The history of jewellery: From the Roman Empire until the European discovery of America

If you went in a time machine to find out about gemstones in Roman times, the similarities with today’s modern world would probably surprise you.

Around AD 100 to 200 the Roman Empire was at its height.
Rome controlled all the land from Western Europe to the Middle East. Hadrian’s Wall was being built, and marked the empire’s northern limit.
And not only did the Romans have access to the natural resources that were available in conquered Mediterranean territories, there was also an extensive trade network of imports to acquire semi-precious and precious stones along the Silk Road of Persia, India and further East.

The Romans were a colourful lot
The Romans loved precious and semi-precious gemstones for their beauty as much as we do. But, unlike the ancient Greeks, ostentatious use of colour was valued over fine metalwork.

Stones like garnet, emeralds, peridots, jasper and lapis lazuli were imported from Egypt. Onyx and moonstone were brought in from the Persian Gulf. Although Romans knew of the existence of diamonds too, they weren’t to become truly popular until people learned how to cut them to reveal their brilliance, a process which began in Europe sometime around 1300.

Amber was a Roman girl’s best friend
But if diamonds still had some time before they were to become a girl’s best friend, other substances had a much greater appeal than today.
Amber was considered immensely valuable by the Romans, although it is not a mineral at all, but tree resin that has hardened over millions of years. It was mined in the Baltic area and Pliny the Elder, the author, naturalist and philosopher wrote that it was so precious that a “small amber sculpture exceeded the worth of a healthy Roman slave”. Although that could, of course, say more about the value Romans put on their slaves’ lives than the value of amber!

Popular usage of jewellery in Roman time
Under Roman rule, more people had access to jewellery than in Greek times too. This was because unlike ancient Greek jewellers, Roman manufacturers mass-produced pieces using moulds and casting techniques.
Gold and silver pieces would have been worn by the wealthy, but lower social classes would have had to settle for bronze or other less expensive metals.

Glass or gem – spot the difference
Roman aesthetic values meant the creative use of colour in precious and semi-precious gemstones, as well as coloured glass in jewellery was valued more than fine metalwork. Many glass makers were supposedly skilled enough that they could fool the public into thinking that the glass beads and ornaments they made were actually gemstones. Although when genuine gems were used, the preferred stones tended to be amethysts or emeralds. Pearls were also popular.

Roman women and jewellery
Similarly to modern times, Roman women tended to collect and wear more jewellery than men. They often pierced their ears too, and, just like females today, wore earrings – one of the oldest forms of jewellery to exist.  Amethyst, which serve as a sign of enchantment, was one of the most popular materials embedded in earrings. Other fashionable adornments might include necklaces, bracelets, rings and a brooch or pin for fastening garments, called a fibula.

Gemstones and Roman women’s rights
One very good reason for jewellery’s popularity with females is that it was considered to be the women’s own property, and not, as was the norm in these times, part of their husband’s wealth. It was theirs to do with as they wanted – to sell, or barter or bequeath, however they saw fit.

Roman men and jewellery
Roman men might also wear jewellery too, but to a lesser extent, typically only rings or a fastening fibula. However Roman men, unlike Greeks, wore multiple rings at the same time.
They favoured massive, eye-catching rings too, that indicated their status. For example, senators or bureaucrats might wear a gold ring that held a large and precious gemstone in place, so people could see at a glance how important they were. By contrast, plebeians or commoners would wear iron rings that held less valuable stones or glass in place.

Necklaces, Roman style
Necklaces were popular with both sexes, and worn by rich and poor alike. Pendant necklaces were frequently placed around a winning gladiator’s neck in an arena. The pendant either had an image of the emperor stamped on it, or were adorned with a gemstone embedded in precious metals.

After the Romans
So how did gemstones fare after the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire?
Did they wane or wax in popularity?

To answer those questions you need to take a quick look at a history of the empire.
At its zenith, it was too large to control from Rome alone, so in AD 285 it was divided into two halves. However this split led to competition and ultimately a civil war between the two halves until in AD 324, Emperor Constantine the Great unified the empire, but with a new capital in the east.

Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire
This was the ancient city of Byzantium, renamed as the “New Rome” Constantinople, which was from the mid-5th century to the early 13th century the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.
No empire in this era demonstrated a richer jewellery tradition than the Byzantines, merging the greatness and richness of Greece, Egypt, the Near East, and parts of Russia and North Africa.
Their designs and gemstones were carried west into Europe by trade, marriage, and war and continued until the Byzantine Empire ended with the fall of the city to the Ottoman Empire in AD 1453.

The fall of Rome
However in the west, once Constantine moved the capital, Rome transitioned to a period of decline. War, deterioration of infrastructure, and the rise of barbarian kingdoms led to the loss of territory in the western half of the empire. And in A.D. 476 a Germanic barbarian king deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire in Italy.

The “dark” ages
After Rome fell, there was a period of economic and cultural decline once known as the dark ages (the lack of records after the Roman era were “dark” compared to the “light”, or abundance of records before). This label is now considered a mischaracterisation of the Middle Ages as a time of violence and backwardness.

The gem police
It’s less controversial to say that life became harder for many, and luxuries like jewellery all but disappeared from European life among the common people. Indeed, in the early Middle Ages, the royal family and churches discouraged ordinary folk from wearing jewellery as well as items that indicated wealth and rank, such as furs or gold. To enforce their views the Sumptuary Laws were initiated that regulated what people were allowed to wear.

Popular gemstones in the early Middle age
Among the few that were able to enjoy gemstones, sapphires, ruby and emeralds were most popular, although pearls were also highly valued. Garnets and amethysts were frequently used in less expensive pieces.

The wealthy medieval church
Much of the wealth was in the hands of the church, which from the 5th century to the 16th century AD was the biggest and richest collector of valuable gemstones in Europe. The church also commissioned the goldsmiths of the time to make ornate gemstone-decorated religious objects using stones like garnets, jasper, ivory, sapphires and emeralds. And gems have been found in studded altars, chalices and books used during mass called icon missals.

Not made in the UK
Although amber, jet, freshwater pearls and coral could be sourced in Europe, nearly all gemstones had to be imported.
Modern distinctions between precious and semi-precious stones were largely ignored too, and clear rock crystal was popular. And large stones were greatly valued, and many rulers amassed huge collections.

Not cut out to sparkle
The modern facet-cut used in gemstones wasn’t developed until around 1380 AD and until then stones were cut with rounded contours in what is now called a cabochon cut. That meant diamonds couldn’t sparkle as they do today and were relatively unexciting gemstones compared to more highly prized rubies and emeralds.

