Precious stones include all minerals
of beautiful appearance, sparkling colours, transparency and lustre. They also must be
nearly indestructibly and can resist wear. Only the harder minerals (hardness 7 to 10)
have such properties. The rarer they are, the more valuable they usually are, but fashion
also plays a part here.
There is no distinct line drawn between precious stones, semi-precious stones and others, but the term gemstones is often preferred for all.
The diamond, the ruby, the sapphire and the emerald are generally accepted as the true precious stones. They occupy a special position. All gemstones, apart from being sought after a s jewels, were also believed to posses magical powers in the old times, and to be somehow connected to the stars, so that everybody should wear his stone of birth to guard against evil. Like many superstitions, this one is still very much alive today. But they do have other values in industry. Even space research would not have been possible without precious stones. They were also used in watches.
At first gemstones were used as they were found. There are royal crowns from the first millennium, where rough stones were just glued to the metal. Later the stones were cut to reflect the light in a desired way. The so called ''brilliant cut'' is the one that was favoured most from 17 th century onwards. The diamonds cut this way were called brilliants.
Opaque coloured minerals are often cut into domed forms, called cabochon cut. The special art of gem engraving is called glyptography.
The unit of weight for gemstones is carat, equal to 0.2 gram. From the middle ages on people tried to imitate the gemstones. All sorts of counterfeits were produced, some of them looked alike, but never had the same properties, although it was sometimes necessary to use special instruments to check. Here in Namibia tourmalines, topazes and others are often offered for sale near the Spitzkoppe or at service stations. One should be very careful. Unless you are familiar with gemstones and you know the crystal form and recognise it, you should refrain from buying it.
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