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Precious and Semi-Precious Gems - GemSelect

Precious Gems
The concept that some gemstone types are considered 'precious', while others are only 'semi-precious' is actually a recent innovation that dates back to the 19th century. Most people incorrectly assume that this concept is one that dates back hundreds of years as a 'tradition'. The term 'semi-precious' was first used in 1858 in reference to gems 'of less commercial value than a precious stone'. Precious stones were known as the 'precious four' gems, which included fine sapphire, red ruby, green emerald and of course, diamond (all colors including white, yellow, red, blue, green, champagne, cognac, chocolate and etc). These four types of precious stones typically command high prices due to their extraordinary color, brilliance and/or extreme rarity. 





However, as of more recent times, the distinction between precious and semi-precious gems is no longer recognized by most professionals in the gem and jewelry trade. In fact, the 'traditional' list of precious gems has been expanded from 4 gem types to numerous gem types. Many of the newer members of the precious gem group include precious topaz, precious pearl, precious opal, precious coral and more. Other varieties of colored stones are actually rarer and more precious than any of the original precious gem members, such asred beryl (bixbite), color-change alexandrite, red spinel, tanzanite, demantoid garnet and tsavorite garnet, for example.

It is fair to say that we have reached the point where precious and semi-precious has become meaningless. In fact, the United States FTC periodically considers banning the use of these terms and the AGTA already includes the following text in their Code of Ethics: "Members should avoid the use of the term 'semi-precious' in describing gemstones".  Although these organizations in the USA have begun taking action on changing the use of the terms described, the rest of the international gem and jewelry trade are still continuing to use the terms, though more loosely. It is fair to say that the original precious four gems are still considered precious, while most other varieties of colored stones are typically still being referred to as 'semi-precious' gems.

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