Daily Wire Tip August 23: Books for Identifying Rocks & Gems

By on August 22, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
August 23, 2011


Hi, I was wondering what book(s) you would recommend buying to identify rocks and gemstones? Thank you.

-Nikki in Brentwood, California


Hi Nikki, oh my goodness! With so many choices at a variety of prices, I totally understand how difficult this choice can be. My personal research library includes no less than 63 books devoted just to these subjects (and several have been out of print for years!). Some of these volumes I have two copies of, one for the studio and one to take into the field with me.

Good books to throw in a backpack and take into the field with you are two, inexpensive, small paperbacks in the "Golden Nature Guide" series: "Rocks and Minerals" and "Fossils". (When you are beginning to rock hunt in a new area, it is also smart to have copies of their "Snake" and "Venomous Animals" handy.) If you are interested in finding locations to hunt rocks, their "Geology" book is a great beginners’ book that will have you looking out your car windows very differently!

One of my favorite books for helping to identify gemstones that have already been cut is Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Gems and Precious Stones, by Curzio Cipriani and Alessandro Borelli (ISBN 0-671-60430-9) and Minerals of the World by Walter Schumann (ISBN: 0-8069-8570-4) has great "normal" photos of rocks and minerals (rather than images taken by a microscope) that can help you with identifying rocks. One of the books I often use as a reference guide when I am writing the Gem Profiles we feature every Friday is The Audubon Society Field Guide to North America Rocks and Minerals, (Charles W. Chesterman and Kurt E. Lowe, ISBN 0-394-50269-8).

To avoid spending lots of money on books you might think you need, but later find out they aren’t what you wanted, spend an afternoon in a good bookstore and look through their selection. If you want to look for your own specimens, local rock shops will also have good books for your particular area. Several of the online options also provide reviews as well as sample pages of books that you can see before you buy.

How about my fellow wire artists, lapidaries and rockhounds: what are your personal favorites when it comes to rock and gemstone identification books?

Answer contributed by Dale "Cougar" Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Lori Crawford

    August 23, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I agree with all the book choices. I just wanted to add that you can buy these books second handed in real good condition, and at a real good price at http://www.alibris.com and if you buy them from the same seller you can save on shipping too.

  2. avatar


    August 23, 2011 at 8:47 am

    If you’ve found a stone and want to know what it is, you might also Google “rockhound club” followed by your state. You may have a rockhound group near you. I found a gemologist in my own town by doing that. He helped me identify the 20 lbs of pretty white stones I found in my yard when it was dug up for repairs. It was white quartz with iron staining. It doesn’t have much lapidary value but I think it’s very pretty and I’ve even wire wrapped one triangular stone without first polishing it; the copper wire I used brings out the pretty staining streaks. I have an as-yet-unused rock tumbler to experiment with the rest of it.

  3. avatar


    August 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

    One thing I do before I purchase a book is go to the local library and look at all the gem/rock books. I check out those books that seem interesting. Only after going through them at home do I decide which books I want, then I hit the half-price book stores to pick up some bargains before I finally buy from Amazon or retail stores.

    • avatar


      August 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks Skezzcrom – I totally spaced mentioning public and college libraries as a great place to see what books contain.

  4. avatar


    August 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    You might check and see if there is a Gem & Mineral Society near you. Most of the members can be invaluable in helping with rock id’s. Not to mention they may have classes in wireworking, cabbing, etc, that would cost considerably more if taken somewhere else. For the small annual membership they usually charge it’s WELL worth it!

  5. avatar

    Leonard Peddy

    August 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I empathize with people who would like to know what the stone is that they are grinding. Color is only a maybe and so is hardness. Even experts who determine the refractive index and the specific gravity are not absolutely sure!
    Therefore if the stone is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, that’s good enough for me.

    • avatar


      August 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm

      You are so “right” Leonard!

  6. avatar

    Carol StJohn

    August 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Books that I use a lot that you have also mentioned in your articles are by Melody. She covers the spiritual, energetic and traditional uses of stones in enormous detail.
    Love is in the Earth–A Kaleidoscope of Crystals (covers hundreds of common and obscure stones)
    Love is in the Earth–Mineralogical Pictorial (excellent photos of the stones in the previous book)
    There are other books by Melody that expand on the originals.

  7. avatar

    Loring of Ye Workshoppe

    August 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Your local rock and mineral club probably has another resource for you not mentioned above. Here in our Harrisburg, PA club we have a sizable lending library for club members. Membership dues vary from club to club but in this area averages $15 to $25 per year. That is nominal when considering all the benefits of membership in a local club. There are field trips to be involved in, usually an informative newsletter, and the friendships of many local people very knowledgeable in the field of rocks, minerals, fossils, etc.

  8. avatar

    Nikki V

    August 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks so much! I’m googling!