true natural padparadscha is (relatively) easy to capture (if present).
But, given their extreme value, natural Padparadschas are probably the most faked variety on the Internet. The combination of orange and pink is more a challenge to the photographer's honesty than to his skills. Precision cuts, no windows, no inclusions are an often wished-for extra in the extreme costly material and a challenge for any budget. Above right is such a fine specimen.
One will find anything from pinkish lavender to dull brown offered as "natural Padparadschas". Some sellers do not even go through the hassle of "photoshopping" their stones, but simply sell all half-way suitable off-colors with an idea of pink or orange as Padparadscha:
|NO PAD: Orange Yellow (may-be)||NO PAD: Orange Red (may-be)|
To qualify as true Padparadscha, a natural sapphire must show orange and pink at the same time with no other hue visible.
Here we may distinguish two forms of Padparadscha:
Pink and orange merge throughout the stone. The eye is puzzled with the melting color equilibrium. Some might perceive more pink, while others see more orange. Fascinating especially when a natural gems shows more pinkish orange in tungsten light, while being crispy orange pink at day.
Pink and orange are separated. An orange sapphire with pink areas also qualifies as true Padaparadscha in our opinion (and the other way around). Though Pads with thoroughly merging orange and pink are even higher priced than those with "simple" color zones, the latter can also make fascinating gems in their unique color structure. Color zoning of this type is also an indication that you are looking at a natural unheated Padparadscha. Nevertheless you should insist on a lab report or certificate.
Additionally Padparadscha connoisseurs distinguish between "pinkish orange" (orange is the more dominant color) and "orange pink" (pink being more dominant).
Thus, we may define four types of natural Padparadschas as shown below:
1. Orange Pink
(merging orange into pink)
2. Orange with pink
(pink zones in an orange stone)
3. Pinkish Orange
(merging pink into orange)
4. Pink with orange
(orange zones in a pink stone)
Remark: Some say, color-zoning with orange and pink does not qualify for Pads, and in the extreme (imagine one side orange, one pink) this may be true, but so far we have never seen this. Most Padparadschas show both colors merged but still some areas may exhibit more pink or orange than others. This is not color-zoning as in, say, watermelon tourmaline but simply varying hues and tones throughout the crystal and still most beautiful and rare.
|1. Merging orange in pink||2. Orange with pink zones|
|3. Merging pink in orange||4. Pink with orange zones|| |
In Asia the "Orange Pink" (1.) is the most valued variety of the four.
In Europe, it seems, "Pinkish Orange" is favoured. Obviously, this is a Q of taste. As far as classification goes, the report is the final word: it must say 'padparadscha'. With that, nothing matters but your taste.
Because of their value Padparadschas have always been the object of heavy treatments. Not only heating but complete "re-coloring" is common.
Diffusion treated beryllium padparadschas for example are about as a rare and valuable as traffic jams in Colombo. They can be bought for a $1/carat. Any good looking natural Padparadscha that does not cost significant money, is a fake (no exceptions).
Padparadscha on monitor:
- Overly red, yellow or brown sapphires are NOT padparadscha.
- Check for digital coloring-tricks.
- Tungsten light makes many pink sapphires look like padparadscha.
- Some are more pink, other more orange (but always both at once).
- Color-zoning (pink or orange) shows stronger on monitor than i.p.
- Windows and inclusions appear more dominant than i.p.
- Even smallest sizes are faceted and valuable, but do not retain color as well.
- High-end cutting is rare.
- Some consider tones darker than MD60 not qualified.
- Some consider orange/pink color-zoning not qualified.
- Though they are lusteous gems, they are priced more by color.
- Nobody sells a natural pad cheaply, ever.
- No lab report = no padparadscha.
See our padparadschas: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat or over 2 carat.
Alternatives to consider: Orange-pink Spinel and Tourmaline and some garnets (all lower priced), also diamonds but far higher priced.
Read more about padparadscha
2015: A second star padparadscha was hunted down for a loyal customer and collector in a year long epic quest.
The Big Blue
Blue sapphires online: The chameleon
Though natural sapphire come in a myriad of colors, most people think of sapphire as being blue.
Blue sapphire is in fact the number one in sales of all colored gemstones. Famous are Cornflower, Velvet- and Sky-blue and the rare Kashmir blue. The roots of the latter color come, of course, from the famed origin Kashmir. However, since the mines there have long run dry the term 'Kashmir' is commonly used for a specifically sleepy and hypnotic type of deep blue (like the 3ct natural Burmese sapphire above). Some Kashmir sapphires come from Pakistan but they tend to be purple, violet or color-zoned. (so far).
Blues are routinely ultra-high heated to create the darker kashmir-like shade. These dark blue gems, also called ink-sapphires, represent 99% of all sapphires in ready-made jewelry.
Sri Lanka exports containers of an ugly whitish stone ("geuda") which turns into blue sapphire under ultra-high heat. An estimated 95% of all Sri Lanka sapphire is treated. Untreated natural blue Ceylons of fine quality remain a rarity.
Anybody who has tried to capture unheated blue sapphire on photo will have realized that it is extremely sensitive to the light source. Far from understanding the color perception of the human eye versus that of a camera, we can only note that blue sapphire is a camera-chameleon.
The slightest change in angle, distance to, or the light itself result in tremendous changes of the captured color. The photos below show the same 3.5 carat blue sapphire without any further photo editing (other than sizing).
|Back-light darkens hue||Tungsten light|
|| || |
|Mixed day-light |
|Artificial and tungsten|
light shows color better
than in person
|Cold Daylight shows|
| || |
Photos above: Medium quality blue sapphire with window in different hues.
Depending on the light source and angle the camera transmits different hues and tones. Yet, the "real" color, meaning the one which the eye perceives most of the time under natural mixed daylight, could be graded as 'deep steel blue' or 'sky blue', and is best shown in two photos: #1 & #3 in the 2nd row.
Deviation between the monitor and reality are not always the result of bad intention or fraud. Especially light colored sky-, marine-, and steel-blue stones are difficult to capture correctly.
Many blue sapphires shift towards purple and violet in different light settings without being true color changers and there is nothing bad about it but you should be aware if you are allergic against purple, or violet. If you don't want any purple in your blue sapphire, try cobalt spinel or aquamarine for light blue. If you dislike violet as 2nd color try kyanite, indicolite, or rare Lightning Ridge opal. If green is a no-no, spinel or fluorite. For no secondary hue at all, go for darkest tones.
The most valuable Kashmir-blue easily blacks-out on monitor. This is because Kashmir is, in fact, dark, also in person. Much experience is needed to realistically capture the blue with little black and even then, some black remains. Fear not. Blue glowing in a dark sapphire is beautiful and most desired by collectors but it never is a sparkly, merry noon-blue.
Blue sapphire on monitor:
- Expect them to display different hues in person AND on monitor.
- The decisive light-setting for value is 'natural daylight".
- Tungsten light or direct sunlight influences their presentation greatly.
- Violet is a type of blue for many cultures.
- Pure artificial daylight produces a stronger blue.
- In deepest blue, some black-out is to be expected.
- Deeper tones hide inclusions and windows. Lighter tones overstate them.
- Color-shift into purple and violet is common.
- Yellow is more likely in zoning, green as 2nd hue.
See our blue sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.
Alternatives to consider: Blue spinel, indicolite, kyanite, euclase, or aquamarine.
Yellow Sapphire online: Sensitive sparkler
Sri Lanka produces particularly bright yellow sapphires. Though not strong in color, they do excel in luster and crystal. A well cut light yellow natural sapphire is a delightful lively gemstone.
Take note of yellow-tinted-white - extra sparkly in good quality. These yery light specimen mark the border to white (colorless) sapphire. White sapphires with only an idea of yellow (or any other color) are called "Tinted White". Such a tinted sapphire can replace fancy diamond but will cost only a fraction (though always with less dispersion).
Medium yellow sapphires can range from butter to spring yellow. Deeper, lower toned, specimen often come from Africa (with orange/brown), Australia (with green) and occasionally Burma (pure yellow). With strong secondary hues they charm with golden, honey, cinnamon, or 'Indian Summer' colors.
During the fist decade of the millennium, light yellow was the favorite color amongst sapphire collectors, and their prices soared. Since then, they have kept steady at their peak but they are nevertheless still affordable when compared to blue or pink.
(Remark: Many yellow sapphires are heated at lower temperatures (600-800°C), the so called 'blow-heat'. The gem-labs decided "treatment is treatment". To distinguish between low, middle and high temperature does not help, but further complicates the situation for buyers. Either a stone has been artificially improved, or not. Low heat melts inclusions and growlines plus it changes color. If there was no improvement and the treatment was not relevant, then why was it heated in the first place? A little pregnant does not count.)
Like most bright gemstones, yellow sapphires do not stomach inclusions or windows very well. Even an only "lightly included" yellow may seem to be dirty or cloudy on photo, although, in fact, the eye will not perceive any inclusions at all. In deeper colors, like Kashmir or ruby, even the lens would not reveal those fine inclusions, but in a yellow they seem to spoil the show. In the same sense color zoning poses a problem in light yellow. Even a slight change in hue may look like major color zoning on photo but will be difficult to find in person.
Remarks to the images below:
#1: Appears color-zoned on monitor but not in person
#2: Orange melts over whole gem i.p.
#3: A great sparkler i.p. but looking cloudy on all photos
#4: Windowed on photo but not, or barely, i.p.
|Color-zoned only on photo||No color-zoning i.p.||Cloudy only on photo||Windowed only on monitor||Window less visible i.p.|
A yellow sapphire without inclusions or color-zoning is a grateful gem to work with. They will shine and sparkle in all light-settings.
Frequently, however, their luster is so strong that the camera captures them just as a blurred light source. In this case the photographer has the choice to either show the stone as a somewhat fuzzy shining star, or he has to sacrifice the luster and show the stone from an angle only.
|Luster overlays Color||Photographed from an angle because too much luster||From an angle to show color|
Frequently the 2ndary hue in a sapphire is exaggerated on monitor. Some stones in fact turn so far that they are hardly recognizable as yellow anymore. This is, btw, not a color-shift at all but simply a false impression in the age of digital presentation.
|Overstated green on photo||Overstated green and window||Too much green on monitor|
Yellow sapphire on monitor:
- The brighter the tone (lighter the yellow), the more dominant are flaws.
- A great cutting pays off.
- Green, pink and orange are 2ndary hues but they do NOT color-shift.
- Zoning shows strongly, reduces prices, but can be very pretty i.p.
- Check side-view for high brilliancy gems.
- Dark/black areas are shadows not inclusions.
- Near-white (tinted yellow) show less hue than i.p.
See our yellow sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.
Alternatives: Citrine, imperial topaz, clinohumite, yellow diamonds, golden/yellow tourmalines, sphene.
Purple sapphire online: The Hidden Beauty
Cultures, times and languages use the term "purple" differently. North Americans and Europeans take purple as a color on its own, not a part of red (although violet is counted into the blue gemstones). Germans call some purple 'violet' and some 'lila', a term important in Eastern philosophy, not a color at all, others think of purple as a royal hue and compare it with 'indigo'. You may be surprised what individuals define as 'purple' while others insist THIS is not 'purple' - don't get confused but see it as a chance to buy what you like, often at lower prices and off the beaten path.
Unheated purple sapphires (as globally defined by the gem labs) are far undervalued given that they offer the same features as all sapphire, they sparkle, they are tough in jewelry and if you like purple they offer similar lovely color sensation. A good natural purple is a delightful sight, even if not as pushy as hot pink or as bright as sky blue. Nevertheless they have not been getting much attention at least until the quest for untreated ruby made many people consider other colors than the classical pink and red.
Yet, besides the terrific but rare electric purple, collectors seem to prefer stones with a secondary undertone rather than fully saturated purple ones. This looks like an exception to the rule "the higher the saturation the higher the price".
When looking at images of purple sapphire on the web one quickly realizes that their images do not easily compete with the dazzling presentation of good blue, ruby or pink.
