Preference Center

We use cookies and similar technologies to collect device data and usage information for analytics, measuring the effectiveness of ads, personalizing content, and tailored advertising. By clicking “Accept”, you agree to such purposes and the sharing of your data with our partners. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To change your preferences at any time, click the “Do not Sell my Personal Information” link in the footer of this page.

What's behind our obsession with gems?
luxury

What's behind our obsession with gems?

Updated 23rd October 2017
Having survived for millennia, gemstones have long been considered reliable investments, as they continue to hold their value through the generations. Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Value isn't always monetary. At L'École jewelry school, students are taught to appreciate gems through courses like "Art History of Jewelry" and "The Universe of Gemstones." Credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
The mental associations we make with colors may also explain the value assigned to certain gems. According to author and gemologist Antoinette Matlins, blue gems traditionally represent the heavens and the seas, red symbolizes heart and passion, while green signifies rebirth and loyalty -- reliable like the grass that regrows every spring. Credit: Argyle diamonds
Gem superstitions can also be gendered. Matlins says that yellow denotes secrecy on a man but generosity on a woman. White or transparent stones typically signify friendship, integrity and religious commitment for men, or purity, affability and thoughtfulness for women. Credit: image: van cleef & arpels
This rock, named the Cullinan Heritage, was discovered in 2009 at the Cullinan Diamond Mine in Gauteng Province, South Africa. The mine is where the majority of the world's most famous diamonds have been discovered. It's a 507.55-carat Type IIA rough diamond, coveted for its extreme clarity and flawless quality. Credit: Courtesy Chow Tai Fook
In 2010, Hong Kong's largest jeweler, Chow Tai Fook, acquired the Cullinan Heritage. The company successfully bid $35.3 million for the 507-carat rock. Pictured is jewelry designer Wallace Chan, working with diamonds cut from the rock. Credit: Courtesy Chow Tai Fook
Photo of US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy relaxing in a chair, wearing a pearl necklace, a few weeks after her husband John F. Kennedy won the US presidential election. Credit: Getty Images/File
Jade is growing more popular in the West. Here actress Jessica Chastain attends the 2014 Hollywood premiere of "Interstellar" wearing a pair of finely carved jadeite earrings. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Chow Tai Fook cut the Cullinan Heritage into a family of 24 smaller D color, internally flawless diamonds. "I set a diamond inside each bead so the humility and the smoothness of jade -- a symbol of the East, embraces the power and sparkles of the diamond -- a long celebrated love of the West," Wallace Chan said. Credit: Courtesy Chow Tai Fook
Just like in the art world, contemporary culture and trends also play a part in influencing the value of certain stones. Credit: Image: van cleef & arpels
History, too, can play a part in enhancing a jewel's value. This Van Cleef & Arpels Zip, for example, took 10 years to perfect. It was first designed in the 1930s by the Duchess of Windsor and the maison's artistic director. Credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
Now, a single necklace can take up to 1,200 hours to create. Credit: Image: van cleef & arpels
Worn, transported or exchanged, a gem often carries the stories of its previous owners. Credit: Van Cleef & Arpel's
L'École The School of Jewelry Arts is sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels. It was created to provide the public, as well as those in the industry, more knowledge of the artistry behind French High Jewelry. Credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
"If people want to know what makes jewelry valuable, we give them knowledge about everything that's around it ... what goes into making it, how to enjoy the stones and how to obtain the knowledge with a sense of discovery and satisfaction," says Inezita Gay-Eckel, a jewelry historian and L'Ecole professor. Credit: Image: van cleef & arpels
In May 2016, auction house Christie's sold the 14.6-carat Oppenheimer Blue diamond for $57.5 million. Credit: courtesy christies
According to diamond expert Tobias Kormind, red and blue diamonds are the most sought after. "Red is the rarest diamond color as there are only around 100 known recorded red diamonds in the world. Blue comes in as a close second," he told CNN previously in a statement. Credit: Sotheby's
London-based jewelry designer Anabela Chan criss-crosses the globe collecting gems and knick-knacks, feathers and butterflies to incorporate into her unique jewelry designs. "The first feeling I want people to get when they see my jewelry is joy. I want each piece to have a wow factor," she said. Credit: courtesy anabela chan
"The texture of each of these petals has actually been taken from a shell I found on a beach in Hawaii," said Chan. "What I love about the shell is that it has all these linear textures, like veins of leaves. I cast each of these petals, in brass, using the texture to create the basis of this necklace. I wanted it to be like found treasure on the sea bed." Credit: courtesy anabela chan
Fancy Red diamonds are on the pink diamond color spectrum and is a grading from the Gemological Institute of America. Credit: Argyle diamonds
Written by Marissa Miller, CNN
Humankind's fascination with precious stones long predates the establishment of gemology. The Romans believed that diamonds were splinters of falling stars, while the ancient Greeks considered them to be the tears of the gods.
Pearls were also highly prized in ancient societies. Regarded as a currency for affection and love, the silky round bulbs were often offered to women on their wedding days to promote fertility.
Today, the value of a gem is more likely to be dictated by auction records than superstition. But while you can put a price on a precious stone, its value is determined by more than just supply and demand.

