The Color Grey

Grey communicates peace, neutrality, sobriety, age and also wisdom. It has long been a fashion favorite, for its subtle beauty and useful neutrality. It was especially prominent in fashion and art during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

grey-gems-graphic-01 Grey Gemstones

Sometimes grey:  Agate*, Hematite, Howlite*, Labradorite*, Moonstone*, Mother of Pearl*, Quartz, Spinel, Star Sapphire

Notes: Smoky Quartz is a blend of grey and brown, which sounds awful but is actually quite lovely. Some grey stones may be found among the darker shades of white gems, or dull hues of blue gems. Pearls may be dyed grey.

* may be variegated

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Athena Glaukopis from “The Obscure Goddess Online Directory”

Athena Glaukopis from “The Obscure Goddess Online Directory”

Wearing grey or having grey eyes is often associated in folklore with supernatural beings such as witches, goblins, gnomes, elves. The Greek goddess Athena was said to have grey owl-eyes. A “Grey Witch” is said to be a witch that neither harms nor benefits but rather seeks to create or restore harmony and balance. This is a great image to keep in mind for the color grey, which is too often portrayed negatively.

grey-wolfLike black, grey is a classy color linked to formality and conservatism (grey flannel suit) as well as any type of dress that is understated and modest, whether formal or informal. Like the color brown, it’s effective for weaving together a “natural look,” since many things in nature are grey, including bark, rocks, the fur of animals, etc.

Grey is useful in architecture, furniture, and is important to visual artists, since the subtle presence of grey within most colors is important in creating harmonies of color. Truly neutral greys are the hues of black pigment mixed with white. Warm greys are created when red, yellow or orange is dominant. When blue and green are more pronounced, cool grey results.

grey-uniformGrey is often associated with melancholy and indifference, and is commonly linked to dullness (grey day, grey mood) and uncertainty (grey area). It was worn by Franciscan monks and other religious orders to symbolize their vows of self-denial and renunciation. Warships are painted “battleship grey” because it makes them less visible from a distance. For the same reason it is often used for military uniforms. Grey clouds signal a storm. Despite it’s distinctive subtle beauty, it’s a color that’s often said to be “colorless.”

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The Color Brown

Like black and white, brown isn’t a color of the light spectrum, and is considered a neutral color. Especially in gemstones, some feel that brown isn’t a color in itself but belongs in the low saturation range of other colors or colored gems. In painting, brown is created by mixing different colors with varying amounts of black and white.
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Brown Gemstones

Usually Brown: Andalusite*, Bronzite*, Sardonyx*, Tiger’s Eye*

Sometimes Brown: Agate, Amber, Aventurine Quartz, Carnelian, Cassiterite, Chrysoberyl, Citrine, Diamond, Hessonite Garnet, Jasper*, Imperial Topaz, Mahogany Obsidian*, Zircon

Brown Pearls are usually freshwater pearls that have been dyed,  though there is a rare saltwater pearl among the dark Tahitians that is naturally brownish, while the ones known as “Chocolate Pearls” are artificially treated to darken the color.

An interesting brown stone used as an amulet is Chiastolite, known also as Star Andalusite or the Cross Stone because of its vivid black cross formation. Smoky Quartz has a color somewhere between brown and grey. Boulder Opal is usually composed of predominantly brown matrix shot through with vivid streaks of opal. Browns predominate in jewelry components classified as “natural”: claws and talons, horn, nut, seed, shell, tusks, wood, and cords such as hemp and leather.

* Typically a variegated gem.
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Examples of topaz that might be considered brown:
yellow, brown, red topaz

Photos by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks

In fashion, the popular “classic” browns tend to have a strong element of yellow and orange. Brown tones are subdued, low-key, and also classic, though less formally so than black. Though considered a fairly conservative and serious color, it has a warm effect from the influence of reds and yellows. The color the general category of “brown” may be russet, ocher, sienna, sepia, umber, tan and beige. It’s also chocolate, coffee, au lait, mocha, and caramel, associated with delicious food and sometimes to describe skin coloration.

