How are you communicating colours to your customers in ways that appeal?

With the seemingly unending array of coloured gemstones rising in popularity, it's easy to get lost in the technical properties of a gem, when all the customer really wants to know is "what colour is it?" and "is it sparkly?" Price also has a factor, obviously, but that's not what we're talking about here.

So how do you describe colour to your customer in a way that helps them identify with it and share that description with a supplier to ensure you get what you want? How do you remove the 'fluff' and describe the colour in a way that will ensure you get the stone you're looking for?

Selling Colour

Selling colour is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding aspects of a jeweller's job. That is, of course, unless you are just selling white diamond engagement rings. You might try to match jewellery to your customer’s skin tone, in which case you should read this article. However, your customer may already want to match something they already have, or a colour they like and that is where a conversation about colour and your knowledge comes into its own.

Colour Theory

The first stop in helping your customer understand colour is by you demonstrating your understanding the basics of colour theory. There is a ton of information about colour theory and colour wheels, by people a lot better qualified than me, so I'm leaving that to them. What I'm trying to do here, is relate that colour theory to gemstones. So I'm giving you a really short summary of how the colour theory works and how that relates to gemstones.  

The Colour Gem Colour Wheel


Whether creating your own jewellery for stock, or working with a client on a bespoke piece, one of the first things you are going to talk about is colour and having some idea this subject is essential. With so many gemstones coming in so many colours, this has to be the starting place. For that reason I have put together a Colour Gem Colour Wheel. It is essentially a colour wheel, which use the principles below, but with an added feature. For years, I have struggled with the way my customers describe and sell colour gems, so the first thing I added to the colour wheel are words you can use to describe colour that resonate with a customers emotions. The second element I have added to is which gems come in which colours. This will help you identify potential gems in specific colours you can offer your customer.


What colour gem are you looking for?

Once the colour has been given, the next things you need to know about are Hue, Saturation and Tone.

Hue, is the primary colour that you see. It's the colours around the edge of a colour wheel and is the dominant colour you will see in the gem you are looking as. Red for Ruby, Blue for sapphire, Green for emerald etc. However, as you may know about colour gems, they are very rarely a pure colour and often have a secondary colour.

Modifying or secondary colours, always given first when describing colour, are the secondary colour that steer the colour away from its purest form and often ends in 'ish'. An example of this is - bluish, yellowish, or reddish etc. So a yellowish green could be used to describe emeralds from Colombia, bluish green is often used to describe emeralds from Zambia.

The purer the colour, the more valuable the gem. So a pink diamond is more valuable than a purplish pink diamond.


Or in the gem world, Vividness - colour saturation. In essence, it is the presence, or lack of greyness or brown. The more grey or brown present in a stone's colour, the less vivid or intense it will be and the lover the value. A stone that is well saturated will be more valuable. This combined with great cutting is what is often referred to as "fire".


Finally tone. This is how dark or light the hue of colour is. Tone ranges from very light, to light, medium, dark and very dark.

Sometimes a gemstone can be so dark, you can't see it's body colour and it looks black. An example is black diamonds and black sapphires They look black, but when you put extremely strong light through them, you see that they are really very dark grey, or blue respectively. As far as tone goes, you want as much as possible without blackness. The minute blackness starts to dominate, price goes down.

Using the colour wheel

The colour wheel can be a jewellery designer's best friend. Used correctly, it can help you identify for yourself, or communicate with your customers what colours go with which and help you build additional layers to your jewellery making process. In a colour wheel, you have the following:

Primary colours - red, blue, yellow.

Secondary Colour - the colours you get when you mix 2 of the primary colours giving - orange, green, violet

Tertiary colours - the colour in between a primary colour and a secondary colour - red orange, yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue violet, red violet. Tertiary colours best describe by the hue and modifying colour mentioned above.

Complimentary (contrasting) colours sit opposite each other. They make each other pop when placed side by side.. An example here is red and green. Yellow and violet, Blue and orange. In art this can work wonderfully, but in jewellery, it can often be a little hit and miss. You don't often see blue and orange in jewellery and when you do, it's either amazing or awful.

Split complimentary are the colours that sit either side of a complimentary colour. If red is the complimentary colour to green, but you don't want to use that mix, you can choose the colour on either side of the complimentary colour. In this case, that's purple or orange.

Triadic colours. This is when you use colours that are equally positioned around the wheel, so no one colour dominates. For example Yellow (base metal) blue and red.

