The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
Facts and Fancies about Precious Stones 399 - 422
The most regular quartz crystals are selected, and these are chipped off and roughly shaped by blows struck with
a hard substance; the quartz is then set in a wooden handle, and the final shaping and polishing are accomplished
by friction upon a round slab of quartzite or sandstone. These slabs show grooves along which the crystals have
been rubbed. On an average the time required is four or five days of five hours. The completed ornament is valued
at nine pounds of red wood worth about $1.20; sometimes one can be secured for three chickens, worth sixty
cents.38 Those who cannot afford quartz labrets substitute wood, glass, or pewter. M. Lacroix draws our attention
to the fact that a study of the processes employed in shaping and polishing these pieces of quartz is of great
importance for the elucidation of the methods in use during the Stone Age.39
A nose-jewel from the New Hebrides consists of a crystal of hyaline quartz reduced to a cylindrical form, one
extremity having been pointed, while the other retains the natural faces of the crystal. This was passed through
the septum of the nose, and was most likely worn as an amulet.40
Rock-crystal has been used extensively in the past year with ornaments of ribbon-like or plaque-like effects.
Sometimes all the parts are made into the exact shape of a bow-knot, with a bordering of platinum and diamonds,
or of platinum and diamonds with a caJibre-cut onyx ; that is, the rock-crystal material is cut into minute square
or oblong stones, which are run into double triangular edges that hold them.
The crystals are dulled, and frequently have the appearance
38 Lacroix, "Sur le travail de la pierre polie dans le Haut-Oubangi "; La Geographie, bulletin of the Socieite de Geographie, Paris, Oct. 15, 1909, pp. 201-206; figures.
39 "Sur le travail de la pierre polie dans le Haut-Oubanghi," Comptes Kendus de I'Acad. d. Sc, vol. cxlviii, 1909,
40 Giglioli, "Materiale per lo studio della Eta della Pietra,'' Archivio per I'Antropologia e I'EtnoIogia, vol. xxxi,
p. 85, Firenze, 1901.
of moonstones. At times, indeed, moonstones are used in their place. Sometimes these panels, or bits and pieces
of rock-crystal, are drilled, diamonds set in platinum are inserted into the drill-holes, and the ornament is engraved
in classic designs of Watteau-like effects.
The origin of Burmese rubies is thus explained in a Burmese legend current in the region of the Ruby Mines.
According to this legend, in the first century of our era three eggs were laid by a female naga, or serpent; out of
the first was born Pynsawti, a king of Pagan; out of the second came an Emperor of China, and out of the third
were emitted the rubies of the Ruby Mines.41
Dealing in precious stones was by no means an unusual occupation in Europe more than four hundred years ago,
as is shown by the fact that a certain Peter, one of the secret agents of Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne
of England in Henry VII's reign, was called in the secret correspondence of the conspirators, "The Merchant of
the Ruby." Such dealers frequently travelled from place to place, and usually offered their wares to princes and
nobles; hence the statement in a letter that the Merchant of the Ruby "was not able to sell his wares in Flaunders" might not seem suspicious if the letter were intercepted and read, although the meaning was that the emissary had
been unable to obtain succor in Flanders for the cause of the pretender.42 Probably this designation also contained
a covert allusion to the Red Eose of York, for Perkin Warbeck gave himself out to be Richard, Duke of York.
A sixteenth-century traveller, the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa, after saying that "the rubies grow in India,"
proceeds to state that those of finest quality and greatest value were for the most part gathered in a river called
