Why Are They So Precious?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Zimbabwe
ONE cannot live in Zimbabwe without noticing the prolific variety of gemstones offered in gift and jewelry shops. Recently, when I was purchasing a pendant for my wife, I started wondering just what makes gems so precious. So I later approached a gemologist for some answers.
“Are all gemstones considered precious?” I asked.
“Strictly speaking, no,” he replied. “Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and, I should add, pearls, are considered precious. Others are really semiprecious, although this distinction is not so current nowadays.”
“I see. But what makes them so valuable? They look so much like pieces of glass!”
What Makes Them Precious
“They may look like glass, but the atoms composing gemstones are arranged in a regular pattern. Glass, on the other hand, is formed of random arrangements of atoms. One authority likened the difference between gemstones and glass to the difference between a battalion of soldiers drawn up on parade and an ordinary crowd of people.
“As to what makes them precious,” he continued, “they are obviously beautiful, though their comparative beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. Consider, too, the cost of finding the stones. Someone has to know what to look for when prospecting for these minerals and must spend time doing so. Mining them out of the earth can be very expensive.”
“Have diamonds ever been discovered here in Zimbabwe?” I interjected.
“Diamonds were found in Somabhula in 1903 but not in sufficient quantity to justify large-scale operations. There are other gems mined here, though. The well-known Sandawana emeralds, for example, are of extremely high quality and value. Another mined here is aquamarine, a transparent stone of light-blue colour that has high value. Ruby and sapphire have appeared in small quantities. But gemstones derived from quartz (a mineral that is widely distributed throughout Zimbabwe), such as amethyst, citrine and jasper, are common. Mtorolite, the local name for a form of cryptic quartzite, is stained green by the presence of chrome. Because it is found only in Zimbabwe it has become popular with tourists who wish to take home with them a special memento of this country.”
“But how does one tell the difference between some of these stones? They look so similar,” I commented.
“Gemologists can apply a number of tests. For example, immerse both citrine and topaz—two similar-looking stones—in methylene iodide and you’ll find that topaz sinks, but citrine easily floats. We also use hardness as the criterion. Diamonds, for example, can be scratched only by another diamond. The name, by the way, comes from a Greek word meaning ‘invincible,’ since the ancients thought it would resist any blow.
“That certainly seemed true to a Dutch stonecutter back in the early 1900’s. He was working on the largest diamond ever found—the Cullinan diamond presented by the government of South Africa to King Edward VII. He spent weeks figuring how to split the stone to the greatest advantage. Finally, he put his cleavage blade on the stone and gave it a sound smack with a metal bar. The blade broke! Nevertheless, he did eventually succeed in splitting the stone and making from it 105 brilliant gems. The largest stone adorns the British crown jewels.”
“Nowadays,” he added, “diamonds are sawed by using diamond dust in olive oil on the edge of extremely thin disks of phosphor-bronze.”
I was beginning to realize why durability makes a stone so precious. Why, an expensive diamond will practically endure forever. I learned, however, that not all gems were quite so hard. Opal and turquoise, for example, are slightly softer than sand and can be damaged from the abrasion of the sand in ordinary dust. Ink, grease, or even water can harm turquoise or pearls. But what other factors affect the market value of gems?
“Some years ago,” said my expert friend, “the colour violet was in fashion among women. And so for a while the amethyst was thrown into prominence as a matching gemstone. At times the market is affected by the preference of a prominent woman or by jewels worn at a royal wedding. Eventually, though, demand settles down and stones assume their normal position. Rarity is also a factor.”
Precious but Practical
“Are there any practical uses for gemstones?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. Rubies and sapphires are used in the stylus on record players. Diamonds are used in industry for cutting and abrasive work. Watchmakers have used jewels as bearings for many years. And quartz crystals are now making electronic watches and clocks even more accurate. Because of its superior hardness and transparency to ultraviolet rays, quartz lenses are used in precision photographic work. Quartz can also be heated to become silica glass, which is very useful in the kitchen and laboratory, as it withstands sudden and unequal heating. Then it can be drawn into fine, silklike threads that do not twist as silk does. This makes it ideal for delicate experiments.”
With that remark from the busy gemologist, I expressed my gratitude for our enlightening conversation. Now, when I look at gemstones, I have a deeper appreciation not only of their worth but for the Creator who made them available to mankind.—Psalm 104:24.