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The defining characteristic of a gemstone is its color. Color is often regarded as the most important evaluation criterion. When examining a gemstone for color, consider its hue, tone, and saturation.

Hue is the stone's basic color. The most prized gemstones are those that exhibit a single pure. Most stones however, show a combination of hues and still remain incredibly beautiful. Tone is the lightness or darkness of a color. It ranges from colorless to black and is described in terms of light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. The color intensity of a gemstone is referred to as saturation. Gemstones of lesser saturation will display brownish, or grayish hues.

The carat weight of gemstones does not always provide an accurate indication of the size of the stone. Gemstones come in many different densities. Two stones of the same carat weight may be of differing sizes. Therefore, it is important to know the stone's dimensions.

A gemstone's clarity is a measure of its freedom from inclusions and blemishes (collectively referred to as clarity characteristics). Some inclusions can have an affect on durability as well as reduce brilliance and transparency. It is these clarity characteristics that have the biggest impact on a gem's value. Most inclusions and blemishes however, have a negligible impact on a stone's value.

It is important to understand that some stones are inherently more included than others. For example, emeralds are often heavily included, while aquamarine typically has no inclusions visible to the unaided eye.

Most colored stones have been treated (also called enhanced) in some fashion. Treatments are most commonly done to change or remove color, and to improve clarity. Heat treatment is by far the most common enhancement for gemstones. Almost all colored stones have been heat treated. It is an accepted and expected practice in the jewelry industry. Without it, many gemstones would be left out of the market and prices would rise dramatically.

Avoid exposing your gemstone jewelry to chemicals and other harsh substances. Make jewelry the last thing you put on when getting dressed, and the first thing you take off. After every use, you should wipe down your jewelry with a soft cloth to remove any dirt and debris. For a more thorough cleaning, use warm, soapy water, and a soft toothbrush to gently brush away debris. Home ultrasonic cleaners are not recommended for colored stones. Although safe for some gems like sapphires and rubies, it can damage some stones. Opals and emeralds should never be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner.

The hardness of colored stones varies widely, hence it is wise to keep gemstone jewelry in a soft cloth to avoid contact with others gems and metals.