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Stone Truth - Value vs. Appearance: Real vs. Artificial

Posted by Steven Barben on

Jemel Semi-precious stone pendants


     Costume jewelry I am often amazed when walking through department stores to find such a great variety of plastic and glass jewelry (costume jewelry) for sale, and so little natural stone jewelry available, especially of the many unique and beautiful semi-precious stone varieties. More amazing is that the prices of plastic and glass are typically not much less than natural semi-precious stone pieces, if you can find them. Not so surprised, however, am I, when I see jewelry shelves in the thrift stores loaded with plastic and glass, with very little, if any, natural stone jewelry.

      In current trends, precious gemstone jewelry has retained popular status and mass manufactured plastic and glass jewelry has rapidly attained popular status, and somewhere in the chasm between them lies most of the semi-precious stone jewelry, along with artistic glass, clay, and porcelain or ceramic jewelry, which, I must include for distinction and clarity, are not the same as manufactured jewelry, and, like semi-precious gems, also retain value long term.

      I suppose the reason for this popular trend toward imitation is simply that, to many jewelry lovers, appearance is more important than value, and time in hurried, busy lives is more important than careful thought and choice. Maybe it’s just a trend in modern fashion, but it still makes me question and wonder. Why do so many people choose to wear mass manufactured and marketed materials for jewelry rather than natural pieces that maintain real value over time?

     If you’re interested in my personal opinion and suspicion, this popular trend probably started when clothing stores began decorating mannequins with plastic and glass jewelry manufactured for the purpose of enhancing the clothing for sale. Store owners reasonably would not want to increase the risk of theft and financial loss by placing authentic precious or semi-precious stone and metal jewelry in open display on mannequins, so artificial plastic, glass, and base metal jewelry was a great substitute solution. And, it worked better than expected; giving the appearance that imitation jewelry was also popular, fashionable and belonged with the clothing it enhanced.

      The real purpose of this article, however, is not to try to understand why this trend exists, but rather to explain, to any who do seek value over appearance and real over artificial: why they should, for greater value, choose natural stone jewelry pieces rather than manufactured imitations.

      So what then makes natural stone and/or artistically designed gems and jewelry any more valuable than mass manufactured plastic or glass? The most obvious answer is a long standing rule of economics called scarcity, or low supply relative to high or at least higher demand. This doesn’t mean that natural stone gems are so rare that the world will soon be without them. However, there is a limited supply, which gives them a greater degree of scarcity. Mass manufactured materials have practically no limit on supply since they can be made at almost any level of demand from very common materials.

      There are also other factors involved in scarcity including the ability to produce in quantity, and artistic originality. The making of real stone gems is time consuming and often difficult to reach high quality. Stones require a series of cleaning, cutting, grinding, and polishing, with many stones rejected due to breaks, cracks, pits, unsightly inclusions, and other flaws, so only the best stones make the cut to come to market and are produced at a relatively slow rate, so high demand can be hard to meet. In contrast, pouring plastic or glass into molds produces many pieces rapidly, and whatever rejected excess remains, it is simply re-melted and poured again.

      Any work of an artist, whether the work is considered a masterpiece or not, becomes scarce due simply to the fact that the artist designed or created it. There will never be more than a specific individual piece or collection of pieces, by that artist, than he or she makes, and relative to the quantity of similar manufactured products, the number of artist originals is always small. Because of this kind of scarcity, artist originals, whatever the type of artwork, are usually, if not always, more valuable than copies, imitations, or similar manufactured items. An original Picasso painting, for example, is much more valuable than any copy, imitation, or similar work.

      Another important value factor to consider is uniqueness. Mass manufactured jewelry is not unique for the basic reason that the manufacturing of unique pieces would be time consuming and inefficient; and therefore much less cost effective than reproducing sameness. Genuine stones, however, are already created unique from their source, and retain that uniqueness in whatever jewelry piece they might be made into. There are, however, two kinds of uniqueness in regard to real gems, which I will call source uniqueness and individual uniqueness. These terms are important because they can help understand stone value from different perspectives.

      Source uniqueness is the rarity or uniqueness of a particular stone relative to its source. Typically source unique stones (most precious gemstones, some semi-precious gemstones) are more pure, clear, and color and pattern consistent relative to the majority of stones found at the same source, and are most often made into standard shapes and sizes. They are usually highly valued because they are less common and harder to find within any given source.

      Individual uniqueness is the uniqueness of a stone relative to any other stone of its kind. This term usually includes stones consisting of one to multiple colors in variable clarity, pattern, shape, and form (many semi-precious gemstones). These “one of a kind” stones appeal to the artistically minded who determine value based on originality and special stone characteristics.

      While source unique stones are still generally considered the more valuable of the two kinds, they are also very easy to imitate through mass manufacturing, so care must be always taken when searching for and choosing them. Individually unique stones, however, can only be vaguely imitated based on some general patterns, which are often too pure and perfect to appear natural or real anyway, so any imitations are quite easily detected.

Pink Botswana Agate in Sterling silver Wire
      Some final value factors should also be considered as you search for true gems. These might include: source location, origin and history, appealing characteristics, and other stone qualities that might create conversation or increase the personal value of your piece. While some of these same factors might also exist in mass manufactured jewelry, for such they give little value, added interest, or appeal.

      Be mindful. Seek natural and real - happy hunting.


Copyright 2016 Steven A. Barben

Find natural semi-precious stone pendants at

General References

Pough, Frederick. 1983. Peterson Field Guides: A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals.
        Houghton Mifflin Co.
Mottana, Annibale; Crespi, Rodolfo; and Liborio, Giuseppe. 1978. Simon & Shuster’s
        Guide to Rocks and Minerals. Simon & Shuster Inc.

Note: Minor sources may include, but are not limited to a variety of printed and online sources.

Some online sources include:

Note: Minor sources may include, but are not limited to a variety of printed and online sources as well as observation and experience.

Steven A. Barben shares stories from his book - Wisdom's Way: Tales, Treasures, Truths in "Wisdom in Story;" provides stone information  and tales that typify emotions, moods, and personality or character symbols of various stones in "Wonder in Stone;" and clears confusion, raises awareness, and opens stone, gem and jewelry understanding in "Stone Truth."

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