I’ve been a gem lover since I was a pudgy, bookish li’l nerd — and we’re talking several decades of jewel worship here. While it’s easy to fall for the icy glitter of diamonds or the creamy glow of pearls, I think there’s just as much beauty to be found in inexpensive “semi-precious” stones and the wide diversity of color, crystal shape, and light-reflecting properties found in less valued minerals. (Two lesser-known but beautiful local Washington minerals are Oregon sunstone and Ellensburg Blue agate.) Give your gem knowledge a polish with these fun books, guaranteed to be full of gorgeous photos. For more information or to buy, check out the Tiara of Books at the bottom of the page!
What, this old thing?
Jewels: A Secret History
Author: Victoria Finlay
One of my favorite gem-related books, this entertaining travelogue is sure to delight jewelry-lovers and geology buffs alike. Each numbered chapter takes its theme from a mineral on the corresponding level of the Mohs scale of hardness, starting with super-soft talc and all the way up to – of course – diamond. Along the way, journalist Victoria Finlay explores ancient Egyptian emerald mines, pearl fisheries in Scotland, a gem-cutter’s workshop in Sri Lanka, and my personal favorite, LifeGems, made from human (or animal!) remains. While she doesn’t go into deep mineralogical detail, this lively, globe-trotting adventure really comes alive as Finlay talks to the old-timers and industry insiders who tell the surprising stories of how your gemstone jewelry came out of the earth (or a charred thighbone, I suppose).
Goes with everything.
The Crown Jewels
Author: Anna Keay
I’ve visited England’s crown jewels twice, and each time I practically had to be dragged away after repeatedly cruising past on both sides via the people-mover. If you ever have the opportunity, I strongly recommend a visit to the Tower of London to see them — even non-gem-lovers can appreciate the suits of armor, golden platters and goblets, and other priceless items. But if you can’t make it, this book is the next best thing, with nearly 300 photos of the royal jewels, as well as paintings and photos of the royals wearing their gems, coronation ceremonies, and pieces you don’t get to see on the tour. The accompanying text is written by an expert in English court history, so you’re not just gawking at jewel porn, you’re studying history.
Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya
Author: Gerard Helferich
Long ago, jade was so highly prized that artisans spent hundreds of hours laboriously carving this dense, hard stone into everything from axe heads to teeth implants to ceremonial penis perforators for royalty (!). The ancient Olmec and Maya rulers of the Americas adorned themselves lavishly with jade, but after the Spanish conquest, their jade mines lay forgotten for centuries. Until the 1960s, that is, when an enterprising couple — fortune-seeker Jay Ridinger and archaeologist Mary Lou Johnson — embarked on a jade-hunting adventure, determined to recover the lost mines of the Maya and restore jade’s honored status as part of Guatemala’s history. Learn the difference between jadeite and nephrite, why jade can range from white to blue to green to lavender, and how excruciatingly difficult it really is to cut and shape jade into decorative objects or jewelry. Follow along on historical digs and peer into ancient royal tombs and ruined pyramids! Whether your interest in jade comes from geology, gemology, history, archaeology, or anthropology, Stone of Kings will teach you something new about this mysterious gem that’s been associated with gods and kings for millennia. Read our full review.
Just something understated for everyday.
7000 Years of Jewelry
Author: Hugh Tait
Holy eye candy! This hefty catalog of the world’s jewelry was first published a couple of decades ago by the British Museum Press. Since then, the museum has expanded its collection, and the book has been updated and rewritten accordingly. 7000 Years explores the varied styles, techniques, and materials used to make jewelry in many civilizations throughout the world and across the millennia. Egyptian necklaces, Celtic torcs, South American gold masks, Renaissance pendants, and Art Nouveau buckles are some of the many items described and illustrated, including 400 photos. Enjoy hours of private drooling over jaw-droppingly ornate pieces, with no suspicious museum guards giving you funny looks. It’s like a trip to the British Museum, but you’re at home in your PJs double-fisting Dove Promises!
Smithsonian Handbooks: Gemstones
Author: Cally Hall
As any jewelry lover knows, good things come in small packages. This slim, pocket-size book is small enough to tuck into your bag for a day at the museum, or to keep on hand for reference while you’re reading other gem-related books. Though small, it’s chock-full of beautiful color photos of a variety of gems and minerals in their natural forms and jewelry mountings. There’s some basic info on the history of precious metals, the Mohs scale, the science of light reflection in gems, and artificial color-treating and synthetic gem processes. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a fun and useful beginners’ guide or supplementary resource.
I Louvre it. I’ll take three.
Author: Daphne Kalotay
I couldn’t finish this list off without at least one jewel-themed novel! In Russian Winter, Nina Revskaya, a former star of the Bolshoi Ballet who escaped Russia for the U.S. decades ago, is auctioning off her legendary jewelry collection. To her surprise, the upcoming auction captures the media’s interest and brings unwanted attention. Auction director Drew Brooks is determined to boost sales by discovering the origins and provenance of as many jewels as possible, even if that means digging into the past that Nina would prefer to stay hidden. Meanwhile, Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian, seeks to complete a missing chapter in his own family history — and he believes a rare and beautiful set of amber jewelry in Nina’s collection is the key to the mystery. But he can’t identify the mysterious sender and recipient of an old, unsigned love letter without Nina’s reluctant help. Slowly and deliberately offering up its long-buried secrets, Russian Winter is almost as tantalizing as the real-life mystery of the Amber Room. See our full review.