Monday, 2 June 2014


Meanwhile, Helen and Nola have been working on their Birthstones journals.

March offered us two choices, aquamarine or bloodstone. Helen chose to work with aquamarine.
Helen wrote in her journal, "Aqua is Latin for water, so aqua marina is sea water or sea-coloured. This colour became very popular in the 1940's and 1950's, and was known as Marina blue or Marina green after Princess Marina, the wife of the Duke of Kent, who was Greek. She was CIC of the WRNs and used to wear her uniform while wearing high heeled shoes!"

Helen was also interested in the chemical formation of aquamarine. "Be2Al3Si6O18  Beryl is made of beryllium, aluminium, silicon and oxygen; it's one of the rarest elements in the earth's crust. The extra element that makes beryl green is chromium - an even rarer element. Beryllium forms in areas far distant from chromium and only by accident, e.g. tectonic plates bumping into one another, would the two elements meet. If a drop of iron meets with beryllium, it becomes aquamarine."

"Cleopatra is reputed to have had aquamarine mines. The gems is named after the deep salt water so is lucky for sailors. To appease Poseidon, travellers wore aquamarines and even threw them into a stormy sea to appease the god."

Nola chose to investigate bloodstone.

She mostly focused on ancient uses of the stone, and the name, which clearly refers to the blood-like inclusions in the stone.

She quoted Pliny the Elder's Natural History, "it has been thus named from the circumstances that, if placed in a vessel of water and exposed to the full light of the sun, it changes to a reflected colour like that of blood... Out of the water too, it reflects the figure of the sun like a mirror and it discovers eclipses." (Pliny, Nat Hist, 37.60) Pliny is an interesting figure for historians, because although he was credulous about fantastical stories from the edges of the known world, he developed an historical methodology that credited sources of information and attempted to verify his facts as much as possible.

The birthstone for April is diamond. Both Helen and Nola found this a challenging topic - it was hard to find interesting things about diamonds that might work their way into a later creative work.

Helen started out with a brainstorming session - "Diamonds are forever", Neil Diamond", "Diamonds are a girl's best friend", "rough diamond", "Peter Diamond". "thy eyes are seen in d'monds bright"...

Then she added a poem,

"Scintillate, scintillate
Globule vivivic!
Fain would I fathom
Thy nature specific
Loftily poised
Above ether capacious
Closely resembling
A gem carbonaceous.
(Yes, it is indeed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!)

 Then she began playing with diamond shapes...

She added, " a diamond is graded according to four characteristics:
  • Cut e.g. American ideal Cut
  • Carat - 100 points to a carat
  • Clarity - flawless is best, there are 13 grades, VSI very small inclusions, VVSI very very small inclusions and so on
  • Colour - diamonds can be any colour, white to yellow, pink, red, green, even brown but they will usually have been irradiated
Where from? South Africa, Australia, Namibia, Botswana, South America, India, Russia

Nola began with a drawn image of a specific cut of diamond, into which she wrote the names of some famous diamonds and some characteristics of diamonds.

Then she wrote the stories of two famous diamonds.
The Koh-I-Noor or the "Mountain of Light", once the largest known diamond in the world, has a bloody history.
  • It was allegedly the eye of a goddess idol of the Kakatiyas, a Hindu group who lived in South India 1083 - 1323
  • it became the property of an unknown Afghan emperor who was then forced to give it to...
  • Alauddin Khilji in 1294, of the Muslim Khilji Dynasty of Northern India. He was a Turkic Afghan (1296-1316) and the dynasty ruled a large area of central Asia. When that dynasty collapsed, it passed to...
  • Tughlaq Dynasty, another Muslim Dynasty, which ruled over most of India (1321-1414), but then it was taken by the...
  • Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526) who ruled Northern India and Pakistan. They in turn were defeated by
  • Mughal Empire (1526-1857) led by abur, a Turko-Mongol invader from Uzbekistan. They were Muslims and spoke Persian and later Urdu. In 1726, they were invaded by...
  • Afsharid Dynasty (1736-1796), a Persian dynasty who ruled most of the eastern Middle East from the Black Sea to Northern India. The conquering Nadir Shah allegedly exclaimed, "Koh-i-noor!" on seeing the stone. Nadir was assassinated in 1745 and...
  • Ahmad Shah Durran, his general, took it. Then in 1830, he was deposed by...
  • Rajit Singh of the Sikh Dynasty. Rajit Singh died in 1847 and..
  • The British took the stone and the Punjab. The stone became part of the spoils of war in the subsequent treaty and came to Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877. After being worn as a jewel, it was set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth II and is displayed in the Tower of London.
  • India wants it back.
Moral of the story - blood diamonds are not a new thing.
The Regent Diamond
Once upon a time in 1698, a slave in the Kollur diamond mine in India found a huge diamond (410 carat, 82g). He hid it in a wound on his leg and smuggled it out. Naughty man, but understandable.
But, an even more wicked English sea captain stole it and killed the slave. He sold it to an Indian merchant for a filthy sum. The merchant must have known it was well dodgy.
Three years after the original theft, it was sold to the English governor, Thomas Pitt. He had trouble flogging it off, though he took it to most of the royal houses of Europe. 
Eventually, the French Regent, Philippe II of Orleans, who was obviously doing very nicely out of being regent, bought it in 1717 for 135000 English pounds, roughly equal to 17 1/2 million in today's money.
Five years later, it was set in the king's coronation crown for Louis XV and again for Louis XVI in 1775.
Marie Antoinette wore it in her hat.
Then the locals tired of kings and cut off quite a few heads.
The jewel disappeared.
Napoleon relocated it (probably not to the advantage of the thief!) and it turned up on his sword.
When he died, Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, his second wife, quietly took it home to Austria but her papa made her give it back.
It was mounted on the crown of Louis XVIII, Charles X and Napoleon III.
Then it came to Empress Eugenie, who liked to wear it.
Since 1887, it's been on display at the French Treasury.
No-one remembers the slave's name, or the sea captain or the merchant.
Moral of the story - huge diamonds can only ever belong to the rich.

Nola also came across the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist text in the British Library, which is the world's earliest dated printed book. The title is a reference to the use of diamond as a cutter for jade.

Next month is Emerald!



No comments: