The World’s Top Five Diamonds

 

morguefile/Gracey

morguefile/Gracey

How would you choose the world’s top five diamonds? By cost? Carat? Who owns them?

People occasionally pay insanely high prices for some unique stone, but a diamond’s monetary value depends on social factors that change over time.

That’s why you can’t go by price. Wealthy people certainly pay for excellent quality, but they also buy gems to impress other people or to fulfill some other inner need; or to possess something that was once owned by somebody they admire; or for historic value; or for a multitude of other reasons.

Jewelers, of course, cater to social factors, but at the business level they have to judge a diamond objectively. They go by:

  • Its chemical structure (type)
  • Internal and external imperfections (clarity)
  • Its hue, tone, and saturation (color)
  • How well it was cut into a gem (cut)
  • Its weight (carat)
  • Most of us know something about the 4 C’s – clarity, color, cut and size. What is diamond type all about?
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The Gold and Emeralds of Ancient Egypt

 
Some 5,000 years ago, ancient Egypt civilization began to take shape in the Nile River’s floodplain. These natural geologists and artisans not only made massive structures. They also fashioned intricate jewelry to wear both here and in the afterworld.

They especially loved gold. It was plentiful in the eastern desert, and archaeologists have discovered many entombed treasures.
 

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Cleopatra’s emerald mines are also famous, but diggers have unearthed relatively little ancient Egyptian emerald jewelry.

Emeralds are abundant in Egypt, again, in the eastern desert, but it was mostly the Romans and Byzantines who mined them, not the pharaohs.
 

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So why are there gold and emeralds in the desert east of the Nile? It’s a very violent, action-packed tale, believe it or not.
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Tolkien’s “Errantry”: Coral and Ivory

He made a shield and morion
of coral and of ivory…

— J. R. R. Tolkien, “Errantry”

Nowadays, we treasure living coral for its beauty and environmental role. We prefer to see ivory where it belongs – as part of living animals, particularly elephants. Artisans still work with precious coral, but ivory usage and trade are restricted in many countries.

People saw things differently back in 1933, when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote Errantry.
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Guest video: 3D Printing for Jewelers

 
Crown jewels FP

We have seen how Smolensk Diamonds Jewellery Group made a 3D replica of the Russian Imperial Crown for display.

Just how exactly does 3D printing work with jewelry making?

Here is an overview of the ways jewelers use 3D printers today.
 

 


Time is a bit tight this week, so today there will be one more guest video. Then tomorrow we will get back into posts with an article about the ten worst natural and man-made firestorms in the last hundred years.

Tolkien’s “Errantry”: Malachite stalactites

 

Malachite banding.  Emporia State University

Malachite banding. Emporia State University

Of crystal was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony,
his javelins were of malachite
and stalactite – he brandished them,
and went and fought the dragon-flies
of Paradise, and vanquished them.

— J. R. R. Tolkien, “Errantry”

Until doing this series on the treasures specified in Tolkien’s poem Errantry, I thought he used stalactite for scansion only. Those rocky icicles of carbonate that hang down from cave roofs aren’t gems!

Well, as usual, Tolkien knows best. All he did was insert an old-fashioned “and” in between malachite stalactite.

The semiprecious gemstone malachite is a carbonate and it does occur as a stalactite, as well as in rounded shapes or fibrous crystals.

The stalactites form as copper ore – which gives malachite its bright green to almost green-black color – weathers near a limestone deposit.
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Tolkien’s “Errantry”: Chalcedony

 

…a sword he made of emerald,
and terrible his rivalry
with all the knights of Aerie
and Faerie and Thellamie.
Of crystal was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony…

– “Errantry,” J. R. R. Tolkien

Well, our hero is on his way, wearing a short, sleeveless habergeon made of quartz crystals that may be clear, smoky brown-gray, purple, or golden orange.

His emerald sword rests in a scabbard made of cryptocrystalline quartz – for scansion, Tolkien calls it chalcedony.
 

And rightly so, for emerald crystals do grow in quartz.

A good place for such a sword, as emerald crystals do grow in quartz. Mmlynczak

Chalcedony is a general name for all the varieties of quartz whose crystals are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Technically, the crystals are parallel, i.e., “fibrous,” and some of them may not have quartz’s typical six-sided shape.
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Tolkien’s “Errantry”: What Was The Crystal?

 
Tolkien fans, assemble!

There is an ambiguous line in his 1933 poem Errantry:

Of crystal was his habergeon

I’m not sure what a habergeon is, but the man is wearing one.
 

"This is a habergeon."  Florida Digital Educator

“This is a habergeon.” Florida Digital Educator

Thank you, FSU!

All right, since this poem is silly fantasy and not something like The Lord of the Rings, let’s just imagine each of those leaves is made, not of mail or mithril, but of crystal.

What sort of crystal is it? Probably something sparkly but tough enough to deflect weapon thrusts without shattering.

Tolkien has already mentioned diamond earlier in the poem, so perhaps he means one of the clear gem forms of quartz – a hard mineral that can substitute for diamond and comes in six-sided crystals.

So…is the “merry passenger, a messenger, a mariner” wearing colorless rock crystal or one of colored quartzes, say, smoky brown, purple (amethyst), or yellow/orange (citrine)?

Let’s look at the colorful quartz first.

Well...kind of "Black Prince" cool.

Well…kind of “Black Prince” cool.