Impressive images of a purple sapphire are mostly those with a secondary hue that gives the purple its final "bang". Pinkish purple, reddish purple or violet/bluish purple are great models, but purple on its own does not perform well in front of the camera.
The following sapphires are fine gems for the eye, yet the image does not transfer them equally well.
|Pure purple sapphire with inclusions||Dark purple under torch||Light purple sapphire||Heavily included purple sapphire||Small dense purple spinel|
Alone, without secondary hue, purple may seem somewhat dull or lifeless in front of the camera. Some think that is a problem of purple as a color but allow yourself the choice. Purple is a mild but natural hue, suave, not pushy by definition, and a color character in its own right.
The following four gems, all with 2ndary hues, do very well in front of the camera. They immediately catch the eyes attention and leave no doubt about their attractiveness in person.
|Neon Kashmir Sapphire||Precision cut big sapphire||Small violet scissor cut sapphire||Side view sapphire|
Photos above: Purple as/with a secondary hue are more photogenic than pure purple. These stones are in deed fabulously colored but not as intense as other main colors.
Thus, when buying purple sapphires on the web: If you like purple, give them credit and enjoy your own taste! You may then obtain a fully colored sapphire at a far lower rate compared to a pink or blue. Note that purple gems often move between blue and red in various light settings. Most color-changes travel across purple and it almost always shows as a secondary hue.
Though prices should not be a function of the photogenic capabilities of a variety, they do influence the market situation. Hence, gems reluctant in front of the camera are sold at higher rates in traditional channels than they are on the web. This is true for all gems, but especially for the camera-shy purple sapphire. On trade shows, beautiful purples sit next to fine blue or yellow. Yet, online traders, relying solely on the web, shy to offer a hard-to-present gem at premium rates. A good chance for the bargain hunter. A purple with XY as secodary hue may be the least expensive way to a pretty unheated sapphire.
Purple sapphire on monitor:
- Different light settings produce strong color-shits to blue and violet or pink
- Many purple sapphire border on color-changers (lab decides price-level but phanomena remains of interest for gemologists)
- Purple without secondary hue is as soft and mellow on monitor (as i.p.)
- Strong secondary hues make for great presentation (still purple i.p. and price)
- Will not make for flashy shows like pink or blue
Alternatives to consider: Amethyst, Spinel, Rhodolite, Tourmaline.
See our purple sapphires.
Pink sapphires, being a lightly colored form of ruby, have become steadily more and more popular since the turn of the millennium. Fine pink sapphires beat many (if not all) diamonds at 10% of the cost (even if they have reached $10k/ct in the best unheated gems).
Pink ranges from a light lavender rose to the so-called "hot pink", resembling a vivid bubble-gum, to the almost red with in lower (brighter) tones.
Aside from padparadscha, which is partly orange, pink sapphires have become the most expensive variety within the fancies. Untreated hot pinks of several carats have buyers lined up at the mines. In the wake of this popularity prices of pink spinel have increased as well.
The fact that heart shapes are much more frequent in pink sapphires than in any other color points to the emotional occasions they like to be used for. Especially Japanese buyers love big pink hearts.
Hot pink was once a unique offer from Sri Lanka, but this has changed. Madagascar has taken the dominant position for pinks, allthough many stones are heat treated. Under the lens, and on photo, Malagasy crystals show tiny round inclusions. These are in fact gas bubbles. If too thick, the gem apperas dull in person and moderatly or even heavily included on photo. If, however, they are only lightly sprinkled throughout the gem, these bubbles are invisible to the eye, leave the gem attractive in person, but jump to prominence on photo, ruining their online presentation.
If you want a 100% clean natural pink, without any inclusions even under the lens, you will have to search even longer and, no doubt, pay more. Accepting the bubbles up to a 'lightly included', will safe time and budget.
Ranging from the most tender-baby-complexion to alarm-button-hue, pink sapphire does not allow a simple evaluation.
Light pinks are difficult to represent on monitor. Like yellow they suffer from exaggerated display of inclusions, re-pay good luster with fuzzy images and show windows where the eye sees none.
Hot pink, on the other side, represents well on monitor. Period! If it doesn't look like fire, it is not hot.
'Warm' lavender pink can be just right for those who like it a tat understated but sparkly, as shown below, but they cannot compete with images of hot pink sapphires.
|No window in person||Shiny pink but not yet 'hot'.||Malagasy bubbles make a bad show but are still OK i.p.||Included on monitor but...||... extra sparkly and shiny i.p.||Luster overcomes color||No inclusion or window i.p.|
Photos above: Light pinks are mercilessly self-critical.
Strongly colored pinks, on the other hand, are more than robust on monitor. The following shots were immediate "bull-eyes", and do neither exaggerate the stones beauty nor understate their weaknesses. Further around the color wheel this is taken to the extreme when even opaque rubies still look good on monitor. Below are true 'hot pinks'. Immediately distiguishable from the row above.
|Faint window drowned in color|
(and hidden by reflection)
|Visibly hot and flawless||Perfect, no black center i.p.||'Hot' times two||Bulls-eye neon no-heat pink Burma||Color excels shape||Some Malagasy bubbles but none i.p.|
As a rule, the lower the tone (darker) a pink sapphire is, the more critical you should be about flaws you can detect on monitor.
In a light pink those flaws will be overstated. Here you may make a good catch if you find a fine, but lightly colored, pink that is undervalued due to its bad photo manners like inclusions prominent on the monitor but not in person.
Pink sapphire on monitor:
- Bright pink is extra sensitive. In person inclusions and windows are more tolerable.
- Hot pink must be visible right away. Color trumps some flaws.
- Malagasy pinks suffer from bubble-inclusions even when not visible i.p.
- Check side-views for more color impressions.
- Border to red is not fixed. Lab reports decide what is pink, what is red = ruby.
- Some pink offer ruby-features at a lower price
Alternatives to consider: Pink spinel, tourmaline, ruby.
See our pink sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.
White Sapphire online: Rarly pure, sensitive and not diamonds
Truly colorless sapphires are called "white", or 'white-white'. They were were said to be found exclusively in Sri Lanka but this is not true anymore.
Fine white sapphires have become rare since they can be turned blue, orange or yellow with high heat, irradiation and other treatments. A perfect blue sapphire after treatment used to be more expensive than the same sapphire without color but this, too, is changing.
White sapphire rivals diamond in some ways. Cut round to maximize luster they can be distinguished only by the collector. Thus they were often used as a diamond substitute (as natural alternative to CZ). However, sapphires do not sparkle like diamonds but have their own character. With more and more consumers becoming aware of this charm values are rising accordingly. Today, a untreated white is costlier than the same sapphire with artificial' color. The fact that they remain hard to find points to a natural rarity.
The biggest challenge to judge white sapphires online is to judge their 'white-ness' or lack thereof. If you are looking for a light pink, finding a white sapphire with a pink tint might be exactly what you wanted and a relief for your budget. If you want a clear white sparkler, however, you'll need to rely on lab report plus seller description. Photos or videos alone will not be enough. Even the most neutral and honest photography may show color where the eye perceives none. And many labs, even the best, may not call a sapphire 'blue' just because it has a faint blue tint. Labs do simply not have the vocabulary to describe what is not yet a color but still visible.
Many whites display light hues - pink, yellow, purple or blue. The border between a pale blue and a white sapphire with a blue tint is not clearly set. From the point of untreated stones, we define the border in favor of color and call white with a dash of color 'tinted white'.
A white sapphire that shows some, say, blue but may not be called a blue sapphire, is here referred to as a "tinted white". Such a tint may be imagined as the lightest of all tones. Clean ice for example leaves an impression of being bluish, or white marble might shine yellowish. However, one wouldn't call this 'blue ice' or 'yellow marble' straight away.
The tints in white are often so fine that professional graders can not agree on them. Some gem labs define such a stone as "light blue" some tend to call it "colorless". At the end of the day it comes down to your personal perception and taste. In any case we will explicitly mention the faintest idea of color in our comment.
Btw., all white gems do exhibit color when in colored light or when they mirror surrounding colors, but that obviously does not constitute a tint. A tint must be visible independant of the settings.
Here are some examples of sapphires that show various tints, but are still be classified as whites or 'tinted white':
|Peach tint with NO window in person||Tinted purple/pink.||Orange/pink tint.||Strong yellow tint.||Same gem as left but in a pair. Distance swallows yellow tint.||Faintest Yellow-Orange|
When choosing a tinted white sapphire on the web, make sure that the stone does not only show colors resulting from an external light effect. Ask the seller and see for the color definition of the lab certificate if you are not sure.
If there is a tint, and you like it, you might have the chance for a bargain in your color of choice.
Tints aside, white sapphires are thankful photogenic models. They sparkle and shine with all might. Surprisingly they are not as sensitive to inclusions and windows as one would expect from the experience with yellow or light pink.
The only other difficulty one encounters with whites is to rightly capture their luster. Some well cut whites are so good in throwing back light (which is somehow the life-purpose of any gem) that they can't be presented only from the front. Those stones you may find to be photographed from a side angle. In side-views do not misinterpreted tilt-windows. Luster intensive presentation also tends to show more coloring from background or light-hue (blue from day, yellow from tungsten).
Side-views are often the only way of capturing the stone without simply having a oval or round fuzzy light-blob on the picture. Additional images should show those gems from the front, but buyers better to use the side images for inclusions, cut and tint (if any).
Here are some pure whites (agreeing with lab reports 'colorless') with difficult front images.
|Pure white from a |
|Same gem fron the front|
shows more blue.
|Deep-cut white, dark center is no window.||White from an angle.|
Too much luster from front.
|Pure white. Blue from daylight only. In the back: Tilt window. ||Pure white. Good cutting is|
hidden by luster
|Pure white showing cut|
but also yellow/green tint.
Photos above: Any visible hues are the result of reflections, background or the light-hue itsself (blue from daylight, yellow from tungsten light and mixtured thereof).
On monitor, one can not show all qualities (or flaws) at once. If the value of the stone (and thus the invested time) does justify multiple views, several photos or videos are probably the best way to overcome this issue. There is an obvious connection between an in-depth multi-angle multi-light photo-analysis and the price of a gem.
At any rate, a seller should be willing to provide you with a written statement or an additional photo if you have doubts about certain feature like color or are worried about a flaw.
A last advice regarding untreated white sapphire: Buy them before prices go up.
White sapphires on monitor:
- Even pure white shows color tints (light-setting or background)
- Side-views show inclusions and cutting in lusterous gems
- Tinted whites (faint color) are often sold as white
- Light colors offered as 'white' make bargains.
- Inclusions and windows are worse than i.p.
- Good cutting is worth smaller sizes
- Color-zones diffuse hue through-out the gem
- Dark areas are shadows not flaws
Alternatives to white sapphire: Topaz, danburite, quartz, white diamonds.
See our white sapphires.
Green Sapphire online: Botanic to Artic
There is no deep emerald-green, no neon-electric or extraterrestrial chrome green to be had in sapphire. Exceptions exist, but cost extra, as all collector premiums do. With iron as color agent they tend to be an earthy topic. Even the most painless photo-shoppers on Ebay do not dare to display them in shock-green. Green sapphires are pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
They come in certain types from certain origins, from left to right: Montana, Africa, Tanzania, Australia, Ceylon, Montana.
|Lake Green||As shocking green as it gets||Dark blue green||Almost bi-colored with yellow||Ice blue-green||Blue-Green or Green-Blue?|
Classical green sapphire from Australia often mix with blue and yellow in various degrees.
When buying untreated Australian green sapphire keep away from very dark stones unless they come with a full report. Check for the light settings on the pictures: It should not seem artificially over-lit or brightened. Australian greens are still a great bargain. Also, the so called 'party-sapphires' with color zoning of yellow, green or blue are before general appreciation and thus yet affordable.
More floristic type of green hues come from Sri Lanka; and her geological neighbors in east Africa. Typically underplayed with yellow, blue or violet and even some with purple-red color zones they offer wide range of options. From jungle to teal, and olive to the most tender sprout green, there is much to like.
