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What are The Rarest Gemstones? What You Need to Know

Unearth the most precious gemstones renowned for their extraordinary rarity and unmatched beauty. Explore the world of exclusive and valuable gems.

11/11/20238 min read

gray and black stone fragment
gray and black stone fragment

Rarity is a valued quality for gemstones. However, only some people realize just how rare a particular gem is. Advertising campaigns for jewelry contribute to this phenomenon by frequently reinforcing the perception that a gemstone is rare, even when it may not be. As it happens, though, most gems are rare, with some being rarer than others.

The size and clarity of a gemstone are factors that influence its rarity, encompassing both the extraction and faceting processes. We will examine each of these factors below, along with how rarity influences the price of a gem.

Understanding the Impact of Gem Size on Rarity

Understanding the link between gem size and rarity involves delving into the origins and formation of these precious stones. Initially, gems start as elements or minerals within the Earth, forming crystals deep beneath the crust. Extracting these crystals is challenging due to their location, typically deep below the Earth's surface.

While geological processes like volcanic eruptions can bring crystals to the surface, the instability of these environments often causes large crystals to break into smaller pieces. This, in turn, contributes to the prevalence of smaller gems. Unfortunately, these unstable and hazardous conditions complicate the extraction process, further contributing to the overall rarity of gems.

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Gem Clarity and Rarity

In the realm of gemstones, the discovery of gem-quality stones in large quantities is a rarity, and among these, flawless gems stand out as the most uncommon.

  • - Various treatments are applied to enhance the visual appeal of gem varieties, focusing on color and clarity.

  • - Color defines a gem's hue, while clarity addresses internal or external impurities, including inclusions (internal) and blemishes (surface marks).

  • - Clarity assessment is specific to each gem species, considering their unique formation processes.

  • - Emeralds with inclusions are generally acceptable in the gem trade, while amethysts are expected to be inclusion-free.

  • - Clarity evaluations focus on the visibility of inclusions to the naked eye, considering factors like size, number, and location.

  • - Inclusions are not necessarily unfavorable; certain gems, like star sapphires, rely on minute, needle-like inclusions for features like the star effect.

  • - Flawless gemstones are often marketed as rare and desirable, but gems with imperfections can have a unique allure, sometimes surpassing flawless counterparts.

How does the rarity of a gem affect its price?

Gemstone rarity and price aren't strictly correlated; supply and demand also influence cost. Occasionally, rare gems can be more affordable because their existence has yet to be widely known. This is often because hard-to-find and facet stones are not commonly used in jewelry and lack extensive advertising, unlike more easily mined gems.

Take diamonds, for example. Despite being widely considered the rarest gemstone due to strategic advertising, colorless diamonds are abundant in the jewelry market. The paradox lies in their high demand, which keeps their prices elevated.

While color, clarity, and carat weight affect gem prices, demand remains the primary driver. Now that you understand the factors influencing gemstone rarity let's explore some of the rarest gemstones.

Top Ten Rarest Gemstones (2020-2021)

Red Diamond

As you may be aware, the abundance of diamonds is less scarce than the jewelry industry often suggests. This assertion primarily pertains to colorless diamonds, relatively abundant in nature. In contrast, colored diamonds are significantly more uncommon.

Among the various color variations, red diamonds stand out as the rarest, with a mere 20 to 30 specimens believed to exist. Additionally, these specimens tend to be modest, typically less than half a carat. The largest red diamond ever discovered is the Moussaieff Red, boasting a flawless, vivid red hue, a weight of 5.11 carats, and an estimated value of $20 million.

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Grandidierite

Named in honor of the French explorer Alfred Grandidier, grandidierite is a gemstone that remains relatively obscure and infrequently featured in jewelry. The primary reason for its limited presence is the rarity of this blue-green gem, discovered in only a handful of locations globally. Notably, the majority of gem-quality grandidierite originates from Madagascar.

Beyond its scarcity, grandidierite poses a significant challenge in cutting, resulting in a need for faceted pieces. The few existing specimens are predominantly fashioned into cabochons, imparting the material with an appealing jade-like aesthetic.

