Daily Wire Tip: Identifying Stones and Gems

By on February 18, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip


I have just started to incorporate cabochons and other larger stones into my wire work, but I’m having trouble identifying certain stones. I have a copy of Firefly Guide to Gems, but as a rookie, I would hate to give someone an incorrect ID on a stone. Do you have any tips on reference materials for beginners? Thanks.

-Matthew in Stuart, Florida


Matthew, when any of my friends in the WS Faculty or I purchase a stone or cabochon, we always make sure to label the stone when we buy it (if buying in person at a gem show) or when we open an order received in the mail, and we keep the label with the stone. (See some storage and labeling ideas in this helpful video Storing Small Supplies for Travel).

If you are sorting through items you have not labeled, my personal favorite identification books are: Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Gems and Precious Stones (ISBN 0-671-60430-9), Minerals of the World by Walter Schumann (ISBN 0-8069-8570-4), and Gemstones of the World, also by Walter Schumann (ISBN 0-8069-3088-8).

Each of these books contains great, colored photos of both faceted and cabbed examples of most precious and semi precious stones we use in our wire jewelry designs, as well as detailed information about each rock and mineral. To locate and purchase copies, you can either do an Internet search using the ISBN numbers provided, or order them at your favorite bookstore.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Carolyn nau

    February 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I found keeping pendants and cabs difficult, as I’d want to show them to a client, but having a label hanging or stuck to it, really detracted. Plus I was keeping the price I paid on the tag as well, which I don’t really want to share with clients.

    I’ve started putting a photograph of each piece into my data base, along with info on where I bought it, price and even gemstone qualities. I can also put in a “retail” price.
    I can switch my database to a view that only shows the photo, description and retail price, so if I’m talking to customer about a custom design and I’m not in my studio, I can pull up that info on mylaptop and show them what I have available.

    It’s taken a lot of stress out of keeping things straight, and made it possible for me to store pieces in a comparmented tray that looks nice and can be organized by colors, so I have trays for each color group. Makes designing a lot easier too.

    • avatar


      February 18, 2011 at 10:45 am

      Great customer presentation idea Carolyn – thanks for sharing!

  2. avatar

    Mary Phillips

    February 18, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I also utilize large gem supplier’s catalogs, Fire Mountain & Rio Grande are the two big ones I have. I’m posting this because these suppliers, although they are large are not really competition for this company. I’ve gotten tool parts here that I have not found anywhere else. And the selection of wire, reasonable cost, and personal customer service gives Wire Sculpture an upper edge. But the big catalogs are helpful for identification and most of the time, they’ll mail them to you for free.

  3. avatar


    February 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

    You can also pick up one of those small reference sheets that have an example attached of the more common stones at a gem show or such. In todays market you have to watch what you buy and label it as soon as you can. Most of the agates seem to be inheriting alot of fancy names based on where they are mined, etc. Most of us can identify a stone by its correct name instead of its latest label. But we have had to study up on them to do so.
    It seems that lately a lot of dealers are passing off darker shades of serpentine as “jade”…you gotta learn your stones. Hope you are having great weather down there in Stuart, it’s a lovely area of Florida and I always wanted to go to the circus museum there.

  4. avatar

    Donnie Spielman

    February 18, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Another possibility is to check out some of the forum where rock hound & gem enthusiasts hang out. They are always full of very knowledgeable people who are more than willing to give you a hand in identifying a stone. Here is a good place to start:

  5. avatar


    February 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Walter Schumann just recently updated his Gemstones of the World and in my opinion, it far surpasses his previous versions. I love my copy! The ISBN is 978-1-4027-6829-3.

    My only wish is someone would write a book with enlarged shots of each gemstone, along with samples of the range of available colors of each stone if applicable. I know the book would become pretty expensive, but if I could have an “ultimate resource,” I’d pay!

    • avatar


      February 18, 2011 at 10:46 am

      Thanks for the update Janet! (I tend to have so many books that I rarely look for new editions.)

  6. avatar

    Gloria Aristizabal de Martinez

    July 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful tips they been a good help in many occasions. Could you please be so kind to send again the tip about polishing gemstone beads? I lost the tip. Thank you, Gloria

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