Watch out for blue-green, or green-blue, sapphires as the one above top right. Those are fine gems with much luster and they are still affordable. Bargain hunters may find such stone priced at greenish levels (not blue) but deliver much of the blue magic of classic sapphires.
Also, Montana (with its own section below) has a very special range of greens on offer.
Floristic type of green hues come from Sri Lanka; and her geological neighbors in east Africa. Typically underplayed with yellow, blue or violet and even some with purple-red color zones they offer wide range of options. From teal to olive to the most tender sprout green, there is much to like.
Watch out for blue-green, or green-blue, sapphires as the one above top right. Those are fine gems with much luster and they are still affordable. Bargain hunters may find such stone priced at greenish levels (not blue) but deliver much of the blue magic of classic sapphires.
Also, Montana (with its own section below) has a very special range of greens on offer.
Cold Montana (above: 1., 2., and 6.)
Here are the legendary US sapphires from Montana with bright metallic often bluish watery greens and blues. With mostly light tones they are a difficult bunch on photo, but very rewarding in person.
They frequently display cross-overs between blue and green; and they also have great luster which is desired but often difficult to judge online.
|Reminding of a clean, cold stream||Rough showing Montana color||Bright Lake blue||Just before luster overcomes color||Very rare sky blue||Aqua Green-Blue||Bright mint green|
Aren't they truly different in character? Like cold rivers, lakes in winter, bluish green as ice. They do not compare with the posh blue or pinks of the world. Austere, frugal and often pale; they have an arctic charm and it shows online. One in twenty is yellow (always with 2ndary hue), one in a hundred pink/purple.
Simply said: One must like them. And many do. However, they are less pricy than blue or pink, even lower than fine yellows. With the casual gem-buying public connects green mostly to Emerald, sapphires make for unique jewelry gems, always worth a chat. Especially with blue mixed in, teal colors, are going to appreciate over the years (we dare augur).
Green Sapphires on monitor:
- Green sapphire make honest but simple photos.
- Color zoning is a frequent occurance and they do NOT melt into general color i.p.
- Green-tinted whites offer great value.
- The darkes tones can be found with 2ndary blue.
- Color zoning can be pretty, and make for a unique snatch within budget.
- Bright color (low tones) overstate inclusions and windows.
- Dark greens are rare but forgive flaws on monitor more than they do i.p.
- Color and luster can be found in balance.
- Montana offers a whole selection of unique green at reasonable value.
- Do not expect too much luster from Emerald shapes.
Alternatives for green sapphire: Green tourmaline, peridot, jade, sphene, zircon, garnets, emerald.
See our green sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat or over 2 carat.
Star Sapphire & Ruby online: Take time and study
Commonly stars are known in ruby and sapphire but they also appear in garnet, spinel and other less known varieties. There are differences between those stars but we will here pretend that nature made all stars equal.
Cat's eyes are in many ways 'simple stars'. The following can be transferred to cat-eye or chatoyant gems.
Stars and rays are usually shown under some sort of single light source. Fine specimen show asterism without extra beam but those are rare and even then the camera does not reproduce them as strong as in person. The sun, of course, is the greatest of all single light sources although few traders have the leisure (nevermind the security-system) to take their gems into the open. In any case, direct sunlight is also not the common light setting for jewelry.
The application of artificial light is always a difficult point in gemstone photography (as in CC). However, no normal jeweler will be able to show you a fine natural star sapphire in person, let alone a selection to choose from. Good stars are rare even beyond the normal gemstone rarity. Unless you live in a metropolis or travel to Tucson or Basel, the internet is the only place to compare and buy such a gem.
Looking at images on the web, true stars seem to be quite an ugly bunch. Rarely do they show nice colors, often they are zoned, patchy, heavily included, silky, egg-shaped and at times the asterism is hardly visible at all.
And of course you will find many "perfect", "fully colored", giant star sapphires or rubies for a few dollars. These are synthetic, surface diffused or lead-glass filled gems which are mostly worth just as much as they cost.
There is nothing wrong with twenty carat Linde star for fifty dollar, but be wary of those sellers trying to offer them as real deal for $20,000.
Here are some typical examples of undisclosed fake stars:
|Fake||Also Fake||Totally Faked :-(|
So, they are either ugly or faked?
No, don't be discouraged. Real natural stars are mind-shaking and heart-breaking.
Many star skeptics have become sworn star fans after their first encounter with fine quality:
|Ceylon Star Sapphire||Mogok Star Ruby||12 Ray Burmese Star|
Here is what to look for when selecting a star sapphire or ruby online.
The value of any star gem depends strongly on the quality of its asterism, which is defined by (no order):
Symmetry & linearity
Completeness (6 rays mostly)
Travel (smoothness of movement)
Lucidity & Depth
The relative importance of these criteria are questions of personal taste, culture and fashion. Most collectors would perhaps trade in some off-centeredness for good movement, or overlook a meandering leg while frowning at a missing one.
Only then, with decreasing relevance, come:
Finish (top and bottom)
Asterism and color together easily make up 80% of the value of a star (sapphire, ruby or any other variety).
With ten dimensions (as compared to the old 4 Cs) stars are a quite demanding topic. But they are rewarding, too.
Let us tackle each issue separately from the web's point of view:
1. Sharpness is easily shown on the web. Here are three stars (spinel and sapphire) with decreasing sharpness:
|Star Spinel pointing towards beam||Sapphire with star pointing at light source||Pink Sapphire pointing towards beam|
Three remarks, though:
There is an ideal distance between spotlight and the gem bringing out the sharpest star. You may assume that the photo captures this point. (unless stated otherwise)
In general, a camera shows stars not as sharp as the eye perceives them. Hence, when you see a sharp star on photo you can safely conclude that the star is actually very good in person. If you can just make out the star on the photo, it will be fleeting and in need of a strong single spotlight.
People can photoshop a star or ray onto a simple (but real) cabochon (different from the fake stars above). As always, if it is too good to be true... and never buy without 3rd party report.
2. Symmetry and linearity are easy: What you see is what you get.
Photo: A rather symmetric white star sapphire with some snaky rays.
3. Completeness: No problem either. Count the legs. If the gem on the photo misses one leg it is likely missing for real (unless the grading says otherwise.) Rare if with visible legs are 12-ray stars (shown below - which we wish we never sold and today would buy a house).
Photo: Star Sapphire with two missing legs
4. Travel, the ability and smoothness of the star traveling over the stone, is difficult to show oeven on video. You will have to rely on the seller's description plus the lab report and check later in person.
Ideally the star follows a light source smoothly, not jerking and jumping, while staying intact and sharp. Don't expect perfection though: Every star has a weak area or two. Value reducing would be a loss of completeness, say, one or two legs, or even a sudden disappearance of the whole star during movement.
5. Position too, is a tricky business on the internet. In order to show the star on a photo one must bring it close to the center. Thus, on a photo, the star will usually be centered. But that does not mean it actually is. In person, beam and viewing angle can be near identical but camera and beam cannot be in the exact same point. There are cameras with a light ring around the lens but they produce fuzzy or multiple stars.
Photo: Three stars looking halfway centered but are in person off-centered:
|Light source from right upper corner, star points the other way. Not good.||Sunlight from above (shadow on tweezer) but star is centered.||Light from left corner, star pointing slightly the other way.|
Sometimes you may see the light coming obviously from the side while the star sits centered, meaning that, when the light is moved up, the star will probably shift off-center. Check the shadow a gem casts. The star should point into the general direction from where the light comes. In the first image above, the beam comes from right and up. The star. however, points left-down. With day-to-day light coming from above, this star will most likely disappear in most light settings. Not good. The Mogok star a few images up points towards the light source. Good.
Every star or ray is different and few are perfect. As long as the rays do not disappear under normal light settings, consider it against other strengths or weaknesses. If the star is visible only when light hits it horizontal, it may be of little use in jewelry. Such a gem could sell at cabochon value.
Whenever useful we try to put a number to 'off-centeredness': "45 degree off-center" for example indicates that when the spotlight is positioned straight above, the center of the star sits half way down the stone. Ten degree would mean the star is just slightly off center and more than 60 degree would send it nearly over the edge.
6. Lucidity & Depth are connected. In one extreme we will have completely opaque material with the star sitting on the surface. Opaqueness is easy to spot on photos or video. It looks like a solid piece of material with the rays fixed or painted onto the surface.
Photo: Opaque star ruby with the star confined to the surface.
At the other end of the spectrum we may have highly transparent quality with the rays reaching into the body. One can, however, not expect 100% transparency because needles are necessary to break the light and show the star.
If the needles are very fine and yet the star is clearly visible, then ... There is magic: The rays sway like silver curtains inside this most dense material.
Most stars however are rather opaque and transparency is highly priced. There is nothing wrong with a fine star on opaque material (and a lower price). You still get to enjoy one of the most legendary gem phenomena.
Photo: Semi-Translucent star sapphire with rays reaching into the gem
So much to the evaluation of asterism.
The remaining four points are also relevant in normal gems but some remarks for star or rays in general are helpful.
7. Color: Strong colors are extremely rare in stars. Even the best star will have a silky, silvery sheen to it which clouds its saturation. This is unavoidable. A star needs needles.
Most stars come in grayish, foggy mild colors. Exceptions, like the one below, exist but they are very costly and yet can not rival the intenseness of a 100% transparent gem:
Novices may be disappointed when expecting to find a neon red ruby or a hot pink sapphire with perfect asterism. Such are not likely in nature. Silkiness is part of the phenomena, and color is an add-on. Even grayish white stars have good value if their asterism is of high quality.
The main problem, however, when judging stars online is that any spotlight, needed to show the star, affects the character of the color. There is no cure to this but two images, one to show the star, and one more to show the body color (without a spotlight). Under a beam light much remains hidden, color zoning, 2ndary hue or even primary hue, even inclusions if they sit below surface. Compare below:
|Red body (with star pointing to the light source)||Purple/Red with color zoning NOT visible under beam (left)|
|Violet red-purple||Mainly purple-violet|
|Orange red/pink (spinel)||Mild orange/red|
However, star quality and color saturation interact: The more silk in the body, the better the potential for the star. On the other hand, the thinner the needle structure, the better the color can hold.
Since these gems are observed mostly for their stars and with a lightsource, a pleasing body color that does not change too much under a beam would be ideal.
Note: Seriously weak stars should be valued close to a cabochon of similar quality.
8. Clarity: Stars are by nature often more included than normal facetted gemstones (beyond their needle structure). This may be connected to their geological origin as semi-transparent material. However, inclusions should not dominate the overall appearance or hinder the rays from traveling.
Photo: Star padparadscha with orange inclusions and yellow color zones adding beautifully to the sunset theme.
Stars tend to display stronger color zones. Here too, one has to be tolerant. As long as the star runs unhindered through those color zones you are still on the good side, even if the price of such a gem must be well below an evenly saturated sample.
9. Shapes of starr are limited to round or oval cabochons with rare exceptions.
Photo: Pear shape star sapphire (one of a pair)
Generally, asymmetric shapes or other unevenness will reduce prices but the visible star is far more important.
10. Finally the finish of a star: While the dome must be smooth and evenly polished, the bottom is mostly left rough and unpolished. This is normal and doesn't matter, even with unattractive edges, holes and other flaws below. Don't worry about them. The lower part is supposed to be hidden in any setting.
Photo: As-good-as-it-gets back of a star sapphire: Unpolished, no over-weight, no flaws. BTW this is the back of above 12ray sapphire from Burma.
The only area that counts in a star sapphire or ruby is the top. The bottom can be pretty but don't count on it. In very transparent stones the rough underbelly also helps to keep light inside the gem, not passing through easily.
That said, it is very important to keep the bottom as small as possible, not bulging and thus producing extra weight. Enough bottom to accommodate a setting is all weight you want to pay for. A tiny star sitting on a giant rock of corundum should not be priced per carat.
