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In modern times gemstones are identified by gemologists, who describe gems and their characteristics using technical terminologyspecific to the field of gemology. The first characteristic a gemologist uses to identify a gemstone is its chemical composition. For example, diamonds are made of carbon and rubies of aluminium oxide.Next, many gems are crystals which are classified by their crystal system such as cubic or trigonal or monoclinic. Another term used is habit, the form the gem is usually found in. For example, diamonds, which have a cubic crystal system, are often found as octahedrons.

Gemstones are classified into different groups, species, and varieties For example, ruby is the red variety of the species corundum, while any other color of corundum is considered sapphire. Other examples are the emerald (green), aquamarine (blue), red beryl (red), goshenite (colorless), heliodor (yellow) and morganite (pink), which are all varieties of the mineral species beryl.

Gems are characterized in terms of refractive index, dispersion, specific gravity, hardness, cleavage, fracture and luster. They may exhibit pleochroism or double refraction. They may have luminescence and a distinctive absorption spectrum.Material or flaws within a stone may be present as inclusions.Gemstones may also be classified in terms of their water. This is a recognized grading of the gem's luster, transparency, or brilliance Very transparent gems are considered first water while second or third water gems are those of a lesser transparency.

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