Gems are the perfect way to add meaning and a splash of colour to your outfit, particularly for brightening up those dark evenings ahead. Of all my trinkets, gemstone jewellery is my favourite go-to for instantly elevating my attire, but without too much effort. Apart from their charming beauty and pizzaz, the rare and eternal character of precious stones always had a drawing power over humans. Gemstones have been part of the earliest jewellery designs we know of, worn by kings, queens and everything in-between to send powerful messages.
Yet, in its purest essence, each gemstone is a story brought home. An eternal creation inspired in the most exotic places on Earth. And that timeless quality is exactly what wearing gems will bring to your personal style.
PRECIOUS AND SEMI-PRECIOUS GEMS
Gemstones form as minerals in the rocks of the Earth’s crust under various conditions. They are then mined, cut, and polished to create jewellery and other adornments. Some forms of organic matter with aesthetic properties also classify as gemstones like pearls, amber, jet, and red coral.
Today’s common classification dates back to the ancient Greeks and divides gemstones into precious and semi-precious based on beauty, rarity, and durability. Most semi-precious stones, also known as hardstones in art history and archaeology, feature only two of these qualities. However, the use of these terms can be misleading in a commercial context, as it deceptively implies that certain stones are much more valuable than others, which is not always the case.
In modern use, the precious stones are emerald, ruby, sapphire and diamond. This leaves us with a wide and colourful variety of equally striking semi-precious gems – my personal weakness!
Here are my top favourite gemstones inspired by the jewels of the 1970s and a little bit about what makes them special.
The black beauty of the jewellery world, onyx is one of the most intriguing gems you’ll ever encounter. This member of the chalcedony family is created from the deposition of silica in gas cavities in lava. The stone takes its name from the Greek word “onux”, which means fingernail. According to Roman mythology, the goddess Venus was sleeping on the banks of the Indus river when her son, Cupid, clipped her fingernails with one of his enchanted arrows. Since they were of heavenly origin, the fates turned her nail clippings into onyx to immortalise them.
Skilled gem carvers have created wonders with onyx over the centuries. From ancient Greek cameos and Roman seals to Victorian-era mourning jewellery and the Amber Room mosaics in St. Petersburg, Russia. There are even rumours of Cleopatra wearing onyx jewellery for protection and to signal oncoming dangers.
Whether you choose it for its alleged grounding and balancing properties or its timeless “basic black” elegance, this dramatic gem is sure to bring depth and contrast to your outfit. And for the lucky ones amongst us, black onyx also happens to be the anniversary gemstone for the 10th year of marriage!
Mysterious and alluring, malachite is a hypnotising stone that puts you under its spell the moment you lay eyes on it. In the world of gems, malachite is the nonconformist eccentric you see once and never forget. And since no two malachite stones are the same, each piece has its own unique appeal. This copper-based green-and-black banded gem has enjoyed tremendous popularity in several forms since ancient Egyptian times. Malachite derives its name from the Greek word ‘moloche’, meaning mallow and signifying the colour of mallow leaves.
The iridescent shades of malachite have been used to create marvellous works of wearable and non-wearable art over the centuries. From the jewellery and ornaments of ancient civilisations to the courts and palaces of Russian czars. It’s often carved as triangle-shaped amulets around patterns resembling the symbolic power of light to ward away the Evil Eye. Between its protective, love-attracting and sleep-improving properties, malachite has plenty of good selling points and is coincidentally known as “the salesman’s stone.”
But for me, it’s those unmistakable deep green hues and the attention they never fail to attract that make this gemstone a truly timeless style piece.
WILD TIGER EYE
Tiger eye is one of the most captivating gems in the chalcedony family and is usually mined in places where wilderness is rampant. Everything about this stone evokes the feline king of the jungle, who is always astute, agile, and independent. Resembling a cloudscape of golden light, this rich yellow and brown-coloured gemstone has fuelled the imagination of humanity since the earliest of times. It was thought to lend the wearer the strength of the much-respected animal. It was also linked to numerous deities such as the Babylonian all-seeing king of the gods, Marduk, the Norse goddess of beauty and love, Freyja, and the Egyptian goddess of war, Sekhmet.
Tiger eye was often used to depict the eyes of ancient Egyptian deity statues to provide divine vision and was worn by pharaohs for the same reason. The stone was also valued among Crusaders as the amulet of travellers and explorers. Hindus and Buddhists on the other hand favoured it in the form of bracelets used for prayer and meditation. In the 16th century, the stone was so rare that it was considered more precious than gold. Thankfully, much more tiger eye jewellery has been produced since then, leaving us with wonderful examples of painstaking craftsmanship from eras gone by.
What really makes this gemstone stand out is its chatoyancy or cat-eye effect. Its surface’s silky lustre constantly changes as light reflects off its parallel bands. It is a great gift for men and is the accepted gem for the ninth wedding anniversary.