- The most important quality of a star sapphire, ruby (or any other variety) is its asterism (color is a close 2nd)
- The main criterion of asterism may be lucidity, completeness, position and travel
- Lucidity and completeness are easily judged online
- A star should point to where the light source sits
- Travelling of a star is hard to judge online, but need the sellers input
- Asterism and color together determine the final value of a star gem
- Strong colors in transparent stones with stars are highly priced but extremely rare
- Some fogginess/silkiness is unavoidable in star gems (or cat's eyes)
- Body color varies with the type and intensity of the spotlight
- Avoid over-weight bottoms
Treatment of Cat's Eyes, Star Sapphire & Ruby:
Many gem dealers will claim that stars and cat's eyes can not be treated. This is nonsense. They can not be ultra-high-heated above 1200 degree because this might melt the needles. Stars are regularly heated below 1200 degree, lead-glass-healed, diffused or filled with bismuth or other chemicals.
Alternatives: none really.
See our stars: under 2 carat, over 2 carat.
Gemstone Pairs online: Check the numbers
If you adore individual jewelry you may soon be searching a matched pair for earrings or side stones for a ring or necklace. The internet is often the only venue to visit.
The collector knows there are no two identical gemstones. If you see a 100% identical pair online it is most likely one stone copied, pasted and rotated digitally.
Here is some advice on how to judge pairs on the web. These are valid for all varieties, not only sapphires. Images of pairs are tricky even by gemstone standards. In pairs, a fact-based analysis of clarity, tone, and dimensions is of greater importance than it may be for single gems. Especially the often overlooked 'dimensions' as stated in the lab report become crucial. A single gem may be bought based on gut-feeling and guided by images or video. The qualities of pairs (or sets) for jewelry can not be judged that easily.
Unless you settle for a calibrated and artificially colored stone you will have to accept some differences, especially under the lens. However, two gemstones need to have a similar appearance and character to be in harmony as a pair. A practical test for supposedly similar gems is to mix them up. If you need the carat balance or a lens to distinguish them afterwards, they have passed the most demanding test.
In a more thorough approach let us divide the comparison along 4 C's:
1. Carat (size):
Many people get overly focused on searching identical carat weight in pairs. This is not necessary and indeed very rare to find. More relevant is the so called "face", the upside dimension of a gem. Two gems might have the same carat weight and yet very different faces.
Better search for gems in the same weight class, say 2-3 carat and then, more importantly, look at the dimensions of the face. Concentrate first on width and length. They are most important since they determine the visible face. A pair with too much deviation in the visible part is no good for jewelry.
How much deviation is too much? This is better looked at in relative, rather than in absolute terms. One millimeter difference on a 20mm pear shape might be acceptable but a catastrophe on a 4mm round gem. Barring exceptions we allow pairs to have max. 5% deviation from each other.
The third dimension, depth, is less relevant for your choice assuming that the face is similar and that there are no bad windows. Depth however is the main parameter for weight. Hence, you may find gemstone pairs with equal face dimensions but very different carat weight. Yet, they can be perfect twins for jewelry if the cut is good enough to cover up missing depth, which leads us to the next point:
2. Cut (luster):
Assuming that you search for identical shapes, the best chances lay with pairs that have been cut-to-match, meaning both gems were faceted by the same lapidary. Another criteria would be to find gems coming from the same mine or even mine-run. Most desired, finally, is cut-to-match plus same mine(-run). With "same mine & same cutter" one has the best chances of getting two (almost) identical characters.
How important is cut? A gem's cut determines its inner life and behavior in motion. The more important luster is for a gemstone, the more emphasis will rest on identical cuts. A pair of round white sapphires for example should be cut-to-match. In a less lustrous gem, say, midnight blue sapphire or a dark tourmaline, the details of each single facet are not as important.
As mentioned, differences in depth can be tolerated if the lapidary manages to bring out a similar life and luster in both gems. This has limits. Too little depth results in windows and there is no way out. We try to avoid windows in general but especially in pairs. Windows always dominate a gem's impression and they are rarely similar. However, while a pair with similar windows may be OK for some, a fish-eye next to a full body sparkler is beyond salvation.
3. Color (hue + tone):
Color is king. Ruby, paraiba or emerald are primarily bought for their magnificent colors and only secondarily for their luster. Those must match in color or they are no pair. Judging color, however, is the far more difficult than looking up dimensions and comparing cuts. But even if two gems show the same hue in a certain light setting, they may yet differ under new light-settings. One may turn violet at night, while the other moves towards purple. In fact, this is most likely in many varieties unless they are of identical chemical composition. The safest bet here is with 'same-mine' gems while 'same-cutter' becomes less important.
Other gems, like diamonds, titanite or demantoid are desired for their luster, too. Those shall be judged by dimensions, luster and color in equal parts. There the cut plays a stronger role because it determines their luster. Accordingly 'same-cutter' is as more important as color.
Differences in tone are easier to stomach than differences in color composition (mix of 1st, 2nd and 3rd color). This is true especially in darker varieties. (Remember: Tone is the amount of black/white not the saturation). A deep blue sapphire of medium dark 75 will easily fit with a medium dark 80. But be careful with e.g. light yellow or green. There, even small differences in tone will be very visible.
b) Hue: Where color is king - in pairs it is double. A pair with different color composition will hardly make a nice pair. Add only a bit of purple to a ruby or a tint of violet to a blue sapphire and you will need many meters (not only a face) to separate them from a red-red ruby or sky blue sapphire. A greenish blue and a bluish green sapphire, or a rose red and an orange red ruby, can not be called a pair at all. As soon as the color is visibly different there is no pair.
Remark: We would rather use pairs of completely different hues than allowing too much divergence in one hue. Such divergence is sloppy and lacks attention to details. A brazen contrast, on the other side, would stand above the discussion. Combining, for example, sky blue with kashmir blue is simply wrong, while using rhodolite and tsavorite for a pair would be a fashion statement. A question of taste, perhaps.
4. Clarity (inclusions): A matching pair should be on the same clarity level. One may accept a "free of inclusions" next to a "very slightly included", meaning both are clean to the eye, but anything that is visible in jewelry should at least be visible in both gems. If a pair comes from the same mine-run, one can actually find beauty in combining identical types of visible inclusions: individual, charming and easy on the budget (think for example rutilated topaz as a pair).
Remark: Matching pairs are even rarer in untreated gems because treatments produce uniformity. Heat or diffusion brings out similar colors from different rough. The result is a more consistent color mix over large lots. Matched unheated ruby or sapphires are therefore a difficult hunt. In fact, this is one reason for the spread of treated gems: Making a necklace with 50 matching sapphires is only possible on a high budget, or with high heat. Similarly the industrial production of 5,000 rings with a similar colored blue gem demands controlled artificial coloring. Or think of the sets with sapphires in all rainbow colors. Such can only be done with very long, hard work aka budget (we did one or two) or with radically controlled diffusion treatments.
- Width and length determine the visual similarity of a pair not the weight ('face not carat')
- Better two windows than one (better none)
- The more important luster is, the more important are identical cuts, same-cutter
- Same-mine + same-cutter pairs are the holy grail for high-end pairs
- Differences in tone are more tolerable than differences in hue
- If inclusions are visible they must be visible in both stones
See our pairs.
Ruby online: From mild to wild
To judge ruby on photo I dare to separate them in two main characters:
Dense red glow with introverted, rich and flowery colors
Flamboyant neon radiation in flashy and energetic red
With this short-cut, we will be able to extract some basic rules for an otherwise unmanageable multitude of ruby varieties.
Such a ruby can vary from fire engine (red-red) to rose red (add some purple) to an earthy crimson red (add some brown). Highest prices are paid for fire engine red, with rose red and then crimson following. Brownish brick red rubies shall be rather reasonable.
Pictures: Three ruby colors in mild hues
|Traffic Light||Rose Red||Crimson|
Mild ruby online: Pleasing
Rule 1: Insist on at least one image with light in the back.
Mild colored ruby will easily hide inclusions from the camera. Make sure the image does not only focus on the surface of the stone. A mild ruby needs an image with light falling in from the back of the gem. This will show you inclusions with all honesty.
Pictures: Mild colored rubies in front of daylight
Many images on the web are "front-loaded". They show only the surface of the gem but not the inside. This is done to peddle translucent, or even opaque, cabochon quality as facet grade ruby.
Rule 2: Mild colored ruby needs clarity.
Heavily included ruby in mild colors looks dull in person. The value of such cabochon quality corundum is low in comparison to transparent ruby (unless it displays a star ruby of course).
The scarcity of good material has somewhat lowered the bar to what is labeled as facet-quality ruby. A translucent or opaque mild ruby might look OK on the photo, but the stone will be boring in person and have zero luster. No good.
Ruby is by nature more included than, say, tourmaline. You will only get a "free of inclusion" if you have very deep pockets. However, some inclusions may be wanted to gain silky shimmer and sleepy hues, while others like black spots or white areas are to be avoided.
Picture: Finest Burma Ruby with rare "Free of Inclusions"
Silky needle structures can be delightful, shattering light rays into a hypnotic gleam. Thicker needles are interesting under the lens and do little harm to beauty.
Less attractive, and hence price reducing, are whitish clouds, visible black spots, growth lines with weak color zones or broken crystals.
Rule 3: See inclusions but imagine glow and luster.
While mild ruby will swallow its inclusions, it will also hide its luster and no high-end camera can change that. However, even the worst cut ruby has luster as long as it is clean.
Hence, in mild ruby, you need to be picky with inclusions but may be generous with luster and radiance.
Rule 4: A pleasant mild ruby will never disappoint as long as it is clean.
Image: This, only fine sapphire and ruby does in red. Quite stunning.
Wild Ruby online: Shocking
Often described as "neon", "vivid" or "electric", these rubies may display a good deal of pink and violet, yet their main feature is a radiant, almost aggressive red.
Picture: Mogok ruby in sunlight
Such a ruby will always catch your attention. It will stand out, even in a shop window loaded with other gemstones. They are the masters of the red universe. No other material (man-made or natural) can beat them. Some flowers come close, but of course they lack fire and glow.
Rule 1: The most important quality of a wild ruby is color (and color).
Ferociously red rubies are found in Ceylon, Kashmir and Africa, but rarely. Burmese rubies, on the other hand, are often on the wild side. New mines from Mozambique have challenged the Burma throne and continue to do so. While purists swear on Burma, more practical natures search for great color where ever it comes from.
Wild Burmese rubies have been worshipped for millennia. They are the fame of Burma and are extremely costly. Many jewelers, and even many dealers, have never seen one. Casual jewelry buyers never get to see anything but mild colored cabochon quality cut into facetted gems. Mild colored, opaque and treated ruby is the standard in jewelry.
Others have shed many words to describe high-end rubies, so I won't try any longer. Nothing beats the eye-to-lens sensation of a buster neon ruby, but a good image will get your appetite started.
Rule 2: Online, wild rubies separate violet (and purple) from red.
The magic of ruby comes from the ruby-only ability to mingle blue/violet into red and then set it aflame with fluorescence. Some pink and even purple sapphires and red spinel can do the same trick.
In straight sunlight many good wild rubies will show themselves more like a blob of red gleam. Though this is a sign for a good gem, it is not enough. With light intensity reduced to a manageable amount, blue/violet and purple will separate from the red. This might look like color-zones, but it is exactly what you want: A digital separation of blue/violet from red (with purple and pink in-between) is the best indicator for intense red ruby.
Image: A set of untreated Winza rubies with nice colors from purplish-red to red, mild and vivid red.
Picture: A strong color can make up for a "Moderately Included"
For wild rubies, inclusions are only a secondary concern. Color intensity is king. A neon ruby can easily be moderately included without looking dull. Even in semi-transparent material, a neon red is still very attractive and many budgets will be limited to more included material. Semii-transparent rubies are OK as long as the color is terrific and the price right.
Rule 3: A fine wild ruby never holds still online.
Something always seems to be moving in them. Often it looks as if a flickering fire or a hot swirling fluid is caught in the gem. As if there is something alive in them - now, if that is not wild!
