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Gems and jewels are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. In this blog, we'll explore what defines gems and jewels, the key differences between the two, and common misconceptions people hold about them. After reading, you'll better appreciate these dazzling natural wonders and artisan creations.
What Is a Gem?
A gem refers to a crystalline formation of a mineral that has developed through prolonged natural geologic processes deep beneath the earth's surface. Gems begin their journey in rock formations containing concentrated mineral deposits. Over millions of years, environmental conditions like high pressure, extreme heat, and tectonic shifts cause the minerals' molecules and atoms to arrange into orderly crystal lattice structures. This densely packed internal alignment gives gems their characteristic durability, color patterns, optical effects, and outward beauty.
The most coveted and precious gems form through slow crystallization under specific conditions found far underground. For instance, diamonds crystallize from carbon atoms when subjected to crushing pressure and temperatures over 1,600°C, approximately 90-120 miles beneath the earth's crust. Meanwhile, emeralds develop their signature green hue from trace amounts of chromium and vanadium present in their beryl mineral composition. Other classic examples of treasured gemstones created through elemental crystallization include rubies, sapphires, garnets, opals, and amethyst.
What Is a Jewel?
In contrast to gems formed by nature, jewels describe ornamental pieces that feature gems expertly crafted by artisans. While gems originate underground independently, jewels require extensive human artistry and lapidary skills to exhibit their full magnificence. Talented jewelers carefully select, cut, polish, and set gems in ways that enhance and display their virtues for adornment purposes.
The journey from a nondescript mineral deposit to a dazzling jewel involves numerous artistic steps. Lapidaries first assess rough gems and diagram the optimal way to cut and facet them to unlock maximum visual appeal. By carefully cleaving, sawing, and grinding at precise, calculated angles, they create optimal proportions and finishes to exhibit a gem's inner radiance. Further polishing with finer and finer abrasives renders smooth, lustrous surfaces capable of spectacular light reflection, refraction, and dispersion.
Next, jewelry artists design settings that will securely hold and complement the gems' hue, shape, and clarity. After selecting metals like platinum or yellow gold and accent stones, they use meticulous techniques like prong setting, bezel setting, or pavé setting to arrange the gems for optimal beauty. The skills involved in crafting jewels augment gems' natural virtues for aesthetic and symbolic purposes, unlike their raw geologic state.
Are Gems and Jewels the Same?
No, gems and jewels are not the same. While they may appear similar on a superficial level, gems, and jewels have very distinct compositions, origins, purposes, and values that set them apart.
Key Differences Between Gems and Jewels
Fundamentally, gems and jewels diverge in their origins, composition, intended purpose, and how they accumulate value. While gems arise spontaneously from natural geologic forces, jewels are deliberately crafted by human hands. Let's explore their contrasts in greater depth:
Gems begin their existence in mineral deposits underground and crystallize independently over millions of years without any external guidance. Conversely, jewels come into being above ground through intentional human creativity and lapidary skills. Jewelers actively select, cut, polish, and set gems to create ornamental objects.
To access more info: What's the difference between a gem and a jewel?
Gems consist purely of crystalline minerals like corundum, beryl, quartz, or diamond that give them innate durability, color, and light effects. Jewels, however, incorporate metal alloys like gold, platinum, and silver for gem settings. They also utilize metalworking techniques and frequently include supplemental accent gems and ornamental flourishes.
In their original rough state, gems may not exhibit the full visual splendor that cutting and polishing reveal. The calculated precision of lapidary techniques modifies gems' outward beauty substantially by introducing facets, proportions, and smoothness that optimize their inner light.
Untouched gems hold value in their pristine natural state and scientific significance as geological specimens. But when artisans transform them into jewels, additional cultural, symbolic, and ornamental meaning gets infused through deliberate design.
Left undisturbed, gems persist unaltered for millennia. However, jewels are ephemeral creations meant to be dismantled and reworked over time in response to changing styles and owner preferences.
For gems, market factors like supply scarcity primarily drive value. But for jewels, value also stems from the level of artistry, design, skill, and labor invested by jewelers. Exceptional artisan craftsmanship can distinguish fine jewels.
So, in summary, while gems and jewels share scintillating beauty, they differ fundamentally across every aspect, from how they form to why humans value them.
For further info: Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Have Value?
Common Misconceptions About Gems and Jewels
Despite their distinct differences, gems and jewels are often conflated by the general public due to common misconceptions passed down over time. Here are some prevalent erroneous assumptions people make about gems and jewels:
- All jewels incorporate gemstones as their focal point. In truth, many ornate jewels feature other precious materials like pearls, enamel, filigree, carved ivory, or precious metals as the centerpiece instead of a cut gem. Notable examples include cameos, intaglios, Fabergé eggs, and jeweled swords embellished with enamelwork.
- Larger gemstones automatically bear higher value. While size contributes, other factors like clarity, cut, color, and rarity outweigh sheer carat weight in determining a gem's worth. For instance, a modest one-carat internally flawless blue diamond can fetch dramatically higher prices at auction than a commercially graded five-carat diamond with noticeable inclusions.
- Finished jewels must be worth more than uncut gemstones. Investors often pay astronomical sums for extremely large or museum-quality gemstone specimens that outweigh the value of smaller cut gems set into jewelry. The Hope Diamond's 45.52 raw carats make it exponentially more valuable than a 0.5-carat diamond solitaire necklace.
- Synthetic gems are fake imitations of real stones. While chemically manufactured, synthetic gems have identical physical, optical, and chemical properties to their natural counterparts. They provide ethical and affordable alternatives to over-harvested gems like rubies and emeralds.Read more: Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real?
- Gems must be cut to unlock their beauty. Many gorgeous gems like opal, lapis lazuli, and malachite display stunning innate color patterns and figuration before any lapidary work. Cutting unleashes their full potential but isn't mandatory for appreciation.
Overturning these common myths helps us rectify widespread misclassification and better convey gems' and jewels' distinct virtues on their own terms.
Gems and jewels hold enduring allure, but their distinct compositions and origins set them apart. Gems crystallize naturally underground, displaying inherent mineral beauty. Lapidaries then craft them into jewels, unlocking full brilliance through faceting, polishing, and purposeful design. While similar in their visual appeal, gems and jewels shine from different realms of natural and human artistry.