The Definitive Guide to Gemstones

by Maja Bayyoud on

Ah, gemstones. They evoke sparkling treasure troves, iridescent colours and beautiful patterns. Humans have treasured them for thousands of years, and there’s nothing like a piece of jewellery set with gemstones – you’ll never tire of looking at them. 


At Motley, we believe if we’re going to use the earth's precious resources, we should make something that’s worth keeping and treasuring for a lifetime. Use this guide to get up to speed on all things sparkly, including tips on what to look out for when buying gemstones. 

What’s a gemstone?

What counts as a gemstone is debated. The Gem Society defines them as ‘Minerals that have been chosen for their beauty and durability, then cut and polished for use as human adornment.’ 

Basically, if it sparkles, occurs naturally, and we like to wear it, it’s a gemstone. 

Minerals and Organics: the difference

Most gemstones are the former, with some notable exceptions in the latter category. Minerals like quartz and topaz must be created inside the earth, whereas living organisms have to create organic gemstones – think pearl (oysters), amber (trees) or coral (polyps). 

 What’s the difference between precious gemstones and semi precious gemstones?

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires are the big four precious stones. Everything else is a semi-precious gemstone. They’re called precious gems because they’re very rare, very in demand, and extremely wearable (unlike thousands of other minerals, which cannot be worn as they’re too delicate).

Semi-precious stone varieties number in the hundreds. Some are more expensive than others, all are found in different parts of the world, and all considered semi-precious on account of their beauty. 


Some semi-precious stones are super rare, too. Tanzanite, for example, can only be found in one mine Tanzania – it’s predicted they’ll run out in a few short decades. 


Each semi-precious stone comes from a specific geographic region, has an origin story, and very distinct features. Have a look at our jewellery set with our favourite semi-precious stones here. 


Can you wear all different types of gemstones, and are all gemstones durable?

Because gemstones are made through different natural processes, they all have different kryptonites. For example, pearls can be damaged by chemicals and perfume, while opals are very sensitive to heat and are known to crack because of it. There are thousands of stones too delicate to set in jewellery, so they are collected and admired by avid collectors instead. 


How do jewellers make sure they last in jewellery?

Make sure you keep an eye on how your stone is placed in jewellery. Glued stones can quickly dislodge, so opt for stones that are securely set. Opt for durable materials like gold, silver and durable plates like gold vermeil. Otherwise your gemstones will be sparkling against brass settings and green-stained fingers. 


Remember that jewellery is subject to heavy duty action – your hands, necks, wrists and ears are all exposed to the elements and need to be adorned with beautiful jewels that are securely set to last. 


How to keep it sustainable, and ethical. 

The jewellery industry is notoriously opaque, and gemstone mines are notoriously dangerous and exploitative places. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about where a jeweller or brand sources their stones from, how they track them, and what certifications their gemstones have. For instance, diamonds should be Kimberley Process Certified, and semi-precious stones should be sourced by responsible workshops from local suppliers with solid credentials. Read about our ethics here. 


Shop semiprecious jewellery.

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