Over thousands of years and back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Christians, precious and semi-precious gemstones have been revered for their mystical and spiritual properties. As well as cultural and religious affiliations, they have always also represented the outstanding wealth of their owners.
In more modern times, the connection of particular stones to birth months was formalized in the United States in the early 1900s although assigning astrology to birthstone jewelry was first observed in Poland in the 15th century.
How Tanzanite Was Discovered
One day in 1967, a Masai tribesman named Ali Juuyawatu was walking along the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania when he found a stone. Perhaps he stubbed his toe on the rock or maybe it’s unusual color caught his eye, history doesn’t tell us that. We do know that this Masai warrior made history that day; he had discovered Tanzanite! To this day, this rare member of the zoisite group of minerals has been found in only one place on earth: a five-square mile hilltop near Arusha, Tanzania. In fact, Kilimanjaro International Airport is just ten miles north of where this rare gem is mined.
Tanzanite is related to another stone with Masai connections: anyolite (or ruby zoisite) is an opaque green stone with inclusions of large, generally opaque rubies; it’s named after a Masai word for green.
The new gem was originally called blue zoisite, but when Tiffany & Company presented the gemstone to the world in 1969, they had renamed it Tanzanite after the only country where it is found. It’s reported that they renamed it out of fear that mispronunciation of its unfamiliar name into “blue suicide” might affect sales of their new and exotic gem.
Like topaz and diamonds, a tanzanite gemstone exhibits perfect cleavage and a good, sharp blow could cause it to split right in half! Gem cutters have other problems to deal with when turning rough tanzanite into gems; it appears as different colors depending on the angle at which it’s viewed. It can appear blue (ranging from vivid sapphire to ultramarine), violet-blue, or violet. The less than desirable yellowish-brown tinge found in most of the rough crystals is easier to deal with; it vanishes when the stone is heated to between 752 & 932 degrees F. This heat treatment has the added benefit of enhancing the more desirable blue and violet colors.
If you would enjoy the beauty of tanzanite without the expense of this rare (and pricey!) gem, take a look at our tanzanite beaded anklet or tanzanite crystal earrings; they are only two of many tanzanite inspired designs we have available. And be sure to contact us for help in your quest for that perfect piece of beaded jewelry.
Long associated with Chinese culture, jade is an ancient and beautiful gemstone. The characteristic green color of the stone (which can range from very pale, milky green to very dark green) is caused by its iron content. More iron results in deeper green color. This extremely durable stone has been used to make tools and beaded jewelry, along with other objects used for ornamental or spiritual purposes, for at least 7000 years. Fine examples of jade jewelry and artifacts, both modern and historic, have been found all over the world.
Jade and Chinese Culture
It is hard to overstate the prominence of jade in Chinese culture. Traditionally, jade has been thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good health and long life. Jade is thought to possess almost human qualities, as described by Xu Shen in his work, Shuowenjiezi:
Because of the beauty of jade and its spiritual properties, it has been treasured by the Chinese people throughout their history. Jade has been called the imperial gem, and ornamental objects made from jade have been found in ancient royal tombs.
Jade is still popular in China today. Many households own cherished objects made from jade. In addition to jewelry, jade can be fashioned into innumerable things, from hair combs to statues to tea sets. These items are highly valued and often displayed with pride.
Jade and Maori Culture
The Maori people are indigenous to New Zealand. Originating in Polynesia, they traveled the ocean by canoe and arrived in New Zealand around 3500 years ago. They have a rich and unique culture largely centered around artistic and religious pursuits. Jade, called pounamu in the Maori language, is sacred to the Maori people. Found only on the South Island, jade was originally mined for use in tools. Eventually, tribal leaders began to use ceremonial objects carved from jade as symbols of rank. These items were considered taonga (treasure) and were highly valued.
Today, jade is a favored gemstone in New Zealand. It is worked into jewelry featuring traditional Maori designs and symbols. Items made from jade are popular with tourists, and New Zealand residents often wear jade jewelry for good luck when traveling out of country.
Jade in Mesoamerica
Jade has been found in archeological locations throughout Central America. Many ceremonial items made from jade appear in Mayan burial sites. One example is the jade beads often found in the mouths of the dead. Olmecs were especially fond of rare blue jade. Found only in Guatemala, it symbolized water and was important to their religious rituals.
Jade is prized by people around the world. It is strong, gorgeous, and versatile and has great spiritual significance. For more information about gemstones or to see our beautiful handcrafted jade jewelry, please contact us today.
