Fibrecircle had a Birthstones challenge in 2014. The idea was to build up a resource that might be useful later on. I'm not sure it's going to work like that for me but it was a useful discipline, making pages on a specific theme all year.
I didn't want my book to be all about geology or folk myth, so each month I looked for a story about the stone. Sometimes it was a culture or time period in which the stone was important, which took me down some interesting byways!
My pages about garnet were mostly geological, but I found lots of fantastic examples of Roman garnet and gold jewellery.
My pages about amethyst also began with geology, but then I looked at all those websites that tell us the significance of birthstones. Amethyst was particularly valuable in many, often conflicting ways! I also found some beautiful amethyst amulets from ancient Egypt.
Bloodstone was commonly used for stone axes in Chalcolithic sites in Europe.
When I came to diamond, I was interested in the many different way of cutting them. There are also so many famous diamonds. I focused on two, the Koh-i-noor and the Regent Diamond, both of which had a bloody past that reflects the history of the times and the great value placed on diamonds.
The story I found about emeralds was fascinating. It led me via the Romans, especially Caligula, to an emerald mine in Egypt near the Red Sea. In turn, I learnt about a French explorer called Frederic Cailliaud, whose amazing discoveries in the region were dismissed as fantasies until recently, when his claims have been confirmed by archaeology. I also investigated who wore the emeralds that were excavated from the Egyptian mines.
Agate was often used for bijoux like snuffboxes, cuff links and small vessels, but throughout history, it was also used for administrative and personal seals. I found some images of ancient seals and then used this as the springboard to create my own seal.
My Ruby pages documented a group challenge to create a Ruby artwork. I made a small book, which I've already talked about here, here and here.
I had a choice with this month so I just had to choose sardonyx, probably the birthstone of the sarcastic. I found out all about cameos, which frequently use the layers of the stone to create wonderful colour effects.
In September, I found that sapphires were often used for brooches. I became interested in medieval amuletic brooches, a subgroup of the ubiquitous cloak brooch found across all levels of society. These brooches were from the wealthier classes and often had magical or mystical meanings. These symbols were drawn from the medieval lapidaries, which explained the "scientific", "magical" and "symbolic" meanings of gems. Most of these lapidaries are not more, but their contents have been referred to in later texts.
When I came to opals, the most interesting aspect for me was opalised bones found in Australian opal mines. Lots of different fossils have been discovered but the most amazing was the Addyman Plesiosaur. The remains of this 6.5m long creature are on display in the South Australian Museum.
Topaz came into its own in the 18th century. I was fascinated by the "stomacher" or "devant de corsage", a triangular brooch on the chest of a dress, ending in a point on the stomach. The other great user of topaz was Faberge and I just had to record his little piece of two cockatoos. He apparently kept one as a pet himself.
Turquoise was the last stone of the year. Like diamond, it was used throughout history, famously in North and South American cultures but also in Europe, imported from Iran via Turkey (hence the name). A few years ago I made a small work based on the mosque at Isfahan with it's beautiful turquoise tiles, so I included an image. I also found examples of religious and later secular jewellery in Europe, from the 17th century onwards.
I really enjoyed the process of working so systematically in my journal, and I certainly learnt about a whole lot of different things!