Whether you’re a ruby girl or you’re a fan of the classic diamond, gemstones are an integral part of jewelry making, and have been for centuries. In fact, the history of gemstones dates back to the middle ages, from the ancient Egyptians to Ancient Rome. Today, however, you’re more likely to see a gorgeous gemstone on a piece of luxury jewelry than on a Roman intaglio - but what’s the story of the gemstone, and what makes them so timeless? Let’s take a look.
What are Gemstones?
Gemstones are minerals, rocks, or organic materials that are typically selected in jewelry making for their beauty, durability, and rarity. In modern terms, they’re your rubies, emeralds, diamonds, garnets, and crystals, and they’re used in everything from diamond engagement rings to expensive bracelets.
When Were Gemstones First Discovered?
The use of gemstones dates back to prehistoric times when they were likely discovered while mining for other materials, in countries like India, China and Iraq. Early humans were naturally drawn to gemstones’ colorful stones, and they were likely used for decoration and as talismans at the time.
What is the oldest gemstone in the world?
So, what’s the oldest gemstone in the world? While it can be difficult to prove who found the world’s gemstones first, what is certain is that the oldest known gemstone on Earth is zircon. Zircon crystals are renowned for their age and durability, and the oldest zircon crystals were found in Australia's Jack Hills region, and date back a whopping 4.4 billion years. This incredible age makes these zircon crystals nearly as old as the Earth itself, which is about 4.54 billion years old!
What’s more, zircon crystals actually provide us with valuable insights into the early conditions of the Earth: their composition and the inclusions within them give us clues about the state of the Earth's crust and atmosphere in the planet's formative years, meaning that zircon isn’t just the oldest gemstone, but also a window into the Earth's early history.
Can I Make My Own Gemstone Jewelry?
Yes! While it might be a bit of a challenge, making gemstone jewelry can be a great creative hobby - and one that can easily turn into a business if you’ve got enough entrepreneurial spirit! But if you do plan on making your own gemstone pieces, you’ll need to ensure you’re using high quality gems and crystals. You’ll also want to ensure you’re using high quality threads, and refer to a bead sizes chart to ensure accuracy in production.
The Egyptians were pioneers in the use of gemstone jewelry, adorning themselves with turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and amethyst, among others. They believed these stones had spiritual significance, using them in elaborate neck pieces, rings, and headdresses, often in combination with gold.
Ancient Sumer (4500 BCE - 1750 BCE)
The Sumerians of Mesopotamia are credited with creating some of the earliest known forms of gemstone jewelry, including intricate beadwork with agate, lapis lazuli, and red carnelian. They were also among the first to use the technique of granulation (decorating with tiny gold beads).
Ancient Rome (500 BCE - 476 CE)
Romans popularized the use of rings as a symbol of power and social status, and extensively used sapphires, emeralds, garnets, and pearls in their jewelry. The Romans were also known for their engraved gemstones (the famous intaglios we mentioned earlier), which were used as seals or amulets.
The Renaissance (14th Century - 17th Century)
The Renaissance - a time of unmatched opulence - brought a revival of classical art and culture, which can clearly be seen reflected in the jewelry designs of the period. There was a renewed interest in precious gemstones, particularly diamonds, which began to be cut to enhance their brilliance.
The Victorian Era (19th Century)
The Victorian era saw a wide variety of jewelry styles. Early Victorian pieces were romantic and intricate, often featuring flowers, hearts, and birds, and using semi-precious stones. The later period, mourning jewelry became popular, with jet, onyx, and amethyst being widely used.
The Art Nouveau and Edwardian Periods (Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century)
Fast-forwarding to the 19th century, Art Nouveau jewelry tended to feature more naturalistic designs and flowing lines, often incorporating gemstones in soft, pastel shades. In contrast, Edwardian jewelry was characterized by elegance and sophistication, with an emphasis on diamonds and pearls, and the introduction of platinum as a metal in jewelry.
Are Gemstones Crystals?
Yes, many gemstones are indeed crystals. Put simply, a crystal is a solid material whose atoms are arranged in a highly ordered, repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions. Many gemstones, such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, form crystals naturally. However, not all crystals are considered gemstones. The term "gemstone" implies a certain level of beauty, rarity, and durability, which not all crystals possess.
Is Amethyst a Crystal?
Yes, amethyst is indeed a type of crystal! It’s a purple variety of quartz, which is a crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms. Amethyst is prized for its stunning violet color, which can range from a light lavender to a deep purple. Historically, it was valued as a precious stone. but is now considered a semi-precious gemstone due to its relative abundance. Amethyst is often used in jewelry and is also popular in crystal healing practices.