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The Jewelry Hunter's Field Guide

How do I pick a good quality diamond? How, exactly, does one pronounce that mouthful of a word "chalcedony"? We've got the answers here in our gem encyclopedia. Think of it as your personal guide for all those little questions.

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  • Agate

    This quartz variety is found in a wide range of colors and is usually banded or speckled with visually appealing veins of chalcedony or other minerals. Agate was a common material used in ancient carvings and is today used in a wide range of applications, from jewelry to ornamental statues.


    An exceptionally rare transparent stone known as one of the few gems in the world capable of shifting color under different lighting. High quality alexandrite can shift drastically from blue-green in daylight to bright pink or purple in incandescent light.


    A mixture of two or more metals used to a create stronger or different colored metal. Gold is usually an alloy, with the percentage of gold in the mixture represented as a fraction of the total (out of 24 parts): "14K gold" is 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals.


    Originally found by the Amazon River, this pleasantly vivid blue-green variety of feldspar often has white veining resembling choppy sea foam. It is often cut and polished as cabochons.


    A violet variety of quartz that gets its name from the ancient Greek améthystos, meaning "not intoxicated", for its supposed abilities to protect the wearer from drunkenness. While best known for its deep, rich purple color, amethyst can also be found in pale pink and green incarnations. It is the birthstone of the month of February.


    A portmanteau of the words amethyst and citrine, ametrine is a naturally occurring formation of both color stones together. Both minerals are a form of quartz; the difference in color is a result of heat differences in the cooling crystal during formation. Many ametrines are emerald cut to showcase their distinct zones of color.


    A term used to describe stones that exhibit a luminous star (star asterism) or a vertical line (cat's eye asterism) when cut into a cabochon (dome) shape. Some stones capable of asterism include ruby, sapphire, garnet, aquamarine, and spinel.


    A beryl, the same family as emerald and morganite, with a light blue to cyan coloring. A rare variety found in Madagascar, maxixe, is dark and rich enough in tone to resemble some sapphires. This stone has a long history of association with sea voyages and safe travel, and is the birthstone for the month of March.


    The looped portion of a pendant used to suspend the piece from a chain. Traditional bails are triangular or straight in shape and attach to the piece with a small jump ring or other attachment, but some bails may be cast as a part of the pendant (stationary), split into two in a decorative y-shape (rabbit ear), crafted elaborately with stones and flourishes, or concealed entirely into the back or middle of a pendant (hidden and slide, respectively).


    A non-flexible bracelet that either slips over the hand or has a hinge that can be opened and fastened.


    A type of setting with a raised rim or lip that holds the gemstone in place.


    A stone symbolizing each of the twelve months that is traditionally considered a luck charm for those born in that month.

    January: Garnet
    February: Amethyst
    March: Aquamarine
    April: Diamond
    May: Emerald
    June: Pearl or Alexandrite
    July: Ruby
    August: Peridot
    September: Sapphire
    October: Opal or Tourmaline
    November: Citrine or Imperial Topaz
    December: Tanzanite, Blue Topaz, or Turquoise

    Bypass (Ring)

    A style of ring in which the two sides of the shank appear to overlap and pass each other rather than meet in the middle. These rings can be open or feature a stone or set of stones connecting the ends.

    Cable Chain

    A classic style of chain using round or oval metal loops linked together. These are sometimes faceted (cut with flat surfaces) to make them appear shinier.


    A smoothly polished cut resembling a dome shape. Certain stones cut this way can display asterism.


    Carnelian, a type of chalcedony, is a translucent orange to reddish brown stone that was popularly used in decorative arts as far back as 1800 B.C. It was popularly used for intaglio (carved gems) in seals and signet rings, since hot wax will not adhere to the stone. The name derives from cornum, the Latin name for the Cornel Cherry.

    Cathedral Setting

    A ring style in which the center prong setting is framed with smooth arches and open spaces resembling cathedral architecture.



    A translucent type of quartz that actually includes such stones as agate, carnelian, and onyx, but the term is usually used to refer to its milky white, blue, or pink personas.

    Channel Setting

    This setting is similar to the bezel setting in that it uses a rim or lip to hold stones in place, but instead holds a row of gemstones side-by-side.


    A warm, honey-orange variety of quartz, this stone resembles the coloring of fall leaves, which suits it well as the birthstone of November.


