Congratulations to all of you celebrating a 5th anniversary, the anniversary of sapphire! Symbolising love and fidelity, sapphire is a beautiful gemstone that’s tough enough to withstand a few knocks – just like a good marriage.
Though blue is the most popular and well-known colour, sapphires occur in a wide range of pretty hues: blue, pink, green, yellow, orange, purple, black and even colourless. There’s no such thing as a red sapphire though. Know why? It’s because a red sapphire is known as a ruby. Sapphire and ruby are both varieties of the mineral corundum, and the variation in colour is caused by different chemical elements within the gemstones’ structure.
I’ve come across some phenomenal sapphires on my travels, and I don’t just mean that they made my jaw drop! The term ‘phenomenal’ in gemmology refers to gemstones that have fascinating optical properties.
The most well-known type of phenomenal sapphire is probably the star sapphire. Star sapphires exhibit a property called ‘astersim’, which means that they seem to have a star shape floating across their surface. Asterism happens when light bounces off dense, linear inclusions of titanium dioxide (also known as ‘rutile’ or ‘silk’) in the gemstone’s body. In black star sapphires, the rutile is hematite and some Thai sapphires contain both titanium dioxide and hematite. As well as causing the floating star effect, the rutile gives the star sapphire its milky, opaque appearance. Depending on the nature of the rutile, a sapphire may exhibit a four, six or twelve-rayed star.
You probably know that alexandrite is a colour change gemstone, but did you know that it’s possible to buy a colour change sapphire? Colour change gemstones appear to be different colours in natural and artificial light because the gemstone’s chemical makeup means that particular ranges of wavelength (i.e. colours) in the light spectrum are absorbed more intensely under one light source than another. The colour change in sapphires is most commonly a subtle but pretty change from blue to violet.
Bi-coloured or ‘parti’ sapphire displays two different colours (usually blue and greenish yellow) within the gemstone no matter what the light source. Though found in Tanzania, Madagascar and Nigeria, the world’s main source of parti sapphire is Australia. I was lucky enough to find a few myself, when fossicking in the outback on my travels down under. These intriguing and unusual sapphires certainly make for a striking piece of jewellery!
Happy 5th anniversary! Let’s not forget that sapphire is also September’s birthstone!
Have you ever considered gemstone healing to help you relax? All aspects of everyday life, whether work stress, relationship drama or the pressures of a young family, can follow us into our precious relaxation time. If you struggle to unwind and enjoy your holiday, why not try the ancient practice of gemstone healing to help you relax?
Those who believe in the physical and spiritual healing properties of gemstones use them in several different ways. Some wear their gemstones in the form of pendants, bracelets or rings. Others carry a gemstone with them to hold in times of need—you can buy a huge variety in the form of ‘palm stones’, which are smooth, palm-sized pebbles that feel comforting to hold in one hand. Many place crystals around the house in areas which particularly need the stone’s healing energy.
Delicately pink rose quartz is the go-to gemstone for those who need to practise a bit of self-care. Widely known as a stone of love, rose quartz is great if your relaxation time is regularly interrupted by squabbles and bad feeling! If you have children who are getting on each other’s nerves, you could try placing a rose quartz crystal in their play spaces. Likewise, if an argument with your partner is stressing you out, using a rose quartz in the bedroom could help you relax on holiday by reconnecting in a positive way.
If you’re one of those people who finds it difficult to switch off the work worries when your head hits the pillow, and who struggles to get a good night’s sleep on holiday, amethyst may be the gemstone for you. Amethyst, with its peaceful energy, is known as a stone of sleep, so keeping one on your bedside table could help you drift off properly…and stay asleep long enough to enjoy a holiday lie-in.
What better gemstone to take on a beach holiday than aquamarine, stone of the sea? Its light blue hue evokes the clear waters of the ocean and is said to have calming energies that help to quieten a racing mind. Many people use it to deepen their meditation, so it’s good for those who find it hard to relax on holiday if there’s lots of activity going on around them. As a gemstone used as a protective talisman by sailors since ancient times, aquamarine is also great if your holiday is marred by the fear of travelling by boat or plane.
Travelling in a group can be an incredible and life-affirming experience as long as everyone understands group etiquette and expectations, and the same is true for a Gemstone Tour with The Gemstone Detective.
