Precious Stones as Investments - The Artistic Value of the Less Costly Gems - The Various Settings Used in Modern Jewellery - The Opal, Its Varieties - Superstitions About Opals - The Amethyst-its History and Legendary Lore
Costly gems have their uses: they serve as portable property, and are a safe investment for money. Also they add to the importance of a woman's appearance, and to the splendour of a smart entertainment. But in matters of taste we are becoming more enlightened, and jewels mean more than converted capital. In these days an ornament fashioned from inexpensive materials may be both beautiful and becoming. This new departure means much to a poor woman in good society, and even to her richer sister who may not be able to spend large sums on her personal adornment.
Articles have already appeared in Every Woman's Encyclopaedia on pearls, emeralds, and rubies, and diamonds and sapphires will be dealt with on a future occasion. To vary the theme we will now turn our attention to stones that are equal in beauty, but less in value.
Certain jewellers in London and Paris use these less costly stones with fine taste and in a most artistic manner. They design their jewels as Opie mixed his colours - " with brains." Many of the gems are uncut, and the handwork of their setting is of exquisite fineness. In jewellery such as this the intrinsic value of the stones is as naught. The point for the jeweller to consider is the artistic worth of the stones, and their chances of combination with rich - or weird - substances. Amongst these are horn, ivory, copper, oxidised silver, even rare and precious woods, and the finest enamel.
Among the gems used in this art nouveau work are opals, amethysts, garnets, zircons, pink, blue, and yellow topazes, turquoises, and white, pink, and green aquamarines. Also many green stones, such as olivines, peridots, green topazes, and tourmalines. There is also a new mauve gem called kunzite, as well as the semi-precious materials, which include jade, coral, amber, onyx, and lapis-lazuli. What are known as " blister' pearls and fresh-water pearls, too, must not be forgotten.
In this article I will say a word on opals and amethysts.
The opal is one of the most beautiful of precious stones. It was highly prized by the ancients. Boetius, who flourished about a.d. 475, spoke of the opal as "the fairest and most pleasing of all jewels, by reason of its various colours. And Nichols, in his old book, "A Lapidary," gives a graphic sketch of the opal. He writes:
"The opal hath in it the bright, fiery flame of the carbuncle, the fine purple of an amethyst, a whole sea of the emerald's green glory, and every one of these shining with an incredible mixture and very much pleasure."
Pliny tells a strange story of how the Roman senator Nonius owned a fine opal, the size of a hazel nut, and preferred exile to giving up his treasure to Mark Antony. Pliny saw this gem, and declared it had a value of over 20,000.
Opals, in our days, vary in price from ten to twelve shillings to £2 or 3 a carat, according to their quality and the colours which they radiate. The opal is a stone which stands low in the table of hardness. It varies from 5 to 6.5, and in softness comes after the moonstone, or, as some say, after the turquoise.
The opal is polished with a convex surface, and never cut into facets. The cabochon style is preferred, since the gem is a brittle one, and also because by this means its display of colour is better exhibited.
The value of the stone lies in the depth and variety of its colouring. The best opals are found in Hungary. These have rainbowlike tints of pink and red, and are valued far more highly than the blue and green shaded stones that come from Queensland.
A beautiful pendant in aquamarines and diamonds. The delicacy and beauty of the setting and fineness of the workmanship of this jewel determines its value, not the intrinsic worth of the stones
Opals are of many varieties. The finest are called precious opals; there are also fire opals, black opals, harlequin opals, and cat's-eye opals. These latter are rare, and have a wavy line in the centre similar to a cat's eye, and are usually of a bright green colour. Australia sometimes sends us black opals, which show a variety of colours on a black ground, and are of great beauty and value. A harlequin opal is a stone in which the colours are not equally diffused, but appear in detached patches. Certain opals possess an orange-red tint, and are known as fire opals. These are softer than the more precious kinds, and can only be used as brooches or pendants. They occur in Zimapan in Mexico. Indeed, no stone is more varied than the opal, or has more exquisite colourings.
Some splendid specimens of this gem exist, a few of which are surrounded by a ring of superstition. The Imperial Cabinet of Vienna contains the most famous opal now in existence. It is 5 inches by 2 1/2 inches in size, and of supreme beauty and value. One of the finest opals of modern times was owned and worn by the ill-fated Empress Josephine. as called the "Burning of Troy, "from the red fiery light that flickered over its surface.
Another fateful stone belonged to the Royal family of Spain, but the ill-luck ihat it brought has now ended for ever. The story goes that King Alfonso XII. presented an opal ring to his young wife. Mercedes, on their wedding day, and her death occurrred soon afterwards. The king then presented the ring to his sister-in-law, the Princess Christina, who died in the course of three months. Alfonso, distressed at these fatalities, resolved to wear the ring himself, and did so, but his own short life soon came to an end. After his death the queen-regent hung the fatal ring round the neck of the Virgin of Almudena in Madrid.