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.
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.
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.
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.