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gemstone vs crystal - what's the difference

Gemstone vs Crystal: What's the Difference?

Many people use the terms "gemstone" and "crystal" interchangeably. While that may seem harmless, it's important to understand that the genuine meanings of those terms are different. Additionally, there isn't just one difference between gemstones and crystals; there are several.

Understanding how the two stand apart is beneficial when looking at gemstones vs crystals. If you're wondering, "Are crystals and gemstones the same thing?" or "What is the difference between a crystal and a gem?" here's a look at the difference between crystal and gemstone.

Definitions of Crystals and Gemstones

If you want to answer the question, "What's the difference between gems and crystals?" the easiest place to start is by defining the two terms. That allows you to see how gems vs. crystals stand apart from one another from a technical perspective. Additionally, it's easier to understand how they can crossover.

What Are Gems?

Gems – also referred to as gemstones – is a broad term that refers to rarer minerals, rocks, or organic materials that are commonly transformed from their raw form to a jewelry-quality state, like a faceted stone or cabochon. Typically, gems are limited to precious and semi-precious stones based on factors like a stone's chemical composition, colour, translucence, and hardness.

precious gems are typically faceted and/or polished

Generally, four gemstones are considered precious: diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire. There are far more semi-precious stones, including, but not limited to, amethyst, moonstone, quartz, and topaz.

In some cases, you can have some crossover between gemstones and crystals. For example, amethyst is considered a semi-precious gemstone but can also be a crystal.

What Are Crystals?

In the simplest sense, a crystal is a pure substance with molecules arranged in a geometric pattern on a molecular level, forming solids that extend in three dimensions. Commonly, the larger stone also forms in well-defined geometric shapes naturally.

Quartz is a crystal that forms in three spatial dimensions

Typically, crystals are categorized based on their shape. Some common categories include cubic, hexagonal, monoclinic, orthorhombic, rhombohedral, and tetragonal.

What Are Minerals?

Aurichalcite is a rare mineral found in Mexico

Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic substances. They can be elements or chemical compounds, and they're typically crystalline. Minerals can extend beyond stones, as metals, rocks, and hydrocarbons can also fall into the category. Both gemstones and crystals can be minerals, though they aren't always. Similarly, minerals aren't always crystals or gemstones.

What are Stones?

Stones or rocks may be made of of many different minerals

The term "stones" is another broad reference that can refer to gemstones, crystals, minerals, and rocks. Rocks are naturally occurring solid materials and typically contain multiple minerals that were mixed up during various geological processes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Crystals and Gemstones

So, Are Crystals and Gemstones the Same Thing?

In the world of crystals vs gems, the two aren't the same thing. Instead, each of those terms refers to specific stones.

A key difference between crystals and gemstones is crystals have their inherent regular geometric pattern. At the same time, gems are limited to precious and semi-precious stones and may or may not possess the regular geometric patterning. Another notable difference between gemstone and crystal is that gemstones are usually prepared for use in jewelry, such as by faceting a stone.

Some stones fall into both categories. In its natural state, amethyst is generally considered a crystal. However, it can also be a gem if it's faceted or polished for use in jewelry or similar ornamental purposes.

Are Gemstones Made from Crystals?

Some – but not all – gemstones are made from crystals. As mentioned above, amethyst jewelry featuring faceted stones is a prime example of a crystal structure that became a gemstone. However, it isn't the only one.

Amethyst crystals can be polished and faceted to become gemstones

Quartz and its variants – with examples including ametrine, citrine, prasiolite, rose quartz, smoky quartz, and others – are often crystals that can become gemstones. Depending on their form, topaz, apatite, feldspar, garnet, and sphene (titanite) can also be crystals or gemstones.

Fluorite also forms in crystals but may be polished or faceted for use in jewelry, though it's not widely used as a semi-precious stone since its hardness is somewhat low.

However, that just scratches the surface of the potential crossover between crystals and precious gemstones.

Is a Crystal a Gem or a Mineral?

A crystal isn't inherently a gem; not all crystals are, but some can become gemstones. As mentioned above, there are many examples of gems that originate from crystals, including topaz, garnet, and many others.

Minerals do naturally form in crystals, so naturally-occurring crystals are often comprised of minerals. However, if a mineral is part of an aggregated solid, it's usually considered part of a rock, not a crystal.

What's the Difference Between Minerals and Crystals?

Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids with distinct chemical compositions. In many ways, they function as building blocks. Along with forming as crystals, they can be components in a wide array of materials. For example, rocks are often aggregates of two or more minerals.

This bumblebee Jasper is a gemstone used in making jewelry made up of many different minerals

The term crystal doesn't refer directly to a specific substance. Instead, it references a material's structure. Minerals typically have the structural configuration required to be defined as crystals.

How Do You Identify Crystals and Gemstones?

Crystals are usually identified based on their inherent structure, as well as some physical or chemical properties. The molecular structure is inherently highly organized and extends in three dimensions. Often, they're classified based on the shape they form in naturally. However, the inherent lustre, colour, and transparency can also play a role in whether a stone is considered a crystal.

Gemstones are generally a collection of precious and semi-precious stones typically used for ornamental purposes like jewelry. Crystals can become gemstones if they're appropriately cut and polished. However, in their natural state, they aren't generally considered gems.

Are Birthstones Crystals or Gems?

Birthstones are typically based on gem-quality precious or semi-precious stones and are more often faceted or polished for use in jewelry. As a result, birthstones are usually gems.

A birthstone may also be a crystal, as is the case with amethyst, the February birthstone. However, some birthstones aren't crystals. For example, a pearl – a June birthstone – doesn't meet the definition of a crystal. Pearls don't have the necessary crystalline structure to qualify, and they feature organic compounds. However, pearls are classified as semi-precious gemstones.

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