Monday, October 21, 2013


Its one of those dancing with Murphy's Law days...

Isn't it funny how the value of things change through the years?

I've always had a fascination for gemstones. Aside from the sheer beauty of the stones was the metaphysical properties assigned to them both by ancient cultures and the resurgence of those beliefs in modern times. Precious gemstones have always been used in both in secular and religious rituals—Christian and pagan.

Ancients placed great value on stones that today aren't so valued. Amethyst and red sardonyx is two such gems.

Purple Sapphire
Amethyst Quartz
For instance, amethyst was highly prized and up until the 18th century amethyst was included in with the most valuable cardinal gemstones. Cardinal stones include diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Today, amethyst is relatively inexpensive, in part, because of the discovery of rich deposits of the stones in Brazil, Zambia (two of the largest producers), Austria and even here in the states. This availability relegated the amethyst quartz from precious to semi-precious category.

In ancient times there were two different types of amethyst, occidental (quartz) and oriental (sapphire). Orient amethyst is a form or a species of the sapphire family and when in the clear form (colorless) is almost indistinguishable from a diamond both in hardness and brilliance. Today the term Oriental amethyst is an illegal term among gem dealers in many countries. Instead these are considered a purple variety of sapphire.

Engraved Amethyst
Engraved Sardonyx
The other form in ancient times was from the western world and quartz family. It’s softer and has been used to make engraved jewelry and pendants. Quartz amethyst was also used to make drinking cups, wine goblets and chalices, many intricately engraved and popular because it was thought to prevent or be an antidote to drunkenness. J

Red sardonyx, or red onyx was highly prized by ancients in Egypt as well as in Rome.  Today we think of the more common black onyx but it comes in quite a variety of colors from black to reddish brown, orange, and red. This is chalcedony quartz. In ancient times it was used as a talisman of protection against evil and harm. Pieces of sardonyx were placed above doors and windows and in all four corners of the house as a grid of protection. Finding red sardonyx in large pieces was rare and hence the precious gem aspect. In fact, there is a sardonyx chalice in the National

Museum of Natural History in Washington DC that dates back to 100 BC from Egypt. Allegedly, the cup is cut from one piece of sardonyx. A Benedictine monk acquired it 1100 years later and had his goldsmiths add silver and gold to the chalice. It was used to hold sacramental wine for mass.

Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II
In Roman times soldiers carried sardonyx and their pieces were often lavishly carved with gods, goddesses, emperors, and heroes such as Aries and Hercules, to make them fearless in war and
Goddess Minerva-Roman Times
protect them from harm. Some were carved from other less expensive colors of onyx. 
(Drawing of a Roman cameo w/God of War.)

Purple Sapphires
Today, red sardonyx, like the amethyst, is relatively inexpensive.

I’m thinking if there were time travel either gem would be a good currency to have with you when traveling to the ancient world. J