In this book, Victoria Finlay sets out to explore the history and culture of a variety of jewels, examining, in order of hardness: amber, jet, pearl, opal, peridot, emerald, sapphire, ruby and diamond.
It's a fascinating, well written book, full of amazing facts, my favourite of which is the dinosaur skeleton that was found in Australia, whose bones had all become opals!
I was disappointed in how little it dealt with the environmental impact of mining for gems, gashes in the landscape are mentioned a couple of times, a polluted river is referred to on one occasion. The author isn't that much more detailed on the negative social impacts of mining. Though these few sentences very succinctly sum up a lot of the injustices around mining:
"It was typical of a colonial government that they should sell the rights in an industry they had never seen to a company that had no experience, without anyone even knowing how the traditional ownership of the land worked."
The chapter on pearls is the only one to go into any detail on the ecological issues. Freshwater pearls (which come from mussels, not oysters) were once found in every river in the Scottish Highlands, but there are now as few as five colonies in the whole of Scotland, due to over fishing through the centuries and the habit of careless fishers in cutting open every freshwater mussel in their search for pearls, whereas an experienced fisher can tell which mussels are likely to contain pearls without opening them up. In addition, this chapter details the cruelty of the making of cultured pearls (a piece of polished shell is forced into the oysters' gonads so that they are forced to produce pearls as a response to the injury).
That aside, it is worth reading and of course not every reader is looking specifically for a discussion of the environmental impact of gem mining. However, this is a major issue of concern, and it seems odd that so little is said about it in this book. For an introduction to the environmental issues around gem mining, it is worth checking out the Gemstones and Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub, though as this seems to be funded by the diamond industry it may not be as hard hitting as it could be.
Meanwhile, I've been adding vintage watches to my Crafty Green Magpie shop on Etsy. Mostly, these are watches that would need to be repaired or could be taken apart and used in craft projects. You can see them here.