Most of us have a general idea of what a gemstone is: a piece of polished mineral crystal used to make jewelry. Rare gemstones take that significance to a new level because of their beauty, uniqueness and scarcity. Their uncommonness adds to their appeal, making them sought-after gems for fine jewelry. We’ve put together this helpful list of 10 rare gemstones along with their their origins and their unique characteristics.
Fancy Color Diamonds
When we think of diamonds, we tend to imagine a clear, colorless stone. And while we typically see diamonds in the “normal” color range based on a D-to-Z color-grading scale (colorless through light yellow), fancy color diamonds are in a class of their own. Fancy color diamonds are yellow and brown diamonds that feature color beyond the Z range, as well as diamonds that present as any other color, including pink, purple, red, green, and blue – like the famous Hope Diamond.
The more vivid the colors in a fancy color diamond, the more valuable it will be. Large, vividly colored diamonds, like pink diamonds, are extremely rare and thus extremely valuable.
Rare gemstones are defined by their scarcity, and tanzanite is no exception. First discovered in 1967, tanzanite is only found in Tanzania (its namesake). The color of a tanzanite crystal looks different depending on the angle at which it is viewed, which means the gem can appear more blue or more violet depending on its size and how it’s cut. This December birthstone is rarer than a diamond and beloved for its rich, vivid color.
All rubies are beautiful, but the Burma ruby, or Burmese ruby, is thought to be the most sought-after ruby in the world. Mined from the Mogok Valley in Upper Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), exceptionally rare Burma rubies are known for their superior clarity and purple-red or dark-pink-red “pigeon blood” color. Due to political strife, Burma ruby trade has only been allowed in the United States since 2016.
Elizabeth Taylor once possessed a very well-respected collection of Burmese ruby jewelry, which was auctioned by Christie’s after the late actress’s death.
Every rare gemstone has at least one special characteristic that sets it apart, and this is especially true for alexandrite. This “emerald by day, ruby by night” gemstone is made from chrysoberyl, a very rare color-changing mineral. The complex way alexandrite absorbs light causes it to appear as a beautiful green during the day or under fluorescent light, while changing to a purple-red color in incandescent light or under the light of a flame.
Alexandrite was originally discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the 1830s, but since then, it has been found around the world, from Sri Lanka to Brazil.
Paraiba tourmaline is named after the Brazilian state of Paraiba, where the rare gemstone was first discovered in 1989. This newer variety of tourmaline stands out due to its vivid blues and greens, as well as its enchanting glow. In a relatively short period of time, Paraiba tourmalines have gained global attention and skyrocketed in popularity, making them one of the most in-demand rare gemstones in the world. Since its discovery, this variety of tourmaline has also been found in Mozambique.
Sapphires come in multiple varieties, but some of the rarest gemstones are the Kashmir, Burmese and Padparadscha sapphires.
- Cornflower blue, or “blue velvet,” Kashmir sapphires are incredibly rare, housed mainly in museums and a few private collections. Originally discovered in the Padar region of Kashmir around 1879, the discovery of new Kashmir sapphires is so rare that its scarcity has made it the most famous type of sapphire in the world.
- You’ve already read above that Burma/Myanmar is known for its rubies, but it’s also home to another very rare blue sapphire, known as the Burmese sapphire. The ideal Burmese sapphires feature a rich, deep blue with hints of violet.
- Unlike their blue counterparts, extremely rare Padparadscha sapphires feature an unparalleled mix of pink and orange. The name Padparadscha is an ancient Sanskrit word that describes the color of a tropical lotus flower—a shade reminiscent of the hues found in this rare gemstone.
While, in general, pearls are fairly ubiquitous, natural pearls are in a distinctly rare class all by themselves. Natural pearls form in both saltwater and freshwater when a food particle gets stuck inside a mollusk. To protect itself, the mollusk coats the trapped particle with a substance called nacre. Over time, the layers of nacre begin to create a pearl.
Cultured pearls utilize human intervention to recreate this process – so while cultured pearls are extremely common, natural pearls are increasingly rare. Due to a decrease in pearl fishing, most natural pearls on the market today are vintage.
Egypt is home to the first known emerald mines, where the gems were mined from at least 330 BC through the 1700s. Cleopatra herself was an emerald enthusiast, wearing the gemstones often. Throughout the centuries, emeralds have held a position of high esteem, with associations of good luck, good health and protection from evil. Known for its rich, vibrant green color, the emerald’s name comes from “smaragdus,” the Greek word for “green.”
Famous emeralds include Queen Elizabeth II’s Vladimir Tiara and Catherine the Great’s 75.61 carat emerald necklace.
Known for the way it exhibits nearly every color under the rainbow, opal is primarily mined in Australia’s outback, where it is formed from silica deposits in between layers of sedimentary rock. The colors in an opal are so dazzling that Shakespeare referred to it as the “Queen of Gems” in his play, Twelfth Night.
The rarest opal of all, Black opal is found only in Australia and features a variety of vivid colors playing against a black background. The high demand for this scarce stone was showcased in the 2019 movie, “Uncut Gems.”
Mined from Asian mines during ancient times, spinel gems were often mistaken for rubies, and over time became a favorite amongst royalty. Having survived war and destruction over the course of centuries, the famous “Black Prince Ruby” (actually a spinel) is one of the centerpieces of England’s Crown Jewels.
While commonly red due to higher chromium content, spinel comes in a range of colors, including orange, pink, purple, blue, violet and bluish green.
If you need help selecting rare gemstone jewelry for yourself or someone else, one of our jewelry experts would be happy to assist you. Call 1.800.642.4438 during store hours to speak with one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales associates.