Treasures of the ancients. If you were to carry out a survey asking “What is the most coveted gemstone of all”?
I can guarantee that almost everyone asked would say “Diamond”.
Ever since Frances Gerety, (1916-1999) came up with the phrase “A Diamond is Forever”
for DeBeers in 1948 a slogan still in use today, 71 years later, ladies in the western world have been just a little bit pre-occupied with the gem.
Prior to 1948 diamonds were thought of as a precious stone, along with the other big three of the time ruby, sapphire, and emerald.
However, it’s not always been the case as ancient historical digs are revealing their secrets with every new find that is found.
Through the ages
One thing is certain throughout history, people have adorned themselves with jewellery in some form of other, and have even been buried with it, placed next to or on their bodies.
Some of the earliest burials dating back to the Neolithic period, 11,000 BCE, had stone, shell or wood bangles and beads and even bone.
As time moved forward, the things we valued changed through culture, and trade.
The items found were more precious, durable, and colourful, usually locally sourced and treasured – the natural minerals – what we refer to as gemstones.
The Ancients – Egypt
Say the word “ancient” and two, possibly three, areas will pop into your mind.
- Rome and
Now think of a gemstone associated with each of those and you might get one.
Jade for China
You might have thought of Emeralds for Egypt as they were reputed to be a favourite of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.
However, it was widely believed that she also used powdered Lapis Lazuli as a make up for her eyes.
Not unlike how we would use eye shadow today.
Still not recognise the name of Lapis Lazuli?
Think of the most famous Egyptian you know, King Tutankhamun, right?
His gold death mask, pictured here, used Lapis Lazuli for around the eyes and unusually for the eyebrows.
Lapis Lazuli was so highly prized by the ancient Egyptians that it was given godly importance.
Pharaohs and Gods
Dead Pharaohs were believed to be reincarnated as the Sun god, Ra, who is often described as having, amongst other things, Lapis Lazuli hair.
This vivid blue stone also features flecks of gold, (normally Pyrite, or Fools gold as it became to be known as later), and so it became associated with the night sky.
In time, it came to symbolise life, the heavens and the gods.
Lapis was also used for sacred amulets in the form a scarab beetle, itself a symbol of protection, renewal and resurrection.
One of the sources for Lapis, found on Tutankhamun’s mask is the Sar-I-Sang mine in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan.
It is one of the oldest mines in the world and has been continually producing the gem for over seven thousand years.!
I will let that sink in for just a moment.
Oh, my head hurts at the thought.
What is more
It is still producing!!!!!
The Ancients – Rome
It should come as no surprise that Rome also has Lapis Lazuli as part of it’s gemstone lore.
Egypt, was after all under the Roman Empire’s umbrella for a time.
However, in ancient Rome, Lapis Lazuli was a powerful aphrodisiac as well as symbolising love, peace, and joy.
It was ground down into a powder and mixed with liquid and used as a compress to neutralise emotions and draw out spiritual impurities.
Which is probably how it came to be used in exorcisms!
Lapis, again, would be ground down with gold and put on the head of the possessed person.
As the poultice dried out it is said to have drawn out the demon.
Early Printing Press
Lapis Lazuli as well as being mentioned in connection with both ancient Egypt and Rome, it was also used to inscribe documents.
The gem is relatively soft and therefore fairly easy to engrave.
Cylinders, not unlike those depicted below, of the stone were carved and then rolled in wet clay to leave impressions of images and text.
The Blue Stone
Lapis Lazuli means “blue stone”, and was ground down and used as a cosmetic by the ancient Egyptians, as mentioned earlier in this post.
It was also used by artists during the Renaissance period to create beautifully blue skies, oceans scenes and in several paintings depicting The Virgin Mary, carrying on the association with the Divine.
However, the most famous usage of Lapis Lazuli was by none other than Michelangelo, when he used it to create the blue colour in his frescoes for the Sistine Chapel (capella Sistina)
Today people associate the gem with healing, love, peace, and wisdom.
While others claim it nurtures and promotes psychic ability.
The Ancients – China
China and jade have gone hand in hand for millennia.
Treasured in China since Neolithic times right through to present day.
Although, what people call Jade is actually two different stones – Nephrite and Jadeite with China adding Quartzite and Dolomite to the list.
Think Jade and you won’t think facets, sparkle, fire or even light. What you will think is green, dull and maybe even boring.
However, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jade is usually opaque to almost see through, with a glass-like quality.
Yes, it’s green from very pale to the very dark, almost black, with the most sought after shade being a juicy apple green also known as Imperial Jade.
Green Jade gets its colouration from chromium impurities within the gem
However, did you also know that Jade comes in a myriad of colours, including lavender, pink, blue, white, yellow, black, orange, and red.
Like Lapis, Jade has been mined in China for at least six thousand years BCE.
It has been used for carvings, ceremonial weapons, and ritual objects, as well as jewellery.
Also, like Lapis, it was used for grave furnishings for the high ranking members of the Imperial family.
Jade was believed to bestow immortality and could ward off evil spirits.
It was even thought Jade could prevent the body from decaying after death.
For this reason it was used as burial suits for the royal family of the Han dynasty.
The really extraordinary thing about Jade is that it’s value has scarcely changed over the years.
Alongside the rarest coloured diamond, jade is the world’s most expensive gem
The Hutton-Mdivani jadeite necklace, once owned by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2014, for a world record of $27 million more than double the reserve price.
Bought by The Cartier Group after a 20 minute, nail-biting frenzy.
Not so dull and boring now, me thinks, although still green.
If you would like to read more about this necklace go to https://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonydemarco/2014/04/07/hutton-mdivani-jadeite-necklace-sells-for-record-27-4-million/#35ff4ff23b11