A new world – and a new chapter for gemstones
However, something far more profound than improvements to cutting processes was about to change the supply and marketing of gemstones forever.
On October 12, 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus officially set foot in America. It was the precursor to the invasion and conquest of new lands that would bring unimaginable new wealth including a massive influx of precious and semi-precious stones to Europe.

It marked the start of a new chapter in the history of gems.

Turn to a traditional jeweller

Whether you’re interested in any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

The history of jewellery: from prehistoric man to the Roman empire

Although there are many types of gemstones, almost everyone knows the names of the most well-known: rubies, emeralds, pearls, diamonds, sapphires…They’ve fascinated people for thousands of years.
But what are precious and coloured stones’ relationship with humans throughout history?Have different cultures always valued them equally? 
Were they always held in high esteem?
To help you understand the answers we need to go back in time.

The earliest known jewellery to man
We start with the Denisovans, an archaic and now extinct subspecies of human that ranged across Asia.
In 2008 a 40,000-year-old bracelet was found in Siberia inside a Denisovan cave, next to ancient human remains. Although the stone itself is made of chlorite, and not considered one of the precious minerals nowadays, it is remarkable in many other ways.
The nearest chlorite deposits are 250k away from the chamber where it was discovered, and it’s been carefully polished with a heavy pendant added in the centre, probably hanging from a short leather strap. A hole has been drilled into part of it which must have been created with a high-rotation drill not dissimilar to a modern one.
Experts who examined the bracelet believe it belonged to an important member of the community, perhaps a princess, and it held great significance to the wearer.

Jewellery set us apart from animals
What is beyond dispute is the importance that humans place on decorative items since even the earliest times. Enormous effort and resource went into creating something that had no practical value but was valued for its beauty alone.
The 19th century British archaeologist Archibald Campbell Carlyle, who was renowned for his discoveries of ancient artefacts in India, said of primitive man, “the first spiritual want of a barbarous man is decoration.”
He felt jewellery symbolised our separation from the animal kingdom and represented humanity’s desire to capture and appreciate beauty.

From functionality to aesthetic appeal
Our prehistoric ancestors made and wore jewellery from stone, bone, shell and other materials too. They were probably designed as functional items at first, to fasten clothing for example. And later adapted to become religious or spiritual symbols or worn purely for aesthetic appeal.
The very first gemstones to be used, were probably gathered in much the same way as food too, perhaps by sifting through gravel in a dry riverbed.
The oldest gemstone mined by man is lapis lazuli, or lapis for short, a deep-blue metamorphic rock used by people dwelling in the Hindu Kush region, or modern Afghanistan, in the Neolithic period.

The first historical references
The first historical reference to crystals came from the ancient Sumerians (Iraq today) and we know from archeological evidence that from around 4,000 BC the Egyptians were making jewellery using lapis lazuli and amethyst. Both men and women wore jewellery and adorned themselves with charms and amulets that not only showed wealth and status but offered protection from evil.
Statues of ancient Egyptian gods and kings were extravagantly decorated with gemstones too, and the dead were adorned with jewellery to take with them to the afterlife.

Lapis lazuli and ancient Egypt
The most famous use for lapis lazuli in ancient Egyptian civilization, is in the gold death mask of Tutankhamun where it is used for the eye surrounds and eyebrows.  Other stones used include quartz for the irises, obsidian in the pupils, and carnelian, feldspar, turquoise, amazonite and faience on the collar.
It’s also thought that Cleopatra (69 – 30 BC) used powdered down lapis lazuli as an eye adornment, much like modern day eye shadow.

Stones valued for their softness
Along with lapis lazuli and amethyst, turquoise was one of the most treasured gemstones in ancient Egypt. Sourced from mines in the Sinai Peninsula, which are still in use today, it was used to adorn the necks of ancient Pharaohs and was often carved into the shape of scarab beetles and used as a protective talisman.
The Egyptians favoured soft-semi precious stones like lapis lazuli and turquoise because it enabled them to carve religious symbols into their jewellery. And then, as now, colour was one of the most important factors for the popularity of coloured stones, with blue symbolising royalty in ancient Egypt.

China and jade
Gemstones are also mentioned in the earliest Chinese historical texts, with references to jade as far back as 3,600 BC. It was beyond dispute the most important coloured stone in ancient Chinese history, and its white, yellow or green colour was synonymous with wealth and power. Even the symbol in Chinese writing for the word “emperor” looks almost identical to their word for “jade”.
Mined in China since the stone age, jade beads, tools and weapons have been unearthed at several historical sites. By 3,000 BC it had become known as “yu” or the royal gem. And jade carvings were used for ceremonial dishes, vases, furnishings and jewellery for the Chinese imperial families.

Ancient Greeks and the import of precious stones
The ancient Greeks valued precious-coloured stones as much as any other civilisation. They began using gemstones in jewellery around 1,600 BC and importing precious stones like emeralds, rubies and sapphires from India, Sri Lanka and the Far East. Over a thousand years later, around 300 BC, semi-precious stones such as amethysts and pearls were in favour. And new techniques to carve in stone enabled the Greeks to engrave gems like agate with intricate patterns and pictures. 
They believed gemstones held secret powers. They seem to be quite partial to a glass or three of wine and thought that amethyst would save them from inebriation. The word “amethyst” even comes from the Greek amethystos – meaning sober.
Sapphires, symbolic of wisdom and purity, are another precious stone whose name derives from ancient Greek, the word sapphirus meaning blue.

The influence of the Roman empire

The Romans had a massive influence on the history of gemstones.
Their empire was powerful, rich and far-reaching and gave them unprecedented access to sources of gemstones. In contrast to the ancient Greeks who focused on high-quality metalwork, the Romans preferred coloured gemstones and glass. Many types of jewellery were worn by both sexes and various classes in Rome, both for aesthetic reasons and to show off status and wealth.

Roman jewellers crafted jewellery using both precious and semi-precious stones like emeralds, diamonds, rubies and sapphires, garnets, topaz and amber from different areas of the Empire. Pearls found by divers in the Persian Gulf were a popular gemstone in Rome, often set in jewellery alongside emerald and peridot from Egypt, and lapis lazuli and onyx from Persia.

Worn by men
Rings set in gems were popular, and in the early first and second centuries men often wore rings on all ten fingers. The gemstones were typically smooth, round cabochons of garnet, amethyst or orange carnelian, a coloured form of quartz.

