The Quick Guide To... Gemstone Luster

| 4 min read

If you’ve watched our jewelry presentations for any time at all, you’ve probably heard the word ‘luster’, but what does this common term mean? Luster describes the way light interacts with the surface of an object, particularly gemstones and minerals, and is derived from the Latin word ‘lux’ meaning ‘light’. The critical distinction here is the word ‘surface’, as the light that enters into the gem and then bounces back out is known as ‘brilliance’ instead. If light enters the gem and is split into a rainbow of colors, it is known as ‘fire’ or ‘dispersion’.

Black Spinel

Imagine a completely black, opaque gemstone such as Black Onyx or Black Spinel. No light is entering the gem, so all the light reflecting back as you move it around in the light is luster. Luster is generally stronger from harder and denser gemstones such as Diamond and Zircon, but all gems have luster, whether they be transparent, translucent or opaque. Not all gemstones have brilliance or fire.

This covers luster at its most basic level, but the quality of the luster can be further sub-defined into categories that describe the type of luster that a gem can display. The boundaries between these types of luster are not rigidly defined. Furthermore, the same gemstone can show different types of luster depending on their origin, formation conditions and any number of other variables, so it is certainly not an exact science.

Adamantine Luster

Adamantine Luster

Diamond and Zircon have a gorgeous, sparkling luster known as an adamantine luster, which has also been described as ‘mirror-like’. Adamantine literally means ‘Diamond-like’. Ruby and Sapphire are sometimes described as having ‘sub-adamantine’ luster in rare cases, though many are classed as vitreous.

Vitreous Luster

Vitreous Luster

The most common luster type found in faceted transparent gemstones is similar to that seen from a pane of glass and is known as vitreous luster. Emerald, Aquamarine, Spinel, Topaz and Tourmaline are amongst those that have vitreous luster. ‘Vitrum’ is the Latin word for ‘glass’, from where this term is derived.

Pearly Luster

Pearly Luster

Gemstones with a pearly luster obviously have an appearance similar to that of organic Pearl and Mother of Pearl. Their appearance is normally due to microscopic layers within the gem from which light reflects in an unorthodox yet beautiful manner. Charoite is one such example.

Silky & Fibrous Luster

Silky & Fibrous Luster

Gems with a silky luster have very fine fibres (just like silk) which are arranged parallel to each other. Malachite and Sillimanite are both said to have silky luster. A fibrous luster is similar to a silky luster but has a coarser texture. Tiger’s Eye has a fibrous luster.

Greasy Luster

Greasy Luster

Gems with a greasy luster are those whose surface reflection is similar to that of grease. This is caused by a mass of microscopic inclusions within. Peridot, Alexandrite, some Opals and some Garnets are said to have a greasy luster. They can even feel greasy to the touch.

Resinous Luster

Resinous Luster

Resinous luster is similar to the appearance of resin or smooth plastic. Amber is one of the most well-known gems that is said to have a resinous luster, which is unsurprising given that it is considered a plant resin. Others include Sphalerite, Sphene and Vesuvianite.

Waxy Luster

Waxy Luster

As the name suggests, gems with a waxy luster have a surface appearance similar to that of wax. Jade, Chalcedony and Turquoise have a waxy luster. Some Opals are also considered to have waxy luster, though this can sometimes be polished to a resinous finish.

Dull Luster

Dull Luster

The word dull may not have the most positive connotations, but in gemology terms, it simply means that the gemstone in questions reflects very little light. This is often because the stone has a coarse surface, scattering light off in all directions. Rhodonite is one such example.

Metallic Luster

Metallic Luster

Metallic luster is similar to that of polished metal and is not often seen in the gemstone world, more frequently being used to describe the metalwork of the jewelry itself. Pyrite, Marcasite and Haematite are notable gem exceptions.

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