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Jewels: A Secret History

Victoria Finlay

11 Reviews

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Prose: non-fiction, History, Natural history, Travel & holiday

Victoria Finlay's intrepid journeys to discover the secret history of gemstones, from the Baltic Amber Road to the emerald mines of Afghanistan.

Throughout history the desire for jewels has made and destroyed individual, families and even empires. Today, despite our ability to manufacture synthetics, gemstones still hold their appeal. Victoria Finlay investigates why in her extraordinary journey to uncover the hidden world of precious stones.

The starting point is a sapphire given to her by her parents that was harvested, not by a miner as she had imagined but by men in muddy loincloths trawling a warm stream in Sri Lanka. The extraordinary travels in JEWELS: A SECRET HISTORY take her cycling along the Baltic Amber Route, down the emerald mines of Afghanistan.

As we learn from a ruby trader in Burma, the more precious a jewel, the greater the human cost of acquiring it, and JEWELS: A SECRET HISTORY also explores the human histories of gemstones. Along the way we learn from Victoria, a qualified gemologist, how to grade a pearl, what New Age crystal therapy is about, and why one of the rarest sapphires in the world is orange.

Victoria Finlay's unique blending of travelogue and narrative history ensures that this book, the first for the general reader, will be as unforgettable as the stones themselves.

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Praise for Jewels: A Secret History

  • A beautiful book. Reading it is, in fact, very much like dipping into a jewel box and pulling out curious and brilliant things, different each time but always fascinating. - Nadeem Aslam, author of Maps for Lost Lovers, on JEWELS: A SECRET HISTORY

  • Filled with eye-catching incidents and stories ... Finlay's evidence glitters from every page - Lawrence Norfolk, Sunday Telegraph

  • Glorious ... anecdote and information accumulate with marvellous abundance and a passionate sense of the fascination of jewels ... a wonderfully generous gift - John de Falbe, Spectator

  • A fascinating and exhaustive travelogue ... a prism through which the spectrum of history, geography and the sciences is refracted - Anna Swann, Spectator

  • As a first glimpse into the jewel trade, rich, ancient and bloody, it could hardly be bettered - The Tablet

  • A tour de force ... the breadth of research and insight is dazzling - Glasgow Herald

  • A highly companionable guide, adventurous and romantic - Independent on Sunday

  • 'Packed with stories, anecdotes and adventures. A full rainbow ... as vivid as the colours themselves' - - Sunday Express

  • It's pure pleasure to join this gutsy arts reporter-cum-scholar on her quest for historical pigments and dyes around the world - Independent

  • 'A beautiful book. Reading it is, in fact, very much like dipping into a jewel box and pulling out curious and brilliant things, different each time but always fascinating.' - Nadeem Aslam, author of Maps for Lost Lovers, on BURIED TREASURE

  • This is a rare and wonderful book - a model of erudition and charm, the writing elegant and precise, and with at least one new and fascinating revelation on every single page. I could not be more enthusiastic. - Simon Winchester, author of THE PROFESSOR AND THE

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Victoria Finlay

Victoria Finlay studied social anthropology at St Andrews University, specialising in Asian culture. She worked as a journalist in Hong Kong for eleven years, five of which were spent as arts editor for the South China Morning Post.