Loved by women
However jewellery was particularly important to women because it was their own property and independent of their husband’s wealth. That meant they could use it as they liked, with the right to buy, sell, bequeath, or barter it for themselves.

Amber valued more than life itself
Amber mined in the Baltic region was considered one of the most valuable substances in the Empire. Sadly the Romans considered it worth more than human life, and Pliny the Elder, author, naturalist and commander from AD 23/24 to 79 wrote that a small amber sculpture exceeded the worth of a healthy Roman slave.

Jewels – but not as you know them
Although by the time of Christ, gemstones already had a lengthy history in many civilisations, they were treated very differently to today.
Many of the gems we value most today were recognised as precious, such as emeralds, sapphires, diamonds and rubies, but other substances were also held in great esteem, like jade, amber and lapis lazuli.

No consistent way to value them
There was no modern cutting or polishing techniques, and no standard way of recognising the value of gemstones. The four Cs of clarity, colour, carat weight and cut wouldn’t be recognised until as late as the early 1940s.

No easy way to tell them apart
As well as confusion as how to value different gemstones, people weren’t sure how to tell them apart. And stones of a similar colour were often confused with one another, aquamarine is similar to blue topaz for example, and red and blue spinel gems are difficult to differentiate from emerald and sapphire. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and beyond that people were able to work out which gems were which by using scientific methods. 

Next take a look westwards
But long before any of this, gems had to travel westwards into Europe where they would become as coveted as in other parts of the world. So in the next part of their history, we’ll take a look at their importance from the Roman age through to the Middle ages until the Spanish invasion of South America in the late 15th century. Because, don’t forget, simultaneously to Asia and Europe, the ancient civilisations of the Americas were also discovering and utilising precious gemstones, often superior quality to those in the old world.
And when this market was opened to Europe and the west, the jewellery trade would change dramatically again.  

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

Green with envy

May’s birthstone is emerald

Emeralds are one of the four recognised precious gemstones, along with rubies, sapphires and diamonds.

Created deep inside the earth’s crust, the oldest emeralds are about 2.97 billion years old, and the earth is “only” 4.5 billion years old. They’ve been part of human history for a relatively long time too, with the first known emerald mines in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC.

Made from beryl
Emerald is made of a mineral called beryl that forms in hydrothermal veins  – where hot circulating aqueous solutions replace the original rock with new mineral species. Or in magmatic pegmatites – igneous rocks that form during the final stage of a magma’s crystallization, which contain exceptionally large crystals and occasionally minerals that are rarely found in other types of rocks.
When beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen are at the right temperature and pressure, beryl forms if there’s enough space, growing in hexagonal crystals, some of which can grow quite large.

With a trace of green
Beryl in its pure state is colourless. But trace elements add colour to the mineral.
Varieties of beryl include aquamarine, created by trace elements of iron, and manganese responsible for the pink colour of morganite and the extremely rare red beryl. But with emeralds, its trace elements of chromium and sometimes vanadium gives it its green colour.

First discovered in ancient Egypt
The earliest account of emeralds dates back over 5,000 years, with the earliest written history of the Egyptians indicating that slaves unearthed the bright green stones from rocks.
And they were first mined in Ancient Egypt around 330 BC by the pharaohs, until over 200 years late during Cleopatra’s reign in Egypt they had become one of the most highly prized gems in the world.

From Egypt to Rome
Eventually, they found their way by trade to Ancient Rome, where the Romans drilled holes through raw crystals to be worn as talismans. The Romans later took over the mining operations in Egypt until the mines became depleted.
Rome’s Pliny the Elder was enchanted by the emerald’s colour which he described in his Natural History, published in 100 AD when he said that “nothing green is greener.”
He is also quoted as saying that “no gem in existence is more intense than this” so he was obviously quite an emerald fan.
However, it’s the ancient Greeks that gave us the name for emeralds – from their word for green “smaragdus.”- and in vulgar Latin Esmaralda, or Esmeraldus is a variant of the word.

Emeralds – now available from South America
Egypt was the main source of emeralds in Europe until the Spanish Conquistadors came to Central and South America in the 1400s.
As they conquered the land, as well as gold and other minerals, the Spanish seized the emerald mines that had previously been run by the Aztecs and the Incas.
The South American variant of emerald, particularly the specimens from Columbia, was deemed even more beautiful and verdant green than Egyptian emeralds.

Popular with the clergy
Emeralds were important to the clergy of medieval Europe, and they are mentioned several times in the bible. During the 12th to 14th centuries, Christian clergy believed that gemstones like emeralds could heal those who were sick in mind or body.
Even those who embraced more traditional science believed in emeralds’ mystic powers. Dominical monk Albertus Magnus (c.1193-1280), the father of modern botany and zoology thought that emeralds could improve the memory and calm restless spirits.

Emeralds by the shipload
It is during the Tudor period that vast quantities of emeralds began to flow into Europe from the New World.  The conquistadors scoured the New World for emeralds and José de Acosta, a sixteenth-century Spanish Jesuit missionary and naturalist in Latin America, wrote that a ship returning him to Spain in 1587 carried over two hundred pounds of emeralds.
At first, these emeralds from the New World were worn only by members of the Spanish royalty.  By the end of the 16th century, this style had spread to nearly all the European courts -as did the craving for emeralds.
Then during the Renaissance, massive improvements in metalsmithing and stone cutting in Europe meant jewellery ownership spread beyond the aristocracy and clergy.

Supply decreases demand
However, the influx of huge numbers of emeralds into Europe caused their value to drop precipitously.
Previously emeralds had been valued above diamonds, rubies and sapphires. But after the European conquest of the Americas, high-quality emeralds came pouring in.
Today the greatest volume of fine quality emeralds still comes from South America, with Colombia yielding the largest amount of emeralds, contributing to more than 50 percent of all emerald production worldwide

So that’s what it’s made from
Despite its increased popularity and more affordable prices, very little was known about the chemical and physical properties of emerald until the late 18th century. This was when it became classified as a variety of beryl, and distinct from all the other green gemstones with which it had been categorised.

Loved by the British monarchy
Emeralds are a perennially popular gemstone with British royalty.
It is reputed that Henry VII of England once gave an emerald ring to a man who showed great valour in combat.
Prince Albert commissioned a gothic-inspired diamond and emerald tiara for Queen Victoria in 1845. Made by the royal jeweller, it featured 19 inverted pear-shaped emeralds, the largest weighing 15 carats.
Queen Mary wore an art deco emerald choker in 1911 at the Delhi Durbar, or “Court of Delhi” – an Indian imperial-style mass assembly organized by the British in Delhi to mark the succession of an Emperor or Empress of India at the height of the British Empire.
Later it was given as a wedding gift to Princess Diana from Queen Elizabeth.

The Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Eugenie
And today, the Duchess of Cambridge has a suite of emerald and diamond jewels that includes earrings, a necklace and a bracelet. And when Princess Eugenie married in 2018, she wore a tiara decorated with six emeralds on either side.

A rare gem.
Don’t be misled into thinking that diamonds are necessarily the most precious gemstone.
Emeralds are 20 times rarer and often more expensive than diamonds. However, because they are less dense than a diamond, they appear larger even if they have the same carat weight.

If it’s not the right shade of green, it’s not an emerald
If there is one defining characteristic of emeralds, it is their rich green colour. Even Ireland’s named the “Emerald Isle” in reference to the vivid green of the gemstone.
High-quality emeralds display a deep verdant green, with a slight blue-green or yellow overtone. If they are too pale, they lose their status and become categorized simply as green beryl. Similarly, light greenish-blue beryl is classified as aquamarine and yellow-green beryl is called heliodor.

It can’t be a vanadium green emerald – unless you’re an American
Confusing the issue, in the 1960s, the American jewellery industry changed the definition of emerald to include the green vanadium-bearing beryl. As a result, vanadium emeralds purchased the United States are not recognised as emeralds in the UK and Europe. In America, the distinction between traditional emeralds and the new vanadium kind is made by using terms like “Colombian emerald”.

Let’s make it clear
Clarity is another important factor in deciding the value of an emerald.
Although scoring a respectable 7.5–8 out of 10 on the Mohs gem hardness scale, emeralds are the softest gemstones, with a deserved reputation for being fragile. The way in which crystals are formed in their matrix results in a stone that typically has many inclusions, which can be anything from air bubbles to bits of other minerals to internal hairline fissures that compromise the strength of the emerald.

Inclusions can add value sometimes too
Sometimes, however, these inclusions can actually increase the value of an emerald.
Known as ‘jardin’ (French for garden) in the trade, they can create attractive patterns, making no two stones the same, which actually increase the value of the gem. Due to their inherent inclusions, emeralds are often treated with oils or resins to enhance their clarity and improve their quality and grade.

Cut and carat
Obviously cut and carat also have a part to play in the valuation of an emerald.
As they are prone to so many inclusions and are so fragile, cutters often step cut the best specimens. Although many designers have also carved intricate designs into cabochons too

It takes a lot of effort to find a big emerald
Carat weight affects price, with larger emeralds rarer than smaller ones and very difficult to find in mines. On average, you have to sift through five tons of dirt to find an emerald over 1 carat in gem quality. Which is why a 3-carat emerald costs more than three 1-carat emeralds of the same quality.

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

A girl’s best friend

The diamond is the traditional birthstone for April

For many, April’s gemstone is the gem.

Diamonds are the first precious stone that most people think of, it’s the gem with all the superlatives, the hardest, the most sought after, the most famous, the most valuable, and the one with all the memorable quotes. Diamonds are forever, they are a girl’s best friend and Zsa Zsa Gabor never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back. So why do we hold diamonds in such esteem?
Are they really the ultimate gem?

Where do diamonds come from?
Let’s start at the beginning.
The very, very beginning.
Which, most science believes today, was when the universe began 13 to 14 billion years ago with the big bang.

After the big bang
At that point, only lighter elements like hydrogen and helium existed.
But as the universe expanded, over billions of years, gravity created stars, many times larger than our own sun.
Inside these stars, a process called nucleosynthesis took place which, very simplistically, is the making of elements. And as the hydrogen in the star’s core was exhausted, the star fused progressively heavier elements including carbon.

We are all stardust
All the carbon (as well as the oxygen) that’s in living things were made in the nuclear fusion reactors that we call stars.
That’s why you sometimes hear people say that we are all made of stardust. When these stars die and explode in a supernova, they spread carbon and oxygen millions of miles outward, until gravity eventually pulls them together again.

8 billion years later (give or take a billion years)
Eight or nine billion years into the history of the universe and around 4.5 to 5 billion years ago our own sun and solar system were formed. Much of the carbon that is on earth today, is also believed to have come when earth collided with another small planet, over 4 billion years ago. And today, there’s plenty of it around.

Carbon in abundance
Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the observable universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. And it’s the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. A recent survey says the earth contains 1.85 billion, billion tonnes of carbon. If it were all combined into a single sphere, it would be larger than many asteroids.

Yes, but what has all this go to do with diamonds?
Carbon is an element that’s in your body, without which life on earth could not exist. But it comes in many other different forms too, known as allotropes depending on the type of chemical bond that holds it together.

In its pure form it can come as graphite, for example, soft enough to form a streak on paper.  Or diamond, one of the hardest naturally occurring materials on Earth, with a Mohs scale of 10 – the highest – many times harder than the next substance, corundum, at 9. Even its name taken from the ancient Greek word αδάμας (adámas) meaning ‘unbreakable’. And it’s so hard – with hardness determined by scratch resistance – that only a diamond can scratch another diamond.

It’s the atom formation that does it – plus heat and pressure
The difference is the formation its atoms take, which in diamonds, is in a solid form in a lattice – an arrangement that is responsible for the stone’s amazing properties. To turn carbon into diamonds takes an enormous amount of pressure and heat.
The sort of conditions that can be found about 90 miles (150 kilometres) or deeper beneath the surface of the earth where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).

Not found everywhere
However, the critical temperature and pressure environment for diamond formation isn’t uniform around the globe. Instead, it is thought to be present primarily in the mantle beneath the stable interiors of continental plates.

Here carbon-containing fluids dissolved various minerals and replaced them with diamonds. Much more recently, in geological terms, just tens to hundreds of million years ago, they were carried to the surface through a specific kind of volcanic eruption, called a kimberlite eruption and deposited in igneous rocks. The last such eruption is said to have occurred over 100 million years ago.

Diamonds in human history
If diamonds were formed billions of years ago in the earth’s mantle, how far do they go back in human history?
The earliest diamonds were found in India around 2,500 years ago in the Golconda region, between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers. And diamond mining extends back into antiquity, originating as an industry between 700 and 500 BCE in India.

