Everything You Need to Know About Colored Gemstones
If you’re coveting the latest jewelry trend, we’ve got a scoop for you – colored gemstones are back in vogue. That’s right. Move over, diamonds. Colored gemstones are a girl’s new best friend. From velvety blue sapphires to blood red rubies to lush green emeralds, wearing jewelry with a pop of color is all the rage.
We recently hosted an in-person panel discussion at our headquarters in Neenah, WI to shed light on the colored gemstone phenomenon. Featured guests included two of the foremost experts on gemstone jewelry: Kimberly Collins, founder of Kimberly Collins Gems and Board President of the American Gem Trade Association, and Shelia Bayes, founder of Gem + Jewel.
If you weren’t part of this colorful conversation, don’t worry – we took great notes! Keep reading to find out which colored gemstones are in hot demand, what precautions to take when buying gems online, which celebrity-inspired colored bridal ring trends are here to stay, and more!
The Journey of the Gem
Before jumping into "what's hot" in colored gemstones, it’s helpful to learn what a gemstone is and how it gets from the mine to the market. A gemstone (also called a gem, fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or semi-precious stone) is a crystallized mineral that forms under the earth under great heat and pressure. Its color is determined by the way in which it interacts with certain trace elements (titanium, iron, copper, etc.) and absorbs and refracts light.
Gemstones are mined from every corner of the world, including Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Pakistan, Myanmar (former Burma), Thailand, Australia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, India, and even in the state of Montana in the United States. They are extracted from the earth using traditional mining methods with simple tools and manual labor. After being mined, rough gemstones are cleaned to remove dirt and debris using the techniques of power washing and acid washing.
There is not one supply chain model for colored gemstones, which means they can pass through several hands before they reach consumers. Post-mining, gemstones are traded on local markets, usually involving several different dealers. They are then sent to cutting and polishing centers, located in either their country of origin or abroad. Most cutting centers are in India and China.
Colored gemstones are sold to jewelry brands via wholesalers, which can happen at any stage: in their rough form or after they’ve been cut, in their country of origin or an international market, from either a small local dealer or big gemstone seller.
Why are Colored Gemstones so Popular Right Now?
Colored gemstones have fascinated the world for centuries, but their popularity has surged over the last few years. From the runway to the red carpet to the cover of a magazine, colored gemstones are everywhere. So, why the explosion of color?
It’s a way to express your individuality
Wearing colorful gemstone jewelry presents an opportunity to express yourself in a unique and special way. Diamonds are great, sure, but a burst of color can really make you stand out in a crowd. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter! With over 200 different gemstones in every hue and shade imaginable, you can choose the one(s) that perfectly matches your personality, style, and wardrobe.
A rising millennial population
Millennials look at diamonds differently than prior generations. Whether it’s an engagement ring or other type of jewelry, they are drawn to bespoke pieces that are bold in color, fit their budget, and are ethically sourced.
People need a mood boost after Covid
Let’s face it, living through a pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Science has shown that different colors can have therapeutic effects that impact our moods, behaviors, and feelings. What better way to counteract the bleakness of the times (and make yourself feel better) than by wearing a beautiful piece of colored gemstone jewelry?
Colored gemstones are meaningful and symbolic
Another byproduct of the pandemic is that it led to the realization that life is short. People are more sentimental and want to invest in things they connect to emotionally. Colored gemstones are uniquely suited to commemorate the special moments in people’s lives. For one thing, they are extremely personal. Birthstones are a great example (check out our Birthstone Guide or download the PDF version).
What could be more meaningful than being proposed to with a custom-made engagement ring that merges both your birthstone colors? Or gifting yourself a pair of birthstone earrings to celebrate a promotion? These are symbolic pieces that can be worn and cherished forever.
What are the Rising Trends in Colored Gemstones?
Sapphires, emeralds, and rubies reign supreme
When it comes to the most popular colored stones in the market today, nothing tops sapphires, emeralds, and rubies – collectively known as the “Big Three.” These precious gems are currently in high demand due to their stunning beauty, rarity, and durability. Let’s look at each one a bit more closely.
Sapphires are one of the most enchanting gemstones in the world. For a long time, sapphires have been associated with royalty and romance – thanks in large part to Princess Diana’s iconic blue sapphire engagement ring.
Today, sapphires are the most dominant gems outside of diamonds for engagement rings.
Color: When people think of sapphires, they envision a brilliant blue, but did you know that sapphires also come in a dazzling array of other colors including pink, orange, yellow, green, purple, violet, gray, black, and brown? The most valuable sapphire color is cornflower blue which has vivid saturation and a balanced tone.
Cut: The most common sapphire shapes are oval, round, cushion, and emerald.
Durability: Sapphires are highly durable, ranking 9 out of 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale, which means they can withstand the hard knocks of everyday wear.
Treatment: Most commercial-grade sapphires have had some measure of treatment, the most common being heat treatment. Heat treatment is permanent and will endure the lifetime of the gemstone. Some sapphires are diffusion-treated and are much more affordable than heat-treated sapphires.
Origin: Sapphires come from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Kashmir, Myanmar (former Burma), Thailand, Australia, Tanzania, and Nigeria.
Fun fact: Sapphires have been mined in the state of Montana for more than a century and a half. Yet, it’s only recently that its origins have become more widely known. “Montana sapphires” are becoming highly sought after for their unusual blue green (teal) color and for being ethically sourced right here in the U.S.
Emeralds evoke luxury and elegance in a way that perhaps no other gemstone does. Throughout history, emeralds have been worn by the likes of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth. In 2009, Angelina Jolie helped propel the emerald back onto the fashion scene when she showed up to the Oscar’s wearing a stunning pair of tear-drop emerald earrings.
