A jewel may be a precious stone, a gem (a cut and polished precious or semiprecious stone), or a decorative ornament made of precious metal (principally gold or silver) set with such stones. Jewels have been worn by both men and women from early Biblical days for purposes of adornment. Today the diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are strictly considered to be precious stones, whereas other rare and beautiful stones are viewed as semiprecious. However, the Hebrew term rendered “precious stone” has a broader application, as is shown at Ezekiel 28:12, 13. These precious stones are distinguished from other minerals chiefly because they are rare, beautiful, and durable.
The first Biblical reference to any precious stone is at Genesis 2:11, 12, where Havilah is identified as a land containing good gold, “bdellium gum and the onyx stone.”
Wealth was partially measured by one’s possession of precious stones; such kings as Solomon and Hezekiah apparently had them in great quantity. (1Ki 10:11; 2Ch 9:10; 32:27) Precious stones were given as gifts (1Ki 10:2, 10; 2Ch 9:1, 9), might constitute part of war booty (2Sa 12:29, 30; 1Ch 20:2), and, as among the ancient Tyrians, were used as articles of trade (Eze 27:16, 22). In an inspired dirge concerning “the king of Tyre,” Ezekiel stated: “Every precious stone was your covering, ruby, topaz and jasper; chrysolite, onyx and jade; sapphire, turquoise and emerald; and of gold was the workmanship of your settings and your sockets in you.” (Eze 28:12, 13) Symbolic Babylon the Great is represented as being richly adorned with precious stones.—Re 17:3-5; 18:11-17.
While the ancients rounded and polished precious stones, generally they do not seem to have angled, or faceted, them, as do craftsmen of modern times. The emery stone (corundum) or emery powder was employed by the Hebrews and Egyptians to polish precious stones. Often these were sculptured and engraved. The Hebrews apparently knew how to engrave precious stones long before their bondage in Egypt, where engraving was also an art. Judah’s seal ring had evidently been engraved. (Ge 38:18) For further discussions of ancient jewelry and ornaments, see ANKLET; BEADS; BRACELET; BROOCH; EARRING; NECKLACE; NOSE RING; ORNAMENTS; RING.
Uses Associated With Worship. The Israelites, in the wilderness, were privileged to contribute various valuable things for the tabernacle and the high priest’s ephod and breastpiece, no doubt contributing articles that the Egyptians had given to them when urging them to depart. (Ex 12:35, 36) These included “onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece.” (Ex 25:1-7; 35:5, 9, 27) The high priest’s ephod had two onyx stones on the shoulder pieces, with the names of 6 of the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed on each stone. “The breastpiece of judgment” was embellished with four rows of precious stones, the account stating: “A row of ruby, topaz and emerald was the first row. And the second row was turquoise, sapphire and jasper. And the third row was leshʹem stone, agate and amethyst. And the fourth row was chrysolite and onyx and jade. They were set with settings of gold in their fillings.” The name of one of Israel’s 12 tribes was inscribed on each of these stones.—Ex 39:6-14; 28:9-21; see BREASTPIECE.
Though Jehovah would not permit David to build the temple in Jerusalem (1Ch 22:6-10), the aged king joyfully prepared valuable materials for its construction, including “onyx stones, and stones to be set with hard mortar, and mosaic pebbles, and every precious stone, and alabaster stones in great quantity.” He made substantial contributions of materials, and the people in general also contributed. (1Ch 29:2-9) When Solomon built the temple, he “overlaid the house with precious stone for beauty,” or studded it with precious stones.—2Ch 3:6.
Figurative Use. The apostle Paul, after identifying Jesus Christ as the foundation on which Christians should build, mentioned building materials of various kinds in connection with the Christian ministry. He indicated that the choice materials would include figurative “precious stones” capable of withstanding the force of “fire.”—1Co 3:10-15.
Precious stones are sometimes used Scripturally to symbolize qualities of heavenly or spiritual things or persons. The heavens were opened for Ezekiel, and in two visions he beheld four winged living creatures accompanied by four wheels, the appearance of each wheel being likened to “the glow of chrysolite,” that is, having a hue of yellow or possibly green. (Eze 1:1-6, 15, 16; 10:9) Later, Daniel saw an angel, “a certain man clothed in linen,” whose “body was like chrysolite.”—Da 10:1, 4-6.
Ezekiel also, when beholding a vision of Jehovah’s glory, saw “something in appearance like sapphire stone [a deep blue], the likeness of a throne.” (Eze 1:25-28; 10:1) The glory of Jehovah God himself is likened to the dazzling beauty of gemstones, for when the apostle John beheld God’s heavenly throne, he said: “The one seated is, in appearance, like a jasper stone and a precious red-colored stone, and round about the throne there is a rainbow like an emerald in appearance.”—Re 4:1-3, 9-11.
“The holy city, New Jerusalem,” that is, “the Lamb’s wife,” is represented as having a radiance “like a most precious stone, as a jasper stone shining crystal-clear.” The 12 foundations of its wall “were adorned with every sort of precious stone,” a different stone for each foundation: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, hyacinth, and amethyst. The city’s 12 gates were 12 pearls.—Re 21:2, 9-21; see CORAL and separate articles on individual types of precious stones.