Crystal Identification Apps | Good or Bad?

Crystal Identification Apps | Good or Bad?

Crystal Identification Apps | Good or Bad?

The app craze may have started over a decade ago, but there are still dozens that surprise us once in a while. One such recent fad is the gemstone identification app. That sounds pretty handy, doesn't it? Scammers beware, we can weed out your false stones with a simple press of a button...or can we?

Crystal identification and mineral identification is pretty difficult. We often get questions from our lovely customers, supporters, and social media followers. Two very common ones are: "What kind of stone is this?" and "How can I identify stones?" Often, we require multiple pictures to wager a guess if it's a stone we didn't sell to someone. We try our best, but it's tough to make a good guess from photos alone. Well, as fate would have it, an app is trying just that. But does it work?

Gem Check Apps

Let's be honest: gemstones can be hard to identify. A lot of them look pretty similar, don't they? Some of them even look like other stones...thanks nature. So, we can kind of see the appeal of wanting an app that can tell you what kind of stone you have. It's pretty convenient...when it works.

What are the problems with mineral identification apps? Some apps may just be plain old fraud. The Internet is full of products that are false or misleading. Luckily, it's easier to find that out today than it was a dozen years ago. But let's assume that the product is not trying to lie to you, and it's made by well-intentioned developers. What is the issue there?

Let's circle back to looks. Gemstones are really hard to identify by sight alone. We often get messages on social media about IDing stones. We try our best, but from a photograph, it's really hard. This has presented a large problem in history. One famous example is that The Black Prince's Ruby was eventually found out to be red spinel and not ruby.

Image of Black Stone
Can you identify the image above from sight alone? Is it black agate? Black obsidian? Jet? Quality, polished, black tourmaline? Black jasper? There are a few possibilities from sight only. Maybe those with a lot of experience could identify it or get close, but how is a program meant to identify the difference between jet, which isn't really a mineral and is only mineral-like, and black chalcedony, a silicon-based mineral?
Answer: Black Agate
Let's go back to the Black Prince's Ruby. What made it a spinel and not a ruby? Well, the key difference is the inclusion of magnesium. That difference is enough. An app that tries to nail down a stone to a specific type by looks ignores the subtle aspects of what makes a mineral different from another. Hardness, chemical compositions, and crystal systems are all key factors that gemologists and mineralogists use to identify stones.

Type Confusion

Even if a stone normally wouldn't be misidentified by sight, there are still a few complications that can arise. Take, for instance, the quality of the specimen. We took a low-quality piece of yellow obsidian and had it try to identify the stone. It misidentified it as plain quartz when that simply wasn't the case. Normally, it's impossible to mistake yellow obsidian as pure white quartz, but if the specimen isn't of sufficient quality, then misidentification can occur.

In another instance, with high-quality specimens, we had it try to identify rainbow moonstone. Curiously, again, the app identified the piece as quartz. We also had it try to identify dragon stone, which it identified as unakite. The main difference between these two stones is that dragon stone is actually epidote with inclusions of piemontite, whereas unakite is a granite-based rock that usually has epidote but doesn't have piemontite. Instead, its pink color comes from other kinds of inclusions.

Here are a few examples that we found from one of the highest-rated gem identification apps:

1. The app identified this stone as Chalcedony

Image of mookaite being misidentified as chalcedony
Reality: The photographed stone is mookaite.
App incorrectly identifies it as chalcedony.
Note: Mookaite is, by the most technical definitions, a kind of radiolarite. Some mistake it for chalcedony mixed with another stone.

2. The app identified this as Quartz

Image of Rainbow Moonstone being misidentified as Quartz
Reality: The photographed stone is rainbow moonstone.
App incorrectly identifies it as quartz.

3. The app identified this as Clear Quartz

Image of yellow obsidian being misidentified as quartz
Reality: The photographed stone is yellow obsidian.
App incorrectly identifies it as quartz.
Now we are going to hit you with a challenge. Below are going to be two black stones. The app identified both as black chalcedony or as black agate. One of them is indeed black agate, but the other is not.

4. The app identified these both as Black Chalcedony


Stone identified as black agate. 


Stone identified as black agate.
Can you tell which one is black agate and which one is not?
Answer: A. is black agate. B. is shungite.
Sure, it technically identified one of them correctly. But that's like calling every black bird a raven and being proud to have found the ravens. You don't want an app that calls every black stone or every white stone black chalcedony and quartz, respectively.
The biggest worry that arises from this is that people might be led to think they have something valuable when they don't. Or, worse, they might be led to think they have some average stone when they actually have something quite good.

Truth & Alternatives

The truth is that we cannot rely on this kind of technology yet. It just isn't there to make an accurate assessment of stones. For those who know better, this kind of app is a headache. Imagine you're running a store and you have a nice piece of rainbow moonstone, but a customer doubts you, pulls out their phone, snaps a picture, and says their app is calling it "quartz" and that you, therefore, are a liar, a con artist, and a deceiver. That would be annoying once but would make anyone angry if it happened a hundred times or so.

The internet is a handy tool, but it has also created a culture where anyone can feel like an expert on a matter without experience, research, formal education, or training. While it has made most people smarter and more well-informed, its misinformation has made it easier for those who don't care about the truth to deceive others into getting what they want. The app says so; therefore it is so, as they think. Don't be a pseudo-expert. There are legitimate venues for learning about material and to ensure that who you are buying from is legit.

To start, read, read, read! Read everything. Seriously. Read reviews about the store, read journals and articles from real experts, and read any material that enhances your understanding.

If you really want tools, you'll have to recognize that a lot of these are clunky and unwieldy if you're hoping to check someone's authenticity quickly. Items like loupes aren't too bad to carry around if you're going into stores or rock shows, but, again, you're mostly working from sight alone. Polariscopes, hardness tests, spectroscopes, refractometers, high-quality gemstone testers (which are still limited in scope), and chemical analysis tools are all handy in a mineralogist's pursuit to know what kind of stone they have. 

The reality is that there's usually not one tool to help us identify a stone. You need an arsenal if you're going to get serious about it. Highly trained and well-educated experts use these in labs with high-grade equipment to determine a stone precisely (chemical analysis is especially awesome).

Disclaimer: We are not endorsing these kinds of apps. Nor, however, are we seeking to destroy them. The truth is, we find their goals and missions to be honest and well-intentioned. Like any tool, it has a purpose. It's an option for amateurs to double-check from whom they are buying and to ensure they aren't being swindled. What we are saying, however, is that you can't believe everything you see on the internet. As you double-check your vendor, double-check what you read. Check your sources and check the scholarly consensus on matters. We provide sources at the bottom of our articles so you can check us! At Crystal Gemstone Shop, we believe in transparency and truth.


← Older Post Newer Post →