Made in India
For thousands of years, India was then thought to be the only source of diamonds, and it wasn’t until Indian diamond mines were depleted, that a quest for alternate sources began – with the discovery of diamonds many hundreds of years later in Brazil.

Rough diamonds to begin with
Prized as divine objects by Indian rulers of the time, cutting and polishing didn’t exist so diamonds retained their natural outer skin. So rough diamonds were kept as talismans to ward off evil, and only later incorporated into jewellery, which to start with, only men were allowed to wear.

Ancient Egypt
Although mined in India, diamonds appeared in other civilisations too. In the time of the Pharaohs, a diamond was placed in the middle of the ankh – a cross with a loop on top. This was the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning life, and it’s said that to the ancient Egyptians diamonds represented the sun, a symbol of power, courage and truth.

Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks regarded diamonds as the tears of god and the word for diamonds, ‘adamas’ meant invincible and the adjective ‘adamas’ translates as ‘the hardest substance’.

It had its admirers among the Romans too. In the first century AD, the Roman naturalist Pliny stated: “Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones but of all things in this world.”

Diamonds as medicine!
From around 500 AD diamonds began to be used as a medical aid. One anecdote, written during the Dark Ages by St Hildegarde, a learned German Benedictine abbess in the 12th century, relates how a diamond held in the hand while making a sign of the cross would heal wounds and cure illnesses. Diamonds were also eaten in the hope of curing sickness, and in the 15th century, Pope Clement unsuccessfully used this treatment hoping it would help him recover from a major illness. It didn’t work, and sadly the Pope died.

Too valuable to eat
However, the value of diamonds began to outweigh their supposed medicinal powers.
Rather than eat them to cure ailments, mine owners spread myths that they were poisonous, in an attempt to deter mine workers from swallowing them and then retrieving them at home!

Diamonds come to Europe
During the thirteenth century, small quantities of diamonds began to show up in Europe where they were first associated with royalty. At the same time, they also began to be cut in order to improve their appearance.

Making the cut
The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have been positioned in Venice somewhere around the 1330’s. It is estimated that diamond cutting found its way to Paris and Bruges around late 14th century and later to Antwerp.
In the fifteenth century the cutting wheel was invented to give diamonds their first rounded outlines. And by the sixteenth century, diamond cutting was perfected to enhance the gem’s brilliance and fire, was performed in earnest.

South America diamonds in the 18th century
In the 18th century the substantial quantities of diamonds were being mined in South America and bought to Europe, where they proved particularly popular with women. Although they tended to be worn in the evening, as it was thought vulgar to parade them during the day. Matching sets of diamonds were worn at important social events. 

South African diamonds in the 19th century
Two events propelled their popularity a century later.
First, in the 1870s, the discovery of diamonds in such large quantities in South Africa, that it changed from a rare gem purely associated with the aristocracy to one that, potentially, many more people could afford. And in 1871 world annual production, exceeded one million carats for the first time. From then on, diamonds would be produced at a prodigious rate.

Ooh la la – they sold the French Crown jewels
Secondly, the selling of the French crown jewels, bought precious gemstones in general and diamonds in particular to the centre of public attention.  The fall of Napoleon III in 1871 left the Third Republic of France with a problematic symbol of monarchy: the French crown jewels. It was decided to auction the bulk, retaining a few key objects for the State. Tiffany & Co. of New York bought the major share.

The 20th century – and mass appeal
The invention of gas and electric lighting enhanced diamonds popularity too. Under this artificial lighting, diamonds sparkled more brilliantly than any coloured stone. However, it was De Beers, and 20th century marketing that gave diamonds the massive appeal that they continue to enjoy until this day.

De Beers
One South African farm where diamonds were discovered was owned by Diederik and Johannes de Beer. This farm was forcefully bought by Cecil Rhodes who founded the De Beers commercial mining company in 1871.
They began to control the production and distribution of the gem, to such an extent that by 1902, De Beers accounted for 90 per cent of the world’s rough diamond production and distribution. Its monopoly was so great, De Beers was able to stabilize the price of diamonds.

Fast forward to 1947, and marketing and advertising
A Philadelphia based American advertising agency called N.W.Ayer, came up with a line that’s still famous today – A Diamond is Forever. They also associated the diamond in the engagement rings with true love, and marketed the stone as romantic, socially valuable, and eternal.

A girl’s best friend
The jazz song  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1949 Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes further enhanced the jewel’s mass appeal. Although the song is most famously performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film version.

So are diamonds as precious and rare as people seem to believe?
Yes, and no.

Diamonds certainly aren’t the rarest gems in the world.
There are numerous gemstones that occur less frequently in nature, including high-quality emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

The world’s rarest gemstone – never heard of it
And the world’s rarest gemstone is so scarce that, perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re unlikely to ever heard of it, far less to have come across one. It’s called Painite and was first discovered by a British gemologist in 1951, then recognized as a new mineral in 1957. For many years the only specimen of the dark red crystal in existence was housed at the British Museum in London.

Are diamonds the most precious gem in the world?
Yes – depending on what type of diamond. Blue diamonds belong to a subcategory called fancy colour diamonds, the generic name for diamonds displaying intense colour, and arguably the world’s most expensive stone. One, named “The Oppenheimer Blue” in honour of its previous owner, sold for a final price of $57.5 million, so boasts the most valuable price per carat at $3.93 million. Although red diamonds get a worthy mention too, with a price tag of over $1 million per carat. There are less than 30 of these stones exist, with most less than half a carat. Although the typical diamond is around $15,000 per carat.

There are many famous diamonds too
The Koh-i-Noor, or “Mountain of light” is one of the most fascinating. Possibly mined in the Kollur Mine, India, somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries and one of the world’s largest cut diamonds in the world, weighing 105.6 carats, and part of the British Crown jewels.

Welcome to London
But after the British annexation of the Punjab in 1849, it was ceded to Queen Victoria and was on display at the Great Exhibition in London, but the lacklustre cut failed to impress viewers, so Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, ordered it to be re-cut as an oval brilliant by Coster Diamonds, the Royal diamond polishing factory in Amsterdam, that still operates today.

Ladies only
Because its history involves a great deal of fighting between men, the gem acquired a reputation within the Royal family for bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. So it’s only been worn by female members of the family – Queen Victoria, then Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward V11, then Queen Mary in 1911, and lastly to the Queen Mother in 1937 for her coronation as Queen consort.

We all want it back!
Today, the diamond is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, although the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all claimed ownership since India gained independence from the UK in 1947. The British government insisting the gem was obtained legally has rejected all the claims.

