Gems and Minerals

Category: Education

I'm interested in learning about precious gems. But most of the sites I see are just online jewelry stores. Can you recommend any sites where I can get high quality information on gems and minerals?

Gems Online

Where Can I Learn About Gems and Minerals Online?

Depending on your definition of "gem" there may be as few as four or as many as 4000 types of gems. Diamond, emerald, ruby, and blue sapphire are the four "precious" gems, according to purist snobs. Another 130 or so minerals and mineraloids (like minerals but without rigid internal crystaline structures, i.e., opal) are durable enough for the jewelry trade. A hotly debated 3,000 to 4,000 natural substances are admired for their beauty and cut, polished, and/or mounted.

Don Clark, certified gemologist and founder of the International Gem Society says, "To heck with the definitions, if it makes your eyes light up it's a real gem!" It seems anything can be a real gem, then. To a microbiologist, raw sewage may be a real gem while diamond is just sterile, uninteresting stone. You may have been called "a real gem" sincerely or sarcastically.

Curiously, only four generally accepted gems are derived from living things: amber, fossilized resin (not sap); jet, a relative of coal; pearl, a bandage manufactured by molluscs; and coral, the exoskeletons of microscopic polyps. Ivory, the dentin of certain mammal teeth, is sometimes counted as a gem. Tortoise shell has been nominated, too.

Gems and Minerals - Where to Learn More

A search for any gem will yield many sources of information; most of them are sellers who specialize in a few varieties of gems and tell you only what they hope will make you buy. But there are online resources for the serious scientific and/or metaphysical student of gems.

If your interest in gems and minerals is purely scientific or commercial, your best resource may be the U.S. Geological Survey's Minerals pages.

The Farlang Gem & Diamond Foundation offers the full text of hundreds of rare, antique books about gems and minerals. Here you can learn about thousands of gems right down to their atomic structure; optical properties; thermal behaviors; geographic distribution and mining techniques; and esoteric meanings. Truly, this is a bottomless well of gem lore! You can also see stunning photographs of some of the world's finest, most famous gems. contains over 50,000 Web pages of information about pearls: their history, chemical and physical properties, cultivation, varieties, mystical powers, etc. is a seller but has an excellent, long history of amber, perhaps the first substance humans used as a gem.

Australia's Opal Association is a trade association devoted to promoting the source of about 90 per cent of the world's gem-quality opals. But be aware that not all opal comes from Australia. There are literally hundreds of varieties including some found only in the United States. In Nevada's Virgin Valley, you can pay a fee, dig all day in a working opal mine, and keep whatever you find. Some folks come home with bucketfuls of opals valued at tens of thousands of dollars.

Do you have something to say about gems and minerals? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Gems and Minerals"

Posted by:

28 Sep 2009

Good article and references you provided. This site has great info and images from the Department of Mineral Sciences of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2009

An excellent collective source of info, photos, localities and discussions ranging from begining hobbiest rockhounds to professional scientific information on minerals and associated "gems" can be found at This is pretty much the definative site for mineral enthusiasts. If you are into the metaphysical stuff (aka: healy-feely) then this site is not for you.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2009

For those who would like to learn about colored gemstones of every variety, I highly recommend the website of the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA, for short): Clicking on the tab "Gem By Gem" brings up a menu of varieties, each of which has its own page. Very nice site!

Posted by:

29 Sep 2009

I met Fred Ward when he was doing a story on Japan for National Geographic back in the 70s. He was an excellent photographer and writer.

I haven't actually read his gem books, but I know that whatever Fred does, he does it very well.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2009

Links for Rocks and Minerals, jewelry are

Posted by:

30 Sep 2009

Couldn't find much on this show but it's the LARGEST and held every year in Quartzite, Az. It was very large when I used to visit it in the 80s. Couldn't see all of it in 1 day then. It's held the end of January every year.

Posted by:

02 Oct 2009

Thank you so much for your kind mention of - We're a small family compny & we are dedicated to exploring the wealth of cultural, scientific & historical information about amber & strive to deliver more than "just" ecommerce.

Another really cool amber resource is Susie Ward Aber's "World of Amber" page here:

And I agree about the commenter above who referenced the International Colored Gemstone (ICA) pages as well- you can wander here for hours,

as well as the jeweler-oriented


Posted by:

Rohan Wickramasinghe
16 Oct 2009

This comment is from Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon, Serendib and many other names). The country is well known for a large variety of precious and semi-precious stones, except diamonds and emeralds. It was, also, famous for pearls (although the pearl fishery has not been operated much in the last several decades). Bizet's opera 'The Pearl Fishers' was set in Ceylon.(Coral and Tortoise shell objects are also to be found, though manufacture of new items is prohibited for reasons of conservation.)

I learned what I know about gems from Robert Webster's 'Gems, their Sources, Descriptions and Identification', published by Butterworths of London and Boston. My (battered) copy is the Third Edition of 1975. I would imagine that newer editions exist. I can heartily recommend it.

Gem mining and the manufacture of jewellery has been an important commercial activity in Sri Lanka for thousands of years. Relatively speaking, it was particularly famous for Sapphires, Star Sapphires and Rubies, but moonstones, cat's eyes etc have also been much sought after.

Jewellery bearing Sri Lankan gems are also worn by the ladies in the Sigiriya frescoes. These frescoes were painted in the fifth (5th) century A.D. on the side of a huge rock in Sri Lanka. There were originally around 500 paintings but now only nineteen (19) remain. The rest have been lost due to weathering and vandalism. John Still is reported to have commented that originally it may have been the largest painting in the world. They may be viewed through 'Google'. Regards, Dr. Rohan H. Wickramasinghe

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Gems and Minerals (Posted: 25 Sep 2009)
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