Mankind has always sought a divine origin for inexplicable natural phenomena. Thus, gemstones discovered by chance in a river or shimmering in the dark depths of a gold mine have given rise to the creation of many myths and legends.
There are only four precious stones: diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. The carat of these precious stones is purely a weight designation: 1 carat is equal to 0.2 grams.
The Diamond, an Immortal Light
It may be that some of the rain of ancient diamonds falling to the earth seeded the diamonds we mine today. In this model, the diamond on someone's finger might contain at its center a dot of a jewel whose antiquity goes back ten billion years.
Diamonds were certainly born with the universe, even before the formation of the earth and the sun. They are made of pure carbon (like coal!) crystallized in the earth's crust under the combined effects of pressure and heat.
The emblem of kings and power, this stone has always aroused the most extravagant dreams.
The word "diamond" derives from the ancient Greek word adamas, meaning invincible or untamed, as it was very difficult to cut and polish diamonds with the methods available in ancient times.
It is the purest and hardest of all stones. Nothing can destroy it, apart from extreme heat. The only way to scratch a diamond is with another diamond, and only diamond dust can shape or polish a diamond.
FROM INDIA TO SOUTH AFRICA
Up until the seventeenth century, the most beautiful diamonds were extracted from India. They came from the great region of Golconda, near the current town of Hyderabad. The maharajah's jewels bear witness to the abundance of stones from this valley.
Certain Indian diamonds have become legends, such as the Koh-i-Noor (Persian for "Mountain of Light"), which was extracted from the Kollur mine. In the sixteenth century, it fell into the hands of the conqueror Baber, the Mogul emperor of India; it was later obtained by the Punjab rajahs and finally taken away by the English. In 1850, the Koh-I-Noor left its original home to adorn the crown of Queen Victoria, and it still adorns the crown of the British sovereign.
Diamonds also come from Brazil. However, at the end of the nineteenth century, a major revolution occurred in industrial diamond mining in South Africa. This country now produces the greatest number of diamonds, due largely to the work of a company that holds a quasi monopoly over the world market: De Beers.
TRANSPARENCY AND COLOR
A beautiful diamond must be perfectly pure. When examined with a loop, which magnifies an object ten times, the most beautiful diamonds show no defects or inclusions called "flaws".
Transparent diamonds are the most common, but there are also colored diamonds: blue, green, yellow, pink, and even red, along with brown diamonds with varying degrees of light and dark. These natural colors are rare and much more precious. For this reason, there is a temptation to change the color through certain procedures such as irradiation.
Certainly one of the most famous diamonds is the Hope diamond; an intense blue stone, it is believed to have brought bad luck to its successive owners. It can be admired today without risk in a visit to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
ANTIQUE AND MODERN CUTS
In the past, raw diamonds were simply polished and cut according to their natural form. Sometimes they were mounted in a closed setting (the metal grips the stone, and the pavilion is not visible), backed with a sheet of metal foil called a "clinquant," in order to accentuate the diamond's brilliance.
One of the oldest cuts of diamonds is the rose cut. The difference is made very clear by simply placing a diamond of this cut next to a modern diamond. There are fewer facets, giving the stone its "rose" shape, with a domed crown and a flat base.
The brilliant cut with a set of 57 facets, invented in the seventeenth century, was conceived to maximize the light reflected from the stone. It allows a myriad of shapes to be created from the raw stone: oval, cushion (square or round), heart shaped, pear (drop shaped), marquise (boat shaped), or briolette (drop shaped with multiple facets).
The emerald and baguette cuts produce rectangular shapes that are fairly narrow with a flat top called the “table”. Some people appreciate the older diamond cuts or even the polished raw Stones. Their natural and mysterious glimmer is unlike the Sparkling modern-cut diamond.
The four Cs
A diamond is valued according to the four "Cs": carat (weight), cut, clarity, and color.
Today, cutting is computerized and automated. All the data about the Stone is analyzed by a computer, which allows the maximum profit and brilliance to be derived from the raw diamond, while losing only the smallest volume from the original Stone.
IT LOOKS LIKE A DIAMOND!
The Englishman Ravanscroft used lead crystal for the first time in the eighteenth century, cutting it into facets to imitate diamonds. This new material, first sold in Paris by the jeweler Georges Strass, gained universal recognition under the name "strass". (In England, this crystalline material is called "paste.")
To make them shimmer, soak diamonds in alcohol and rub briskly on all sides, paying special attention to areas where dirt has accumulated—especially for rings that are worn every day.
Produced by the greatest jewelers and mounted into gold and silver with richly polished and cut settings, strass jewelry looked real, especially under gas lamps and later under electric lights. Many people were fooled. Certain women would not hesitate to pass off their strass as real diamonds. This is, of course, the theme of the short glory by Guy de Maupassant entitled The Necklace. A young woman lends her best friend a diamond necklace. The friend loses it during a soiree, bringing ruin upon herself for the rest of her life so that she may buy a replacement. Many years later, when the two friends meet again, the truth is revealed: the stones were fake!
At the end of the nineteenth century, strass that was set with industrial methods lost its popularity.
As an imitation material, colorless zircon (or white sapphire) is now the most convincing. However, these stones never offer the sparkle of a real diamond. Also, they deteriorate and yellow over time.
Recently, some industrial diamond producers have proposed an astonishing procedure to recreate the authenticity of diamonds using the ashes from cadavers. But, in this case, it is not perfection that is at Stake.
Diamonds do not deteriorate, but a major shock can crack them. However, this would be a rare accident.
The Gardens of Emerald
The emerald is the most beautiful of the beryls. Its name derives from the Greek word smaragdos, which means "the precious blue and green water from the sea". In ancient times, it symbolized energy and eternal beauty.
