It’s said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, though we think that probably applies to everyone. Human beings have had an obsession for gemstones, crystals, and anything shiny for a long time.
The brilliance of these tiny treasures and the beauty of their internal angular intricacies make them instinctively attractive. They are especially attractive and eye-catching when strung up on a necklace or adorning a ring.
There’s also a strong belief that crystals possess spiritual powers that harness wealth, good health, love, and luck, among other positive energies. This further heightens people’s fascination with gemstones and crystals.
If you are new to the subject and happen to walk into a gems store or if you’re trying to understand your jewelry making options, you might make this frequent newcomer’s mistake: using the terms ‘gemstone’ and ‘crystal’ synonymously.
Don’t worry. Many people make this mistake. It’s an easy one to make, because both are for being sparkly, glassy, and just stunning.
But between gemstones and crystals, is there a difference? Gemstones (e.g. rubies, emeralds, sapphires) are precious or semiprecious crystalline minerals. Crystals are geometrically regular substances with a similar crystalline or symmetrical arrangement. Gemstones as we think of them are often crystals, but crystals are not gemstones.
Knowing the actual difference between gemstones and crystals is fundamental in setting your expectations for mystical practices, therapeutic activities, making jewelry, crystal candles, and other decorative handicrafts.
This article discuses gemstones and crystals minus the complex geological lingo for easy comprehension. We compare the unique attributes of gemstones vs crystals to help you distinguish them better.
Gemstones Vs Crystals – And Why It Matters
Which so many using ‘gemstone’ and ‘crystal’ interchangeably, it can be hard to tell which is which.
But does it really matter what term you use? Crystals and gemstones have diverse properties that determine their application as well as status. Therefore it is kind of critical to know what each is.
Let’s go over the differences.
Crystals and Gemstones, Defined
Let’s start with the basics. We’re no geologists, but here are some simple definitions of gemstones and crystals.
What is a crystal?
A crystal is defined as a pure solid substance whose molecules bond in a uniform geometric (crystalline) pattern, with its surface reflecting the inner symmetrically aligned planes. This recurring arrangement results in a three dimensional form.
Some forms of crystals that we encounter in everyday life include sugar, salt, snowflakes, and rock crystal.
What is a gemstone?
A gemstone is defined as a beautiful, rare, durable, and precious or semiprecious stone cut from a crystalline mineral and polished for adornment purposes.
Because the natural formation of minerals is crystalline, gemstones are often crystals. Many of the popular gemstones we think of, including ruby, peridot, and tanzanite, are examples of crystal gemstones.
You are already beginning to see the relationship between crystals and gemstones, right? Well, it gets more interesting.
The Composition of Gemstones and Crystals
Gemstones are composed of pure minerals. They often have that typical crystalline structure (as long as they are crystals). Notwithstanding, there are a few exceptions.
A tiny class of gemstones is not mineral-based and not crystalline in nature. These are still rare and valuable and are still considered gemstones. These include amber, jet, and pearls, which are all organic-based gemstones. Some rock-based gemstones, such as lapis lazuli and opal, are also non-crystalline.
So, most of the gemstones you are familiar with, but not all, are crystals.
It would also be incorrect to refer to a crystal as a gemstone. Here’s a simple example of why a crystal cannot be a gemstone.
You probably already know that the table salt and sugar in your pantry are crystals. Wouldn’t it then be laughable to refer to these crystals as gemstones?
Even without having stepped into a gemology class, it is obvious to many that salt, sugar, or even ice crystals cannot be gemstones. They are organic, unstable in certain environmental conditions, too common and lack valuable minerals and the aesthetic charm.
The bottom line is, a mineral chemical composition (not an exclusive criterion), rarity, uncommon beauty, and hardness are primarily what separates a gemstone from a crystal or other “pretty” things. To further deepen your understanding, here are more differences between gemstones and crystals.
How Gemstones and Crystals Are Classified
Traditionally, gemstones were classified as precious or semiprecious, depending on their value and rarity. Only four have a slot in the precious category: diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald.
However, this mode of classification is slowly becoming outdated as the price of diamonds keeps dropping. Some semiprecious gemstones such as garnets are today more highly-priced than their precious counterparts.
Other classifications include organic/inorganic, natural/synthetic, and crystalline/amorphous gemstones. But these, too, have a lot of exceptions.
The most comprehensive classification of gemstones is by their chemical composition and molecular structure. Some gemstones have an identical molecular arrangement but unique chemical makeup and vice versa.
