The story of gemstones is as old as the hills in which they formed, millions of years ago. Gleaning our knowledge from ancient burial sites, we know that gems were used for weapons as well as for adornment. Gemstone jewelry has been found in graves dating back 20,000 years. In the past, people worked mainly with local gemstones. Jade was carved in China 4,500 years ago, Egyptian craftsmen use lapis, carnelian, and turquoise, and the Romans carved agate. In the East, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires were very popular.
The beauty of gemstones, their shimmering colors and perfect forms, led people to believe that the came from the heavens. Superstitions grew up around them, and different stones were deemed able to do everything from curing drunkenness to calming the roughest seas. The alleged power of gemstones extended beyond the supernatural, and were also thought to have medicinal properties. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine still involves gemstones, and healing with crystals is a growing art.
In China, powdered pearl is prescribed for skin complaints and is also used in many facial creams. Powdered lapis, taken in pill form, is a regular constituent of traditional Chinese medicine. In ancient times, gemstones were placed on an injured or infected part of the body. Mystical powers were attributed to rock crystal as it was polished and made into crystal balls that could “see into the future.”
Many ancient tribes believed that bones and claws of fallen prey would give them powers of invincibility, so they were incorporated into decorative talismanic jewelry. North American Indians once used stone fetishes such as stone buffalos to attempt to influence the forces of nature.
Gems have been associated with different months of the year since the 1st century. The wearing of birthstones was, and still is, deemed lucky. It fist became a popular custom in the 18th century, in Poland.