The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing over 3,100 carats and discovered in a South African mine in the Transvaal on 26 January 1905. It was named after the mine’s chairman, Thomas Cullinan.

A gift to the King
It was then shipped to England, complete with a decoy package and detectives, to ensure it was not stolen, and presented to King Edward VII, who sent it to Amsterdam to be made into two diamonds. The largest stone, Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, at 530.4 carats is the largest clear-cut diamond in the world. The smaller, Cullinan II, is in the Imperial State Crown and both are part of the Crown Jewels.

The most popular gem in the 21st century
Today diamonds are probably the most popular gem of all, and as well as being April’s birthstone, they are traditionally used in engagement rings and other jewellery across the globe.

How do we value a diamond?
Until the middle of the 20th century, there was no standard by which diamonds could be evaluated, until the Gemological Institute of America created the first and now globally accepted standard for describing diamonds: colour, clarity, cut and carat weight.

Carat weight
Carat weight is the most objective of all the 4Cs, whereby a calibrated digital scale measures a diamond’s carat weight. Because of their rarity, larger diamonds are worth exponentially more than smaller ones, with the larger the diamond, the more per carat it costs. So for example, the difference in price between a 4-ct and a 3-ct diamond will greatly exceed the difference between a 3-ct and a 2-ct diamond.

Colour quality impacts a diamond’s value too.  The perfect diamond is colourless, with even a hint of colour such as yellow and brown causing a big fall in value. The big exception is ‘fancy colours’, like a canary yellow or the ultimate in rarity, a red or blue diamond, which can lead to a significant increase in the price of a diamond.

Clarity rating of your diamond is another essential element. A flawless diamond will have no inclusions or surface imperfections, while a poor clarity quality will have inclusions that can be spotted by the unaided eye.
Not only is clarity an important characteristic in the rarity of a stone, but a diamond with poor clarity grade will be less brilliant and may have a cloudy appearance too. It will also be prone to chipping, cracking, or even shattering, especially if inclusions are located around the edges of the diamond.

The cut of is of aesthetic importance, with well-cut diamonds designed to dazzle. Every angle and facet of the diamond should interact spectacularly with light.
The perfect cut enhances three things:
1: Brightness, or the white light reflection of the diamond.
2: Its fire, which are the flashes of colour displayed as light refracts due to a prismatic effect.
3: And scintillation, which refers to the flashes of light you can see when you hold a diamond in your hand and move it.

Don’t forget certification
Lastly, there is a 5th C: a certificate.
It’s important to consider verifying the diamond’s grades by taking a look at its official certification. Simply taking a jeweller’s word for it is not best practice. Instead, verify the diamond’s grades by taking a look at its official certification.
It’s a documentation of a diamond’s quality by a third party, not a certification by the diamond buyer or seller, and increasingly important due to diamond scams.

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

Amazing aquamarine

The gem stone for March is aquamarine

There are no prizes for guessing the colour of this month’s gemstone.
March’s gemstone is named after and defined by its colour so if you have a stone that’s not blue, it can’t be aquamarine. Not surprisingly, it has a long association with the sea.

An uncommon gem, created by a common mineral
Aquamarine forms deep inside the earth, and is a variety of beryl, a type of silicate mineral.
But although silicate is one of the largest classes of minerals that make up approximately 90 percent of the earth’s crust, beryl is much rarer. Unlike some minerals, it can form in a variety of rock, including both igneous made from molten lava, and metamorphic, which as the name suggests is rock that has changed from the original by immense pressure and heat over time.

Made from beryl
Beryl is typically found in structures high in granite deposits and combined of interlocking rocks and minerals, called granitic pegmatites that are formed by massive geological pressure over hundreds of thousands of years.

Hot stuff
As magma works its way to the surface or tectonic plates shift, many stones are forced together, with softer stones slowly squeezed and creating large deposits. If there are enough impurities present, eventually these deposits will create beryl gemstones, with those pushed to the surface earlier in the process more likely to contain pure, gem-quality aquamarine crystals. Natural geological processes push these deposits to the surface, where they can be mined.

Aquamarine is an allochromatic gemstone
In its pure form beryl is transparent. But aquamarine is an allochromatic gemstone, which means it’s coloured by natural impurities. Two iron compounds, ferrous and ferric iron gives aquamarine its colour. Ferrous iron provides the gemstone with the trademark blue colour that’s known and loved by gem enthusiast the world over. While ferric iron turns the gem slightly green.

Other allochromatic gemstones you might know and love
Aquamarine isn’t the only allochromatic beryl gemstone that you’ll recognise.
Emerald is a beryl that has been coloured by the presence of chromium, iron and vanadium. Morganite is beryl coloured by manganese. Golden beryl or heliodor is coloured by iron, and the extremely rare red beryl (once known as red emeralds) derives its colour from manganese. Maxine, another blue variety of beryl, owes its colour to natural radiation.

Revered by the earliest civilisations
Aquamarine was first documented in Greece, around 480 to 300 BC, and in ancient times was believed to instil courage into anyone who wore it.  Indians wore the stones in amulets, and the Egyptians carved them into talismans.

Popular in India, Egypt – and with Buddhists too
In India, Buddhists not only revered aquamarine as a stone of the sea. They also believed it represented love and mercy. They thought the stone had the power to renew or strengthen old love. And they began a tradition of giving a new bride an aquamarine stone the morning after her wedding.

And the Egyptians held it in such esteem that they began to import it in quantity from India in the second century BC. Although to them it represented a symbol of happiness and eternal youth.

Named aqua-marine by the Romans
However it was the Romans who gave aquamarine its name, which is derived from the Latin which loosely translates as “seawater”. The early Romans also referred to the stone as the sailor’s gem.

Poseidon and Neptune’s stone
In both Greek and Roman mythology aquamarine was also the sacred jewel of Poseidon and Neptune, their respective gods of fresh and seawater. They believed it had fallen from the treasure chest of a mermaid and had the power to calm stormy waters and protect travellers from peril at sea.

Other Roman tales about the magical properties of the stone included a belief that it could purify water. And enemies could become friends by drinking water together if it was poured from an aquamarine chalice with the subscription of a frog.

As recommended by Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) a Roman author, natural philosopher, creator of the Naturalis Historia encyclopedia and commander of the early Roman Empire was a fan.

He wrote, “The lovely Aquamarine, which seems to have come from some mermaid’s treasure house, in the depths of the summer sea, has charms not to be denied”.

