What are the 4 most expensive gemstones?

What are the 4 most expensive gemstones? - Seiko Snowflake Inlaid Ring
Seiko Snowflake Inlaid Ring (npleafage.com)

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As a jewelry designer and seller specializing in precious gemstones, one of the most frequent questions I receive is “What are the most valuable and expensive gemstones in the world?” The answer involves weighing factors like rarity, demand, historical significance, mining location, size and more across the elite “Big Four” gems – diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire.

In this extensive blog, we’ll explore what makes these four gemstone kings so prized compared to other precious stones. I’ll share insider knowledge about their grading factors, current value benchmarks, and the jaw-dropping record sales topping the history books. You’ll also discover up-and-coming gems gaining traction as sourcing evolves and new deposits emerge.

Understanding gemstone value basics helps you make informed fine jewelry decisions as a consumer too. Whether buying ethical engagement rings or researching the perfect ruby’s fiery glow, we’ve got you covered. Let’s delve into what coronates the “Big Four” gems and their eye-popping seven figure price tags!

Most Valuable Gemstone #1: Diamond

Our diamond darling has reigned supreme for decades as the world’s most brilliant gem in every sense. Recognized globally as the pinnacle of fine jewelry, diamond value reflects exceptional visual properties, material durability, investment potential and deep cultural meaning.

Grading Factors
Diamonds rate 10 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale, earning the top spot as the hardest gemstone composed of a single element. This remarkable atomic strength means diamonds shrug off scratches and maintain polish beautifully. They refract light internally to create unparalleled brilliance and fire dispersion relative to other transparent gems. These optical wonders showcase RA, RB ratings describing reflected light properties off the crown (table) and pavilion angles respectively. While all diamond shades delight from clear to champagne to black, totally colorless gems command the highest value grades.

Clarity considers internal flaws called inclusions, along with surface blemishes and transparency. Loupe clean specimens (no inclusions visible at 10x magnification) earn the top clarity classifications. Cut grading analyzes quality factors like symmetry and appropriate depth percentages to reflect maximum light. And carat weight measures the physical diamond size, with prices rising exponentially above one carat.

Together this combination of the “Four Cs” determines a diamond’s market ranking and price point. Top colored diamonds like fancy vivid pink diamonds break value records as well, which we’ll address in the historical sales section. The Gemological Institute of America developed this grading methodology used worldwide today.

Current Benchmark Value
When global diamond giant DeBeers first coined the slogan “Diamonds are Forever” in 1948, they captured diamond essence perfectly. Long considered everlasting tokens of love and commitment, diamonds frequent engagement and anniversary rings as symbols of enduring relationships. Their value appreciation over decades makes them coveted investments too. Retaining diamonds for future generations proves common in families.

In retail markets now, an excellent ideal cut colorless GIA certified 1 carat round brilliant diamonds costs approximately $6,000 to $7,500 on average. Price leaps up for larger sizes with ideal color/clarity combos. At 2 carats, you’re approaching the $20,000 range. Cushion and oval diamonds often run 10-30% below round brilliant value.

But on the auction circuit is where we see Hall of Fame diamonds crush records into the millions! Christie’s sold the 14.83 carat Oppenheimer Blue diamond for $57.5 million in 2016 – over $3.5 million per carat! That eclipses the 12.03 carat Blue Moon diamond purchased for $48.5 million in 2015 by Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau. More recently, an enormous 101.38 carat flawless D color pear shaped diamond dismantled expectations at $26.6 million.

While these legendary gems make headlines, I always tell clients not to equate massive budgets with beautiful diamonds rings. Prioritize cut quality over size to maximize sparkle brilliance for the grades affordable to you. There’s no shortage of dazzling diamonds across the value spectrum!

Most Valuable Gemstone #2: Ruby

Fiery hot on those sparkling heels races ruby, flaunting an intoxicating red color and luxe heritage. Traded among ancient Burmese kingdoms and European nobilities, magnificent ruby gems continue breaking auction records today. Let’s examine what establishes rubies firmly amongst the “Big Four” gems.

Grading Factors
This regal gemstone earns a Mohs rating of 9 in hardness – just under indestructible diamonds at 10. Composed of the mineral corundum (aluminum oxide, Al2O3), chromium impurities give rubies their hallmark ruby red glow. While all colored variants qualify as sapphires, that gloriously saturated hot red color defines ruby superiority. More chromium equals more prized value.

Color evaluation focuses intensely on hue and saturation. Burmese rubies with vivid “pigeon blood” red saturation are most coveted worldwide. The pigeon blood classification applies to gems with no more than 15% secondary hues blending in. Clarity scrutinizes inclusions under 10x magnification, since totally loupe clean rubies are extraordinarily rare over 3 carats. Heat treatment to minimize flaws gets disclosed by sellers, as rubies often have fissures and feather-like rutile mineral fibers naturally. Cut quality also weighs in for light performance.

Current Benchmark Pricing
In the quality gemstone market for jewelry, Burmese unheated pigeon blood rubies exceeding 5 carats enter the stratosphere fast. A 6 carat cushion cut Burmese ruby recently sold for $6.2 million – over $1 million per carat! Expect authenticated gems from famed Mogok valley mines to run $1 million plus per carat across categories.

