“In this age of fibreglass I am looking for a gem” – Bob Dylan
Since the beginning of human history gemstones have been treasured, for their beauty, colour, permanence & rarity.
Gemstone legends from India, China & El Dorado are all equally extravagantly described. Buddha was thought to receive enlightenment under the scared tree of knowledge. A tree bestowed with masses of sparkling gemstones, diamonds to the base, and sapphire for its roots with fruits of rubies & pearls. The Chinese placed their deities in palaces of jade while the bible speaks of a heavenly city resting on gemstones with gates of pearl.
As peculiar as it may first seem human civilisation has intimate links to the existence of gemstones. Though out history they have been used a symbols of wealth, worship and power. Kingdoms have been overthrown for them, unexplored parts of the globe discovered in the quest for them. There are very few commodities in our world that attained the level of importance, monetary, spiritually & culturally as gemstones.
The term Ruby is derived from the latin, ‘ ruber’ meaning red.
Ruby is of significant symbolic importance for many cultures throughout the ages.
In Burma a fine ruby was thought to ward off misfortune. In Indian sanskit ruby is known as ‘ratnaraj’ , the king of precious stones. As gem quality ruby is extremely rare it is on par in terms of value with diamonds.
For the Islamic culture too ruby is of significant symbolic importance in relation to the construction of the kabah shrine. When Adam was expelled from paradise and upon his arrival in Mecca he was shown a ruby canopy underneath which lay a glowing stone, a meteorite. He was instructed to construct the kabah, the primary Muslim shrine over it.
John Ruskin, the renowned artist and scholar called ruby “the loveliest precious stone of which I have any knowledge “.
No matter the culture all agree ruby of gem quality is nature at her most glorious.
Sapphire is available in a vast array of colours, with the exception of red as these are known as rubies.
Sapphire is one of the earliest gemstones known to man. It is thought the term sapphire is derived from the Greek , ‘sapphirus’ meaning blue. Blue sapphires in particular were greatly desired by wealthy ancient Greeks as it was believed the world was set in a huge blue sapphire sky. Persians too believed the world rested on a giant blue sapphire, and the reflection of the blue coloured the universe.
According to biblical lore it is thought Moses was handed the Ten Commandments on tablets of engraved sapphire, and in accordance with Buddhism the sapphire can induce the desire for prayer.
As with many gem quality gemstones supply of fine coloured sapphire is scarce. The finest colours from Kashmir are slowly becoming the stuff of legend as the mine is now extinct. Burma is exhausted and supply from Sri Lanka has declined dramatically.
Padparadscha is one the rarest colour sapphires with a pink to orange hue. It is the only member of the sapphire family, other than Ruby to be given its own name, rather than being referred to as a sapphire of a particular colour. Mined predominantly in Sri Lanka, the name is derived from the Sinhalese for ‘lotus blossom’.
It was the Anglo Saxons of the sixteenth century that gave us the term, Emerald. Prior to this emerald were known as ‘smaragdos’.
Throughout the centuries different cultures have revered emerald in many different ways. Nero, the Roman emperor would view gladiatorial contests through an emerald to be calmed. A Spanish conquistador, upon seeing the Inca treasure of emerald was driven insane in his search for ‘El Dorado’ and the search for more emeralds.
Legend has it that the greatest emerald treasure has yet to be found, a giant ostrich size emerald . It disappeared long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. In 1581, Garilaso wrote,
“As for the giant emerald ,it had disappeared well before the Spaniards arrived. Indeed, the Indians who had hid it did it so successfully that it has never been found since, no more than have many other treasures that were buried in the same earth.”
Diamond is the hardest mineral on Earth, formed from pure carbon. Many millions of years ago, organic matter such as trees and other living matter died. Exposed to heat this material became charcoal. This carbon locked within molten rock, subjected to intensive pressure and heat over thousands of years gradually crystallised into clear hard diamond. It is volcanic eruptions that eventually brought this material to the Earth’s surface.
