Stones – folk beliefs, healing powers for mind and body. From mineral to gemstone, myths about healing stones – in conversation with Patrick-Noël Herold-Gregor, MBA, The Natural Gem GmbH, Vienna in Austria.
Man and the beauty of the gifts of the earth – a special relationship that began ages ago and continues to this day. Already in ancient times, the belief in healing stones such as malachite was widespread, and in ancient China, sulfur was said to have healing properties more than 5,000 years ago.
The oldest evidence of a magical use of fossils is attributed to the sea urchin. They were found in prehistoric tombs in northern Germany and France. „The fact must have fascinated that nature is able to produce heart-shaped stones in large numbers, which are outwardly completely identical in shape. Unimagined powers must have been inherent in these special stones,“ surmises Austrian gemologist Dr. Thomas Schröck, who has been working as a gem expert in stone science for 30 years. In the oldest written accounts of the healing and defensive powers of various amulets, thanks to great thinkers and researchers of antiquity, the ancient knowledge is transmitted and has not been lost. Valenus, for example, reported miraculous amulets made of stones and parts of animals. In Dioscorides‘ medicinal teachings, in addition to a compilation of the medicinal plants known in the first century A.D., some mineral remedies were also explained. The unique surviving works of Plineus dealt extensively with natural history, the powers of the mineral and plant kingdoms. Patrick-Noël Herold-Gregor, MBA, The Natural Gem GmbH comments: „Oral traditions from the authors of the Middle Ages supplemented by their own observations. A walking professional poet of the 13th century, who called himself the Stricker, attacked healing stones in a mocking poem in such a way that Vollmer, author of a stone book, demanded that the Stricker be beaten to death because of it. But best known are the strongly religiously influenced treatises of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), known as a theologian, naturalist, physician and composer. Her knowledge and treatises are experiencing a renaissance and are just today moving back into the focus of holistic health.“
Fascination with crystals and minerals
In the stone science research it is assumed that the great fascination is triggered for millennia by the distinctive appearance, the geometric noble form and the rarity and downright captivates the observer. „Gemstones and minerals magically attract the eye. It is scientifically proven that over millions of years, without human intervention, these stones were formed, due to geochemical and geological processes. These natural processes are responsible for the fantastic shapes, colors and properties. Mystical and healing stories about minerals and crystals fuel the fascination, but they cannot be scientifically proven,“ Patrick-Noël Herold-Gregor shares his many years of experience in the gemstone trade.
In research circles, minerals are still considered special objects: the position of the atoms that causes the typical arrangement for the mineral, the three-dimensional crystal lattice that gives each gemstone its distinctive appearance, and the naturalness of their origin. „It is understandable that centuries ago people had no scientific answers to fall back on, which is why fairy tales and myths surrounded minerals and gemstones. The best examples are cobalt and nickel. The names alone make it clear that the treasures from Mother Nature were definitely objects of faith beyond science. People at that time did not know these metals, also there was no use for them, but they looked like good silver and copper ores. Therefore, there was only one explanation, these similar looking metals cobalt and nickel must have been bewitched by mountain spirits, hence cobalt and nickel,“ adds Patrick-Noël Herold-Gregor.
The science of gemstones – lithology
What became necessary was the determination and study in the field of gemstones, the challenges increased by the proliferation of synthetically produced rubies and spinels that came on the market in the first half of the 20th century. „Before that, the gem trade only had to deal with the widely used imitation glass stones, but these were easily recognizable,“ Dr. Thomas Schröck points out.
What emerged was the science of gemstones, which is a branch of mineralogy and geology. The first private Gübelin Gemological Laboratory was established in 1923, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) was founded in 1931, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Edelsteinkunde (German Gemological Society), founded by Georg Otto Wild in 1932, followed a year later. Gemology teaches the chemical, physical and structural characteristics by which the gemstone is to be classified. „Various equipment is used in examinations to verify authenticity or to find out changes in properties. The methods of gemmological examination must be non-destructive, and measurements of physical and crystallographic properties are useful,“ explains Dr. Thomas Schröck, a gem expert from Vienna. In the „stone science“ is differentiated under three different professions:
- geologist: the geologist is concerned with the geological structure of the earth.
- mineralogist: the mineralogist goes one step further, no longer on the rocks like granite, gneiss and marble, but he explores the individual minerals, like quartz. Quartz is not a rock, but a mineral (SiO2/silica).
- gemologist: the gemologist is specialized and examines precious and gemstones for authenticity and value.
There are university courses for geology and mineralogy all over the world. Gemology as such is taught primarily by gemological laboratories, which offer it in courses. Gemological education is given at recognized institutes, is not university based, but a science degree counts as the basis for the education. Prominent in its composition is the German Gemmological Society in Idar-Oberstein, but the international center for gemmology is found in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Gemology follows the study with the distinction between genuine gemstones and imitation gemstones.
When does a mineral become a gemstone or a gemstone?
This is easily answered by the gemologist: „When the stone is cut.“ That is, while the gemologist may very well engage in the examination of rough stones, the focus is on stones that have already been cut.
Further examination of the authenticity of the gemstones is done by commissioning an independent, certified gemological institute, such as the GIA – Gemological Institute of America in New York, the HRD – Gemological Institute Antwerp in Belgium, the DSEF- German Foundation for Gemstone Research in Idar-Oberstein, the SSEF- Swiss Foundation for Gemstone Research in Basel or the GGL- Gübelin Gemmological Laboratory in Lucerne with the help of various techniques, such as crystal optical measurement, photometric measurement, microscopy, spectroscopy or X-ray analysis. It should be noted that the appraisal depends on the institution and on the type of stone. „Ruby, sapphire and emerald are more expensive to appraise than a tourmaline at all appraisal institutions. It doesn’t matter whether the appraisal comes from the German Foundation for Gemstone Research, the Swiss Foundation for Gemstone Research or the GLA. The first and most important thing is: What type of stone is present? That is, with the classic blue chips – ruby, sapphire, emerald – the appraisal is always the most expensive. In all gemological institutions of the world, for ruby, sapphire, emerald, the price of an appraisal is based on the weight of the stone. The heavier a stone is, e.g. ruby, the more expensive an expert opinion will be“, explains Dr. Thomas Schröck.
Student & Blogger
About the author:
Student Amelie Hauger is currently completing a dual study program in Stuttgart. Since her childhood, her enthusiasm for technology grew, which is why the field of „Mechanical Engineering-Production Technology in Mobility“ exactly reflects her interests. The alternation between theory and practice makes the dual study program interesting. Special interest lies in the mobility of the future, autonomous driving and driverless transport.
About The Natural Gem GmbH:
Dr. Thomas Schröck has been a gemstone expert for more than 30 years and is the managing partner of The Natural Gem GmbH, a company based in Vienna, Austria. He authored the work „Gemstones as an Investment: The GEWINN Guidebook,“ Dr. Georg Wailand (editor), authored by Dr. Thomas Schröck.
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