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Organic gemstones are an exclusive separate group of gemstones, which are highly sought after by people all over the world. The world of gemstones is so unpredictable that even soft organic material is present together with hard inorganic crystalline structures.
Organic gemstone is a materials created by living organisms or their fossilized remains. The most popular organic gemstones are amber, pearl, jet, coral, ammolite, and ivory. There are less common crinoids, mother of pearls, “turritella agate”, sand dollar, and different types of petrified wood.
Can you imagine that the gemstone in your collection or piece of jewelry was a living organism in the Upper Cretaceous period (145 to 66 million years ago) and became extinct along with the dinosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic era?
Mind Blowing, isn’t it? Organic gemstones hide a bulk of intriguing stories to be told. Let’s explore some of them together within the article.
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What Are Organic Gemstones?
Organic gemstones are not stones in their classical meaning. Organic material is also beautiful, rare, and durable – which satisfies all three conditions of the gemstone definition. Unlike inorganic gemstones, organic material has no crystal structure.
Organic gemstones are gems produced by living organisms (both animals and plants, existing or extinct). Organic gemstones can be either created by living organisms (like pearls or amber), or organic gemstones can be fossilized remnants of living organisms or plants (like ammolite and petrified wood).
Organic gemstones have accompanied humans since ancient times. People could easily find shells or pieces of amber on the seaside and use them for decoration.
Later, a man learned how to process materials and began to carve pieces of jewelry. Organic gemstones like coral and ivory (which is a tusk of an elephant, hippopotamus, walrus, or wild boar) were the perfect soft materials for this.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
List of Organic Gemstones
Organic gemstones are pretty common. They can be fossilized living organisms (like ammonite) or part of living organisms (like ivory, bone, or mother of pearls).
There are also organic materials that have been mineralized (replaced and infilled by inorganic materials like chalcedony, opal, calcite, aragonite, and pyrite).
The material itself is not organic, however, it does preserve an initial organic structure. For instance, it is petrified wood and fossil coral.
The list of the most common organic gemstones comprises amber, pearl, jet, coral, ammolite, and ivory. It can be expanded with ammonite, mother of pearls, crinoids “turritella agate”, sand dollar, bones, and different types of petrified wood (opalized wood, peanut wood, petrified palm).
Let’s begin with the most popular organic gemstones:
Amber is the fossilized resin of a coniferous tree of the early Tertiary period (about 70 million years or so). It occurs in a variety of colors. Except for the classical yellow-orange color, amber can be both whitish and almost black.
Because amber forms from sticky tree sap (like pine resin), it tends to trap insects and plant matter within it, which makes unique inclusions.
The most famous amber comes from the Baltic Sea region (Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Great Britain, Estonia, Latvia, and Holland).
Amber has a unique property. It can give off an electric charge if you rub it and produce static electricity.
TIP: Amber is a very popular gemstone but it is not so easy to find it in nature. So it is good to know how valuable can amber be if you want to buy it. Check out the complete guide about amber’s value in the article below:
How Much is Amber Worth? Costs per Carat and More!
Natural pearls form in the bodies or mantle tissue of certain mollusks, usually around a microscopic irritant and always without human help of any kind.
Pearls are composed of concentric layers of CaCO₃ and nacre (a special secret) deposited around an irritant inside a mollusk.
Depending on the type of water where the mollusk lives, there are two types of pearls: freshwater and saltwater.
The perfect pearl is round but it can also come in any abstract shape (baroque). The color of a pearl varies from white, cream, light rose, cream rose, black, gray, bronze, blue, dark blue, green, dark green, purple, yellow, as well as violet.
Natural pearls are quite rare now and are quite expensive, so the Gemological Institute of America created a comprehensive standard (a very similar approach as it is with Diamond 4C standard) called The GIA 7 Pearl Value Factors.
Pearl is graded based on its Size, Shape, Color, Luster, Surface, Nacre, and Matching.
Jet is a type of lignite (a variety of bituminous coal). It is a soft, black, opaque stone, which can take on a very high mirror polish. Probably it is the only organic gemstone, which can be cut and polished.
Because of jet opacity and high mirror polish, it’s hard to differentiate it from inorganic gemstones at first glance. But only one action will help you to understand this is an organic gemstone. Like amber, it can feel warm to the touch.
Jet is a product of the high-pressure decomposition of wood that grew millions of years ago. It is found in two forms: a hard jet is the result of carbon compression and salt water, and a soft jet is derived from freshwater.
This intriguing gemstone was popular in Victorian England and used in mourning jewelry. Jet is very soft, with a ranking of 2.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale. Another unique characteristic is when a jet is heated up, it will give off a smell like coal.