41 Communication from Taw Sein Ko.
42 Archaeologia, vol. xxvii, pp. 175, 207. London, 1838.
were named nir puce by the Malabars. As a test of their fineness, the Hindus would touch them with the tip of the
tongue, the coldest (densest) being the best. "When a superior ruby was thus picked out, the examiner would
attach a little wax to its finest point, and so pick it up and look through it against a bright light; by this means any blemish would i mm ediately become apparent. These rubies came not only from the river of Pegu but from other
parts of the land of the same name, often being discovered in deep mountain clefts. However, they were not cut
and polished in that country, but were merely cleaned and sent for cutting to "Palecote and the country of
The balas-ruby (originally a spinel from Badakshan) was one of the most admired precious stones in medieval
times, before the diamond was helped to its proud preeminence by having its beauties revealed through the
exercise of the diamond-cutters' skill. Almost all the large "rubies" of which we read, those of Europe at least,
were balas-rubies, as were also by far the greater part of the so-called rubies in Oriental royal collections of that
and later times. The great Italian poet Dante uses this stone (balascio) as a symbol of the glowing radiance of
divine joy in the following lines from the Divina Commedia (Paradiso, ix, 67-69):
L'altra letizia, ehe m'era gia nota
Preclara eosa, mi si f eee in vista
Qual flu balascio in che lo sol percota.
In very ancient times as well as at the present day (if we admit that the anthrax of Theophrastus really was ruby
and not a pyrope garnet), the ruby was the most valuable of all precious stones, the Greek writer stating that at
the time he wrote, about 260 b.c., an exceedingly small speci-
43 "A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, by Duarte Barboaa, a Portuguese," trans, by Henry E. Staney, London, 1866, p. 208 ; Hakluyt Soc. Pub., vol. xxxv. 26
men would sell for as much as forty gold pieces. His statement that these stones came from Carthage and
Marseilles should not induce us to prejudge the question as to their real character, as many articles of Asiatic commerce were distributed from these parts, more especially from the great Carthaginian seaport.44
A variety of sapphire, having, to a certain extent, the coloration of the ruby, was called by natives of Ceylon in the sixteenth century nilacandi;45 this might be rendered sapphire-ruby. These stones are purple-red by daylight, but
artificial light kills the blue and they appear red. They are frequently called phenomenal sapphires or alexandrite
Indian poetic fancy has connected the creation of sapphires in Ceylon with the fair maidens of that island.46
When the young Cingalese maidens sway, with the tips of their fingers, the stems of the lavali blossoms, then do
the two dark blue eyes of the Daitya fall, eyes with a sheen like that of the lotus in full bloom.
Hence it is that this island, with its long sea-coast and its interminable forests of ketskas, abounds in magnificent sapphires, which are its glory.
The following pretty bit of Oriental imagery occurs in a Cinghalese poem on the deeds of Constantino de Sa, a
Portuguese Captain-General. Here the poet, writing of a river that flowed through the island, calls it "that lovely stream, the Kaluganga, which meandered as a sapphire chain over the shoulders of the maiden Lanka."47 Lanka
is a Cingalese name for Ceylon.
The depth of the coloration of sapphires and other stones
44 Theophrasti, "De lapidibus (Peri lithon)" ed. by John Hill, London, 1746; cap. 31.
45 Garcias ab Orta, "Aromatuin historia" (Lat. version by Cluaius), Antverpise, 1579, lib. i, p. 175.
46 "Finot," Les lapidaires indiena," Paris, 1896, p. 39, from the "Eatnaparikha" of Buddhabhatta.
47 Eibeiro's "History of Ceylon," tr. by P. E. Pieris, Galle, n. d., Pfc. II, p. 317.
was believed to indicate their degree of "ripeness," the pale stones being "unripe." As an illustration of this,
Cardano instances a sapphire he had examined, a small part of which was blue, while the rest resembled a diamond. Specimens of this kind exist in several collections.48 The writer has seen many that are dark blue when viewed
from above, and almost white when viewed through the back. The Cinghalese lapidaries had very cleverly cut a
crystal that was white, with a thin coating of blue, so that the blue was at the back, fully realizing the wonderful dispersive power of the sapphire, and that it would appear dark blue if viewed from above.
The value was naturally only trifling compared with that of a perfectly even-colored gem.
