Jewellery signifies different things to different people. Some people choose valuable diamonds while others choose cheap glitzy items just because they like them. Whatever your choice, there's no doubt that if you look after them properly diamonds are forever.

Laura Suttie Talks About Diamonds, Tanzanite, Alexandrite and More

Laura Suttie, a gemologist with many years' experience says: ″Fabulous jewellery is not just for the rich and famous. We all buy it for our own personal pleasure to wear and enjoy, so it doesn't matter if costs £100 or £100,000. If you like it, you're going to wear it and enjoy it. The word 'diamond' derives from the Greek word 'Adamas', meaning unbreakable or unconquerable, so maybe that's where the tradition of the diamond engagement ring comes from.


Diamonds Are Forever - Ruby and Diamond Ring
Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014

Frances Spiegel: ″What exactly is a diamond?″

Laura Suttie: Diamonds are a substance consisting of pure carbon, formed millions of years ago, thousands of feet below ground, under intense pressure. Diamonds are the hardest substance known to man.

Frances Spiegel: ″How do you measure diamonds?″

Laura Suttie: All gemstones are measured on a universal scale known as the MOHS scale[1]. It tells you how resistant to scratching it is but not how hard it is. The scale starts at 10, which is the diamond, then we have rubies and sapphires at 9, topaz at 8, quartz at 7, right down to talc at 1.″

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Frances Spiegel: ″Are Diamonds Rare?″

Laura Suttie: ″They can be very expensive, but they are not rare – you find them all over the world. The diamonds we see in jewellery stores have been cut and polished by experts. Only a diamond will cut another diamond so tools are impregnated with diamonds or diamond dust. First you cut the stone using a diamond saw. It takes between 6-8 hours to cut a 1 carat stone. Cutting and polishing brings out the brilliance of the stone. Just imagine the work that goes into it – a round brilliant cut diamond has 58 facets, each cut and polished by hand."

Frances Spiegel: ″What are the main considerations when looking at diamonds?″

Laura Suttie: ″The main concerns when choosing a diamond are the four Cs: colour, clarity, cut and carat weight. These determine the quality and price of a diamond. Diamonds are the only gemstones with an internationally recognised grading system. Other gemstones, like Tanzanite, for example, have different systems in different parts of the world, but diamonds are the only gemstone with an internationally recognised system.

The diamond colour scale goes from D down to Z. When we talk about the colour of a diamond, we're actually talking about the absense of colour. The best optimum colour for a diamond is completely colourless.

If you look at a diamond in normal light you can't tell the colour or the clarity. To grade a gemstone for colour and clarity it must be unmounted and viewed in a bright light with 10x magnification.

Gemstone classification ranges from flawless, where there are no signs of inclusions (faults) inside or outside the stone. It is what you would call perfect. The next step down is VVS. The diamond has very slight inclusions within the gemstone. Grading goes right the way down to PI -PIII, where inclusions are visible. The stone might appear cloudy or has little chips or bubbles. I like to call the inclusions 'nature's finger prints' because that's how the stone has been formed.″

Frances Spiegel: ″Does 'cut' refer to the shape of the stone?″

Laura Suttie: ″The 'cut' refers not to the shape of the stone, but to how well the stone has been cut to the ideal proportions. When light enters the stone it must have the right proportions so that it bounces off the facets and is reflected back through the top of the stone, called the table."

Frances Spiegel: ″What is meant by the term 'carat'?″

Laura Suttie: ″Carat refers to the weight, rather than the actual size. One carat equals 0.2 grams, and the name carat derives from the word 'carob'. Carob seeds were used in ancient times because the seed is very uniform in weight.″

Frances Spiegel: ″What about shapes?″

Laura Suttie: Diamonds come in different shapes. There's the round brilliant cut, the marquise cut, the baguette cut. Different shapes of diamonds show different properties. For example, the round brilliant cut has that famous sparkle. With the baguette cut you get the flashes of colour.″

Frances Spiegel: ″Can you tell me about coloured stones?″

Laura Suttie: ″Sapphires, for instance, come in every colour except red. Red sapphires are what we know as rubies. Ruby and sapphire, both members of the corundum family of gemstones, are No. 9 on the MOHS scale. They are very hard, very resistant to scratching. The cornflower blue is the most sought after colour.

You can also have rich pink sapphires. A few years ago, a famous celebrity received a pink diamond as an engagement ring. These are very expensive. The next best thing is a pink sapphire which has a lovely sparkle and colour.″

Pink Sapphire and Diamond Ring

Pink Sapphires
Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014

Frances Spiegel: ″Are sapphires and rubies the same stone, just different colours?″

Laura Suttie: ″Yes, sapphires and rubies are exactly the same stone. The ruby is the birthstone for July and the name ruby comes from the latin ruber, latin for red. The colour red is due to impurities of chromium present within the gemstone. One of the most sought after colours is pigeon's blood red. It's the colour of a freshly cut pigeon. Then there's emerald and acquamarine, like ruby and sapphire, both members of the same family of stones. The colours are due to different impurities."

Frances Spiegel: ″What about emeralds, I always thought there are very soft stones?″

Laura Suttie: ″No, it's not soft but it is brittle, which is why the corners are taken off on the emerald cut, so the stone doesn't get damaged. Emerald is 7.5 on the MOHS scale, so they are quite resistant stones.″


Frances Spiegel: ″Do you need to take special care of emeralds?″

Laura Suttie: ″Yes, if you have an emerald, you do need to look after it. Don't put it into any chemicals. When emeralds are cut they are oiled, so if you put them into chemicals it draws those oils out and can leave little dimples in your stone. Warm soapy water is the best thing to look after your gemstones.