Unlike coloured gemstones where the worth is dictated by the depth of colour, a diamond is valued because it is colourless.
The most ancient and famous diamonds have mostly been discovered in India. One of the most famous diamonds, the ‘Kohinoor’ was mined in Golconda , a region of India thought to be yielding diamonds as early as 1300A.D.
One of the rarest gemstones of all, coloured diamonds are come in a wide variety colours. The rarest and most valuable are red followed by green and then blue. Almost corresponding with rules of coloured gemstones, ruby the most highly prized followed by emerald then sapphire. Red diamonds are so rare, almost the stuff of myth. Equally deep green is exceptionally hard to find. Blue is possibly the most famous , the best known being the Hope diamond.
Most of the famous coloured diamonds were originally mined in the historically fabled mines of India. Many yellow, brown gemstones are found in South Africa.
The name Tourmaline is derived from the Sinhalese , ‘turmali’ , meaning ‘mixed coloured gems’ , as tourmaline is available in a vast array of colours.
The rarest and most valuable is ‘Pariba’ , a brilliant, almost neon blue. True Pariba comes exclusively from the Pariba mine in Brazil. Now virtually exhausted these stones are of particular interest to collectors & connoisseurs alike.
Tourmaline is of particular significance in China, the last Empress purchased significant quantities of pink tourmaline to be buried with as it was thought to inspire love.
Pearls are formed from irritants such as a grain of sand getting trapped within a shellfish, especially oysters or mussels eventually layers of nacre build up over time to form a solid pearl. Cultured pearls have had the irritant artificially inserted to the shellfish to initiate the formation of the pearl.
To the Romans pearls were considered exceptionally valuable. In the days of Nero Roman ladies would often sleep on pearl inlaid beds and decorate couches & gowns with them.
Caring for pearl is extremely important. Pearls must be kept away from perfume or detergents. Gentle cleaning with a soft cloth will keep them in pristine condition.
The beautiful velvet blue of Tanzanite was originally discovered by the tribesmen of the Masai in 1967. When mined the crystals are mostly grey in colour. They are then gently heated to induce the violet shade of blue typically associated with Tanzanite.
The name Spinel is thought to derive from the Latin, ‘spina’, meaning little thorn , referencing the sharp points that can be found on the crystal formation.
The Black Prince Ruby and the Timur Ruby of the British Crown jewels are in fact red spinel and not ruby at all.
The term aquamarine means sea water. In the 19th century sea green was the most desirable colour. Nowadays, however the most valued shades are sky to dark blue.
Ancient sailors would often carry amulets engraved with Poseidon as protection from the forces of the ocean.
Amethyst derives its name from the ancient Greek, ‘ amethustos’ meaning ‘not drunk’.
In fact, ancient Greeks believed if wine was sipped from a cup made from amethyst they would be immune to intoxication. In Greek mythology, it was Dionysus the god of wine who created amethyst.
To the early Christian church too amethyst is considered to have sobering properties. It was adopted as the symbol of the high state a bishop must attain. Amethyst rings are typically always part of Bishops regalia. The finest coloured amethyst is commonly known as ‘Bishops Grade’.
Moonstone will commonly display a blue to white sheen similar to that of the moon, after which the gemstone is named. This blue skin skating across the surface is known as the ‘schiller’ within the trade.
It was thought of as scared in Ancient India, where lovers would place it in their mouths during a full moon in the hope that their futures would be revealed.
Druse, also known as druzy is a coating of finite glittering crystals found on the surface of rock fractures or within a geode. Each piece of druse is always utterly unique & to find matching pieces is quite unusual.
The term Topaz is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word, ‘tapaz’ meaning fire.
Topaz is found in a wide variety of colours. The most highly prized colour of topaz is pink with blue also being extremely popular.
Colourless topaz is so highly refractive, meaning the way the light bends as it enters the stone, it is commonly mistaken for diamond. The 1,640 carat Braganza Diamond of the Portuguese crown jewels was once considered to be the largest diamond ever found. Until it was discovered it was in fact a topaz.