The History and Mystery of Gems Across Time

About the Book

A renowned jewelry expert recounts her career working with nature’s most extraordinary treasures—gemstones—and traces these rare jewels from ancient Egyptian records through the high-stakes auctions of today.

Helen Molesworth has been captivated by precious stones since early childhood but she struggled to join the gemstone industry, having no connections to the few family-run companies that have dominated the field for centuries. She persevered, and more than two decades later, Molesworth is now an international authority hired to appraise the extraordinary jewelry of such clients as the British royal family. Precious is packed with inside stories about fabulous jewels associated with generations of celebrities, from Cleopatra (emerald) to Catherine, Princess of Wales (sapphire); from Marilyn Monroe (pearl) to Beyoncé (garnet); from Jackie O (pearl) to Lady Gaga (diamond); and from Marie Antoinette (pearl) to Elizabeth Taylor (pearl, ruby, and emerald)!

As Molesworth tells it, the history of gemstones is the history of humanity. And so she journeys the world, navigating African diamond mines, Colombian emerald mines, and the sapphire-rich rivers of Sri Lanka to study gems at their source. She has selected ten of nature’s most dazzling gems, tracing their discovery to when these cut-and-polished masterpieces first adorned empresses and kings. 

From the stories of a priceless emerald watch hidden under floorboards for centuries to the common quartz fashioned into world-famous royal jewels, and diamonds selling for multi-millions, Precious is not just a chronicle of archeology and geology, high society and high finance, it’s the story of our timeless ambition to make—and wear—something beautiful.
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Praise for Precious

“Engaging and illuminating, Precious is a master class in the history of gems. It’s also great fun to read―one of those books where the learning is effortless as Helen Molesworth invites the reader to join her while she visits glittering palaces, explores muddy sapphire mines, and values some of the most phenomenal jewels on the planet.”—Francesca Cartier Brickell, author of The Cartiers

“This is―fittingly―a gem of a book. Rich descriptions, fascinating histories, and, at times, just pure, dazzling bling. . . . A joy to read.”—Tracy Borman, author of Elizabeth’s Women, Thomas Cromwell, and The Private Lives of the Tudors

“Reading Precious is like opening history’s treasure chest to discover a trove of fascinating information.”—Jane Robinson, author of Trailblazer, Hearts and Minds, and Bluestockings

“Merging knowledge with fascination, Molesworth shows us that the preciousness of gems does not lie solely in their sparkle but in their story.”—Clare Hunter, author of Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle

“Beautifully written and superbly interesting, Helen Molesworth tells a compelling, global story of gems—their unending allure and continuing impact on human history.”—Dr. Tristram Hunt, director, Victoria and Albert Museum

“Those who read Precious are in for a treat; I could not put it down until I had read every page. It is a rich and seamless web of gem history, gemmology, and personal encounters with jewelry including the author’s amazing and fearless journeys to the sources of rare stones and of handling incredible stones prior to sale. This book is destined to remain a classic.”—Reverend Professor Martin Henig, Honorary Research Associate, School of Archaeology, Oxford
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About the Author

Helen Molesworth
Helen Molesworth’s career has spanned the global gem and jewelry industry, from roles with leading auction houses to academia. She was a jewelry specialist for ten years at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London and Geneva, where she handled sales of global importance, including the private collection of HRH The Princess Margaret. As a gemologist and jewelry historian, she has been professeur d’histoire du bijoux in Geneva, managing director of a gem academy in Hong Kong, and most recently senior jewelry curator at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Precious is her first book for general readers. More by Helen Molesworth
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Random House Publishing Group