Some engaging stories in an ultimately unsatisfying investigation of nine precious stones.
In her 2003 debut, Color, arts journalist Finlay took readers on a tour of the palette. Now she takes the same tack with jewels, collecting the natural and social (if not exactly “secret”) history of gems, ranging from pearls to jet to rubies. The cleverest aspect of this book is its organization. Finlay’s table of contents follows Mohs’ scale of relative mineral hardness; she begins with oh-so-soft amber and concludes with the hardest stone, the diamond. As in Color, she travels all over the world to get her story: to Scotland to interview a retired pearl-fisher; to Egyptian deserts in search of emeralds; to Sri Lanka on the trail of sapphires; to Rangoon, where she attends the Myanmar Gems Emporium. The two most fascinating chapters examine opals and diamonds. In the former, Finlay tells the story of a cat skeleton that turned into opal and interviews a gem specialist named Len Cram, who has developed a new theory about how opals are formed. The diamond chapter includes the history of the Hope Diamond. For years, it was rumored to be cursed, but it was jeweler Pierre Cartier who actually concocted that tale to help get the hulking diamond sold. Finlay also reveals the history of the phrase “a diamond is forever” and credits the De Beers company with popularizing the diamond engagement ring.
Many sparkling anecdotes about jewels.