Precious vs Semi-Precious Stones: What Do They Mean?

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If you own a gemstone-bearing piece of jewelry, you probably regard it as precious. You may have spent a fortune on it and might even have some attachment to it. But that’s not the case in the market and the world. Some gemstones are precious, and others are semi-precious. But how can we tell precious vs. semi-precious stones? This article will help you learn the difference.

What are precious stones?

Precious stones are gemstones placed in high regard for their rarity, value, and quality. Only four gemstones are classified as precious. They are emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. Every other gemstone is recognized as semi-precious. 

In the past, there were five precious stones. Amethyst was the fifth, but it became semi-precious in the 1800s when a large deposit was found in Brazil.


emerald earring

Emeralds are green gemstones in the beryl family that get their color from chromium and vanadium. 

The value of this gemstone goes up the more vibrant the shade of green and the more translucent the stone. Emeralds only occur in shades of green, going from yellow-green to deep green.

People associate the verdant green hues with royalty, rebirth, growth, and youth. Some cultures even believed placing an emerald beneath your tongue aids foresight. Nowadays, people value them because emeralds look breathtaking with any metal color. 


ruby ring

The way we associate green with emeralds, we associate red with rubies. 

Rubies are a variety of mineral corundum gemstones. The name comes from the Latin word “ruber,” meaning “red,” and that red color comes from chromium. The red shade in rubies can go from pinkish to blood-red. That blood-red shade is the most desired and expensive.

People believe the ruby’s closeness to the color of blood represents vigor, vitality, and protection from negative entities. This gemstone is the perfect gift for Valentine’s day and an anniversary.



Though sapphires are usually blue, we can find pink, yellow, and orange. Non-blue sapphires are referred to as “fancy” or “particolored.”

Sapphires, like rubies, are corundum gemstones. The sapphire umbrella covers all corundum minerals that don’t have the red color of rubies. It might be easy to mistake a pink sapphire for a pink shade ruby, but the distinction lies in the redness. The dominant color in pink rubies is red.


diamond necklace

Diamonds are the hardest substance on the planet. They’re mined in Australia, Congo, South Africa, and Russia, with colors ranging from colorless to gray, pink, green, black, and red. Red diamonds are the rarest kind and are often valued at over a million dollars per carat.

The value of diamonds goes up with the cut used. Jewelers use different cuts to increase a diamond’s ability to reflect and refract light. The round cut is the most expensive, due to its extraordinary brilliance in natural light.

Diamond mining is a strenuous process with harmful impacts on the environment. Mining can lead to land erosion, deforestation, and mistreatment of workers. Many find the impact of the diamond mining industry offensive, so they opt for other gemstones.

Scientists have developed diamond simulants, like moissanite and cubic zirconia, but they don’t compare in prestige. If you want an equally luxurious but more ethical option, you can opt for lab-grown diamonds instead. They cost less than natural diamonds but are made entirely of carbon.

What are semi-precious stones?

Any other gemstone that isn’t a precious stone is a semi-precious stone. But despite the “semi-precious” classification, these stones are gorgeous and look stunning in jewelry. 

Here are some great examples of semi-precious stones. 

  • Amethyst 
  • Lapis lazuli 
  • Turquoise
  • Spinel
  • Agate
  • Peridot
  • Garnet
  • Pearls
  • Opals
  • Jade
  • Zircon
  • Moonstone
  • Rose quartz
  • Tanzanite
  • Tourmaline
  • Aquamarine
  • Alexandrite
  • Onyx
  • Amazonite
  • Kyanite

Precious Stones vs. Semi-precious Stones

How do precious stones compare to semi-precious gemstones? Let’s examine how these gemstones are made, what they’re made of, and costs, and how these qualities differ in each classification.


Many precious and semi-precious gemstones are formed miles beneath the earth’s surface. Miners find them among either igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rock.

Gemstones found among igneous rock are formed from the crystallization of molten magma. The high temperature and pressure force minerals together and forge crystal forms of the minerals. 

Sedimentary gemstones form after the slow accumulation of sediments in cracks between other rocks. 

In comparison, metamorphic gemstones are formed by reshaping other kinds of rocks (igneous or sedimentary) due to high heat and pressure. These processes give us the hard, crystalline minerals we regard as gemstones.

Diamonds are found among igneous rock. They formed billions of years ago, more than a hundred miles beneath the surface, under high temperature and pressure. The conditions at that depth work to turn pure carbon into a colorless crystal. 

Kimberlite pipes are volcanic pipes that carry the diamonds closer to the surface and the reach of humans.

Rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are found among volcanic and metamorphic rock, depending on the location.

Here’s a table with the precious gemstones and their places of origin.

Precious GemstoneOrigin
DiamondsFound in kimberlite pipes in Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Congo, South Africa, Russia, and China.
Rubies and SapphiresFound among alkaline basaltic rock or metamorphic rocks in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Mozambique.
EmeraldsMined among sedimentary deposits in Colombia and among igneous rock in Zambia, Brazil, and Mexico.

Semi-precious gemstones have varying origins. The various forms of quartz (amethyst, citrine, and rose quartz) formed from the cooling and crystallization of magma, while rocks like opal and jasper formed due to the deposition of sediments.