1_prairie_dog_eatingThe earthy color of brown is often used in connection with expressing a natural look or in designs inspired by indigenous cultures. It’s a color that is powerfully associated with the natural world. The trunks of trees are brown. So are most animals, to better blend in with their environments, in seemingly infinite shades and hues. Horses alone can be chestnut, bay, roan, sorrel, palomino, buckskin, dun and many variations of “smoky” and “cream.”

In countries with four seasons, brown is linked to autumn with its changing leaf colors. In the US, it’s associated with the Thanksgiving holiday. The most universal and enduring association to the color brown is earth, especially in the sense of plowed land and soil.

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April Birthstone: Diamond

anniversary-diamond-ringThe diamond is the official birthstone for April. It’s a popular gemstone for engagement and marriage rings, and is a traditional gift for the 60th wedding anniversary.

Diamonds are linked with the highest spiritual energies and metaphysical powers. It is the gemstone for the Crown (7th) chakra and is used also for the Third Eye (6th) and Heart (4th) chakras, and has a balancing effect on all of the chakras. Diamond is said to be a very intense, high-frequency stone that can amplify the energies of other high-frequency gems, the body’s energy systems, and even to magnify the state of one’s emotions.

The clear white diamond’s most important and most popular characteristic as a faceted gemstone is its ability to break up (disperse) white light into rainbow colors (fire), and to sparkle with brilliance as it’s moved (scintillation). Many gems resemble it but few can match its luster, especially in combination with its hardness. Most clear natural gems are too soft to be worn as jewelry or do not disperse light very well. The natural zircon is said to be the best of the non-synthetic diamond look-alikes.

Loose-Diamonds_2Among synthetics, the two top imitators of diamond today are moissanite and cubic zirconia. Moissanite has excellent fire but some say that it has a recognizably different kind of sparkle, while CZ are said to show too much fire and little or no scintillation. Of course such modern synthetics have no metaphysical history, and their primary function as imitators significantly dilutes their power to symbolize.

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com

In its rough state, the luster of diamonds has been called waxy or greasy. Its famous sparkling adamantine luster is only revealed after cutting and polishing. This characteristic gave rise to the saying, “a diamond in the rough,” meaning that a person has great potential, or is very special even if they may not seem so in outward appearance. Some believe that the uncut diamond has the most talismanic power and is more suited to metaphysical uses than the faceted stone.

All gemstones are rare. With that qualification, it may be a surprise to learn that diamonds are far more commonly found in nature than emeralds, rubies, sapphires, precious opal, and natural oceanic pearls. And, though diamonds are popularly thought of as being white or clear, they are usually tinted yellow, grey or brown.

Darya-e_Noor, famous diamond of Iran

Darya-e_Noor, famous diamond of Iran

The more that a diamond is free of its typical yellow cast, the higher its grade and price… unless the yellow color is so vivid that the stone is graded as a colored diamond, which is more expensive still. All strongly colored diamonds excepting for brown are far more rare than white diamonds, with red diamonds among the rarest of all gemstones. Of the more numerous brown diamonds, high transparency and a tinge of orange or red significantly elevates the quality of color (and price).

Diamonds are the most transparent of gemstones, as well as the hardest of any substance (not just gemstones) found in nature. They will burn, like all forms of carbon, but this is only possible in 700°F+ heat, and only in the presence of oxygen. Diamonds will break if you hit them hard at just the right angle, because of a quality known as “perfect cleavage,” so the stones must be mounted in their settings in such a way as to protect them.

Diamond_Engagement_RingHowever, if you’re not in the habit of hammering or baking your jewelry, you can safely assume that you pretty much have an indestructible jewel that will retain its edgy brilliance forever. Diamonds are virtually impossible to melt, dissolve or even to scratch. It is for this reason that they continue to be prized as a symbol for permanence and endurance in marriage and other meaningful endeavors.

All natural diamonds are ancient in the extreme. They were formed, over long periods of time, from one to three billions of years ago. That pretty much blows the idea that diamonds are compressed coal, since plant life (where coal comes from) didn’t even exist until about 450 million years ago. Nearly all the diamonds that have been dated were formed at least 100 million years earlier.

