Gemstones and Cultures – India

In India, the trade and wearing of gemstones as jewelry have been part of the culture for thousands of years and are inseparable from it. The history of gemstone trading and jewelry making goes back more than five millennia. For 2,000 years, India was considered the only gemstone supplier in the world. Nowhere in the world is the fascination for gemstones and their fortune-bringing properties more pronounced than here.

Known since time immemorial as the “gift of the gods,” they not only adorn deities in temples and the jewels of dancers. Gemstones occupy a firm place in Indian everyday life. Find out here what customs there are in connection with gemstones in India, how their meaning has changed over time and which Indian gemstones caused a stir worldwide.

Indian gemstones – insignia of power

Firmly anchored in Indian everyday life, gemstones already appear in the paintings in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, which were made between the second and sixth centuries and show the most diverse jewelry. According to ancient Sanskrit sources, gemstones also have a healing effect. In the most famous Indian heroic epic, the Mahabharata, gods know the immortality potion Amrita. According to legend, this consists of pure water, herbal juice, liquid gold and dissolved gemstones.

Jewelry decorated with precious stones was not only worn for the pleasure of adornment, but often revealed something about the social status of the wearer. Mughal emperors and later Indian princes developed a special passion for collecting gemstones. These used gemstones not only to decorate utilitarian objects, but also used them for inlay work on buildings. For example, the Muslim Mughal Shah Jahan had the world-famous Taj Mahal built for his great love Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. In the mausoleum, built of white, black and yellow marble, he had 28 different types of precious stones inserted, including jasper, carnelians, agate, crystal, lapis lazuli, sapphires, coral, garnets, diamonds, onys, blood jasper and many others.

Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal

Gemstones and customs


Numerous Indian customs revolve around the theme of gemstones. One with the most beautiful seeming history is the Navaratna. Navaratna in Sanskrit means something like “nine jewels”. According to Indian astrology, the nine gems are the earthly representation of the planets and lunar nodes and are assigned as follows:

Ruby / Sun
– Pearl / Moon
– Red Carnelian / Mars
Garnet / Northern lunar node (Rahu)
Blue Sapphire / Saturn
– Cat’s Eye / Southern lunar node (Ketu)
Yellow Sapphire / Jupiter
– Emerald / Mercury
– Diamond / Venus

With the Navaratna, any piece of jewelry can be used as a supporting piece: No matter if ring, bracelet or earrings. The only important thing is that the nine gemstones are present. These give the piece of jewelry its powers, so that it can drive away evil as a talisman.

Indian gemstones worldwide

The Star of India

The Star of India, with a carat weight of 536 ct, is the largest sapphire ever cut in the world. What is striking about this star is that the asterism can be seen from the top as well as the bottom. This sapphire was found about 300 years ago on Sri Lanka and was then transferred to the “American Museum of Natural History” in New York by the financier John Pierpont Morgan in 1901.

The Jewel Heist of the Century

On October 29, 1964, the Star of India, along with other precious stones, was spectacularly stolen from the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. During normal museum operations, the thieves opened a window in the restrooms through which they entered at night. Once inside the museum, the thieves then allegedly roped themselves into the exhibition hall of the Star of India. This was also the only stone secured by an alarm. However, the alarm was not working on that day, which allowed the thieves to steal not only the Star of India but also 22 other gems at their leisure. Among others, the DeLong Star Ruby, the Midnight Star and the Eagle Diamond were stolen by the thieves. However, two days after the crime, the police were able to convict the thieves. Most of the stolen gems resurfaced two months later in a locker in a Miami bus station. The Eagle diamond, however, remained missing until today.

Star of India (© Daniel Torres)
Koh-i-Noor in the Queen Mary's Crown


The Koh-i-Noor is considered to be the diamond whose existence can be traced back the farthest. According to a myth that is more than 500 years old, the Hindu gods were already quarreling over this gemstone. First mentioned in 1304, the stone became the eye of the peacock of the world-famous Peacock Throne in Delhi. Over the centuries, the stone changed hands quite a few times. In 1850, the stone finally came to Great Britain, where the British Queen Victoria had it recut. The former 185-carat diamond was thereby brought to its present size of 108.93 carats. In 1937, the Koh-i-Noor was adopted into the crown of Queen Elizabeth, who later became the Queen Mother. Since then, the oldest diamond in the world has been on display in the treasury of the British Crown.

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Dr. Thomas Schröck
The Author:

Dr. Thomas Schröck

The founder and managing partner of THE NATURAL GEM has been active in international gemstone trading for 30 years. As a doctor of economics and a certified gemmologist in Switzerland, Germany and the USA, among other countries, he is one of Europe’s leading experts on naturally-coloured, untreated gemstones and investments in them.


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