Crystals, on the other hand, are classified according to their shape. It is the specific molecular formation of a crystal that determines its shape.
A crystal will fall into any one of the following six crystal shape systems: tetragonal, monoclinic, cubic, hexagonal, orthorhombic, and rhombohedra. Crystal gemstones can also be classified this way.
Cost Comparison Between Gemstones and Crystals
The differences between gemstones and crystals become even more obvious at their price points. Each is valued differently – both for different characteristics and purely from an economical standpoint.
Gemstones are minerals (and other substances) with a high monetary value. Their prices go far above and beyond that of crystals.
The rarity of gemstones is generally what makes them cost a fortune compared to crystals that are readily available. Another reason for their costliness could be because gemstones are also a symbol of elegance, glamour, wealth, class, and status.
The following characteristics of gemstones influence their price:
- Color: Colorful gemstones are generally prettier, more attractive, and thus pricier than transparent gemstones, except for diamonds. That’s because gemstones precisely make high-end jewelry, royal and estate pieces, making color (hue, tone, and saturation) a noteworthy aspect of valuation.
- Clarity: The fewer the flaws in a gemstone, the higher the cost. It is not uncommon to find gemstones without any inclusions, but you can only expect exorbitant prices for them.
- Cut: A gemstone’s cut is a major price influencer. Cuts that mask or lower the appearance of inclusions and also enhance symmetrical balance cost more.
- Rarity: When a resource is limited in supply, its demand, and hence price, tend to skyrocket. This applies to gemstones as much as anything else. The rarest are in the highest demand and come with a matching ultra-expensive tag.
- Hardness: Hardness here refers to the gemstone’s resilience towards wear and tear from abrasion and impact. Gemstone jewelry is expected to last a lifetime if cared for well, making the hardest stones extravagantly priced.
- Luster: This is how light behaves with a gemstone. How light shimmers through, refracts and disperses, determine the brilliance and beauty of a gemstone, and consequently, its price.
- Carat: Carat is basically the density of a gemstone. The cost is often proportionate to the carat.
Although size is not always mentioned as an evaluation criterion, it can make a difference in price. This is more true of some gemstones than others, but anyone who’s bought a diamond chip ring over a giant rock on a band can tell you that sometimes the size of a gem can affect its price!
What about crystals? How are they priced?
Well, non-mineral crystals are within a moderate to low price range compared to gemstones. That’s because crystals are readily available. Their supply is in abundance beneath the earth and human-made as well.
Special crystals like amethyst and citrine are highly priced due to their outstanding beauty and hardness.
Notwithstanding, the price of crystals comes nothing close to what you would part with for a gemstone.
Some characteristics that affect the price of crystals actually overlap with those for gemstones, particularly when used for jewelry. These include color, clarity, hardness, cleavage, perfection, and shine.
However, some of these properties may be irrelevant for other applications, for instance, crystal healing where emphasis is more on the purity of a crystal. Or in electrical and thermal applications where the electric or heat-conducting properties of a crystal are the vital attributes.
If you’re a jewelry-maker with the means to sell to the more affluent, then by all means, go for gemstones. However, if price is a constraint, you’ll probably have better luck with crystals. You can find dazzling options for only a fraction of the price of a gemstone.
Gemstones Vs Crystals – Review
Without studying hard core gemology or geology, that’s just about all the differences there is to know between gemstones and crystals!
So if you’re navigating the crystal and gemstone worlds, you’ll be able to use the right terms and find what you’re actually looking for.
For easy reference, here’s a quick recap of the differences between gemstones and crystals:
|Definition||A beautiful and rare stone cut from a mineral crystal and polished||A pure solid substance with a regular geometrically organized internal structure|
|Composition||Mostly mineral-based chemical composition with a few organic and rock-based exceptions||No mineral components, just ions, atoms, and molecules of a solid substance arranged in a uniform pattern that progresses into three spatial dimensions|
|Classification||Classified by their chemical composition and molecular structure||Classification is based on the shape, for example, cubic, monoclinic, hexagonal, etc.|
|Availability||Scarce deposits and very rare, thus highly coveted||Widely distributed and very common|
|Application||Largely used to adorn fine jewelry such as rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, time pieces, and crowns. They may also be used for healing therapy||Vast applications, including jewelry making, décor, healing, spiritual practices, in electronics, transistors, and other technological applications|
|Price||Can be precious and quite expensive, depending on type, quality, cut, etc.||Relatively low to moderately priced|
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