Stone Crazy

Old fantasies die hard. Nevertheless there comes a time to admit that some of our most cherished dreams will always remain just that. That time has arrived for me. Painful as it is, I am ready to admit that only in my fantasies will I ever be a world-famous soft-shoe dancer or pull off history’s most accomplished jewel heist.

My soft-shoe fixation can probably be laid to some long-repressed childhood trauma. However, my interest in jewel thievery seems to be shared by a large segment of the population.

Tokapi and a half-dozen imitations have held audiences with bated breath hoping the thieves will successfully negotiate the hazards involved in copping a priceless gem. And, in fact, the history of many of the famous gems of the world is a trail of theft, intrigue, and murder.

This fascination with precious stones is not necessarily based on any appreciation of the stones themselves. I care nothing for gems in jewelry, and most cut and polished stones strike me as gauche. Yet the fascination is there.

Some strange chemistry seems always to have existed between men and precious minerals. The Romans had a regular science of gems that classified the nature and miraculous properties of these substances. The diamond gave strength in battle. The sapphire protected one against poverty, betrayal, eye diseases, and snake bite. The ruby ensured love and happiness. This “science” even carried over into the sixteenth century.

Today we are liberated from such superstition. Yet when you visit the gem collection of a large museum you will find people talking in the same whisper used in church on communion Sunday. And the history of some of the better-known gems is enough to make you think again about their magical reputations.

The famous ...

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