The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
Facts and Fancies about Precious Stones
ANY interesting facts about precious stones do not properly refer either to their talismanic or curative powers,
and yet serve in not a few cases to indicate more or less clearly the reasons which have determined popular fancy
or superstition in attributing particular virtues to a given stone.
As an instance of the strange vagaries of belief in the influence exerted by certain of these stones, we may take
the statement that powdered agate dissolved in beer was used by the Bretons as a test of virginity. If a young girl
were unable to retain this delectable mixture on her stomach, she was supposed to be impure.1 The ability to stand
this test seems rather to prove the possession of a strong' stomach than a clear conscience.
Rainbow Agate is a name appropriately applied to agates showing a beautiful prismatic effect. These are composed
of quartz and chalcedony in very fine layers. The writer secured a splendid specimen of this type of agate set in a
jewel which had formed part of an old Saxon collection; it may possibly have come from India. The prismatic play
of color differs from that observed in quartz iris, in that the iridescence is due to the minute interference lines and
not, as with the iris, to internal fractures.
The greatest interest was manifested in the eighteenth century in these agates, one of which was described in a
special pamphlet under the title, "Regenbogen Achat," and
1 Wilhelmus Parisiensls, quoted in Pancirollus, "History of Many Memorable Things," London, 1715, vol. i, p. 42.
illustrated, with a colored plate. The effect was that of a spectrum rather than the iris effect of the crystalline
This iris was also highly valued, and great favor was set upon brilliant examples of what was in reality rock-crystal
fractured, the small fracture-planes causing the breaking up of the light and producing the rainbow or iris effect.
In fact it was a spectrum produced by the mixture of quartz between the chalcedonic layers.
Cellini has a marvellous story to tell of a luminous carbuncle. A certain Jacopo Cola, a vine-grower, going into his
vineyard one night noticed what appeared to be a bit of glowing coal at the foot of one of the vines, but on reaching
the spot he was unable to locate the source of this radiance.
Very wisely he retraced his steps to the spot whence he had first observed the light, which became again apparent,
and when he now very carefully approached the vine he found that the gleam proceeded from a rough little stone,
which he joyfully picked up and carried off with him. He showed it to a number of his friends and among them
chanced to be a Venetian envoy, an expert on precious stones, who immediately recognized that the find was a carbuncle. Thereupon taking a base advantage of the finder's ignorance, he succeeded in buying the stone for only
ten scudi, and then hastened away from Rome, lest his deception should be discovered. Not long afterwards this
same Venetian went to Constantinople and sold the stone to the Sultan of the time for 100,000 scudi, a profit of
10,000 per cent.2 The fact that the vintner could only see the gleam from a given spot is in itself sufficient proof
that what he noted was merely the reflection of some distant light striking a smooth surface of the stone at a
Among the many virtues credited to carnelian by the
2 Benvenuto Cellini, "Due trattati, uno intorno alle otto principali arti dell' oreflceria," etc., Fiorenzi, Valenti
Panizzi & Marco Peri, 1568, fol. 10.
Mohammedans may be noted its power to preserve the equanimity and gravity of the wearer in the midst of
disputes or inordinate laughter. A special and peculiar utilization of this material was to employ splinters of it as toothpicks.
Their use not only whitened the teeth but also prevented bleeding of the gums. The Prophet, according to tradition,
asserted that the wearer of a carnelian ring would never cease to be happy and blessed.3
The chrysolite is now regarded as a semi-precious stone only, yet Shakespeare presented this gem as the type of
excellence in its kind when he wrote ("Othello," Act V, Scene 2):
Nay, had she been true,
If heaven would make me such another world
Of one entire and perfect chrysolite,
I'd not have sold her for it.
It is interesting to note that this appreciation of the beauty of the chrysolite is also shown in an old Greek
glossary of alchemical terms, where occur the words: "Sacred stone means the chrysolite."4
Such was the sacred quality ascribed to strings of coral beads in some parts of Africa, not long since, that they were
regarded as the most precious gifts a ruler could bestow.
