What a Gem!

In case I ever write the fine jewelry thriller (that is, a thriller about fine jewelry) that I have in mind, I signed up for a Zoom class on “gems,” taught by a registered gemologist. Now I really have to write that story! Our instructor, Hillary Spector, was fantastic, and here are some of the pearls I gleaned.


Diamonds form in the earth’s mantle, in the presence of intense heat and pressure, plus their constituent element, carbon. They were formed up to 3.3 billion years ago and carried up closer to earth’s surface through volcanic action as “recently” as 20 million years ago. They may be a girl’s best friend, but they are an old friend.

Diamonds are at the top of the scale in terms of hardness, but they can break or chip. The toughest stone used in jewelry is jade. Hardness and toughness aren’t the same.

Look for the four C’s when assessing a diamond: cut (the sparkle), color, clarity, and carat (how much it weighs, not how big it looks); these are all measurable attributes. If my fictional jewelry seller is pushing a stone’s beauty, that’s irrelevant to value and, therefore, the asking price, which depends on rarity.

Lab-grown “synthetic” diamonds are chemically and anatomically the same as a mined diamond. Sellers are required to make it clear to purchasers that the diamond was not mined (opportunities for fraud?).


Pearl jewelry is having a renaissance, and pearls are even appearing in engagement rings (not a good idea; they are neither hard nor tough enough for daily wear). In London, I saw the unfortunately termed pearl choker of Mary Queen of Scots, which was so small it looked the size of a bracelet.

Forget the old distinction between “natural” and “cultured” pearls. All pearls on the market today are cultured. The commercial prospects for natural pearls have been lost to ocean pollution and global warming (increasing the temptation to steal vintage natural pearls?).

Once one or more mother-of-pearl beads is inserted into a pearl oyster, growers give the pearl at least ten months to form, but 24 months is optimal. All Akoya pearls are bleached and may be further colored with dye or irradiation. By law, this must be disclosed to the buyer, which opens up possibilities for scamming!

Freshwater pears form in freshwater mussels, primarily cultivated in China (international intrigue)!

The value of a pearl is always related to rarity. Like the four C’s of evaluating diamonds, the actors that rate pearls are measurable, independent, and must all be present: size, shape, color, luster (shine), surface quality, enough layers of nacre, and, if they are supposed to be “matching,” must match on all those characteristics. (“Their beauty justifies the ‘investment,’” says the deceptive salesperson.)

Must Re-watch!
Diamonds are Forever
The Hot Rock
Return of the Pink Panther
Girl with a Pearl Earring

13 thoughts on “What a Gem!

  1. This was a real “gem” of a blog today, Vickie. it was very informative. I’ve used diamonds in a couple of my works. In my anthology, Pope’s Last Case, I have a story called “A Girl’s Best Friend” about a stolen diamond necklace. In my Executioner novel, Uncut Terror, I have the Russians trying to take over the world diamond market by dastardly means. My original working title on that one was Diamonds Aren’t Forever. My buddy, Raymond Benson, who wrote the James Bond novels said, “They’ll never let you get away with it.” He was right, sort of, They changed the title to Uncut Terror, but had Diamonds Aren’t Forever plastered across the back teaser section. So I felt vindicated. If I had more time I’d relate the story about how my mom was wearing a pearl ring one year and the pearl slipped out when she was making Thanksgiving Day dinner never to be seen again. We concluded it got in the dressing that was fed to the dog. Good luck with your story.

    • How fun! I found a pearl–a natural one–in a raw oyster at a restaurant. It was about as big as a pinhead; nevertheless, my mother-in-law who was at the table asked me to give it to her, and I never saw it again! If I compile a list of literary works featuring precious stones, I’ll include your stories! It’s a shame about the pearl, but it most likely would have been damaged anyway between the ingredients and the heat and the moisture of the dressing, sad to say.

  2. One more thought about Mikimoto. He made pearls accessible to many ordinary people. Before he invented cultured pearls, natural pearls were so rare that only royalty could afford them.

  3. Very interesting. I love pearls. A Japanese man named Mikimoto figured out how to insert an irritant into an oyster to induce it to produce a pearl to stop the irritation. You might check into Mr. Mikimoto.

    • Yes, that’s why almost 140 years later, Japan is still the leader in (white) pearl production. The “irritant” is a (usually) round bead, which gets the pearl off to the right start, and a piece of mantle–the nacre-producing organ.

  4. If you like, I will try to track down through a Chinese friend, a tradition surrounding jade bracelets that I recall only vaguely. It’s along these lines: little girls receive a jade bracelet at a certain age, which is then broken and removed at a later age — maybe because it gets too tight. Maybe this explains the tradition: it is believed that if something terrible is about to happen to a woman, breaking her jade bracelet will bear the brunt of the disaster, and she will be safe. Worth looking into.

    • If it’s convenient, yes, do track that one down. It sounds vaguely familiar, and could be a helpful metaphor of some kind in a story! Thanks!!

  5. Such interesting information about gems, especially about pearls. Didn’t know they are all cultured. Write that story!

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