Gemstones are valuable pieces of minerals, usually mined from deep within the Earth’s crust. The reverence humans have for these precious stones is almost as captivating as the gems themselves. The meanings attributed to these stones have developed over centuries and are influenced by a combination of cultural, historical, mystical, and spiritual beliefs. They have inspired myths and curses, and have even been used as medicine, but why is it that certain stones and crystals have been so coveted and highly prized throughout history?
Treasures of the Earth: A Brief History of Gemstone Jewelry
Most gemstones are minerals that come from underground, others are organic materials like pearls and amber. There are around 200 different natural gemstones; diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies are particularly rare and beautiful, and are considered precious stones, all others are called semi-precious stones, which doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. With the exception of organic gems like pearls which are formed constantly, the age of gemstones ranges from millions to billions of years old.
The first jewelry was made from found objects and natural materials like animal teeth, bone, shells, carved stone and wood, likely designed as functional items, to fasten clothing for example. These items were later adapted to become religious or spiritual symbols or what we’ve come to think of as “jewelry” today. In a cave in the western Morocco desert, archaeologists discovered the world’s oldest jewelry, a set of shell beads dated from 142,000 and 150,000 years ago. Similar ornaments have been found in the Middle East and Africa, dating back between 35,000 and 135,000 years. While we can only speculate their meaning, they’re clearly symbolic objects used in a way that others could see them.
The oldest known gemstone jewelry dating back to 15,000 years ago was made and discovered in the Cueva de los Aviones cave in southeast Spain. Shell finds had small holes in them that were once studded with red gems called hematite. The gems used in the Stone Age were those easy to find and work such as amber, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and malachite. Based on archaeological evidence and recorded history, here are some known first uses of gems by different civilisations.
- Hindy Kush (modern Afghanistan) – archeological evidence suggests the oldest gemstone mined by man is lapis lazuli. It was used by people dwelling in the Hindu Kush region during the Neolithic period.
- Egypt – based on archeological evidence, Egyptians were making gemstone jewelry using lapis lazuli and amethyst around 4000 BC.
- China – jade is the earliest gemstone mentioned in Chinese historical texts around 3600 BC.
- India – is where the first people began to mine and use diamonds around 300 BC.
- Ancient Greece and Rome – history dates the use of sapphires, garnets and pearls as amulets in Greece and the Roman Empire between 1600 BC and 500 BC.
The earliest traces of jewelry, simple stone amulets and seals which carried spiritual meanings, stars, and floral designs, can be traced to the civilizations in the Mediterranean around 3,000 to 400 BC. When The Royal Tombs in ancient Sumner, dating back to 3000 BC, was discovered, they found mummies encrusted with every imaginable type of jewelry, headdresses, necklaces, earrings, rings, crowns, and pins. While we’ll never know why, as mankind progressed, jewelry was used as a symbol of wealth and status, as well as to protect against harm, ward off evil, and heal ailments.
Uncovering the Symbolic Power of Gemstones
Many ancient cultures ascribed special powers and significance to gemstones. They believed gems were connected to the gods, planets, and natural elements. In ancient Egypt, certain stones were associated with deities and used in religious ceremonies and burials. In Greek and Roman mythology, gemstones were linked to zodiac signs, and wearing the stone associated with one’s birth month was thought to bring good luck and protection. Folk tales and superstitions also contributed to meaning, some gems were believed to have protective qualities or the power to ward off evil spirits, while others were considered unlucky or even dangerous.
- Ancient Egyptians 4000 BCE used stones like lapis lazuli and ivory as a means to contact gods and goddesses.
- Ancient Chinese 3600 BCE used jade stones to make jewelry and tools.
- Ancient Indians 3000 BCE used powdered gemstones medicinally, and believed chakra gemstones had physical and spiritual powers.
- Ancient Greeks 1600 BCE smeared crushed hematite powder on soldiers to boost their strength before battle.
- Ancient Romans 500 BCE also believed in the metaphysical powers of gemstones, created the first amulet made of gems, and used sapphires, garnets, and pearls for healing purposes of the body and mind.
- European History during the Renaissance gemstones were used for all sorts of physical and spiritual treatments. During the Crusades ecclesiastical rings were used by the clergy, and curative and romance rings for healing emotional matters.
Throughout history, gemstones were believed to possess healing properties. Practitioners of ancient medicine systems like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine used gems as part of their healing practices, where each stone was thought to have unique energies that could influence a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In more recent times, the New Age and spiritual movements have revived interest in gemstone meanings, and many people today believe in the metaphysical properties of gems and use them for meditation, energy healing, and spiritual purposes.
There are gemstones said to heal every part of the body such as bloodstone for blood disorders, rose quartz for heart disorders, clear quartz for eye disorders and so on. Other uses of gemstones are emotional healing and in divination, fortune telling, spirit recall, karmic therapy, and meditation. People claim gemstones can reveal destiny and grow powers of intuition when put to use on higher chakras. Concepts of electromagnetism proven by James Maxwell along with various breakthroughs in quantum theory have given us scientific evidence for what the ancients always knew- everything vibrates at certain frequencies, and gemstones have the ability shift and alter the frequencies of other objects or bodies when they occupy the same space, and stimulate biochemical shifts that affect physical health in a positive, healing way.
It’s safe to say that gemstones are more than just ornaments to us. The value we place on them lies in what they mean to us individually, historically and culturally, from birthstones to commemorating anniversaries and symbolizing connection and commitment. Whether you’re considering a gift or looking for something for yourself, we can help you find or design the perfect piece. Give us a call at 303-385-8449 or click here to schedule your appointment!