If the favored recipient were so unfortunate as to lose this royal donation — which was a mark of high rank — he himself, as well as all involved in the theft, incurred the penalty of death. A writer of the seventeenth century,
Palisot de Beauvais, relates that in Benin human victims were sacrificed at a "coral festival," when the corals of
the king and royal family were dipped in the victim's blood, so as to placate the coral fetish and ensure a further
supply of the precious
3 Edmond Doutte, "Magie et Religion," Alger, 1909, pp. 83, 84.
4 Berthelot, "Collection des anciens alchemistea grecs," Paris, 1888, 1889, vol. i, p. 9 of text.
material.5 Possibly human blood was believed to strengthen the special virtue supposed to be inherent in this red
There is a note of republican simplicity in the reported wearing of coral ornaments on ceremonial occasions by the
present Queen of Italy. Indeed, the assertion that this is done to stimulate the coral industry in Italy may be true,
as nothing would better tend to do this than such an example of royal favor for coral. Certainly this is in marked
contrast with the almost exclusive use of pearl ornaments of all kinds so characteristic of Queen Margarita, whose devotion to the pearl, now perhaps the most costly of gems, had a poetic appropriateness for one bearing her
name, and we can scarcely imagine the Pearl of Savoy without her splendid parures and necklaces of pearls. Still, undoubtedly this new departure renders it possible for all Italian women, rich or poor, to loyally follow the example
set by their Queen Helena, and there is little danger that the rich will ever neglect to avail themselves of the
exclusive privilege they possess of owning and wearing diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, which
surpass coral as much in beauty as they do in price.
A comparatively recent attempt to use diamond dust as a poison is said to have been made in 1874 on Colonel
Phayre, British Resident at the court of the then reigning Gaikwar of Baroda. The colonel was in the habit of
refreshing himself after his morning walk with a glass of sugared water flavored with a little lime-juice. One day,
on taking a sip of his customary beverage, he noted that it had a strange taste, and instead of drinking it he saved
it up and had it analyzed. The analysis revealed the presence of arsenic in quantity sufficient to cause death, and
of diamond dust as
5 Roth, "Great Benin, Its Customs, Art and Horrors," Halifax, England, 1903, p. 95.
well. Here, as in the case of Sir Thomas Overbury, the really innocuous diamond material was accompanied by an
actual poison. The current belief in the poisonous quality of the diamond is reflected in the words "mortal as
diamond dust," used by Horace Walpole in one of his letters to the Countess of Ossory.6
A German writer of the seventeenth century quotes with admiration a wonderful tale told by Johannes
Bustamantius to the effect that he had seen a marriage of two diamonds, the two crystals being so firmly drawn
toward each other by mutual sympathy that when they were put in one place they would cling to one another, as
with an "unending kiss," as though one were a man and the other a woman, and he asserts that the union was
blessed with offspring. This curious idea has been repeatedly put forth by certain of the older writers as we have
had occasion to note elsewhere.7
After expatiating on the mechanical skill displayed by the Indians of the New World, an early Spanish traveller
gives the following details regarding their success as gemcutters: 8
Yet all that we have said is surpassed by the ingenuity of the Indians in working emeralds, with which they are
supplied from the coast of Manta and the countries dependent on the government of Atacames, Coaquis or
Quaques. But these mines are now entirely lost, very probably through negligence. These curious emeralds are
found in the tombs of the Indians of Manta and Atacames; and are, in beauty, size and hardness superior to those
found in the district of Santa Fe; but what chiefly raises the admiration of the connoisseur is, to find them worked,
some in spherical, some cylindrical, some conical, and of various other figures; and all with a perfect accuracy.
6 See Wilt's " History of India," vol. ii, p. 197. Cited in Lean's Collectanea, vol. ii, Pt. II, Bristol, 1903, p. 641.
7 C. G. Jentsch, "Disaertatio physico-historica de gemrais," Lipsise, 1706, p. 19. See also the present writer's"
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones," Philadelphia and London, 1913, p. 41.
8 Ulloa's Voyage to South America, trans, of John Adams, in Pinkerton's Voyages and Travels, vol. xiv, London,
1813, p. 546.
But the unsurmountable diflSculty here is, to explain how they could work a stone of such hardness, it being
evident that steel and iron were utterly unknown to them. They pierced emeralds and other gems, with all the
delicacy of the present times, furnished with so many tools; and the direction of the hole is also very observable;
in some it passes through the diameter, in others only to the centre of the stone, and coming out at its circumference they formed triangles at a small distance from one another, and thus the figure of the stone to give it relief was
varied with the direction of the holes.
The existence of emeralds in the region near Berenice is vouched for by Ptolemy. The mines of emerald here were
duly entered in the map of the patriarch and the Arabs are said to have dug for them ; but, Pocock writes, "As all
stones that may be found belong to the Grand Signior, the Arabs are very well satisfied that the presence of
emeralds should not be suspected, because he would have the profit, and the inhabitants might be obliged to work
in the mines for a very small consideration.'' 9
The number of ancient hematite artefacts found in the United States indicates that this material was more largely
used within its territorial limits for implements and ornaments than in any other part of the world; 10 indeed the
somewhat sweeping statement has been ventured that it does not seem to have been used outside of this section
of the New World; however, some exceptions to this rule must be admitted. That certain of these ornaments were
used as amulets is highly probable, and they were undoubtedly regarded as objects of great value, since with the primitive tools at his command the Indian cutter must have found his task a very hard one, requiring the
expenditure of much time and patience. In the Andover Collection there is an exceptionally fine specimen from
Roos County, Ohio. It is
9 Pocock's "Travels in Egypt," Pinkerton's "Voyages and Travels," vol. xv, London, 1814, p. 238.
10 See Warren K. Moorehead, " Hematite Implements of the United States, Bulletin VI of the Department of Archeology, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., Andover, 1912.
of heavy pure hematite, which has been worked into the form of a pendant; notches have been made at both ends,
as a form of decoration, and on the lower, broad end, fourteen lines have been incised; the edges are slightly
beveled and the patina indicates the antiquity of the work. The lines have evidently been made by a flint cutting-implement.11
Another probable hematite amulet is a rudely fashioned fish effigy. Here the appearances of eye and gill (only on
one side) are evidently merely natural irregularities of surface, which it has been conjectured determined the
cutter to add a mouth and round off the material so as to approximate a fish-form; the hematite is black and of fine
quality. This relic comes from Cole Camp, Betnon County, Missouri.12 The larger number of these hematite
artefacts are from Missouri, southern Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, and considerable numbers have been turned up in Tennessee, New York, Wisconsin, and parts of Arkansas. Only a relatively small number were taken out of burials or graves, the majority of specimens having been secured on or near the surface.
Shah Jehangir relates in his memoirs that Munis Khan, son of Mihtar Khan, presented him with a jug of jasper
(jade) , which had been made in the reign of Mirza Ulugh Beg Gurgan, in the honored name of that prince. It was
a very delicate rarity and of a beautiful shape. Its stone was exceedingly white and pure. Around the neck of the
jar were carved characters expressing the auspicious name of the Mirza and the Hijra year. Jehangir ordered them
to inscribe his name and the auspicious name of Akbar on the edge of the lip of the jar.13
11 Ibid., p. 81, Fig. 41.
12 Ibid., p. 91, Fig. 47.
13 Note on jade copied from the Tuzuk-i-Jahangir, or memoirs of Jahangir, trans, by Alexander Rogers, London,
1909, p. 146 ; Orient. Trans. Fund, N. S., vol. six.
Jade ornaments of ancient workmanship have been found in Syria, and it is quite likely that in many cases where
the designation plasma is used by ancient writers, true jade, or nephrite, was the material. As there was no specific
designation for jade, the different varieties were assimilated to other stones of like color and appearance, so that, among others, the names jasper, plasma and even smaragdus were used to denote jade.
Mortuary tablets of Jade have been used from time immemorial in China for the reception of historic inscriptions,
the toughness and durability of the material making it especially desirable for this purpose. In the case of rulers,
such tablets not only bore the names of the deceased sovereign but also an epitome of the leading events of his
reign, and additions were made to this record from time to time so that in historic value they may be compared with
the clay tablets of Babylonia and Assyria. One of these interesting monuments found its way to San Francisco, after
the looting of the Forbidden City by the international army of relief in 1901. On it appeared a record of the treaty between the United States and China in 1868, and the other records went back to the death of Shun Chi in 1661. Probably owing to exposure to the weather the earlier inscriptions were not very legible.
At all important Chinese marriage ceremonies the priest carries what is known as a "marriage sword." This is
usually about twelve or thirteen inches in length and the sheath is often studded with various pink stones, cut en
cahochon. The stones most favored for this decoration are pink tourmaline, rubellite from the Shan Mountains, or
rose-quartz, and the natural color of these gems is often intensified by placing a pink paste or foil beneath them; occasionally the coloration of the stones is enhanced by dipping them in a pink aniline solution. A piece of green
jade is usually
set as a boss at the hilt of this symbolical sword. In one remarkable specimen the guard consisted of a piece of
white jade with the figure of a dragon carved in relief upon it; the sword-blade was of bronze. At the marriage
ceremony the bridegroom is given the sword to hold, and the bride the sheath; as the wedding ring is placed upon
the bride 's finger, sword and sheath are brought together.
