The Wonderful World of Color and Gemstones

It would be almost impossible to imagine our world—especially the gemstones in it—without color. Although, when we are older, other attributes of an object may be more important: Is this a leaf or a flower? A shirt or a pair of pants? A gemstone or a chunk of concrete? But at one time, color was more important.

ABOVE: Colorful gemstones. Photo: Getty Images.

Studies show that, for children under five years old, color is the most important attribute of an object. When asked to pair colored objects, they tend to group the objects by color rather than shape—red squares are matched up with red circles, blue cubes go with the blue triangles. Color has meaning for them—for us—long before shapes or nouns do.

Colors have such a strong impact on our psyches that we have come to associate colors not only with the tangible elements of the world but with the intangibles as well, elusive qualities such as attitude, emotion, personality and state of mind.

Colorful Expressions

Emotions and passions are most commonly described by colors. For example, we have all said or heard statements such as:

“When he said that, I saw red.”
“Aw, he won’t do anything, pardner. He’s yellow.”
“She saw my ring and turned green.”
“I’m feeling a little blue.”

We all know the speaker wasn’t describing human skin tones, but the mysterious inner workings of the human heart.

We use color to describe emotions, but colors have the power to affect the way we feel. Warm colors, such as red, orange, and yellow—particularly red—trigger the release of adrenalin into the blood stream, increasing heart rate and respiration. Cool colors (blue, green, violet) and grays calm and rest us because, conversely, they slow our metabolism down.

Colored gemstones are becoming popular as engagement ring stones. Ruby, the color of passion, is an exceptional choice. Courtesy Tom Linenberger, Goldworks, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Colored gemstones are becoming popular as engagement ring stones. Ruby, the color of passion, is an exceptional choice. Courtesy Tom Linenberger, Goldworks, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Color Put to Use

I’ve just read Terry Pratchett’s delightful fantasy novel Equal Rites. As I was in the process of writing this post, a couple of sentences caught my eye: “It’s a fact known throughout the universes that no matter how carefully the colors are chosen, institutional décor ends up as either vomit green, unmentionable brown, nicotine yellow, or surgical appliance pink.” Most of us have had the experience of waiting in an area painted one of those colors. No doubt they were meant to soothe.

Colors can hurry us along, too. Several years ago, two architects stopped for lunch at a 24-hour coffee shop. It was visual psychedelic rock: all shocking pink and intense orange and chrome. As they ate their meal, one architect said to the other, “This color scheme is atrocious. How could anyone design anything like this? Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”

His friend said, “Thank you. I designed it and you’ve reacted just as you were supposed to.” The owners of the restaurant had wanted a color scheme that would hurry people out so that others could take their place. Increased turnover, you see, would increase their profits, although the color scheme probably did little for patrons’ digestion.

2.03 carat cushion-cut natural ruby. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy of

2.03 carat cushion-cut natural ruby. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy of

Our Favorite Color

Most of us have a favorite or preferred color, a color we tend to seek out when we buy furniture, clothing, and yes, gemstones. Why do we choose those colors? Perhaps we choose them because of the subtle way they affect our emotions and even our health. But our emotional makeup and personality also affect the colors we choose to have around us. In fact, some psychologists in Europe use color testing in conjunction with personal interviews with patients to determine their underlying personality characteristics.

This does not mean you can psychoanalyze friends and family by asking them (with a feigned air of innocence) their favorite colors. The results of this controversial theory are based on the order in which the colors are selected and combined. Nor is color choice a guaranteed barometer of someone’s mental condition or personality traits. So if you go out to dinner with someone whose favorite color is green, don’t expect them to pick up the check. But it might give you pause before you buy your next gemstones; what is the color saying about you?

Colors Around the World

The connections between emotions and color here are drawn from the American experience. To what extent these same connections are echoed in other cultures, I don’t know. Do you know of phrases in other cultures that use color to describe emotions? Does your culture associate other attributes to warm or cool colors, or specific colors? How does color affect your feelings about gemstones? Let us know in the comments. We’d like to hear from you.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.

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