Al-Beruni (973-1048 a.d.) gives as the hues of the "red yakut" (ruby), pomegranate-colored safran (henna), purple,
flesh-colored, rose-colored, and of the shade of a pomegranate blossom. Other colors of the yakut
(corundum crystals) were yellow (Oriental topaz), gray, green (Oriental emerald), white (white sapphire), and black.
A henna-colored yakut, if weighing one mitqal (about 24 carats), was valued at 5000 dinars ($12,500), if its weight
was half as much, or about 12 carats, it was esteemed to be worth 2000 dinars ($4500), but for one weighing as
much as 2 mitqals (48 carats) no definite price could be given, probably because of its great rarity and costliness.49
The Sanskrit name for the topaz, pita, signifies "the yellow stone.'' This Sanskrit word is thought by many to be
the original of the Hebrew pitdah, a stone of the high priest 's breastplate. Another Sanskrit name is pushparaga,
"flower-colored."50 It must be borne in mind, however,
48 Cardani, "Philosophi opera qusedam lectu digna," Basilese, 1585, p. 329.
49 Eilhard Wiedmann, "Ueber den Wert von Edelateinen bei den Muslimen," in " Der Islam," vol. ii, 1911, pp.
50 Garbe, "Die indische Mineralien; Naharari's Rajanighantu, Varga XIII," Leipzig, 1882, p. 79.
that these names refer not to our topaz but to yellow corundum, or Oriental topaz, as it has often been called.
A topaz of exceptional size is that known as the "Maxwell-Stuart Topaz" 51 from the name of the owner. It was
brought from Ceylon to England with a lot of inferior rubies and sapphires for use in watchmaking, and was
believed to be simply a piece of quartz. So little wa s it appreciated that when sold at auction it only brought
£3 10s. ($17.50). When on closer examination its true quality became apparent, the owner decided to have it cut
in brilliant form. The operation required twenty-eight days' consecutive work, the diamond-wheel being used, and resulted in the production of a fine cut stone of a pure white hue, weighing 368 31/32 carats. When the cutting was partially completed, a "feather" became apparent that would have spoiled the table, but as it was still possible to reverse the position of table and culet, this was done, and the "feather" removed.
At this time, in 1879, this topaz could lay claim to being the largest cut stone in existence, although its size is
considerably surpassed now by that of the largest Cullinan diamond, 516 1/2 carats.
The same exceptional position taken by jade among the Chinese is occupied by turquoise among the Tibetans;
these are so emphatically primates among gem-minerals that the very name "stone" seems a designation unworthy
of them, and as a Chinese would say, "it is jade, not a stone," so would a loyal Tibetan exclaim of his favorite gem,
"it is a turquoise, not a stone." Another indication of the exceptional rank of turquoise in Tibet is that, as with the famous Oriental and European diamonds and also with some celebrated balas-rubies, certain of the first turquoises
of Tibet have received individual names, such, for example, as "the
51 J. H. Collins, "The History of a Remarkable Grem. The Maxwell-Stuart Topaz." Mineralogical Magazine
No. 13, 1879.
resplendent turquoise of the gods ''and'' the white turquoise of the gods. '' A tradition relates that the largest
turquoise found up to that time was discovered in the eighth century A.D. by King Du-srong Mang-po on the
summit of a mountain near the sacred Tibetan city of Lhasa.52
In 1613, Shah Abbas of Persia sent to Jehangir six bags of "turquoise-dust,'' weighing in all some 23 1/2 pounds
However, the material proved to be of very inferior quality, for the jewellers searched in vain through the whole
mass for a single stone fit for setting in a ring. Jehangir consoles himself with the reflection that "probably in
these days turquoise-dust is not procurable such as it was in the time of Shah Tahmasp." 53
When the Syrian monarch Antiochus XIII visited Syracuse during the praetorship of Caius Verres, he bore with
him many richly adorned vessels, some of them being of gold set with gems after the Syrian fashion. However,
the finest of all was a wine-cup carved out of a single piece of precious-stone material. When this had once met
the gaze of the greedy Verres, he did not rest until he had got it into his possession. To attain his end he resorted
to a most ignoble stratagem. Professing his ardent admiration of this as well as of the other richly-adorned and
Verres requested that they might be left with him for a short time so that he might contemplate them at his leisure,
and might also have an opportunity to submit them to examination by his goldsmiths with a view to having some
copies executed. Antiochus readily acceded to this request, but when after the lapse of a few days he wished to
regain possession of his things, Verres put him off from day to day, on
52 Berthold Laufer, "Notes on Turquols in the East," Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Series,
vol. xiii. No. 1, Chicago, July, 1913, pp. 5, 8.
