Have you ever wondered how diamonds became the creme de la creme of gemstones? Yes, diamonds are the hardest mineral (with a Mohs score of 10), and they do have the unique ability to reflect light in the colors of the rainbow when properly cut (a quality known as fire). But it’s hard to deny that other stones are just as captivating, especially when we factor in different tastes. Plus, diamonds aren’t even particularly rare (in fact, they’re one of the most common gems on earth).
Yet, somehow, contemporary culture has maintained its adoration of the diamond. Since most of us can remember, diamonds have been the symbol of status, wealth, glamour, and even romantic love. While there are plenty of reasons to value diamonds, our generations-old fixation with the stone may actually be partially rooted in some clever marketing.
It all began in the 19th century. Thanks to what writer Edward Jay Epstein refers to as “the diamond invention,” marketers in the diamond industry were able to perpetuate the idea that diamonds are rare and incredibly valuable. This campaign, however, was born precisely because recently discovered large diamond mines threatened the profitable balance of supply and demand. Until 1870, diamonds were primarily found in a few riverbeds and in the jungles of Brazil, but a major discovery of diamonds near the Orange River in South Africa rendered diamonds more common—and therefore potentially less able to fetch a steep price.
In response, diamond investors combined their interests in De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. in 1888. Although De Beers went by several names in different countries, its mission was singular—control the diamond industry and foster the illusion that diamonds were still rare and exclusive. To this end, the monopoly relied on a marketing scheme connecting diamonds to sentiment. In 1947, diamonds were cemented as a symbol of eternal love and high status through the famous “A Diamond Is Forever” ad campaign.
The heavy marketing behind diamonds doesn’t have to ruin the stone for anyone, however. Regardless of diamonds’ ubiquity, they can still feel incredibly special once they’re in a perfect setting—and especially if they’re a gift from a loved one. And let’s not forget the allure of vintage diamonds, which usually have an interesting backstory. Also, there’s plenty of opportunities to be a positive force in the diamond industry. By supporting artisanal diamond miners and working with your jeweler to ensure your diamonds are conflict-free, you’ll be contributing to a market that promotes fair treatment of workers. Learn more here.
Are you a diamond lover? What’s your favorite diamond piece?
More about diamonds:
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, De Beers, Barbara Michelle Jacobs
From the Twilight series to True Blood, there’s no absence of vampire lore (and entertainment) in the 21st century. Likewise, there are individuals who believe in the existence of vampires and are compelled to hunt these mysterious creatures of the darkness—some vampire hunters have even been arrested for weapons violations!
There are a few vampire-slaying weapons, however, that won’t attract the attention of law enforcement but may make you feel a bit safer while traipsing through a cemetery at night--or so the lore goes. Garlic, of course, has been trusted for centuries as a potent anti-vampire substance. And then there’s also silver, which has been woven into more recent vampire stories. Those unfamiliar with contemporary legends of vampires may wonder—Why silver? Why not gold or platinum or all precious metals?
A search for the origin of the belief in silver as a vampire antidote will reveal that the history of the idea is as murky as the underworld itself. Between "ancient texts" and internet lore, there's no shortage of incomplete, dubious, and fanciful stories to keep you entertained. Here's one to make your head spin:
Judas Iscariot as the “Original Vampire” (?)
In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot betrays Christ, resulting in Christ’s crucifixion. In return for his betrayal, Judas is given thirty silver pieces. He soon after regrets his decision, but his efforts to repent bring him no peace:
Then Judas, who had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
This is where the New Testament leaves us as far as Judas’s story is concerned. According to one blogger with supposed access to a rare and ancient text, the narrative was revisited in 843 when a Catholic monk by the name of Aed penned the Book of Agulan, in which he recorded Judas’s fate after this scene in Matthew. The blogger suspects that Aed was recording threads of a story he’d heard shared around the community.
In this version of the story, God punishes Judas by restoring his life, cursing him to wander the earth, in fear of sunlight, without the comfort of death until the end of time. (Some sources debate the matter of light sensitivity.) As further punishment, God only permits Judas to drink human blood, forbidding him water and wine.
Silver as Punishment. As a final punishment in this narrative, God makes Judas silver-intolerant, a painful reminder of his transgression. In this story, Judas fathers many offspring—and all of them are fated to walk in the darkness as “Creatures of the Night,” feeding on human blood. Proponents of the Judas-as-original-vampire theory believe that the Iscariot clan spanned modern-day Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. (No references to this story appear before 2012, however.)
(Funnily enough, pieces of this legend sound a lot like the plot of the movie Dracula 2000. Coincidence?)
It’s generally acknowledged in contemporary vampire lore (internet and TV series) that silver both burns and temporarily paralyzes vampires, inhibiting them from removing the silver from their bodies.
Despite the hold that the Judas-as-vampire story seems to have on the some vampire internet "experts"-- and the belief that silver harms vampires--a look at older literature and events reveals that silver may be a recent adaptation. In fact, it may actually have its origins in legends of werewolves.
Silver Saves the French Countryside
In the 18th century, Gévaudan, an area in south-central France, witnessed the devastating attacks of what many believed to be a werewolf. From 1764 to 1767, the beast reportedly roamed the countryside, attacking, killing, and sometimes eating unsuspecting victims. One report notes that out of 210 attacks, 113 resulted in death.
Of course, what some believed was a werewolf could have been a pack of ordinary but hungry wolves. Either way, a hunting team was organized to kill the Beast of Gévaudan. Jean Chastel, a local hunter, was believed to kill the large wolf with a blessed silver bullet. Thus, the idea of silver-as-werewolf-killer was born.
Bram Stoker's Dracula--Not Harmed by Silver?
Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker is arguably the most famous vampire novel and is considered a seminal text in the horror genre. It doesn't look like silver plays a big role in the story, however. The only references to silver (as a metal) are to a silver lamp that Dracula, himself, holds in his hands:
"Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. He held in his hand an antique silver lamp, in which the flame burned without chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long quivering shadows as it flickered in the draught of the open door...He bowed in a courtly way as he replied:—“I am Dracula; and I bid you welcome...As he was speaking, he put the lamp on a bracket on the wall"
Silver crops up at least once more in the story in the form of the silver crucifix that Dr. Van Helsing, an occult specialist, gives to Jonathan Harker (Dracula's prisoner) before they go to hunt down Dracula. The power of the crucifix seems to be only in the fact that it is a crucifix, however.
Could this mean that silver as a vampire antidote was simply confused with werewolf legends? Has silver now become a go-to vampire weapon for screenwriters and contemporary horror writers? What are your thoughts?
Photos: Aniko’s Blog, Dracula Movie, Wikimedia Commons
Although mourning jewelry is typically associated with Victorian fashion, mourning jewelry dates back to at least the 15th century when miniature portraits (which were often worn as jewelry) gained popularity among European monarchy. In fact, the miniature portraits famously featured in Victorian mourning and sentimental jewelry is the product of centuries of development.
Miniature portraits on display at the National Museum in Warsaw.
The Origin of Miniature Portrait Jewelry
Mourning jewelry expert Hayden Peters argues that miniature portraits have their roots in the introduction of the printing press. “Miniature” stems from the Latin miniare, or “to color with red lead.” During the 15th century (and for some time before), hand-printed books often featured red capital letters (these books are also known as illuminated manuscripts).
By the 1460s, however, these handmade books faced competition from books created with the printing press. Although there continued to be hand-illustrated books, some illustrators turned their attention to creating miniature portraits.
By the 1520s, miniature portraits were popular items in French and English courts. Jean Clouet in France and Lucas Horenbout in England were two early notable miniaturists, creating miniature portraits for jewelry that could be worn around the neck or simply held in the palm of one’s hand. At a certain point, miniature portraits were used to adorn snuff boxes as well.
