Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stop and Smell the Gemstones

I sell fine jewelry at one of America's most well known, almost iconic really, chain department stores. It is how I make my living. It is what keeps a roof over my head and food on my table. Jewelry is unique. Clothing can warm and protect. Jewelry, although it can suggest one's financial and social status to others, serves no real purpose other than adornment. Despite this, evidence of it's existence, in some form, can be found dating back to the onset of civilization. I have been in the business of retail, selling this, that and the other, for most of my adult life. It is something I am adept at witnessed by my longevity in the business. I am immersed, focused and intent when I sell. I highlight the quality, craftsmanship and beauty of the item to the customer. I work to connect with them, they share small parts of their history with me, I share portions of my history with them. But, every so often, I take a step back and consider the wonder of the natural forces which create the gems I vend.

There is the pearl, beautiful and lustrous, highly prized since ancient times. A foreign body works it's way into the shell of a mollusk, settling in the delicate inner membrane of the creature. To protect itself the host secretes a chemical which builds up layer upon layer on the unwanted visitor, forming the precious gem.

Consider the humble origins of the diamond. Merely pieces of carbon subjected to immense pressure. It is highly valued, yet, at it's core, is essentially the remains of a campfire compressed over time into one of the hardest substances known. An unprepossessing stone it it's natural state, when cut it's inner structure captures and refracts light in a manner unlike any other gemstone.

Amber wears it's history on it's sleeve. Fossilized tree sap, found in an array of orange and yellow hues, it can carry dirt, bark, bits of leaves, occasionally even an insect in it's opaque center. I feel as if, when wearing amber, I am carrying with me an ancient, frozen moment of time.

Onyx, in it's multitude of colors, also owes it's creation to an immense span of time. It is formed by minerals picked up and carried by water through fissures in the earth and deposited on cavern floors. It can be faceted to give it's surface a glittering appearance or polished smooth making it look muscular and strong. There is a ring I wear often of silver and black onyx I bought on Aruba. It is a favorite piece among my personal sizable jewelry collection.

Then there are beryls, a category that includes the bright green of the emerald, the soft blue of the aquamarine and the pale pink morganite. They are formed when superheated water vapor or magma becomes trapped between layers of rock then hardens as it cools. The colors are determined by the minerals contained in the water or magma. These gems, whether worn on the fingers or around the neck, are hundreds of millions of years old. A span of time difficult to comprehend.

Gemstones not only provide me with my living, they are things of immense age, deserving of respect. Pieces of often mundane origins transitioned, over time, into things of great beauty.   


  1. I remember as a boy being attracted to gems at the museums - their colours and shape seem to give off a power, each with its own niche. Of course, with my name, I've always thought good of rocks and their ilk. !

  2. It seems diamonds are unique in the constancy of their attractiveness to the jewelry buyer. Jade, turquoise, other gems ebb and flow with fashion, it seems, to a greater degree.

    I know there is a much focus on trying to document the source of diamonds to limit the profits to those who brutalize and exploit this resource...the so-called 'blood diamonds'. Does that come up much in your interaction with consumer/clients?