Taaffeite

The accidental discovery of Taaffeite occurred when Austrian gemologist Richard Taaffe observed that one of the spinel gems he had acquired exhibited double refraction. While spinel shares many characteristics with Taaffeite, it is typically singly refractive, making it easy to mistake one for the other. Intrigued by the anomaly, Taaffe submitted the unusual gem for laboratory testing, and the results confirmed it to be a novel species. In recognition of this finding, the gem was named Taaffeite in honor of the gemologist.

Since its identification, only a few occurrences of Taaffeite have been documented, and these are limited to three specific locations worldwide: Sri Lanka, Burma (now Myanmar), and Tanzania.

Painite

Painite initially declared the rarest mineral globally with just three stones upon its discovery in 1957, saw a shift in its scarcity status in 2001. The unearthing of additional crystals expanded the known specimens to over a thousand. Despite this increase, most recovered gem material was unsuitable for faceting, and PainitePainite continues to be an exceptionally rare gem.

It's noteworthy that PainitePainite is exclusively found in Myanmar.

Red beryl

Formerly recognized as bixbite and occasionally referred to as red emerald, red beryl stands out as an exceptionally rare gemstone discovered solely in one location on Earth—the Ruby-Violet claims of the Wah Wah Mountains in Utah. Its scarcity is emphasized by the fact that, for every 150,000 diamonds found, only one gem-quality red beryl emerges.

Adding to its rarity, the majority of red beryl specimens are petite, with nearly all faceted gems weighing less than a carat. Fortunately, many stones recovered from the Ruby-Violet claims showcase an alluring bright red hue with subtle purplish undertones reminiscent of the incredibly rare "Pigeon Blood" ruby.

Benitoite

Benitoite is one of the more widely acknowledged rare gems for two reasons. Firstly, it holds the distinction of being California's state gem. Secondly, it has garnered a significant reputation from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). According to the GIA, benitoite is a rare and exquisite gemstone that, despite its beauty, is likely to attain a different market value than more popular gems like diamond and rubys due to its limited availability.

Nevertheless, the rare instances where benitoite specimens have been discovered and cut command high prices, often reaching up to $5,000 per carat. This places it at a considerably higher value compared to some other rare gems in the market.

Alexandrite

In addition to natural pearls, Alexandrite is the designated birthstone for June. This gem exhibits a distinctive quality that results in a color change under incandescent light, earning it the moniker "emerald by day, ruby by night."

The initial discovery of Alexandrite occurred in the Ural Mountains during the 1830s, when Russia was still under imperial rule. However, the mines in Russia have been depleted over time, and a significant portion of the Alexandrite available in today's market is artificially created in laboratories.

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Padparadscha Sapphire

The padparadscha sapphire, one of the rarest variations of the mineral corundum, boasts a captivating color blend of orange and pink, rendering it a well-known gem and one of the most costly among rare gems. Its scarcity and increasing demand prompted the development of an enhancement treatment aimed at transforming inadequately colored pink sapphire stones to resemble padparadscha sapphires. This treatment involves subjecting pink sapphires to high temperatures in the presence of beryllium, resulting in the exquisite pinkish-orange hue synonymous with padparadscha sapphires.

While padparadscha sapphires are discovered in Madagascar and Tanzania, the most exceptional specimens of these uniquely colored gemstones originate from Sri Lanka.

Paraiba Tourmaline

Celebrated for their exceptionally vibrant hues, Paraiba tourmalines rank among the most coveted and expensive gemstones globally. Despite their allure, they are notably rare, with a ratio of one Paraiba tourmaline mined for every 10,000 diamonds.

Paraiba tourmalines showcase various colors, but the most highly prized and widely sought-after stones display an intense "electric" blue shade. To enhance their characteristics, these gemstones may undergo heat treatment, a process designed to lighten the color of a dark stone, or transform violet or purple-colored stones into vibrant blue gems.

Demantoid Garnet

Demantoid garnet, a scarce green variant of andradite garnet, was initially misidentified as emerald when first discovered in the Ural Mountains during the 1800s. Enjoying immense popularity in the late Victorian era and the early twentieth century, it commanded high prices due to its limited availability, never being found in abundant quantities. Presently, demantoid garnet is exclusively found in antique jewelry, as no new stones have been procured through mining.

The contemporary market for demantoid garnet witnesses considerable price variations, influenced by factors such as the gemstone's size and quality.

What Are The Popular So-Called “Rare” Gems?