Portrait of a man against a background of flames by Nicholas Hollard, c. 1600.
Miniature Portrait Symbolism
From roughly 1580 to 1635, miniature portraits were fashionable gifts among society’s elite. They could be given unframed to a loved one, allowing the recipient to select their desired frame. In some areas, they were even the subject of public ceremonies. In addition to serving as memorial pieces, miniatures were of special important to those whose loved ones were required to travel or live far away. For example, a wife may have kept a miniature portrait of her husband while he was away.
Peters points out that the Humanist movement during the Renaissance may have played a role in the popularity of miniatures. Given the renewed focus on the individual (rather than the divine), it’s no wonder that people would want to carry around images of the people they held dear.
Miniature portrait of Charles I.
Miniature portraits also served as an outlet for individuals’ political loyalties. During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, some people carried around mourning portraits of Charles I to show their solidarity with the Crown.
Miniature Portrait Materials and Innovations
Miniature portraits were sometimes as small as 40mm x 30mm. Initially, they involved watercolor painted on stretched vellum. By the second half of the 17th century, most miniatures were created by painting vitreous enamel on copper, a method that was particularly popular in France. By the late 18th century, this method was mostly replaced by watercolor on ivory (ivory had become fairly affordable by this point).
Miniature mourning portrait of a young girl.
The quality of miniature portraits varied, of course, with some featuring exquisite details while others were created from classic templates and adjusted to more closely represent an individual’s features—with varying degrees of accuracy.
With the development of the daguerreotype in the mid-19th century, the popularity of miniature portraits eventually diminished in favor of photographic technology.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, The Art of Mourning
There are several recommendations when it comes to proper jewelry storage—don’t let pearls get scratched in your jewelry box, keep chains untangled, make sure your finest jewelry is securely locked away (and maybe even insured!)… but we rarely consider the temperature at which our jewelry is stored.
Fortunately, this isn’t really a huge concern unless you live in a particularly warm climate or a climate with wildly fluctuating temps. If you do live in a balmy zone (even if for just part of the year), however, the following are a few things to keep in mind in regards to safe jewelry storage.
If possible, always store your jewelry at room temperature. This means avoiding attic storage if your attic isn’t temperature-controlled. This is especially essential if you’re storing silver—jewelry or dining ware—as warm temps may increase the oxidation rate of silver (that is, how fast it tarnishes). (Rest assured, however, that gold will not be affected by warm temperatures.)
In a warm climate, the temperature isn’t the only element to keep in mind. If your climate is both warm and dry, consider storing solid opals in water to prevent cracking. Opals naturally contain about 5-6% water, and the water used to store them will help prevent the opal from losing its water due to the low humidity. Simply place your opal in a piece of cotton or wool with a few drops of water and then into a zip-locked plastic bag to help retain the moisture. (Learn more about the different kinds of opals here.)
Light is another factor to consider. Gems that have been color-treated are vulnerable to damage (including color alteration) when exposed to UV light for long periods of time. Store them in an opaque box away from heat sources and direct sunlight.
Finally, think about the storage materials themselves. Heat, humidity changes, and direct sunlight can do a number to both unfinished and varnished wood and can even make plastic brittle and faded over time. Remember this if you store your jewelry in an heirloom jewelry box.
What additional tips do you have for best protecting your fine jewelry?
Many of my designs are inspired by the natural world. While I’ve created several pieces using elements directly cast from flowers, buds, twigs, and branches, I decided to go a different direction with these two pairs of earrings. Rather than directly casting budding flowers, these earrings feature stones that recall the delicate beginnings of a flower.
Pearl and Rhodite Garnet Earrings
These earrings were created with cultured pearls, rhodite garnets 18-karat ear wire, and 22-karat hand formed gold blossom caps.
Rose Quartz Earrings
These earrings feature rose quartz with 18-karat ear wires and 22-karat gold caps.
