Cardinal Gemstones – Everything You Need to Know

The term Cardinal Stones is quite antiquated, even though all “Cardinal stones’ are still considered precious or semi-precious and sell for thousands of dollars.  

But what exactly does Cardinal mean? Why is it antiquated? And why is its replacement term – Major Gemstones – also becoming obsolete? Let’s find out.  

What Are the Cardinal Stones? 

The term “Cardinal Stones” has been around for ages. It applies to the five gemstones the western world has valued above all other gemstones. These five stones included: 

Petite Twist Diamond Eternity Ring
Petite twist diamond ring. See this here.
  • Diamonds – Specifically colorless diamonds as fancy colored diamonds were far too rare and weren’t commonly known in the past. 
  • Emeralds – These have been used and valued since ancient times, even though other types of beryls (such as morganite and aquamarine) don’t have the same value.  
  • Sapphires – Blue sapphires, in particular, as yellow, green, pink, and other corundum-based gemstones weren’t valued as highly. 
  • Rubbies – Essentially red sapphires, these precious gemstones were seen as a separate type of stone from sapphires and were valued very highly because of their beauty, rarity, and hardness.  
  • Amethyst – Despite its gorgeous purple color, amethyst isn’t considered a “major gemstone” today. This is because it became very common once large amethyst mines were discovered in Brazil in the 19th century. Nowadays, amethyst is considered merely a semi-precious gemstone. 

That last note on the amethyst is essentially why the term “Cardinal stones” is considered obsolete today. Still, historically, these 5 gemstones pretty much ruled the world. They dictated the actions of kings, queens, popes, and cardinals all across Europe and the rest of the world, hence the name “Cardinal stones”. 

Are There Just 4 Major Gemstones Now? 

emerald solitaire pendant
Emerald solitaire pendant. See this here.

The contemporary term you’ll see tossed around is “Major Gemstones” and it indeed includes just the four remaining Cardinal stones – colorless diamonds, green emeralds, blue sapphires, and red rubies.  

However, what’s interesting is that the four Major Gemstones aren’t as rare or special as many other gemstones out there. For example, gemstones such as Tanzanite, Alexandrite, Ammolite, and Jadeite, are much rarer.  

In fact, one can even make the argument that diamonds aren’t even rare anymore as it’s well known that De Beers controls roughly 90% of the world’s diamond mines and is mining significantly more than what it offers on the market, hence creating artificial scarcity to keep prices high.  

The rapid rise of lab-grown diamonds and other lab-grown gemstones, which are as real as the ones mined from the Earth, makes you wonder about the value of the Major Gemstones.   

So, why are we still calling diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds the Major Gemstones if: 

  1. They aren’t all that rare, 
  1. There are synthetic alternatives that are less expensive and more sustainable,  
  1. There are other gemstones that are much rarer? 

The answer, of course, is tradition.  

The jewelry world tends to be pretty conservative and things here don’t change too quickly even when they should. These four gemstones have historically been valued highly above all other gemstones.  

So today, when we say Major Gemstones, we simply mean those that have the greatest consumer demand.  

What Will Be the Major Gemstones in the Future?  

Baguette sapphire and diamond bracelet
Baguette sapphire and diamond bracelet. See this here.

While it’s often said that rarity is the chief factor determining a gemstone’s value, that only tends to be the case on the individual level.  

When it comes to the market at large, however, there are lots of factors at play such as marketing, culture, fashion, and the buyer’s preferences. 

This means that, while amethyst isn’t the only of the five Cardinal Stones that are not all that rare anymore, the other four are likely to cling to their old fame for quite a while longer – if not indefinitely.  

Then again, the rise of lab-grown gemstones is likely to pretty much nullify all other such future Cardinal/Major categories as gemstones of almost every type can now be grown in controlled environments with ease. 

Wrapping Up 

The five Cardinal stones ruled the world for quite some time and four of them are still incredibly valuable.  

Even the most precious diamond isn’t enough to command the same price or respect it did a millennia ago. Such stones used to literally start wars, after all. 

So, while diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds are still incredibly valued – and rightly so given their incredible beauty – their price tags of thousands or millions of dollars don’t mean quite the same in today’s modern world.   

Jewelry Guide