The beauty of minerals and rocks has fascinated people since ancient times. Archaeologists have discovered in various parts of the world that women and especially men wore stone jewellery 10,000 years ago. Stones and minerals offer us an incredible variety of varieties; chalcedony and nephrite ornaments were particularly used. Diamonds began to be mined three thousand years before our era, emeralds two thousand years ago and rubies and sapphires 600 years before the birth of Jesus.
The stones were first used as tools and raw materials for everyday products, then as jewellery and decorations, talismans and cult objects. In primitive cultures, on all continents, they were a symbol of man’s feelings and beliefs and were also commonly used as therapeutic objects. They were an indispensable attribute of power and secret magic. These types of use of minerals and jewellery have survived to this day, and this belief is still rooted in our modern civilization.
The belief in the magical influence of stones was powerful. As far as contemporary medicine is concerned, it is an irreplaceable part of everyday life. The ancient Chinese made up to 2,935 prescriptions for medicines containing various precious and ornamental stones. In a pharmacy museum you can find a prescription recommending the use of a medicine made of pearls, emeralds, sapphires and gold. Its author was Nicolaus Copernicus, known in contemporary Europe as a physician and pharmacist. We don’t know who could afford to use this type of medicine at that time, apart from very rich people.
Precious stones have always been associated with religion and belief.
Inca temples were an inexhaustible source of beautiful emeralds, turquoise and gold for the conquistadors. To this day, we do not know where the mines were located. Most of the most beautiful diamonds, sapphires and rubies in the British crown treasure come from Indian temples. Also in the Old Testament we describe the stones decorating the temple of Jerusalem. According to the Bible, they are also an ornament of paradise.
In the New Testament, jewels appear very rarely, but this did not prevent them from becoming an indispensable element in the decoration of liturgical vessels, reliquaries and chasubles in the Early Middle Ages. Sapphires and rubies became a sign of the dignity of the cardinal and the episcopate.
However, interest in gemstones is above all linked to possession of power, property and social position. The ornaments of each country were decorated with jewels of the highest value. The king’s environment also used precious stones to decorate clothing, depending on the position of the state. Diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, next to gold, are always considered a guarantee of imperishable value, a capital investment.