Tetradic is when you mix 4 colours together and is not really relevant to this article. You can get more information on that online.

Analogous is when you use neighbouring colours on the wheel. This creates harmony, not contrast in the piece. It gives a very natural look. If you can imagine small aquamarines surrounding an emerald, this is analogous.

Warm and cool colours. Finally the colour wheel can be split in 2 across the red/yellow line. The red Orange and yellow colours are warm, fiery, intense, passionate, happy, energetic. While the Purple, blue, greens are cooler, calmer, more peaceful and relaxing colours.

If you want to understand more about matching colour tones to skin completion, read this article.

Adding Romance to your Colour Description

Now you understand colour better, you need to find ways of communicating colour descriptions to your customer in a way that connects them to the colour of the gem.

Using a colour description of a gem that reminds them of a place they have visited, or a prized possession, can build a connection stronger than you can imagine, as not only will the piece itself be special, it will have a strong secondary meaning too.

So when describing red, is it scarlet, Ferrari or poppy red from the fields of poppies you drove through in California. If you're talking about green, is it forest, sage, or the green of the waters on a tropical island they just visited. Is the yellow the sunflower fields of a Tuscan village, or the sunset yellow of a Mediterranean holiday. You just need to use your imagination.  

Download a Copy of the Colour Wheel

Here is a small list of colours and terms used to describe them.


Red: Scarlet-bright red, Fire Engine Red-bright red, Blood Red-deep vivid red, Cherry-deep bright red
Red with purple: Claret-deep purplish red, Burgundy-dark purplish red, Maroon-like burgundy, Carmine Red: purplish red
Red with pink: Raspberry-purple pink, Strawberry-pinkish red
Red with Blue: Plum-bluish red Crimson deep bluish red or orangy red


Pink: Candy floss pink, Hot pink-bright vibrant pink, Blossom-pink
Pink with purple: Rose-purplish pink, Rose-purplish pink, purplish red, Baby-purplish pink, Bubble gum-purplish pink
Pink with Brown: Cedar-brownish pink, Old Rose-brownish pink
Pink with orange: Salmon-orangy pink,
Pink with brown and orange: Rouge-orangy brown pink, sherry-orangy reddish brownish pink, Shell-orangy brownish pink, Coral-brownish orangy pink,
Pink with grey: Flesh-greyish pink Pale pink


Orange: Orange Peel-orange
Orange with yellow: Apricot-pale yellow orange, Marigold-yellow orange, Pumpkin-yellow orange,
Orange with brown
Orange with yellow and brown: Autumn-brownish yellowish orange, Burnt orange-dark shade of orange, brownish yellow orange , yellowish brown orange, yellowish brownish orange, brown orange, Carnelian-yellowish brown orange,
Orange with red and brown: Henna-reddish brownish orange


Yellow: Lemon-yellow, Canary-yellow, Daffodil-yellow, Maize-yellow, Straw-yellow, Cape-yellow (very light)
Yellow with orange: Jonquil-orangy yellow, Sunflower-orangy yellow, Saffron-orange yellow, Buttercup-orangy yellow, Dandelion-orangy yellow, Rust-orange yellow
Yellow with brown: Golden-greenish orangy yellow, yellowish orangy brown, brownish yellow, Banana-brownish yellow, Manilla-brownish yellow, Manila-brown yellow
Yellow with green: Chartreuse-greenish yellow, green yellow, Oil-olive-yellow, Grapefruit-greenish yellow
Yellow with grey: Wine-greyish yellow
Yellow with green and orange: Corn Silk-greenish brownish yellow, Wheat-olivish brownish yellow
Yellow with orange and brown: Amber-orange brown yellow, brown orange yellow, orangy brown yellow, yellowish brownish orange, brownish orange yellow, greenish yellowish brownish orange, Mustard-brownish orangy yellow, Honey-orangy brownish yellow, Honey-yellowish orangy brown
Yellow with green and brown: Brass-greenish brownish yellow, Khaki-brown olive yellow, olivish yellow brown


Green: Celery-green light, Emerald-green
Olive-greyish green, Moss-olive Green with blue: Sea Foam-bluish green, bluish grey green, Aqua-blue green, Sea-bluish green, Avocado-yellowish olive
Green with yellow: Grass green-yellow green, Lime-yellow green, Apple-yellowish green, Lettuce-yellow green, yellowish green,
Green with grey: Jade-grey green, Chamelion-greyish olive, greenish olive, Sage-greyish olive, grey olive


Blue: Cornflower-greyish blue, blue, Sapphire-blue, Navy-blue dark, Ice blue-very pale blue, Royal Blue-deep bright blue, Blueberry-blue,
Blue with green: Teal-dark greenish blue, Aqua-blue green
Blue with grey: Sky-grey blue, blue grey, Bluebird-greyish blue
Blue with violet: Indigo-violetish blue Velvet Blue


Purple: Periwinkle-Purple, Orchid-purple
Purple with pink: Lilac-pinkish purple, Mauve-pink purple, Clover-pink purple
Purple with grey: Lavender-purple, greyish purple
Purple with brown: Old Orchid-brownish purple


Brown: Chocolate-brown darker, Coca-brown, Buff-brown, Café-au-lait-brown light, Hazel-brown medium, Coffee-dark brown,
Brown with yellow: Champagne-yellowish brown, brown, Cinnamon-pinkish orangy brown, yellowish brown, Brass-yellow brown, Walnut-yellowish brown, Walnut-yellowish brown, Cork-yellowish brown,
Brown with orange: Mahogany-orangy brown, Burnt-orange brown, brown orange
Brown with pink: Tan-pinkish brown, Copper-orangy pink brown
Brown with green: Bronze-olivish yellowish brown, olive yellow brown, Khaki-yellowish olive brown
Brown with yellow and orange: Cognac-greenish yellowish orangy brown , yellowish brown orange, orangy yellowish brown, orangy brown, yellowish orangy brown, Scotch-yellowish orangy brown, butterscotch– yellowish orangy brown
Brown with red: Chestnut-reddish orangy brown, orangy brown, Terracotta-reddish brown


Snow, Milk-greyish white, Moonstone-bluish greyish white,


Charcoal, Ink-black, Jet-black


Grey: Pewter-grey, Lead-grey, Nickel-grey, Lead-grey, Graphite-grey medium,
Grey with blue: Steel-grey blue, blue grey, Steel-greyish blue
Grey with violet : Pidgeon-violetish grey
Grey with white: Ash-whitish grey
Grey with blue and green: Slate-greenish bluish grey
Other grey: Opalescent-bluish brownish white, bluish yellowish white


Ice-yellowish colourless, Antique glass-yellowish colourless,

Colors and the Gems they Come In

Sometimes, you can identify a colour, but not really have an idea of what gemstone to find it in. Here is a list of colours and the gems that come in those colours.

Orange - Amber, Citrine, Coral, Fire opal, Garnet, Sapphire, Topaz
Green - Emerald, Garnet, Jade, Malachite, Peridot, Tourmaline, Sapphire
Brown - Amber, Chrysoberyl, Garnet, smokey quartz, topaz
Blue - Aquamarine Topaz, Tourmaline, Turquoise, Sapphire, Zircon
Red - Coral, Garnet, Ruby, Spinel, Tourmaline
Yellow - Amber, Beryl, Citrine, Garnet, Sapphire, Topaz
Pink - Coral, Garnet, Kunzite, Morganite, Pearl, Rose Quartz, Sapphire, Topaz, Tourmaline
Violet, - Iolite, Tanzanite
Purple Amethyst, Garnet, Sapphire, Spinel

How do you communicate colour to your gemstone suppliers?

Once you have a sense on the gem colour you are looking for, you need to start sourcing it from your supplier network. If you don't already work with a regular supplier, it can be very difficult to explain a colour to someone you don't really know, or who doesn't come from your side of the world, or who may not even speak the same language as you. For this reason something like a Colour Master Chart, of the type shown below, can help you go a very long way to describing a colour in a purely objective manner.

If you are able to work with a Colour Master Chart, which you hold and you supplier holding an exact match of, you will be able to laterally speak the same language when it comes to describing colour.

The chart below shows 5 main colours that are available in 7 different saturations, as well as 4 additional colours that are available too. It is not all the colours that gems come in, but it does relate to the most common used.


Knowing how to design with colour gems and sell colour gems can transform your business. By understanding colour theory, using a colour wheel and having the correct terminology at hand can help your customers buy into your vision is essential and can give your customer the confidence to choose something different. By having a Colour Master Card, you can use to communicate that to your supplier to ensure you get what you're looking for.

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