Coral is one of the organic gems mentioned earlier, and in its original form, it resembles tree-like structures, thus gaining the nickname ‘Tree of Life of the Ocean’. Corals are colonies of marine invertebrates, which secrete the calcium carbonate that forms coral reefs. Only a couple of the hundreds of species are used in jewellery-making, with Corallium rubrum and Corallium japonicum being the most prevalent. The piercing ‘bloody’ hue of this fiery gemstone has been prized since Neolithic times and has therefore inspired many myths. According to Greek mythology, when Perseus beheaded Medusa, a few drops of her blood splashed into the sea and solidified in the form of corals — a reminder for the sea god Poseidon of his once beautiful lover.
This story has inspired many sailors and fishermen in Mediterranean countries, even today, to carry a piece of red coral (aka divine blood) for protection when at sea. Coral is also one of the nine sacred gems or Navaratna in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism and one of the Navajo 18 sacred objects. Romans widely used it for protection over their children, a superstition depicted in many Renaissance paintings. One such example is Pierro della Francesca’s “Madonna di Senigallia”, where baby Jesus is shown wearing a coral necklace. Whether you believe the myths or not, you’ll find that a wardrobe simply isn’t complete without coral jewellery. Depending on the hue, this can be either your evening showstopper or an everyday go-to piece.
Just a reminder that ocean corals are living animals killed for their beauty and are now considered endangered. Their existence is crucial for the health of our planet, so let’s do the right thing and go vintage here. After all, there are so many stunning vintage coral designs to choose from out there.
Is there a stone more reminiscent of summer skies than the dreamy turquoise? This opaque blue or greenish gemstone forms when water rich in specific minerals like copper and aluminium leaks through a rock. And although the most precious turquoise stones are those with no matrix (the vein-like inclusions of the host stone that housed the turquoise as it formed), it’s often that unique matrix of each piece that creates the most striking effect. The gemstone’s name originates from the 13th-century French phrase ‘pierre tourques’, meaning ‘Turkish stone’ and reflecting its possible arrival to Europe from Turkey. However, turquoise has a rich history across many cultures spanning millennia and even holds the title of Tibet’s national gem.
The earliest examples of turquoise jewellery date back to 5,000 BC Iraq. They were followed by Chinese and Egyptian jewels – including King Tut’s burial mask – carved more than 3,000 years ago. But Native American tribes have long worshipped the vibrant stone too. The Navaho used it in ground form to summon rain, while Apache shamans had to possess the gem to get their tribe’s recognition, and Aztec chiefs valued it more than gold. Apart from being a ceremonial stone related to the god of the sky, turquoise has been attributed several properties across cultures, such as protection, wisdom, and tranquillity.
Seeing as it’s known as the December birthstone, and a symbol of friendship and happiness, it makes for a thoughtful present for a special person in your life born in this month.
DIAMOND, THE CROWN JEWEL
Of all gems revered by mankind, diamonds have undisputedly stood the test of time. Their roots run deep in both our history and culture. From adorning the ankh staffs of Egyptian Pharaohs to being praised as ‘a girl’s best friend’ by Marilyn Monroe, diamonds have become one of the most – if not the most – popular gemstones in our society. And yes, the iconic James Bond soundtrack is right; diamonds are forever. This precious stone is entirely made of carbon and is so tough that only another diamond can cut it. Hence, the tools we use for diamond cutting are tipped or dusted with actual diamond. Although they can still chip, diamonds are less prone to scratches and can last you several lifetimes with proper care.
Said to have originated in 4th century BC India, where people believed they formed when lightning struck rock, they were used to represent the eyes of important deity statues. Greeks and Romans also thought they were of celestial origin like the tears of gods or splinters of falling stars. Therefore, cutting the diamonds was considered disrespectful. Believed to offer the kind of power that came from the gods themselves, they were often studded uncut in breastplates worn by kings and soldiers on the battlefield. In the Middle Ages, they were labelled a ‘miracle stone’ that could cure any disease or ailment. The countless other supernatural and symbolic properties people associated them with include wealth, power, faith, and, of course, love.
It’s no coincidence that the king of gems features in one of the oldest traditions of love and commitment – the engagement ring. Wearing an engagement ring on the left hand’s third finger dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans. They believed that the ‘vein of love’, or ‘vena amoris’, linked the ring finger to the heart. Is there a more appropriate symbol of eternal love?
Whether worn on your body or lapel, gems have this magnetising power that instinctively draws us in, awakening that deep connection we share with these natural wonders. Each precious or semi-precious stone carries its own legends, stories and alleged powers, adding their respective note to your personal style.
I hope you found your signature stone among my favourites. But if you didn’t, head to yazjewels.com to discover more striking gemstone jewellery from past eras. I am sure you will find the one that resonates with you and matches your personal taste.
Until next time, happy gem-hunting!