For the charm-struck, ancient legends offer two precious stones which may be worn to guard you from evil and improve your fortune. One of these is Turquoise, said to bring success in love and money; the other, Zircon, was known in medieval times as a cure for plague and other ills. Both gems have histories from distant lands and the earliest civilizations. Turquoise jewelry belonging to Queen Zer of the First Egyptian Dynasty has been uncovered. In the Victorian era, the Turquoise enjoyed tremendous popularity in children’s jewelry and was set in lockets, bib pins and finger rings for girls. The most popular time for Turquoise was during the late 1960s. American Indian jewelry was powerfully in vogue and Turquoise, the gem most associated with it, was hot.
The finest Turquoise, known as “Persian Turquoise”, a magnificent powder blue, comes from the famous mines near Nishapur in the province of Khorasa, Iran. However, New Mexico and other sections of the Southwest United States have yielded similar Turquoise as well as the greenish-blue shade.
Due to their name similarity, many people assume that Zircon, a natural diamond substitute, and cubic zirconia, a manmade diamond simulant, are one and the same — or closely related. They are not. Zircons come in many colors, the popular and exciting being a rich blue. Other colors include orange, yellow, red and green. Today the chief sources of Zircons are the gravel-beds of Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
Special care instructions: Because Turquoise is porous and soft, remove rings before washing your hands, as the soap and water may in time affect its color. It is brittle and soft, so use in rings, unless infrequently worn, is impractical. It is better suited for pins, earrings, bracelets and pendants.
Amber is the golden gem of the ages. This fossilized resin of prehistoric trees was formed 30 to 50 million years ago. It is recovered from the stratified layers of marine sediments turned to sedimentary rocks. Trees wounded by fires produce healing resin to bandage the wounds. The resin would spill down to the ground picking up everything in its path from botanical flora to tiny animals. Then, after burial by sediments and the passage of millions of years, the resin slowly fossilized. Also trapped in amber were bubbles which contained gases that gave strong clues as to the earth’s atmosphere at the time the amber was formed. Most of it was found in the Baltic region.
Amber goes as far back as 5000 B.C. It regained its popularity between 1895 and 1920, second only to diamond in U.S. imports at that time. The popularity of amber resurged with the movie “Jurassic Park.”
Special Care: the softness of amber requires that you avoid repolishing, harsh chemicals and ultrasonics.
The “perfect” affordable gem
According to Biblical lore, the deep, violet-hued Amethyst means perfection. Where beauty is concerned, this jewel may truly be called ideal for many reasons: It offers the qualities of transparency, lovely coloring and soft brilliance. These qualities brought it into popularity centuries before the Christian era. It was the third stone in the third row in the jeweled breastplate worn by Aaron, the high priest of the Hebrews, which contained twelve precious stones. In the New Testament, these stones became the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem described in Revelation where each stone was identified with a prophet. From Egypt, where it had been known for centuries, the Amethyst was brought to Greece in the period just following the death of Alexander the Great. Amethyst, taken from the Greek word “amethustos” (meaning unaffected by drink), had a soaring reputation up until the 1800s. When the Roman Empire arose, the Greeks, went on making beautiful jewelry. Roman women in particular prized Amethyst jewelry; they believed the Amethyst could insure their husbands’ love.
South American neighbors, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay, now produce at least 85% of the world’s Amethyst, the most popular affordably priced gem, but it is Russia and Africa that supply the finest quality stones. These stones have a regal appearance, containing a reddish overtone, which gives the appearance of a king’s velvet cape. Amethyst is a precious variety of crystalline quartz. It is quite durable and can be worn without worry of easy damage or abrasion.
Special Care instructions: can fade in sunlight; avoid exposure to high heat as well.