Among the innumerable forms of jade decoration or carving, produced by the indefatigable and painstaking
Chinese artists, is a small curved wand often having a trefoil termination; sometimes the entire wand is of jade,
and at other times it is of teakwood adorned with jade medallions, frequently showing birds and flowers. This wand
was used as a kind of sceptre of office, and the official entitled to bear it would hold it in both hands when standing before the emperor. Its name, ju-i, means "may all be," and is to be taken as a wish that everything may turn out fortunately.
In modern times the ju-i is carried as a lucky charm, although its official significance is not forgotten. This form
of wand is said to have been introduced into China from India, at the time of the Buddhist propaganda, and in
representations of Buddhist priests they are sometimes shown carrying one of them. In ancient India it was taught
to be one of the seven precious objects, the septa-ratna, mentioned in the Vedas.14 This Indian origin is, of course,
highly probable, but it is strange that in ancient Egypt also, curved wands of a somewhat different type, made of
ivory and embellished with symbolical figures, possessed the same blended significance of marks of official dignity
and magic wands.
A large mass of lapis lazuli was found in one of the
14 See The Morgan- Whitney Collection of Chinese Jades and other Hard Stones, donated to the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, City Park, New Orleans, 1914, p. 32; plate opp. p. 33. 25
Inca graves of Peru by Senor Emilio Montes, and was exhibited by him. in the Centennial Exhibition of 1913. With
the exception of one corner that has been chipped off, the block is of symmetrical form, the dimensions being, in
inches, 24 X 14 x 9, and the weight 312 pounds. The smoothed surface gives evidence of careful and fairly
successful polishing by the native lapidaries. This exceptionally fine specimen of lapis lazuli is now in the Field
Museum of Natural History in Chicago.15 Evidently in ancient Peru as in the Old World the "celestial hue" of lapis lazuli was thought to render it most appropriate for use as a memorial offering to the dead or as a talisman by the
aid of which their heavenward journey might be made easier.
The so-called "black onyx" has almost entirely replaced jet. This is a chalcedony impregnated with a carbonic
matter, such as blood or a solution of sugar, the carbonate of which is charred by sulphuric acid, giving a rich,
velvety, black hue to the stone, which takes a high polish. However, a certain limited amount of the old
"Whitby Jet" once so highly favored is still mined and worked up into ornaments in the neighborhood of Whitby
on the northeast coast of England, in the district of Leeds, although but fifty persons are now engaged in this
industry which fifty years ago gave employment to 1500 workers. Some Spanish jet is also used, a material harder
and more brittle than that found in England.
The story was current that Pope Leo X (1475-1521) had a precious stone, probably some type of "moonstone,"15a
which grew brighter as the moon waxed, exhibiting the soft, silvery brilliance of our satellite, and then gradually
lost its brightness as the moon waned, growing paler and dimmer
14 Communicated by Dr. 0. C. Farrington.
15a Bee in praise of the moonstone the poem autographed for this work by the poet, Edward Forrester Sutton.
and becoming quite obscure as the moon's disk ceased to be illumined by the sun. As a mate to this, Pope Clement
VII (1475-1534) was reputed to have in his possession a stone with a golden spot which moved across the surface
in exact accord with the apparent motion of the sun across the heavens from sunrise to sunset.16 These are
undoubtedly fables that were circulated intentionally, or more probably through pure love of exaggeration, in order
to enhance the merit of two exceptionally fine specimens of moonstone and sunstone in the papal treasury.
In the eighteenth century the collection of the Duke of Brunswick contained a magnificent ancient drinking-cup,
of the kind used in sacrificial ceremonies, cut from a single piece of onyx ; this cup was said to have formed part
of the rich spoils taken from Mithridates by the Romans under Pompey. It was valued in the duke's inventory at 150,000 thalers, and Catherine II of Eussia is stated to have offered four times that sum, or 600,000 thalers
($400,000) for this unique cup.17
In the symbolism of the Manichean sect, an early Christian heresy owing its origin to a direct and predominant
influence of Persian ideas, pearls occupy a prominent place.
A legendary or poetic pearl called "the bright moon" was the symbol of compassion, and one of the treatises ends
with the words: "Our heart has received the majestic splendor of the pearl granting every wish." We are also told
of "a diamond pillar" which sustains humanity, and the Messenger of Light is likened to a perfumed mountain
entirely composed of a mass of jewels.18
16 Petri Servii, "Dissertatio de unguento armario," Eomae, 1643, p. 43.
17 Johann August Donndorf, "Natur und Kunst," Leipzig, 1790, vol. ii, p. 497.
18 Berthold Laufer, "Notes on Turquois in the East," Chicago, 1913, p. 50, vol. xiii, No. 1, of Anthropological Series
of Field Museum of Natural History; citing a translation by MM. Chavannes and Pelliot entitled: "Un traite
manicheen retrouve en Chine," pub. in Journal Asiatique, 1912.
The recital of two Arab travelers, Hasan ibn Vazid and Sulaiman, who visited India in the ninth century, contains
a curious theory of the formation of pearls or rather of the pearl-oyster. The primal matter is assumed to be a
gelatinous moss, analogous to that of a species of algae. This floats upon the water and attaches itself to the keels
of ships, where it hardens, develops a shell, and finally drops off to sink into the depths of the sea. The formation
of the pearl itself is then discussed and the theory noted in Pliny's Natural History and so often repeated after his
time, namely, that pearls are formed from the "dew of heaven," is cited; but the writer adds: "Others say that they
[the pearls] are produced in the oysters themselves. This appears more probable and is confirmed by experience;
for the greater part of those observed in the oysters are firmly attached there and are immovable. Those which
are mobile are called by the merchants seed-pearls." As a true Mohammedan the writer concludes with the pious ejaculation: "God knows how the matter really stands!" 19
The same travellers relate the story of the discovery of a pearl under very singular conditions. An Arab came to
Bassora with a very fine pearl. He took it to a druggist whom he knew and asked the latter how much it was worth.
The merchant estimated it at a hundred pieces of silver, to the great surprise of the Arab, who demanded whether
anyone could be found willing to pay so much. "Without hesitation the merchant declared that he was ready to give
the price himself, and immediately paid over the money. He then took his purchase to Bagdad, where he secured
a large profit on his investment. On concluding his sale the Arab told the Bassora druggist how he had secured his
pearl. One day, while walking along the Bahrein coast, he saw on the
19 "Ancient Accounts of India and China by Two Mohammedan Travellers," trans, by Abb6 Renaudot, London,
1733, p. 96.
sands a dead fox, whose mouth was tightly compressed by a strange object. On closer observation this proved to
be an enormous pearl-oyster shell. Evidently the fox had thrust his snout into the shell while the valves were open
so that he might devour the soft contents, but the valves suddenly closed upon him and he had died of suffocation.
On prying open the shell the Arab found therein the pearl which was destined to bring him what he regarded as a fabulous sum.20
The women of the Arab town occupying a site close to that on which stood the Babylon of ancient times, wore, as
a favorite adornment, nose-rings of gold set with a pearl and a turquoise. The English traveller, John Eldred, who
traversed Mesopotamia in 1583, found this custom so general that he writes: "This they doe be they never so
For years a statement has been going through the press that pearls are liable to become diseased and die, and
that the famous necklace of pearls presented by President Thiers of France to his wife, and bequeathed by Mme.
Thiers to the French Government, had lost their lustre and died, perhaps owing to the death of the owner. For
there is an old belief that pearls, as well as opals and turquoises, lose some of their lustre when the owner or
wearer becomes ill, and change to a dull and lifeless hue when the owner dies. An examination of the necklace by
the writer showed that the pearls were in good condition, and to confirm his statement to this effect he had the
director of the Louvre Museum write him a letter. In this official communication the director not only states that
the pearls had not sickened and died, but that they were in as "healthy" a condition as they had ever been.
20 "Ancient Accounts of India and China by Two Mohammedan Travellers," trans, by AbbS Eenaudot, London,
1733, pp. 97, 98.
21 See Hakluyt, "The Principal Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation," London, 1589.
The invariable experience of the writer has been that whenever pearls have been said to have suffered in this way,
the true explanation has been that they were old and poor at the time of their purchase, and that this romance was started on its travels as an excuse to cover up the defect of such pearls and to arouse the belief that they had been
remarkably beautiful and valuable when they were originally acquired.
As though to make amends to the Queen Gem for such disadvantageous rumors, considerable publicity has
recently been given to a report that, in the Musee de Monaco, there was a luminous pearl whose beauties were revealed by an inner light, so that darkness had no power to dim its lustre.
In a thoroughly impartial spirit, the writer went to the fountain-head for information in this matter, and received
as answer from the director of the museum that there was no such pearl in the collection and that he had absolutely
no faith in the luminosity of pearls.
