That so icy a stone should embody the first full month of spring is somewhat ironic, and is in fact a relatively recent phenomenon. The high esteem of diamonds first arose in the Roman period, when Pliny the Elder declared their supremacy over all the substances of the Earth. Yet when early Christian and medieval writers equated precious stones with the divisions of time, they tended to ignore the indomitable adamas in favor of gems with ancient pedigrees in Jewish scripture. Thus when St. Jerome associated gems with the months of the year in his correspondence to St. Fabiola, he sought a scriptural precedent in the ancient priestly breastplate described in Exodus xxviii. 13-30 and xxxix. 8-21. The pairing of the diamond with the month of April in fact must be sought not in antiquity or the Middle Ages, but in eighteenth-century Poland. In that century, the custom of wearing birthstones first enjoyed popularity among Polish aristocrats. Perhaps adopting the fashion from Jewish gem merchants, they rearranged the received schedule of gems to feature the diamond rather than the sapphire as the stone of April. The Polish custom later spread throughout Europe, an advance perhaps facilitated by the marriage of the Polish princess Marie Leszczynsaka to Louis XV of France in 1725.
This book assembles an unparalleled collection of rings dating from the 3rd to the 19th century, presented not chronologically but rather grouped into timeless themes – birth, marriage, everyday life, death and eternity – thereby achieving greater insight about the beliefs, sentiments, status, and practices of their former owners.