Organic in nature, the finest coral comes from the Italian Mediterranean. Some of the finest craftsman in the world fashion and carve coral in Torre del Greco, a seaport in Naples. The most valuable is the “blood” red variety. Mythologists in Greece and Rome theorized that the coral was first formed from the dripping blood of Medusa’s decapitated head! A very fine quality 18″ strand of 8 to 9mm beads can be as much as $6,000. The next most sought after is the “Angel Skin” variety which possesses a beautiful pastel hue.
Highly prized in ancient India, Persia and Rome, it has been used in jewelry for over 8,000 years. Beware, however: like many other gems and gem materials, white coral is being dyed in Hong Kong and Taiwan to imitate the ox-blood variety.
Special care instructions: Because coral is pure calcium carbonate, it is sensitive to detergents and cosmetics. Even body acid can have a negative effect on it. Clean corals periodically in a mild soapy solution.
Very loyal: Still a Girl”s best friend
Diamond is the most popular gemstones because of its hardness, brilliance and fire. They occur in nature as eight-sided crystals known as octahedrons (eight faces). To best use their natural form and unique optical properties, they are commonly fashioned into the 58-facet cut known as the modern round brilliant. It is thought that diamond mining as an industry originated in India between 800 and 600 B.C. The oldest evidence of the use of diamond as an ornament is a Greek statue (now in the British Museum) which has two small diamonds for eyes, and is dated by experts at the 5th Century B.C. Some scholars think that the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century B.C. quickened commerce with the Orient. Pliny the elder, the great Roman philosopher of the 1st Century A.D., describes six kinds of diamonds, commenting on their unspeakable hardness, and saying that they were so rare as to be owned “only by kings.”
The custom of wearing a diamond as a personal adornment was introduced in Europe about the year 1430. A lady of the French court, one Agnes Sorel, is usually given credit for the idea. Following her leadership, fashionable women throughout the continent created a demand for diamonds. The 15th century marked the beginning of a “boom” in the Indian mines which lasted over 300 years.
The Emerald was among the dearest treasures of the gem markets of Babylon, and today- nearly 6,000 years later- this lovely stone remains one of the most valuable objects in the world. South America’s rich bounty of Emeralds was discovered by 16th Century Spanish explorers who found large Emeralds in the possession of the Aztecs and Incas.
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, wore wonderful Emeralds that came from her own Emerald mine in Upper Egypt. Nero, too, had a famous Emerald through which he was said to have watched the gladiators. In the days of the Russian Czars, Emeralds were the most prized possession of the Russian Crown Jewels.
Emerald is a variety of the mineral Beryl and is distinguished from other Beryls by its color. Unlike many other precious stones, it appears the same color in artificial light as in sunlight.
Value is determined by color, by the lack of natural inclusions and by size. Flawless emeralds (to the unaided eye) are so rare and valuable as to be seldom seen even in a jewelry store. However, those of moderate size with slight inclusions, still possess all the beauty of color that is the Emerald’s principal lure.
The tiny inclusions are called “jardin” – they look like tiny green plants. The classic “emerald cut” puts the least strain on a stone.
Special care instructions: The services of a knowledgeable jeweler/gemologist should always be used when any attention is needed for cleaning and repairs.
GARNET is the birthstone for January and the stone that celebrates the 2nd anniversary of marriage. The name “garnet” comes from the Latin word “Garanatus,” meaning “seedlike,” in reference to a pomegranate. This reference makes sense as small garnets look like the bright red seeds you find inside in a pomegranate. The garnet has been a popular gem throughout history. Garnets were found as beads in a necklace worn by a young man in a grave that dates back to 3000 B.C. This is proof of the hardness and durability of the stone.
Garnets were highly popular in Europe, in 18th and 19th centuries. They were frequently used for jewelry in the Victorian times. In Old Spain, the pomegranate was a favorite, and as a result of this, so was the garnet. In Spanish astrology, the garnet once represented the sun. In ancient times, garnet was known as “Carbuncle,” which relates to the color and refers to a boil or blister. This name was also applied to other red stones, but to the garnet in particular.