A coral is the skeletal remains of a colony of tiny animals called coral polyps. The term coral can refer to the marine animal and the material produced from their skeletal remains.
The sclerax is the hard skeleton left behind by the coral polyps, and it is this material that can be worked as a gem material.
Pink-to-red coral has a long history as an ornamental gem material in jewelry, carvings, and sculptures.
However, due to a variety of environmental and legal factors, the supply of high-quality, natural-color coral in this color range has dramatically decreased in recent years— and the quantity of dyed coral on the market has increased.
Mother of pearl
Mother of pearl (also known as nacre) is an iridescent inner shell layer produced by some mollusks. A pearl, on the other hand, is formed by layers of nacre, but the mother of pearls is nacre.
A mollusk’s shell can be big enough, so pieces of mother of pearl can reach up to dozens of centimeters and can be used to create cameos, beads, cabochons, carvings, and figurines.
TIP: Do you know what gemstones come from the ocean? You might be surprised so check out the article below and find out more:
Which Gemstones Come From The Ocean? Corals, Pearls & more!
Ammolite is the trade name referring to gems cut from fossilized ammonite, an extinct group of marine invertebrates.
Gem-quality ammolite produces a spectacular display of iridescent color when it is observed in reflected light. The color display is compatible with fine opal and labradorite in its intensity and beauty.
The most beautiful samples of ammolite can be found along the east side of the Rocky Mountains.
Ivory is derived from the teeth and tusks of animals. It’s not the same as bone or horn. There are a few varieties of ivory:
- Mammoth ivory
- Elephant Ivory
- Walrus Ivory
- Hippopotamus Ivory
- Narwhal Ivory
- Sperm Whale Ivory
- Warthog Tusks
- Wild Boar Tusks
Because of the devastating impact of poaching due to the ivory trade, the importation and sale of such materials are severely restricted or banned in many countries.
Where to Buy Organic Gemstones?
Organic gemstones are quite popular, widespread, and affordable, so you can easily add them to your collection.
Natural organic gemstones are easy to buy, even on the Internet. They are rarely fake, so you are safe while buying online. However, it’s better to buy amber, coral, and pearls only from responsible sellers. Pearls need special attention, as natural pearls’ price can rival the price of diamonds.
Additionally, it is a good practice to ask for a certificate when buying pearls.
TIP: Almost all gemstones mentioned above are quite valuable so you can earn a lot of money by selling them. If you want to know how to start making money by selling gemstones check out the guide below:
Ultimate Guide: Making Money by Selling Rocks & Minerals
FAQ About Organic Gemstones
Still did not find the answer to your answers about organic gemstones? Find frequently asked questions in the section below:
Are Diamonds Organic or Inorganic?
Diamonds are inorganic gemstones. They were formed deep beneath the earth due to high temperatures and tremendous pressure without any living organisms involved. Diamond has a definite crystal structure, so even if it’s composed of carbon, it’s an inorganic gemstone.
Is Stone Organic or Inorganic?
A stone, in its classical meaning, is inorganic. Quartzites or limestones are the most common stones you see on the road or in your backyard. They are composed of quartz and calcite minerals, respectively. Classical gemstones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires are also inorganic.
What are Organic Crystals?
Organic material rarely makes crystals in their classical form (like quartz). From the scientific point of view, organic crystals can be kidney stones (also called renal calculi, nephrolithiasis, or urolithiasis). These stones are formed inside human bodies, so can be considered organic crystals.
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Organic gemstones are gems produced by living organisms or plants, like pearl or amber, respectively. Furthermore, organic gemstones can be fossilized organisms, like ammonite or coral. In comparison to organic gemstones, inorganic analogs have defined crystalline structures.
All inorganic gemstones have some similar features. They are mostly warm to the touch and have low hardness (2-3 on the Mohs scale). However, be careful!
This rule cannot be applied to fossilized organic gemstones. Their hardness corresponds to the mineral they are infilled with.
Organic gems are in high demand among mineral collectors. Some organic gemstones can be easily purchased online (petrified wood or jet); others are quite expensive and not so freely available.
Furthermore, pearls, amber, and corals can be fake. There are dozens of different kinds of materials that imitate the listed organic gemstones.
So, please, be careful while buying organic gemstones and ask for the certificate in the case of pearls.
TIP: Organic gemstones can be often found on the beach. Do you know what the most common rocks you can find on the beach are? Find out the most common beach rocks in the article below:
25 Most Common Rocks on the Beach: How & Where to Find Them?