Color: The mesmerizing green color of an emerald is unmistakable, ranging from green to greenish blue. The most desired color is a slightly bluish, vivid green. A pale green beryl color is considered less desirable.
Cut: Emeralds can be cut into many classic shapes but the most iconic is the hexagonal emerald cut. Because emeralds are cut wide rather than deep, they are substantially larger than a diamond, ruby or sapphire of equal carat size.
Durability: Emeralds are not as tough as sapphires and rubies but still score a respectable 7.5 to 8 on the hardness scale, making it suitable for daily wear.
Treatment: Emeralds are known for having jardin-looking (mossy color) inclusions (imperfections) and surface cracks. While this adds character, most emeralds are treated with oil to enhance their appearance. Cedar oil is especially effective at penetrating fractures to make them far less noticeable. However, be wary of green tinted oil, as this is generally considered an unacceptable treatment in the industry.
Origin: Approximately 60% of the world’s emerald production comes from Colombia. The African countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe are also emerging as producers of fine emeralds.
Fun fact: Emeralds are 20 times rarer than diamonds and using baby oil can give them extra protection.
In ancient eastern cultures, a ruby was hailed as the “King of the Gemstones.” The label still fits today. The rich, red color of a ruby is in a league of its own. Natural rubies are so valuable they often demand a higher price per carat than even the most flawless diamonds.
Color: A ruby is not merely red. It may be pigeon blood red (deep, deep red with a hint of blue) pinkish red or violet red. If the color is too light, the stone is considered a pink sapphire.
Cut: Ruby gemstones are cut into round, pear, oval, cushion, emerald-cut and other shapes.
Durability: Ruby ranks 9 out of 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale making it durable enough to weather a lot of wear and tears.
Treatment: Rubies often have some form of a surface coating that is used to camouflage fractures and enhance its appearance. Treatments such as glass-filling can wear off in time, which is why it’s
important to ask your jeweler to disclose which treatments have been used.
Origin: Rubies can be sourced from Thailand, Myanmar (former Burma), Brazil, Australia, Cambodia, and Tanzania.
Fun fact: A red ruby sells for more at auction per carat than a white diamond (CNN).
Find out where your colored gemstones are sourced
Many jewelry consumers, particularly millennials, want to know where their gemstones came from. If this is important to you, ask your jeweler for an origin report.
Colored Gemstones for the Modern Bride
Diamonds aren’t the only gems that can make a girl’s left-hand sparkle. Colored stone engagement rings have been steadily growing in appeal, thanks in large part to several celebrity trendsetters. Here’s a look at the hottest colored engagement rings trending right now...
The “toi et moi”
The “toi et moi” (French for “you and me”) ring features two gemstones that sit side-by-side or close together, symbolizing two souls becoming one. This can be an incredibly romantic option, made even more so when the stones have personal meaning for the couple. In the image above, Megan Fox shows off a bespoke pear-shaped emerald and diamond “toi et moi” ring which incorporates her birthstone with her fiancé’ Machine Gun Kelly’s. The two stones in a “toi et moi” ring can either match or contrast in size, cut, and setting.
A blue sapphire fit for a princess
Princess Diana’s blue oval sapphire engagement ring, now worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton is one of the most recognizable and iconic pieces of jewelry in history. The ring features a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire surrounded with 14 solitaire diamonds in a marguerite design and set in 18-karat white gold. In the 80s, brides everywhere wanted their very own Princess Di replica ring. Fast-forward 36 years later and Kate Middleton has inspired a new generation of sapphire wearing brides.
The “JLo” colored diamond
Jennifer Lopez is the queen of colored diamonds. In 2002, Ben Affleck proposed to her with a breathtaking 6.10 carat radiant-cut pink Harry Winston diamond. The world’s collective jaw dropped! Back then, pink diamonds were not very well-known. In the years that followed, the value of pink diamonds skyrocketed, and major bidding wars broke out at auction houses everywhere.
Twenty years after their first engagement, Ben Affleck proposed again, and managed to top himself with an 8.5-carat natural green diamond (JLo’s favorite color!), the second rarest diamond in the world after intense red.
Flower-shaped ruby with diamonds
Katy Perry announced her engagement to Orlando Bloom on Instagram wearing a flower-shaped red ruby and diamond sparkler with the caption “Full bloom.” This one-of-a-kind ring features a ruby that is thought to be one of the highest quality stones due to its pigeon blood hue (red with a purple tint). The ruby is estimated to be about two carats and the diamond halo is 2.5 carats, making the entire engagement ring more than 4.5 carats. Today, the ring would retail for approximately $5 million.
Simple pearl elegance
Emma Stone’s pearl and diamond engagement ring has a vintage, heirloom feel. Designed by Tokyo-based designer Kataoka, the ring features an untreated 8mm Akoya pearl surrounded by a halo of diamonds. The “Pearl Snowflake Ring-Supreme” retails at $5,380.
Stay up to date on what’s trending in colored gems
Here are a few gem experts to follow:
American Gem Trade Association; IG: agta_gems
Kimberly Collins, owner of Kimberly Collins Gems; IG: kimberlycollinsgems
Shelia Bayes, owner of Gem + Jewel; IG: gemandjewelonline
See rare gems and minerals at our Neenah, WI headquarters
Visit the R. Harder Gallery of Gems and Minerals
Free / Open to Public
Monday-Friday: 9am-4pm CST
24 Jewelers Park Dr
Neenah, WI 54956
Make sure your colored gems are properly insured so you can wear them with confidence. Find out how affordable a dedicated jewelry insurance policy is.