Garnet is actually a group name for the silicate minerals almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite, mozambique and uvarovite, so the garnet is a far more diverse gem than its name suggests. All of these garnet minerals share similar cubic crystal structure and chemical composition. Gem quality garnet occurs in many countries, and beautifully formed crystals have been prized for over 5000 years.
Heavenly Jade, “stone of heaven”, is not just one gemstone but two. One, called Nephrite, has been found throughout the world, but was especially prized by the ancient Chinese who called it Yu, meaning “precious stone of great beauty.”
The other Jade, a relative newcomer when compared to Nephrite, is called Jadeite. It has been mined in Myanmar (Burma) since the late 18th Century and is highly sought after for its intense green color although it, like Nephrite, comes in a range of colors. Much of the material is permanently dyed, and consequently, much less costly. More jadeite is available in China than anywhere else in the world; however, none is mined there.
There are 15 Jade substitutes. The one most frequently encountered in carvings is Serpentine, quite soft in comparison and quite inexpensive. Unlike Jadeite & Nephrite, which are very tough, Serpentine is fragile and can almost be scratched with a fingernail. The most valuable of all Jadeite is lavender in color. True “Imperial” Jadeite, must be at least translucent, have an even body color (no mottling), no visible inclusions and green in color — like Prell’ shampoo!
Special care instructions: avoid heat; avoid ultrasonic chemicals. Nephrite Jade can discolor over time.
Rare, needs care
A variety of spodumene, Kunzite is magnificent deep pink lavender. It has been referred to as the “evening” stone; after exposure to the sun or hot lights, may have a tendency to fade. Most of the material is found in Afghanistan and Brazil.
Rarely do we see the “gem” quality, since the Japanese have a greater appreciation for this stone and are willing to pay higher prices to obtain it. Consequently, we see some very nice quality stones, but typically they are just pleasingly pink! They range in price from $150 to $750 per carat. You’ll find that most jewelers won’t have anything to show you, and what’s more interesting, most of them will not know what it is!
Special care instructions: Kunzite is beautiful, but use kid gloves! Best in jewelry that will not get bumped and banged, earrings, for example, or a pendant. It is also somewhat fragile, so if set in necklaces and earrings, they are better suited than if set in a ring. With care, it can give enduring beauty.
You are lucky to have one. Long felt to bring bad luck to the recipient unless they were born in the month of October. This old “wive”s tale” was dispelled for at least two generations. Opals come in many different varieties and colors. The most sought after is black opal, particularly with red as the predominant color. The most common, on the other hand, is white opal which is opaque with a white to off-white base.
Opals come in a vast array of colors: the entire spectrum. You are able to choose the type of opal, predominant color and additional colors and the pattern. The pattern can be a harlequin (patchwork), pinfire (small pinpoint circles), or flashfire (large irregular areas). Opals also come in different degrees of brightness, which adds beauty and value to the stone. Opal is unique in that it will compliment any attire because of the variegated colors and nuances.
Special care instructions: Opals have a tendency to “dry out” if left in a hot environment (basking in the sun) or in a near vacuum (safety deposit box) over extended periods of time. If in a closed container such as at the bank or in a display case, place a small jar of water near it to keep up the moisture level. Most opals are stable if they have been around a long time, but these precautions should be acknowledged. Should you contemplate an opal purchase, be sure to inquire about the existence or absence of any “crazing.”
SPINEL – The protector jewel
Although occurring in a wide range of colors, it is a tribute to this usually red or pink gem that many of the world’s most celebrated “Rubies” (included in some of the Crown Jewels of London), that were found to be Spinels. Even after they were correctly identified, they were referred to as “Balas Rubies” or “Ruby Spinels.” Large stones are uncommon and star Spinels are very rare.
Centuries ago, it was called the daughter of Ruby, adored, yet different, having resided in the regalia of kingdoms throughout history. Some well-known “rubies” are really Spinels, such as the “Black Prince’s Ruby” and the 361ct “Timur Ruby”, both in a necklace in the English Crown Jewels. Both are uncut and only polished.