    Clarity refers to a gemstone's relative lack of natural imperfections, and is particularly important when valuing diamonds. "Lab Certified" diamonds are carefully inspected by certified third party gemological laboratories to provide a grade for their clarity, among other factors. They will also provide a diagram identifying all inclusions in the stone, known as an inclusion plot, shown left. Diamonds and other gemstones can also be evaluated for their grade by any trained gemologist.

    Learn more about diamond clarity grading at GIA.

    Color (Diamond)

    There is a strict scale from D-Z for white diamonds to determine their relative lack of color, with D being absolutely colorless and Z being a light yellow. Lower than "Z" is considered fancy color. Close grades are very similar and are usually grouped as Colorless (D-F), Near Colorless (G-J), Yellow Tinge (K-M), and Light Yellow (N-Z).

    Learn more about diamond color grading at GIA.

  • Diamond

    That beloved little gem in engagement rings everywhere is also the hardest material on earth! The diamond is graded on the “4C’s”: Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat (weight). Aside from colorless, colors range from yellows, browns, and black to blue, pink, green, and red. It is the birthstone for the month of April.


    A layering of a transparent or translucent stone over another stone. This can create an unusual appearance or blend of colors not possible with each stone alone. This technique is also used to add strength to fragile stones such as opal or lapis.


    The famous green stone has a long and colorful history and was the preferred stone of Cleopatra. This variety of beryl can grow to fantastic sizes: the Bahia Emerald, one of the biggest found in the world, is 840 pounds and is worth over $372 million. Emerald is the birthstone of the month of May.

    Euro Shank

    A style of ring shank in which the bottom (palm side) is flat or squarish in shape. Some ring wearers prefer this shape, saying it is more comfortable and that it prevents the ring from spinning on their finger. This is especially useful for ring wearers whose fingers swell or shrink drastically.


    In stones where inclusions are not preferred, it is important to know whether or not spots, feathers, clouds, and other imperfections are noticeable to the naked eye. "Eyeclean" can be somewhat subjective, but for the most part an eyeclean stone will not have visible imperfections when viewed under natural light from about a foot away. Typically, diamonds that fall below SI1-SI2 on the clarity scale (see "Clarity") will not be completely eyeclean, but can depend on the types of inclusions in the stone.


    A flat, polished surface cut into a gemstone’s surface that helps a gemstone reflect light.

    Fancy Color Diamonds

    These colorful variants of the traditional colorless diamond are exceptionally rare and highly prized. Natural chemical impurities in the stone's lattice structure cause it to appear in a wide variety of hues, including brown, yellow, orange, red, pink, blue, green, and black. The overall value of a fancy color diamond is determined by its hue (main color), tone (from light to dark), and saturation (intensity of color). Get the full picture by visiting the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)'s Fancy Color Diamond Guide.


    An ornamental metalwork technique featuring intricate twists, scrolls, and flourishes that somewhat resemble lace. It can be seen in many antique European pieces and is a popular motif in Indian and other Asian metalwork.


    Also known as dispersion, "fire" refers to the flashes of color in a gemstone from the way it breaks up white light into its spectral colors (like those in a rainbow). Diamonds are especially prized for their high dispersion, but many other gemstones exhibit high dispersion as well.

    Fish Hook Earring

    A curved, hook-like type of earring post used for dangle earrings that is long enough to not need a backing to secure it.

    French Back

    A type of earring back with a wide looped lever that fits up against the back of the ear, around the post.

    Friction Back

    Sometimes called a push back or “butterfly back” for its looped shape, friction backs are a type of earring back used to secure stud earrings.

  • Garnet

    The wine-toned birthstone for January actually comes in a wide range of tones, from pink and orange to green, blue, and yellow. Some garnets can also change color under different lighting, much like alexandrite. Popular varieties include rhodolite, a bright magenta pink; spessartite, a vibrant red-orange; tsavorite, an emerald green; and almandine, the commonly known deep burgundy tone.


    Pure gold is a very soft metal prized for its warm yellow tone. Most gold jewelry is actually an alloy of gold and other, stronger metals: terms like “14K” and “18K” refer to gold’s proportion in the metal. 24K is pure gold, while 18K is 18/24 parts, or 75% pure gold. These alloys can also be used to create different colors of gold: rose gold is made by mixing gold with copper, while white gold is made by mixing gold with a white metal such as nickel, palladium, or manganese, then coating the alloy with rhodium.

    Grading Report

    A grading report is a summary of a diamond or color stone made by a certified third party gemological institution to promote fair and standardized evaluations of gems. These laboratories carefully inspect the stone's inclusions, cut, and color, and will also look for the presence of any enhancements or treatments. Popular gemological institutions include the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), American Gemological Society (AGS), and European Gemological Laboratory (EGL).


