If you’ve ever discussed gemstone jewelry with a reputable and knowledgeable jeweler, you might have experienced a series of questions along these lines:
“How often do you plan to wear the ring?”
“What do you do for work, and what are your hobbies?”
“Do you typically take your jewelry off when you sleep, shower, or travel?”
He or she isn’t being impertinent or nosy, but rather attempting to find out what type of gem might be best suited for your lifestyle. Some gems can withstand a decent amount of daily wear and tear without any ill effects, while others are more delicate (some are extremely delicate) and require some special considerations.
A gemstone’s hardness, toughness, and stability are the three most important factors in determining its durability. Useful information for jewelry lovers, of course, but lately these three characteristics also seem to be relevant to conversations about human strength and resilience.
What follows contains a little cheese, so pour yourself some wine and indulge me, okay?
Hardness in a gem is measured by the non-linear Mohs scale, and indicates its resistance to scratches and abrasions. As humans I’d say our physical bodies can withstand a surprising amount of painful bruises and scrapes — pain and medication notwithstanding — but it takes much more practice to reach a state of mental grit. Unlike gems, of course, we can build up this tolerance over time through experience and repetition. Diamonds are the leader in the gemological pack, and resilience is a great indicator of leadership in people.
A gem’s toughness, or resistance to breaking and chipping, is due to the strength of the atomic bonds of the molecules that make up the gem’s essential crystal structure. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for our human heart, I don’t know what is: truly it’s the strength of our bonds to one another, be they romantic or friendly or even basic human-to-fellow-human, that make us tough. The ability to withstand heartbreak, suffer through previously-broken bonds, and forge even stronger connections is something only people can do, and gems like super-tough jadeite will just have to go along as they always have.
The stability factor is most often an issue when a gem must withstand sudden or intense changes, or is exposed to extreme conditions. In the gemological world this means withstanding temperature or humidity shifts, certain chemicals, and exposure to various light wavelengths. For humans, this is perhaps the most subtle aspect, displayed only during periods of stress; people are more adaptable than gems, but some people are more flexible than others. Fortunately for us, change doesn’t have to leave us permanently damaged like a crazed opal or thermally-shocked tanzanite.
Like many gems, we can receive treatments that help us improve on some of these characteristics. Emeralds can be oiled, diamonds fracture-filled, sapphires re-polished, garnets re-cut. So too can people be healed both physically and mentally, restoring strained bonds, giving and receiving apologies, cutting negativity out and allowing a little more light inside. (Yes, that last one applies to gemstones too.)
No two gems are ever exactly alike, a single piece of rough can be cut many ways, and every color has its place in the spectrum. We can learn perseverance, fortitude, and resilience — or hardness, toughness, and stability — from the world around us. And really, what better way to do so than through the beauty and rich diversity of the gemstone world?