Found in Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka, Spinel comes in oranges, pinks, blues, lavenders, mauves and vivid reds. While common in sizes up to 2 carats, larger stones can also be acquired.
Spinel is thought to protect the owner from harm, to reconcile differences, and to soothe away sadness. However, the strongest reasons for buying a Spinel are its rich, brilliant array of colors and its surprising affordability.
Special care instructions: normal care.
PEARL – Birthstone of June
The pearl was the favored gem of the wealthy during the time of the Roman Empire. This intriguing gift from the sea had been brought back from the Orient by the Crusaders. Roman women wore pearls to bed so they could be reminded of their wealth immediately upon awakening. Pearls were once considered an exclusive privilege for royalty. A law of 1612 drawn up by the Duke of Saxony prohibited the wearing of pearls by nobility, professors, doctors or their wives.
On the other side of the world, pearls were being worn for adornment by the American Indians. The freshwater pearls of the Mississippi River were strung into necklaces, sewn onto headdresses and set into copper ornaments.
An old Arab legend tells us that pearls were formed when dew drops filled with moonlight fell into the ocean and were swallowed by oysters. The modern scientific explanation is not nearly as romantic, but still quite fascinating: A natural pearl (often called an Oriental pearl) forms when an irritant works its way into a particular species of oyster, mussel or clam. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is deposited on the irritant until a lustrous pearl is formed. A cultured pearl undergoes the same process. The only difference is that the irritant is surgically-implanted mother-of-pearl bead or piece of shell. The core is, therefore, much larger than in a natural pearl. As long as there are enough layers of nacre to result in a beautiful, gem-quality pearl, the size of the nucleus is of no importance to beauty or durability.
PERIDOT – Birthstone of August
Peridot is a gem-quality transparent variety of olivine. The color of olivine ranges from olive to lime green, some with a brownish tinge. On a small desolate island in the Red Sea — named Zabargad, which means olivine in Arabic – peridot has been mined since ancient times. In Zabargad, nothing grows and there is no fresh water; it is scorching hot all year except for winter. In some locations, fissures are lined with gem crystals and beaches have a greenish hue due to tiny crystals. Also found in Burma, Norway, Brazil, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Australia and Mexico. The U.S. has small stones mined in Arizona. Among the oldest known gemstones, and a prized gem late in the Ottoman empire (1300-1918). Turkish Sultans collected the world”s largest collection. The gold throne in Istanbul’s Topkapi museum is decorated with 955 peridot cabochons, and also used on turbans and boxes. The largest stone is believed to be a 310 carat gem that is in the Smithsonian. A fine 192 carat stone is part of the Russian crown jewels in the Kremlin.
Special care instructions: normal care.
RUBY – Birthstone of July
A regal stone of divine power
The ruby is “The Sun’s Own Gem,” a regal stone, ranked among the world’s most precious gems. It symbolizes freedom, charity, dignity and divine power. Fine large rubies exceed the value of similarly sized fine diamonds.
Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum. In pink and other colors, gem corundum is known as sapphire. The ancient lands of the Far East are the source of the most beautiful and valuable rubies. From Mogok in upper Burma (Myanmar), near Kipling’s Mandalay, come the true pigeon-blood rubies. Other notable sources include Bangkok, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and east Africa. Some of the world’s most famous and valuable gems are rubies. Many belong to Far Eastern Princes and Potentates. One, the property of a member of the Indian Legislature, has within it what appears to be the image of a dark-skinned man robed in white. Catherine the Great of Russia owned a wondrous ruby of true “pigeon-blood red” and this gem moreover was the size of a pigeon’s egg.
Both star rubies and star sapphires hold a special fascination. Relatively few of the rubies mined today are candidates for cutting into star stones. The one essential element needed to produce the star effect is rutile. In corundum (ruby and sapphire), rutile is arranged in densely paced bundles of crisscrossing needles. If plentiful enough, these needles reflect light in such a manner as to give the stone a special silken sheen, commonly known as asterism. When cut in cabochon form, this light is concentrated into three rays that intersect at right angles to the direction of the needles and resemble a six-legged star.