The ever-captivating moonstone has been the subject of lore and fantasy across time and cultures—and it’s no wonder. The natural structure of moonstone beautifully scatters light, recalling the soft and luminous elegance of the moon itself (an effect known as adularescence that looks like a full moon shining through a thin veil of clouds—or moonlight glowing in water). In fact, according to Hindu mythology, moonstones are made of solidified moon beams. Furthermore, the Romans and Greeks associated moonstone with their lunar deities.
Moonstone used to be called “adularia,” a name that originated with a city in Switzerland, Mt. Adular (now St. Gotthard), one of the first sources of fine moonstone.
Like the moon, moonstone is often associated with feminine energy, sensitivity, and intuition. Moonstone has been so deeply associated with femininity that some beliefs connect it to pregnancy and childbirth.
Legends also say that moonstone helps you see the future (especially if the stone is placed in your mouth during a full moon). Other beliefs hold moonstone as a travel talisman, especially for those traveling at sea, a place ruled by the moon itself.
Moonstone Necklace Featuring Assorted Gems
In the tradition of crystal healing, moonstone is believed to aid the pituitary gland and the digestive system while reducing water retention and obesity. It’s also used to calm responses to stress and help its users avoid over-reacting to stressful moments.
Teardrop Moonstone Necklace
Moonstone has also been featured in art throughout the ages. Artisans of the late nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement featured moonstone in handcrafted silver items, and later, René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany of the Art Nouveau era used moonstone in their jewelry. Moonstone found contemporary appeal with the “flower children” of the 1960s who sought an ethereal look. New Age artists of the 1990s also turned to moonstone inspiration.
Pocket watch by Rene Lalique (1860-1945), Ca. 1899-1900. Gold, enamel, moonstone.
You may also be interested in: What is a Druzy?
A stone with one of the richest histories in all of gem lore, the emerald continues to captivate and enchant jewelry lovers with its incomparable green hue. Because deep green emeralds with high clarity are quite rare (and incredibly valuable), the stone is often heat treated to enhance its natural color and improve its clarity. Emeralds are a variety of beryl—a mineral that grows with six sides and may grow up to a foot tall.
Gemologists consider emerald to be one of the oldest mined stones with evidence indicating that it was mined in Egypt as early as 330 B.C.E.—yet some estimates suggest that the oldest emerald stones may be up to 2.97 billion years old!
The name “emerald” comes from the Greek “smaragdus,” meaning green. Emeralds have been found in Columbia, Brazil, AfghanColombiaambia, and Egypt. The Egyptians featured emerald in their jewelry and burial rituals. Believed to be a symbol of protection, emeralds were often buried with monarchs. The stone was so greatly valued by Egyptians that Cleopatra claimed ownership of all emerald mines during her reign.
Roman scholar Pliny the Elder is credited with the following statement about the beautiful green stone: "Indeed, no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for, whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and the foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no gem in existence more intense than this.” Meanwhile, it’s believed that Roman emperor Nero would watch the gladiator games through thin, flat emeralds.
The Muzo tribe of Columbia had such well-hidden emerald mines that it took the Spanish conquistadors nearly twenty years to discover them. Indeed, the violent conflicts between natives of present-day South America and European colonists shadow the history of emerald acquisition (usually on behalf of royalty) in Western European countries.
Gold, set with table-cut emeralds, and hung with an emerald drop from Colombia, currently exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum.
In addition to being seen as a protective force, over the centuries, emeralds have also been credited with the ability to cure stomach problems, control epilepsy, stop bleeding, and ward off panic and anxiety. Some cultures even believed that emeralds granted the owner foresight—when the emerald was placed under the tongue!
Emerald is still celebrated as a symbol of rebirth, new beginnings, loyalty, and security—making it a perfect birthstone for the lush month of May. This lovely stone also serves as a gift for 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
Hooker Emerald Brooch, 1950. A beveled square-cut emerald in a platinum setting, surrounded by 109 round and 20 baguette-cut diamonds.
Are you a fan of emeralds?
Photos: Wikimedia Commons