Tell Me A Story: Fun Facts About Gemstones Add Interest to Your Handmade Jewelry

I love being able to tell people a little something about the gemstones I use to make the jewelry they buy from me. I think a fun response to "What a pretty necklace!" would be "Thank you, it's aquamarine–did you know that sailors wore aquamarine to ward off seasickness?

Here are some fun facts and ancient tales about many gemstones I use in my own jewelry designs. These are great stones for jewelry making because for the most part, in addition to being beautiful, they're durable and hard enough for normal jewelry wear. Plus, they're affordable; even gems such as aquamarine, sapphire, and ruby, which can be fairly costly as faceted gems, are generally more affordable in bead and cabochon form.


Lapis Lazuli
In the fourteenth century, lapis lazuli stones were ground up and mixed with oils to create the highly prized and very expensive ultramarine used by artists (such as da Vinci) in paintings (such as those in the Sistine Chapel). Ultramarine was known as "blue gold" because it was more expensive than gold at times. Lapis was forbidden to commoners in ancient Egypt, where only royalty could wear it. Blue was divine to them, so lapis was ground into a powder that was used to add color to royal Egyptians and their statues. However, lapis necklaces were given to shy Egyptian children to help them be courageous.

Ancient Hebrews believed the blue azurite in lapis was symbolic of heaven and the gold pyrite flecks symbolic of the sun, and some Biblical scholars believe that Moses' Ten Commandments were carved on lapis tablets.


Tournaline is one of my favorite gemstones. It occurs naturally in nearly every color, and some of them are popular enough to have their own names, including the ruby-red tourmaline known as rubellite and a pretty blue-green tourmaline called indicolite.

Did you know that when tourmaline is rubbed, it can become statically charged and attract lint, dust, or small pieces of paper? It's sometimes referred to as "the electric stone" for that reason; this characteristic is related to the properties of pyroelectricity and piezoelectricity.


Peridot comes in such a cheery, bright shade of green, it's no wonder that it has been symbolic of happiness, loyalty, and friendship. It has had an interesting history throughout ancient cultures, including everything from preventing "terrors of the night" to being strung on donkey's hair and tied around the left arm to ward off evil.

Ancient Egyptians even believed that peridot disappeared in sunlight and glowed at night, so it was mined in darkness. Today, most of the world's production of peridot is mined on the San Carlos reservation in Arizona . . . but I'm not sure whether it's mined during the day or night!


Amethyst's purple hues have long made it a symbol of purity and royalty for rulers, clergymen, and the wealthy. Amethyst plays an important role in religion throughout history, as bishop's rings and rosaries and with its color replicated in their robes. Celebratory ancient Greeks wore amethyst to be protected from seduction and drunkenness.


Ruby has such a long and storied history, it's impossible to even begin to share it here. My favorite piece of lore about ruby is that ancient Hindus believed that dark, heavily saturated rubies were male and pale, less saturated rubies were female. Ruby is mentioned throughout the Bible and has often been used as a symbol of life, possibly due to its color similarity to blood.


What a fortunate stone citrine is believed to be! Throughout history, various cultures have attributed citrine with bringing them success and wealth and protecting them from evil thoughts and snake bites. All of those would come in handy to Scottish warriors, who used citrine in dagger handles during the seventeenth century.

Citrine owes its modern popularity to its pretty orange hues and affordability but also to Queen Victoria, who gave citrine a place of honor in traditional Highland brooches and kilt pins to celebrate citrine mining resources in Scotland.


Sapphire's lore generally centers around eyesight and vision, especially for blue sapphires. Clergymen in the Middle Ages wore blue sapphire rings, believing the blue hues were symbolic of heaven, and healers and medicine men believed touching a blue sapphire to the eyes would soothe tired eyes and improve vision. 


In addition to protecting sailors from drowning, nightmares, and seasickness, aquamarine is associated to many other legends involving water. No wonder, as the word aquamarine literally means "ocean water." Ancient sailors believed that the fish-like lower portion of mermaids' bodies were made of aquamarine. Healers and medicine men in various cultures have thought that water touched by aquamarine could heal ailments of the eyes and lungs.


For more interesting tidbits about gemstones, as well as jewelry-making project and faceting instructions, mining tales, lapidary features, and new gem profiles, revisit Colored Stone magazine. Though it's no longer in publication, if you miss it like I do, you'll appreciate this: Back issues of Colored Stone from 2009 and 2010 are available in a convenient collection CD .

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