Pictures: Best rubies have "inner life" and split purpel/violet from red
Rule 4: Beware of digital enhancement
Since color is half the rent, some are tempted to "improve" their pictures for the web. Avoid "super bargains", plastic-like hues, and check the photos background: It shall be neutral and real (the gem should not be "cut-and-pasted" into a new background). Light conditions shall be normal (mixed day light, filtered sunlight). Tungsten light alone is not enough. Ask for images in different light settings and angles. One can't easily repeat a faked or stolen photo in variations.
Pictures: Common digital tricks in ruby images
|"Front-loaded" image hides inclusions; Pinkish background indicates digital color enhancement||Extreme (artificial) hue for $199/carat too good to be true|
Sapphire vs Ruby
Regularly discussed is the line between pink/purple sapphire and ruby. Yes, pink is a pale red but only what is independently certified as ruby can be sold as ruby. All else is wishful thinking of the seller. Period.
You may trust a third party laboratory to draw the line between red and pink. They are professionals, have no stake in the classification and will not risk their jobs for favors (criminals aside).
Rich red-purple or hot pink sapphires can be as extra-terrestrial glowing as ruby.
Sri Lankan rubies tend to be more on the pink side and often are classified as 'sapphire' to the owner's dismay. Deep neon purple or pink sapphires from Ceylon, the ancient famed island of gems, are terrific alternatives to ruby. Over the 2nd decade of this millennium, untreated hot pink sapphires have stepped up to prices fine rubies demanded earlier. Purple, orange or violet sapphire with a secondary dash of link, however, are still good deals.
Pictures: Sapphires with many ruby qualities.
|African pink-purple||Pink Burma||Purplish pink||Burmese pink||Mild red orange||Scissor cut pinkish purple|| |
Ruby on monitor:
Come with 2ndary purple or (less attractive) brown.
Translucent or opaque rubies in mild colors must have a reasonable price-tag.
See an "inside" image with light falling in from the back.
Hide inclusions and windows which will also be more acceptable i.p.
Avoid front-focused images
Need certain size to become 'visible', say over 30 points.
Avoid brownish brick tones unless the price is appropriate.
A clean mild ruby will always have glow and luster if well cut.
Can be found in precision cutting.
Are color-, less luster-gems
Highly visible in any light and exploding with color in sunlight.
Color is king, even included material has its price.
Come with blue/violet as 2ndary hue.
Avoid front-focused images.
Shine in every size, even 10 points
Camera separates purple, pink, blue/violet from red: Very Good.
Camera shows a fuzzy ("living") inner structure: Very Good.
Be wary of digital photo tricks or stolen images.
Produce color and, if clean, luster at once.
Even moderatly included gems have good value.
Lens-clean crystals are the exception.
Altough rare as precision-cut, windows are their bane (pink centers).
New(s): Rubies on TV.
Our Rubies: <1ct, 1-2ct, >2ct
Alternatives: Pink/red spinel, rubelite, various garnets, purple/pink sapphires.
From left to right: Sandawana shines even in melee sizes, neon blue-green beryl / emerald in a clean crystal and precision cut, twice Sandawana, Zimbabwe earthy green, Columbia jungle green in WG, Sandawana inside.
Emeralds online: Not an easy road
If you want trouble, photograph Emeralds. Not as tough as Alexandrite but near. With the relative contents of chromium, vanadium, and iron determining an emerald‘s color, every gem is different. The term ‚relative‘ causes major trouble and iron is never good news for the camera.
Fine specimens are a joy, others, equally nice, refuse to come across anywhere near real life. This is an easy way out for the shopper, assuming no digital enhancement is used by the seller: Great Emeralds look great. The fine ones with bad habits in front of the camera fall through the internet gap. Leave them to the seller for trade shows or jewelry. Medium quality equally looks medium, too, and low quality does no favors either. Watch out for ugly inclusions, dull greens and opaque crystals, all of course as a relation to price. This is true for all locations. Even if fine quality is more likely to come from Columbia or Sandawana than other sources, it is no guarantee for great gems. Nevertheless, you will pay the premium for the location.
In Emerald color is king, even more so than in other gems. Follow your own taste, some prefer deep jungle greens, other favor bright blue-green. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the 'cheaper' hues.
Clarity is rarely an Emerald’s forte. Call inclusions a 'jardim‘ and learn to love them for what they are: a sign of a pure natural beauty, individual and ever different in each single gem. Ugly inclusions like black spots or monster-shaped cracks should lower the price. Dropping into opaque cabochon material will further lower prices but you can get fine colors there.
Certain locals tend to show specific inclusions and offer to ID the local but never with a 100% certainty.
Technology has advanced 're-constituted' emeralds marketed as 'Sounds-Nice Emeralds.' Simply put, they are emerald chips or powder pressed and super-glued into gem shape. They should be very cheap, similar to synthetics (but mostly aren't especially in ready-made jewelry).
Though we do have some utterly untreated no-oil emeralds in stock (even if never for long) they are too rare for a commercial inventory. Furthermore, a little oil often creeps in via cutting and during handling. Lab reports flag such trace oil without it being a deep reaching, let alone coloring, treatment. Blame us: If we accept some oil, you can, too.
Similarly to ruby, avoid front-focused images hiding nasty inclusions or windows, steer clear of too-green-to-be-true cheap offers, never buy without lab report, accept that ‚jardims‘ will dominate inner life and cloud luster. Anyways, emeralds are not famed for luster but magic color. Better green luster is offered by demantoid, zircon or tsavorite (below). Especially the latter leaves little to wish for but it does not carry an emerald’s magic brand name and premium even it it looks better.
Emeralds being one of the most expensive gems on earth. Unless you call oil fields yours, purchasing quality emeralds without know-how and experience is risky. Learn first, buy later. Use other green gems with high dispersion to test the waters.
Emerald on monitor:
- Great emeralds look great on monitor.
- Buy what looks good to you, and safe the fashion premium.
- 'Good' is a pleasant green to your liking (from earthy to neon) with or without 2nd hues according to your taste (not price).
- Luster is hard to come-by. Emeralds are color-gems first.
- Ignore or appreciate inclusions. Even a 'lightly included' emerald is rare.
- Colorless or green-hued inclusions are unavoidable and matter not on the value. Black inclusions should drop prices.
- Pedigree is great only in combination with quality. Duds can come from anywhere, as can the best.
- Opaque Emerald in cabochons may offer fine colors on a budget if you are not out for luster.
- As a beginner, learn from other green gems first.
- In small sizes, only the very best remain visible (Sandawanas keep color in 0.01 carats)
- Blue is a desired 2ndary hue. Yellow or brown is not.
- Avoid front-focused presentations. Beware of digital coloring.
- Check lab-report: only oil-treatments (no fracture filling) are acceptable for precious gems.
- For more luster in green consider demantoid, grossular, sphene, zircon and tsavorite (or learn from them).
See our emeralds.
Alternatives to consider: Tsavorite or other green garnets, chrome diopside, zircons, tourmaline, vanadium sphene.
Above: Extra fine tsavorite
"New" Gemstones online
Here are the 'newer', less famous gemstone varieties which, thanks to the Internet, have become available to a wider public.
Titanite: The master of fire
We define Titanite as sphene from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are different from other sources in so far as they show a multitude of colors at the same time. Though some may have one dominant color like orange, yellow, green or red, they almost always exhibit other hues as well.
Sphenes from other origins (Africa, Russia and others) are mainly green with some yellow. Vanadium Sphene is the green master of all sparklers but a rare find. If you find one... keep it! See neon green below.
With dispersion higher than that of diamond and a rainbow of colors, Titanites are a must-see for anybody who loves fiery gemstones. Especially in candle light they are gemstone mystic pure. Even a half carat will turn heads.
Above: All fine Pakistani titanites with rainbow luster and autumnal hues.
Titanites are not as tough as diamond or sapphire hence they can't be worn while free-climbing.
However, there is zero risk of scratching them in earrings at a dinner party (not unless your date is Hannibal Lecter).
We have set quite a few titanites and sphenes (below) in protective rings and pendants and they all stand their ground in daily use:
|Yellow titanite in studs: simple but great sparkler||Kite and round sphene |
in moon & sun brooshe
|Sun pendant with titanite.|
Titanite on monitor:
Sparkle can not be easily transferred on a monitor. When you shop for titanite (or any sparkling gemstone) the quality of the cut is most important. Diamond cuts (invented to work with high dispersion) are the best in Titanite too. Avoid windows and cuts with too few facets.
Titanites may have very different characters in different light settings. These may range from an earthy green or hay yellow to a lively red ocher and many other combinations. This variety is sometimes hard to transfer online, so pay attention to additional information from lab report or describtions.
Given the spectacle they offer, titanites and sphenes are a terrific deal. This was written in 2007. Since then, prices have gone up even more than the average colored gem but the statement is still true.
Alternatives are few: Much softer sphalerite and far more costly demantoid and colored diamonds
See our titanite and sphenes
Spinel online: The much hailed secret.
|Neon Mahenge||Black spinel||Purplish Red||Mild violet blue||Cobalt spinel||Violet purple-blue||Mild red|
Image: Neon red-pink Mahenge spinel crystal makes a great pendant or ring stone.
Spinels come in a vast variety of colors, but are not as confusing as the garnet family. The most famous colors in spinel are blue and red both having been thought of as sapphires until science crashed the dream while getting people to wonder about the valitity of the term semi-prescious. Ever since spinel has (after a steep fall) become as, or even more (because rarer), expensive than 'normal' sapphire.
Fine purple, violet, orange, mild and hot pink, mauve, periwinkle or, with special charme, black spinel offer fun for every taste and budget. Spinel also come with color changes but have not yet gained much attention, probably because they do change 'only' between purple and blue. What dignifies all spinel is their excellent luster and durability for jewelry. Add to it near-white or tinted white, rose, brown and many stars to look upon a lifetime of fun and investment. A finely colored and precision cut spinel is amongst the grandes pleasures in the gem kingdom.
Mahenge spinel kicked the stuffing out of all other pink gems but have become so rare, and as expensive as pink sapphires. Nowadays, even insider shudder at a mahenge hunt.
The king amongst blue spinel is a rare variety colored not by iron but by cobalt. These cobalt spinels are found only occasionally in Sri Lanka. Normal iron colored blue spinels tend to be grayish, as always with rare exceptions. Cobalt is said to be the only blue spinel without gray undertone. Light blue spinels offer great colors and luster as alternative to sapphire.
Many labs check spinel for treatments since BE-treated spinels have appeared on the market.
In the red, ruby-like spinel has sky rocketed in price and popularity, directly followed by hot pink and padparadscha colors. Red Burma spinels have become too fashionable and are overpriced (Year 2022).
The less known varieties of spinel (purple, mauve, etc.) offer not only superb visual experiences but are most likely also a good investments in the long run. The new book 'Terra Spinel' offers great insight.
Spinel on monitor:
- Spinel are quite photogenic. They do not deceive in color or luster if shown in realistic light settings
- In bright tones, they are sensitive with inclusions and windows, easily overstating them
- Blue is often grayish except when in cobalt spinel
- Purple and blue often are prone to colorshift in tungsten light (like sapphire) without being true color changers
- Color changing spinels are especially difficult to judge, even more so than others. Without lab report saying 'color change spinel' every third spinel can be photographed into CC. Insist on report.
- Stars come in great quality but are rare and usually not vivid in color
See: Blue Spinel, Red Spinel; Pink Spinel; Purple Spinel; Orange Spinel.
Alternatives are found mostly amongst expensive rubies and sapphires.
Danburite: Poor photo show but great IRL
Danburites do not compute well online. They are unforgiving with inclusions, tend to catch even the faintest background color, display windows merciless and their crystals tend to look grainy.
Although these 'flaws' are invisible to the eye, it hinders their online presentations.
However, Danburite's unique crystal structure offers an interesting alternative to topaz, quartz and even white sapphires.
Danburites that look good on an un-doctored photo are most likely beauties in person, too.