    A border of closely set stones around a larger gemstone setting. While often created with white diamonds, this can also be set with colorful stones like sapphire, brown diamond, or ruby.

    Hinged Back

    A type of earring closure with a stationary post and hinged backing that latches onto it.

    Illusion Setting

    A closely-set cluster of stones that are then set into a larger setting to create the effect of a larger stone, often used with diamond jewelry. It can also refer to a technique of setting a single stone in a border of shaped and highly polished metal that appears to be a part of the stone.


    Natural variations in a gemstone caused by trapped materials in the mineral during its formation. For many stones (like diamonds), fewer inclusions are preferred. In some cases, however, they actually increase the value of the stone: the fascinating black "needles" in rutilated quartz are a type of inclusion, and the "silk" inclusions of a star sapphire are what cause the stone's asterism.

    “Inside-Out” Hoops

    A type of hoop earring that is set with gemstones along the outside of the front and the inside of the back, creating more sparkle when viewed from the front.


    This bluish-purple transparent stone is also nicknamed the gem of the Vikings for its use by clever Viking mariners. Given the stone's pleochroism, which makes it change colors depending on the viewing angle, sailors used thin discs of it as a sort of polarizing filter to find the exact position of the sun in any weather.

  • Jade

    A green, translucent silicate with speckles, whorls, and other natural variations. Mostly thought of in its deep, emerald green form, the stone is also found in chartreuse, lavender, pink, red, black, and white.


    A type of chalcedony best known for its red incarnation, but can also form in a number of colorful, streaked variations like Picasso jasper, rainforest jasper, or mookaite.


    A bright, royal blue stone that can be found in both transparent and translucent varieties. Translucent cabochons cut from this stone often have a pearly quality to their surface.

    Lapis Lazuli

    Also referred to as “Lapis”, this intense cobalt blue semi-precious stone was historically ground into ultramarine, the finest and most expensive blue pigment used by Renaissance painters.

    Latch Back

    A type of earring closure where the post hinges and clicks into place in a latch on the back of the earring.

    Lever Back

    A type of earring closure which utilizes a hinged backing to cover the end of the curved post.

    Lobster Clasp

    A necklace or bracelet closure with a spring-loaded lever opening.

  • Martini Setting

    A type of earring setting that tapers from the tips of the prongs to the post, resembling the shape of a martini glass. These types of earrings settings are sometimes preferred over a standard basket setting as it fits snugly against the ear. They usually have either 3 or 4 prongs.


    A series of fine, grain-like beads used to decorate edges of jewelry pieces. This technique is often used in antique- or vintage-style jewelry.

    Moh’s Hardness Scale

    This scale rates a mineral’s hardness by the ability of a harder material to scratch a softer material. Most gemstone quality stones rate at least a 5 on the 1-10 scale: 7 for quartz varieties, 9 for corundums like sapphires and rubies, and 10 for the hardest material, diamond.


    Moonstone is a feldspar mineral like amazonite. It gets its name from its signature play of light, referred to as adularescence or schiller. As the light source moves, the soft, dimensional schiller resembles lunar light floating on water.


    Of the beryl family like emerald and aquamarine, this peachy-pink transparent stone has become increasingly popular set in engagement rings. Its tone pairs beautifully with rose gold for a feminine, delicate look.


    This fiery birthstone of October is a form of hydrated silica. The stone appears in many forms and colors, from black and navy to pink, orange, and milky white, but it is best recognized for its vivid patterns of flashing color.


    From the French pavé, or “pavement”, this is a technique of setting small stones very close together with shared settings to create a surface resembling a cobbled street.


    A pearl is actually not a stone at all, but a hard calcium-carbonate crystal formed by shelled mollusks. Given the exceptional rarity of finding a gemstone-quality, spherical pearl in nature (referred to as a “natural” pearl), most pearls available today are “cultured” or “farmed” pearls, meaning they have been intentionally grown inside a living mollusk and harvested.


    An ornamental piece of jewelry designed to suspend from a chain around the neck.


    A transparent silicate that gets its olive-green coloring from traces of iron. Its fresh, lively appearance makes it a perfect summery birthstone for August.


    A grey-white, dense precious metal used for fine jewelry. It is more durable than gold or silver and unlike white gold does not need to be re-plated after prolonged wear, instead forming a lovely patina that can be buffed away with a soft cloth to restore its original shine. It is usually comprised of less than 10% alloys and is naturally hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for people with metal sensitivities.

