Ruby is the most valuable variety of the corundum mineral species, which also includes sapphire. Rubies can command the highest per-carat price of any colored stone. This makes ruby one of the most important gems in the colored stone market.
In its purest form, the mineral corundum is colorless. Trace elements that become part of the mineral’s crystal structure cause variations in its color. Chromium is the trace element that causes ruby’s red, which ranges from an orangy red to a purplish red.
The strength of ruby’s red depends on how much chromium is present—the more chromium, the stronger the red color. Chromium can also cause fluorescence, which adds to the intensity of the red color.
The most renowned rubies, like those from Myanmar, the Himalayas, and northern Vietnam, typically form in marble. They’re found in layers that are distributed irregularly within the surrounding marble. Marble forms as part of the metamorphic (rock-altering) process, when heat and pressure from mountain
formation act on existing limestone deposits.
Besides blue sapphire and ruby, the corundum family also includes so-called “fancy sapphires.” They come in violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and intermediate hues. There are also “parti-colored” sapphires that show combinations of different colors. Some stones exhibit the phenomenon known as
color change, most often going from blue in daylight or fluorescent lighting to purple under incandescent light. Sapphires can even be gray, black, or brown.
Fancy sapphires are generally less available than blue ones, and some colors are scarce, especially in very small or very large sizes. Still, fancy sapphires create a rainbow of options for people who like the romance associated with this gem, but who also want something out of the ordinary.
Both blue and fancy sapphires come from a variety of exotic sources including Madagascar, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Australia.
Topaz is allochromatic, which means that its color is caused by impurity elements or defects in its crystal structure rather than by an element of its basic chemical composition. The element chromium causes natural pink, red, and violet-to-purple colors in topaz. Imperfections at the atomic level in topaz crystal structure can cause yellow, brown, and blue color. Brown is a common topaz color, and the gem is sometimes mistakenly called “smoky quartz.”
Topaz actually has an exceptionally wide color range that, besides brown, includes various tones and saturations of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple. Colorless topaz is plentiful, and is often treated to give it a blue color.
Emerald is the green to greenish blue variety of beryl, a mineral species that also includes aquamarine as well as beryls in other colors.
Gem experts differ on the degree of green that makes one stone an emerald and another stone a less-expensive green beryl. Some people in the trade tend to give the name emerald to any green beryl colored by chromium. But to most gemologists, gemological laboratories, and colored stone dealers, it is more correct to call a stone green beryl when its color is "too light" for it to be classified as emerald. Even among that group, however, there's a difference of opinion about what's considered "too light."
GIA uses lab-graded comparison stones to determine if the green color is dark enough and saturated enough to be called emerald.
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Most people do not realize garnets come in a wide variety of gem types and colors, with many cutting options.
Garnets are a set of closely related minerals that form a group, resulting in gemstones in almost every color. Red garnets have a long history, but modern gem buyers can pick from a rich palette of garnet colors: greens, oranges, pinkish oranges, deeply saturated purplish reds, and even some blues.
Red garnet is one of the most common and widespread of gems, found in metamorphic rocks (which are rocks altered by heat and pressure) on every continent. But not all garnets are as abundant as the red ones. A green garnet, tsavorite, also occurs in metamorphic rocks, but it’s rarer because it needs unusual
rock chemistries and special conditions to form.
Demantoid is a rare and famous green garnet, spessartine (also called spessarite) is an orange garnet, and rhodolite is a beautiful purple-red garnet. Garnets can even exhibit the color-change phenomenon similar to the rare gemstone alexandrite.
All garnets have essentially the same crystal structure, but they vary in chemical composition. There are more than twenty garnet categories, called species, but only five are commercially important as gems.
Opal is the product of seasonal rains that drenched dry ground in regions such as Australia’s semi-desert “outback.” The showers soaked deep into ancient underground rock, carrying dissolved silica (acompound of silicon and oxygen) downward.
During dry periods, much of the water evaporated, leaving solid deposits of silica in the cracks and between the layers of underground sedimentary rock. The silica deposits formed opal.
Opal is known for its unique display of flashing rainbow colors called play-of-color. There are two broad classes of opal: precious and common. Precious opal displays play-of-color, common opal does not.
Play-of-color occurs in precious opal because it’s made up of sub-microscopic spheres stacked in a grid-like pattern—like layers of Ping-Pong balls in a box. As the light waves travel between the spheres, the waves diffract, or bend. As they bend, they break up into the colors of the rainbow, called spectral colors. Play-of-color is the result.