If you’ve read about my travels with renowned field gemmologist, Vincent Pardieu, you’ll know that we had to spend a few lunches getting to know each other before he would invite me on one of his expeditions into the field. Vincent won’t travel with people he doesn’t know, because he cannot risk taking people who are not team players or who might pose a liability to the trip.
Though I’m always up for lunch with fellow gemstone enthusiasts, you can sign up for your Gemstone Tour without us needing to get to know each other beforehand. But—and it’s a big but—you do need to think carefully about whether an expedition is right for you.
On a Gemstone Tour you’ll get an educational, hands-on introduction to the gem trade in that location. You’ll get to visit gem mines, gem markets and gemstone & jewellery shops, and witness jewellery, goldsmithing and gem cutting & polishing workshops. Along the way, I make sure you get to experience the local culture and way of life!
So, now to the ground rules!
Gemstone Tour Etiquette and Ground Rules
Here are the 3 most important questions to ask yourself before signing up:
Do I have a good level of health and fitness?
Full disclosure of health issues is extremely important.
We have small group tours planned to South East Asia, where the weather is hot and humid. We sometimes visit places with very little shade. You need to be sure that you can handle this and come equipped with a hat, water bottle, sunscreen etc.
Most toilets outside the main hotels are squat toilets. Are your knees up to the job? The mines rarely have toilets, even for the miners. Can you cope?
Some of the tours require a certain level of fitness to reach the gem mines, which can be dangerous to navigate, with rough terrain. Are you able to walk down steep verges, balance along planks and jump over little rivers?
Can I keep to a schedule?
Gem Tours are kept deliberately short to fit into our busy lives and so our schedule is tightly packed. Are you able to respect group timings and make sure that you don’t keep your fellow travellers waiting? Heavy sleepers need to have some contingency measures in place—an alarm clock (in addition to your phone alarm); a buddy system etc!
Am I prepared to be a team player?
Are you willing to participate in activities and push yourself to try new experiences and foods? It can really drag a group down if there’s one person who refuses to try anything new or unfamiliar. These expeditions are designed to immerse you not only in the gem trade of each location, but also the local culture—grab the opportunity with both hands and get involved!
June is Pride Month, a month to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities all over the world, so let’s have a look at some gemstones that reflect the colours and meaning of the famous rainbow Pride flag!
Gemstones for Pride: a symbol of Pride, the colours of the striped Pride flag echo the colours of the rainbow, with each colour symbolising a positive concept. The colours come together to represent humankind’s diverse community.
Red garnet has been associated with the heart and blood since ancient times, so is a good choice to represent life-giving energy. Particularly appropriate for Pride, red garnet is also said to enhance vitality, self-confidence and sexuality.
Carnelian is traditionally used to help its wearer to overcome trauma and abuse. A powerful and dynamic stone, carnelian is said to impart energy to both body and mind, restoring lost courage and vitality. The 18th century German writer and statesman, Goethe, wrote that carnelian ‘drives away all evil things,’ making it a good choice to protect against intolerance and homophobia.
Many cultures associate amber with the warmth and energy of the sun. Ancient Greek poet, Homer, in his epic poem The Odyssey, described the precious gift of a necklace ‘set with amber beads, that glowed as if with sunshine.’ Said to absorb negative energy and pain, this beautiful, organic gemstone will certainly bring light and positivity into your life.
Soothing green jadeite jade is believed to be a nurturing gemstone that instils peace and self-acceptance in its wearer. Its colour represents the energy of the natural world and is often used to help create positive channels for wealth and abundance.
Blue: harmony and peace
Lapis lazuli is a gemstone of friendship andsociability.Many people use this intense blue stone to help free themselves of anger, frustration and resentment, and so find inner peace. Lapis lazuli is also thought to increase self-awareness and understanding of one’s motivations.
A gemstone said to have powerful metaphysical properties, amethyst is regarded as the stone to use for spiritual protection, helping the wearer to achieve inner balance and emotional intelligence. If you’re thinking about another meaning of the word ‘spirit’, amethyst was traditionally used to guard against drunkenness – the word ‘amethyst’ means ‘not intoxicated’ in Ancient Greek!
