Why are you drawn to a particular gemstone?
Is it the colour?
Do you want a gemstone that is your birthstone?
Or is it just the sheer beauty of the gemstone that makes you want to possess it?
Most gemstones have ancient associations or symbolism. Our ancestors were extremely conscious of this and chose gemstones for the various attributes that they were thought to possess. Frequently this was for protection from evil spirits and maladies, but also for increased power and prosperity.
Ancient gemstone symbolism may give you food for thought when you next choose gemstone jewellery.
What’s the symbolism surrounding your favourite gemstone?
You probably associate diamonds with love because of the practice of giving diamond engagement rings. Whilst the first diamond engagement ring was given in the 15th century, this was a practice reserved for royalty and the rich.
Diamonds really only became the go-to engagement stone in the 20th century, as a result of the 1947 advertising campaign for De Beers.
In ancient times diamonds symbolised innocence and purity: the Ancient Greeks thought that they were the tears of the gods, whilst the Romans thought that they were part of fallen stars.
Diamonds were also believed to bring great strength to their wearers: maybe they knew even then that diamonds are the hardest of the gemstones.
Ancient Greek warriors wore diamonds because they believed that they strengthened their muscles & made them invisible.
Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Louis IV wore them as talismans.
For centuries emeralds have been considered to be the jewels of kings.
Alexander the Great was reputed to have a large emerald set into his girdle. Queen Elizabeth I had a large collection of emerald jewellery. Henry II wore a large emerald ring. Charlemagne had a collection of emerald stones. Cleopatra gave them as gifts. Emeralds were loved by the Moghul emperors and Russian royalty.
People living in the city of Manta, Peru worshipped an emerald the size of an ostrich egg. This was the goddess Umina. The smaller emeralds given to Umina by her worshippers were known as her ‘daughters’.
The Spanish conquistadors believing that real emeralds could withstand hammer blows, destroyed all but Umina.
Aristotle believed that owning emeralds would improve a person’s oratory skill and eloquence, make them successful litigants and protect the wearer from epilepsy.
Emeralds were also believed to enable people to predict the future and reveal truths.
In general, emeralds are thought to have great healing and rejuvenating properties, to combat old age and to have restorative powers for the heart, lungs, liver. kidneys, bladder and eyes. Ancient physicians used them to protect against poison, infection and dysentery.
The soothing green colour was thought to combat eye strain. Many gemstone cutters kept them on their benches so that they could look at them to rest their eyes after hours of cutting.
In the Middle Ages emeralds were believed to keep women chaste!
Rubies have long been associated with power and wealth. Perhaps this explains why the Black Prince’s Ruby was set in the British State Crown. However, centuries later this ‘ruby’ was found to be a red spinel.
Rubies are considered to be protective stones. They were thought to give the wearer personal protection, particularly if worn on the left side (the heart side). They also ward off negative energies and increase the wearer’s energy and vigour.
The ancient Burmese believed that soldiers who had rubies inserted into their flesh could not be wounded.
Rubies are also associated with love & passion.
The colour of ruby has also led to it being associated with blood. They were thought to cure bleeding and inflammation, detoxify the blood, stimulate the lymphatic system and increase the body’s warmth.
Folklore thought that rubies could be used to boil water. This may have come about because rubies fluoresce under ultra violet light and appear to have an inner fire.
Hindus prize rubies above all other gemstones and often offer them to the god Krishna. The larger the ruby, the greater the rewards on earth.
Dreaming of rubies is thought to indicate success in business.
A common misconception is that sapphires are blue, whereas they occur in many colours.
The blue sapphire has long been connected with the planet Venus and therefore with Friday – Venus’ day.
The Ancient Greeks associated sapphires with Apollo and often wore them when consulting the oracles: sapphires were thought to help the wearer to tap into their third eye and hear the oracle’s otherwise inaudible words of wisdom.
Royalty believed that sapphires attracted wealth and protected the wearer from envy and infidelity. According to Hebrew lore, both Solomon and Abraham wore sapphire talismans, which may explain sapphires’ association with wisdom and kindness.
Sapphires were also thought to promote harmony, peace and to protect from black magic or evil thoughts.
In terms of healing powers, they are thought to:
Star sapphires were considered to be especially powerful. Considering their rarity it is perhaps no surprise that they were thought to have mystical powers and the ability to ward off the devil and evil spirits.
Some Christians called the star sapphire the Stone of Destiny, associating its three crossbars with Faith Hope and Charity.
The Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton carried a star sapphire, believing that it brought him luck. However as many thought that just seeing the gemstone would bring them good fortune & as Burton only allowed those who gave him good service to see it, this may have been a chicken and egg situation!
Known as the Sailor’s Stone/the Stone of the Sea, sailors thought aquamarines would protect them at sea.
Ancient Greek sailors slept with aquamarines under their pillows and wore aquamarine talismans to protect them from storms, the waves and death at sea, apparently throwing aquamarines into the sea to appease Poseidon.
They were worn by Ancient Egyptians to preserve energy and prevent early death and by the Romans for protection and to cure laziness and indecisiveness.
Aquamarines are associated with tranquillity, serenity, clarity & harmony.
Amethyst is thought to have calming influences & to be a stone of peace and serenity so it was often used to make rosaries.
Early Christians associated the colour of amethyst with the wounds of Christ and so amethysts were imbued with healing powers and used on wounds and were worn in battle as amulets by medieval European soldiers.
Amethyst was used to make drinking goblets: the colour prevented the drinker from seeing if the red wine had been watered! An interesting link perhaps to the ancient Greeks’ belief that amethyst prevented intoxication!
Amethysts were thought to be extremely effective against pimples!
In ancient times, people from the Middle East believed that pearls were teardrops that had fallen from heaven.
The Chinese thought that pearls came from the brains of dragons. In the 15th century, many thought that pearls were formed from dewdrops in the molluscs.
Pearls are associated with purity, humility and innocence and were traditionally given as wedding gifts.
They were also thought to give long life and prosperity. Elizabeth I is often portrayed wearing multiple ropes of pearls.
Medicinally, pearls were thought to help relieve indigestion, clot blood, improve eyesight & lessen depression.
You may or may not believe in this ancient symbolism, but it certainly adds an extra dimension to buying & wearing gemstone jewellery.
Fara Braid: International Gem Society