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The Money Stone: A History of Citrine Jewelry

Posted by Charlotte Moy on

Citrine Jewelry Through the Ages

Embraced by the Greeks and adored by Queen Victoria, citrine is a lesser-known stone with a nevertheless fascinating history. Used for everything from daggers to jewelry, citrine is a rare variant of quartz. [1] But unlike pure quartz, which is colorless and transparent, citrine quartz contains ferric impurities that give it a pale yellow or light brown color. A crystal that contains both citrine and amethyst is called an ametrine. [2]

History

Citrine has been used for thousands of years to decorate jewelry, tools, and perhaps even religious garments. The Book of Exodus describes a “priestly breastplate” or “breastplate of judgement” worn by the High Priest of the Israelites and sometimes used to determine God’s will. The wearer of the breastplate would attach it to their garment using gold chains or cords and blue ribbons. It had to fulfill very specific instructions regarding its material and size and was to contain twelve specific jewels, each representing a specific tribe. Due to difficulties in translation, scholars cannot be completely certain of the twelve jewels. But one of the stones in the second row may have been citrine. [3]

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.

Although it was known several hundred years BCE, citrine was not highly appreciated until the Hellenistic Age in Ancient Greece.[4] Romans also used it, as seen in the engraved citrine of Bonus Eventus (personified success) from the first century CE, held at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Citrine continued to be valued and used for jewelry during the early modern period, but was difficult to find. For example, the pendant of Philip II held at the Cleveland Museum of Art, was made in Europe but probably sourced the citrine from South America. Weapon makers also used citrine during the 17th century to decorate daggers or sometimes even sculpted an entire dagger handle out of citrine.[5]

There are many beautiful examples of citrine use during the 1800s. Queen Victoria had a special fondness for the stone and used it to decorate her and Prince Albert’s summer residence in the mid-nineteenth century. Many were inspired to imitate Victoria’s style, so citrine was used liberally in Scottish shoulder brooches and kilt pins. [6]

But it’s use was not limited to the British Isles: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a gorgeous example of a perfume bottle from Delhi made partially from citrine. The metropolitan museum of art has a stunning, translucent portrait of Luigi Sommariva; the carving is a miniature version of an oil painting by Robert Lefèvre.

Citrine experienced another surge in popularity as part of the Art Deco movement in the 1930s and 1940s. [7] Originating in France, the Art Deco style influenced everything from buildings and furniture to jewelry and clothing, as well as cars, movie theatres and even boring objects like vacuum cleaners. [8] Likewise, designers used citrine to decorate clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other home items. [9]

Symbolism

In ancient Rome, people believed that citrine could protect one against evil thoughts. [10] Other cultures have referred to citrine as the “merchant’s stone” or the “money stone” because they believed it could bring prosperity to individuals. [11] Some people today still associate citrine with spiritual, physical, and emotional healing.[12] Our word citrine comes from the Latin word citrina meaning “yellow.”[13] But other names for the stone have included gold topaz, Madeira, Spanish topaz, and safranite. [14]

Citrine occurs naturally but is difficult to find. Instead, many citrine stones are made by heating treating an amethyst or smoky quartz. Experts may be able to distinguish natural citrine from man-made imitations by looking for small lines in the crystal. [15] Man-made citrine sometimes also takes on an orange or reddish hue. Because they are created using amethyst or smoky quartz, man-made citrine is still a type of quartz, just one that did not develop its hue naturally.[16] Brazil leads the world in citrine production; much citrine comes from Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. [17]

Expand Your Collection

Citrine’s long history means that you may be inspired by a variety of different styles of jewelry that feature yellow quartz. The Museum of Jewelry features pieces inspired by the many ways citrine has been used throughout the past two millennia. We have a particularly strong collection of earrings, but also offer pins, necklaces, and more.

About the Author

Charlotte Moy Charlotte Moy is a freelance writer who holds a PhD in History and several years of teaching experience. She loves finding the weird and wonderful parts of history that grab your attention and excels at researching and creating content on other topics as well. Find out more about her on LinkedIn



Footnotes:

[1] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[2] “Citrine,” Wikipedia.

[3] “Book of Exodus,” Wikipedia.

[4] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[5] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[6] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[7] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[8]"Art Deco," Wikipedia.

[9] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[10] ”Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain," Cleveland Museum of Art.

[11] “Citrine,” Wikipedia.

[12] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[13] “Citrine,” Wikipedia.

[14] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[15] “Citrine,” Wikipedia.

[16] “Citrine Meaning,” The Healing Chest.

[17] “Citrine,” Wikipedia.

[18] Salm, 85.

[19] Salm, 119 and "Dangme Language," Wikipedia.



 

References:

 

"Art Deco." Wikipedia. Accessed November 10, 2020.

"Book of Exodus." Wikipedia. Accessed November 10, 2020.

"Citrine."Wikipedia. Accessed November 10, 2020.

"Citrine Meaning." The Healing Chest. Accessed November 10, 2020.

"Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain." The Cleveland Museum of Art. Accessed November 10, 2020.

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