Nature makes them. Men sweat for them, cut them, polish them, steal them and also kill for them. Gemstones impress everyone, but some stones seem to take on a life of their own. These famous gemstones still fascinate us today.
Probably the most famous gemstone in the world, the Hope Diamond hides quite a tale in her lovely steel-blue facets. Mined originally in India, the owner sold it to the French King Louis XIV in the mid-1600s. About 100 years later when Louis XVI lost his throne and his head, the diamond disappeared along with the other French crown jewels. It turned up in the hands of Henry Hope in 1839 and received the name we know. Hope died shortly after he bought it. In 1910 an unfortunate lady named Evalyn Walsh McLean acquired it. She lost a daughter to a drug overdose, a son to a car accident and her husband to a sanitarium. She also lost her fortune. Henry Winston purchased her estate jewelry in 1949 and later donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Natural Museum of History. He seems to have escaped the curse the stone acquired through the years. Today, it is one of the most popular displays at the Museum.
The Museum also houses another famous gemstone, the Star of India. About the size of a golf ball, the Star is one of the largest sapphires in the world. It weighs in at 1563 carats! Its value lies not only in its size and color but also in the rare double star it carries. Mined in Sri Lanka, J. P. Morgan owned the stone before donating it to the Museum in 1900. Due to poor security, in 1964 thieves took it from the museum along with several other stones. It was later recovered from a bus terminal in Miami and returned. It currently rests safely in the museum with improved protection.
The British Crown Jewels displayed at the Tower of London contain several famous gemstones. The Koh-i-Noor diamond came originally from Indian mines. It's name means "mountain of lights" for its dazzling pure white color and near flawless beauty. It was given to Queen Victoria and set in the crown by Albert. Like many other famous jewels, it carries a curse. It's said that if a man wears it he will die. Only women of the British royal family have ever worn it. After Queen Elizabeth, it will pass to Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
The Black Prince Ruby in the Imperial State Crown of England is also called the "Imposter Ruby." It isn't a ruby at all, but a huge spinel. Mined in what is now modern Tajikistan, it originally belonged to the Moorish Prince of Granada. It passed through several hands before coming to the son of England's Edward III where it was given its present name.
One more gemstone became famous only in the 20th century. La Peregrina Pearl was found by an African slave in the Gulf of Panama in the 16th century. It passed through so many hands it was given the name Peregrina meaning "wanderer." Philip of Spain gave it to Queen "Bloody" Mary of England, then took it back to Spain when she died. It was later looted from Spain by Napoleon. It continued its "wandering" until Richard Burton bought it in 1969 for a mere $37,000. He gave it to Elizabeth Taylor who had it set in a gorgeous necklace. After her death, it sold at auction for 11 million dollars in 2011.
These stones were famous for their size, their beauty, their perfection and, in part, who wore them. All gemstones become personalized by their owners and have a story to tell. What is your favorite gemstone and your story? Contact us and let us help you find out.
Today, we have home security systems that set off an alarm if an intruder enters. In the future, we will be protected by a force field, like the one Scottie switches on when the Klingons are at the backdoor of the Enterprise and Captain Kirk starts getting nervous.
In ancient times, say roughly 20,000 B.C. the Stone Age people found comfort in agates, as a form of protection.
In all of recorded history, agate is the first stone ever mentioned in an ancient document. Agate was highly prized as a talisman or amulet by primitive people. Mithridates, king of Pontus, had an enormous collection of thousands of agate bowls. This was one way of displaying one’s wealth and at the same time, protecting one’s kingdom from enemies.
According to the 16th Century French poet, Remy Bellau, Bacchu the Greek god of wine, revelry and debauchery was once captivated by a beautiful maiden by the name of Amethyste. Bacchus pursued the fair Amethyste relentlessly, chasing her for mile after mile. Desperate not to become the prey of the lustful god, Amethyste called out to the goddess of chastity, Diana, for help. To protect Amethyste’s treasured virginity, Diana turned the maiden into a stone of the purest white. Humbled by her sacrifice, Bacchus poured a libation of his symbolic wine onto the stone, staining Amethyste the most glorious purple.
In 1716, Prussia gave Peter the Great of Russia an extravagant gift honoring the peace between their nations - an entire room made of amber and encrusted with beaded jewelry. The panels were backed with gold leaf, which made the entire room glow with a topaz-like warmth.
The gorgeous Amber Room, made of real amber and beaded jewelry, glows like citrine or topaz. Image from Imaging-and-Art.com.
It was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Historians estimate that today it would be worth $146 million.