Check out this table to view the origins of popular semi-precious stones.

Semi-precious gemstoneOrigin
Quartz (amethyst, rose quartz, citrine, and so on)Found with igneous rock in China, Russia, and Japan. Amethyst is majorly found in Zambia and Brazil.
PeridotMined from volcanic rock in China, Myanmar, Tanzania, and the United States.
OpalFormed from silicon dioxide solution and mined in Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States.
AgateFound in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Montana in the US within volcanic rock.
SpinelMined among metamorphic rock in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
GarnetCommon in metamorphic rock with few occurrences in igneous rock. Mined in Brazil, India, and Thailand.
JadeFound in Myanmar and Guatemala among metamorphic rock. 
JasperA sedimentary rock mined in India, Egypt, and Madagascar.

From what we’ve seen, there isn’t much difference between the formation of precious and semi-precious stones. 

💡 Take Note: Precious stones can be igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic, and that applies to semi-precious stones. The difference between both classes lies more in the quantity obtained from mines. Precious stones are rarer – found in lower quantities.


Gemstones are all made up of minerals and various elements. The different geologic processes give them the beautiful form we’ve come to love and admire.

The diamond is the only gemstone composed of just one element. During its journey to the surface, it gathers impurities along the way. Those impurities are responsible for the varying colors.

Rubies and sapphires are corundum minerals and are composed of aluminum oxide with some impurities. The red color in rubies comes from chromium impurities, while titanium and iron make sapphires blue. 

Emeralds, however, are beryllium aluminum silicates and get their green color from either chromium or vanadium.

In contrast, many semi-precious stones are silicate minerals. Good examples are quartz, onyx, and topaz. But few others, like lapis lazuli and pearls, are made up of other elements.

Here is a table with different gemstones and their composition elements.

SapphireCorundum (aluminum oxide) with iron and titanium impurities
RubyCorundum with chromium impurities
EmeraldBeryl (beryllium aluminum silicates)
Quartz (amethysts and rose quartz)Silica (silicone dioxide)
OpalHydrated silica
TopazAluminum silicate which contains fluorine
Lapis lazuliLazurite (a complex blue mineral), pyrite (an iron sulfide), and calcite (calcium carbonate)
Aquamarine, Morganite, PezzottaiteBeryl 
PearlCalcium carbonate
Tanzanite Mineral zoisite (calcium aluminum hydroxyl sorosilicate)
GarnetComplex silicates
TurquoisePhosphate mineral with copper and aluminum
JadeNephrite and jadeite

Prestige and Cost

The four precious stones are regarded highly and often cost more.

On average, diamonds are the most expensive of all gemstones. Prices go from $2000 to $18000, with the clear, colorless, round brilliant cut diamonds being the most costly. 

On James Allen, for instance, a loose emerald-cut diamond costs $2,320 per carat, while a round-cut diamond costs $20,300 a carat.

Rare colors often cost more, with the red diamond selling for more than a million dollars a carat. The two most expensive diamonds ever sold (the Pink Star and the Oppenheimer Blue) are rare colored diamonds!

The other three precious gemstones have similar class status. Rubies and sapphires are often recognized as royal gemstones. 

Kate Middleton’s engagement ring – which once belonged to Princess Diana – features a 12-carat sapphire, Queen Elizabeth’s famous Burmese Ruby Tiara holds 96 rubies, and emeralds were a favorite of Cleopatra.

Semi-precious stones come in a wide variety of colors and clarity. Some, like tanzanite, tsavorite garnets, and black opals, are rare and can be more expensive than lower-quality precious stones.

Other semi-precious stones will be more expensive based on rarity, but they generally cost less than precious stones. For whichever stones you’re interested in, you can check out available prices on Gemval. It’s a superb online calculator for checking the value of gemstones.

Frequently Asked Questions

We know you might have more questions about precious vs semi-precious stones. Here’s all you need to know.

Where can I buy gemstones?

When buying gemstones, choosing a reputable dealer saves you from unnecessary risks. Here are some suppliers we recommend:

  • Brilliant Earth has a wide range of options customers can choose from. They also provide vital information on whether the gem is natural or artificially created in a laboratory.
  • Are you thinking “diamond or nothing”? Blue Nile is a recommended online jewelry store for anyone big on diamonds. 
  • Signet Jewelers owns James Allen. They are known to sell precious stones. James Allen is a great place to shop if you’re stoked about precious stones. For a budget-friendly purchase, you can also get artificial gemstones at James Allen.

To save a few more bucks, you may want to consider shopping when these gems are offered on sale. But that’s if you’re not in a hurry! 

The four precious stones are the most popular gemstones. Many people know about diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. And for good reasons! These gemstones are rare and look stunning when cut, polished, and set on jewelry.

The birthstones are the next set of popular gemstones. People believe you can get good luck by wearing the birthstone for your month.

All Gemstones are “Precious”

As jewelry lovers, we believe every piece of jewelry is special and unique. And we hold this assertion for both precious and semi-precious stones. 

Each gemstone is a precious gift we should care for and love, and in return, it’ll remain with us for years, adding vibrance to our wardrobe.

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