National Stone Centre

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Published 30/06/2022

A View from a Rock Shop - Kryptonite and Diamonds

Stories of Stone A view from a Rock Shop Nsc National Stone Centre article diamond viv vivienne smith


All this talk of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee just recently got me thinking. What about taking a look at things we don’t sell in the shop (bear with me!) – but that customers still ask for.

Platinum is a prime example.

This precious metal is one of the Earth’s rarest elements and worth considerably more than gold. Yet its value has not always been appreciated.

Back in the 1500s, when the Spanish Conquistadores invaded South America, the search for gold was their obsession. But while panning for it in the rivers there, they kept finding an unappealing white metal. Convinced it was worthless, they chucked it back into the water.

If only the Spaniards had asked the locals. They’d been using the metal for decorative items for hundreds of years.

Someone else who knew a thing or two about platinum jewellery was the Duchess of Windsor (the woman that Edward VIII abdicated for in 1936). A whiz on etiquette, she once commented: “Any fool would know that with tweed and other daytime clothes one wears gold; with evening clothes one wears platinum.”

So now you know!

Another item I often get asked for is diamond, especially by our younger customers.

This crystalline form of carbon is the hardest material found in nature. It has been highly prized as a gemstone for thousands of years.
In Roman times, Pliny the Elder was fascinated by such products of nature. He wrote of the gem: “The diamond, that rare pleasure afforded by wealth, is unbreakable by and resistant to all other forces, is destroyed by goat’s blood” !

Even the greatest minds can get it wrong. (Pliny met his death while observing the eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii.)

In fact, the whole idea that diamonds are everlasting comes from a 20th Century advertising campaign. In the 1930s, De Beer Consolidated Mines in South Africa, were producing 90% of the world’s diamonds, mostly for the rich. Desperate to reach a wider market, they devised a cunning plan. By inventing the phrase ‘a diamond is forever’, they convinced the public that a diamond engagement ring was the perfect way to express undying love.

The slogan proved a phenomenal success. Ian Fleming even adapted it as for one of this James Bond novels, Diamonds are Forever.

Yet ironically diamonds are not forever, at least not on Planet Earth, and it’s nothing to do with goat’s blood! All are slowly turning into graphite, a more stable form of carbon. Unlike the hard, transparent gemstone, graphite is soft and black. In fact, it’s the so-called ‘lead’ in your pencil.

But before you hotfoot it back to the jewelers for a refund, panic ye not. It will take billions of years before you see any noticeable change in your precious gem.

So how do you top platinum and diamond?

Well, the other day a man was in the shop with his young son trying to help him choose a stone to buy. Suddenly he piped up: “What about a piece of kryptonite?”

I did a double-take.

Roger and Bridget do a great job finding all kinds of new minerals to sell, but it seemed they had surpassed themselves.

I know there’s already krypton lurking in our shop. For this colourless gas is found naturally in tiny amounts in the air.

Indeed its unusual name is what inspired writer Jenny Siegel and artist Joe Schuster to invent their comic book hero Superman. This planet is also the source of kryptonite, the mysterious mineral which deprives Superman of his powers.

I couldn’t wait to have a look (I must get out more!)

After the lad had settled for a piece of amethyst, of all things, the pair left the shop. I rushed over to see this notorious substance for myself.

What a disappointment! The dad had misread the label – it was actually the mineral kyanite they’d been looking at!

I hope you all had a very Happy Jubilee and great month so far.
Viv Smith