Mohs Hardness Scale

Mohs Hardness Scale Explained and Why It Applies to Every Jewelry Owner

The Importance of Mohs Hardness

Improperly stored gemstones can be scratched or chipped. I’d like to help you avoid experiencing this heartache by providing some insight on how gemstone durability is classified.

Gemstones come in varying hardnesses. By understanding the number associated with each stone, you can feel fully prepared to protect your jewelry. The experts classify gem ‘hardness’ using a universally accepted grading system called the Mohs hardness scale. To really grasp the concept, take a peek at the photo below. 

Jamie Gray, wife of U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooter SSG Hank Gray, bites her Olympic gold medal after winning the women's 50-meter rifle 3-positions event Aug. 4 at the Royal Artillery Barracks range in London. Bronze medalist Daria Vdovina of Russia stands beside Gray, who established Olympic records in both qualification (592) and final (691.9) of the event, which includes shooting from prone, standing and kneeling positions. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs

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Why Bite Gold?

This is Jamie Lynn Gray, gold medal olympian, biting her gold medallion in the same fashion that gold prospectors would bite gold nuggets to prove they were the real deal. The concept of testing hardness to determine material type is still relevant today. Although these days, we test substances with a bit more science and a little less teeth.

What is Mohs Hardness

Friedrich Mohs first created the scale in 1821 by scratching one mineral against another and recording which one was damaged. The scale ranges from 1 to 10 and is based on minerals being able to scratch those lower on the scale (10 is hard and 1 is soft).  In reference to our example, Jamie is testing the hardness of gold vs her own teeth! With tooth enamel being 5 and gold being 2.5, Jamie should be able to put a dent into the medallion.

Although not everyone has the luxury of biting into gold medallions, this scale is still very relatable to everyday life. For example, did you know chocolate comes in at a delectable number 1? Blackboard chalk is a soft 2. Most people have chewed on their fingernails at least once in their lifetime, this is possible because enamel is 5 and fingernails are 2.5.

Although plausible, we don’t recommend testing your jewelry by biting it. If you are interested in testing different materials, Amazon has some great kits. They range from basic science kits you can do with the kids to fancy, office worthy displays. Here is one for the kids and one for the office.

Side Note: Because this scale is old, it’s not exactly perfect. I think it’s important to mention that the Mohs scale isn’t exactly linear. The difference between 10 and 9 is much more extreme than the difference between 4 and 3. Meaning, corundum (9) is much softer than a diamond (10) while fluorite (4) and calcite (3) are somewhat comparable in hardness. It’s just a little quirky like that.

Mohs and Jewelry Care

So back to jewelry! Knowing the Mohs hardness number for your gemstone jewelry can give you a better understanding of other materials that could cause damage. Generally speaking, 7 or above is considered moderately hard.

For example, if you own a rose quartz bracelet (Mohs 7), then you can feel confident it won’t chip everytime you clink it on your countertop. However, If you own fluorite (4) or malachite (3.5) jewelry, take into consideration what activity you will be doing. Dinner with friends – sure thing! Yoga? Salsa dancing? Trip to an amusement park!? Probably not a great idea…

Diamonds are forever” because they sit atop of the Mohs scale at 10. Diamonds are crazy hard! Opals on the other hand, are considered to be a softer stone, approx 6. You wouldn’t want to wear them while gardening or at the beach because sand and dirt can scratch them.

How to make your jewelry last longer

Here are a few Tips and Tricks of the trade to keep in mind with gemstone jewelry:
      • Consider wearing stones that are ranked lower on the scale for special occasions instead of everyday wear.
      • Softer stones are better suited as earrings or necklaces while stones 7 and above are good for bracelets and rings.
      • Avoid storing diamonds next to other jewelry. Since they are at the top of the scale, they can scratch all other gems.
      • Understand that dust contains quartz (7), so any stone 7 or below should be stored away from dust.

Can soft stones be made into jewelry?

Yes. Soft stones can be stabilized with epoxy, wax, or other substance. This process doesn’t make them indestructible, but it can help to fortify the stone as well as smooth imperfections. If left untreated, imperfections could be exploited as weak spots. Think of glass, it’s much easier to shatter if it already has cracks.

In conclusion...

Unfortunately, there are more facets (pun intended) to gemstone care than meets the eye. Hardness is not the same as durability. Shatterability and the effects of elements such as water, heat and light all can play a part in gemstone damage. I recommend reading through the Kcrafts complete care guide to ensure your gemstones last as long as possible.

Listed below are are some of the common gemstones and their associated numbers:

mohs hardness list of values

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mohs hardness scale, gemstone bracelet photo

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Meet the Author

Hi there! My name is Karina. I am the creator behind the handmade jewelry website, It’s my goal that my customers feel comfortable and project confidence everyday! I accomplish that by sharing knowledge about gemstones and jewelry (mixed with a dash of motivation and fashion inspiration!).  Follow Kcrafts on social media or check out the shop to see what it’s all about.

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