Whether they are rare or common, gemstones share one similarity: every stone has a story worth telling. Last week, we explored some of the more interesting historical and superstitious details associated with birthstones, but there’s still a whole world of gems that deserve some attention. Since we deal with a lot of jewelry, our favorites are constantly in flux, but this month we are really digging (gem pun!) the unique look of moss agate and the fascinating origin tale of glimmering labradorite, both included on our list of ten more amazing stones.
The beautiful misty green and brown “moss” inclusions in this striking stone occur when trace elements such as manganese or iron interrupt the formation process of clear or milky quartz. Traditionally, moss agate is believed to encourage a green thumb in gardeners and help ground those who feel unstable.
One of the more interesting “gemstones,” coral is formed in the ocean by living invertebrates that play an integral role in the marine ecosystem. Soft and porous, it is often naturally a peach shade; most other colors of coral are bleached (white) or dyed (red). From the Middle Ages to the Victorian era coral was thought to ward off evil, and tokens of the stone were often given to children to protect them from harm.
Though many cultures believed the moonstone to be the actual solidified rays of the moon, the glowing flashes of color within the stone are created by refracted light bouncing off layers of two different types of feldspar. Apocryphally, it’s a gem that deals in matters of the heart; presenting a moonstone to your beloved on the night of a full moon is said to make your love eternal.
Lovely lapis lazuli was the go-to blue stone before sapphire showed up on the scene. Ancient Egyptians valued the stone highly and used it for both adornment and sculpture. This is one of the few stones with multiple identities: Cleopatra reportedly used ground lapis as eye shadow, and during the Renaissance the stone was used to create a vibrant blue paint.
Legend has it that an Inuit warrior walking along the water caught a glimpse of shimmering lights in some rocks on the coastline. Fearing that the aurora borealis had been trapped in the rock, he quickly struck them with his spear, freeing most of the lights — but not all. The Inuit was actually seeing the glorious color-play called labradoressence within the labradorite stone, a beautiful side-effect caused by growths within the formation of the crystal. Labradorite is especially beloved by the natives of Labrador, Canada, where it was discovered in the late 1700s; some believe it can be used to enhance intuition.
The red splatter across its vibrant green surface gave bloodstone its evocative name, and probably led to its traditional association with healing properties. It was once believed bloodstone could stop hemorrhaging, and soldiers often carried a piece into battle. Until the 1940s, it was considered March’s official birthstone.
Pyrite is often called fool’s gold because of its resemblance to true gold, but it is actually a form of iron whose name is derived from the Greek word for fire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a key component in firearms — a file would strike against a lump of the stone, igniting a spark. Once everyone realized how unsafe that was, pyrite somehow became a symbol of good luck and was used in jewelry, especially in the Victorian era.
Named for the upstate New York country where they were discovered, Herkimers are a double terminated crystal — a unique type of quartz with two naturally-faceted ends. This rarer version of the common quartz stone is believed by some to be a powerful amplifier of spiritual energy and used in metaphysical and occult practices.
The inky depths of black onyx, a form of chalcedony, have been adored for centuries: the Romans used the stone for their carved cameos and intaglios; Persians and Indians believed that wearing onyx protected them from evil, and that it could lessen pains and ensure an easy labor when placed on the stomach of a pregnant woman. During the 1800s, Queen Victoria wore a great deal of the midnight-colored stone to represent her grief at the loss of for beloved husband Albert.
The state gem of Maine, tourmaline can come in any variety and combination of colors or appear completely colorless. One of the most unusual color orientations is half pink/half green, which (for obvious reasons) is called watermelon tourmaline. An 18th century Dutch doctor advised placing a piece of tourmaline wrapped in silk on the cheek of a fevered child, while current day Aboriginal tribes in Australia wear the stone as a talisman.
What’s your favorite gemstone — and why?