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on September 2, 2007
I fear that I am a bit of a magpie. I like shiny sparkly things, and the usual response is Ooooh! Shiny! And as a young one, when taken on various trips, I started to take an interest in rockhounding and geology. It was finding gemstones that were the real fun, seeing these little bits of glittery rock that turned out to be sapphires or amethysts or garnets. Life would take me in different directions, but the interest in pretty, glittery rocks has remained.

Smithsonian Handbooks: Gemstones is one of those lovely little books that is crammed full of information and pictures, along some folklore and bits of trivia that add to the mystique of gemstones. Compiled by Cally Hall, it's a very readable book, filled with more than 800 photographs, with a text that while it is slanted towards scientific terms, is very readable and accessable.

The first section of the book is an extended introduction to what makes a gemstone different than say, a mineral, although they might be composed of the same chemicals. A brief history of how gemstones and precious metals (silver, gold and platinum) have been shaped, worn and coveted. One section that I found very intesting was the explaination of the Mohs scale used to determined hardness -- it ranges from 1 to 10, with talc at the bottom, and diamond at the top, and how a stone is determined to fit in along the scale. Another fascinating section is how light and crystallization help to determine gemstones, and what part they play in how a stone is shaped and graded. There is also a section on synthetic gemstones and how they have been created over the centuries, and how the colour of stones can be changed by irradiation, heating and staining the stones. Finally, the section closes with a colour key, ranging various stones by their hues, with plenty of vivid pictures and the name of each stone underneath along with the page that goes into more detail about it.

The next section deals with the gemstones and precious metals in particular. Each item is classified into Precious Metals, Cut Stones, and Organics -- and each item is given a page or two that goes into further detail. Stones are given their chemical composition, rating on the Mohs scale, crystal structure, some folklore and history, what sort of cuts that the stones are usually shaped into, and lots of photographs.

It here in the photographs that the book sells itself. They are unusually clear, and crisply printed, with each gemstone being shown in a variety of ways. There is jewelry, different colours that the stone can occur in, and a few shown in their 'matrix' or the surrounding stone and minerals that the gemstones are usually found in their natural state. One of the more intriguing sections is on what are known as Organic Gemstones -- stones that are created by natural, not chemical, occurances, such as pearls, jet, coral, ivory, shell and amber.

The final sections include a table of properties, glossary, index, and some useful addresses to contact if you find that you want to find out more.

The binding is very sturdy, the printing very clean and crisp with the design well-thought out that flows easily from page to page. It is designed to stand up to quite a bit of use, with a spine that will not crack, and heavier than usual paper stock, and the quality is top notch.

Packed into less than a 160 pages, this is a wonderfully priced little book that gives a quick, informative and lively look at gemstones. While it's certainly not a perfect book, and is mostly designed to help the reader figure out what a stone may or may not be -- only a trained gemologist can tell you what it really is -- it's a fun way to start learning. The price was extremely reasonable, less than 10$US, although the cover price is listed as 20$US. It would make a perfect book for adding to a home library, or as a gift to the budding rockhound in your family.

Five solid stars. Recommended.
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on September 28, 2005
A great book for beginners and experienced gemstone enthusiasts alike. Information ranges from simple descriptions for identification purposes (especially inclusions), to detailed terminology for the experienced rock hound.