This said, Danburite has a relatively low refractive index. Optimized for brilliancy they will, like topaz, shine but not disperse light as diamond or, to some extend, white sapphire do. With not much color and little luster, Danburites rely on good cutting. Thankfully, big and clean Danburites from South-America have been a recent boon for precision cutters worldwide. A (flawless) precision-cut is the best guarantee for a pleasing gem in person. Such are still very reasonable even in big sizes when compared to their alternatives.
Colored danburite, yellow, brown, green, are a rare and come mostly from Burma (or South America?). Their colors are pure (vivid) but low in tones (light).
Sooner or later, neon-colored Danburites will be treated from white material. However, we have not heard of such yet. When, not 'if', they come, they will probably be easy to spot. Beware that you are not amongst the first few hundreds buyers who fall for the fad before the labs catch up. ("This is extremly rare new-mine neon-red Danburite!")
Green grossular garnets (of which Tsavorite is the more famous) truly are a "new" gem since their discovery has been quite recently (in geological time frames). Tsavorite are the most expensive garnets in the market (besides Russian demantoid perhaps).
They are found mostly in small sizes. A three carat Tsavorite is considered a giant. Most found are below one carat but even the smallest Tsavorite is far from humble. Brighter, mint green, tsavorites are also called 'merelani garnets' are not named after a new desinger fruit but come from the mining area Merelani.
The very best are shocking green and size doesn't matter. They are like a volcano of extraterrestrial green, and if you want a modest gemstone green garnets are probably not right for you.
They do have good luster too, but color is most important. Like in emerald, inclusions are no killer-criteria as long as the color is not affected.
|Fine Green Tsavo||Neon Green||Merelani||High-End |
(not the same as above
and no pair)
|Strong Fresh Leaf green||Deepest green||Neon Tsavo|
On monitor: Tsavorite tend to look darker than they actually are, and often black-out. This may be a result of their unique dense hue. It is possible to throw so much photo-technology and light at them that they loose all blackout but then they also loose their individual character and start to look all alike. As long as you can make out green on the image (assuming no artificial lighting) they should still be OK in person. Bright green garnets will show their character on even simple images.
This said one might distinguish between a deep intense metallic green and a more alarm-color "venomous" green. The latter being a color which one might expect in a poisonous coral fish and the former being without parallel in nature except human made Acryl paint.
Even in smaller sizes (and that's the norm), they retain their intense color. Such are ideal for small but very visible studs or as side-stones to contrast an intense center stone. Small or big, green garnets show what they have on monitor. Tsavorite melee beats all but sandawane emeralds.
Only yellow as 2ndary hue can make images difficult tending to turn green towards brown. How strong this cross-over is in person, remains difficult to show even with most honest photography. You'll have to rely on the seller to mention yellow/brown in his grading if the images grant to show green only. The opposite is true as well: Some vivid green garnets come across too murky on photos and the seller might insist on 'fine color quality' even if the images don't show. Trust is the most valuable asset of a gem trader, coming just behind the gems themselves.
Alternatives to consider: Few! To get a tsavorite show in emerald, a succesful bank robbery may be needed. Sphene has great luster but less pure green. Tourmaline is great in green and bigger but has nothing on offer beyond tsavorite. Peridot is big and green, too, but lacks the crazy sparkle. Of course, except for emerald, tsavorite is more costly than all the aformentioned. With potentially limited supply from one known area worldwide prices have and will rise for ever. Other mines may be found but the original source always carries a premium.
See our green garnets.
From left to right: Kashmir, Ceylon, Burma, Madagascar, Ceylon, Madagascar in earring, star garnet from Ceylon.
Pyrope is typically described as blood or wine-red, while his name refers to the Greek word for "fire". They have become a worthy target for those whose budgets are not compatible with ruby or red spinel.
Though pyrope does not have what one calls "fire" in a diamond it is definitely as red as it gets and reminds of glowing coal. How red is that?
In case you are familiar with Spanish wine you might have a look at a Senior de Los Lamos '67, which will cost you much more than buying a pyrope, but tastes better (pyrope does not). You might also take blood samples from your neighbor's ox, but that too might not be a particularly practical. It is said that once upon a time pyrope has been more popular and much higher priced. Today pyrope is, behind the almandine, the best deal if one wants a red-red gem without selling his family. Full size, clean crystals are available even on tight finacial controlls.
Pyrope on monitor: Pyrope typically shows blackish areas and little luster on photos. Their color gets across well, but they usually tend to show more orange or brown than they actually have. Darker pyropes simply refuse to be photographed yet may look magic in person (better than overly dark rubies in fact). They are a fine color-bargain to hunt for. As with other dark gems look out for suspicious shadows behind the gem pointing to extra light beamed on the gem for the image. Most gems look brightly colored when under a torch beam.
See our pyropes.
Above: yellow golden, ox-blood, orange-red, deep yellow red, golden giant, deep orange-red, bright red, opaque orange-red giant.
Hessonite is always clearly distinguishable: See a hessonite through a lens and he will appear to be melting inside, while you can not see anything special without the lens. Melting?
Yes. Some gemologists call it a "treacily" or 'swirly' appearance, which comes from a crystal type that actually look like a petrified fluid under the lens. Hessonite is a wonderful stone in all yellow-orange to brown-red hues. Though not in line with the standard scientific gemology literature, I find hessonite in all red garnet colors from a fiery orange to alomost a simply traffic light red. In any event they make exquisite colored gemstones and are a true miracle when seen under the lens.
Hessonite on monitor: Though hessonite is wonderful in person, they struggle with serious problems in front of the camera. Unfortunately 'treacily' or 'swirls' transfers to 'fuzzy', unsharp and lacking luster on phtots. The fuzzy structure swallows most luster. One needs to experience a hessonite 'alive' to be able to capture the information hidden in a photo. As a rule, concentrate on the color and blend out the fuzziness of the photo. If you like the color you will have to test the luster in person. Very dark red garnets can be classified as hessonite but they are closer to cabochon material. IMO hessonites are undervalued, like zircons, and offer the best luster and color for a budget buck.
See our hessonites.
|Square Cushion Ceylon||Ruby-like color in 2 ct||Round deep red||Fine red||Same fine red in handshot||Deep red||Left in handshot|
Almandine is the most common garnet variety in Sri Lanka. They seem close to pyrope but are a singular part of the garnet family, and of a more intense red mingled with pink and/or violet. Though often included with a very fine needle structure (which is a pleasure to see under the lens) they do have fire and luster if not as much as spinel or extra fine ruby. That said, owning a ruby with color AND luster is the jack-pot and a hundred times more expensive than a fine garnet. A good almandine can be so amazing under a spotlight that you will not want to take your eyes off that sparkle again. Almandine is more expensive than pyrope but a still a fine deal compared to the price of a similar color thrill in e.g. spinel or ruby. Good sizes and clarity must here make do for neon and fluorocence found in ruby.
Almandine on monitor: Needle structures in almandine tend to look a bit fuzzy on photos. Nevertheless almandines are a pleasure to photograph - they glimmer and sparkle in fine red tones and transfer well on images. Like pyrope, almandine color usually does not vary much between with day or tungsten light. Also like pyrope they tend to show black-out areas which are not as dark as they seem in reality. They should be well cut and the images show it. Even if the images show vivid red hues similar to ruby or spinel, they are more suave in person. Many blackish red garnets are forced to shine with additional light beams - watch out for un-explaned shadows revealing such light tricks.
See our almandines.
Above: Red-pink, neon red-purple, neon pink, neon purple-red, dark giant, red, neon purple.
Rhodolite and raspberry are red garnet with strong pink and/or purple hue. Both are characterized by their color and one will find different definitions over time and literature. However, if almandine and pyrope are wine & blood, raspberry and rhodolite are berry & flowers. They are mixtures of pyrope and almandine in different relations.
They are the best deal in town for progressive color adventures. Both have excellent luster and a "juicy" color play that often mocks any description in plain words. Truly appetizing colors: Grading them sometimes makes me want to rush to the market to see whether I can find some berries.
Rhodolite and raspberry on monitor: Both stones are miraculous photographic. Not to say they all look great but well cut and well colored they are pure WYSIWYG. All-in-all, if they look good on images then it's because they are.
Truth seems to be that there is no truth. But that doesn't matter much because these stones always excel their photos. Other than e.g. with sapphire one can not make a photo too good when in comes to a raspberry and rhodolite.
See our rhodolite/raspberry garnets.
Above: Round red night, Bekily mixed light, at night, at day, pair Bekily with both colors on show, Bekily at day, Bekily red to purple, Bekily day to night, needles inside Bekily, Bekily night, Tanzania green day - red night.
Color changing garnets are an exquisite rarity (and I mean rarity) in Sri Lanka. In absence of any gemologist most traders and miners in Sri Lanka consider (or wishfully think) any color change garnet to be an alexandrite and thus have dollar signs in their eyes when they get their hands on one. Therefore most color changing garnets start their life as alexandrites, but somewhere down the supply chain somebody has a bad awakening with them.
On the other side, one must ask why shall a beautifully changing garnet have only 10% of the value of a dully changing pale alexandrite? That of course is a complex question of market mechanism. If one simply admires the magic of color change he might forget alexandrite (and sapphire) and hunt the last color change garnets before the deposits are depleted.
African garnets have produced blue-green to purple, blue to red and yellow to green color changes. Beyond fantastic and costly have been the briefly found Bekily garnets which have crowned the best CC collections worldwide. Here, perhaps for the first time, can we see what was elusive in Alexandrite: a 100% colorchange.
Color-Change on monitor: Catching color change for a monitor is one of the trickiest job in gemstone photography. This counts not only for garnet, but also for all color changers. It is so tricky, that I can only warn of too good looking but cheap color changers.
A color change that is fully visible on photo without photoshoptricks is truly rare and will never be cheap (at least not in natural stones). Buying two carat 100% color changer on EBay for two dollar is like ordering a Mercedes Maybach for the price of a bicycle. No complaints about dishonest sellers please!
Alternatives to consider: not many except alexandrite and some African sapphire.
See our color change garnets.
Zircon online: The underestimated victim.
|Cinnamon||Light Blue Australia||Orange Yellow||Reddish Purple||Yellow||Sunshine Yellow||In platinum|
|In wood and silver||Reddish Cinnamon||Precision cut BIG light Blue||Maize yellow||Reddish Orange||deep red||Big Green Burma|
Zircon has suffered much bad PR due to synthetic stones with the trade name "Cubic Zirconia". In addition to this the use of zircon as a cheap diamond rip-off has led many people to believe that zircon is synthetic, or some kind of fake.
It is not! Zircon is a wonderful gemstone variety that has much more to offer than all the treated gemstones in uniformed colors roaming the jewelry market.
Zircon is amongst the most brilliant of all colored gemstone (only thus he was misused as an imitation for diamonds). Their brilliance and luster are unbeatable and their high birefringence is terrific. Naturally colored zircon can be (expensive) green, yellow, brown, (mostly treated) blue, (costly) red and always (treated) colorless.
In any color zircons show a stunning fire and magnificent luster. Mostly very clean and found in good sizes zircon is a yet little known opportunity for novice collectors and experimental jewelry makers. They offer adorable colors and excellent luster for every budget. A light yellow zircon is nearly as fascinating as a fancy diamond. Sri Lanka has for centuries been the best source of gem quality zircons, especially intense yellow zircons. Precision cut zircons may well offer the best-looking deal in the current gem world.
Zircon on monitor: As a rule, zircons are even better than their images. The birefringence of zircon is so strong that he is difficult to photograph clearly. The lines and edges on the back may seem blurred (double refracted) or 'un-sharp' but that is a good sign meaning more fire and brilliancy in person. In fact, they are often so brilliant that they seem to simply mirror light on the image. The strong luster of zircon is rather hindering for the color show and when it comes to zircons, one shall rather trust the seller than the photo. Some purple zircons can be photographed as if they were vivid pink. Such strong colors exist but are rare and expensive. When offered cheaply, check for images with color contrast or against neutral background. There true color will show.