    Precious Stones

    A term used almost exclusively to refer to the highest value gemstones, given their rarity and quality (in terms of hardness, color, and clarity). Traditionally these gemstones were diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald, but today Tanzanite and Alexandrite are considered precious stones as well.

  • Quartz

    A silicate crystal that varies widely in color and clarity. Popular types include a translucent pink variety called rose quartz, a deep brown to grey transparent variety called smoky quartz, and a clear variety with brown or black needle-like inclusions called rutilated quartz.

    Reverse Taper

    A style of shank that is smallest at the ring's setting and widest on the "bottom" of the ring. This graceful shape can enhance the appearance of small settings and solitaires.

    Rose de France

    A name given to particular delicate lilac shades of amethyst.


    This precious gemstone is a bright red variety of corundum that is somewhat lighter and pinker in tone than garnet. In the same family as sapphire, it is defined by its tone and saturation of color. At a 9.0 on the Mohs hardness scale, ruby is one of the hardest stones in the world, second only to diamond.


    This precious gemstone is a variety of corundum and is best known for its deep, cornflower blue color, but is also found in a variety of highly valuable colors, including pink, yellow, orange, green, purple, white, and black. “Ceylon” or “Sri Lankan” sapphires are among the most prized for their intense blue coloring; a pink-orange “padparadscha” [POD-pah-RADJ-sha] sapphire, so named from the Sanskrit “padma ranga” or “lotus color”, is exceptionally rare and can fetch a higher price than diamond.

    Scallop Setting

    A type of setting where the prongs that hold the gemstones are created from the shank. This allows more light into the sides of the gemstones and adds decorative appeal. A particular type of scallop setting is the "fishtail", which uses triangular fishtail-like prongs to hold the gemstones in place.

    Screw Back

    A more secure type of earring stud backing that screws on to threads on the earring post.

    Semi-Precious Stones

    Generally, this refers to any gemstone-quality mineral outside of the “precious” gemstones (diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald).


    The "band" or portion of a ring that wraps around the finger.


    Most commonly sought after in its red and bright pink varieties, spinel wasn't distinguished from ruby until the late 19th century. Even the famous Black Prince's ruby in the royal crown of England is, in fact, a spinel. Blue, purple, and lavender spinels are also highly sought after. 

    Spring Ring Clasp

    Like the lobster clasp, this necklace and bracelet closure opens and closes with a spring loaded lever.

    Split Shank

    A ring with a shank that is split into two or more bands that may also loop, twist, or intersect. They may also be embellished with "floating" stones between the halves.

  • Tapered Shank

    Also called a graduated shank, this shank gets skinnier or wider as it approaches the center stone, though shanks that are thinnest close to the center stone are often referred to as reverse tapers to distinguish the two.


    A blue or blue-violet gemstone discovered in northern Tanzania near Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967. Since then, its only deposits have been found in the Mererani Hills of Tanzania, making it extremely rare and valuable. It was added as an alternate birthstone for the month of December in 2002.

    Tongue-and-Box Clasp

    Often referred to as a box clasp, this bracelet and necklace closure features a folded over, “V” shaped tab that slips and locks into a hole in the accompanying box. They can also have an added safety clasp attached to the side for security.


    This silicate mineral is highest valued for its orange-gold and blue varieties. Orange, pink-orange, or honey yellow “Imperial” topaz is the traditional November birthstone, while blue topaz is the state gemstone of Texas.


    This transparent stone forms in nearly every color, and can even be found in multiple colors such as watermelon tourmaline, a combination of green and pink or red tourmaline. One of the most valuable colors of the stone is referred to as Paraiba tourmaline, a bright neon-blue to teal stone. It is considered the birthstone of October, along with Opal.


    An opaque phosphate with a lovely robin’s egg blue to blue-green coloring and brown or black veining. It is mostly cut into cabochons or beads or left in its organic shape, polished, and set. It is the birthstone for the month of December.

    V-Prong Setting

    A type of setting used for holding gemstones that grips the stone at the corners, creating a "V" shape when viewed from the top. This setting style is used on angular gemstone cuts like princess, marquise, and trillion cuts.


    Not to be confused with cubic zirconia, a synthetic diamond substitute, zircon is a nesosilicate with intense fire and luster similar to a diamond. It can be found in nearly every color, but is most popular in its vibrant electric blue tone which is sometimes used as the birthstone for December.