Why gems?

Two hands holding up two rough gemstones that are golden-yellow in colour against a sunny window
Cornish sunshine quartz

I have studied and enjoyed material culture all of my professional life, both as a curator and historian. One of my biggest pleasures is to research materials from their earthly origins to their use and appreciation in society today. During my doctoral research I was fortunate to have studied and written about the significance of material culture, including jewellery and adornment in early medieval southern Italy and the Mediterranean. This has been through the direct study of objects now in museum collections as well as reported in archaeological excavations and documented in written archives. I have also taught material culture to university students.

Gems, minerals and jewellery have always fascinated and beguiled me. I love to find out about different cultural expressions that use gem materials. While the biggest, shiniest and most expensive are bound to catch the attention of many, I am just as interested in the modest, the man-made, the unfashionable and the unusual.

I am interested in design choices and the technology that makes the use of materials in extraordinary ways possible, and the creativity and expression that underpins the manifestation of incredible jewellery. Just as captivating are the stories of how Mother Earth’s minerals have come to be, and how they are and have been extracted and used to create gems, as well as just admired and studied for what they can teach us about geology––the long history of our rocky planet. Humans have also grown their own gems, both as jewels and for industrial applications.

Those who know my curatorial and museum work will also know me for my advocacy for ethics. This is a topic gaining serious importance in the world of gems, from environmental impacts to those on the people involved in the trade throughout its pipeline. I look forward to learning more about the ethics of gems. Another hobby I am bringing to my blog is that of beach fossicking. I have long been a ‘magpie’ and I always love a pebbly beach to see what treasures I can find.

In September 2021 I commenced the Foundation in Gemmology with Gem-A, the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and passed the Certificate with Distinction in summer 2022 (87%!). Gemmology is the study of gem materials and their use in ornamentation, decoration and adornment. It was an incredibly challenging course with lots of memorisation, analytical skills and high-pressure appraisal situations involved – all capabilities you need if you want to succeed in the trade.

As I develop this blog I will be posting about different topics I covered in my course, as well as those that grab my attention from other areas of work and life.

Cornish sunshine quartz found on the beach (I named it sunshine quartz, it’s not a technical term, yet).