(This can be said as a general rule: Don't buy gems based on photos but on the reputation of the seller and with the security of his return policy. It is not a pleasant shopping experience if you get a bad stone with a super photo that can't be returned.)
See our zircons.
Alternatives to consider: For color, many. For luster only diamonds, demantoid, sphene and sphalerite.
|Aquamarine Cabochon (not a cat's eye)||Aqua in Platinum Wheel||Precision Cut Aqua with bubbles||Round Precision Cut||Light Green-Blue (precision cut but off center)||Emerald Cut Aqua||Neon Trillion|
Today, the most expensive color in Aquamarine is sky blue. In former times, however, and in line with the name, green-blue was more popular. Such are most Aquamarines found in Sri Lanka, India and Africa: blue with a greenish tint or even green-blue. Aquamarines in neon blue, or pool blue are found in Brazil. They are terrific and look that way online.
Many Aquamarines are heated for a stronger blue and less green. If you have decided for natural gemstones expect brighter hues and more green.
Rough aquamarine is available in larger sizes than many other gem varieties. The bigger the specimen, the deeper the hue can be. Large rough also allow for better cuts. Precision cuts are more likely in bigger gems.
If you like them darker, yet untreated: cat's eye Aquamarines are an interesting sub-set. Colors in cat's eyes are often deeper than in transparent ones. Check for advice on star-gems on this page. These are valid for cat's eyes as well.
- On a monitor, lightly colored aquamarines show inclusions and windows more prominent. Give them credit.
- The bigger, the darker the gem. When small, allow for even brighter colors on monitor. In person the hue will be stronger than on the monitor.
- High luster overrides color. Check side-images for additional color impressions.
- Study the lab-report and describtions for in-person color.
- Avoid unnaturally blue specimen at low prices, they are either faked or the aquamarines they show are artificially colored.
- Especially big aquamarines deserve a good cut. Facets and edges must show sharp and undamaged.
Alternatives to consider: Montana sapphire and green sapphire, light blue sapphire, some blue tourmaline.
See our aquamarines.
|Checkerboard can hide inclusions||Small size - even better i.p.||As good on monitor as i.p.||Back-image as color-check||Purple is brighter i.p.||Precision cut without window i.p.||Cabochons with lighter hue i.p.|
Amethyst is purple-violet quartz. It is available in fine quality and good sizes. Seen in color/price relation, Amethyst competes well with most purple gems.
The deep cross-over from purple to violet is most popular. Yet, even these 'excellent' types can be collected on a moderate budget.
Rough amethyst is big and leaves space for precision cuts.
A lot of amethyst is burned into yellow citrine but the original stone is equally attractive.
- Amethyst is truthful and allows for realistic presentation online.
- Look for images with relative sizes shown (handshots or measurement) to avoid buying too bulky gems for jewelry.
- Dark purple-violet on monitor is still great in person.
- With rough material found in big sizes you can demand good cutting.
- Small amethyst displaying great colors on monitor are likely to be extra fine in person.
- Amethyst should be clean.
Alternatives to consider: Purple tourmaline, purple spinel, sapphire, and rhodolite.
See our amethyst.
|Dark also i.p.||Copper neon Tourmaline (makes heated paraiba)||Paraiba-style without dark center i.p.||Without dark ends i.p.||Pink overstating inclusions||Side-image with immediate |
|Dark chrome Tourmaline also i.p.|
Tourmaline is the most versatile gemstone family. Not only do they show themselves in all colors from brown, over blue and green to pink, but they are also famous for bi- tri- and multicolored varieties, plus color changers and cat's eyes.
For those who dislike flashy and fancy colors, tourmaline offers many suave, earthly alternatives. Sri Lanka is blessed with such specimen in green, orange and brown hues.
Chrome tourmaline competes with fine emerald and tsavorites. Paraiba is tourmaline colored by copper and does not necessarily come from the namesake region in Brazil but also from Mozambique.
Afghanistan use to be for green tourmaline, what Burma is for rubies, but supply is limited.
Pure green tourmaline is a thankful alternative to emerald and often cut in baguette or emerald shape.
Tourmaline on monitor:
- Single-colored tourmaline displays realistically and is not too light sensitive on monitor.
- Blue tourmaline overstates inclusions and windows.
- Dark specimen will most likely be dark in person as well.
- Bi-, tri-colored tourmaline should be checked for clean color-transitions in the side/back- images.
- Green easily 'absorbs' its secondary blue tint. Check report and side-images.
- Yellow/golden displays dark shadow on monitor but not i.p.
Alternatives: Mostly sapphires, spinel and garnets (please choose them here via color)
See our green, golden/yellow, chrome, pink/purple, blue and multicolor tourmalines.
Topaz: Much better than their image
|Light Blue without shadows i.p.||Rutilated Topaz shown with |
yellow tungsten light for its inclusions
|Precision Cut Topaz with three zircon crystals||Imperial and flawless ||Feather Inclusion in Topaz||Imperial Topaz in PT||Rutilated Topaz under torch|
Natural untreated topaz in full colors are rare, and many end-consumers buy synthetic, citrine or other treated and irradiated gems under the name "London-" or "Swiss-" or "So-and-so-topaz".
This has led to much confusion and a devaluation of the original untreated topaz. However, naturally colored topaz is an exquisite rarity and a true collector's item.
Colorless topaz (which is often taken to be radiated into blue) is a reasonable alternative to white sapphire and a good place to start a collection. Such are also great material for precision cuts.
Light blue stones from Sri Lanka and the USA compete with fancy blue diamonds in all but dispersion and price.
Yellow, golden or pinkish topaz (the famous "imperial" topaz) are the most expensive of the family. These come mostly from Brazil and must be tested for treatments.
No cat's eye or color changers are found in topaz but pretty rutilated specimens in sizes over ten carats.
Topaz on monitor:
- Bright colored topaz tends to seem colorless on monitor. Check report.
- Luster outshines mild coloration (similar to aquamarine). Check sides.
- Deep blue topaz has not been found in natural occupance.
- Colorless topaz shows dark areas on monitor but not i.p.
- Colorless topaz should be well cut and clean.
- Rutilated topaz needs additional light to show needles.
Alternatives: Golden tourmaline for imperial topaz, quartz and white sapphires, danburites and diamonds.
See our topaz.
|Honey with NO black or yellow spots i.p.||Precision Cut with NO black-out||Mild hue NO black triangles||perfect Chrysoberyl with NO black spots||Fresh Yellow with NO black center||Ivy Green body with white ray||Yellow-Green body with white ray|
Chrysoberyl is yet another gem-continent to discover. The famous color-changing alexandrite are a sub-variety of chrysoberyl. Normal Sri Lanka chrysoberyls come in light to fully saturated green and fine yellow hues. They are hard and durable and thus much appreciated for jewelry. Generally of good clarity and fine luster they are a unique alternative to green or yellow sapphire.
Vanadium Chrysoberyl is a rare specialty even amongst collectors, found in colors from mint to neon green.
The fabulous chrysoberyl cat's eye is one of the famed miracles in the world of gemstones. Fine parallel needles throughout the stone break light in a way that the stone displays a ray moving across the stone with light. While garnets, quartz and other varieties might show the same effect, chrysoberyl is often referred to as the cat's eye.
Chrysoberyl on monitor:
- Faceted chrysoberyl is easy to judge, although it tends to show shadows or zoning where there are none in person. This is the result of a lucid crystal, easily concentrating light into corners and tips. On the upside, Chrysoberyl is WYSIWYG regarding cut-quality and inclusions. It cannot hide much. The honey colored (not green) type of Chrysoberyl likes to split into yellow and brown on photo, but makes nice calm colors in person without color zoning.
- Cat's eyes need a single light source to display the ray. This is difficult to show online without also changing the color of the body towards the light-type the beam is in. In general, a photo without ray (no extra light) will show the natural body color better than one with beam. If you can spot the ray without any beam in play, you are looking at fine quality. One should also pay attention to the 'official' color description in the report. They do name the body color in natural daylight. Basic parameters to judge the ray is his definition (full and clear?), position (centered?) and his movement (flawless?) across the stone. See our section on stars for more details on judging rays.
Alternatives to consider: yellow sapphires, tourmaline, some garnets but not many more.
See our chrysoberyl and alexandrite.
|Earthy green||Black cat's eye. Beam shown without influence on body color.||Dark but intense green with pleochroic yellow shown||Nice deep green Cat's eye with bodycolor unclear under extra light beam.|
Kornerupine is a fine new opportunity for the collector of natural colors. Until recently quasi non-existent in the gem market, kornerupine has now found attention as a nice untreated gemstone in very unique hues: From mellow green mingled with yellowish and brown tints to forest green (2006).
Depending on the cut some stones show different colors from different angels but they are not as unpredictable as tourmaline (with which they are often confused). Though kornerupine has entered the gem market only recently, we have so far always received positive feed back from those who ventured to buy this unknown variety.
Kornerupine on monitor: Similar to other green stones, kornerupine likes to be photographed and does neither show too good nor too bad. When it comes to his pleochroic effects, things get more difficult but since they are usually cut into one color (-direction), this is not of too much trouble.
2020: Unfortunately we did not get the supply we hoped for, not even as cat's eyes, and their own product page was submerged in 'Wild Cards'. Stay ready for new discoveries.
See our kornerupine.
|Russian Deep green chrome||Competition for all green gems||Black 4ray star||Very close to chrysoberyl cat's eye||Fresh green bought as Rough 'tourmaline' in Sri lanka||Chrome Diopside in 18k WG|| |
Though soft, diopside has raised some attention from jewelry makers for his strong but reasonable priced green hues. Chrome diopside has actually become quite famous and expensive for his emerald green.
However it is soft and has to be protected in jewelry. In Sri Lanka we mostly find the mellow green hues mingled with some lively yellow. Together with kornerupine, diopside make the most exciting new discovery in the world of green gems. Especially the cat's eye variety may have potential as an alternative to the more expensive chrysoberyl and the also fragile emerald.
Diopside on monitor: Due to his strong birefringence diopside tends to come out slightly fuzzy and light green hues present inclusions stronger that the lens shows them. Note there is chrome diopside and plain diopside. The latter lacks strong colors. Except from Russia the supply of true chrome diopside is sporadic at best.
2020: As with kornerupine, we did not find a unique supply of gems or rough to expand on. The russians are reliably green but very conform and small.
See our diopside.
From left to right: Neon red from Mozambique, small but strong purple, ruby red Ceylon, dito, another trillion Mozambique, #2 without direct light, soft colored precision cut pair of perhaps NOT rubelite but tourmaline, neon pink-red Madagascar, Kenya set in platinum.
Rubelite: Not ruby but very posh
Rubelite is not a low-calory form of ruby but a type of tourmaline, red or pink ones to be precise. Some do not count pink tourmaline to rubelite but the borders from red to pink are fuzzy at best. True is that a lavender pink tourmaline should not get a report with a classification of ‚rubelite‘. However, you may trust a lab's judgement whether it is a rubelite even if the image LOOKS red or more pink. Chalk it up to light or personal taste and buy what you like.
Rubelite can be clean, shocking neon, bigger and though never cheap, they are less ruinous than spinel and ruby but more costly than most red garnets. Take your pick.
Other than the ever-true rules of reports-only, no digital colors etc., rubelite is very much a tourmaline in image behaviour regarding inclusions, luster and color. They are easily photographed close to real life with color, as so often, playing the key note in finance.
More sophisticated testing will hopefully vanquish the terrifying kill-all remark of ‚color can be achieved by heat treatment‘ which ruins every gem in many lab reports.
Rubelite still is a good entry point for red-pink gems. Buy small to start, trade your way up into the higher reaches of heaven.
From left to right
1st row: Water-Crystal Rainbow Welo, Honey-Web Welo, Crystal Welo, Mexican Fire, Welo Fire with green.
2nd row: Bolder with color play, Pure water, Australian Bolder, Blue-Black Bolder Australian, Water with rainbow fire.
