As a person who is supposed to be in the know about all things jewelry, friends and relations frequently send their questions my way on everything from druzy to diamonds. I'm always happy to answer queries and offer advice, and that's even more true during the gift-giving season (it's also proposal season, FYI). I've put together a little multi-part list of some of the most common questions I receive from people who really want an honest answer -- I don't sugarcoat, upsell, or otherwise spin my responses to turn a profit. Here we go!
"What exactly is Tanzanite? And why should I buy it?"
Tanzanite is a form of the mineral zoisite and is found only in one location: the mines in the area very near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Its current deposits are rapidly diminishing, making an already rare gemstone even more difficult to obtain.Tanzanite in its natural form is a rather ugly brownish burgundy -- the material originally found at the surface had been heated naturally thanks to its journey through the layers of the earth, but today essentially all Tanzanite has been heat treated. This process is common and permanent, and does not detract at all from the value of the gem.
Tanzanite is a beautiful colored gem that many people love for its vibrancy, range of color within the gem, and beautiful contrast when set with diamonds. It rates a low 6.5 on the hardness scale, which means that daily wear in rings or bracelets will cause the gem to abrade fairly rapidly. As an earring or pendant it tends to look best set in white metal. A strong vivid blue is the most valuable, but many people prefer the purple-blue tones due to their color uniqueness and complexity.
Bottom line: If the color is the true attraction and it simply must be a ring, try a purple sapphire or spinel instead -- it'll hold up better over time. In a pendant or earring, they're divine. Buy for vibrant and vivid color, or if you a particular affinity for the plains of Tanzania.
"Can you show me a 1 carat sapphire?"
Sure I can, but what you probably want is a sapphire (or any other gemstone) that is approximately the same millimeter size as a 1 carat round diamond. Gemstones are cut with very different stands from diamonds so they are almost never comparable in terms of size and weight.
Colored gemstones are cut to enhance their color, which frequently means they have a larger depth measurement and often are not perfectly proportional -- at least from underneath. An imperfectly cut gemstone will enhance all the wrong things: you might see a section that's too dark and/or too light, the color might appear muddy or pale, or it might be so deep or broad that it will only work in a custom made piece of jewelry.
All gemstones, colored or otherwise, are priced based on their carat weight. It is possible to have two rubies of comparable quality and length-to-width ratio be two totally different prices based on their individual weight. Gemstones also posses different densities, so two different gemstone types with the same dimensions may not weigh the same.
Bottom line: dimensions are important, not carat weight. A 1ct round diamond does not equal a 1ct round colored gem. Talk to me about the size and overall look you're going for.
"What's the difference between precious and semiprecious gemstones?" (Otherwise known as The Gemstones Formerly Known As...)
Oh, how I detest this question, and it's nobody's fault but our own. For so many years, jewelers drew a line in the sand between the Big Three -- a.k.a. emerald, ruby, and sapphire -- and, well, everything else. The Madison Ave. geniuses marketed the hell out of buying "semiprecious" gems as less expensive alternatives to the rest, and the result was an entire population hell-bent on spending pennies on some gems and thousands on others for mostly arbitrary reasons.
There are many stunningly beautiful gemstones that are not card-carrying members of the Big Three that can cost far more than the big guys, but a quick internet search will still yield results labeling them "semiprecious." The term was once attributable to gems that were simply more widely available than those labeled "precious", but as mentioned above in the case of Tanzanite, that no longer holds true.
Bottom line: ditch "semiprecious," try "gem with X color in Y price range." A good jeweler will work with your budget and color preference, or at least be honest and explain why we can't get something.
Now it's your turn! Have a burning question about jewelry? Want to know more about a particular metal, gem, style, or the industry itself? Ask away in the comments!