Stone of Cows and Queens

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Initially, this stone was used to embellish the cattle. Then it became the symbol and dress code of Buckingham Palace during the most brilliant period in British history, the Victorian era.

Gagate, as the stone is called, is a contemporary of the dinosaurs. By its nature, it is a piece of petrified wood that grew on the planet many millions of years ago. It is considered a kind of coal, but unlike this mineral, it has never been used as a fuel. The stone has found a different use and has become one of the oldest ornamental materials in the world. In Germany, archaeologists have found gagate figures, the age of which is 15 thousand years, which corresponds to the Ice Age. Products in the form of small female images were worn on a lanyard as a talisman. When rubbed, gagate became electric, sparkling, and attracted small particles of down and wool, and this made it be perceived by primitive people as a magical material.

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Every era and culture has ascribed mysterious properties to it. Another reason for this is its thick black color, which has always been associated with otherworldly forces and the afterlife. In Persia and Bukhara, products made of gagate were used to decorate animals, thus trying to protect them from disease and the evil eye. The Curator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, wore a ring with this stone to ward off sinful thoughts. In the Middle Ages, the English believed that a piece of gagate could protect the home from evil spirits. Often, it was burned in ovens to disperse the smoke all around the house and keep evil spirits out. The stone was attached to the newborn, left under the pillow to protect themselves from bad dreams, and taken on the road to protect against danger.

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

A remarkable “gagate fever” broke out in England in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, interest in the stone increased manifold. The reason for this was the tragic events. Queen Victoria, who then had been ruling for twenty-four years, was suddenly widowed. Her husband Albert died of typhoid fever. According to Victoria’s diaries, he was everything to her, and she did not take a single step without his approval, from the choice of dress to advice on running the country. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Victoria was also deprived of her three children. From this point on, the death of her beloved husband and relatives turned the queen into a voluntary recluse and plunged her into forty years of mourning. As a sign of mourning and remembrance, the queen began to wear black gagate jewelry at all times and did not take it off until her death.

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The court quickly picked up the fashion for mourning heirlooms, which served as both jewelry and remembrances. According to the new protocol, ladies could only appear at court wearing gagate jewelry. Numerous workshops for stone processing and salerooms began to open at that time. Jewelers made brooches, bracelets, necklaces, crests, medallions, and earrings from it. 120 years later, Queen Victoria’s famous mourning jewelry is up for auction at Sotheby’s. The lots range in price from £80,000 to £100,000. And some agate pieces from those times are kept in the British Museum as examples of Victorian art.

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

At various times, gagate has been used not only as an ornamental stone but also as a healing stone. In ancient Rome, it was believed that the clouds of smoke from burning gagate cure hysterical seizures, and samples boiled in wine cure toothache. In everyday life, polished gagate was used as mirrors, and its plastic pieces were used to make candles that burned as brightly as oil lamps.

In today’s jewelry market, jewelry made with gagate is quite rare. The main reason for this is its high fragility, low durability, and susceptibility to external factors such as temperature and humidity. Most often, gagate jewelry is either made in silver or as costume jewelry.

гагат
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей