Blue Ridge Parkway Guide by Virtual Blue Ridge home  |  maps & books  |  blue ridge photos  |  parkway blog  |  advertise with us
Information || Maps || Parkway Tour || Lodging || Activities || Food || Photos || News || Real Estate || Blog || Store
You Are Here: Home Page » Activities » Gem Mining » Identifying Gemstones

Identifying Gemstones

Gemstone Characteristics

Gem Mines near the Blue Ridge Parkway

How to Identify Gemstones

Common Gemstone Descriptions

A gemologist is one who identifies gemstones. They describe minerals by using terminology that is within the scope of gemology. We’ve taken these descriptions, stripped them of all the fancy lingo and made them easy for you to read.

The brief descriptions below are of some popular gemstones you might find at your local gem mine. We’ve included color varieties and the unique characteristics that make each gemstone one of a kind. 



Photograph of Amethyst This purple variety of quartz receives its name from the Greek word, Amethystos, which means “to remain sober.” It was often thought to cure and prevent drunkenness. Amethyst is found throughout the world, the best sources being in Africa and Brazil. Amethyst is also found, in smaller quantities, throughout the USA and Asia.  Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February.


Photograph of AquamarineAquamarine is the blue-green to green-blue variety of the mineral species Beryl. This gemstone gets its name from the Latin meaning “water of the sea”. As a close cousin to Emerald, Aquamarine is both valuable and durable. Some Aquamarine rough is heat treated to enhance the blue overtones and bring out a more vibrant color. Aquamarine is the birthstone for the month of March.


Photograph of CitrineThis yellow variety of the mineral species quartz is very rarely found in its natural state.   Most citrine is the product of heat-treating Amethyst, which realigns the iron within the crystal structure and changes the color to yellow or gold. Natural citrine is only found in Bolivia. Citrine has been used as one of the traditional birthstones of November.


Photograph of EmeraldEmeralds are a gemstone variety of the mineral beryl. This puts this gemstone in the same family with aquamarines. The main distinguishing feature is that all emeralds are green. Although the level of green can range from yellow-green to blue-green, an emerald’s primary color must be green. Emeralds are one of the most well known of all gemstones and is the birthstone for the month of May. Emeralds can be found across the world in Brazil, Zambia, India and Russia. In the United States, emeralds can be found near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Hiddenite, North Carolina.


Photograph of GarnetGarnet is a species of gemstone with many varieties included within. They can be found in several colors including browns, oranges, yellows, reds, greens, blues, purples, pinks, black and colorless garnets. The rarest of these is the blue garnet, discovered in the late 1990s.  Some of the most interesting varieties of this gemstone include the color changing garnet.  This stone can change from a blue-green color in daylight to a purple color under incandescent light. Garnet can found throughout the world with some sources being United States, Russia and Turkey. Although not officially recognized as a mineralogical term, Rhodolite is the name for a rose-pink garnet found in Macon County, North Carolina! Garnet is the birthstone for the month of January.


Photograph of PeridotThe gemstone variety of the mineral olivine is known as Peridot. Although olivine is actually a quite abundant mineral, gem quality Peridot can be rare and hard to find. Peridot is one of the few gemstones that naturally occur in only one color: green. Although the shade of green can vary from yellow-green to brown-green, the most valuable is considered to be the dark-olive green. These stones are mined in Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and even North Carolina. Peridot is the birthstone for the month of August.



Photograph of QuartzThis is one of the most common rock forming minerals found on earth. Quartz can be found in many varieties and colors although pure quartz is either colorless or white. Some varieties of quartz include amethyst, smoky quartz, and citrine.


Photograph of RubyRubies can range in color from pink to blood red. Its color can be the biggest determining factor in a ruby’s value. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, a ruby is called “Ratnaraj” meaning “The King of all Stones”. Rubies are sought after for their physical beauty, durability, and value. Ruby is a variety of the mineral species Corundum, which also includes Sapphires. Sources for Ruby include Thailand, Cambodia and Afghanistan. Ruby is the birthstone for the month of July.


Photograph of SapphireSapphire is a variety of the mineral species corundum. Contrary to popular belief, not all Sapphires are blue. Although blue is the most common color, the range for sapphire is vast and can include yellow, pink, purple, orange or green. All colors of corundum except for red are sapphires; red corundum is classified as Ruby. Not only are Sapphires beautiful, but also extremely durable and valuable.  Sapphires have been known to be used in watch crystals, high-durability windows and infrared optical components. Sapphire is the birthstone for the month of September.

Smokey Quartz

Photograph of Smokey QuartzThis mineral is the grey to brown or black variety of quartz.  It can be found in many places throughout the world although it was first discovered in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland. Smokey Quartz is available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and larger stones are more often used in jewelry. This stone is sometimes mistakenly called “smokey topaz” which is incorrect as topaz is a completely different mineral.


Photograph of TopazThis mineral has been described as a stone with many facets. Naturally, it occurs as a colorless and transparent stone but can also be found in yellow, pink or pale grey. Topaz can also be made to be white, gray, pale green, blue, pink or reddish-yellow. About 20 years ago, the last known source of naturally yellow topaz became exhausted and therefore any remaining specimens can be quite valuable. Coating colorless topaz can create a rainbow effect known as Mystic Topaz. Coating can also be used to create sapphire blue and blue green topaz; these are not naturally occurring topaz colors. Yellow topaz is known as the modern birthstone for November.


Photograph of TourmalineTourmaline is one of the most interesting stones available on the gemstone market today. It can be found in almost any color imaginable but is rarely colorless. The complex chemical structure that creates tourmaline is what also generates its unique colors. The slightest change in composition makes this mineral change colors. Tourmaline can also be found with multi-colored crystals. They can be different colors from end to end or with a different color on the inside of the crystal than on the outside. These unique characteristics and its easy availability make Tourmaline a very popular and affordable gemstone.


home | contact us | blue ridge parkway store | other area resources                                           ©2000-2015 All Rights Reserved
Join Our Blue Ridge Parkway eNews List!
Enter Email:
  Featured Bookstore Product
Asheville Vacation Deals