I have purchased so called beginners books in the past (for identification purposes) and they require expert gemmologists to understand.
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on October 2, 2004
This is a clear, concise, easy to read guide to gems. Well photographed. A great primer for those unfamiliar with all the different types of stones, and a good reference for those who are more knowledgeable. Excellent for jewelers and designers to use with customers. Highly recommended.
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I have three of the Eyewitness Handbooks ("Cats," "Horses," "Gemstones") and they are a browser's delight. The "Gemstones" handbook claims to be a "visual guide to more than 130 gemstone varieties," and has over 800 true-color photographs of everything from achroite (tourmaline) to zoisite (Tanzanite), with all of the more familiar gemstones such as aquamarines and rubies in between.
This book reminds me of a gemology course I took while in college. The instructor used to pass around trays of gemstones so that we could observe and handle examples of what we were studying. (He always counted the stones when the tray came back to him, which was the only thing that kept me honest.) "Gemstones" set my mouth to watering just like those trays of yesteryear. The text accompanying the photographs is also rigorous enough to be used for an introductory course in gemology. It is organized to accompany the photographs, and there are also special sections on the physical properties of gemstones, where they are found, their history and folklore, and a very lovely color key to the gems.
The author, Cally Hall is a fellow of the Gemmological Association and Gem Testing Laboratory of Great Britain, and is a member of the curatorial team at the Natural History Museum in London. She specializes in the study of colored gemstones, so I think this book must have been a labor of love. Here is what she has to say about them:
"The mysterious appeal of gemstones, their exquisite colors and the play of light within them, would alone have made them precious to many, but their rarity, hardness, and durability have made them doubly valuable. The natural beauty, strength, and resilience of gems have inspired beliefs in their supernatural origins and magical powers, and stones that have survived the centuries have gathered a wealth of history and romance around them."
If you always make a special effort to see the gem collections when you visit the Smithsonian or the Victoria and Albert Museum or any of a number of Natural History Museums, I think you will enjoy Cally Hall's Eyewitness Handbook of "Gemstones."
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on January 16, 2006
Never tought there were so many crystals that can be cut into gemstones. Never saw so many beautiful pics of cut loose gemstones in one place. Well explained, from formation, physical and optical properties, imitation and enhancement. Especially appreciate the color key section, with gemstones grouped according to color in which it is always, usually and sometimes available. Probably the best books on properties and identification of gemstones. I am positively THRILLED to own it, and I am only a gemstone lover and admirer.
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on March 8, 2006
This is the second of the two books I purchased on gems. It is impossible to find pictures and information this great. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about gems.
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on June 11, 2001
I have been interested in amateur gemstones since 1962 and this is the best introductory book I've ever seen about the subject. It's full of outstanding pictures that illustrate just about everything most beginners might want to know. It starts with an excellent and concise section on general gem lore, gem properties, and gem handling. Then it has the best color key to gems that I've seen. This key makes it easy to find the information about a given gemstone without using the index. If one prefers, there is a good index too. After the Color Key, there are pages about specific stones with a description, where they are found and remarks. All standard gem properties are shown, with excellent pictures to illustrate the color, crystal shape, cleavage, uses, etc. All in all, this is the introduction to gemstones to judge others by. It's also useful for more advanced "rockhounds" as a reference and field guide. The binding is quite durable and should stand up to a lot of travel. I wish this book had been available 40 years ago.
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VINE VOICEon July 12, 2001
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS AND THIS BOOK HAS TERRIFIC PICTURES AND VERY CLEAR AND CONCISE DESCRIPTIONS. EVERYTHING THAT I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SUBJECT IS ANSWERED IN THIS BOOK. THERE'S A VISUAL GUIDE TO OVER 130 GEMSTONE VARIETIES AND A COLOR KEY FOR EVERY GEMSTONE. THERE ARE SO MANY INTERESTING BITS OF INFORMATION HERE THAT THE READER GETS A COURSE IN HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY, SCIENCE AND FOLKLORE. FOR INSTANCE, THE CUSTOM OF WEARING BIRTHSTONE JEWELRY STARTED IN 18TH CENTURY POLAND; THE MASK OF TUTANKHAMEN WAS MADE OF LAPIS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND THE BEAUTIFUL PINK MORGANITE WAS NAMED AFTER J.P. MORGAN. THIS IS A SUPER REFERENCE BOOK!
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on May 13, 2000
Very good reference book to gems, stones and bones used in jewelry and ornamentations. The hardness scale guide, is inserted right there with the stones ID. (No page flipping) I like the color guide section too. Excellent photos and character trait explanations.
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on July 6, 2006
I love this book. It's a great resource especially if you just need a quick guide. The charts are great. Especially nice is the section that shows stones by color.. "always color ..", "usually color ..", "sometimes color ..", etc. So if you are looking for green stones you can find them quickly!

BUT some gemstones I looked up by name, weren't to be found. That left me to go to the internet where I quickly found the gemstone.

Even so, it's a beautiful little book, quick and concise. The photos are gorgeous.
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