As has been seen, both of these legends must be set aside as false, and we fear there is just as little truth in a
report that a genuine "pearl-powder" is now used by the fair ladies of Paris and by their numerous imitators. The
story goes that the Arab workmen engaged in pearl-piercing in India are noted for the clearness — we can hardly
say, the lightness — of their complexions, and that this is supposed to be attributable to the fact that, when resting
from their difficult task, they are in the habit of taking up some of the pearl-dust that has fallen on the floor and
rubbing their faces with it. As the conditions under which these men work are eminently unsanitary, those who
noted the clearness and smoothness of their complexions came to the conclusion that there must be something especially beneficial in pearl dust, and brought the matter to the notice of a French chemist.
The latter proceeded to utilize the suggestion and com-
pounded a new cosmetic. He did not, however, pin his faith to the pearl-dust alone, but wisely added a number of
Still another mythical tale in reference to pearls has to be refuted. For some time past numerous specimens of a
so-called ''cocoanut-pearl'' have been brought from the East.
These are very white pearls, resembling in hue the hard meat of the cocoanut, and said to have been produced in
the cocoanut, just as other pearls are produced in certain species of mollusks. However, the writer has always
found them to be pearls secreted by the gigantic mollusk Ostrea Singapora.
A strange poetic fancy regarding the transmutation of parts of the human form into gems of the sea appears in
Ariel's song in Shakespeare's "Tempest":
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rare and strange.
Tempest, Act I, Sc. ii.
Some natives of the Sulu Archipelago believe that the nautilus pearl is a most unlucky object to possess, for should
a man engage in a fight while wearing such a pearl he would inevitably be killed. Hence, when a native by chance
comes across one of them, he very quickly throws it away, as a probable bringer of ill-luck. Occasionally, however,
such pearls fall into the hands of those who are less influenced by superstition, and one weighing 72 grains was
given, in 1884, to an Australian gentleman, by Mohammed Beddreddin, brother-in-law of the Sultan of Sulu. This
was a perfect, pear-shaped pearl of a creamy-white hue and somewhat
translucent; it is composed of the porcelanous, not of the nacreous constituent of the shell.22
It has been stated that this Sulu superstition is not shared by the natives of Celebes Island, near Borneo, for here
such pearls are kept as charms and talismans. One of an irregular pear-shape, weighing 27 1/2 grains, has been
found on the northern coast of the island.23 The finding of a nautilus pearl by a Chinese woman in Borneo is noted
by Rumphius, who describes it as being as large as a bean and
white as a piece of alabaster, hard and bright, but of very irregular shape. The finder put it in a closed box, and
was not a little surprised to discover when she opened the box after a time that the original pearl had engendered another one the size of a lentil; later it had two other, smaller off-spring. The woman carefully treasured her find
as a lucky stone which would bring her good fortune in her search for mussels. Eumphius shrewdly conjectures
that the smaller concretions had broken off the larger one while it was enclosed in the box.24
22 H. Lyster Jameson, in "Nature," Oct. 7, 1912.
23 See "Nature," Oct. 24, 1912, p. 220.
24 Rumphius, "D'Amboinische Rariteitskamer," Amsterdam, 1741, p. 62.
The well-known lines in Shakespeare's "Othello":
Of one whose hand, like the base Judean's,
Cast away a pearl richer than all his tribe.
have been explained in many different ways by the commentators, one of whom (Steevens) saw in them a reference
to the following story current in Venice in the sixteenth century. A Jew, after long and perilous wanderings in the
East, succeeded in bringing with him to Venice a great number of fine pearls. These he disposed of there at
satisfactory prices, with the exception of one pearl of immense size and extraordinary beauty, upon which he set
a price so high that no one was willing to pay it. Finally, the Jew invited all the leading gem-dealers to meet him on
the Rialto, and when as many of them as answered his call had assembled, he once more, and for the last time,
offered his peerless pearl for sale, detailing all its perfections in eloquent terms. However, he made no concession
in the price, and the dealers unanimously refused to purchase it, probably expecting that the Jew would at last be
forced to make a reduction, but to their amazement, instead of doing this, he threw his pearl before their very eyes
into the waters of the canal, preferring rather to lose it than to cheapen it.25
The belief that the growth of pearls in the pearl-oyster was due to rain-drops is perpetuated in the Arab proverb:
''The rain of the month of Nisan brings forth pearls in the
25 Schiller's "Werke," ed. by R. Boxberger, vol. iv, Berlin and Stuttgart, n. d., pp. 179, 180, note; from a
communication to the editor by Dr. E. Kohler of Weimar, in illustration of the following lines of Schiller's
"Don Karlos," Act II, Sc. 8:
Dem grossen Kaufmann gleich
Der, ungeriihrt von des Rialto's Gold,
Und Konigen zum Schilnpfe, seine Perle
Dem reichen Meere wiedergab, zu stoltz
Sie unter ihrem Werte loszuschlagen.
sea and wheat on the land. 26 This spring month was, and is still, the period when pearl-fishing begins in the Orient.
