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Gemstone Durability

If there’s anything that humans love doing with gemstones, it’s decorating ourselves! With so many gorgeous colors, cuts, and styles to choose from, it's no wonder we’ve been using them forever. That said, many factors play into how sturdy a certain gem will be for jewelry.

Hardness

Hardness is how well a mineral resists being visibly scratched. The most common measurement of scratch resistance is the Mohs scale, with talc as the softest natural mineral (1) and diamond as the hardest (10). Talc can be scratched by everything else, but diamonds can only be scratched by other diamonds.

For rings you plan on wearing daily, gems at hardness 9 or above are ideal since hands get the most action throughout the day. Gemstones softer than this are easy to visibly scratch or chip if struck with enough force, so treat them with caution! Quartz, with a hardness of 7, is commonly in dust, so even wiping dust off a peridot or moonstone can scratch it and turn them dull over time.

For bracelets, anything with a hardness of 7 or higher will typically hold up well. For earrings and necklaces, virtually any gem is fine since they’re rarely exposed to contact with other objects.

A graph showing the Mohs Scale of Hardness which rates gemstones from 1 to 10 in scratch resistance

A chart with pictures of gemstones showing how each gem ranks in durability on the Mohs Scale

 

Toughness

Toughness measures a stone’s resistance to cracking, chipping, and breaking. Many factors determine this—internal crystal structure, inclusions, and brittleness, to name a few. Even though diamonds are the hardest natural mineral on earth and rather resilient in regular wear, they’re still quite brittle. Swing a hammer at one hard enough and it’ll shatter. (Luckily, typical jewelry wear doesn’t involve bashing your stones with hammers!) On the other hand, jades are very easily scratched but still one of the toughest stones around!

A chart with pictures of gemstones showing how each gem ranks in toughness

Porosity

Porosity tells you whether a gemstone has pores that can absorb materials. Amber, corals, jades, natural emeralds (lab-produced emeralds are virtually non-porous), moonstones, opals, and pearls all have this quality. This means exposure to prolonged direct sunlight, harsh chemicals, soaps, perfumes, and any liquids (even natural skin oils) can damage them and fade their color. Make sure to treat these beauties with extra TLC (peep our gemstone care guide for tips) to keep them in good shape! If you want to keep your jewelry on while showering or swimming, non-porous stones are your friends.

Inclusions

Inclusions are minerals, liquids, or internal cracks that get trapped in a gemstone during formation. They’re what give salt-and-pepper diamonds, moonstones, and moss agates such stunning coloration. That said, this beauty comes at a cost—if they’re big or dense enough, inclusions are weak spots where the gem is more prone to breakage. 

Size

If you look at jewelry featuring softer gems like turquoise, they’re almost always relatively large because they’re too soft to be reliably cut into smaller sizes. Think of gem sizes like paper thicknesses: tissue paper is extremely delicate, while cardstock is much harder to rip in comparison. 

Shape

Gemstones are like pencils: easy to snap while they’re sharp, harder if they’re dull. A round gem is most resistant to impact damage, while angular ones (like marquise, pear, and baguette) benefit from more attentive wear as their sharp corners are particularly vulnerable. Not even diamonds are immune to chipping! Softer gems especially are far more prone to breaking during production when they’re angled, which is why they’re most often round or oval in jewelry.

Setting

The metal that holds a gemstone in jewelry is called its “setting.” The way the setting interacts with the stone is important; if it’s too hands-off, the stone can not only chip and crack much more easily, but it can just fall out altogether!

A rule of thumb is that the less exposed a gem is to the environment, the safer it is. The most secure setting has metal all-around the stone(s)—we call this a “bezel” (when the metal immediately surrounding the stone protrudes from the rest of a ring) or “flush” (when the stone is embedded into the metal) setting. When set this way, most impact damage will be absorbed by the metal before it gets to the stone.

Prongs are another very common setting. While not as heavy-duty as a bezel, they can be reinforced in a few ways for extra security (e.g., making the prongs thicker, putting more prongs around the gem like our round lab diamond ring, or doubling them up like in our emerald-cut pink sapphire ring or moissanite halo ring). When it comes to angular stones in a prong setting, the most important protective measure is ensuring all corners are covered!

How high a gemstone is set is also an important durability factor. Sometimes a stone is raised high above a ring such that the bottom of the stone is above the band, which enhances the stone’s natural sparkle and makes it look bigger. While nice to look at, this type of setting comes with major wearability consequences. There are many extra opportunities for the stone to interact with other objects which can cause a stone to get scratched quicker or the setting to become damaged or bent. On the other end, the lower a stone is in a setting, the less it’ll be messed with by its environment. It’s also generally more comfortable to wear!

While a more secure setting won’t necessarily make a peridot as durable as a sapphire, it can definitely boost the longevity of the piece.

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