I have a thing for stones. Not surprising, you may think, for a jewellery editor. But this fixation extends far beyond sparkly gems wrapped in fine jewels. I find beauty and solace in flat slivers of slate; smooth white quartz-rich pebbles that catch the light; even rusty-looking sandstone discarded by a torrent of peaty water during a summer storm. My shelves are lined with gleaming rock crystal and assorted minerals. Why? This collection fulfils a primal urge that links me to antiquity and past lives, which I find oddly consoling.
As human obsessions go, stones were among the first – and the most enduring. “For a great many people, a single gemstone alone is enough to provide the highest and most perfect aesthetic experience of the wonders of nature,” wrote the ancient scholar Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia. It would have been just a small step from this to believing these stones possessed a preternatural power.
They are, of course, the result of upheaval in nature – vast geological shifts, volcanic activity, the sinking of continents and erosion of mountains – and that, for me, gives these crystalline survivors a magical aura. Our distant ancestors found comfort in tapping into their mysticism and otherworldliness – and now, with humanity facing a combination of natural and manmade threats, it’s perhaps not surprising that a New Stone Age is propelling us to see stones as a shield for daily life.
“Ancient people built stories and belief systems around stones,” says the artist Damien Hirst, who has collected them since childhood. “For my Treasures show, I added turquoise to my sculpture of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, as she was the protector of the turquoise miners. Turquoise is so beautiful, and it just comes up out of the earth. If you were trying to make sense of that somehow, of course you’d think it was divine.”
Crystals didn’t protect the ancients from snake bites any more than they can safeguard us today – but a slice of a crystal can offer comfort, particularly when we’re anxious and isolated from nature. The belief that they are “silent protectors” echoes down the centuries in a way that is relevant for modern life. The ancient Egyptians believed these specimens staved off ill fortune – and it’s no coincidence that they are finding favour once again at a time of huge upheaval. I keep a labradorite pebble in my handbag, and often when I dive in to grab something, it just gives me a feeling of something extra in my cache of strength. Agate reduces a restless disquiet feeling, so when I want a boost of confidence I wear the moss-agate Belmacz earrings that I’ve owned for about 15 years. Their inner inclusions are like green fern veins branching through trees, and they never fail to bolster my resolve.
After all, collecting crystals and hardstones stands as a tangible reminder of the earth’s own perseverance. A small stone tucked into a pocket offers a sense of home. “I vary them each day,” the actress Kate Hudson told me on a recent visit to London. “When I’m travelling, I have turquoise with me for safety and protection.”
While hardstones and crystals have long been incorporated by names such as Bulgari, Cartier and Piaget into the world’s most alluring jewels, stones are now being stylishly embraced in wardrobes, homes, beauty regimes and beyond. Backstage at Victoria Beckham’s fashion shows there’s a regular ritual involving crystals, while crystal specimens form part of a carefully curated collection for many art lovers – including Lady Gaga, a fan of performance artist Marina Abramovic, whose work explores the influence of crystals on the mind and body. LA-based interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, meanwhile, sources crystals for Kendall Jenner and Khloé Kardashian, dotting them from the nursery to the family room, for decorative as well as spiritual purposes. Others, like author Santa Montefiore, call in a “crystal cleaner”, a sophisticated cross between feng-shui expert and house doctor, to “prescribe” particular stones for improved energy flow.
For others, it’s about tackling the physical impact of modern life on the body. “Our instinct level is intense, but it’s [still] that of a 300-million-year-old reptile, which goes into fight, flight or freeze mode,” explains Harley Street expert in integrated healthcare and Chinese medicine Stefan Chmelik, whose office is dotted with calming rock crystal, amethyst and rose quartz. “This means our brain applies the same life-or-death response to almost anything.” Even too many emails can be perceived by the brain as a physical danger – making resilience, in Chmelik’s view, the single most useful skill of the 21st century. Chmelik has developed a pebble-shaped therapeutic tool for treating his clients called Sensate, which works with vibration and sound on the vagus nerve to control rapid breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure – and is now working on a version that incorporates natural crystals into the design. “The tool works with sound and multilayered frequencies, which are aligned with the frequencies emitted by crystals,” he says.
In my new book, I trace the history of 15 coloured crystals, assigning each of them to a particular ailment or insecurity of the modern age – from self-doubt to restlessness. A metallic gold pyrite, given to me by the jewellery designer Diane Kordas, sits nearby when I write. Its name comes from the Greek pyr, so I use its fiery energy to build up vitality and productivity. I keep an opaque piece of black tourmaline underneath my computer, to dispel the electromagnetic field – and the sense of stress that constant communication can bring. Upstairs, a slice of frosted anhydrite sits by my bedside, reminding me to speak up. And all the while, a turquoise, sapphire and rock-crystal Evil Eye Bee Goddess ring perches on my little finger, to ward off the bad and make me feel safe on the move.
My methods differ little from ancient times. In times of stress, the ancients – from the Egyptians, Mayans, Aztecs and Incas to the Romans – favoured lapis lazuli, which represented the sky; malachite, for the earth; and garnet, symbolic of blood. But the allure of talismanic objects still feels pertinent.
Alighieri founder Rosh Mahtani – whose jewellery encapsulates the idea of “home”, which you carry with you – has been inspired by the book to introduce the stones into a contemporary collection, Stones of Light, featuring pendants, earrings and rings. Redolent of ritual and simplicity, they offer something to hold onto when life becomes too tense.
You can’t predict the future with crystals, nor will they give you immunity from life’s ups and downs – but many are finding that concentrating on a stone, using the age-old practice of mindfulness, does have demonstrable decision-making benefits. In any event, holding a unique fragment of nature vibrating with history from the earth’s depths lends a familiar sense of magic: one that has persisted from the ancients, all the way to us. Think of it as a stepping stone to constructing a brighter outlook – with no rules.
The New Stone Age by Carol Woolton (£23) is published by Ten Speed Press. @carolwoolton
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