Another pearl proverb repeats the evangelical saying in this form: "Do not throw pearls under the feet of swine."
A Tonquinise legend of the origin of pearls represents them as springing from the blood of a young princess who
was slain by the king, her father, because she had betrayed to her husband the secret of a magic bow, whose death
dealing arrows always flew to their mark. In his anger at his daughter's act, the father drew his scimitar and
beheaded her, but with her last breath she prayed that her blood might be turned to pearls. Her prayer was heard
and now the finest pearls of this land are found in the waters about the place where she died.27
From blue sapphires the color may be extracted so that they become white, in such sort that they excellently
imitate the diamond, so well, indeed, that the fraud can only be detected by an expert jeweller. This art was known
at an early period, and no doubt induced many writers to ascribe certain of the qualities of the diamond to the
sapphire. As illustrating this, a Rabbinical author states that a certain man went to Rome to sell a sapphire. The purchaser said to him: "I will buy it provided I may first test it.'' He placed it on an anvil and struck it with a
hammer; the anvil was split and the hammer was broken to pieces but the stone remained in its place uninjured.28
The virtues of the sapphire are enumerated at length by Bartolomasus Anglicus, the old scholastic philosopher,
who flourished in the first half of the thirteenth century and
26 G.W. Preytag, "Arabum proverbia," Bonnae ad Rhenam, 1843, vol. iii, Pt. 1, p. 495.
27 Helvetius, "De I'esprlt," vol. ii, p. 17.
28 Johannia Braunii, "De Vestitu Sacerdotum Hebraeorum," Amstelodami, 1680, p. 683.
taught theology in the famous University of Paris.29 After noting the old dictum according to which the sapphire
was the ''gem of gems'' and one worthy to adorn the fingers of kings, Bartolomaeus proceeds to instruct his readers
in regard to the wonderful curative powers of this beautiful gem. These appear always to be connected with its
supposed calming and cooling influence. Thus it reduced the temperature in fevers and checked the flow of blood;
for instance, if attached to the temples it stopped nose-bleed; if the heart were unduly excited, this agitation could
be controlled by the power of the sapphire. Too profuse perspiration was also checked if a sapphire were worn. It
shared with the diamond the virtue of reconciling discord.
Its power as an antidote to poison was believed to be proved by an experiment in which a spider was placed in a
box with a sapphire. After a short time the poor spider expired, done to death by the supreme virtue of the celestial stone.
A like story was told by ancient writers in regard to the emerald. Of course, the chastening virtues of the sapphire
are not forgotten, virtues which have caused it to be selected as especially appropriate for the rings of cardinals
and high church dignitaries; this belief arose from the association of purity with the color of the heavens, the pure,
unadulterated blue of the cloudless sky.
One of the rarest and most beautiful of the corundum gems of Ceylon is locally known there by the name
padparasham. It is of a most rare and delicate orange-pink hue, the various specimens showing many different blendings of the pink and orange. The significance of the Cinghalese name seems to be somewhat obscure, but a probable conjecture explains it to mean "hidden ray of light"; another etymology
29 From a XIII century MS. of his work, "De Proprietatibus Rerum," fol celxi, recto and verso. This vellum MS.
was originally in the possession of the Carthusian Monastery of the Holy Trinity at Dijon. Now the property of
I, Martini of New York.
would see in tJie first syllable, pad, an abbreviation of padma, lotus , the petals of this flower often having a soft
orange tint. In this case the meaning would be "hidden lotus," as though the very color-essence of the flower were enclosed within and shone through the gem.30
A Persian treatise on precious stones was composed by Mohammed Ben Mansur 31 in the thirteenth century of
our era. This work was written for Sultan Abu Nagr Behadirchan, and consists of two divisions, the first treating
of precious stones and the second of metals. It is interesting to note in this treatise the recognition of the essential
likeness of the Oriental ruby, sapphire, topaz, etc.; these varieties of corundum are all grouped under the single designation "yakut." Ben Mansur writes: 32
The yakut is six-fold: 1, the red; 2, the yellow; 3, the black; 4, the white; 5, the green or peacock-hued; 6, the blue
or smoky-hued. Some divide the yakut into four classes: red, yellow, dark, and white, reckoning the peacock-hued
and the blue among the dark. The yakut cuts all stones except carnelian and diamond.
