blissthisway (blissthisway) wrote,


Finished "Jewels: A Secret History" by Victoria Finlay.

Picked it up because of my jewelry obsession, and I read part of her book "Colors" and really enjoyed it. Have been working on "Jewels" for months.

Finished because it's really good. She has a great enthusiasm for her topic, and I like that her research takes her to many interesting places.  She tries to visit many of the historically and currently important places relevant to her subject.  For instance, she visited Burma to explore their ruby mines.  Not many people travel to Burma these days.

She also has a very personable writing style; definitely narrative non-fiction.

Memorable image from the chapter on Amber p.7-8: "Amber really is the tears of trees ... of conifers that grew in great forests millions of years ago. Many evergreens ooze resin as a self-healing mechanism, but for a normal forest with a modest drizzle of resin to be transformed into an amber forest with a flood of it, something special had to happen.
     "...Whatever the reason, at some point in prehistory a species of conifer went into medical overdrive. Judging from the massive lumps of amber that are sometimes found today, some of which can weigh 9 pounds or more, it must have been quite a sight. There would have been resin hanging from the branches like great candy apples, spilling onto the forest floor in honeyed pools and even oozing under the bark of the trees like coagulated butter. As well as being very sticky, the whole place must have smelled intoxicatingly of incense.
     "Over the years, most of the resin dripped into the soil and was absorbed. But ... some solidified, and the long process of fossilization began."

One takeaway - I'm leaning towards continuing to focus on costume and semi-precious jewelry in my collecting. She talks about conflict, or blood, diamonds, and the story is not pretty.  There's also a lot of pain associated with other precious stones (emerald, sapphire, ruby), and I don't know that I have any desire to contribute to any of that, or to the continuation of the cultural practice of venerating these stones just because they're beautiful. Diamonds aren't even really rare - their "rarity" is artificially maintained to keep their prices up.  Interestingly, there's no secondary diamond market.  Even though the stones don't deteriorate, they have very little resale value. 

Interesting fact:  The birthstone table was created in 1921 by the gem industry to give people another reason to buy. The gems originally on the table were the most popular at the time, and gems are added every so often as the become popular.  Yet this table has become very important culturally.  Pure advertising, just like the birth of the diamond engagement ring industry in the post WWII years by DeBeers so they could sell more diamonds (many people used to want colored stones, mostly rubies, as they represented warmth and emotional color), and the recent changes in the anniversary gift tables to put diamonds in 3 times - DeBeers didn't want you to have to wait 60 years to give diamonds again.

Includes extensive notes, bibliography, glossary, and index; a miscellany of jewels, and extensive research and first person accounts. Discusses the science, business, history, cultural significance, myth, and beauty of jewels. 

I'm scanning the notes and bib for further reference.
Tags: dangerous!, jewelry, non-fiction, the published word
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