Smoky quartz

Quartz is silicon dioxide, one of the most common minerals in Earth’s crust. Its crystals generally can be either microscopic or, like those we’re looking at today, visible with the naked eye.

It will turn beautiful shades of brown, gray, or even black when it is irradiated, either naturally or by man, without picking up any radioactivity.

In some languages, including the German Tolkien knew and loved, this smoky quartz is called “morion,” a misreading of Pliny’s “mormorion.” That, of course, brings the word “Moria” to mind, but I have seen no mention of a connection in the author’s mind between the dwarf mines and smoky quartz.

The Cairngorm variety of smoky quartz is used as jewelry and as decoration on the hilts of knives. How would it look on a habergeon?
 

Smoky quartz.  Source

Smoky quartz. Are you seeing Orthanc here? Source


 

Amethyst

Experts say that, if this gem variety of purple quartz were rare, it would be far more expensive.

A king might wear it...not a "merry messenger."

A king might wear it. A traveler…not so much.

Amethyst is the traditional February birthstone. Its unique purple shades come from iron that mixed in while the crystal was forming.

Amethyst has variations in color, shape, and material that uniquely identify crystals according to locality.

Down through history, people have taken advantage of this gem’s hardness to shape it into such things as drinking vessels (“amethyst” comes from the Greek for “not drunk”) or beads. Amethyst carvings are intricate works of art.

How would this look on our merry messenger’s habergeon?
 

Portrait of a Roman emperor carved on amethyst.  Source

Portrait of a Roman emperor carved on amethyst. Source


 
Citrine

No one is quite sure how quartz gets this lovely yellow color.

It's certainly cheerful and would make good camouflage when trying to steal a Golden Honeycomb.

It’s certainly cheerful and would make good camouflage when trying to steal a Golden Honeycomb.

Citrine crystals are quite rare in nature, and some show smoky inclusions called phantoms. This raises the suspicion that radiation turns quartz yellow as well as smoky brown to black.

Synthetic citrine crystals have been grown using iron (I don’t know why the iron doesn’t turn them purple, as it does amethyst). However, these crystals have slightly different properties from natural citrine.

Most citrine gemstones are actually heat-treated amethyst or smoky quartz. They tend to have more a reddish or orange color than the natural stone.

Citrine has an undeserved reputation as a “fake” thanks to unscrupulous dealers who sometimes try to pass it off as the much more expensive topaz. It really is a beautiful gem in its own right. Perhaps that’s why we have made it, rather than the traditional topaz, the modern birthstone for November.

How would it look on our hero’s habergeon?
 

A natural winner.  Source

A natural winner. Source


 

Rock crystal

This clear, colorless gem variety of quartz, the traditional April birthstone, is what inspired the English word “crystal.”

Imagine a young warrior dressed in white cloth, with a shirt of rock crystal links, walking toward you at sunrise or sunset...

Imagine a young warrior dressed in white cloth, wearing over it a shirt of rock crystal links. He’s walking toward you in bright sunlight, and you can’t even see the sword in his hand for the blinding glitter

Back in the days of Pliny, rock crystal was thought to be water ice that had somehow fossilized.

Of especial note is that in Old English (Tolkien’s specialty), rock crystal was “cristal.”

Tolkien was also fascinated by the Franks. Lothair, King of the Franks, had a rock crystal gem carved in the 9th century.

Rock crystal vases and other items were also treasured during medieval times.
 
 
Yes, this is also the stone used in crystal balls and skulls.

Overall, I think it likely that Tolkien meant rock crystal when he described his mariner in Errantry.
 

It lacks diamond's fire, but it would look pretty good on a habergeon.  Source

It lacks diamond’s fire, but it would be beautiful on a habergeon. Source


 
Of course we will never know for sure what crystal J. R. R. Tolkien had in mind when he wrote Errantry.

It was probably quartz. I believe it was clear rock crystal, but it’s fun to read through the short poem and imagine its hero stalking around in smoky quartz, striding along imperially in purple amethyst, or battling the “Dumbledores (no, Rowling did not invent the name), the Bumbles, and the Honeybees” in glistening yellow citrine.

Tolkien did tell us his hero’s sword scabbard was made with chalcedony, a member of the quartz family that has microscopic crystals. We’ll take a look at that next week.

Part 3 of this four-part series will look at malachite, and part 4 will examine the biological treasures – coral and ivory – mentioned in Errantry.
 
 


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More information about quartz crystals:
 

Famous Stones of the British Crown Jewels

coronation pic

A visitor to the British Crown Jewels exhibit must go to the Tower of London, where some powerful people have occasionally entered, against their will, and never exited alive.

The day I visited, back in the 1970s, the weather was gray and misty – an appropriate background for the executioner’s block that sat there and the huge ravens that loitered around it.

Impressed now with the gloomiest moments in British history, we tourists were then led into a very secure place within the white stone fortress, dark and hidden from public view (at that time the Jewel House was in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks).

Down a spiraling walkway we went until we reached the point where darkness was broken by bright lights shining on a few showcases. Brilliant jewels behind the bulletproof glass of those cases, among them the Stars of Africa, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, Prince Edward’s Ruby, and the Stuart and St. Edward sapphires, broke up the light into a thousand different colors and threw it back into our dazzled eyes.

Today the threat of nuclear war has receded and the British Crown Jewels are kept above ground. If you are ever in London, be sure to visit them to see these, some of the most famous gemstones in the world.

Famous diamonds

The First and Second Stars of Africa were both cut from the 3,106-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest gem diamond ever found.
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