Many gemstones commonly marketed as rare may not be as scarce as implied, given their widespread availability in jewelry settings. Here's a list with additional information on these ostensibly "rare" gems:

Diamond

Contrary to widespread belief, diamonds are not the rarest gemstones on Earth, as evidenced by the list provided earlier. However, the rarity of flawless diamonds and various colored varieties is notable. Unusual diamond colors, such as red, pink, and blue, stand out, while yellow and brown diamonds are more commonly found in nature.

Key Points:

  • Flawless diamonds and various colored varieties are scarce.

  • Uncommon diamond colors include red, pink, and blue.

  • Yellow and brown diamonds are more frequently encountered in nature.

  • Diamonds are cherished as one of the most precious gem materials due to their exceptional hardness and brilliance.

  • The remarkable qualities of diamonds and their rarity contribute to their enduring popularity for engagement rings and other fine jewelry.

Ruby

Rubies, belonging to the corundum mineral family alongside sapphires, are revered gemstones celebrated for their vibrant hues ranging from vivid red to purplish or orangy red. Despite the abundant corundum, extensively mined for abrasives, gem-quality rubies are notably rare, constituting merely 1% of all corundum. Additionally, less than 1% of these rubies are left untreated.

Key Points:

  • Rubies, part of the corundum mineral family, are known for vibrant red to purplish or orangy-red hues.

  • Despite abundant corundum, gem-quality rubies are rare, comprising only 1% of all corundum.

  • Less than 1% of rubies still need to be addressed, contributing to their scarcity.

  • Heat treatment is expected to enhance color and clarity, affecting the gem's value.

  • More significant, untreated, high-quality rubies are particularly scarce.

  • Burmese rubies from the Mogok Stone Tract are deemed the highest quality.

  • The Sunrise Ruby, originating from Burma, is considered the finest ruby globally and is classified as a Pigeon Blood ruby.

  • "Pigeon Blood" is a rare color variation with a deep red hue and a slightly purplish tinge.

  • Despite high demand, these rare red gems, typified by the Sunrise Ruby, defy the norm for popular gemstones regarding scarcity.

Sapphire

Ruby is used for red corundum, while sapphire is the variety most commonly linked to a rich blue gem. However, sapphire stones are available in various colors, some considerably rarer than the classic blue. Examples include pink sapphires and the pinkish-orange variety known as padparadscha.

Despite the potential for high prices in the gem trade for these rare color varieties, the pricing for sapphires is primarily influenced by the demand for blue gems. Blue sapphires, the most sought-after, tend to dominate in determining overall sapphire pricing.

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Conclusion

In summary, not all gems promoted as rare in the jewelry industry hold that distinction. However, it's important to note that popular gems are not necessarily abundant either. In reality, gemstones are rare, constituting only a tiny percentage of the Earth's composition, with crystallized minerals we recognize as gem materials being scarce.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gem Rarity

Which gem is the rarest on Earth?

The Guinness Book of World Records named PainitePainite the world’s rarest gemstone in 2005, but over a thousand new fragments have been recovered since then. Thus, musgravite (a member of the taaffeite mineral variety) is the rarest gemstone, with only eight known specimens.

What are the rarest gemstones in the world?

Well over 200 types of gemstones are used in jewelry, with many being considerably rarer than the most popular gems. Here is a list of ten of the rarest gems on Earth (2020-2021):

  1. Red Diamond

  2. Grandidierite

  3. Taaffeite

  4. Painite

  5. Red beryl

  6. Benitoite

  7. Alexandrite

  8. Padparadscha sapphire

  9. Paraiba tourmaline

  10. Demantoid garnet

Which birthstones are the rarest?

The rarest birthstones are:

Red diamond – April

Red Beryl – October/November

Tanzanite – December

Black Opal – October

Alexandrite – June

Are rubies rarer than diamonds?

Rubies are considerably rarer than diamonds. As a result, they also tend to be more valuable, depending on their origin, quality, and size. A one-carat ruby frequently commands a higher price than a diamond of equivalent weight due to its desirability and scarcity.

Which ruby is the most valuable?

Burmese ruby from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is the most valuable variety, along with the exceptionally rare Pigeon Blood ruby, the name given to a particular color variation.

Is sapphire rarer than a diamond?

Sapphires are rarer than diamonds but more rare than rubies.