Gem: The Definitive Visual Guide

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A dazzling visual guide to precious and semiprecious stones, organic gems, and precious metals that showcases beautiful, specially commissioned images as well as science, natural history, mythology, and true stories of adventure and discovery.

From diamonds and sapphires to emeralds and obsidian, Gem profiles all the key gemstones and other precious materials. Its stunning images show the jewels in their different cuts, colors, and uses. See the exquisite jewelry pieces of royalty around the world, high-society women, and Native American traditions. Visit the Russian Amber Room, study the details of a Fabergé egg, and find out what characteristics are needed for a record-breaking gem.

The stories, myths, and legends that surround the most celebrated gems and jewel-laden artifacts from around the world are revealed, from their journeys in the company of royalty, film stars, and thieves to the curse of the Hope Diamond. Follow the history of the world's most famous jewelry houses and their designers, including Cartier, Harry Winston, Tiffany & Co., and more.

For additional information about the world's natural treasures, an 80-page reference section at the back of the book highlights a variety of other rocks and minerals, and a color guide directory groups gems according to their main color.

Created in association with the Smithsonian Institution and featuring a foreword by New York Times-bestselling author Aja Raden, Gem combines lavish photographs with expert knowledge, making it perfect for gift-giving.

From the Publisher

What is a Gem?

A gem is generally defined as any mineral that is highly prized for its beauty, durability, and rarity, is used for personal adornment, and has been enhanced in some manner by altering its shape—usually by cutting and polishing.

Michelangelo's David

The sculpture represents the biblical David, Israelite slayer of the Philistine giant Goliath. David is carved from solid marble and stands at over 16ft (5m), weighing more than 5.5 tons (5 tonnes). He holds a sling in one hand and a stone in the other.

Russian Amber Room

The Amber Room remained a prized possession of the Russian state until World War II, when looting German forces dismantled it. The stolen panels were packed into 27 crates and carried off to Königsberg Castle on the Baltic coast. The trail ends there.

Sacred Stones

In both the Old and New Testaments, jewels are used as a metaphor to express how beautiful heaven will be. As a consequence, early medieval churches often used gems in their regalia, to decorate altars,and on the special vessels and vestments used in church services and processions.


In medieval Europe, the fossils were called snakestones or serpentstones and were believed to be petrified snakes, the work of saints such as St. Patrick or St. Hilda of Whitby.


Brazilianite was only discovered and named—for the South American country of its discovery—in 1945, making it a relatively 'new' gemstone. Most brazilianite is chartreuse yellow to pale yellow in color, and it is relatively hard for a phosphate mineral; it is also brittle.

Treasure Chambers of Augustus II

The Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) in the Residenzschloss in Dresden, Germany, is home to the largest collection of treasures in Europe. Founded in 1730 by Augustus II (1670-1733) to hold the royal jewel collection, it contains over 3,000 unique treasures.


Turquoise from Nishapur, Iran (formerly Persia,) is considered by many to be the finest quality and has been mined for centuries. This turquoise, usually referred to as 'Persian', tends to be harder and of a more even color than North American turquoise, and it is always sky blue, never green.

Gems for Anniversaries

Stones have been assigned to planets, days of the week, and, most enduringly in modern times, to anniversaries.

Editorial Reviews


"Feast your eyes on the most beautiful encyclopedia of jewelry you will ever find." — Los Angeles Times

"Gem offers a dazzling take at jewels." — The Star-Ledger

About the Author

DK was founded in London in 1974 and is now the world's leading illustrated reference publisher and part of Penguin Random House, formed on July 1, 2013. DK publishes highly visual, photographic nonfiction for adults and children. DK produces content for consumers in over 87 countries and in 62 languages, with offices in Delhi, London, Melbourne, Munich, New York, and Toronto. DK's aim is to inform, enrich, and entertain readers of all ages, and everything DK publishes, whether print or digital, embodies the unique DK design approach. DK brings unrivalled clarity to a wide range of topics with a unique combination of words and pictures, put together to spectacular effect. We have a reputation for innovation in design for both print and digital products. Our adult range spans travel, including the award-winning DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, history, science, nature, sport, gardening, cookery, and parenting. DK's extensive children's list showcases a fantastic store of information for children, toddlers, and babies. DK covers everything from animals and the human body, to homework help and craft activities, together with an impressive list of licensing titles, including the bestselling LEGO® books. DK acts as the parent company for Alpha Books, publisher of the Idiot's Guides series and Prima Games, video gaming publishers, as well as the award-winning travel publisher, Rough Guides.

Aja Raden is a scientist, jeweler, writer, and historian. She was educated at the University of Chicago in the subject of ancient history. Raden is the author of Gem and Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World. Before embarking on her writing career, Raden was the senior designer for the jewelry company Tacori. You can follow her at @AjaRaden.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: DK (October 4, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1465453563
  • ISBN-13: 978-1465453563
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 1.4 x 12.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 pounds
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