While white diamonds have long been praised for their sparkle and shine… colored gemstones offer a rich and vibrant array of shades, shapes and sizes to suit everyone. In times past, vibrantly colored gemstones were used to decorate the hair, the clothing, the trinkets, the artwork and of course the jewelry of the monarch’s and nobility of the world.
In what was to be a tragic miscalculation, most, but not all, of the English Crown Jewels dating from Anglo Saxon times were lost near The Wash by John of England in 1216. An incoming tide swept away the treasures and incomparable jewels amassed over centuries, leaving King John to lament the loss for what was left of his life. New pieces were made
to replace what was gone, and over the centuries colored gemstones came to take a rather prominent place as part of the Crown Jewels of England, as well as other countries.
One of the most famous colored stones to become part of the collection is known as The Black Prince’s Ruby and was given to Edward of Woodstock in 1367 by Don Pedro of Castille as payment for the Prince’s help in putting down an uprising backed by an illegitimate half-brother. The gem, about the size of a chicken’s egg, and of an amazingly rich red color, weighs in at about 170 carats. Now correctly identified as a spinel, not a ruby as often happened before it was possible to tell the two close in color gemstones apart, the stone wasn’t seen again until 1415 when Henry V campaigned in France and wore the bauble into battle. Mounted in the helmet that saved him, the stone was next worn into battle by Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, but with vastly different results.
The incredible colored gemstone was finally set into the Imperial State Crown by James I. Through a quirk of fate, the crown was not stored with the other royal jewels and thus was saved from being dismantled, melted down and sold during the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell. When the monarchy was restored, the crown, along with its historic spinel, was returned and has remained safely in the Tower of London ever since.
The rich blue of sapphire also has a prominent place in this same crown. Known as St. Edward’s Sapphire, this remarkable gem made its appearance in 1042 when the stone was set into Edward’s coronation ring. The legend goes that as King Edward was known for his generosity, when approached by a beggar on his way to Westminster Abbey, he was quick to search his pockets for something to give the poor soul. Finding nothing, the King, without thinking, slipped the sapphire ring off his finger and gave it to the beggar. Many years later two pilgrims from the Holy Land returned the ring to the King and told him they’d gotten if from St. John the Evangelist who had been disguised as the beggar all those years ago. Congratulated on his kindness, the King was told that he would see St. John in heaven in six months time. Exactly six months later, Edward was dead.
Emeralds, deep green and beguiling, have also found their way into some incredible pieces. The largest collection of emeralds is said to be the crown jewels of Iran. This sumptuous collection boasts many priceless pieces including a belt set with a huge emerald, the Pahlavi and Empress Crowns and some rather impressive emerald necklaces. Tradition dictates that any new piece be made from the many loose stones that are part of the collection, added over the centuries and waiting for the right piece to showcase their beauty.
Outside Iran, one of the most well known emerald pieces is The Crown of the Andes, fashioned in 1593 (and finished in 1599) for the Madonna statue in Popayan Colombia from a solid block of 20 carat gold. The piece, crafted by local artisans as thinks for being spared a smallpox epidemic, was set with 453 stones (1,521 carats) and includes the Atahualpa Emerald (45 carats on it’s own) named for one of the last Inca emperors. The crown weighs in at 4.8 pounds and is 13 inches tall. Briefly captured by English pirates in 1650, the crown was recovered and became a prize of Columbia’s revolutionary war with Spain for independence in the 1812. Its present location is unknown.
These fabulous colored gemstones are just a few of the many rich and beautiful ones owned and enjoyed by royalty through the ages. Whether it is distinctive colored diamonds, regal amethysts, lustrous pearls or the incredible colors of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, royalty is often alone in its ability to own gemstones of such rare beauty set amid timeless works of art.