Precious Stones: Considered in their Scientific and Artistic Relations by A. H. Church, 1899

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This 1899 (republished 1905) book outlines the knowledge at the time of gems and precious stones. It is surprisingly accurate and most is still current. It is a completely revised version of the 1882 book “Handbook of Precious Stones”. It covers the science, the origins, the use, and meaning and more of gems. A very thorough book. Any gemologist can benefit from reading this book – and it should be mandatory for anyone studying gemology. It also deals with issues of design and artistic use of gems which sets it apart from any other gemology book I know of.

There are interesting political comments, such as a blistering critique of the British government statistics reports on gem exports from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). A discussion of culture and fashion on the use of gems in fine jewelry is similar to today’s discussion – with a plea for more public acceptance of moonstones and other gems, a hint of the swirl of debate that Art Nouveau jewelry created at the time. Jewelers are criticized for their willful lack of knowledge (still an issue in the trade – though much less now).

There is an early instance of the luster scale used today, and all the main identification attributes such as polarization, pleochroism, dispersion, refraction, double refraction, hardness, specific gravity are addressed, all the same as today. Missing is spectrum analysis detail which was pioneered some 20 years after this book by Basil Anderson.

The explanation of refraction is very clear. If you are a gemologist you will enjoy this glimpse of the developing understanding of polarized light and the more subtle aspects of refractive index. There is nothing really untrue here, just that parts of understanding and theory got filled in better in the last hundred years. They certainly knew how to observe and so the information on pleochoism is correct and insightful. Making your own dichroscope is described. There are great tables on pleochroism. The Mohs scale of hardness was already in use and it is detailed.

The section on specific gravity is very good, with early insight into the use of heavy liquids, ones I never heard of, and one of the final winners used today, methylene iodide. The Thallium instructions should be ignored by anyone today because of its toxicity, but it is really interesting. It is all solid, experienced, scientifically based information. The observations are excellent.

The refractometer is introduced, and given Herbert Smiths somewhat primitive pioneering version the information remains great today. There is a great chapter on cuts and cutting. It covers all that mattered in 1905.

There is a remarkable chapter called “Artistic Employment of Precious Stones”. It is most unusual to have such an editorial commentary in a gemology textbook. This is the only gemology book I have read that deals with design and comments on it for the artist maker. Truly interesting. It is a philosophical ‘call to arms’ for jewelers to use gems of all kinds for colors, subtleties of design and creative efforts.

There are excellent chapters on imitation and synthetic stones, with the early synthetics fully described and a debate on nomenclature that continues today. With imitations time has caught up with the descriptions, with simulants like moissonite and cubic zirconia entering in the last quarter of the 20th century. All the information on glasses, which still make up the bulk of imitations holds good.

The chapters on gemstone descriptions is accurate and well done. It is the bulk of the book, the most pages and most excellent information. Lots of historical information, stories, chemistry and references. A remarkable resource.

Includes: Diamond, Corundum, Sapphire and Ruby, Spinel, Turquoise, Topaz,
Beryl and Emerald, Chrysoberyl, Phenakite, Euclase, Zircon, Spodumene, Hiddenite, Kunzite, Opal, Quartz, Lapis-lazuli, Iolite Crocidolite, Labradorite, Moonstone, Sunstone, Obsidian, Epidote, Axinite, Sphene, Cossiterite, Diopside, Apophyllite, Andalusite, Jade and Jadeite, Pyrites, Hematite, Amber, Jet, Malachite, Lumachella, Pearl, Coral.

Finally there is a catalogue and description of the Townshend collection, which was donated to the South Kensington Museum.

A great book.

Chapters include

  • Definition of Precious Stones
  • Properties and Discrimination of Precious Stones
  • Cutting and Fashioning Precious Stones
  • Artistic Employment of Precious Stones
  • Artificial Formation of Precious Stones
  • Imitations of Precious Stones
  • Descriptions of Precious Stones
  • The Townshend Collection of Precious Stones
  • The Catalogue of the Townshend Collection

File Size: 7.72MB, 155 pages, dozens of illustrations.