Geologists have narrowed down the conditions for diamond formation. It’s now believed that diamonds form in earth’s mantle only beneath continental plates — in the interior where it’s stable (not the edges where all our geological catastrophes happen, such as earthquakes) — and only when the right pressure (at around 90 miles deep) occurs simultaneously with heat at a minimum of 2000°F.

Diamonds only rise to the surface during a rare type of “deep source” volcanic eruption. The crystals are carried up by magma, which act like a conveyor belt, rising up relatively fast, through natural tubes (called “kimberlite pipes”). They easily survive such fiery and violent explosions, and once on the surface they remain unscathed by erosion.

It’s no wonder this gem was named after the Latin term adamas, linked to such meanings as adamant, hard, unyielding, invincible. It was believed that diamonds imbued men with this quality, making them strong, courageous and thereby victorious. This led to the belief that diamonds helped win wars.

Diamonds do have a history of being linked to war and conflict -– not just the “conflict diamonds” in modern-day Africa, but also during Europe’s colonial era, and in ancient India, where they had an even older cultural presence, and where conquering princes claimed famous diamonds as spoils of war. Kings and queens everywhere have historically coveted diamonds. It’s said they placed them on crowns, believing that locating them near the brain gave access to divine sources of power, knowledge, authority, and even clairvoyance.

The Hope Diamond, said to be cursed

The Hope Diamond, said to be cursed

There are fascinating stories of mystery, intrigue, tragedy and even curses involving famous diamonds (true of all gemstones that are extremely rare and valuable). In “Gem Magic,” Cornelia Parkinson points out, “Big diamonds mean international adventure, a king’s or a country’s ransom one can hold cupped in the hand. A large gemstone is so incredible a prize that its very existence arouses covetousness in the heart. The truly magnificent diamonds have all counted their worth in human lives.”

Unfortunately, it’s now known that even small diamonds found by subsistence miners in the alluvial deposits of various African countries (in particular Sierra Leone) often end up financing war. Despite various sanctions and laws against “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” (including a UN resolution), illegal trade continues. However, while the diamond has most notorious reputation, it must be said that other precious gems (such as the Burmese ruby) have likewise funded wars of oppressive regimes. Additionally, all precious gems may be tainted to some degree by unethical mining and labor practices world-wide. Today, there are suppliers and gemstone organizations that do take the trouble to verify, but ultimately it’s up to the consumer to take the trouble to choose ethical sources of gemstones.

The Color Black

Black has long been a popular color in fashion, expressing elegance, sophistication, glamor and even sexiness. It can be classy and formal (black tie occasion), weighty and serious, the color of authority and seniority (karate black belt).
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Black Gemstones

Always Black: Black Tourmaline (Schorl), Jet, Obsidian.

Sometimes Black:  Agate*, Cassiterite, Fluorite, Jasper*, Spinel, Zircon

There aren’t a lot of pure black gemstones. Black diamonds are extremely rare (except for the industrial carbonado diamond), and are usually brown diamonds that are dyed. Black Star Diopside and Black Star Sapphire are not really black but so extremely dark that they are named so, while “black” pearls and opals truly stretch the meaning of what a black gem is. Extremely dark Garnets, Amethysts and other gemstones may also appear black with rich and subtle color tones.

Natural Hematite is a dark metallic grey or silvery black, as is Marcasite. Onyx is often assumed to be a solid black gemstone but it is actually dyed; in nature it is a kind of banded agate. Tourmalinated Quartz, while mostly a transparent “white” gem, is unique because of its needle-like inclusions of Black Tourmaline.

Though not gemstones, Black Lava is sometimes used in jewelry, as well as black natural components like shell and wood.

* Often variegated

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black crystals

Cassiterite crystals

Black is associated with conservatism and well as with anarchy. Monks, graduates and powerful politicians wear black, but so do heavy metal rockers and “Goths.”

black-mourning-jewelryA black object doesn’t reflect or radiate light; instead it absorbs it. It has been argued that black isn’t really a color at all; certainly it is not a color in the spectrum of light. But in practice black is indeed treated as a color, and though considered neutral, this says nothing about its impact, which ranges from bland to extremely dramatic. In jewelry especially, it makes a significant difference whether a shade of black is smooth or textured, matt or shiny, whether it glows or sparkles.

