Fun Gem "Facts": Add Color and Intrigue to Your Jewelry Designs with Meaningful Gemstones
I didn't think I could get even fonder of gems, but when I saw all the gemstone slices all over Tucson, my (already substantial) passion for them grew even greater. I've seen gem slices before, of course–who hasn't seen watermelon tourmaline sliced to show its watermelon-y insides–but it's never been so widespread, and I've never seen them in such large sizes! My mind was reeling with design possibilities for palm-sized slices of aquamarine, huge teardrop slices of opaque ruby, and even the fingernail-sized slices of diamonds that still managed to sparkle and shine like crazy without a single facet. Swoon!
Even after studying gemstones for several years, I've found that there's always something new to learn about them or–even more exciting–a new gemstone discovery, like the Ethiopian opal that had everyone buzzing in Tucson last year and this year too. I was flipping radio channels in the car recently and came across a man talking about staurolite (commonly known as "fairy stones" or "fairy crosses"). Staurolite is not a word you hear every day on the radio, for sure, so I stopped flipping and listened to him tell the story of the fairy crosses, which has always been one of my favorite gemstone stories. He took it a step further though, to share the spiritual reasoning behind where Indians first found staurolite and the specific, significant locations where it has been found in this country. It's too lengthy to retell here but I encourage you to "Google it" if you're interested.
Gemstone tales are as varied and colorful as gemstones themselves. In addition to a gem's rarity, beauty, clarity, size, and other physical characteristics, a gemstone's history and lore create what's called its provenance. An infamous or historically significant provenance can considerably add to a stone's value, but even beyond that, a fun story about the gemstone in your jewelry is one more way to endear the stone and the piece to whoever wears or buys it. Whether you believe that aquamarine kept sailors from getting seasick or that drinking from amethyst goblets kept ancients from becoming intoxicated on their wine, tales like those and others are fun conversation starters that help make a piece of jewelry even more interesting. Here are some other gemstone "facts" that I think are fun.
I don't wear any opal jewelry (it's bad luck if it's not your birthstone, right? wrong!), but I have many opals in my gemstone collection. There are so many beautiful varieties of opal, including black opal and fire opal, each with its own unique beauty and characteristics. The most common characteristic associated with opal is the colorful play-of-color that precious opals display. It was likely because of that appearance that Australian aborigines believed that opals were formed when "the Creator, who arrived on Earth at the end of a rainbow, touched the ground with his foot. In that place, according to their legend, the rocks "came alive with color" and sparkled. They also believed that fire came from those same opals.
Though it's technically classified as a rock instead of a gemstone, lapis lazuli's beautiful blue hue and sparkling gold flecks have earned it honorary gemstone status. Lapis lazuli has been mined for over 6,000 years, giving it plenty of time to be attributed to just about every quality a human could desire. Lapis was symbolic of success for ancient Hebrews because it was a combination of blue azurite (or lazurite, or sodalite), which symbolized heaven, and golden pyrite, which symbolized the sun. Ironically, lapis lazuli necklaces were given to timid Egyptian children during ancient times to make them fearless and brave.
To me, moonstones have the same mystical quality that opals have, but with moonstones, it's a little softer and dreamier. The technical term for that shimmery, milky, usually blue aura that plays over the surface of a moonstone is adularescence, and only moonstones have it. In fact, the term adularescence comes from the word "adularia," an old name for moonstones that was derived from Mt. Adularia, a town in Switzerland and one of the first sources of moonstones. Sri Lanka is another common source for moonstones, and villagers there believe that wearing moonstones will give you a "magical brightness" in your life because they hold some of the enchanting glow of the moon within them. They certainly appear to!
In all of my studies about gemstones, one of the most fun "facts" I learned is this : Ancient Egyptians believed that peridot literally disappeared in daylight, so they mined it during the night, when it was said to glow and was therefore easier to see. No wonder then that peridot was thought to ward off "terrors of the night" as well!
If you're a gem geek like me, or if you just appreciate the interest and pretty pops of color and/or texture that gemstones can add to your jewelry designs, you'll enjoy Anastasia Young's new book, Gemstone Settings: The Jewelry Maker's Guide to Styles & Techniques. In it you'll learn the real facts about these and dozens of other gemstones, including which ones are best suited to which types of jewelry, as well as how to incorporate them in your jewelry designs in a variety of gemstone settings.
What's your favorite gemstone tale? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!