A couple of weeks ago, my WalletPop colleague Tom Barlow wrote an interesting piece on gemstones. He pointed out that "there are beautiful, durable gemstones that offer more bang for your buck." I couldn't agree more. In addition to moissanites, tsavorite garnets, and black prince rubies, the three gems he mentioned, I would suggest that the intrepid gem collector also check a few other lesser-known stones:
Quartzes: Yes, the rocks that litter your yard can also produce a very durable and exquisitely beautiful gemstone. If you like clear stones, you might just take a peek at a quartz crystal, but I prefer the dark romance of smoky quartzes, the buoyant beauty of pink quartzes, the rich color of amythysts, and the nicotine/urine-colored tones of citrines. Quartz picks up mineral deposits beautifully, hence the amazing array of colors that it offers. If you know a good jeweler or gem-cutter, you might even be able to find a quartz with an inclusion. Some of these are incredibly dramatic.
Tourmalines: Tourmalines come in a wide variety of colors, including pink, yellow, blue, and a rich array of greens. They can range from playful and bright to incredibly intense. One of the first unset gemstones that I ever bought was a moss-green tourmaline whose color reminded me of absinthe. I have a richly-colored emerald ring; next to it, my tourmaline looks mysterious and woodsy.
Black Opals: Black opals are fairly well known, but you can still find some great deals, particularly if you are willing to use doublet opals. Basically, doublets are a thin layer of opal fused to a clear top. They aren't as valuable as singlet opals, but are quite pretty and, if properly set, can really dazzle. I particularly like black opals set in sterling silver, as a slightly tarnished silver finish really sets off the iridescent colors of the stones.
As with Tom's post, I have only scratched the surface. There are, literally, hundreds of other gemstones out there, and depending on the size and cut, any of them has the ability to dazzle. For example, check out mystic topazes, alexandrites, peridots, blood opals, and spinels. One of the best things about these lesser-known gems is that, in contrast to diamonds, it is unlikely that anyone was tortured in their production. If, like me, you are somewhat disgusted by the brutality and exploitation of the international diamond trade, then these are a more ethical and beautiful solution to your jewelry desires. Besides, who wants to flash yet another diamond, when you can have a stone with some real personality?
Bruce Watson is a former English instructor, sometime writer, and all-around cheapskate. A co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea, his work has appeared in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, The Roanoker, The Brush Mountain Review, The Eccentric Monthly, The Best of Times, and College Daze. He currently blogs on Crankster.