Black seems to express an absence of color, when it actually contains within it all the colors. Perhaps this underlies why black sometimes communicates secrecy and the unknown. Black also signals the absence of light, and humans generally fear the dark; thus the negative aspect of Black communicates death and mourning, menace and dread, hence war. We have black moods, black markets, blackmail, blackballing, black sheep, black magic, Black Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

black-pantherThough black is associated with death, it also implies renewal in the sense that night turns into dawn, and winter ultimately develops into spring. In its most ancient meaning, Black is the color of fertility — of dark, fertile earth, where seeds of new life germinate. It’s the color of ocean depths; of caves and mysteries underground. Ancient fertility/mother goddesses were often (originally) black because of such associations, including Aphrodite, Cybele, Demeter, Diana of Ephesus, Isis, Kali. The Black Madonna continues this tradition in some parts of Europe and southern Americas.

It should be noted that careless terminology using black with negative connotations tends to be outmoded and is offensive to some. (Would it be so hard to find some other way to describe a bad mood without calling it a black one?) In the old days herders disliked dark sheep because their wool couldn’t be dyed. But in our time, naturally dark wool that doesn’t require artificial dyes has become valuable and sought after. Thus it’s now anachronistic and inappropriate to keep using the phrase “black sheep” to mean a person of disreputable and undesirable character.

The Color Blue

Blue is a cool color, but in modern times it has become a metaphor for depression. It’s even the name for mournful jazz music (the Blues) and yet, it’s also linked with optimism (clear skies, bluebird of happiness).

small blue gem on page divider line Blue Gemstones

Always Blue: Aquamarine, Benitoite, Blue Agate, Blue Chalcedony, Turquoise*, Lapis Lazuli**, Sodalite*

Sometimes Blue:  Agates*, Apatite and Cat’s Eye Apatite*, Amazonite,* Aventurine*, Azurite, Diamond, Dumortierite*, Fluorite, Iolite, Kyanite,* Larimar*, Moonstone, Opal*, Sodalite*, Spinel, Sapphire and Star Sapphire, Smithsonite, Spectrolite*, Topaz and Zircon.

Paua, the mother-of-pearl of abalone, often appears to be predominantly blue. Freshwater pearls and a number of stones are dyed or heated to appear blue, or more vividly blue.

Note: dark blue stones sometimes come very close to deep violet.
* May be streaked or variegated
** May have pyrite inclusions

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Blue isn’t a palatable color and thus not recommended for restaurant decor. Brides wear “something blue” for the good luck that it will bring. It’s the color for baby boys, police uniforms — also of denim, which is working class (blue collar) and chic at the same time. This, despite blue’s long association with the upper classes (blue blood, royal blue).

In the US today, blue is linked with Liberals and Democrats (blue states), but historically blue was associated with conservatism and royalty — perhaps because blue is rare in the animal and plant worlds, and whatever is rare is usually more coveted and more costly. In Roman times blue (and purple) were extremely expensive to produce as dyes and pigments.

Blue is the color of the intellect, of reflection, meditation, peace, calm, the truth. Psychologically blue is said to help us communicate, to concentrate, to remain clear and serene. Coolest in the color spectrum, it’s also linked to ice, cold and winter. Artists use its effect of visually receding in perspective, and this property links blue with distance and aloofness.

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Blue brings to mind the spiritual qualities of vast blue skies and seas. Blue is linked to water and thereby to fertility and life; not as a color of force or passion but rather life as seen in the big picture. Its link to sky and water suggests space, immensity, infinity, eternity, endlessness, heaven. Christ and the Virgin Mary wear a blue cloak, and many ancient gods and goddesses from different cultures wear blue or have blue skin.

