Gemstones and Durability

By Gerald D. Sisk, Jr. Co-Founder Jewelry Television Whenever I discuss the topic of gemstone durability with most people, they think of hardness. However, hardness is only one facet (please forgive the pun) of durability. Durability is also tempered by toughness and stability. Each of these three factors is important and determines how well a gemstone will survive the rigors of day-to-day wear. Let’s start with hardness first. Hardness is simply the ability to resist scratching. There is a common scale used as a relative guideline for hardness. It was devised in 1822 by a German mineralogist named Friedrich Mohs and consisted of 10 minerals commonly available at that time. It is called appropriately, the Mohs scale, and serves as a basis for standards of comparison. The scale runs from 1 to 10, with talc being the softest mineral and diamond the hardest. The degree of hardness from one stone to the next on the scale varies and has no quantitative meaning. Simply stated, any mineral will scratch another mineral of similar or lesser hardness on the scale.

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Generally speaking, stones exhibiting a hardness of 7 or greater are suitable for all forms of jewelry. I say generally because there is still the issue of toughness and stability to be considered. You may have noticed that I drew an arbitrary line at 7, the hardness of quartz. I did so for a couple of reasons. The first is our environment. Most metals and materials we encounter on a day-to-day basis are softer than quartz, so they pose no serious “scratch” threat to stones 7 and above on the Mohs scale.
201.50ct Faceted Free Form Rutilated Quartz Secondly, quartz is also the mostcommon gemstone material on planet Earth, and quartz dust can be found nearly everywhere. That same dust can and does accumulate on surfaces, including the facets of gemstones.

Does that mean that softer gemstones are taboo? Not at all! Generally, softer gemstones are more suitable for pendants and earrings, but can be set in rings and bracelets. It simply means that softer stones require a little more care and attention to prolong their life and beauty. If you are an active person, always remove your jewelry before working in the yard or exercising. It is also important to keep all your jewelry separated when not in use. Never let any piece of jewelry make contact with another in your jewelry box. While diamonds are a “girl’s best friend,” they are also the hardest natural substance. They should never come into contact with each other or any piece of jewelry that you value. When using a cloth to clean you favorite gemstone, consider the hardness. Never use the same cloth to clean, for example, both rubies and apatite.

Particles of ruby may become lodged in the cloth and abrade your beautiful apatite ring. I use separate cleaning cloths at home for a variety of stones and I clean my cloths at regular intervals, dependant on usage. Even though hardness is an extremely important factor when discussing durability, it must be tempered with toughness. Toughness is used to describe any material’s ability to resist chipping, cracking and breaking. Nephrite, a form of jade, is considerably softer than topaz, yet it is incredibly tougher due to its interlocking fibrous structure. It is so tough in fact, that is has even been carved into tools and weapons. A good way to demonstrate the difference between hardness and toughness is to consider two balls, one made of glass and the other of rubber. The former is significantly harder than the latter. Yet if you were to drop both from the second story of your home onto a concrete driveway, there is no doubt which one is tougher. While the rubber ball is considerably softer than glass, you will be able to retrieve it after it stops bouncing. On the other hand, the harder glass ball will require the services of a broom and dustpan. The last aspect of durability is stability. Stability refers to how well a gemstone resists the effects of chemicals, heat and light. While some minerals may be hard enough to be worn, they may not be resistant to many household cleaners or detergents. If they react with mild acids or corrosives, their chances of survival are not good. Some minerals may be sensitive to heat or changes in temperature. A jeweler’s torch, commonly used on precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum, gets hot

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enough to burn some gemstones. Others, like amethyst, may loose or change color entirely when sufficient heat is applied. Another aspect is thermal transfer. Simply walking from the warm interior of your home in Nome, Alaska, to the brisk -10°F on the way to work may cause some minerals to crack or fracture. It’s the same effect that occurs when hot water is poured into a chilled glass. Sunlight may also be detrimental. Some natural gemstones, such as kunzite, may fade upon prolonged exposure. Certain treatments may also be very unstable on some species of gemstones. If left exposed to daylight, many either fade or revert back to their rather uninspiring origins. It is important to remember that no matter how hard, tough or stable your favorite gemstone may be, it is not indestructible. Proper care and maintenance is a must for prolonged beauty and enjoyment.

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