27 April 2015

Jewel History: The Gem Alphabet (1893)

"The Gem Alphabet"
(originally appeared in the New York Times, 30 Apr 1893)

A pretty idea for a ring is to have set in some odd fashion the stones whose initial letters spell the first name of the one for whom it is intended. [1]

Thus for the name Margaret could be used the milk opal, amethyst, ruby, garnet, agate, rose quartz, emerald, and turquoise.

The entire gem alphabet [2] is:


A-F: amethyst, beryl [2], chrysoberyl [3], diamond, emerald, feldspar [4]
G-M: garnet, hyacinth [5], idocrase [6], kyanite [7], lynx sapphire [8], milk opal [10]
N-S: natrolite [11], opal, pyrope [12], quartz, ruby, sapphire
T-Z: topaz, unanite [13], vesuvianite [14], water sapphire [15], xanthite [16], zuion [17]


A-F: agate, basalt, cacholong [18], diaspore [19], Egyptian pebble [20], firestone [21]
G-M: granite, heliotrope [22], jasper, krokidolite [23], lapis lazuli, malachite
N-S: nephrite [24], onyx, porphyry [25], quartz agate, rose quartz, sardonyx [26]
T-Z: turquoise, ultramarine, verd antique [27], wood opal [28], xylotite [29], zurlite [30]

1. Also called "acrostic jewelry," these pieces using gemstones to spell out names and messages were popularized in the nineteenth century by Mellerio. King Edward VII, for example, reportedly gave Queen Alexandra a ring that spelled out "Bertie" in gems during their engagement. Because the messages in the gemstones were not always apparent to the viewer, part of the popularity of the trend was its romantic secrecy.
2. This is only one version of the gemstone alphabet (and it doesn't include every letter); there are many other alternative versions. Maybe we should come up with a modern one in the comments? Maybe I'm just testing to see which of you actually reads the notes? :-)
3. Common forms of beryl include aquamarine, emerald, and morganite.
4. Alexandrite, named after a Russian czar, is one of the most intriguing forms of chrysoberyl; depending on the lighting, it shifts in color from red to green.
5. One of the most commonly used forms of feldspar is labradorite, which often has a cool iridescent effect called "labradorescence."
6. "Hyacinth" is usually called "jacinth." It's a red variety of zircon.
7. Idocrase is also called "vesuvianite" because -- you guessed it -- it's been found on Mount Vesuvius. It comes in green, brown, blue, and yellow varieties.
8. Kyanite is often blue, hence its name, though orange varieties have been discovered in Africa.
9. "Lynx sapphire" is another name for iolite, another gemstone that displays color shifts depending on the lighting. This one goes from shades of blue to shades of yellow.
10. Milk opal is apparently just another name for white opal, though it often displays milky blue-green tones.
11. Natrolite is usually white or colorless.
12. Pyrope is a kind of garnet; it's always red.
13. When one googles "unanite," as one does, one mainly finds more century-old lists of gem alphabets. There's a mineral called "unakite" which sometimes comes in gemstone quality, but I'm not convinced they're the same thing. Please advise if you know for sure!
14. See note #7.
15. And see note #9.
16. Xanthite is apparently a specific variety of vesuvianite -- so again, see note #7!
17. This is another gemstone whose description has eluded me. Perhaps a typo on the part of the Times?
18. Cacholong is a milky-white form of opal.
19. Diaspore is a mineral that comes in a wide variety of colors, including purple and yellow.
20. Also called "Egyptian jasper," usually brown or red.
21. Also known as flint, often used in ancient Egyptian jewelry.
22. Also known as "bloodstone" -- its classic coloring is dark green with bright red inclusions.
23. Usually spelled "crocidolite," but more often called "riebeckite."
24. Nephrite is a kind of jade.
25. Porphyry is a purple-red stone. Given its name's connections to a certain genetic disorder, probably not the best choice for a piece of royal jewelry, huh?
26. Sardonyx is a kind of onyx that features bands which are red rather than black.
27. A form of green rock that's often erroneously called marble -- "Connemara marble" is actually a kind of verd antique.
28. Wood opal is, quite literally, petrified wood that has developed an iridescent sheen that makes it look like an opal.
29. Another gemstone whose description has eluded me!
30. Zurlite is another Vesuvian mineral, which apparently usually has a green color.