Alternative (and Affordable!) Gemstones for Your Jewelry-Making Projects

Karla Rosenbusch
is the 
editor of Lapidary
Jewelry Artist.

Well, I admit it. I'm a stone addict. Yes, that sounds really bad, but what I mean is that I love gemstones. And when it comes to the stones I select for my jewelry, the rarer and more esoteric, the better. I love to browse the booths at gem and mineral shows, looking for little-known "alternative" gemstones for my jewelry designs. I particularly like "earthy" stones such as jaspers, agates, and feldspars, and I'm always looking for new ones to use.


Peruvian Blue Opal. This necklace combines
Peruvian blue opal with freshwater pearls and
features a delightful ceramic dragonfly pendant.

As I've spent time hunting for new stones for jewelry, I've discovered that you don't have to spend a lot of money on them. Many of the stones I select are very inexpensive, but the jewelry you can make from them is exquisite.

Below are some of my favorite lesser known—and lower priced—stones.

African Opals
When most people think of opal, they usually think of the stunning milky stone with sparkling pops of color. But there are many other forms of opal. I'm a huge fan of African blue opal, a great earthy stone that features blues, tans, browns, and whites. You can also find wonderful African yellow opal, which is more brown and white than the blue variety.

Peruvian Blue Opal
Another opal variety that I've recently started using more and more is Peruvian blue opal. This stone has an incredible sky-blue color and blends well with any number of other stones. This gemstone is quickly moving up my list of favorites.

Jaspers. I love the color combination of using
apple jasper and turtle shell jasper together.




Mookaite. The pendant of this necklace uses one
of my favorite jaspers, mookaite from Australia.

One of the most common stone classifications, the name "jasper" covers an amazingly wide range of stones. But this most basic of gemstones can be incredibly beautiful. Recently, I added two new jaspers to my repertoire, apple jasper and turtle shell jasper. Apple jasper is a delightful red, while turtle shell jasper is mottled red, brown, and white. I love to use these together for a jasper celebration.

One of the loveliest "jaspers" I've ever found is not actually jasper. It's called Red Creek jasper although sellers suspect that it's actually a marble. It's also not red; although it can display some lovely red highlights, Red Creek jasper is primarily green and brown. It's actually named after the only location in which it's found, China's Red Creek.

One of the more rare jaspers that I just love to use is mookaite. Yes, the name sounds a little odd, but it comes from the Mooka Creek in Western Australia. It's a red, gold, and cream stone that's a real eye-catcher.


Bamboo Agate. This necklace uses large
bamboo agates with smaller ocean jaspers for
a multistone piece.


Unakite. I particularly love this piece's unakite
heart pendant.

Another common earthy stone with myriad varieties is agate. My special favorites are the lovely fire agate and the more earthy bamboo agate with its brown, white, black, and tan color combinations. You'll find these two stones—as well as a range of other agates—all through my jewelry. They work great with just about any other earthy stone.

Other Gemstones
There are many, many other inexpensive gemstones that I love to use in my jewelry. I'm a huge fan of unakite, a green and red stone that is actually a form of granite. If I want to use a less expensive form of onyx, banded onyx with brown, black, and tan stripes is a great alternative stone. I also love the vivid blue-green color of amazonite.


Aventurine. For a great color contrast, I used
pink aventurine with vivid green malachite.

But my very favorite inexpensive alternative stone is aventurine. I'm one of this stone's greatest advocates, and I love to urge people to try it out in their jewelry designs. It comes in green and "pink" forms—although I prefer to call pink aventurine "salmon." That's actually a more accurate description. If you look at any of my jewelry, you'll find aventurine popping up everywhere, either as the primary stone or a great "background" stone that I use to show off the focal stone of the piece.


African Blue Opal. For a mixed-media jewelry
set, I used African blue opals and bronze metal
clay beads.

Designing With Alternative Gemstones
One of the best ways I've found to use inexpensive earthy stones is to combine them with other unusual stones. I love to mix and match the colors and sizes of my stones to come up with an amazing variety of looks. Unakite with aventurine, Peruvian blue opal with jade, Red Creek jasper with bamboo agate-the possibilities are endless. I also love to mix stones with other jewelry media. One of my favorite necklace-and-bracelet sets combines African blue opal with bronze metal clay beads. I get tons of compliments every time I wear that set.

As I play with my favorite stones, I like to keep my designs simple to show off the gemstones to their best advantage. The best way I've found to do that is by stringing them. I'm especially fond of stringing stones with gold or silver spacer beads or with freshwater pearls to create fabulous necklaces and bracelets. It's really an inexpensive way to get an expensive look.

I get my best stringing ideas from the pages of Stringing magazine. It's an ideal place to get started as you play with alternative stones. You'll find some great project designs in the magazine that you can make your own by using your favorite stones. Request your free trial issue of Stringing magazine so you don't miss out on any great ideas for using your own gemstone beads.

Once you've discovered the stones you most like to work with and have created your own stone masterpieces, be sure to share them with the whole community on the Jewelry Making Daily Forums. We love it when you share!

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