Nature's Beads: Make Meaningful Jewelry with Genuine Gemstones

I began my jewelry-making hobby (and now, career) with gemstones. Their infinite variety of colors, shapes, and special characteristics like phenomena and texture are endlessly inspiring to me, and I love the "realness" of genuine gemstones. The knowledge that most gemstones grew (literally) in the earth—and from combinations of basic, common elements such as aluminum, sodium, calcium, and potassium—can get my mind wandering for hours if I let it.

My Southern Baubelles signature design pairs aquamarine beads with taupe pearls as well as a carved mother-of-pearl flower.

When I begin to make a new piece of jewelry using gemstone beads, I approach the design like most beaders or stringers might: visually, by color—at least at first. But sometimes I think about the stones in a more romantic and meaningful way, considering the lore and symbolism associated with gemstones. Studying and buying gemstones for over five years now has filled my head with many tales—some true, some simply fascination—about their special qualities and uses, and now it's hard for me to see some stones without immediately thinking about the lore associated with them.

For example, aquamarine, which has a long history of being a protective stone for sailors, has a name that literally means "ocean water," so it seems a fitting stone to pair with pearls, a true gift from the sea. It just so happens that aquamarine's beautiful blues and blue-greens are a lovely accompaniment to pearls of every hue, too.

Gemstone lore has entertained, educated, and supported man for thousands of years, the best known of which is the pairing of certain gemstones with our birth months as birthstones. On the other end of the spectrum, when a stone's story is true, such as a royal or other famous ownership in its lineage, it's elevated from simple lore to what gemstone buyers call provenance—and generally elevates the stone's price along with it!

The relationship between a gemstone's visual beauty and its folkloric (or true!) history is a unique way to approach gemstone jewelry design. Marlene Blessing and Jamie Hogsett's book Create Jewelry: Stones is a wealth of that kind of inspiration and knowledge, beginning with a section of gemstone basics that includes gemstone education and information (such as hardness, history, and sources), as well as specific information about a few dozen semiprecious gemstones and interesting facts about each one. Naturally that's followed by beautiful gemstone-jewelry how-to projects to make and to inspire your own creations, but this book has a little something extra, too.

My "serendipitous" necklace of rubies and sapphires paired with bold quartz.

Scattered throughout Create Jewelry: Stones are "did you know . . ." bonus stories and fun little "Tiny Gems" tidbits and facts about gemstones. Here are a few that I enjoyed reading.

Did you know . . . The Source of Serendipity

Arabs called the island of Sri Lanka, a major source of precious and semiprecious stones, "Serendib." This is the root of the word "serendipity," coined by English writer Horace Walpole in a letter to Horace Mann in 1754. His inspiration was a fairy tale about three princes who lived on an island where they frequently made fortunate discoveries by accident. Surely the beautiful rubies and sapphires that are still found in the gravels of the island's rivers can also be seen as "fortunate discoveries."

Tiny Gems: Aquamarine and Sapphire

  • In North America, Colorado's Mount Antero (14,269 ft.) is the highest source of gemstones—aquamarines in particular—and is accessible to collectors only two or three months each year.
  • The sapphire is the only precious stone ever to have been found in Britain.

So the gemstone associated with (named after) the ocean is found higher on a mountain than any other gem in our country, and the ring Will gave Kate has special meaning beyond its famous provenance as Princess Diana's ring. Fascinating!

For more interesting tales of gemstone truth and lore—plus stylish how-to gemstone jewelry-making projects—get your copy of Create Jewelry: Stones in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

What gemstones do you like to use in your jewelry making? Do you consider the stones' meanings or folklore in your designs? I'd love to hear in the comments below!

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