Friday, 25 July 2014

History of treating and enhancing gemstones

Egyptian Hippo made from imitation Turquoise
Gemstone enhancement is not a new thing. Gems have been ‘improved’ through various methods for thousands of years.

The ancient Egyptians were the first at it. They were producing an imitation Turquoise called Faience before the pyramids were even built.

Pliny the Elder, who was a witness to the destruction of Pompeii two thousand years ago, noted that: “the Indians have discovered a means of counterfeiting gemstones, especially beryls, by colouring rock crystal.”

Meanwhile, the Stockholm Papyrus, written circa 300 AD, contains many recipes for dying gemstones and includes information on creating fakes and enhancing genuine gems.

Modern dyed agate beads
One ancient recipe to colour agate told that you had to first soak the stone in a sugar solution, keeping it warm for a couple of weeks, and then without washing it, bring the stone to boil in sulphuric acid. The result would be a more vibrant colour than was natural.

Closer to our time, Thomas Nicols wrote ‘The History of Precious Stones’ in 1653 and said that precious stones were often adulterated. He also noted that rock crystal could be coloured, but even in his day that was already an old practice.

These days we have quite a few methods for changing the appearance of stones -- we can bleach them, shower them in radiation, blast them with heat among other things. We might think this is a new thing, but actually it’s not!

But is it a good thing to ‘enhance’ natural stones? Are natural stones best? Do you even care that your gemstones have been treated? 

1 comment:

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