Gemstones come in every conceivable geometric shape and in every colour of the rainbow.
They can be very hard like a sapphire or ruby, or very soft like an opal.
Although the term 'precious gemstone' had traditionally been reserved for the 'cardinal gems' (diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphire), it has taken on a broader meaning, covering any rare variety of gem.
Like other lists of its kind, this list of "precious" or "major" gemstones is arrived at arbitrarily, based partially on historical precedent and partially on market value.
The use of the terms "cardinal gems," or "precious gemstones" dates back to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome and the descriptiveness of these terms was not limited to the scarcity or monetary value of a particular gem, but also factored in their historical, ceremonial and religious significance.
There was also a cultural and geographic component to the classifying of gems as "precious" or "semiprecious." In ancient China, the most prized of all gems was jade, whereas in ancient Egypt the most precious gemstones were carnelian, lapis lazuli and turquoise, yet all of these would hardly be considered ”precious” gems by today's standards.
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