Gem alternatives for a sparkling Christmas

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http://flickr.com/photos/somma/231842010/Shopping for serious bling this holiday? The shelves of fine jewelry stores are jammed with jewelry featuring the big four: diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. The sad truth, however, is that most of these will be second-rate or worse quality stones, meant to prey on those more interested in name than beauty.

Fortunately, there are beautiful, durable gemstones that provide a lot more bang for your buck. Some I'm fond of include:

Instead of diamonds, look at Moissanites. This form of silicon carbide is the only diamond-like stone I've seen that comes close to matching the diamond's fire and durability. Because it is a product of Charles & Colvard, the price is not trivial, but at a quarter of the price of a diamond, you'll get great sparkle and a long life. My wife loves hers.

Looking for a green stone? Bypass those chips of soap that pass for emeralds. Look instead at a tsavorite garnet or my favorite, the chrome tourmaline. Both are available in beautiful greens ranging from grass to Kelly green, with depth that will melt hearts. The tourmaline will wear better when used in a ring setting.

In the market for a ruby? The rubelite tourmaline is, dollar for dollar, a much better choice, while garnets come in a wide range of luscious reds. The Black Prince Ruby in the crown of England is actually a spinel, another red stone that would work well in anything but a ring.

You won't find these options in chain stores, probably, but a good mom and pop jewelry store can hook you up, and will enjoy doing so. The world of gems is so rich, but the public exposure to it, so limited. Go exploring.

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