Following is a list of countries and continents where gemstones are found and fine jewellery is crafted. Each one has its own rich history and vibrant cultures, all of which are reflected in the wearable art that they produce. So, without another further ado, let’s pack our digging utensils, dust-off our walking boots and take a little trip around our big blue planet…
Nowhere on Earth has the power of symbolism been more effectively and consistently channelled than in human’s ancient roaming ground, Africa. This massive expanse of sand, water, rock and earth has long been an abundant source of precious minerals, metals and organic materials. It was through the inherent utility of these materials that much of the African population learnt to decorate themselves, finding inventive ways to wear feathers, teeth, horns, skulls, jewels and other well-wrought ornaments. For example, the expansive Fulbe, a staggering 40 million-strong African tribe, would perform ritualistic social dances wearing jewellery that helped young women choose who was most beautiful. Similarly the Mongbetu and Mongo tribes would use shell pieces to cover their genitals and buttocks. These were often coloured with intricate geometric designs used to signify unions within clans, including marriages. Huge round labial plates were also worn by the African Mursi and Sara. This form of body modification is still very popular amongst women in Ethiopia, who use the wood, ivory or clay plate to stretch their lips and communicate how many cattle should be required for a wedding.
Throughout the industry Africa is perhaps best known for its exemplary prowess in beadwork. Generally speaking the African population has been particularly appreciative of beading and has given it a special cultural significance. In fact they are actually known as ‘trade beads’, due to the fact they were once used as a kind of currency to secure the exchange of goods and services. Aesthetically Zulu beads are beyond compare, reflecting the colourful artistry of those far-flung Bantu tribes. There’s also Maasai beaded jewellery, which is characterised by rigid tribal rules pertaining to colour and design. The Yoruba kings of Nigeria famously wore tall beaded crowns and the women of the Pokot tribe of Kenya and Uganda wore broad-beaded collars and necklaces.
Black Diamond is surely one of the most curious discoveries found in recent jewellery history. Most of the rare Black Diamonds that are available on the jewellery market can be traced to Africa. These strange polycrystalline diamonds formed deep in the earth millions of years ago. Since then they have been propelled up to the surface by staggered volcanic eruptions, which befits their obsidian colour. Another interesting discovery occurred in Kenya, at the otherworldly Enkapune Ya Muto, also known as the Twilight Cave. It was here that archaeologists dug-up a collection of 40,000 year old beads made from the perforated egg shells of ostriches. This finding helped to prove that thick ostrich eggs were used not only as water containers and flasks, but also as decoration often coloured with either teal-blue, orange or black hues.
It’s true that, given its size, Australia hasn’t had a significant impact on the jewellery industry. That being said, though, Australia is actually the world’s number one supplier of Opals. For a long time this rare form of hydrated silica was barely seen throughout Europe or South America. Then, many years later, it was found to be one of the most cherished gemstones across the Pacific. By the late 19th century the Australian Opal market had exploded and Opals were suddenly being celebrated for their speckled rainbows of colour and unmatched diversity.
However it would be erroneous to suggest that Australians contributed nothing but Opals. Their history is rich with accounts of fine European jewellery, exciting natural discoveries and ancient stone mining. In fact, certain historical theorists believe that Quartz is mentioned several times in Australian Aboriginal myths. Supposedly it is referred to as the coveted substance ‘maban’, which was assigned certain mystical characteristics, like the power to imbue their shaman with supernatural abilities.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and also a former colony of Portugal. Most of the Brazilian Gold and gemstones that travel the market were found in a crowded hub of early settlement. Today this hub is known as the state of Minas Gerais, which, in Portuguese, means ‘General Mines’. It was here that the Vianna family first began business as purveyors of fine jewellery and precious coloured gemstones. Their mission was to capture the essence of the vibrant and far-reaching Brazilian culture.
True to their values of classicality and cultural integrity, the Vianna family soon founded Vianna Brazil, and, by incorporating the tribal designs that pervaded the Americas, helped to popularise the tribal geometric patterns, crude skulls and other natural forms that were once cherished by the Aztecs, Mayans and other jungle-dwelling civilisations. In addition they also revived the use of bamboo and beads, especially for their bracelet collections, whilst simultaneously experimenting in unexpected mixtures of colour, as well as unusual marriages of traditional cuts with fancy cuts. Before long Vianna became a household name and Brazil entered the jewellery industry with an array of natural wonders that wore their imperfections as marks of authenticity, whilst also exhibiting fresh ways of beautifying organic sky-coloured stones, like Turquoise and Aquamarine.
Interestingly Brazil is also the tropical home of Natural Green Amethyst. In the mid ‘50s the first Natural Green Amethyst was discovered in its rough state. We can only speculate as to how those miners must’ve felt when they happened upon the faint watery lustre of those prismatic crystals, which were, coincidently, perfect for cutting and shaping. After being plucked from the weathered rock this stone was excitedly exported and treasured worldwide. Mostly Natural Green Amethyst is round-cut into a brilliant shape so as to accentuate a more uniformed colour when viewed from above, through the crown facet.
There are a number of distinct Chinese styles and designs that were swept-up with the spread of Buddhism 2000 years ago. Today the Chinese are known for their ability to repeatedly unlock and harness the aesthetic potential of Silver, whilst also being less inclined to feature Gold in their jewellery. Chinese designs can be recognised for their unique touches, such as the blue kingfisher feathers of their early designs and, thereafter, their unique cuts and arrangements of brilliant blue gems and glass. Interestingly the Chinese have often showed themselves to be averse to wearing or making earrings, which have, historically, been far less popular than other pieces like amulets or rings. Their oldest pieces often featured Chinese symbols or the mythical forms of writhing dragons and fiery phoenixes. Most of these early designs were recovered from the grave goods of the departed, along with a wide variation of gemstones. In fact, just last century, archaeologists discovered the final empress of China, Empress Dowager Tz’u, resting on a beautiful pillow of Pink Tourmaline.
Over time it has become apparent that the Chinese were not only captivated by the allure of Silver, they also revered Jade and fervently embraced its mystical and physical properties. In Chinese culture the forest effusion of Jade is related to the most important human values, being synonymous with hardness, integrity and, thereby, beauty. For centuries Jade has been the staple of Chinese carvings, evidence of which can be found all across China and Southeast Asia. In some cases rare Diamonds were sacrificed to make cutting tools that were chiefly used for the shaping of Jade. This gives some indication of its unrivalled value in Chinese culture. Surprisingly Jade was also sometimes ground into fruit juices and used to alleviate certain ailments like asthma and heartburn.