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Gems: An Introduction
For the past 10,000 years, mankind has always been fascinated with gems. Their colors, properties, myths and legends are varied and attractive. In ancient times gems were reserved only for the rich and served as status symbols. They were also worn as amulets and talismans, offering protection against ghosts, repelling evil, and preserving health. Today these stones can be admired in museums; vaults, and are even bought for jewelry. In the following, we will discuss more about gems, its origins and properties.
Origin of Gems
Most gems are mineral crystals and can be formed in a variety of ways. Some crystallize from molten magma and gases from the earth’s interior, and some from volcanic lava vapors that reach the earth’s surface. As it slowly cools, it forms what are known as igneous rocks. Other minerals crystallize naturally from aqueous solutions or grow with the help of organisms. This is known as sedimentary rocks. Gems can also be formed by recrystallization of existing minerals under great pressure and high temperatures in the lower regions of the earth’s crust. This is known as metamorphic rocks.
Properties of Gems
Different gems can be differentiated by their hardness, or scratchability. The Viennese mineralogist Friedrich Mohs introduced the term scratch resistance, which is the resistance of a mineral when scratched with a sharp pointed object. Mohs set up a comparative scale using ten minerals of different degrees of hardness, ranging from 1-10 (1 being the softest and 10 being the hardest), which is still in use today. Gemstones of scratch hardness 1 and 2 are considered soft, those of 3 – 5 medium hard, and those above 5 are hard.
Scratch Hardness Mineral used Cutting
1. Talc 0.03
2. Gypsum 1.25
3. Calcite 4.5
4. Fluorite 5
5. Apatite 6.5
6. Orthoclase 37
7. Quartz 120
8. Topaz 175
9. Corundum 1,000
10. Diamond 140,000
Cracking and Fracture
The cleavage of a gem is the way minerals can separate and break apart. Gems can “split” along certain planes where the atomic bond is weaker. Cleaving is often used to split large gem crystals or remove flawed or uneven pieces. The largest diamond ever found was the Cullinan Diamond, which was 3,106 carats in 1908 and was split into 3 large pieces then split again into many smaller pieces.
When dealing with the gem trade, there are four main units of measurement used as units of weight. There is the, carat, gram, grain and mom. The carat is the basic unit of measurement for gemstones. It is equal to 200 milligrams or.2 grams. The price of a certain gem would be indicated by the total number of carats. To measure smaller diamonds, it is often expressed as points. The way to look at points is that 1 carat is equal to 100 points, so a point would be equal to .01 or one-hundredth of a carat. The gram is a unit of weight used for less precious/expensive gems and especially for rough stones. The grain is a unit of measurement of weight for pearls and is equal to .05g or ¼ of a carat. The momme is an old Japanese measure for cultured pearls. One mum is equal to 3.75g or 18.75ct.
Density and Specific Gravity
Another way to measure gems is to measure the specific gravity. The specific weight is the measurement of weight of a specific object, in this case a gem, which is of any volume, compared to the weight of an equal volume of water. Specific gravity is usually expressed in density, which is the grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3) or for larger gems kilograms per cubic centimeter (kg/cm3). To determine density, there are two methods that have proven to be successful. The first method is the buoyancy method, which can be done with the help of Hydrostatic Balance. The Hydrostatic Balance uses Archimedes’ Principle of buoyancy which states that the buoyancy of an object in water is equal to the weight liquid that is displaced by the object. The second method for determining density is the suspension method. The suspension method states that an object will float in a liquid of higher density, sink in a liquid of lower density and remain suspended in a liquid of the same density. This is an inexpensive method that can be done using a set of liquids where the amount of density is known.
Of all the properties of gems, color is the most important. This is because color is the most obvious and attractive feature of gems. The color of the gem is determined by a mixture of different colors of light. When light passes through a material, some of the wavelength is absorbed, while the rest passes through. If all the light is absorbed, the stone will appear black. If all wavelengths are absorbed to the same degree, the stone will be white or gray. Most gems cannot be distinguished by color alone because many of them have the same color. Gems of the same species can vary in different colors. A certain gem may have its own color from its chemical composition. All other colors are created from impurities. The inherent color can be seen by streaking the mineral on a rough porcelain plate called a streak plate.
Refraction of Light
The amount of light that refracts in each gem is constant in each specific gem. This can be used to identify each specific stone. The amount of light that refracts through a specific stone is called the refractive index (RI). Refractive index (RI) can be properly defined as the amount of the angle at which light traveling through a stone is bent or refracted. The refractive indices of gems are between 1.4 – 3.2. In most gems, with the exception of opals and glasses, the light ray is refracted upon entering and is split into 2 separate rays, each of which travels in separate directions. This is what is called double refraction. Light refraction can be measured with a refractometer (link to refractometer on website). Unfortunately, testing with a common refractometer is only possible to measure the value on 1.81 and only stones with flat stones with a flat face or facet are suitable. Refractometers can also detect stones with double refraction.
Another way to evaluate gems is by their transparency. The transparency of a gem is the property of transmitting light through a gem without any haziness or haziness of the gem. Transparency can be affected in many ways. One way is through the gem inclusions. Certain types of inclusions such as solids, liquids and gas inclusions can affect a gem’s ability to transmit light. This will be discussed more in the next part.
Most gemstones are completely “clean”, which means they may contain some type of foreign material or some irregularity in the gemstone. This is called an inclusion and is one of the ways that makes a gem unique. Inclusions can come in 3 different types: solid, liquid and gas. Solid inclusions can include some minerals of the same or foreign origin. This may have been caused by older minerals may be surrounded by host rock. Liquid inclusions are usually in the form of water but can also include saline. Gas inclusions can be different types of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, etc. Some inclusions can include both liquid and gas and is called a two-phase inclusion.
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