Zaffiro_tagliatoIndigo blue is the color for the 6th Chakra (Third Eye, intuition, integrity, wisdom) while sky blue belongs to the 5th Chakra (throat, communication, self-expression). In Buddhism blue is the color of a sacred light. In western lore a blue light is associated with ghosts or is called a witch light. As a color of the aura, pale blue is associated with noble idealism, deep clear blue with religiosity, bright blue with loyalty and sincerity, indigo with mysticism and spirituality.

All the hues and shades of blue have spiritual, mystical or magical connotations to some degree. In particular, vivid indigo blue is believed to prevent evil or bad luck in many parts of the world.  The plant dye indigo is itself thought to be magical, imparting its warding power to cloth. A bright blue bead is worn against the evil eye, often depicting an averting eye on the bead. Even blue plastic radiates the protective power of Blue, since the color itself is seen as being highly charged with protective power.

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Four-Leaf Clover

4-leaf clover drawingThe four-leaf clover has long been said to bring good luck. An older tradition says each leaf brings different kinds of luck: the first fame, the next wealth, then love, and the fourth health; a more recent custom says its leaves represent hope, faith, love and luck.

4-leaf clover gold charmIt was said that if you found a four-leaf clover, you’d be able to see fairies — and be protected against enchantment. These beliefs were very popular with medieval children and seem to be derived from ancient druid belief that four-leaf clovers were a protective charm against evil spirits, causing them to become visible to humans, thereby exposing their little tricks and pranks.

Trifolium repens

Trifolium repens

White clover (Trifolium repens), which blooms with white flowers, is believed to be the authentic lucky Irish four-leaf clover. It’s estimated that only one four-leaf clover is found per 10,000 of shamrocks, the typically three-leaved clover. Although the shamrock eventually became associated with the Holy Trinity, it was once banned by Christian authorities, since it had an ancient link with paganism. Some assert that because of this, Christians in old Ireland promoted the idea that four-leaf clovers were luckier than the shamrock, because of its rarity and since four is the number of the cross.

The Color Yellow

One of the colors of fire and sunshine, yellow communicates warmth, optimism and happiness. It colors every season but winter:  daffodils in Spring, the lemons (and lemonade) of Summer, Autumn’s falling leaves.

yellow-gems-graphic-01 Yellow Gemstones

Always yellow:  Citrine, Heliodor (Golden Beryl), Hyacinth (Yellow Zircon), Lemon Jade & Yellow Jade (Serpentines*), Lemon Quartz, Rutilated Quartz*

Sometimes yellow:  Amber, Aventurine, Beryl, Chrysoberyl, Diamond, Fluorite, Jasper*, Sapphire, Sinhalite, Sunstone, Topaz, Tourmaline

Note: See pages on Brown and Orange to find gems in yellowish darker shades.

* May be streaked or variegated.
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yellow daffodil flowerPainting a windowless room yellow dispels the gloom, making it cheerful and bright. Yellow relaxes our nerves and aids the appetite. Chefs are said to cook best in yellow kitchens and worst in blue ones. Many yellow (and orange) herbs and vegetables are natural cathartics, such as senna, castor oil and squash.

Yellow colors the skies of the rising sun, as well as that magical time between sundown and night known by photographers as the “Golden Hour.” Yellow, especially warm yellow, shares some of the symbolism of gold, such as preciousness, excellence and divinity.

Yellow warning signYellow signals “Slow Down.” A shade known as “Chrome Yellow” or “School Bus Yellow” is the most visible, from the greatest distance, of all other colors. It’s commonly used to communicate caution and warning, on signs, equipment, rescue vehicles, etc.

Perhaps it is this instinctual power to inspire caution and fear that originally gave yellow the negative aspect of cowardice (yellow streak). Yellow also signals quarantine, disease; yellow crosses were once painted on houses of plague victims.

Rutilated Quartz. Shows how inclusions aren’t always flaws but may create a unique gem

Rutilated Quartz. Shows how inclusions aren’t always flaws but may create a unique gem

In China, yellow is a royal color, and yet may sometimes signal treachery. In Buddhist culture, saffron yellow is worn by monks, symbolizing that they renounce the material world. Yellow is the color of the 3rd Chakra, governing the solar plexus, and representing vitality, will, personal strength.

Related topics: Brown, Orange