Don’t forget Valentine’s Day

A long and rich history of giving

If you thought that Valentine’s Day was just another idea thought up to make you spend money then guess again.

The first Valentine’s Day was in the year 496! On February 14 around the year 278AD Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.

The Romans had a festival called Lupercalia in the middle of February – officially the start of their springtime. The origins of Valentine’s Day are murky but it is known that the feast of Lupercalia was the 15th of February. With the introduction of Christianity, the holiday moved to the 14th of February—the saint day that celebrated several early Christian martyrs named Valentine.

Geoffrey Chaucer mentions St Valentine’s Day in his Canterbury Tales, so we know that ordinary people have been celebrating the day for a long time. Often celebrations started with the rich and trickled down slowly to the poor.

February has long been celebrated as a month of romance and St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14. It is a festival of romantic love and many people give cards, letters, flowers or presents to their spouse or partner. They may also arrange a romantic meal in a restaurant or night in a hotel.

These days over 150 million cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day, making it the second-biggest card-giving holiday of the year.

Jewellery: more than just a gift

Jewellery goes back for as long as humanity has organised itself. Even before civilisation as we know it, people have adorned themselves with objects.

Hunter-gatherer societies made jewellery out of animals’ teeth, bones and shells. As people moved into agriculture and permanent settlement, they began to make jewellery out of more difficult materials; metal and precious stones.

The first people to make sophisticated jewellery out of gold and precious metals lived in the Indus Valley, in what is now modern-day India and Pakistan.

Jewellery can be a symbol of power or status; it be a display of skill, or it can be a sign of love and devotion, like the wedding rings that people wear today.

Different stones through time and cultures have often taken on different meanings. Some stones have often been thought to symbolise power or protection; others were have believed to have healing properties. These days, precious stones are often given as tokens of love. Diamonds, due to their brilliance and their hardness, became known as the stone of purity, fidelity and everlasting love. These traits are why they have become traditional for engagement rings.

While diamonds, like red roses, have become popular symbols of love and devotion, other stones often carry meaning and symbolism, which can be interpreted through jewellery. In ancient Egypt, wealthy people were often buried with amethyst, turquoise and lapis-lazuli, often carved into amulets representing gods or sacred symbols.

Greek sailors in the sixth century carried agate, chalcedony (quartz), jet and coral, as it was believed these stones would calm the sea and prevent them from drowning. Emeralds have historically been associated with birth and nature. In the middle ages people believed that emerald and other green stones could restore sight. Sapphires were a favoured stone of the Catholic clergy; subsequently they are a symbol of purity and virtue. Red stones, like ruby, garnet or bloodstones, were thought to symbolise passion, high emotion and haughtiness due to their colour.

However, gems don’t always follow the traditional colours we assign to them. Garnets, normally a red stone, can be green, yellow or orange. Diamonds can be pink, green yellow, brown or blue. Sapphires have even more variation, appearing in hues of white, pink, orange, yellow, green, black and purple.

It’s worth looking into the symbolism, history and significance of precious and semi-precious stones. Rather than a flashy piece of bling, a piece of jewellery with personal significance can mean so much more as a gift.

Saying ‘I love you’ with science

More and more, consumers are considering the ethics of what they buy. With that in mind, buying jewellery can be an ethical conundrum for some.

An alternative to appease an increasingly aware market could be a synthetic diamond, grown in a laboratory. Synthetic diamonds were first invented in 1954 by American company General Electrics.

The first diamonds they made had a brown tint which made them inappropriate for jewellery, but perfect for industrial use. Diamond is one of the hardest substances in the world, and GE’s synthetic diamonds soon found a home drilling, grinding and cutting. Because of this innovation diamonds are now used in electronics, construction, dentistry, weapons, and even skincare.

In 1971 a breakthrough meant that synthetic diamonds were clear and brilliant enough to be used in jewellery. Scientists were able to figure out how to make diamonds in hues of yellow and pink, and sold the stones as a cheap, fun alternative to the real thing.

In 2012, company Pure Grown Diamonds was able to manufacture a colourless diamond. More importantly, they were able to manufacture a Type IIa diamond, which is so rare that only two per cent of the world’s diamonds fall into this category (Queen Elizabeth and Liz Taylor both have Type IIa diamonds in their collections).

It’s still an expensive feat – a machine to ‘grow’ a diamond comes in at $500,000 USD, and the endeavour still requires the help of chemists, physicists and other highly-paid professionals. Despite the costs, the lab-grown diamond industry is growing. The number of synthetic manufacturers has tripled since 2012 in the US alone, and labs are already being established in India and China.

While the industry is still only one per cent of all diamonds sold, the potential for growth is huge. Synthetic diamonds can be up to 40 per cent cheaper than the real thing, making them more appealing to the more frugal side of the market.

The industry is still finding its way in Australia, but many jewellery brands offer synthetics as a cheaper alternative. Other companies, aware of the increasing consumer desire for an ethical product, offer recycled stones or cubic zirconia and moissanite, which are both lab-grown diamond alternatives.

Synthetics also have none of the ethical conundrums associated with precious stones. The African diamond trade has its issues, as does the Columbian emerald trade and the Madagascar sapphire trade. It’s an unfortunate reality that diamond mining has been used to fund conflicts in the past; Sierra Leone, Angola and the Ivory Coast have all been associated with conflict diamonds, although Australian jewellers have extremely rigorous certification processes to prevent these stones from entering the country.

If anything, the only problem with synthetics is that they can’t be told apart from the real thing. Fear is rife in the jewellery industry that lab-grown diamonds could be integrated into the market and sold off as mined ones. A noticeable case happened in 2014 where an Australian jeweller, who had ordered a shipment of yellow diamonds, detected lab-grown diamonds in a parcel, mixed in with mined diamonds.

To counter this, some laboratories inscribe their man-made diamonds with serial numbers, but industry graders in Australia and New Zealand have already found instances of lab-grown diamonds passed off and sold as mined diamonds, often mixed with the real thing. This practice is known as peppering.

Lab diamonds are still being treated with caution by the jewellery industry – many fear that synthetics could flood the market and completely devalue the diamond industry – but it’s highly possible that the jewellery of the future could be made in a laboratory, rather than the earth’s crust.

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