An antidote to poison
In the Middle Ages aquamarine was used as a soothsayer’s tool, and many believed a full moon intensified its power. While a man called William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, an alliterative verse and allegory that popularised complex religious themes into layman’s terms, proclaimed in 1377 that the gem had powers to purify and protect people from poison. His reputation was such at the time, that his theory soon spread across Europe. Whether anyone was successful in its use to recover from a poisoning episode has never been documented.

Popular with nobility, kings and queens
Remember this was in a time when poisoning at the hands of their enemies was not an uncommon fate for royalty and nobility. And amulets of the blue-green jewel became a familiar article worn by noblemen and rulers. However, there are only two crowns of Europe that feature aquamarine: the Crown of Saint Stephen and the Crown of Saint Wenceslas.

The Crown of Saint Stephen
The earliest, the Crown of Saint Stephen is also known as the Holy Crown of Hungary.
This crown was sent to Hungary around 1001 AD by Pope Paul for Stephen 1
st coronation, who was the first king of Hungary and a devout Christian. However at the time, it had no aquamarine jewels – these were only added more than 600 years later in 1608 by King Mattias II of Hungary, who was also Archduke of Austria from 1608 to 1619, King of Croatia and Holy Roman Emperor from 1612 to 1619. A title as impressive as his headwear!

The Crown of Saint Wencelas
The other Royal European headpiece that features an aquamarine stone is the Crown of Saint Wenceslas or Czech Crown. This was commissioned in 1347 for the coronation of Charles IV, the first King of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor. Encrusted with one hundred and sixteen precious jewels, including a single aquamarine mounted into a golden cross, this stunning gold headpiece is the fourth oldest surviving crown in Europe.

To be worn with care -especially if you’re a tyrant
There’s an interesting aside to this crown.
An old Czech legend says that any tyrant who places the property of Wenceslas on his head will die within a year. And jumping forward to the Second World War, Nazi chief of the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich, one
the darkest figures within the Nazi regime, whom even Hitler referred to as the man with the iron heart, is rumoured to have tried on the crown.
Whether it’s true or not no one knows, but what is beyond dispute is that in May 1942 he was assassinated by the Czech resistance

Featured in all the best collections
Aquamarine gems feature more often in tiaras, necklaces, brooches and earrings in royal collections than crowns. However, few equal the splendour of Queen Elizabeth’s Brazilian aquamarine set of jewels, presented to her in 1953 by the Brazilian president as a coronation gift on behalf of the people of Brazil. She later commissioned an aquamarine tiara to match that the dresser to The Queen described as “majestic in appearance but cool and calming”.

A gift from Brazil
Brazil also honoured First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a large aquamarine sent from President Vargas of Brazil in 1936. It even had a mention in her memoirs where she wrote the gem serves “a good purpose by symbolising the kindness and generosity of Brazilian feeling toward our country.”

The perennially popular gemstone
Today aquamarines are a popular gemstone that many people use as an alternative to diamonds. Their sparkle and their colour are not dissimilar, but they are more affordable.
What’s more, aquamarine stones don’t increase exponentially in price as they get bigger, so it isn’t hard to find an impressive-sized gem that’s in your budget.

What a whopper!
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to spot anything remotely the size of the biggest ever aquamarine rough found in Brazil back in 1910. It weighed an astonishing 100kg (243 lbs) and when it was broken down into smaller faceted stones for use in jewellery, they weighed over 100,000 carats.

Cut to size
The world’s biggest faceted aquamarine called the ‘Dom Pedro’. Shaped like an obelisk and criss-crossed with diagonal detailing it weighs an extraordinary 10,363 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

How to spot a good aquamarine gemstone
So what should look for if you’re thinking of buying one of these exquisitely coloured gemstones?

Colour is obviously an essential factor
Typically it should be light blue with a greenish or turquoise colour. Although the darker it is the more valuable. Some aquamarines appear almost colourless in daylight, yet display a beautiful tone under the candlelight or a light bulb, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as an evening gemstone.

Whatever colour the aquamarine it’s preferable if it’s even throughout the gem. If there are different patches of lighter or darker colour within the gem it will diminish its value.

Big stones aren’t rare
Size, or carat weight, doesn’t increase exponentially with aquamarine, because large gems without imperfections are relatively common. In other words, an aquamarine gem that is five times larger than another aquamarine gem, will only cost roughly five times more. In contrast emeralds, another beryl stone, are usually small, so as they increase in size the cost rises dramatically.

Handle with care
Remember too, that aquamarine is less durable than a diamond or a sapphire. With a score of 8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, compared to 10, it needs protection from knocks and scratches. So, if you’re going to wear it for regular use, make sure it’s well protected.
You’ll also want to consider where the aquamarine is mined, and try to choose ethical, conflict-free gems.

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in aquamarine, diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

Amorous amethysts

February’s gem stone is amethyst

The world’s most popular purple gemstone, it’s been used in personal adornment for over 2,000 years. It’s made of quartz, a hard crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, with the purple colour deriving from traces of iron in its structure.

How amethyst is formed
As well as coming in a variety of beautiful different colours, garnets are also one of the more Normally it’s found in fractures and cavities of igneous rocks, made by the solidification of molten rock. As the magma cools, silicon dioxide in water begins to turn to crystals, with the slower the cooling the larger the crystal.

The composition of the water changes over time too, with varying amount of iron incorporated into the surface of the crystal. Radiation emitted by surrounding rocks cause the iron to change the colour of the crystal to purple, in varying degrees of intensity.

The ingredients for amethyst success
Amethysts can also be created in metamorphosed rocks (formed when rocks are subjected to high heat, high pressure, hot mineral-rich fluids or some combination of all these factors) hydrothermal veins, rocks deposited by hot springs and some sedimentary rocks. All that’s needed are the basic ingredients of pockets or cavities for deposits to form, silica-enriched water of around 50-250 °C, ferric iron impurities, and gamma radiation.

Natural radiation helps determine the colour
By the way, don’t be put off by the radiation. Depending on the type of rock, it emits varying amounts of natural gamma radiation with higher levels associated with igneous rocks.

Just wait a few million years. Or more
The quartz can take millions of years to form – typically between 40 to 400 million years.
It’s estimated that a two centimetre crystal will form in ten million years, with the growth rate determined by the conditions of heat and pressure, as well as the availability of silicon nutrients and water. Because of its stability, and resistance to weathering, billion-year-old quartz crystals can look just as recent as Alpine rock crystals formed a mere 10 million years ago.

