When were gems discovered?

Nobody knows when man first discovered gems, but he has been fascinated by them since the earliest times. For many thousands of years gems were worn as charms, or amulets, to protect people from demons and diseases. Even today there are people who believe gems have this power.

One of the first written records about gems is found in the Bible. The 28th chapter of Exodus tells of the breastplate worn by the high priest, Aaron. The breastplate was adorned by 12 precious stones.

The ancient Egyptians used gems as ornaments and charms. They were highly skilled in the art of gem engraving, and their writings on precious stones still exist. The Egyptians wore curious amulets, known as scarabs. These were precious stones engraved with the figure of the sacred beetle of Egypt. Those who wore scarabs were believed to have charmed' lives.

In ancient times, the various gems were distinguished only by their colors. The name "ruby" was given to all precious stones of a red hue. All green stones were called emeralds. All blue ones were called sapphires.

Later on, it was seen that some of the gems were harder than others and endured longer. So it came about that the value of a gem depended hot only on its color, brilliance, and rarity, but also on its hardness. For example, diamonds are today considered the most precious of gems because, besides their beauty, they are the hardest of all stones.

All the gems are called precious stones, but in its strict meaning, the term "precious" is given only to the four most valuable stones—the diamond, the ruby, the emerald, and the sapphire.