Jewels and Precious Stones

JEWELS AND PRECIOUS STONES. Jewels are objects worn for adornment, a practice as old as the history of mankind. Much jewelry consists largely of precious or semiprecious stones (gem-stones). However, some metals, patricularly gold and silver, are commonly used and some jewelry consists of elaborately designed metalwork as a setting for gemstones which are mostly naturally occurring inorganic compounds called Minerals (q.v.). Organic materials such as amber, shell and coral also have been used, not solely because of their inherent beauty, but because they could be engraved to produce objects of beauty. In the upper Palaeolithic era (25,000 to 16,000 b.c.), organic materials such as teeth, claws and bones were the main objects fashioned as jewelry.

The use of gems for adornment has commonly gone side by side with use for symbolic purposes as most gems have had supernatural characteristics and virtues associated with them. Amulets or charms were used to keep away evil spirits or disease, or to bring good luck with particular gems having particular significance attached to them. The wearing of amethyst (q.v.) was considered to prevent drunkenness, while diamond (q.v.) was considered to give its wearer strength in battle. The traditional symbol of heavenly bliss has been sapphire (q.v.) and its wearing considered to be a protection against betrayal and poverty. In the same way the ruby (q.v.) was associated with love and happiness. These and many other beliefs concerning the significance of the various precious stones used as gems would have been known to those responsible for ecclesiastical vestments and regalia (e.g. Exod 28) as well as to the author of Revelation in which gemstones figure prominently in the portrayal of things to be (e.g. Rev 21:18-20).

Gem varieties of minerals have certain characters which set them apart from the common varieties of minerals. Of these characters, beauty is the most important and among the qualities of color, brilliance and luster which give beauty to gems, color is the most important. The only mineral which is of great value when colorless is diamond. This is because of its outstanding brilliance, luster and hardness, but even in the case of diamond, colored varieties are generally more valuable than colorless varieties.

Because many of the precious stones of ancient times came from India, with Burma a source of rubies and Ceylon a source of sapphire, ruby and other gemstones for at least 2,500 years, it was thought at one time that beautifully colored gemstones were produced only by tropical climates. However, it is now known that the production of the characteristic color of most gemstones is the result of the presence of a small proportion of impurities; e.g. ruby and sapphire are both varieties of corundum (aluminum oxide), the red color of ruby being thought to be due to the presence of traces of chromium and the blue color of sapphire being thought to be due to the presence of traces of titanium. Other gem varieties of the same mineral (corundum) include oriental emerald (green), oriental amethyst (purple) and oriental topaz (yellow), in each case small impurities giving colors like those of emerald (beryllium aluminum silicate), amethyst (silicon dioxide) and topaz (aluminum fluosilicate), respectively.

The making of fine jewelry in the ancient Near E began in the 4th millennium b.c., particularly in Iraq and northern Syria, with engraving of relatively hard stones, requiring a wheel technique, being practiced in Mesopotamia before 3,000 b.c. The spreading of the art of jewelry manufacture was strongly related to trade along caravan routes linking the religious centers in the Tigris-Euphrates valley with the gold producing highlands of Anatolia. By the 3rd millennium b.c. the amount of jewelry being made was considerable, with the work of the Sumer. smiths centered at Ur on the lower Euphrates River being outstanding. Much of their jewelry was manufactured for the adornment of those taking part in the elaborate religious ceremonies of the time and region (cf. Gen 11:2-11). Around 2,000 b.c. jewelry was manufactured in considerable amounts in Anatolia and on the coast of Phoenicia, with the Phoenicians traveling as far as Scandinavia to obtain amber for making engraved jewelry.

In Egypt some of the jewelry made was of fragile, glazed material and this was used to decorate the mummy of a dead person. The jewelry made for adorning the living was mainly of semi-precious stones set in gold with varieties of chalcedonic silica, including carnelian (q.v.) and jasper (q.v.) which were available locally, being used. Also used was turquoise (q.v.) a turquoise-blue colored mineral that was considered to prevent accidents, particularly falls from horses. From before 3,000 b.c. this mineral was mined on the Sinai Peninsula, and it prob. was the first gemstone to be mined extensively (mine, mining, q.v.) although the ancient Egyptians also sank hundreds of shafts in the search for emeralds on the coast of the Red Sea. Lapis lazuli (q.v.) which is soft and could be carved was used by the Egyptians, particularly for amulets but also with other semi-precious stones set in elaborate designs. When amethyst was used, it was generally used by itself as its color did not blend with the other semi-precious stones also being used at the time.

Materials used as precious stones and in the manufacture of jewelry are:

Native elements

adamant (Jer 17:1)

diamond (see also adamant)

copper (2 Tim 4:14)

gold (Ps 21:3)

iron (2 Chron 18:10)

silver (Exod 3:22)


brass (Rev 1:15 KJV)

bronze (2 Chron 24:12 NEB)


1. Of silicon

amethyst (Rev 21:20)

crystal (Rev 21:11)

agate (Isa 54:12)

carnelian (cornelian) (Exod 39:13 NEB)

chalcedony (Rev 21:19)

chrysoprase (see also beryl—Rev 21:20)

jasper (Exod 28:20)

onyx (Ezek 28:13 - cf. NEB; see also marble)

sardine (Rev 4:3 KJV - cf. ASV, NEB)

sardius (Rev 21:20 - cf. NEB)

sardonyx (Rev 21:20)

2. Of aluminum

adamant (Ezek 3:9)

ruby (Lam 4:7 - cf. NEB and see coral)

sapphire (Exod 24:10)


malachite (Esth 1:6 NEB)


beryl (Rev 21:20; see also emerald)

carbuncle (Isa 54:12; see also garnet)

chrysolite (Exod 28:17 NEB; Rev 21:20)

emerald (Rev 21:19; see also beryl)

feldspar (Ezek 28:13 NEB)

garnet (Ezek 27:16 NEB; see also carbuncle)

jacinth (Exod 39:12 ASV)

jade (Ezek 28:13 NEB)

ligure (Exod 28:19)

topaz (Rev 21:20)

turquoise (Exod 28:19 NEB)

Organic material

amber (Ezek 1:4 cf. NEB)

coral (Job 28:18 NEB)

pearl (Matt 13:45).

Some of the terms used, such as adamant and carbuncle, are no longer in common use, while the naming of some of the materials differs in different trs. The NEB must be considered to represent most accurately the nature of the various materials referred to and in it reference is made to minerals, e.g. feldspar, not mentioned in other trs.


E. S. Dana, A Textbook of Mineralogy, 4th ed. (revised by W. E. Ford) (1932); C. B. Slawson, “Gem,” EBr 10 (1970), 56-64; A. H. Wilkinson, K. R. Maxwell-Hyslop, “Jewelry,” EBr 12 (1970), 1031-1033.