One question we hear frequently from prospective buyers is, “What are the best values in natural gemstones in today’s market?”.

Prices on gemstones go up and down depending on supply and demand, but generally they go up over time, sometimes dramatically. Give general pricing trends, virtually every gemstone variety is a good value today, since they are all likely to be more expensive next year. But the buyer asking the question has, it seems, something else in mind. He wants to know, as the Americans say, how do you get “the most bang for the buck.”

Since beauty is to some considerable degree in the eye of the beholder, we wouldn’t presume to tell you what the most beautiful gemstone is for your money. But we can tell you which stones have the best gemstone characteristics based on their per carat price. And that seems to us to be a reasonable way of defining gemstone value.

Good gemstone characteristics, in our view, include superior hardness (greater than 7 on the Mohs scale), durability (absence of cleavage), very good transparency and clarity, and interesting colors. Absence of any sort of gem treatment would be would be a definite plus as well.

Since there are not that many gem varieties with a hardness greater than 7, it didn’t take us too long to put together a short list of the best gemstone values. We didn’t try to rank them, or say which is “best”; we think the short list is information enough for prospective buyers who want to make sure they are considering the right options in the market. Here is our short list:

Sapphire

With a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale and no cleavage, sapphire is an superb gem for everyday wear. Sapphire has a high refractive index, so it has excellent brilliance. It is available in a good choice of colors, though blue is the perennial favorite. Most sapphire has been heat-treated.

Spessartite Garnet

Spessartite is one of the premium garnets, with a brilliant orange to orange-red color. With a hardness of 7.5 and indistinct cleavage, it is durable gem suitable for all kinds of jewelry. It is almost always untreated.

Spinel

Spinel is ranked right below sapphire for hardness, with a rating of 8 on the Mohs scale. Spinel has both excellent brilliance and impressive dispersion or fire, especially in the lighter colors. You will find spinel in a wide range of colors, including red, pink, orange, violet and blue. Unlike sapphire, spinel is always untreated.

Tourmaline

Tourmaline has the widest range of colors of any gemstone, including many multicolor specimens such as the well-known watermelon tourmaline. It has good hardness of 7 to 7.5, and an attractive vitreous luster. Of all the gems on this list, tourmaline is the affordable in larger sizes.

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