The cure for alcoholics
The name amethyst comes from the rather unusual Greek word, that means “not intoxicated” – amethystos or amethustos. Alcohol and its consequences presumably played an important part in the life of ancients, and there’s several legends linked to the mineral, wine drinking and sobriety.

Tainted by the God of Wine
According to one, Amethyst was a young virgin who upset the ancient Greek God of wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus in the Roman version) when he became intoxicated with red wine. Fearing the anger of a God, Amethyst cried out to the Goddess of chastity Artemis (or Diana in Roman civilisation) for help, who came somewhat dubiously to her rescue by turning her into stone.  Dionysus seeing what had happened was full of drunken remorse, crying into his goblet which overturned and saturated the white stone, turning it purple.

Me? Drunk? (hic)
Perhaps it’s simply because the rock is a similar colour to red wine that the ancients decided it could help ward off drunkenness. Goblets carved from amethyst were meant to nullify the negative effects of drinking wine, although it’s more likely that the purple crystal was actually giving water the appearance of wine.

It wasn’t only the ancient Greeks and Romans who believed amethysts to have sobering properties. The ancient Egyptians used the stone as the representative of the zodiac sign of the goat – and enemy of vines and vineyards, and hence the antidote of wine.

Keep calm, don’t panic!
Whether it’s a clear head even after a few glasses of wine, the serenity of prayer, or the ability to focus in the face of battle, Amethysts are associated with calmness of mind, purity of spirit and soberness of thought in many different cultures. 

The Christian gemstone
The first mention of amethyst in literature is in the Bible. It’s one of the gemstones present in the High Priest Aaron’s breastplate in the Book of Exodus, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s maintained a place in Christian culture ever since, featuring in the Episcopal rings of Bishops, once again for its supposed properties of sobriety, representing abstinence from alcohol at Pentecost.

Loved by St Valentine
Amethyst’s royal purple colour is also used to symbolize Christ, and Saint Valentine was said to wear a ring set with an antique Amethyst carved with an image of Cupid. The stone is a symbol of Saint Matthias the disciple who, according to the biblical Acts of the Apostles 1:21–26, was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot after Judas betrayed Jesus. And the twelfth foundation of the Holy City of Jerusalem was built of amethyst.

Buddha is a fan too
Buddhism is another faith that holds this gem in esteem. Tibetans consider amethyst sacred to the Buddha and Buddhist prayer beads are often carved in amethyst.

A sign of wealth and power
Amethyst’s appeal isn’t just to religious faiths. Its rich purple colour is connected to wealth and power.

Until the development of synthetic fibres, purple was the most expensive colour for clothing, and the dye was created from a species of marine snail. Its use was extremely restricted in ancient times and the amount of purple on a person’s toga was used as an indication of rank. It’s likely that amethyst was similarly worn as a symbol to display a person’s high status.

Cleopatra, Caesar and Mark Antony had a thing for amethyst
Cleopatra famously wore an amethyst ring throughout her relationship Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony is also said to have helped make amethyst gems a popular fashion item among Roman noblewomen.

Popular with royalty
Just like purple dye, amethyst was rare before the 18th century, and one of the most valuable gemstones alongside diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

Perhaps that’s why you’ll find it in many royal collections across the globe.
For example a large cabochon amethyst sits above the Cullinan diamond (incidentally the second largest cut diamond in the world) in the Imperial Sceptre of the British Crown Jewels.

Napoleonic amethysts, passed down from mother to daughter
The British and Swedish royal families boast amethyst suites in their jewellery collections The British pieces were owned originally by the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother, and the Swedish pieces are known as ‘Napoleonic amethysts’. These were originally a gift by Empress Josephine to her daughter-in-law Augusta of Bavaria, who in turn gave them to her daughter when she married into the Swedish royal family.

Most precious in the Americas, until Brazilian stones flooded the market
It’s ironic that in the Old World, amethyst was considered one of the Cardinal gems, which meant that it was one of the five gemstones considered more precious than any other until massive deposits were found in Brazil during the early 19th century. Then prices plummeted.

Amethysts were popular among everyday folk as well as royalty
The Victorians loved large, impressive jewellery, and as the price fell with more and more of the semi-precious gems being unearthed, amethysts were the only affordable stone possible to create extravagant suites of jewels. But to a Victorian well-to-do, there was no better way to display one’s wealth and success than with amethysts.

More supply, less demand
The discovery of massive amethyst deposits in Brazil caused the first decline in the price of these beautiful purple stones, but it was a glut of another stone that cause the next decline in popularity.

Diamonds versus amethysts
The discovery of South African diamond mines in 1867 meant that a stone that once only the wealthiest could afford, was now within the price range of many more. Some believe electric lighting may have been a contributory factor in the rise of diamonds and decline of amethyst too, as it made colourful jewellery appear gaudy, and added to the fashion for ‘white’ jewels.

Amethysts take temporary back stage
Fast forward to the 20th century, and De Beer’s advertising slogan accelerates the process, with their famous line “diamonds are forever”. But while diamonds became the symbol for love and marriage, amethyst was no longer in the limelight.

The comeback of a beautiful stone
A retro revival in the mid-20th century created a return to popularity.
But although its fortunes – and its value – have ebbed and waned, there’s always been a strong following and interest in old mine amethysts, with the main attraction the deep and luxurious purple colour.

Big is beautiful
So what else determines the value of amethysts? Unlike diamonds and rubies they don’t increase exponentially in value the larger they are. That’s because unlike those other gemstones, amethyst is normally found as larger crystals, so the size of the raw material doesn’t constrain it. That means one of the most important factors in its price is the skill with which the stone has been cut.  

Turn to the dark side
Colour plays a significant role is determining the value of amethyst too. And the darker the better, with dark purple stones selling between 3 to 5 times more than lighter material. That’s why, for example, amethyst from Uruguay tends to be significantly more expensive that amethyst from Brazil – it’s also significantly darker.

No shade is a shade better
The colour should also ideally be uniform throughout, rather than, as is often the case with amethyst crystal, formed of lighter and darker purple areas.

Clarity needs to be taken into consideration too
You shouldn’t be able to see any inclusions or flaws with your naked eye.  And beware chipping or damage that may have been caused by extraction or preparation of the stone.  

Today amethysts are back in favour
They offer people the opportunity to buy larger and more dramatic stones at a price that won’t break the bank. And although its popularity wanes and ebbs, this stunning and beautiful purple gem will never go permanently out of fashion. 

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in amethysts, diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.