Even commercial quality Burmese rubies fetch $50,000 to $100,000 for sizes under 3 carats, with mediocre stones cheaper. Heated gems sell for 5-10% less, while synthetic lab rubies cost 98% below naturals. Provenance from less famous ruby deposits drops values further – but Ethiopian and Mozambique sources gaining esteem today command higher premiums.

Most Valuable Gemstone #3: Emerald

The mysterious, lush green fire of rare emeralds captures imaginations worldwide. Cleopatra adored them. Inca and Aztec cultures revered them. India’s Maharajas flaunted enormous gems. The vibrant green color comes from trace amounts of chromium and/or vanadium impurities. Let’s decode why emeralds rank amongst the prestigious Big Four gems.

Grading Factors
On the Mohs scale, emeralds rate between 7.5 to 8 in hardness – softer than rubies and sapphires. Most emeralds contain some flaws, fractures and garden reaching inclusions. Unlike diamonds, a loupe clean emerald would be extraordinarily (and suspiciously) rare, triggering lab grown authentication checks. Unique to emeralds, three valuation factors weigh in:

Color: Bluish-green hues preferred to yellow-green
Clarity: Transparency and inclusion type, fewer garden fractures
Cut quality: Maximizing color vibrance – not size – proves paramount

That intoxicating bluish-green color so coveted comes from trace amounts of chromium and/or vanadium. Emeralds form rather uniquely compared to most gems – as mineral baryte deposits permeate bedrock, it transforms into emerald crystals. Garden inclusions result from fluids transporting chromium during this process.

Current Benchmark Pricing
On quality matrices, Colombian emeralds fetch highest prices as larger gems over 5 carats with rich blue-green color and moderate clarity run over $1 million easily. A 6 carat octagonal Colombian emerald ring recently sold for $2 million – over $300k per carat. The Pacific side Chivor and Muzo mines propelled Colombia to prominence, but Brazil and Zambia origins also shine.

Interestingly, the Gemological Institute of America developed specific grading criteria for emeralds given their natural growth properties. GIA’s 11 level grading analysis starts evaluating transparency and works up to the top “AAA” designation for premium emeralds – very slightly included, medium to very slightly bluish-green gems with minor clarity enhancement.

Most Valuable Gemstone #4: Sapphire

Our final “Big Four” showstopper, sapphires glisten gloriously in spectacular shades of blue amongst a polychromatic rainbow realm. While technically all non-red species qualify as sapphires, magnificent blues utterly entrance gem aficionados. The Rockefellers and royals alike adore majestic blue sapphires, which we’ll illuminate next.

Grading Factors
After diamonds, sapphires and rubies rate highest on the Mohs hardness scale at 9. Sapphires boast an impressive array of colors like pink, yellow, green, purple, peach and the signature blue spans. Color evaluation prioritizes hue saturation in medium to medium dark tones. The most desirable and expensive fall into the saturated vivid category without secondary modifying colors blending in.

While heated sapphires get discounted slightly, irradiation and diffusion treatments should get disclosed by sellers as these continue enhancing blue colorants artificially in the market. Clarity assessments magnify internal inclusion visibility, common feather rutile ones run throughout. And ideal cut angles will optimize color refraction potential relative to rough size and shape.

Current Benchmark Pricing
In the world class bracket, a Ceylon blue sapphire over 5 carats enters serious auction value territory above $1 million. These dazzlers from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) fetch the highest carat premiums for their cherished cornflower blue glow in historically significant gems over 100 years old.

The current record holding Rockefeller Sapphire snapped centuries old records when it sold for $18 million in 2021 – over $225k per carat! Christie’s auctioned the cushion shape Burmese 62.1 carat Rockefeller Sapphire, internally flawless and untreated.

Burmese blues also rate top drawer, while precious sapphires from Kashmir rank so exceptionally rare few surface for sale. That exclusivity spikes values. Australian sapphires boast vibrant blues as excellent alternatives to Ceylon gems costing multiples less. And the American Montana sapphires charm buyers with beautiful saturated blues domestic sourcing appeals.

Big Four Honorable Mentions

Beyond the “Big Four” frontrunners diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire; a few other gems make noteworthy mentions as valuable player contenders due to provenance factors and auction price points.

Jadeite Jade: This emerald green mineral named for its jade green tones enjoys particular reverence in Chinese culture as the imperial gemstone. Graded by color, texture, translucence and skin quality, top quality jadeite jade has commanded seven figures consistently at international sales for carved gemstone works of art.

Opal: Far rarer top specimens command values exceeding diamonds among the phenomenal category fire opals. Australia’s Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy pump out most of the world’s precious opal supply, with their visible spectral play-of-color coveted over white base opals. Top black opals over $10k per carat enter serious buyer territory.

Paraiba Tourmalines: The electric neon blues and greens of these Brazilian elbaite tourmalines dazzle connoisseurs. Containing trace copper within crystal structures, fine Paraiba tourmalines have sold in the six figures for a few carats and their value continues rising among prized collector gems.

Grandidierite: One of the rarest minerals on earth, these vivid blue-green phenakite crystals hail from Madagascar and Sri Lanka in very limited supply. Intensely saturated blue specimens command prices over $50k per carat, entering the realm of fine emerald and sapphire pricing but with far less market volume given extreme scarcity in nature.

Questions about sourcing and pricing? As an industry expert, I’m always happy to help decode gemstone investing, appraisals, market trends and evaluating deals. Contact me anytime to determine the best gems suiting your budget and style!

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