53 The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, or memoirs of Jahangir, trans, by Alexander Rogers, London, 1909, p. 238; Orient.
Trans. Fund, N. S., vol. xix.
one pretext or another. Finally, as Antiochus refused to take the more than broad hints that the precious objects
should be bestowed as gifts, Verres spread the rumor that a piratical fleet was on its way from Syria to attack Sicily,
and forced Antiochus to leave the island that very day, retaining the borrowed vessels in spite of all
That precious stones should be used to decorate the teeth seems a rather queer development of art, although the
practice is not altogether unknown at the present day, when we hear now and again of diamonds being set in teeth
to satisfy the vanity of some eccentric individual. In pre-Colombian times, however, there is abundant evidence
that this strange form of personal adornment was by no means rare, several examples having been unearthed from burials in Ecuador, and evidenceof the usage being offered by remains from Mexico and also from Central America. Among the Mayans here jadeite seems to have been the stone principally favored for this purpose, while in Mexico hematite has been met with in Oaxaca, turquoise in Vera Cruz, and at other places in the land, rock-crystal and obsidian.55 For the insertion of the stones, the primitive dental artists carefully and skilfully cut or rubbed away
the enamel from a section of the front part of the tooth to be decorated, and then applied the precious stone, cut
to the required shape, as an inlay. The way in which this was done gives evidence of a remarkably high degree of
skill in this line of work; in many cases an inlay of gold was used, instead of a precious stone, and it has even been conjectured that some of these gold inlays represent a kind of gold filling for the protection of the tooth. While
this is open to question, the undoubted fact that new teeth were occasionally inserted to take the place of those
54 M. Tullii Ciceronis, "In Verrem," lib. iv, Oratio nona, cap. 27.
55 Marshall H. Saville in the American Anthropologist, vol. xv, No. 3, July-September, 1913.
had fallen out or decayed, as shown in several specimens, might be regarded as corroborative of the broader
assumption. The expert workmanship of these pre-Colombian "dental surgeons" is clearly manifested in the good
condition of the teeth whence so much of the enamel had been removed, showing that the inlays must have been
so closely adjusted that the tooth was effectively protected from the introduction of moisture.
One of the latest fashionable fads, suggested by the great variety of bright-colored costumes worn by the
mondaines (and others) at the present day, is the selection and wear of jewelry set with stones of the same color
as the striking gown. Thus with a costume of glowing red, the ruddy ruby would be chosen, a sky-blue costume
would insure the wearing of the justly popular sapphire, dress of a golden-yellow hue would call for one of the
shades of topazes, while the "new brown," now so much in vogue, finds its complementary stone in topaz of a
slightly darker shade. The grass-green costume would suggest one of the many beautiful shades of the tourmaline,
and jewelry of the pink tourmaline would be appropriate to garments of this color. With their wonderful play of
color, opals would accord with all varieties of hue in costume and might thus be worn with either of the other more especially matched stones.
An old account of the London trades and guilds, in writing of the jewellers' art, makes the following statement
regarding the qualifications of a jeweller, as appropriate to our own times as to any other. 56
He ought to be an elegant Designer, and have a quick Invention for new Patterns, not only to range the stones in
such manner as to give Lustre to one another, but to create Trade; for a new Fashion takes as much with the
Ladies in Jewels as in anything else; he that can furnish them oftenest with the newest Whim has the best Chance
for their Custom.
56 R. Campbell, "The London Tradesman," London, 1747, p. 143.