|History of Gemstones
The materials first used as gemstones tended to be ones that were relatively easy to find and easy to work. It is not surprising then that gems such as amber, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and malachite were among the first gemstones used by man, since they were soft enough to be worked by available materials such as sand.
Amber is without doubt one of the earliest stones to be used in jewelry. It is lightweight, easily drilled, and features an attractive warm color. It was also found floating in numerous parts of the world in significant size pieces.
Examples of early amber work come from the Orient, Morocco, Afghanistan, and, of course, the Baltic countries. Used mostly in necklaces, many of the beads are large, hand-shaped spheres or ovals.
Turquoise also has a long history in jewelry. The Egyptians of the earliest dynasties were very taken with this sky-blue stone, sometimes grinding it into a powder to provide a unique blue eye shadowing.
Turquoise was a highly prized gem of the Mexican cultures, and the Persians and Tibetans also used turquoise extensively. Some Germanic people used it as a betrothal stone. Among the American Indians, it was the principal stone. In almost all instances, the workings were those of cabochon cutters, carvers and sculptors who specialized in representational art.
A relatively soft stone, turquoise was easily worked and could quickly be buffed to a nicely polished finish with a mixture of sand and water. Sometimes it was worked in a nugget form and other times it was shaped. Used alone or in combination with shell, coral and other soft materials, turquoise has continued in great popularity even up to contemporary times. Coral, incidentally, is usually vivid in color and easy to shape so it naturally became famous in Tibet, China, India, northern Africa, and the American Indians.
Other stones that found early use among gemcutters were meerschaum, jet and lignite, soapstone, lapis lazuli, and malachite. Where volcanic action was evident, obsidian was also used. It is a medium soft stone, but gemcutters quickly found that quartz pieces and flint could be used to shape it. Obsidian was valued among the Stone Age artisans and then later by Aztecs, Mayans, and Indian tribes of the Western USA.
- First Published: April-07-2009
- Last Updated: October-07-2010
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