As today is World Oceans Day, it’s time to have a conversation about coral jewellery. What is coral and why is coral so controversial?
Like the bones in our body and pearls, coral is made of calcium carbonate. The coral we see in jewellery is formed from the external skeletons of plant-like underwater organisms called coral polyps. Colonies of these tiny polyps grow, die and repeat this cycle over generations, building up huge structures over time. Once harvested, coral is polished to produce beads, cabochons and irregular-shaped branches for use in jewellery.
There are many different types of coral, but we refer to the coral used in jewellery as ‘precious’ coral. Historically, precious coral referred to the genus Corallium, a deep red to pink variety that commands the highest prices. Nowadays, the term ‘precious’ is used to refer to any coral made into jewellery, including Antipatharia (black), Heliopora Coerulea (blue) or Gerardia (gold), among others.
Traditionally, Corallium was harvested in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this type of coral grows only a millimetre per year and decades of over harvesting has decimated natural coral reefs—not only in the Mediterranean, but also the world over. This is disastrous for marine life, as coral reefs provide the planet with some of its richest and most biologically diverse ecosystems.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species(CITES) has attempted to address this but getting countries to agree to protective legislation has proven to be extremely difficult. Farming coral for reef restoration and for aquariums is possible, but precious coral grows too slowly and in conditions that are too difficult to make commercial farming viable.
Much of the coral on sale in markets and fairs is bamboo coral, a porous, white variety of deep-sea coral that has been filled, dyed red and polished to imitate the more expensive Corallium. Unfortunately bamboo coral is not a more sustainable choice, as continued demand for coral is creating the same problems for reefs of bamboo coral as it has done for the more sought-after types.
Because of the environmental and ethical issues surrounding coral jewellery, many jewellers no longer use it in their collections, from big names like Tiffany and Co, who stopped selling coral jewellery in 2004, to independent artisan jewellers and craftspeople.
Ultimately, the only way to wear coral jewellery sustainably is to look for antique or vintage pieces—our oceans are far more precious than strings of coral beads!
Kennedy once said, “Pearls are always appropriate,” but this is particularly true if you’re
celebrating a 3rd anniversary.
Pearls are what we call organic gemstones: gemstones that are produced by a living organism. Pearls are formed inside molluscs such as oysters, clams and mussels, and occur when a small piece of grit or sand becomes lodged within the mollusc’s soft insides. To protect itself, the mollusc secretes a substance called nacre, which hardens in thousands of layers around the object. The result? A beautiful iridescent pearl.
most gemstones, pearls vary hugely in price and several factors determine how
much you will pay for yours. Pearls
which occur without human intervention are called ‘natural pearls’, and a
necklace of them would set you back vast amounts of cash. Why?
It could well mean looking through 100,000 oysters to find enough pearls
of the right size and colour to string a necklace! Farmed pearls on the
other hand, are formed around small ‘seed’ beads deliberately placed into the
If you don’t have much to spend on your 3rd
anniversary gemstone, go for freshwater pearls. These are the most affordable way to own
pearls. They’re often sold as irregular
shaped beads called baroque pearls.
expensive, though still within the bounds of reasonable, are farmed Akoya
pearls. With a diameter of between 4
and 10mm, these pearls are grown off the coast of Japan and are what we think
of when we imagine the classic strand of round white pearls.
If you’re after somethinga little unusual, you could go for Tahitian pearls. These French Polynesian beauties are large—up
to 15mm in diameter—and naturally dark in colour, thanks to the nacre secreted
by the native ‘black-lipped’ oyster.
Though they are also referred to as ‘black pearls’, most range in colour
from dark grey and dark green to silver.
It’s rare to find perfectly round Tahitian pearls, but even the baroque
shapes are expensive.
to splash some serious cash on your 3rd anniversary gemstone? South Sea pearls can fetch tens of
thousands of dollars per pearl. These
stunning specimens sometimes exceed 20mm and form in various hues of cream,
white and gold..
As well as being the gemstone for your 3rd anniversary, pearl is also the gemstone for your 30th anniversary. Perhaps you could commission a piece of pearl jewellery for your 3rd anniversary that will eventually be joined by another for your 30th!