Hands down, our favorite things to pick up during travels are wearable souvenirs in the form of jewelry. Pieces featuring gemstones prevalent in the places where we’ve been are the perfect thing to take home! They are small, precious, but quite functional reminders of our travels that pack a visual, fashionable punch, and can be enjoyed for years to come.
Here are a few of our best tips for picking up glittering gemstones (or jewelry featuring them!) no matter where in the world you are, plus a comprehensive list of some favorite stones and where you can find them.
1. Consider Color And Cut
So many things go into choosing a gemstone when you’re on the road. But you’ll do well to first consider the two C’s — color and cut. Many gemstones (think sapphires or tourmaline) can come in a rainbow of colors. And don’t forget about cut, either. Faceted stones range in shape from traditional round to more exotic options including Asscher, emerald, and marquis. Do your research, choose the hue and cut you’re most likely to wear well after your return home, and focus your search on those.
2. Factor In Your Personal Style
Big and bold, or simple, understated, and elegant? There’s no wrong answer when it comes to personal style, but be sure to check in with yourself while you’re shopping for gemstones or jewelry during your travels. There is always that exciting, slightly overwhelming feeling when you’re presented with many glittering options — how to best choose? Once you get over the initial dazzle, lean in on what you’re consistently drawn to, rather than purchasing a vacation fling you might purchase but quickly forget.
3. Think About Occasion
When do you usually wear jewelry? Is it a must-have accessory (or accessories!)? Conversely, is it something you only break out for a special occasion? Knowing the difference between a splurge piece and a workhorse — and which you’ll want to purchase while you’re on vacation — can help you focus and make your shopping spree all the more enjoyable.
Also: Consider comfort. We’ve purchased some dazzling pieces in the past that turn out to be especially heavy on earlobes or necklines and thus aren’t worn as often, like the earrings pictured above. We know they say beauty is pain, but your jewelry should help make you sparkle, too! Avoid pieces that might pull, tug, or weigh you down, no matter how gorgeous.
4. Shop Like A Local
Once you’ve figured out which stones and styles you’re interested in, make sure you go to non-touristy spots to seal the deal. Hotel concierges can be great resources when it comes to shopping recs, as are individual city guides. Conduct a quick online search on the store before your visit to make sure it’s legit, and if possible, make your purchase through local artisans or galleries. In most cases, they will be more than happy to explain both their stone sourcing and their jewelry-making process, which adds to the buying experience!
5. Don’t Bust Your Budget
While it’s important to choose jewelry you’ll love and that will remind you of your trip for years to come, make sure you don’t exceed what you’re willing to spend. We know, we know: you’re on holiday, and it feels good to splurge. After all, we are talking about precious gems! But you’ll feel better if you set a limit and stick to it. No one wants to grapple with buyer’s regret, especially not while on vacation.
6. Feel Free To Walk Away
Sometimes, despite best planning and research, you can find yourself in a high-pressure sales situation. It’s uncomfortable, and it can also suck the joy right out of the experience. Our advice: feel free to take a pause, walk away, and think things over. If that jewel or trinket is something you’re still obsessing over the next day, you can always return then to make the purchase. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be!
7. Our Favorite Gemstones And Where To Find Them
Now that you’ve got our best tips on how to purchase beautiful jewelry reminders of your journeys, here are a few of our favorite gemstones, and where to find them!
Moldavite: Czech Republic
A favorite reminder of time spent in Prague is simple stud earrings and a solitaire ring featuring one of the Czech Republic’s most famous exports — moldavite. The mossy-colored gemstone is actually naturally-formed glass, created when a meteorite hit Earth millions of years ago. Look for the bubbles inside, reminders of the violent impact that created these gorgeous stones.
Fire Opal: Mexico
This bright, bold, orange-colored stone is a member of the opal family, but it doesn’t display the multi-colored flashes typically seen in its shimmering cousins. Fire opal reminds us of those endless and gorgeous oceanside sunsets in Mexico, where it’s commonly found. When faceted, brilliant fire opals really sparkle and shine, displaying hints of deep russet and scarlet amid their tangerine base shade.
The flashes and shimmers within are what make moonstone so mysterious and sought-after by collectors. Cabochon rainbow moonstone stones, polished and smoothed to show off that shine, are mined in India. You’ll find them in jewelry that often pairs them with other stones that complement their secondary colors, including amethyst, topaz, and turquoise.
Another flashy option, ammolite, resembles a dark opal, displaying a full range of vibrant rainbow colors deep inside. Formed from fossilized, ancient cephalopods, the colorful ammolite is only found in a specific area of the Canadian Rockies, making it the perfect take-home gift from this iconic, rugged region of the world.
You might remember it from the film Jurassic Park, but amber is much more than the carrier of fictional dinosaur DNA. This gem, known for its rich golden, red, or even pale green hue, is actually fossilized tree sap. It’s usually cut and polished in a cabochon style before being placed into jewelry. Fissures, inclusions, and yes — in rare cases — ancient critters suspended in the stone are what makes amber unique and only add to its beauty. It can also emit a smoky, piney smell when heated. Much of the world’s gem-grade amber is found in the Baltics, and if you’re headed to Russia, amber makes a great take-home purchase.
Turquoise: American Southwest
Turquoise, best known for its sky-blue hues with spider-web markings, can also be found in deep green or with tawny flecks and specks. Each piece is gorgeous and unique, and the stones can be used in beads or in chunks for larger jewelry, or polished to perfection for sleeker, more petite pieces. It’s also a very American stone, with gorgeous specimens found in New Mexico and Arizona. If visiting the Southwest, seek out local artisans who often pair turquoise with sterling silver or even gold.
Larimar: Dominican Republic
Sharing a similar hue and chunky appearance with turquoise, larimar is found in only one place in the world: a remote Dominican Republic mountain range. It’s prized by collectors who visit the Caribbean and makes the perfect souvenir after a beach vacation there. Look for hazy and opaque stones that rather resemble a Caribbean sky: bright blue with perfect, puffy white clouds.
People born in May know there’s nothing like an emerald. Its deep, rich green color makes it a must-have for many serious gemstone or jewelry collectors. While they are mined throughout the world, the best and finest emeralds are found in Colombia. The Central American country’s capital city of Bogota has its own emerald market, and the district is the best place to pick up a quality stone — loose or set. Keep in mind, all emeralds will have inclusions (or, as collectors refer to them, jardin). However, that’s what makes each one special!
Named for the only place on earth where it’s found and mined, tanzanite has become a fan favorite thanks to its brilliant, deep violet shade. Finer stones often display flashes of red or scarlet as well. They’re relative newcomers to the gemstone scene, having first been found in the 1960s. Tiffany and Co. struck a deal to become the stone’s main distributor, and the rest is history. While the luxe jewelry line — as well as many others — offer tanzanite, there’s nothing like getting a stone near the source. Chances are, if you’re headed to Africa on a safari adventure or checking out larger cities such as Johannesburg, you’ll find the precious deep blue stone for sale.
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