Gemstones and mineral specimens have many properties. One that is particularly important for jewelry is hardness. Why? A stone that is soft should not be used in an unprotected setting or in a piece that is likely to be bumped.
For example, I had a lovely opal ring with four opal cabochons in prong settings. Not realizing at first how fragile opal can be, I wore the ring regularly. It didn’t take long before I’d chipped one of the stones. I was slightly more careful with it but still managed to chip a second stone and lose that first one (as it was loose in its setting). Fortunately, we were able to match up the opal, cut and polish new cabochons and restore the ring completely.
For stones that are below 7 on the Mohs’ hardness scale, dust can do some damage if rubbed into the stone as quartz particles are fairly common in dust. To help identify how hard a stone is, there is a “simple hardness tester” that can be used as a guide and to provide an idea of what the various scale values mean along with an example in parenthesis:
- 1 (talc) and 2 (gypsum): can be scratched with a fingernail
- 3 (calcite): can be scratched with copper coin
- 4 (fluorite): easily scratched with knife
- 5 (apatite): can be scratched with knife
- 6 (orthoclase): can be scratched with steel file
- 7 (quartz): scratches window glass
- 8 (topaz), 9 (corundum), 10 (diamond) : no simple test
I would not recommend actually trying any of the scratch tests on finished stones but rather use the information to help understand what the various Mohs values represent. Note that the scale is relative, so that the difference between a 4 and 5 on the scale is not the same as the difference between 9 and 10.
 Gemstones of the World: Newly Revised & Expanded Fourth Edition by Walter Schumann, p20 (based on the table “Relative and Absolute Hardness Scale”)