The most beautiful emeralds come From Colombia, and their origin is laden with legend. When the conquistadors came to Colombia, they noticed the brilliant green stones in the gullets of the wild turkeys they ate. Following after the fowl, the Spaniards found the most astounding emerald mine: the Muzo mine. This site is still mined, producing the most beautiful Stones.
The top jewelers place great value on "old-mine emeralds," which were extracted from Muzo over a century ago. Madagascar also produces beautiful emeralds. They are clearer than the Colombian stones, but are very pure and show few fissures.
Emeralds often have inclusions, which look like small plants. When the emerald is spread with inclusions that look like a field of wild grass, the fissures are transformed into "jardins", a condition that makes the stonecutter's work much more difficult.
THE DEEPEST GREEN
The emerald is green—a special coloration that emanates from the presence of chromium oxide. There are also lighter and darker shades that range from pale to blue or yellow, with the latter being of lesser value.
Antique emeralds were simply polished and cut into cabochons—a rounded and smooth shape without any facets. The step cut, or emerald cut, is the most characteristic for this stone. It has four apparent angles and a plane surface called the "table".
IT LOOKS LIKE AN EMERALD!
Since ancient times, colored green clones have been passed off as emeralds. They are detectable from their surface wear and the absence of inclusions.
Synthetic emeralds, which appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century, are often of such good quality that they are difficult to detect with the naked eye. This stone is called an emerald doublet: a thin strip of stone (rock crystal, aquamarine, or pale emerald) or ordinary glass is glued onto a base that is colored green to give the illusion of an authentic emerald.
Color above all
An emerald with a rich and smooth color, similar to a luscious mint candy, has more value than a larger pale stone, even if it shows inclusions.
Rubies, Red for Passion
In the corundum family, there are two siblings that are nearly identical in appearance. While the ruby is characterized by its red color, the sapphire comes in all sorts of hues. There is even a sapphire so pink that one hesitates before placing it in one or the other category.
A Stone that was extremely rare in ancient times, the ruby was reserved for emperors, kings, and princes. Its name comes from the Latin rubeus (meaning red), an adjective that designates all Stones of this color. It is a symbol of happiness often associated with love and loyalty, and known as the stone for engagement rings par excellence. Some people believe that rubies also give Strength to people who are nervous or timid.
When it is the color of pigeon blood, an especially fiery and glistening red, the ruby is the second most valuable Stone after the diamond. The most beautiful rubies come from Burma, in particular from the mines of Mogok. It is said that one can walk on the rubies there!
SHADES OF RED
Mogok rubies are the color of pigeon blood; rubies from Thailand are the color of cow blood, with a Spot of purplish brown; and those from Sri Lanka are described as pink with a Spot of purple. Rubies fall within a wide range of reds—the shiny color explained by the presence of chromium oxide. The most important aspects of the stone are the depth of color and velvety smoothness, which should be lively without being garish.
Rubies are rarely pure. They contain inclusions called "silk" that scatter light. They do not reduce the value of the Stone as long as they do not alter its transparency and clarity.
When these inclusions take the shape of a Star, they may actually increase the price. These are, of course, Star rubies, which are cabochon cut.
IT LOOKS LIKE A RUBY!
The advent of modern techniques of identification has allowed us to differentiate and specify the Spinals, which were once, called "balas rubies". Rubellites, which are raspberry red tourmalines, adorned the oldest royal crowns. Certain very beautiful and high-quality garnets may also have been confused with rubies.
During ancient times, even colored glass was used to imitate rubies.
Synthetic rubies reflect a color that is too clear, without depth, and they contain no inclusions.
RUBIES AROUND THE WORLD
When traveling to Thailand, Burma, or other places known for their precious stone mines, people are often tempted to buy stones, hoping for a good deal. But buyers should beware. With techniques such as heating and irradiation, the aspects of the Stones can be modified, especially their color. Furthermore, an invisible crack can be disguised with an injection of resin, which is undetectable to the naked eye. Unless you are a gemologist, it is difficult to know the real value of a Stone.
The Spiritual Power of the Sapphire
In the past, priests wore a sapphire on their right hand—the hand they used to bless. It was said that the blue of the sapphire was the color of the celestial vault, and that this color could calm the ardor of love. Sapphires were also considered emblems of wisdom and meditation. For Buddhists, they represent a link between the material and Spiritual worlds. Sapphires are also said to encourage love and fidelity, making them the perfect Stone to commemorate an engagement.
These Stones molt often symbolize the power associated with faith.
While traveling in Asia: avoid impulse buys
It is advisable to avoid buying from street vendors or anyone without a reputation in the business. Also, ignore advice from local taxi drivers, who may be getting a kickback.
When buying a valuable precious stone, always ask for a certificate describing the stone and specifying its weight in carats.
CELESTIAL BLUE AND OTHER HUES
When you talk about a sapphire, blue is the color that immediately comes to mind (it comes from the presence of iron oxide): cornflower blue, cerulean blue, sea blue, indigo, and royal blue. This is a wide palette, evoking the sky at all hours of the day. The darkest sapphires, which resemble the color of night or even the color of ink, have less value than a stone that is totally clear and pure, reflecting light magnificently.
The color range also extends to pinks and yellows. The lotus flower sapphire, also known as the pink orange padparad - scha, is rare and highly sought after by lapidaries. Fakes abound.
A PRECIOUS STAR
Like rubies, sapphires have many inclusions that are as thin as threads of silk. When these inclusions appear as lines, they exhibit an optical quality that forms the shape of a six-pointed Star; these are called Star sapphires.
These Stones are usually cut into cabochons, along with large Stones, which have so many inclusions that they become opaque.