So here we are a quarter of the way through the year already and having been in lockdown for nearly all of it, it has seemed a very long three months. There are, however, literally rays of sunshine as we end the month with high temperatures and the first easing of restrictions. It was lovely to be able to put the roof down on the car and drive in the warm sunshine yesterday in what was to me, just a little bit of normality.
I thought I’d focus on another favourite jewellery topic of mine – gemstones. There are literally hundreds of gemstones and I can’t mention them all here, so I’ll stick to rubies & spinels, sapphires & emeralds having already covered diamonds in a previous blog (see October 2020 Blog). Until relatively recently, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds were collectively badged as “the precious stones” and other gems regarded as semi-precious such as Topaz, Aquamarine, Tourmaline, Amethyst and so on. However, these along with lots of others are now part of the precious stone family and quite rightly so in my view. They’re all fabulous!
RUBIES along with sapphires are formed from the same mineral corundum and are chemically identical apart from the colour – the addition of chromium gives the ruby its redness and titanium, the sapphire its blueness. Rubies are my own birthstone for July and the best examples of rubies are rarer than those of diamonds. Some of the oldest of these lovely stones date back 2.7 billion years and found in Greenland. Rubies are rarely heavier than 1 carat and larger stones are often spinel. The best colour for a ruby is pigeon blood red but this is rare and paler ruby coloured stones are classified as pink sapphires. The gems are produced in several countries including Tanzania and Thailand, but it's the Mogok region in Myanmar (formerly Burma) which has produced some of the most spectacular rubies in the world. One of the best rubies ever mined is the Sunrise Ruby weighing 25.59 carats sold at auction in 2015 for $30m. The changing political scene in Myanmar has reduced its ruby production and Mozambique has overtaken it as the largest producer.
SPINELS, have been produced in both Tanzania and Myanmar over the years and whilst overshadowed by their more famous red counterparts and often confused with them, they are worth a mention in their own right. They come in varying shades of red, with the deep red spinel also known as the Balas Ruby. There are several well-known spinels that for some time had been thought to have been rubies such as The Black Prince Ruby weighing 170 carats, found in the British State Crown and The Timur Ruby in the Russian Imperial Crown.
SAPPHIRES as I’ve mentioned above, are from the same corundum family as the ruby and the information I’ve provided for rubies also applies for the most part, to sapphires except the colour. Sapphires are predominantly found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, North America and yes even Scotland! A sapphire’s best colours are Kashmir Blue and Cornflower Blue, but these are rare. However, sapphires aren’t just blue but come in a multitude of colours such as orange, pink, yellow, green and mauve. Any corundum stone that is not of a strong red or blue colour is termed “a fancy sapphire”. Out of all of these colours, perhaps the most valuable is the orange sapphire and is highly prized when the colour is good and displays a pinkish tinge. Tanzanite is often confused with sapphire, but the former is darker in colour whilst blue tourmaline and blue zircon are used as a cheaper sapphire simulant. The flawless cushion cut Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka is roughly the size of an egg and the second largest blue sapphire known weighing 422.99 carats or 84.6g. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institute by Polly Logan after whom it was named. The St Edward’s Sapphire in the British Imperial Crown is a rose cut stone reputed to have originally been part of a finger ring worn by Edward the Confessor and is believed to be the oldest gem in the British Crown Jewels.
And so on to EMERALDS, the final gem that I’ll look at in this blog. This wonderful gem is a member of the beryl family of minerals along with aquamarine, morganite, heliodor and goshenite. Only green beryl containing chromium can be classed as an emerald because it is this impurity that gives the gem is glorious colour. A perfect emerald can actually outrank a diamond in value. Whilst an emerald is beautiful, it is not as durable as rubies, sapphires or diamonds. Emeralds can be found in Brazil, India and Zambia but it is those from Colombia that outdo the rest and where a rare emerald called a Trapiche is found. It is so named because of the six-point star pattern within the gem that mirrors the spoked cog wheel (Trapiche) that is used to grind sugar cane. Very large emeralds are rare but one of the largest found has been the Devonshire Emerald discovered in Colombia weighing in at a staggering 1383.95 carats uncut. Because they are less robust than other precious stones, they need to be handled with care although there is a diamond coating that can be used to make the emerald harder and less prone to damage and wear and tear. The Crown of Andes found in the Metropolitan Museum in New York has over 400 untreated South American emeralds, the largest being 24 carats known as the Atahualpa Emerald; The Chalk Emerald weighing 37.8 carats in the Smithsonian Institute is renowned for its clarity and colour and is ranked amongst the finest Colombian emeralds in the world. The Duc d’Angouleme commissioned a tiara for his Duchesse, Marie Therese in 1819. It has over 1000 diamonds set in silver and 40 emeralds in gold.
Because of their value, the likes of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and of course diamonds, are subject to clever copying or faking if you like. There is big business in the legitimate manufacture of synthetic gems and these replicas are often difficult to distinguish from the real thing by those who aren’t experts so who, apart from you, knows if that dazzling gemstone in your ring or pendant is for real or not! Besides which, they sell for a fraction of the price of the genuine article and therefore within the reach of most buyers.
Well, that’s me signing off for March’s blog. Enjoy the coming Easter Weekend. Hopefully you’ll be able to see friends and family outdoors and… oh, don’t eat too many chocky eggs.
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