Humans have been obsessed with colored gemstones ever since the dawn of civilization. Poised for a sparkling future, the jewelry industry is expected to reach over USD284.5 billion by 2020. Jewelry are remarkable and what makes them so special is not the brand or designer but is in fact the symbolism and history that comes with every ravishing gemstone used. Once a crystal is extracted from the Earth, it undergoes skilled cutting and polishing for the gemstones’ full potential to be revealed. But, it all began with Mother Nature.
Once upon a time, Earth’s landmasses were united as one supercontinent known as Pangea. Over 200-250 million years, Pangea fragmented and drifted apart to form the continents as we know it today. The powerful, gradual process of plate tectonics shuffling and colliding with one another was met with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Through millions of years, the violent process gave birth to beautiful gemstones.
Heat and pressure is generated when two or more tectonic plates collide, resulting in the melting and re-solidification of rocks. The boundaries in which the plates grind over one another are known as gem deposits. Some of the deposits with major concentrations of gemstones are located in: The Central-South-East Asia, East-Southeast Africa, East-South America, Western North America.
Before the operation of mines, ancient civilizations used gemstones for many purposes. They were utilized in the construction of buildings, jewelries, pendants, statues and even in ancient cosmetics. Ancient Egyptians used them for decoration on royal clothing while jade was frequently buried alongside Ancient Chinese Emperor. In Medieval European times, powdered gems were sold as medicine and typically taken with herbal tea. Depending on the culture, gemstones were also believed to have health benefits and healing powers.
As time went by, the veneration of gemstones reached the furthest corners of the world. The growing demand for gemstones, advancement of technology and expansion of trade encouraged the permanent operation of mines along the gem deposits. Bygone were the days where one would set up nets to catch gemstones as they rolled down the mountainside during heavy rain or flood. From within the mines of Rathnapura in Sri Lanka, the province of Kanchanaburi in Thailand, the Mogok Township in Myanmar, all the way to the world’s oldest working gem mines Colombia, precious gemstones scattered around the globe.
We can’t exactly pinpoint the beginnings of the gem trade, but what we do know is that the Crusades had much to do with it. The series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims opened up the Europeans to the curiosity of exotic items from the Middle East and Asia. As the Europeans spent more time in the Middle East, they came to the realization that the Arabs had been trading with places much further east. Crusaders who returned from the Middle East brought back an assortment of items such as perfumes, spices, and silk. Among them were gemstones.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the gem trade started to kick off. The formalization of trade organizations such as the Dutch East India Company opened a world of new trade routes and communications between the West and the East. Gems such as the brightly-colored tourmaline found in Sri Lanka were brought back to Europe by the Dutch in great quantities. Indian diamonds, worn by their elites spread to the royal courts of Europe who were all afflicted with the diamond craze. The demand from the Europeans over these exotic gemstones were one that traders and merchants alike were glad to fill.
Despite the fact that there are over 100 different types of gemstones, only three gemstones are considered precious in the modern day: emerald, ruby and sapphire. These three stones have long been associated with royalty, shedding light on why they are an object of fascination in our modern-day society. The first royal to have an enduring affair with Emerald is none other than Ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra. She adored Emeralds so much that she had her own emerald mines. Faithful servants would work long hours digging deep into the mines to provide Cleopatra with the beautiful green stones. It would then be used to decorate her robes and royal ornaments.
Long known to house some of the world’s best rubies, the Tabtim Siam ruby is found only in Thailand. Traditionally used on Buddha images and royal insignia, the Thai royal family has a long relationship with rubies. The most expensive of all the rubies in Thailand is a 21-carat Tabtim Siam Ruby which sits atop a 180-karat diamond tiara, decorated with an additional 24 pieces of the Tabtim Siam ruby. In the Thai culture, rubies symbolize the sun and therefore it is always placed at the center of each piece.
It is almost impossible to speak about royal families and their jewelry without mentioning the British royal family. Whilst each member of the family has their own collection of jewelries, the history of the British Empire is intertwined with sapphires, notable for their fondness of the jaw-dropping stones of blue. For example, two of the world’s most legendary sapphires are found on the Imperial State Crown: the 104-carat Stuart Sapphire and the rose-cut St. Edward’s Sapphire. The Queen also boasts an abundance of brooches featuring large sapphires as the centerpiece.
While the world focuses on rubies, emeralds and sapphires, interest towards other gemstones such as topaz, opal and garnet has been brewing. The younger generation’s tastes seem to be shifting away from diamonds towards colored gemstones.
There is no denying that one glance at these any gemstone can have such a strong effect on us. It is as if we are staring at a million-year-old piece of history, molded by the earth and Mother Nature herself, smiting everyone with its beauty and glorious shine. For these reasons, gemstones have held so much value throughout mankind’s history. Ancient civilizations believed them to possess the ability to forgo diseases and illness, powers of protection from witchcraft and safeguard from evil but today, the gemstones fetch high soaring prices at auction houses and are still the decorations on royal adornments.