The emerald's sister, acquamarine, is completely different. Emeralds can be very cloudy and quite pale in colour but acquamarine is found in quite large crystals and also quite clear crystals as well. The name acquamarine derives from the Latin, 'water of the seas'. It's a lovely translucent blue stone, but it comes in 35 to 40 different shades of aquamarine, from pale blue to dark blue, to a dark green colour. In Victorian times it was the green colour which was the accepted colour for aquamarine, but now it's the blue that is more recognised as aquamarine."


New Kid on the Block - Tanzanite

Frances Spiegel: ″We hear a lot about tanzanite, please tell my readers about that?″

Laura Suttie: ″It's my favourite stone. I love tanzanite. A lot of coloured stones can be quite flat in colour but tanzanite is very special because it's a trichroic stone. It shows you three colours, blue, violet and, in good quality stones, you'll see fantastic flashes of red. It also has a very high dispersion so it sparkles. It's said that tanzanite is the colour sapphire wishes it could be.″

Frances Spiegel: ″Is it rare?″

Laura Suttie: ″Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, are found all over the world, but tanzanite is one of the rarest stones in the world, found only in Tanzania. Tiffany brought it out in 1967. They named it and upset quite a few people because the naming process is meant to go through a series of consultations. Now, with the passage of time, Tanzanite is the accepted name worldwide for this gemstone. When Tiffany first brought it out one of their marketing slogans claimed tanzanite could be found in only two places in the world – Tanzania and Tiffany's"

More Rare Stones - Alexandrite, Imperial Topaz

Frances Spiegel: ″What About Other Rare Stones?″

Laura Suttie: ″There's alexandrite... also very rare. It's in the same league as tanzanite but it's been around a lot longer. It was originally found in Russia in the Ural Mountains and named after Tsar Alexander II, because it was found on his birthday. No new stones have been found for over 80 years. It was an extinct stone until they found a new source in Brazil which is lucky as we would never get to see this beautiful stone. It's a colour-changing stone – emerald by day, ruby by night. In natural light it's a lovely green colour but when you take it inside, into artificial light, you get blackberry, almost a red colour. Carl Faberge favoured it... he used it on some of his early pieces. The Russians liked it because it was the colour of their military uniform, green and red. It's a very rare gemstone.

Another rare stone is Imperial Topaz. It's now found in Brazil, but at one time it was only found in Russia. The Russian Imperial Family kept every piece of Imperial Topaz that they found. It was named Imperial Topaz at the request of the Russian Imperial Family. It comes in three shades – a golden colour, a sherry colour and salmon-pink which is the rarest."

Frances Spiegel: ″Is amethyst rare?″

Laura Suttie: "Amethyst and citrine, both members of the quartz family, are also rare. Citrine ranges from pure yellow to deep cognac colours. The general rule of thumb with coloured stones is the darker the colour, the more valuable they are, with the exception of sapphire. Darker stones ten to be a lot harder to find. The name citrine is derived from the French word for lemon. You need to be careful... a lot of citrine can be treated to make it darker.

Amethyst, the birthstone for February, derives from the Greek word 'amethystos', meaning not drunk, or to be sober. It was once thought you could wear amethyst and drink as much as you liked and it prevented intoxication. I've tried that – it doesn't work! It's a beautiful stone and I think it would be very expensive if it wasn't found in such large quantities. The colours go from a very pale pink right through to the deep ribena colours which are the hardest to find and commercially more expensive.″


Caring for Jewellery

Frances Spiegel: ″What's the best way to look after jewellery?″

Laura Suttie: ″Clean it weekly with soapy water and a soft cloth. You can use something like Fairy Liquid. It's soft enough to use on your skin and takes all the grease of your pots and pans. It works wonders for jewellery, especially diamonds.

Use a soft toothbrush to clean the back of the stone. If the stone's all clogged up at the back light can't reflect and come back out the top . If it looks dull, and seems to have lost its colour, all it needs is warm soapy water and a toothbrush. Avoid hairspray and perfume, particularly with porous stones like opals and pearls.

Opals consist of between 8-10% water. If opals dry out they can crack... if theyr'e over-watered they can crack. If they dry out they can shrink and fall from their settings. So you must look after opals properly.″

Frances Spiegel: ″What about pearls?″

Laura Suttie: The best thing for your pearls is a tablespoon of salt in water. Swish them around and leave to dry on a damp cloth. When the cloth is dry you know the string is dry. Don't hang them up because they become misshappen. Also, have them knotted between each pearl and restrung every couple of years. The two main reasons for them being knotted between each pearl is to stop them rubbing. You have to be very gentle with pearls, you can mark them easily so if they are sitting together they rub and lose their lustre. Also, if you break your necklace you're only looking for one pearl and not the whole strand.″


Engagement Ring
Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014

Frances Spiegel: I almost lost a stone from my engagement ring because one of the claws was damaged″.

Laura Suttie: Get your claws checked once a year. We forget... you're wearing your engagement ring for ten, twenty, thirty years. The metals holding these gemstones in aren't nearly as hard as the gemstones themselves, so they can become worn. There's nothing worse than that gut-wrenching feeling you get when you look down and see you've got a stone missing from your ring. So if you have the claws checked every year, this makes sure they are all in working order and holding your stones in as well as they can."

With the Right Care Diamonds are Forever

So whatever you choose, with the right care your diamonds and other precious gems should last a lifetime.