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The key elements in describing color of gemstones


The color we see in gemstones is always some combination of the pure spectral colors – which range from pure red to pure violet – coupled with varying degrees of brown, white, black, and gray. It is these latter colors, in combination with the spectral colors, that affect the tone of the color seen and that made the classification of color so difficult. For example, if white is present with red, you will have a lighter tone or shade of red, if black is present, a darker tone or shade. Depending upon the degree of gray, white, black, or brown an almost infinite the number of color combination can result.

As a general rule, the closer a gemstone’s color is to the pure spectral hue, the better the color is considered to be; the closer it comes to a pure hue, the rarer and more valuable. For example, if we are considering a green stone, the purer the green, the better the color. In other word, the closer it comes to being a pure spectral green, having no undertone of any other color such as blue or yellow, the better the color. There is no such thing in nature, however, as a perfectly pure color, color is always modified by an undertone of another hue, But these undertone can create very beautiful, unusual, distinctive colors that are often desirable.

Both intensity and tone of color can be significantly affected by the proportioning of the cut. In other words, a good lapidary working with a fine gemstone will be able to bring out its inherent, potential beauty to the fullest, increasing the gem’s desirability. A poor cutter may take the same rough material and create a stone that is not really pleasing, because the cut can significantly reduce the vividness and alter the depth of color, usually producing the stone that is much too dark to be attractive, or one in which the color seems washed out and watery.

In general, gemstones that are either very light or very dark sell for less per carat. This seems to be a common brief that the darker the stone, the better. This is true only to a point. A rich, deep color is desirable, but not a depth of color that approaches black. The average consumer must shop around and train the eye to distinguish between a nice depth of color and a stone that is too dark.

As a general rule, it is even more important to shop around when considering colored stones than it is when buying diamonds. You must develop an eye for all of the variables of color – hue, intensity, tone, and distribution. Some gemstones simply exhibit a more intense, vivid color than other stones, but only by extensive visual comparison can you develop your eye to perceive differences and make reliable judgments.       

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