How to buy a colored gem or gemstone online and why it is still not possible without a trustworthy eye?

With the internet now being our source in buying multiple consumer products like smart phones, clothes, computers, watches, etc., it should now be a lot easier to buy a colored gemstone online as well. We now have the power of the World Wide Web giving us pictures, videos, certificates, other specification etc., which should help us gather all the required information, so we can make an informed purchase decision.

However, even with all this information or ‘attempt to standardize’ the colored gemstone trade, there is still a lot of issues concerning buying gemstones online, which I would like to touch upon in today’s blog post.

It is now normal for me to get an email every week from a potential gemstone buyer still concerned if the gemstone they are purchasing is of the “correct price” or of “good quality” or the company they are dealing with is “trustworthy.”

These questions are all subjective and difficult to answer without actually looking at the gemstone by hand in neutral setting with natural “morning or evening” sunlight or dealing with the particular company personally.

Unlike diamonds, the beauty and the difficulty in buying a colored gemstone is determining what the actual color is. Color is the most important factor in any gemstone and without actually looking at it personally, it is impossible with the information we have what the actual color is. Even with modernization of high-tech cameras, the exact color of a gemstone is not captured accurately. From personal experience in taking hundreds of photos & videos, I have seen cameras NOT capturing certain colors or MAKING other colors which don’t exist with the naked eye. The major labs GIA, Gueblin, and GRS have tried to standardize the color grading by defining “hue, tone and saturation” concept on their websites, certificates or gemology courses, however even these definitions are still broad and not applied in practice.

How is color defined when purchasing gemstones?

Color in general is a very broad definition and if you have ever tried making websites through HTML coding or used Photoshop you will understand how you can “change the slight green color, or red color, or blue color” to a color range you would like.   In fact, according to Wikipedia Color Vision article, the human eye can distinguish 10 million different colors!

This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pixels wide) contains 1 million pixels, each of a different color. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different colors.
This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pixels wide) contains 1 million pixels, each of a different color.

That is a lot of colors and you can see why it is very difficult to standardize this.

To provide you a real example, let’s look at what a “ruby” gemstone color should be. The definition by GIA is that the ruby hue color should be from pinkish-red to purplish red.  This defines only the hue color. Then there is the tone level ranges from very light (whitish range) to very dark (near blackish range). Finally then there is the saturation level which can range from low range (grayish color) to high saturation (only pure color). So, there are three factors or three dimensional prospective in defining what a ruby color should be.

However, when we actually look at our reputable gemstone lab report – i.e. GIA, GRS or Gubelin – they still only provide one line explaining color which is the “hue” color grading – i.e. pinkish-red, red, purplish-red, orangish-red, etc., There is nothing explaining the tone range or saturation range the gemstone is. GRS has tried defining color for higher quality rubies by using generic terms like “vivid red or vivid pigeon’s blood red,” though these are also subjective based on the ‘graders assessment.’

There is now a lab called Lotus Gemology who is trying to rectify this issue by introducing saturation & tone grading in their certification report. Only time will tell if their endeavor will succeed.

This lack of standardization has really made it difficult for everyone including traders, retailers and end-users to determine what color the gemstone is, what are the desirable color ranges, how rare the color ranges are and therefore getting the “correct” assessment of buying a particular gemstone based on color.

No Standardization in Clarity Range

Another issue with gemstones lab reports is that there are no definitions in how clarity is defined, even though they have strict grading criteria for diamonds as an example – diamond clarity can range from IF, VVS, VS, SI, & I grade. As there many different type of color gemstones and some are ‘expected to have inclusions’ or other are ‘defined based on their inclusions,’ GIA decided to classify colored gemstones as either ‘type 1’, ‘type 2’ or ‘type 3’ as shown in the list below.

Type 1 Gemstones: aquamarine, yellow and green chrysoberyl, heliodore, morganite, smoky quartz, spodumene, tanzanite, green tourmaline and blue zircon. These stones are usually ‘eye clean’ which means no visible inclusions can be seen with the naked eye.

Type 2 Gemstones: amethyst, ametrine, andalusite, alexandrite, citrine, corundum (all sapphire and ruby), garnet, iolite, peridot, spinel, tourmaline that is not green, pink or watermelon, and zircon that is not blue. These stones are usually included, which means that some ‘clean’ stones can be found, but more difficult than type 1 stones.

Type 3 Gemstones: emerald, red beryl and red, pink and watermelon tourmaline.  For these gemstones, a high clarity grading (eye clean or flawless – IF) is incredibly rare, since these stones are almost always included.

GIA certificate copy
GIA certificate of a 2.87 carat emerald we have in stock.  You will notice no clarity grade on the certificate, even though this gemstone is VVS diamond grade.

Though GIA have classified gemstones based on the above groups there is no line on their certificate providing a ‘clarity grade’ or explaining the above type for any color gemstone certificate. This is also true for GRS or Gubelin certificates.

So, the only way for consumer to get the clarity information currently is if the trustworthy dealer or website provides the ‘diamond clarity grade’ based on their personal assessment.

No Cut Grade Standard

Finally, there also no cut grade standard for color gemstones (unlike diamonds) though this is not as important when compared to the other factors above. Because there are a lot of colored gemstones out there with different density (specific gravity) and properties, it is very difficult to get standard or ideal number in how to cut a particular gemstone. Also, as color is most important factor for any colored gemstone, the particular cut is usually use to enhance this feature – i.e if the gemstone is cut too deep it will be too dark and if it is too shallow it will be a lot ‘lighter’ than ideal color range. Therefore, how a gemstone is cut really depends on what shape and color the gemstone rough crystal is. In my personal opinion, there is no way to standardize this criterion.

Only way to buy online is with trustworthy eye

Due to significant issues as stated in this blog post, the only way to purchase colored gems or gemstones online is if you have a trustworthy person who can look at the actual stone. The ideal candidate will be a person who has no personal interest with the product or someone who can provide you a frank and honest opinion. This person should of course understand how to assess color, clarity and some gemstone knowledge.

I hope the above guide is helpful and if you have any additional questions please feel free to provide your comments below or send me a message at sales@thainativegems.com.

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Contact us today to get all your wholesale gemstones, diamonds and jewelry needs.  We can Source, Search and Supply anything you require.   

What will you get if you contact us

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3 thoughts on “How to buy a colored gem or gemstone online and why it is still not possible without a trustworthy eye?

  1. Thanks to share this informative post with us about the points that we have to remember when we are going to purchase the gemstone. A guide to buying the right gemstones is required when we want to buy a gemstone.

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