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Accessory, commodity, precious heirloom, and signifier of social status. Our relationship with precious gemstones goes back many thousands of years and is as rich as it is multifaceted.
Gemstones are so much more than minerals in the ground. The meaning we have ascribed to them over millennia has started wars, cemented royal alliances, and changed the course of history.
If you’re looking to brush up on your gem history, here are the stories behind the most famous gems in your collection.
There’s no better place to begin our gem history that with that most precious of gemstones, the diamond. Diamonds have been mined for roughly 3000 years, and have always been synonymous with wealth, luxury, and privilege.
Diamonds did not become fashionable in Europe until the Middle Ages when early trade links with India helped the stone become the must-have social signifier of the continent’s ruling dynasties.
India’s diamond mines were almost depleted by the late 19th century. At this point, enterprising British colonialists established diamond companies, such as the world-famous De Beers diamond traders. Since then, diamonds have become accessible to all.
Many of the most famous gems in the world are diamonds. They remain a popular fashion choice, as well as a stable commodity. That’s why when it comes to choosing the perfect gemstone, diamonds truly are forever.
Emeralds have been one of the most popular royal gemstones since the time of Egyptian pyramids and Roman emperors. Cleopatra was known to be obsessed with the stone and often wore dozens of them at a time.
Roman emperors were alleged to have worn viewing glasses made of pressed emeralds to watch gladiator games. More so than the diamond, the emerald is synonymous with power.
It was during the Spanish conquest of the Americas that emeralds became in-demand in Europe.
They were mined on an industrial scale across what is now modern-day Colombia, where the majority of emerald mines can still be found.
Rubies have long been associated with protection and privilege. The history of these ancient gemstones lies in Asia, where their production was controlled by China’s Shan Dynasty for many centuries.
Almost all rubies are mined exclusively in what is now Myanmar, with the former king of Burma having full rights to all large rubies in the area until the conquest of Upper Burma by the British.
This royal decree had meant that diamond miners would break up their rubies so that they wouldn’t have to surrender them to the Crown.
As such, large rubies are incredibly difficult to find these days, while those that do exist command stratospheric prices.
More so than any other gem, the sapphire is synonymous with romance. Famous sapphires in history include the late Princess Diana’s iconic Ceylon Sapphire engagement ring.
Their history goes back further, to the days of Ancient Greece. It was here where noble citizens would adorn themselves with sapphires to attract love and gain protection from evil.
The most coveted sapphires come from the Indian region of Kashmir. Although the mines there have long been depleted, Kashmir sapphires remain in huge demand, fetching huge premiums.
Learn More About Famous Gems
Now that you know about the history of the most famous gems in the world, it’s time to shop the look. Make sure to consult our jewelry section to find out more about how you can wear the most famous and coveted gemstones in history.