Memories can be made of the oddest things. My grandfather was a retired John Deere salesman in Ohio and tried to keep himself busy during his retirement with a lot of different hobbies. He had a huge garage that he built himself out of cinderblock where he fixed used appliances, stored his gardening tools and generally hid out when my grandma was looking for him. I’m pretty sure the garage never housed a vehicle – that’s what the carport was for.
The garage and house held a lot of acquisitions that I always like to explore. There was a piggy bank shaped like – what else? – a pig, but the pig was standing on its hind legs and dressed like a fisherman complete with a pole, creel, hat hung with lures and a string of fish. Fishing was another of my grandpa’s hobbies. My grandfather filled the fishing pig bank with coins throughout the year and each visit he would empty the bank. We would count the coins, roll them up and take them to the bank for spending money. But one of my most favorite memories I have is my grandpa’s rock tumbler.
He had a large box with what seemed like a hundred drawers, each filled with a different type of rock. A second box held the finished product, after the rock had been tumbled. He sat on a stool in the cave-like garage, working the tumbler, polishing and cleaning each rock until it was transformed to his satisfaction. Each finished stone was unique. He used the finished gems to make jewelry, fill in glass jars or vases and sometimes attached them to lamp bases or other furniture items. When he showed us the box of finished stones, I would pick up each little drawer and run the cool, polished gems through my fingers, marveling at how an ugly little stone from the creek could become such a beautiful piece of art. It was hard to imagine that each stone could have been as close as the river banks of southern Ohio or as far away as the mountains of Russia.
From earliest times, humans have adorned themselves with jewelry made from all kinds of natural objects including shell, bone or sparkly rocks that caught their fancy. From drilled shell beads in ancient times to the glass beads of the first century to the diamonds and other precious gems of modern times, people have always seemed to have a penchant for decorating the body. Historians believe that jewelry was originally meant to be an amulet to ward off evil or bring good luck. As time moved on, certain cultures used gems and precious metals as a way to tell who the important people were. Today, gems such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies are used as an extension of self and can be seen as pretty baubles, status symbols, a way to remember a loved one or celebrate life events. Diamonds, in particular, have come to be considered the stone for engagements and other important occasions, and have taken on their own persona. There’s diamonds are forever, her eyes glittered like diamonds, Lucy in the sky with diamonds and diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But what personality does a diamond really have?
For those involved in the business such as jewelry designers and gem cutters, colored gemstones can be so much more challenging and exciting to work with than diamonds. Because each stone has its own set of characteristics that can be a challenge to cut, gem cutters have an opportunity to use their skill and knowledge of the individual stones to create something very unique. Some gemstones from the same family come in many different colors. For instance, quartz has a wide color range as seen with the golds of citrine to the purples of amethyst. The gem cutter can use creativity to apply a different cut or faceting to showcase a particular hue. Diamonds don’t seem to have a penchant for this creative effort.
Using colored gemstones can also spark a lot of creativity in the area of jewelry design. Because colored gemstones can come in different textures, designers can use different stones to combine the textures and hues into one design. Designers can also use nature as inspiration by placing stones to create the perception of a sunset, a deep blue ocean or sandy beach. The finished product can be as traditional or as futuristic as the designer or, better yet, the recipient of the piece.
There are many reasons why a colored gemstone is better than a diamond, but perhaps the most convincing is that colored gemstones seem to express the emotions that mean the most to us. Colored gemstones can help tell a part of a story. For instance, most colored gemstones have myths to go along with the magical colors. Ancient Greeks believed amethyst would ward off the intoxicating powers of Bacchus and malachite was used to protect the wearer from evil spirits. The Inuit believed labradorite gets it color from the northern lights that were once trapped in rocks on the coast of Labrador. Egyptians believed that tourmaline traveled from the heart to the sun and collected all the colors of the rainbow along the way which is why it comes in so many colors. Modern colored gemstones give gem cutters, designers and the owner a chance to create a similar story in a vivid, soul-capturing way.
It’s like going to a party with friends from around the world and everyone shows up with exotic names like turquoise, lapis, sapphire, alexandrite, tourmaline and amethyst and wearing their finest colors. Imagine the same party where the guests only wore white and everyone was from pretty much the same place. How boring! Each colored gemstone is like one of those party friends telling a really cool story about where they came from and how they got to be so colorful.
If you take the time to know about your colored gemstone and work with a jeweler and designer you can create a piece that has a unique story – just like you. A gemstone can be chosen for many reasons: the color, how it was formed, where it’s from, how the owner found the stone or what the jeweler had to do to get it just the right way and in just the right setting. Imagine you’re at a party, wearing your diamond engagement ring and someone says, “How beautiful.” You say, “thank you”. However, imagine the same party and someone compliments you on your colored gemstone ring or bracelet. You can say, “Oh, this is agate made from tiny crystalline fibers and the stone came from Uruguay, where my parents met and later married”. Or, “this is my beautiful aquamarine anniversary necklace in a cat’s eye cut. My husband had it designed just for me because it reminded him of the way my eyes sparkle like the blue waters of the Caribbean.”
It’s easy to subscribe to the image of the diamond as an expensive, exclusive type of rock as well as one of the most popular, but colored gemstones create a story that is more unique, making the stones more personal than diamonds. Dare to be different and let the beauty of the gemstone be in the eye of the beholder. The value is not in the stone itself, but in the story behind it.