IN the past, kingdoms were known for their Crown Jewels. 

Often, however, the crown jewels of many kingdoms were pawned to finance wars of conquest and discovery. 

The best known was Queen Isabella of Spain who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyages of discovery in the 1500s. 

Ancient civilisations found practical and decorative purposes for the mineral colourful crystals that were mined, cut and shaped into beautiful gemstones.  

Effecting the work of nature, gem cutters cut the stones to bring out their full potential of brilliance, scintillation, and diffusion. Each stone is meticulously and mathematically cut to highlight a gem’s best features. 

Each cut is based on the optical impression of the gemstone, yet no definitive rule can be applied to the various cuts. 

How a gemstone is cut is determined by the structural makeup and how the lapidary interprets what he sees in the structure and in the light refraction of the stone.

The shapes of cut gemstones depend largely on the shape of the rough raw stone as it comes from the earth.  

The most common method of fashioning hard, transparent gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other precious and semi-precious gems is the facet gem; using a step by step process of cutting unique to the cleavage or the facets of the stone.  

Facets are the smooth surface areas of a gemstone which have been cut, polished and positioned at different angles to allow factor in enhancing the gem’s ability to reflect light resulting in the brilliance and sparkle of the stone. 

The depth, width and uniformity of the facets control the brilliance and the durability of a gem. 

The qualities of the facets are the determining light to enter and reflect back from the stone.

The faceted gem cut gives the stone maximum light exposure and refraction. 

The number of facets on a single stone can range from 14 in the rectangular Baguette cut, to 76 of the Princess cut.  

The oval cut is generally the preferred cut for perfect beautiful rough coloured gemstones as it maximises the beauty of the gemstone. 

The classic, versatile Round Brilliant Cut accounts for more than half of all diamonds sold today

Gemstones are nature’s limited edition.  

Today, polished gemstones have reached a peak of perfection that has evolved over the last 8 000 years.

Birthstones were integral to one’s identity in society in ancient traditions.  

These were gemstones associated with various qualities that were believed to symbolise the month of one’s birth.

Gemstone were used and worn in many different ways and forms as a means of identification and adornment, as a talisman to protect and even bless the wearer.  

The durability of gemstones also lent themselves to practical uses such as seals.  

Ancient gemstones were often also used as seals and acted as the bearer’s signature.  

The chief justice of Egypt wore a lapis lazuli seal engraved with the image of the god Ma which they believed represented ‘Truth’.

Gems or gemstones are minerals, rock or petrified material that can be cut and polished giving them their ornamental value.  They are distinguished from non-gems by their beauty, durability, and usually, rarity.  

There are about 20 mineral species that qualify as gem minerals, which constitute about 35 of the most common gemstones. 

Minerals are classified by variety, species, series and group, in order of increasing generality. 

The basic level of definition is that of mineral species, each of which is distinguished from the others by unique chemical and physical properties.  

Gem minerals are often present in several varieties, and one mineral can account for several different gemstones.

There are approximately 3 000 types of minerals.  Approximately 200 qualify as ‘gem’ materials, but only 20 are commonly used as gemstones for jewellery, although a greater variety are increasingly coming into use.  

The mined and cut gem material is known as ‘gemstones’ or ‘coloured gemstones’.

The National Museum of Natural History is part of the vast complex od the Smithsonian Institution, established in 1846 as a trust, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

It houses the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, gems, and minerals and houses one of the world’s largest gem and mineral collections, including such world-famous gems as the Hope diamond, Logan sapphire, and Rosser Reeves star ruby, along with countless thousands of less-famous, but equally spectacular gem and mineral specimens. 

Here, beryl specimens from localities from all over the world are catalogued and kept– from Afghanistan, Brazil, Burma, California, Colombia, Colorado, Ireland, Italy, to Mozambique and Namibia.  

The wonderful variety of crystal sizes, shapes and colours make beryl particularly popular – the blue-green aquamarines, pink morganites, green emeralds, gold-colored heliodors. 

From Erongo, in Namibia, is a spectacular large, specimen of different mineral types growing together studded with beautiful aquamarine crystals and two varieties of tourmaline, embedded in a matrix of white.  

Here too, Zambian emeralds glitter against a backdrop of coal-black mica together with a superb mineral specimen of a spectacular multiple emerald crystals still embedded in their surrounding matrix is housed. 

Pricing gemstones is quite complex. 

While the demand for a particular gem will vary from time-to-time, supply and demand economics govern the natural gemstone market. 

Factors that determine supply of gem materials include mining problems, labour problems and costs, politics, weather, as well as nature’s limited supply of deposits. 

Historical events can create an increase on demand. 

For example, the demand for sapphires (and sapphire prices), increased after England’s Prince Charles gave Lady Diana Spencer a sapphire and diamond ring on their engagement.

Gemstones are purchased for many reasons; as sentimental gifts, as a fashion statement, to commemorate a significant occasion or to add to an enthusiast’s gem or jewellery collection.  

Fashion has a great influence on the gem market.   

Gems have a certain refractive index, certain dispersion, a certain specific gravity, certain hardness, a certain cleavage, a certain fracture, a certain lustre; or they may have a certain luminescence and a distinctive absorption spectrum. 

Through archeological findings and written records, we can ascertain that through trade, a large number of gemstones were known to many cultures in the medieval period.  

These small precious items could travel vast distances via trading, a trade which had been widespread in the time of the ancient Myceneans (c.2000B.C.).  

These gems were more likely to reach prosperous, outward-looking societies than those undergoing war, famine or internal unrest. 

Throughout the ages, almost every culture on earth has attributed magical powers to gemstones.  

Their metaphysical properties are said to affect the human body by promoting health and vigor by eliminating free radicals in the body and enhance one’s creative and mental capacities, ensure physical, emotional and mental equilibrium, bringing harmony to all areas of one’s life.

Some provide inspiration, balance, wisdom and patience. 

Others are believed to improve the ability to concentrate and raises consciousness by banishing negative thoughts and restore mental equilibrium; leading to positive action and change.  Mystics use the stones to gather wisdom from spiritual planes

The colourless form of quartz was closely connected to the spiritual world.  

Clear quartz or rock crystal, has been known as ‘The Master Healer’. 

Abundantly found in nature, including in Zimbabwe, quartz has been used as gems for centuries and is among the earliest talismans.

The ancients prized it believing it to be water frozen by the gods to its state of everlasting solidity. 

They used the material to make seals.  

The Japanese regarded it as ‘The Perfect Jewel’ – symbolising purity, patience, perseverance and the infinity of space.  

Native Americans used quartz crystals as a hunting talisman.  

Its metaphysical properties are believed to absorb, store, release and regulate energies.  

It amplifies the thought frequencies and feelings, and energies and elevates human awareness.

The emerald, a life-affirming stone, is known as the ‘stone of successful love’. 

It is said to bring loyalty, provides domestic bliss and enhances unconditional love, unity and promotes friendship and because it promotes honesty and loyalty, it keeps partnerships in balance and can signal unfaithfulness if it changes colour. 

It is also beneficial for business transactions

Emerald fortifies the spirit and helps to overcome misfortune and promote friendship, peace, harmony, and domestic bliss by enabling the wearer to both give and receive unconditional love. It brings a sense of joy, recovery, and rejuvenation to the downtrodden.

Emeralds are most effective when they are worn over the heart (as a broach), on the right arm (as a bangle), or ring on the little or ring finger. 

Emerald is considered the birthstone of the month of May.

Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD. in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a gemology researcher and connoisseur.  

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