Nature’s Jewels: A Guide to Precious and Semi-Precious Gemstones

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Natural gemstones have been mined and used for thousands of years to craft exquisite jewelry, embellish ceremonial objects and weapons and heal the mind and body. 

In the 19th century, gemstones were divided into two categories—precious and semi-precious—according to how their value was perceived at the time. Nowadays, this classification is seen as outdated, elements such as rarity, brilliance, durability, and provenance being given much more consideration when estimating their worth. 

This article aims to uncover the special characteristics and meaning behind the four precious gemstones—diamond, emerald, sapphire, and ruby—and some of the most popular semi-precious stones. 

PRECIOUS GEMSTONES

DIAMOND

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Undoubtedly one of the most coveted gemstones throughout history, the diamond reveals its iconic sparkling brilliance only after being expertly cut and polished. 

This precious stone is made entirely out of carbon atoms and represents the hardest natural material on Earth. That’s why many ancient cultures believed that the diamond could strengthen the body and the mind by protecting the wearer from negative energies, illness, and danger. 

The first diamond engagement ring was created in 1477 to mark the union between Archduke Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy. When millions of other couples followed this tradition in the centuries to come, diamonds became known as a symbol of deep, eternal love.

EMERALD

Image Source: Gemological Institute of America

A favorite among famous royalty figures such as Cleopatra, emerald is a variety of beryl known for its intense green color. As most such gemstones present natural inclusions that affect their clarity and durability, color is the most important factor for determining the value of an emerald.

Ancient civilizations treasured emerald as a talisman, considering it a symbol of true love (Greek and Roman mythology) and a source of immortality (ancient Egypt).

Also, legends say that this stone would grant the wearer eloquence, enhanced mental clarity, and even the ability to foresee the future.

SAPPHIRE

Image Source: Gemological Institute of America 

Sapphires belong to the corundum family of gemstones and come in a variety of colors including yellow, green, orange, pink, blue, and violet. For centuries, the vivid hues of the blue sapphire have been a symbol of faith, loyalty, and nobility. 

In ancient Greece, sapphire was associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy and oracles, and was believed to grant protection against envy, sorcery, and poisoning. 

The star sapphire, also known as ‘the Stone of Destiny’, displays a star effect (asterism) caused by the rutile inclusions within the gem. This stone was often used as a talisman for good fortune, protecting the possessor from evil spirits and illnesses.

RUBY

Image Source: Gemological Institute of America 

The stone of kings in many cultures around the world, ruby is the red variety of corundum. Its vibrant blood-red color, which was regarded as a symbol of life, is a result of chromium traces within its mineral structure. 

As a talisman, ruby was thought to hold numerous mystical powers such as enhancing the wearer’s mental and physical health, restoring vitality, and increasing passion and motivation.

Moreover, the ancient Burmese warriors thought that wearing rubies could make them invincible in battle.

SEMI-PRECIOUS GEMSTONES

AMETHYST

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The vibrant purple shades of amethyst have long been considered to connect the wearer to their intuition and confer calm and clarity in times of need or confusion. 

Apart from bringing harmony and healing, this gemstone is associated with the myth of Bacchus, the god of wine. Ancient Greeks believed that wearing an amethyst while drinking wine will prevent the person from getting drunk.

JADE

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Jade had been a highly prized gemstone in the Chinese empire for thousands of years. Chinese artisans used both types of jade, jadeite and nephrite, to create intricately carved sculptures (Shan Zi) and ornaments symbolizing wealth and power. 

Jade stones were believed to have healing properties such as cleansing the body from toxins, soothing the mind, and promoting emotional wellbeing.

LAPIS LAZULI

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Cherished by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt for its striking royal blue color, lapis lazuli is an aggregate of multiple minerals, including lazurite, calcite, and pyrite. This gem is believed to restore mental balance, encourage self-expression and eliminate negative energies.

Renaissance painters used lapis lazuli to create a new pigment, ultramarine blue, unrivaled in its intensity and durability. Michelangelo used this vibrant and extremely precious pigment to paint the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

MOONSTONE

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According to a Hindu legend, moonstone was made of moonbeams trapped under the stone’s surface and would grant the wearer the ability to see their future.

In reality, the stone’s ethereal glow is caused by an optical phenomenon known as adularescence, where the light rays entering the surface of the moonstone are scattered across its microscopic layers.

This gemstone was commonly used as a talisman for protection and good luck by those who traveled at night. Nowadays, moonstone is regarded as a symbol of fertility, bringing balance to women’s reproductive system. 

OPAL

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Opal’s sparkling play of color is based on an optical effect called diffraction. When light enters the gem, it bends through the gaps found between the silica spheres forming the opal’s internal structure. This causes white light to be broken up into the colors of the spectrum.

Opals come in a wide range of patterns and colors, making each stone unique. While in the Middle Ages the opal was considered a talisman of good fortune, its reputation has been subsequently damaged by Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Anne of Geierstein.

 ROSE QUARTZ

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Rose quartz amulets have been used by ancient Roman and Greek civilizations to attract love and balance the wearer’s emotions. 

One of the most famous Greek myths establishing rose quartz as the stone of love is that of Adonis and Aphrodite. The legend says that Aphrodite cut herself on a briar bush while rushing to save Adonis from Are’s wrath. Her blood mixed with that of her mortally wounded lover, staining the white quartz. 

After Zeus decided to bring Adonis back to Aphrodite for six months every year, the pink hues of the rose quartz came to symbolize love renewed.

TURQUOISE

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Turquoise was greatly valued by the Aztecs, who used the blue-green stone to create stunning turquoise mosaic ceremonial masks, ornaments, and weapons for the noble class.

Also, many native American tribes turned turquoise into amulets meant to offer protection in battle and keep them safe from illness and evil spirits. Every shaman possessed a turquoise stone as they were thought to confer wisdom and connect the Earth with the spiritual world. 

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While incorporating natural gemstones into jewelry is a great way to strengthen our connection with nature, we invite you to explore our latest jewelry collections

Discover how we used modern technology to replicate forms commonly found in the natural world, such as an unfurling fern leaf, the delicate wings of a butterfly, or an elegant shell spiral.

 

RESOURCES

Gemological Institute of America - Gem Encyclopedia

Jewelry Information Place - What are semi-precious stones & gemstones? 

International Gem Society - The lighter side of gemology

 

    Nature’s Jewels: A Guide to Precious and Semi-Precious Gemstones