Instinctive attraction

There may be evolutionary reasons why we gravitate towards shiny objects. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that gems evoke the glossy surface of a body of water. Our pursuit of them may be rooted in a simple urge to survive.
Rare delights: Where to see the world's most beautiful jewels
In the study, researchers blindfolded participants and asked them to touch a picture of a landscape. They were then asked to guess how much water featured in the image. Those touching glossy surfaces guessed a higher proportion of water than those given matte paper.
The study's co-author, Dr. Vanessa Patrick, believes that the association between glossy surfaces and the images they conjure may offer evolutionary reasons for our love of shiny objects.
"We wanted to rule out the 'pretty' explanation," said Patrick, who's also a professor of marketing and director of doctoral programs at the University of Houston.
Credit: Argyle diamonds
The mental associations we make with colors may also explain the value assigned to certain gems. According to author and gemologist Antoinette Matlins, blue gems traditionally represent the heavens and the seas, red symbolizes heart and passion, while green signifies rebirth and loyalty -- reliable like the grass that regrows every spring.
Gem superstitions can also be gendered. Matlins says that yellow denotes secrecy on a man but generosity on a woman. White or transparent stones typically signify friendship, integrity and religious commitment for men, or purity, affability and thoughtfulness for women.
L'Ecole The School of Jewelry Arts was founded in Paris 2012. It returns to Hong Kong this September with courses such as "Art History of Jewelry" and "Universe of Gemstones." Credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
Pearls have often been used to project power, according to Inezita Gay-Eckel, a jewelry historian and professor at L'École, a Paris-based school founded by the jewelry brand Van Cleef & Arpels.
"Think of Elizabeth I of England who covered herself in pearls and makeup as a shield," Gay-Eckel said. "(She was) always walking the tightrope of not appearing unnatural and staying a woman -- so that people wouldn't think she was a monster -- (while) also keeping power.
"Look at any powerful woman. From Oprah to Nancy Pelosi to Jacqueline Kennedy, when they want to project the right image, pearls are going to come out."

Each gem has a story

Today, there are scientific ways of assessing the value of a precious stone. In addition to its rarity, a gem's market value is often determined by its clarity, cut, color and carat -- colloquially known as the "four Cs."
But ultimately, a jewel is worth whatever bidders are willing to pay for it. Just like in the art world, contemporary culture and trends also play their part.
Myanmar generates a considerable income from the mining of precious jade stones, mostly from the northern part of the country. Credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
History can too. Worn, transported or exchanged, a gem often carries the stories of its previous owners. Some of the world's most prized stones are valued for their pasts. The American Gem Trade Association now promotes the history of its stones by creating background cards to accompany those it sells, said Matlins.
"The (idea of) information (cards is) only a couple of years old, but retailers and customers love it," she said. "Almost all colored gemstones carry a story."
As cultural artifacts, gems can reflect the technology and the values of the civilizations that celebrated them, from carved Moghul emeralds to Chinese burial suits made from jade.
Having survived for millennia, gemstones have long been considered reliable investments, as they continue to hold their value through the generations. Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
"Each one says something about the skill of the artisans, and the values of the societies that produced them," said Duncan Pay, editor-in-chief of the Gemological Institute of America's quarterly peer-reviewed journal, Gems & Gemology. "Natural gems really are tiny sparks wrought from the depths of the Earth. They're (also) invested with the spirit and energy of the men and women who mined them."

Defining value

Of course, value isn't always monetary. At L'École jewelry school, which begins a series of classes in Hong Kong this month, students are taught to address a gem's worth through a broad range of factors, according to Gay-Eckel.
"If people want to know what makes jewelry valuable, we give them knowledge about everything that's around it," she said. "What goes into making it, how to enjoy the stones and how to obtain the knowledge with a sense of discovery and satisfaction. Do you love it? Is it something your mother gave you?"
This 887-carat raw emerald, one of the largest known rough emeralds from the Muzo mines, is probably the largest such emerald in the United States, according to New York-based auction house Guernsey's. Credit: Image: Courtesy Guernseys
For scientists, gemstones' value is drawn from the precious insights they can offer into plate tectonics -- and the mountains, oceans and environments of the past.
"The gem deposits of eastern Africa trace the outline of ancient mountains that once connected Sri Lanka and Madagascar over 500 million years ago," said Pay. "And the oldest emeralds formed just under three billion years ago, which rivals the age of some diamonds."
Fifty shades of jade: Why Chinese buyers spend millions on this stone
Perhaps jewels' true worth lies in these timeless qualities. Having survived for millennia, gemstones have long been considered reliable investments, as they continue to hold their value through the generations.
"Of all of the ways to adorn yourself, what has nature created that has lasting beauty like a rock?" Matlins said. "As soon as you cut a flower, it wilts. A sunset is beautiful but you can't capture or wear it. There is something so special and everlasting about nature's creation of minerals and rocks."
Read more
arts
Life through the lens of a blind photographer
When Pete Eckert started going blind, he decided to channel his feelings of loss into art.
Oscar Holland, CNN