Special care instructions: normal care, and avoid re-polishing and re-cutting.
SAPPHIRE – Birthstone of September the meaning of blue
The word sapphire is synonymous with blue and has been so ever since the Romans coined it to describe its haunting violet-blue. Over time, the Latin word “sapphirus” was attached to a multitude of other blue gems- including the magnificent deep-blue corundum found on the island of Sri Lanka.
Only scientists from the Arab world, like al-Biruni (973-1050) and Teifaschi (1184-1253), had the insight that ruby and sapphire are the same species. Writing of his world travels, trader Marco Polo (1254-1324) mentions being shown both rubies and sapphires when he visited “Seilan.”
Sapphire is becoming the color-category leader for pink and yellow, too. As sapphire becomes the yardstick for perfection of colors beyond blue, connoisseurs are seeking out some of its rarer hues such as orange and purple.
Kashmir’s mountainside deposits were pretty much exhausted by 1930, leaving Sri Lanka as the world’s primary supplier of blue sapphire. In the late 1990s, the gem trade was flooded with inky-blue, often over-dark stones from Australia and Thailand.
Special care instructions: Sapphire excels in durability. It is second only to diamond in hardness, which means it will preserve its looks when stones of similar colors from other species start to look the worse for wear.
TOURMALINE – alternate October birthstone, is it a Ruby or is it Tourmaline?
This species has the largest variety of colors of any species known to man. The most popular color is green. “Rubellite”, which can easily be mistaken for a ruby, is extraordinarily beautiful. Like other hues, it and its counterparts come in a variety of tones and intensities. “Indicolite” is a magnificent blue and can be confused with sapphire.
Some of the more unusual varieties are the parti-colors. “Watermelon” has been very popular, having a green exterior, white intermediate layer and a red center. If the crystal is sliced “cross-grain”, it will appear to be a slice of “watermelon!”
Brazil is the primary source for most tourmaline, however, the San Diego area produces a sizeable quantity of very fine stones
Special care instructions: It is a very hard and durable stone and will wear better than many other gemstones. It doesn’t require any unusual care.
ZIRCON – Due to their name similarity, many people assume that Zircon, a natural diamond substitute, and cubic zirconia, a manmade diamond simulant, are one and the same — or closely related. They are not.
Zircons come in many colors, the popular and exciting being a rich blue. Other colors include orange, yellow, red and green. Today the chief sources of Zircons are the gravel-beds of Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
CARVINGS – There is more in determining value of a gemstone carving than the material itself. Its attractiveness is aided and abetted by the artistry employed in the use of the material and the integration of the swirls of color into the design. There is added value if more than one material has been used, maybe the eyes in an animal or beak of a bird or something like watermelon tourmaline in an eagle in which the red has been used as the head, the white as the collar and the green as the body. Another important element is the amount of detail and quality of the polish in the piece. Although not as important, the base may be the matrix of the gem material and consideration to its beauty and the size ratio of it to the carving itself. Age may not be significant, particularly in ivory unless there is provenance, i.e., documented authentication of it being of the Ming Dynasty.
Most of the finest gem carvings in the world have been created in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. In recent times, the Brazilians have improved their quality to compete with the Germans and are far less expensive. Hong Kong is a strong contributor to the carving arena as well. The Italians in Naples have a renowned stature in the carving of coral and cameos. The more important cameos are those made from hard gemstones, which are considerably more valuable.
The shining green tsavorite is a young gemstone with a very long geological history. Its home is the East-African bushland along the border between Kenya and Tanzania. The few mines lie in a uniquely beautiful landscape of arid grassland with bare, dry hills. It’s dangerous country, the habitat of snakes, and now and then a lion patrols, on the lookout for prey. There, near the world-famous Tsavo National Park, that history began.