Gemstones and jewels have always been used to indicate one’s wealth, status, and taste. While historically precious gems have included diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, there are many other precious and expensive gemstones. The contemporary view of what makes a ‘valuable’ gem is a complicated metric that includes rarity, beauty, demand, and even marketing and politics.
The short list of precious stones is a fairly modern conception. Pearls were once considered precious, as were opals. One of the most traditional precious stones was amethyst, with a history dating back to ancient Greece. After large deposits were found in Brazil and Uruguay in the first half of the nineteenth century, amethyst was reclassified, and the term ‘semi-precious’ was coined.
The diamond itself is an interesting case. Colored stones like rubies and sapphires were historically more highly valued than diamonds, mainly because diamonds were not particularly rare. When large deposits of diamonds were discovered in South Africa in the 1870s, diamond production went from a few pounds per year to tons.
British investors, in danger of losing their investment, created the powerful De Beers consortium that controlled worldwide production and supply of diamonds. After a decades long marketing campaign, De Beers succeeded in associating diamonds with love, courtship, and marriage to the point where they have become an essential part of the marriage ritual and continue to command high prices.
Any list of valuable gemstones will probably always include the diamond, but carat for carat, the world’s most valuable gems include a few stones that may be new to you.
*Note that the per carat prices on this list are for those gemstones of exceptional quality and finely cut. There are lower quality examples of many of these gemstones on the market which are worth far less.
Tanzanite (see image to left) is the blue variety of the mineral zoisite, and was first discovered in 1967 near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Tanzanite is known for its trichroism, meaning that it can appear alternately sapphire blue, violet, or burgundy, depending on different lighting conditions.
Tiffany & Co. actually gave this gemstone its name and was responsible for its popular use in fine jewelry. Although tanzanite fell out of fashion for many years, Tiffany began producing tanzanite jewelry again in 2002.
This aluminum borate mineral was first discovered in Siberia in 1883 by Russian mineralogist Jeremejev. Jeremejevite can be colorless or yellowish, but the light blue variety is the most popular. Though found in Russia and a few places in Germany, the most important sources are all located in the Erongo region of Namibia, where crystals of over one carat have been cut.
Taaffeite, (pronounced “TARF- ite”), was named for the Australian gemologist Richard Taaffe, who discovered the stone in 1945 in a jewelry shop in Dublin. The gem had been misidentified as spinel, and remains the only gemstone to have been initially identified from a faceted and polished stone.
Taaffeite ranges in color from nearly colorless to lavender, mauve, and violet, and displays the property of double refraction, a characteristic that allows its differentiation from spinel. The only known specimens come from Sri Lanka and Tanzania, though because of the geological connection between these deposits and Madagascar, it is thought that Taaffeite will be discovered in Madagascar as well.
Black Opal Gemstone
Black opals are mined almost exclusively at the Lightning Ridge mine in New South Wales, Australia. By far the rarest and most beautiful opal, black opal is the national gemstone of Australia, and is unique among gemstones in that it is amorphous—it has no crystalline structure.
The brilliant color play in these dark gems is truly remarkable, and consists of iridescent color flashes that change with the angle at which the stone is viewed. The distribution of individual flashes (known as schillers) and tiny, dense flashes help to determine the value of individual stones.
Red Beryl Gemstone
Red Beryl was first discovered in 1904 by Maynard Bixby in Utah, and was originally known as bixbite. Technically an emerald, Red Beryl is in the same family as aquamarine and morganite. The only known deposit of large, gem-quality red beryl in the world is in the Ruby-Violet claim in the Wah Wah mountains of Beaver County, Utah.
Alexandrite was named for Tsar Alexander II of Russia when it was discovered in the Ural mountains in 1830. This color changing gemstone shifts its hue from red to green depending on its exposure to light. The original deposits of Alexandrite were nearly exhausted, but it has been discovered in Brazil, East Africa, India, and Sri Lanka. Large stones of high clarity and good color change remain highly coveted, making Alexandrite one of the world’s rarest and most expensive gemstones.
Musgravite is one of the newest and most rare gemstones in the world. Named for the Musgrave Range in Australia where it was first discovered, Musgravite is in the same family as Taafeite, and ranges in color from greenish gray to purple. Up until the early 2000s only a handful of cut gemstones existed, though recently musgravite has been discovered in Madagascar and Tanzania. Cut gemstones are still exceedingly rare.
Jadeite might be easily confused with the much more common semi-precious stone jade (nephite), but the two are in fact separate and distinct minerals, with different chemical composition, hardness, and density. Jadeite occurs in a variety of colors, from gray to pink, yellow, lavender, and even white and black, though intense green is the most valuable.
Today, commercial jadeite is mined almost exclusively in Myanmar, though the source of Central American Jadeite used by the Olmec and Maya peoples (see early Mayan artifact to the left) has been recently discovered in Guatemala.
Painite was discovered by Arthur Paine in Myanmar in the 1950s. Listed for years by the Guinness Book as “The World’s Most Rare Gemstone,” new sources of Painite have been recently discovered in the Mogok region of northern Myanmar. Painite is pink to red-brown in color, and is strongly pleochroic (showing different hues from different angles).
Red Diamond Gemstone
In general, diamonds aren’t considered particularly rare. Strongly colored diamonds, called “fancies,” can be exceptionally scarce though, with red being the rarest color of all. There are only about 35 red diamonds known, and most weigh under a half a carat. Untreated red diamonds have sold for $800,000-$1.9 million per carat, making the red diamond one of the worlds most concentrated forms of wealth.
At Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, we purchase all types of valuable gemstones and precious gemstone jewelry. If you have a gemstone of exceptional quality or high-brand gemstone jewelry from a luxury maker such as Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, or Cartier, please contact us today for a free consultation.
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You can also learn more at the following link: Where to Sell Expensive Gemstones.