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       


Kittie Howard said...

Loved this gorgeous post! I can't help but browse jewelry store windows--just to enjoy the various stones! And watches--can't resist a peek there either!

Kat Sheridan said...

Oooo, shiny things!!! You knew that would pull me right in, right? I do love gem stones and other shiny rocks. I keep a small bowl of "worry stones" on my desk. Citrine to attract money, and sodalite, which is considered lucky for writers are among them. But oh, those amethysts are lovely!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Impressive carvings, especially considering when they were carved.

~Sia McKye~ said...

KITTIE--I'm not a big watch wearer--I tend to *stop* time, lol! But there are some gorgeous ones out there. I love gems.

KAT--I did know you'd like the shiny stones, lol! That's it, I need to get me some more Citrine. I love having a bowl of gems. I like the tactile feel of handling the stones.

ALEX--artisans through the ages have been phenomenal. They didn't have the precision tools we have today to work gemstones and have put out some fabulous pieces.

Karen Walker said...

I love gems, both precious and semi-precious and also believe that hold different magical qualities. I loved this post, Sia. The photos are gorgeous.

Crystal Collier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crystal Collier said...

So basically what you're saying is, now that my time machine is functional, go buy myself some Amethyst and red sardonyx before heading out? ;)

Incredible. LOVE this history and images.

Julie Flanders said...

I have an amethyst ring that I love to death so I am all set for my trip to the ancient world. :)
What a fascinating post, thanks for sharing with us.

~Sia McKye~ said...

KAREN--I'm the same with both semi and precious stones. A lot of the magical has it's roots in magnetic properties of the earth and corresponding current in our bodies.

Most of the pictures were from wiki commons from museums. I did see that cup,btw, on our last visit to DC.

CRYSTAL--wouldn't hurt. I'd a add some spices to the mix as well.

JULIE--glad you enjoyed it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Poor Amethyst. It's my not-so-valuable birthstone. It's also the name of one of my friend's daughter. She and her husband love the color purple.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

There is a neat little family-owned jewelry store here in my town and I love perusing it sometimes :)

Yolanda Renee said...

Love the beautiful sapphires, and even the black onyx, and the diamond, of course. Just wish I had a pocket full! LOL

Johanna Garth said...

I have a love affair with amethysts too. Doesn't hurt that it's my daughter's birthstone. :)

Mason Canyon said...

Sia, great post but then I'm a little bias as amethyst is my birth stone. Even if it wasn't, I'd still like they are beautiful.

Also, love the coffee photo.

Thoughts in Progress

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm thinking you're right! The history of gemstones is fascinating. I loved this.

Melanie Schulz said...

I'm copying your post so I can show explain to my husband why I'm suddenly expanding my jewelry collection. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

DIANE--I LOVE amethyst! I think they're beautiful. Don't tell the emeralds crowd but I like them better than emeralds. ;-)

Keith--oh I love looking through small jewelry stores.

Yolanda--Me too. There are some beautiful sapphires and I love shiny black onyx.

Johanna--I had a gorgeous emerald cut amethyst a little more than 2 carats set in a gold ring. I have a few other pieces but nothing like that one. I also have a fire opal--my birthstone.

Mason, seems quite a few have amethyst as a birthstone.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Carol--I love bits of history attached to gemstones. :-)

MELANIE--Let me know how that goes for you. :-)

Jo said...

I have had amethyst earrings and rings for a while but last Christmas I got Matt to buy me an amethyst pendant. It is a largish chunk which is sort of star shaped but not flat. I wear it 24/7. Yes, if we could time travel we would be able to be quite wealthy in that period.

Loved your article on stones Sia, thanks.

L.G. Smith said...

I've always loved amethyst. I've never seen it carved like that, though. Beautiful. And Diana Gabaldon (and I'm sure others too) makes precious and semi-precious stones part of the time travel "magic" in her novels. Great post. :)