Robertson: Precious Stone & Gems of Scotland (1814)

Last Updated: 30th Sep 2012

Precious Stones And Gems of Scotland

By Mr. George Robertson (1814)

Agate — These, under the various names of onyx, sardonyx and pebble, are to be met with in every part of the country where basaltic rocks are found. The agate is never found in granite. Besides being found thickly strewed in the rock itself, they are to be met with in almost every brook in the vicinity of basaltic rocks, from which, in the course of time, they have been washed by the rains. The Scots Pebbles are of many beautiful hues; blue and white; red and white; and frequently to be met with of all these colours, blended together in veins, and in every gradation of shade.

Amethyst — of considerable intensity of hue, hare been found at Ely in Fife, and have been long esteemed as rubies. Amethyst also frequently occurs in the internal surface of hollow agate balls, or geodes, which are lined in beautiful crystals.

Aquamarine — is found in Scotland, particularly in the Isle of Arran, where a specimen was found, one inch in length, and one-third of an inch in breadth.

The precious beryl — is a very rare mineral in Scotland. Small specimens, exactly similar to those of Siberia, have been found in the Mountains of Mar, Aberdeenshire.

The garnet — Some fine garnets have been found in different places, as in the parish of Cairny in Strathbogie, the isle of Unst in Shetland, and in the parish of Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire. The precious garnet of Werner also occurs as a constituent part in much of the mica slates of Aberdeen and Ross shires.

Jasper — Although this species of stone is so abundant, as to have been already included among the building stones, yet there are many delicate specimens of it to be met with, particularly in Ayrshire, which, from the fineness of the texture, and elegant variety in the colour, are exalted into the class of gems, and cut into seals, ear-rings, snuff-boxes, and other ornaments.

The rock crystal — is commonly denominated Cairngorm, from the mountains of that name in Banffshire. But rock crystal is found in every mountain in the primary districts of Scotland, and in peculiar abundance, on the mountains of Aberdeen and Banff shires. The colours of these crystals are, yellow of different shades, and clove brown, approaching to black. The deeper yellow specimens sell high; and are commonly, but improperly, termed by the jewellers topazes. The clove-brown colours, more peculiarly termed cairngorms, are also valued in jewellery ; and the dealers are said to possess the art of making these dark colours assume lighter shades, by exposing them to a considerable heat, very gradually raised.

The topaz — is the most brilliant of the gems hitherto found in Scotland, where it occurs in abundance, and of a size not as yet observed in any other country, not even in Siberia, Saxony, or Brazil. It is found plentifully only on the highest ground of Scotland, viz. in the mountains of Mar, and in the extensive range which stretches towards Perth, Inverness, and Banff-shires. It occurs chiefly in rolled pieces, sometimes in its gangue, which is granite; the form of it, regular crystals, in an eight-sided prism, deeply bevelled at the extremity. Its most common colour is a very light green, or greenish white, and hence the name given to it, an aquamarine. This colour is accompanied with a slight opalescence. Another colour of it is, a very light blue, and in that case it receives the name of sapphire. These are the only colours of the Scottish gem, which is never reddish yellow, or wine yellow, like the topazes of Brazil and Saxony. The largest topaz yet known, was found on the estate of Invercauld in Aberdeenshire, and is in the possession of Mrs Farquharson. It weighs 15½ ounces troy; and the same lady has several others, which are nearly of an equal size. But the largest topaz found on the continent of Europe, weighs little more than 4 ounces.

The true distinction between the rock crystal and the real topaz, was not understood till lately. They still are often confounded, from the mistakes or avarice of those who sell them. The following marks will distinguish them on the slightest inspection. The true topaz of Scotland, (the principal gem of the country), besides its peculiar form of crystal, mentioned above, has a specific gravity of 3.6, a foliated structure, and a greenish white, or a light blue colour. The rock crystal or cairngorum, whether colourless, light brown, dark brown, black or violet, (in the last case called amethyst)., has crystals that are six-sided prisms, terminated by six-sided pyramids. The sides of the prisms striated, those of the pyramid smooth. The specific gravity, far less than that of the topaz, is only 2.6; a difference discernible, by only poising the stones in the hand.

The chemical composition of die rock crystal is pure silex; that of the heavier topaz, 70 per cent, of pure clay, with 30 of silex.
Within these few years, many acres of alluvial soil, have been dug up or trenched, on Cairngorum, Benavon, Benaboard, Benimean, Lochnagar, and other mountains of Mar, in search of topazes and rock crystal; the demand for them having become considerable, both in London and in Edinburgh. They are found indiscriminately in the same soil; but the topazes in far greater proportion than the brown or yellow rock crystal. The latter, however, occur sometimes of an enormous size; and Mr Farquharson of Invercauld has one of a nut brown colour, which is as large as a child of a year old.

A very large one, but somewhat of a dusky hue, was found lately. It weighed 308 ounces, and a lapidary in Edinburgh gave £100 for it. He has converted it into a number of beautiful articles, among which are some snuff-boxes. It is said, that he has already sold to the amount of £350, and that the half of it is yet on his hands. There are even some larger stones than this, and others of more value, though not so large. One was said to have been sold for £1200.* [Note: Two very fine topazes were carried to a London jeweller by Mr John Jeans, an excellent mineralogist of Aberdeen. The jeweller said that he had never seen any finer oriental topazes, and asked from “what part of the East they had come.” Sir Jeans replied, “from the mountains of Alar in Aberdeenshire” The jeweller started back, and said, “Sir, I cannot purchase them at any price.” The philosopher took his leave, saving, “And I will not, for anv price, tell a lie in Natural History.”]

Pearls — Scotland seems to have been more famed for this elegant gem formerly than it is now. The great celebrity the Scottish pearls acquired in the London market, and the high price which was the consequence of it, has occasioned the best stations of the fishery to be nearly exhausted by the avarice of the undertakers. The pearl is always found in the Mytilus anatinus, but takes a considerable time to come to maturity; and by destroying too many pearl mussels, in order to get all the jewels, it must be a distant period indeed, before they are found in great quantity. This has been especially the case with the pearl fishery on the river Tay, which was so productive, as to produce £10,000 between the years 1761 and 1764; but, soon after, dwindled down to very little, and has been in an unprosperous state ever since. Pearls from the Tay, sold then at from 10s. to £1 10s. per ounce, and one was found that weighed 30 grains. Next to the Tay, the Ythan, an Aberdeenshire river, has been the most celebrated for pearls. Some of the pearls in the Scottish crown, are said to have been obtained from this river; there are still a few to be had in it, which are esteemed very good.* [Note: About sixty years ago, Mr Tower, a merchant in Aberdeen, carried a parcel of the Ythan pearls to London, and not being aware of their value, asked £100 for them, meaning Scots money. The London jeweller offered him at first £80 and ultimately agreed to give him the £100 that he asked, and paid him in Sterling. The shrewd Aberdonian saw the mistake, but pocketed the money, which was twelve times as much as he expected, and from that time forward knew how to appreciate pearls.]

Pearls are found in the Dee in Galloway; in the Clyde, in the Teath, in the Devon, in the South Esk of Angus, in the Dee of Aberdeenshire, and in the Cluny water, one of its tributary streams. They are also to be met with at the head of Loch Tay, where the fishermen pick up a little money for them, from the casual resort of travellers to that romantically rural part of the country.

Board of Agriculture (1814)
Appendix to the General report of the agricultural state: and political circumstances, of Scotland (Vol 1)
By Board of Agriculture(Great Britain), John Sinclair Published by A. Constable & Co., 1814
pp. 157-159

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