Opal online: DIFFERENT
As the images above show, opal is different. Books have and will be filled. New finds in Africa blow the collector's mind every other month. New wording, fresh classifications and changing groups have to be expanded and redefined annually. Setting the origin in front of opal will not describe a certain type nor does one type end where the next begins, they often merge, show various colors and optical effects in one place or distributed over the gem... the variety stubbornely refuses every clear-cut categorisations.
We describe the current affair as we found it:
Bolder: The easy way in. They are solid rocks with fascinating color pay, structural effects, often measured in pieces rather than carats. Except for surface color play, shimmer of changing hues, they are very much what you see is what you get. Buy what you like at the price you can accept. There are no 'pigeon blood' bolder opals although 'Lightning ridge' in Australia has a certain patina but no special bolder types. A taste off the beaten path can be satisfied at bargain prices. Everybodies' darling will be more costly.
Fire Opal: These famous red-orange gems (mostly Mexico and South America so far) are easy to interprete on photo and are a great value for such intense colors. Big gems of 5+ carats are available as long as the mines produce. Some silky inclusions are part of the color making it shine and glow. Only visible black spots or white cracks are wirth bothering about. From opaque to near transparent they leave addition spiel on a budget. Easy to judge online they make good purchases when you are at the beginning of the learning curve.
Black/Blue: These are the blue sapphires amongst opals, both in value and in color, desired in a dark blue bordering on midnight. On photo they are hard to catch, the dark tone hiding their elusive but precious hue. Often from Australia, they are the original 'master-opals' funding name and prices of all other opals. Certain collector types can be as expensive as the finest rubies. Honestly, stick with Welo if you want to have fun on a budget.
Matrix: As the name may suggest they sit in or around a matrix and can take many forms other than bolders which are a matrix opal, of sorts. Don't worry about the categories. Buy what you like at prices you can afford.
Crystal/Water: In low light these are close to colorless transparent or translucent with aneutral body hue. Hit by light they start glittering with all colors and shapes. A stark change of character which can and should be shown on images with a torch or close to a light source, preferably different temparatures of light, warm tungsten, cold neon light. These are the types with subcategories of honey-comp, fire, pin-point and flame color effects. Their are phantastic in person and on images. Expect to be surprised. Naturally they are most difficult to imagine on phot but at today's price levels you can't be wrong. Color shows long reserved to the most expensive Australians are available for a fraction from Welo.
As with others, you can trade up to gain experience: start with bolder opals and matrix, move to fire, then Welo water and finaly try a blue Australian. A lifetime of collecting and learning awaits you.
Color-Changing Sapphire: Soft Glow and rare Green-Blue-Purple
One out of one hundred sapphires is certified as classic color changer (CC). These rarities come from ceylon, Burma Madagascar and other locals. Nine out of ten such CC sapphires is changing from well tempered deep blue to purple-violet. Only Tanzania, so far, offers Alex-type moves from green-blue at day to red or purple-violet at night. Above, in the image gallery, a six carat Tanzanian square cusion of this rare kind shown in steel blue and green.
Classic changers are pretty to behold but need a keen eye to detect their unusual qualities. The classic blue-purple/violet changer demands even more as most CC gems. These special effects often go undetected or, worse, 'muddy' the body with both day and night hues showing at once. As such, CC sapphires are true connoisseur gems and not for the ignorant.
Always expensive, even in flourite or lesser known varieties, CC gems are a difficult set of customers for the camera man/woman. Capturing the 'pure' color extremes on both sides of the spectrum between night and day is at times impossible. Always demand a 'color changing sapphire' report with any gem over, say, $250. Offer to pay extra if needed. Should the gem come from the lab as a 'normal' sapphire the seller must pay for the report and you are not bound to buy. Is the gem to your liking a new negotiation will be at hand. The green-blue African CC types often fail to get recognized as sapphires at first sight but they stand out as something special nevertheless. They are easier to show on photo than the blue-purple variety.
As far as inclusions, windows, cut etc. go, they are no different from 'normal' sapphires but you need to allow some creative imaging in the night shots where a torch is not only legal but needed. An artificial light beam will distort inclusions, depth and color. Take the day image to judge inclusions and windows in WYSIWYG mode. The night shot should only be taken to check the pure color in tungsten light. Subtract some yellow from most of these images. Since yellow is not exactly a most-wanted hue in CC sapphires the seller will try to minimize the effect.
Once the gem is with you, take your time to discover its ever, well, changing aspects, enjoy mixed natural light settings, test direct and secondary sunshinne, candle light, dawn and dusk, rain and fog.
Like all great gems, a good CC will never cease to surprise and give you reasons to enjoy every new day and season.
Tanzanite: Not only conform blue.
Untreated zoiste is dwarfed by the supply of deep blue heated zoiste (Tanzanite's main gem variety). While this classic blue is rare in unheated gems, the multicolored untreated variety has become more fashionable than ever. Legend has it is that heating zoiste into blue was discovered after wildfire but don't count on it.
A multicolored melange of purple, violet, green and orange in earthy colors in untreated zoiste has far more on offer than ONE blue. It also is hardier than heated gems (always true) and well suited for (protected) jewelry. Prepare for an unmatched color experience well below the 'normal' Tanzanite prices but with good chances of appreciation in the future.
On photo they display truthfully when truthfully photographed meaning without overly stressing the blue parts. Assuming you want it unheated, search for violet and purple as indicators. Common 'ugly' brown rough is treated into blue while the naturally pretty pieces are skimmed for people like us. Rest assured you will there find exciting new beauties for your collection of gems or jewelry.
Tanzanite does sparkle but color is the main issue. Inclusions are visible on photo to the degree they are in real life. Be aware that every image even under identical light settings may look different to the extend that one may doubt to see the same gem. Count this as a plus. It makes for a new gem every day. Equally pairs can be 100% matched from the same mine-run but still continue to look differently even if you try hard to show they in identical angles and light.
Of the pairs shown above one was selected to be matching (even if they look different), the other trillion shaped was cut to a pair despite of their difference.
Untreated zoiste or tanzanites are not for the conform.
Peridot: Always green.
Peridot is found all over the world, from the USA to China with Burma and Pakistan regularly mining the best there are. The shown Ludwigite needles from the Himalaya make good dinner talk, apple green in all shades is the preferred Burma color. US peridot are squeaky green, and clean. Often well cut, free of inclusions and of good size they are a straight way to fine green gems. No strange color-shift, -changes, -zoning make judging Peridot a hasard.
Follow the photos you trust, buy green you like, watch out for windows (only when color is fine and strong as in the neon above), demand good cutting (when rough is big the cutter can damn well cut well), and chose them for pairs when possible. Peridot is hardy, not brittle, and does not flinch from yellow nor white gold.
Peridot is a fine green gem, start with Chinese, qualify in the USA and move to expensive Burma and Pakistan when you have the experience under the belt.
Left to right: Light grass green, reddish orange with strong copper strands, fine orange red in clean crystal (no visible copper, no pleo-chroism), precision-concave cutting with multi-chroism but little visible copper, ditto but silky crystal, extra strong red (!) in precision-concave, autumnal hues with silky schiller.
Sunstone: Complicated big beauties
It starts with 'copper-bearing labradorite feldspar from Oregon' or short: sunstone. Other than the name suggests, they can be also green, multicolored, multi-chroic and can come with the desired schiller (copper strand inclusions) plus some other unique optical magical. When close to the sun's hue at dawn you have reached the highlands.
Sunstones are not as deep and wide as opal but they do need a few years of study.
With a low relative gravity they come in big sizes even for small single digit carat gems. 10x15mm is no problem in red sunstone. Try that in spinel or ruby, not that sunstone red can be compared to ruby, totally different, but red it is. Great cutting, concave and precision together are fantatastic as you can see above, is almost standard since most are cut right in the USA.
As far as images go, it is hard to generalize in such a wide range of color and optical effects. You have to trust your dealer and the lab reports beyond what you can see, or not, on images. Schiller does not show much on photo but copper strands do. Multi-chroism on the other side does show well. Even if tempting, remember not to buy a 10 carat for a ring unless you have a ringsize above 15.
If you are in Oregon, it may be a good idea to call at a mine and see for yourself. Once you know more, the web is still cheaper than travelling the US.
From left to right: A fine sky blue sapphire with a hint of a window and an off-center cut, a fine star ruby in a gem-oriented setting, a precision cut color-changing zultanite framed in diamonds, color-changing Bekily garnet in brushed YG and WG, a fine unheated Burma ruby, Burma ruby, oil-only Columbian emerald.
Gems set in jewelry:
Should you want to buy a gem already set in jewelry and wonder about its value and quality... keep on reading.
A good gemstone always dwarfs the value of its setting (ring, pendant, etc.) unless it is an special antique or has a high brand value. Such pieces are for specialists: Dublicates and fakes are abound, with good advice rae. Most settings can be understood as a replaceable and reproducible if underlining 'holder' for a valuable gem. Gold and small diamonds are not free but nothing compares to fine untreated ruby. Few exceptions.
The above tips and tricks to judge a gem online remain valid. A well cut and colored stone will not black-out just because of a setting even if that is the primary fear of all novices buying a gem for jewelry. A good cut reflects all, well most, light back and out of the gem to the beholders eye. Its tone does not go down. Nor will inclusions be more visible. On the contrary, inclusions can and will be hidden in a clever setting.
For imperfect gems note that:
a) A gem cut too deep will black out faster inside a setting than on its own. Taking the gem out and recutting is possible and useful. Even if you have no access to lapidary and good advice, a deep cut gem is worth the attention as long as you are half way sure about the true crystal color.
b) The feared window can rarely or never be corrected without heavy losses. A window is commonly a result of too-flat cutting (except in a truly deep block-cut beyond back-out depth) and results in heavy weight- and size-reduction after a recut. The old setting is useless. The gem is half its former size. Such a financial gamble is only for professionals, best under supervision of an experienced lapidary. Get a pro to help or shy away.
Because lab testing is somewhat limited in jewelry with gold and diamonds all around, you may ask the seller to remove the gem, get it tested, and offer gem only. Don't be surprised if the gem alone is as expensive as the whole ring was. Removing and repolishing the gem plus lab testing will easily exceed the cost of a new setting. No saving there if you care about a true natural gemstone. Be sure to discuss all potential downfalls with the seller: What happens if the gem breaks during the process, is scratched or lost? What if the lab report comes with bad surprises (usually)? What if the news from the lab is better than hoped for (happens sometimes)? Who owns the gold and diamonds (try for it to be the seller since you have little use for an empty ring or pendant)?
It must be said that purchasing a finished jewel is mired with more risks than getting a loose gem and setting it to your desire. The latter is a long and winding path, too, but in the end you get exactly (within reason) what you wanted without the compromises of a ready made piece, and it is the cheaper path to walk. Sure, immediate satisfaction is tempting but jewelry lasts a lifetime so the extra months are well invested. Creating your own jewelry should be fun and not a reason for raw nerves. Try to relax and give yourself in the process. Paranoia is not advisable.
To learn more about the process of custom setting, read here.
Finally, have fun!
Purchasing a gem should be a joy, not an exercise in anxiety-management.
With very few exceptions, the gems used on this page are from our own stock.
We shy from judging third-party's gems, even though this is often ask for: "What do you think of this here...?" But it would be bad taste to point and say 'this is flawed because...'.
Using only our own gems (naturally) has the effect that we have few windows to show and no treated gems at all. Some in our stock are less perfect (say only 2*NOS) and we point those out. However, we like them all.
A word on videos: They are always made under artificial light and cannot show real-life colors and luster as our images do. Sometimes a vid helps, but for us, so far, it has not been worth the hassle. Under 'more images' you can see each gem from every important position and often under different natural light situations. That is far more than any vid can offer.
For an in-depth and more scientific study of gems we recommend you start with http://www.gia.edu or www.gemstone.org.
Both websites will easily bring you into the world of gems, the first one from the view of a gemologist, the latter more from the position of the trade.
To join the growing number of gem collectors on the internet we recommend:
Additional descriptions, stories and know-how in each variety's page.