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Steve Herschbach

Gem Stones Of The United States

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By Dorothy M. Schlegel


Many semiprecious, but few precious, gem stones have been found in the United States. Beauty, durability, and rarity are the most important qualities of a precious gem. Gem stones are distinguished by their physical properties: color, crystal form, cleavage, parting, hardness, specific gravity, luster, index of refraction, transparency, and dispersion. Gems are named for their color, type locality, outstanding physical property, or persons. The most popular gem cuts are the cabochon, rose, brilliant, step, and mixed. The carat, one-fifth of a gram or 200 milligrams, is the unit of weight measurement. The color of four popular gems may be changed by heat treatment or dyeing. Only the ruby, sapphire, spinel, emerald, rutile, and quartz of gem quality have been synthesized. The best quality of assembled stones are the doublet and triplet. Most gem stones are found in alluvial gravels and igneous rocks, especially granite and pegmatite deposits.


Gem stones generally are divided into two categories: precious and semiprecious. A precious gem stone has beauty, durability, and rarity, whereas a semiprecious gem stone has only one or two of these qualities. The diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are considered precious gems. Some opal is precious, but most varieties are semiprecious.

The beauty of a gem stone is determined by personal taste. In ancient times man preferred brightly colored, translucent or opaque stones. Today he prefers evenly tinted, transparent stones. The desired hues are blue, rose, green, and true canary yellow in the diamond; pigeon-blood red in the ruby; cornflower blue in the sapphire; and grass green in the emerald. Most diamonds, however, are colorless.

The durability of a gem stone depends upon its hardness and lack of ready cleavage. A gem must be sufficiently hard to resist abrasion by objects normally found in everyday life and by dust. It should also resist the chemicals with which it comes in contact. Cleavability is the tendency of certain gems to split in one direction more readily than in another.

Rarity is one of the most important factors in establishing the price of a gem stone. Such gems as the diamond and ruby are rare, in addition to being beautiful and durable, and therefore are very expensive. Although the deep red pyrope garnet closely resembles the ruby in color, there is no comparison in expense and popularity.

The purpose of this report is to give the amateur gemmologist some of the important information available on the gem stones of the United States. Although the finest precious gems occur in foreign countries, a wide variety of semiprecious stones, and a few precious gems, have been found in the United States. About 50 major gems and the geology of their occurrence are described in this report. William F. Foshag, U. S. National Museum, has kindly reviewed the manuscript and made many valuable suggestions. Dana's "A textbook of mineralogy" is the source of the chemical formulas. 

Full text PDF here

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Many thanks, Steve....looking forward to reading that tonight!


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From 1957 so a little bit dated, but a good introductory text.

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