Crystals and gemstones have many purposes. Many people use crystals and gemstones for jewelry or aesthetics, while others believe that crystals have healing and spiritual properties. Though gemstones and crystals aren’t rare by any means, not everyone knows the difference between crystals and gemstones. The ability to discern between the two can help you make more educated decisions when choosing crystals and gemstones for your jewelry, décor, or metaphysical needs.
Definitions of Crystals and Gemstones
Although they may appear similar due to their shared beauty, the difference between crystals and gemstones is an interesting question. In many cases, gemstones are crystals, and crystals are gemstones. To fully understand the difference between crystals and gemstones, it’s first necessary to lay the groundwork for what exactly are crystals, minerals, rocks, and gemstones.
What is a Rock?
While it seems like a basic question, the term rock has a precise definition. A rock is a naturally occurring solid mass composed of single or multiple mineral types. Rocks can contain fragments from various sources. All minerals are rocks, but not all rocks are minerals because they can also contain organic and fossilized material. Knowing the definition of rock is fundamental to understanding what gemstones are.
What is a Crystal?
A crystal is a solid substance containing a uniform chemical and structural makeup. Crystals form according to their ‘crystal habit’, which is a technical term referring to the external shape in which a crystal naturally grows, such as prisms, blades, cubes, etc.
What is a Mineral?
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid inorganic substance. Minerals often, but not always, end in ‘ite’ like in hematite and calcite, or ‘ine’ as in olivine and serpentine.
The Crossover Between Minerals and Crystals
All minerals form crystals; however, all crystals are not minerals. Examples of mineral that are crystals are
- Quartz, which forms in prisms.
- Garnet, which form in rhombic dodecahedrons.
- Kyanite, which forms in blades.
- Malachite, which forms in grapes or hemispherical masses.
An example of a crystal that is not a mineral would be sugar because it is an extracted organic substance. Some proteins can form crystals as well.
What is a Gemstone?
A gemstone is defined as a piece of stone used in jewelry, adornments, or in spiritual practices. Gemstones are divided into two broad subcategories; semi-precious and precious. Semi-precious gemstones can be cut from a single mineral, or cut from rocks containing multiple minerals. While precious gemstones are almost always cut from single minerals.
Precious gemstones have a high degree of purity and have been cut and polished with care and precision to increase their value. Examples of precious gemstones are diamonds and very translucent ruby or emerald with near-perfect symmetry, elegant faceting, and little to no defects in material.
Ruby and emerald can also be semi-precious gemstones, but the uniformity and clarity of material and precision of cut are of lower quality.
Semi-precious gemstones can also be made of rocks that are assemblages of minerals; examples are tourmalated moonstone, which contains both tourmaline within moonstone, or llanite rhyolite, which contains quartz, feldspar, biotite, and other trace minerals.
The Different Between Gemstone and Crystals
So back to the original question about the difference between gemstones and crystals. Both are unique and aesthetically pleasing, and crystals can be gemstones, and gemstones can be crystals. Generally speaking, however, when referring to crystals, they are commonly judged on their luster, color, and natural shape, while gemstones are judged more by their cut, clarity, and purity.
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