Gems History In Europe Since Antiquity

The use of gems in the creation of royal and imperial ornaments is something shared by all successive European societies. We will walk you through this journey in our new article about gemstones since antiquity!

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The use of gems in the creation of royal and imperial ornaments is something shared by all successive European societies. The various gems, whether "precious" or not, have all led to the expansion of the old continent across the globe, as well as the discovery of new human, physical phenomena, and chemicals that the earth can produce. There are as many different types of gems as there are different colors known to date from the major mineralogical groups.

These stones, discovered at various times, can be divided into three major periods: the discovery of traditional antiquity gems, the exploitation of new so-called "modern" gems from the 18th century, and the introduction of ever more unexpected gems in jewelry by contemporary specialists.
Burmese Pink Spinel 13.55 cts

Weight (cts):
Shape & Cut:
Stone type:
14x11x10 mm
What Are Traditional Gems?
Traditional gems are thought to refer to all stones used in jewelry and adornments from antiquity to the end of the 18th century. Although the expertise of the size is fairly subjective over this relatively long period (often in cabochon or partially faceted cut), the populations are more attached to the colors that the gems can give than to the brightness of the stone due to a more in-depth control of gem cutting.

These stones are mostly correlated with the four most valuable gemstones: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Other stones that had previously been labeled "non-precious" were discovered and highly sought during this period. Amethyst, a well-known stone among Europeans, has made a name for itself among the stones used by Western societies. Its violet color, favored by the church for its symbolism, resilience, and presence in European deposits, made it possible to support its introduction into jewelry early on. Other gems include red spinel, which resembles ruby, and peridot, which has a Mediterranean olive-green hue. Other stones from the established mineralogical families are used, such as yellow topaz, red garnets (including pyrope and almandine), red zircon, moonstone, opal, or even aquamarine, which belongs to the beryl family (just like the emerald).

Given the lack of precision instruments to authenticate the mineralogical origin of a stone, mistakes in the identification of such gems have occurred throughout history. Among the oldest uses of gems, we usually find ornamental stones, which are a variety of opaque gems used in jewelry and furniture decoration. Lapis lazuli, carnelian, and malachite are the most well-known and used by ancient civilizations.
The polychrome style was developed by the Goths who settled in the Black Sea region. Scandinavia, northern Germany, and England were among the countries that embraced the animal imagery. Finally, there was Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon style, which was a brief but prosperous time after Christianization that saw the convergence of animal style, Celtic, Mediterranean, and other motifs and techniques.
What Are Modern Gems?
The term "new gems" refers to all stones that have seen a considerable rise in commercialization since the 18th century. The colonial conquests of the British and French empires mark the beginning of a new era in gemmology, with the importation of tourmaline into the Orient, as well as other stones such as demantoid or grossular garnet. These new gems from Russia, Brazil, Afghanistan, and Madagascar expand the color palette used in jewelry and arouses the interest of nineteenth-century mineralogists, who are still eager to discover new stones through expeditions.

Many 19th and 20th century gemologists were able to expand the range of available stones by identifying gems with previously unrecognized colors to Europeans , such as the pink of kunzite, discovered in 1902 by the famous mineralogist George Frederick Kunz. Other gems, each more incredible than the last, gained a European audience interested in new natural phenomena, such as the color-change phenomenon discovered in alexandrite, which changes color depending on the light source sent to it.
Weight (cts): 2.44 cts
Origin: Brazil
Shape & Cut:
Stone type: Alexandrite
Color: Color Change Greenish-blue to Violetish-pink
Certified: SSEF
What About Contemporary Gems?
Contemporary gems refer to all gems found by Europeans in the last 50 years. These emphasize either new varieties of recognized gems or new mineral species. Tanzanite and tsavorite garnet, both discovered in Tanzania in the 1970s, are among the more common stones today. New tourmaline varieties have also emerged, such as Paraiba tourmaline, which is now globally recognized as the most common variety of its mineralogical family, or less prized but equally fascinating stones from Nepal, such as rhodonite or blue kyanites.

The above-mentioned stones, which appeared at the beginning of the 18th century, significantly altered the world of traditional jewelry. The discovery of new varieties has prompted European mineralogists to travel to new territories in order to extend the range of listed stones. It also made jewelry, which had previously been reserved for royalty, more available to a historically entirely excluded public for centuries. The list of listed stones is not exhaustive, and more are likely to be found as earthquake zones move, allowing access to new underground veins in various parts of the world. Furthermore, technological advancements in this field continue to progress, allowing us to gain a better understanding of the origins of the physical and chemical formations of gems. Using this information, mineralogists can imagine discovering new deposits by looking for new sources of the elements that make up gems.
Shoulder-clasps from an Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in the 7th century. The British Museum

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Benjamin Poudevigne
Social Media Manager at GemMatrix
With over ten years of marketing experience, I finally decided to settle down in Bangkok to work in an area that I have always been interested in: the gemstones industry. I'm still learning how the market works on a daily basis, and I enjoy sharing my experience with those who are interested in learning more about gems in general.