You might have heard in the news that a Hong Kong businessman purchased a rare diamond for $48 million dollars from Sotheby’s yesterday. You might have also picked up on the fact that he renamed the gem after his daughter ‘Blue Moon of Josephine.’ The naming of jewels is certainly not a modern phenomenon. Indeed it was a popular thing to do in the Renaissance when jewels were given names from David to ‘Il Spigo’ (Lavender) to ‘Semperviva.’ These names could reflect the qualities of the stones (in the case of lavender) but could also point to the magical properties that these particular gems were believed to possess (from promoting a male heir to detecting poison). Jewels and gems, of course were clear social and economic signifiers, just as they are today, and frequently in the Renaissance, they were used as liquid capital. For more on the function of jewels in the Renaissance, you might like to listen to the talk related to this over on the Open Arts Archive, delivered at Cambridge in 2014.
What fascinates me is the continued tradition of naming jewels, which individualises them and allows them to be traced in history from the Kohinoor to the Hope Diamond. Their value is certainly attached to the rarity of the gem, but the naming of jewels and the tales that are told about them surely contribute to their economic as well as symbolic value. As the Blue Moon of Josephine was only found in South Africa last year, it will be interesting to see what histories are written and what tales are told about this diamond.