Although the Oriental camelian is hard and difficult to cut or polish only popular prejudice accounts for this
statement, as it falls far short of the diamond in hardness.
Pseudo-Aristotle, writing some time from the seventh to the ninth century a.d., was the first to define clearly the
three leading varieties of the corundum gems (yakut) as the same mineral substance, and differing only in color.
These are the ruby, the Oriental topaz (jacinthus citrinus) and the sapphire. Instead of according different
medicinal or talismanic virtues to these three precious stones, this writer states that each and all of them, when
set in rings or worn
30 Leopold Claremont, "Singhalese Gems," in The Jeweler and Metalworker, pp. 1936a-1936g, December 15,
31 Abridgment by Von Hammer in the "Fundgruben dea Orients," Wien, 1818, vol. vi.
32 Ibid., p. 129.
suspended from the neck, protected the wearer from danger in epidemics, gave him the honor and good-will of his
fellow-men, and also the privilege of having his petitions accorded.33
The great Athenian comic poet, Aristophanes (c. 448-c, 385), makes Strepsiades, one of his characters in the
''Clouds,'' assert to Socrates that he knows of a stone having the virtue of saving him from the payment of a claim
of five talents, for which suit has been brought against him. This stone, called in Greek, was to be found in
the stock of those who dealt in medicines; it was transparent and with it fire could be kindled. The philosopher,
although he knows the stone well enough, fails to see how it could be made to help the defendant in a suit at law,
and asks Streposiades what he proposes to do with it. The latter is not at a loss for an answer and declares that
when the clerk proceeds to write down the charge on his waxen tablet, he, Streposiades, will hold the stone in the
sun's rays so that its beam of light will fall upon the tablet and melt the wax, thus quite literally "wiping out the
Rock-crystal was so highly prized in Roman times that one of the greatest treasures preserved in the Capitol was
a mass of this stone, weighing fifty pounds, that had been dedicated by Livia, wife of Augustus Caesar. Vessels of
great size were also made from this material, one of the largest being a bowl owned by Lucius Verus, the colleague
of Marcus Aurelius, the dimensions of which were so great that the stoutest toper of the time could not empty it
at a single draught. If we can trust a statement of Mohammed Ben Mansur, the Arabs and Persians of a later age
must have far surpassed the Romans in the size of their crystal vessels,
33 Rose, "Aristoteles de lapidibus und Arnoldus Saxo," in Zeitschr. fur Deutsches Altertum, New Series, vol. vi,
34 Aristophanes, "Clouds," lines 768 sqq.
for he says that a Mauritanian merchant owned a basin of rock-crystal within which four men could seat themselves
at the same time. It is true that this basin was composed of two pieces of the material.35
The Chinese word for crystal, ching, was originally represented by the symbol that is, three suns, an attempt
to figure the refraction and dispersion of light by the crystal.36
The soui che stone of the Chinese which is said to quench thirst if it be placed in the mouth, is almost certainly
rock-crystal, for the Chinese, in common with the ancient Greeks and Romans, believed this substance to be a transformation of water, a kind of fossil ice. A similar power was attributed by Pliny to one of the varieties of
Labrets of quartz are used in Central Africa and we have a very interesting description by M. A.Lacroix regarding these ornaments as worn by the natives of a part of the French possessions. In the land of the Bandas the natives
highly prize a piece of rock-crystal so shaped that it can be introduced into the lower lip. This usage is confined to
the basins of the Ombella, the Kemo and the Tomi, affluents of the Oubanghi.
The following description of the labrets was communicated to M. Lacroix by M. Lucien Foumeau, Administrator
of the Colonies:
These objects, called bagueres, consist of hyaline quartz, perfectly transparent; they are very regularly cut, and measure from four to seven cm. (two to three inches) in length. Some have the form of a very elongated and
pointed cone, without any protuberances, the greatest diameter being about one cm. (about half an inch); the
others, thinner and sharper, have at the base a rim destined to hold them in place; in all cases a pad of thread con-
stituting a kind of permanent plug, assures and completes their stability.
Some women wear as many as three of these singular ornaments, thrust, point downwards, into the same lip.
35 A. R. Tutton, in Society of Arts, London.
36 Chalfant, "Early Chinese Writing," Mem. of Carnegie Museum, vol. iv. No. 1, Pittsburgh, 1906, PI. VI, No. 75.
37 De M61y, "Les lapidaires chinois," Paris, 1896, p. Ixiv.