Aprecious stone, a gem, a jewel—to-day as in the earliest times the words suggest at once beauty and color, something rare and greatly to be desired. Perhaps we no longer delight, as Aladdin did, in marble basins filled to overflowing with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds; we recognize now that great quantities of gems are not of artistic importance, but that it is the individual stone, carefully selected, and appropriately mounted, which we rightly prize.
The very word jewel, derived from the French "joie," means "joy" and "gladness," and jewels have played an important part not only in the pleasure but in the art and history of mankind. To-day, as in past ages, they are still the favorite tokens of love and esteem.
It has been well said that a gift should be as genuine as the sentiment it expresses. A fine jewel is the gift par excellence, and moreover it endures to serve as a constant reminder of the giver. Too much care and consideration cannot be bestowed on the selection of a jewel.
As the charm of flowers is increased by artistic arrangement in vases of appropriate shape and color and material, so a precious stone should be set with due regard to design, material, and workmanship. The beauty of a stone is truly revealed by an appropriate setting.
The mounting of gems and the creation of handsome pieces of jewelry require expert knowledge. The determination of the most harmonious combinations of form and color bring into play the artistic instinct and talent of the jeweller.
For many years the so-called commercial attitude towards jewelry prevailed. This view regarded the monetary or intrinsic value of the stones as most important. The newer attitude, while not disregarding value, nevertheless emphasizes the artistic quality of the jewel as paramount.
The purchaser of an ornament now seeks artistic excellence of design, fine handiwork in the mounting, and suitability of the jewel to the character of the wearer. The owner, moreover, recognizes that many jewels when worn at one time diminish each other's beauty, and that the appeal of each is increased when it is chosen and worn with careful consideration of its suitability for the occasion, and its appropriateness in color and design for the particular gown.
One of the most striking evidences of good taste in jewelry is the recognition, particularly in America, of the beauty of pearls. The unobtrusiveness, the refinement, the soft lustre of the pearl is becoming to women; pearls harmonize readily with the wearer's complexion; they introduce no elements of contrast or vulgar display.
In estimating the value of a gem, three principal qualities must be considered: color, brilliancy, and perfection. In the case of each gem there is a true color which is rare. Brilliancy depends upon certain structural qualities and correct cutting. Perfection is freedom from flaws or defects; but it is important to recognize that minor and especially invisible defects do not detract appreciably from the beauty of a stone which has the essential virtues of good color and brilliancy. To be sure, commercial value is directly influenced by the perfection of the stones, but stones may be genuine and of great artistic value and still contain very slight imperfections. Size and weight are less important characteristics bearing upon value. The purchaser who is unfamiliar with the technique by which value is determined must entrust the selection of gems to a jeweller of unquestioned integrity and unfailing accuracy of judgment.
Strictly speaking the precious stones are only seven in number—the diamond, the pearl, the ruby, the sapphire, the emerald, the oriental catseye, and the alexandrite; but to these are often added the so-called semi-precious stones—such as the amethyst, the topaz, the tourmaline, the aquamarine, the chrysoprase, the peridot, the opal, the zircon, and the jade.
The charm of precious stones lies mainly in their beauty—in brilliancy, clearness, and above all, richness of color—"the blazing red of the ruby, the angry green of the emerald, the cold blue of the sapphire, and the white hot glory of the diamond," so vividly described by Kipling in his story of the Naulahka.
Two other qualities of precious stones, hardness and scarcity, add to their worth. To their hardness they owe their power of taking a high polish, as well as their durability; while their rarity, although a variable quality, is one of the chief elements of their value.
Poets have always delighted in sentences studded with gems. We read in Proverbs, "A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it." Shakespeare's Juliet "hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear." Milton, describing the approach of evening, says, "Now glowed the firmament with living sapphires." Browning's hillside at morning is "dew-pearled."
And yet long association with pageantry and poetic imagination has not robbed jewels of their intimate personal character. A gem as a gift is the symbol of highest admiration. As a possession and ornament a jewel which combines the elements of beauty, genuineness, and appropriateness will be a continual satisfaction, a lasting source of pleasure.
A List of Precious and Semi-Precious Stones and their Characteristics
A Scale for Hardness
The following list of stones comprises those generally used by jewellers. Their color, hardness, and sources of supply are stated. The scale for hardness which has been in use for a century or more, was devised by Professor Friedrich Mohs (1773–1839), a German mineralogist.
Scale for Hardness
CALCITE—low degree of hardness
PRECIOUS TOPAZ—very hard
CORUNDUM—hardest mineral except diamond
Precious and Semi-Precious Stones and Their Characteristics