© R.W. Wise
Portrait of a disappointment! Young girl panning for rubies
and sapphires in a stream in Chantaburi Province, central
A combination of rarity, beauty, supply, and demand! Red stones
are rarer, and demand exceeds supply; therefore reds will cost more.
Obviously, the market enforces universal standards.
For example, one excellent quality grading system, ColorScan, developed
by the American Gemological Laboratories, identifies sixty different
color combinations of hue/tone in blue sapphire. Each of these is
associated with a specific market price. The Guide, an important
industry pricing publication, identifies eleven different quality-pricing
grids for blue sapphire, and cautions that even these do not cover
the entire range of available qualities.
A very stringent standard exists for the grading of colorless diamond.
This standard, developed in the 1950s by the Gemological Institute
of America has, with modification, become accepted worldwide.
semi-precious: a distinction without a difference
The question “Is it a precious or semi-precious stone?”
is an expression of pure market snobbery. As has been already shown,
the term “preciousness” has had different meanings at
different periods in different cultures. In earliest times, it had
no meaning at all. The term semi-precious is today as meaningless
as the term semi-pregnant or semi-deceased. That this term is still
in general usage points only to the fact that many of the gemstones
described here still lack a degree of market acceptance, and still
may be purchased at relatively low prices.
Several gem species and varieties discussed in Part II of this
book are fairly recent discoveries: tsavorite garnet, tanzanite,
and malaya garnet were completely unknown just fifty years ago.
In many cases these new precious gemstones are rarer and more beautiful
than those gems that have traditionally been called precious.
To the astute aficionado “semi-precious” should translate
as “buying opportunity.” The true lover of gemstones
looks at the object without regard for the verbal baggage it may
carry along with it. If the foregoing discussion has demonstrated
anything, it is that the whole idea of preciousness is fluid. In
the world of gemstones, if it is rare and beautiful, and if demand
is strong, it is precious.