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The beginning of every gem's tale has to do with both place and geology. Geologically, a gem's story often begins deep in the earth where fierce geological forces turn 'what was' eons ago into 'what is' today. Somewhat reminiscent of the Gary Larson cartoon depicting "then," "now," and "in between a miracle occurs," nearly every gem is the result of violent natural process, largely unseen.

Then there is 'place' -- where on earth a gem is found -- from arctic climes (labradorite, for one) to equatorial (pearls). Many gems are found in more than one place, although often not in large enough quantity or high enough quality to make obtaining them commercially viable. Some countries or areas are so famous for one gem in particular that the country is almost synonymous with the gem -- like, for instance, South Africa and diamonds, or Australia and precious opal. Other famous regions abound in many diverse high quality gem materials -- places like Madagascar, Brazil and Sri Lanka, in particular.

Last, I wish to acknowledge the people who actually mine the materials that eventually end up on wrist, neck or ankle. At the bottom of the supply chain, these miners are often the poorest of the poor -- workers who barely eke out a subsistence living, working under the most miserable of conditions and frequently having to live away from their families for months at a time.

Gem cutters and faceters, often in India and China, also frequently toil in miserable conditions, working long hours for cents a day, using hand-operated tools and working in poor light. Without these groups who never see the ultimate result of their hard work and discoveries or share in the delight of a satisfied end-user, most precious and semi-precious jewelry would still be beyond the means of the average customer. To each of them, "namaste."

Each country associated with a particular gem has a culture -- music, food, history, language and more -- that frames its people as well their experiences. Links in this area offer you an opportunity to participate in a bit of 'armchair travel' while enjoying selected examples of a gem's home culture.