Segments in this Video

Introduction: Gems (01:42)


Gems and precious metals are important to civilization; they reveal geological and societal histories and enable technology.

Forged Beauty (03:54)

Important minerals lay underground and reveal aspects of Earth's geological history. A gemologist at Tiffany's & Co. describes and shows jewelry made at their workshop. Massive force is required to form gem stones; a geologist explains rock layers created by intense pressure and heat.

Nature's Building Blocks (06:28)

Diamonds are created hundreds of miles below Earth's surface; a chemist burns one into carbon dioxide using liquid oxygen and hot flame. Carbon comprises many types of matter; the atomic bonds of graphite and diamonds are compared; heat and pressure are key to how the chemical forms. The chemical is unstable, and wants its electron field filled; there are many combinations that fulfill the role, creating biomass, metals and gems.

Diamond Industry (04:14)

Diamonds embedded in kimberlite are forced to Earth's surface during volcanic eruption; the funnels left behind are environmentally taxing to mine. Ninety percent of American's diamonds go through New York; a dealer negotiates the sale of an expensive stone; a master cutter explains how he finds the cleavage grain of a gem; precise cutting is important to its brilliance.

Science of Light (02:30)

Marcel Tolkowsky used principles of optics and math to create the proportions of the ideal cut, which creates brilliance and fire. A physicist explains how crystals' shapes affects light behavior.

Famed Diamond (03:54)

The Smithsonian Institute houses the largest, finest, blue gem, the Hope Diamond; its value is connected to its origins and history; it was acquired by the London Hope family and gained a cursed reputation after being sold to American Evalyn Walsh McLean. Scientists study it and find traces of boron; the chemical alters the otherwise colorless stone by changing how it absorbs light.

Collection of Color (04:44)

Color is not indicative of stone type. Mike Scott discusses his diverse gem collection, and his journey from Apple CEO to gemologist; he analyses a sapphire, a stone rarer than diamonds, and formed by plate tectonics.

Sapphires (05:42)

Many quality sapphires come from Sri Lanka; a gemologist examines a dangerous pit mine and its illam; he discusses the geological process that deposited the muddy gravel. Gems are sent to the city to be polished and shaped; a cutter explains the consideration given to each stone and his passion for the multigenerational family tradition. Sapphires are a variety of naturally clear and hard Corundum crystals; trace elements form their colors; chromium creates the rare red hue of valuable rubies.

Emeralds (02:24)

Emeralds are rare, and mining them requires patience and explosives; they are formed of fluids resulting from plate tectonic collision. Miners blast a section of earth, and discuss past finds.

Jade (08:12)

Gem values are created by markets, but also tradition; in Beijing, jade is highly prized; a dealer shows jewelry and explains its cultural importance. A specialist in ancient jade explains religious, historical and political customs connected with the stone. Jadeite and Nephrite are both referred to as jade, but chemically differ; traditional carving methods include pedal powered machines and abrasives; the rock is formed of strong crystal fibers, and makes resilient tools.

Opal (03:19)

Most Opal is found in Australia; Black Opal comes from Lightning Ridge. Its value is related to its vibrant and varying colors; tiny spheres of silica scatter light and flash hues. Formation is hypothesized; water dissolved silica, flowed into stone and fossil crevices, then solidified.

Gem Stone Geology (04:52)

Earth is geologically active; plate tectonics create collisions and compressions; stone studies can reveal when those processes began. A geochemist examines inclusions in diamonds; the enclosed minerals are billions of years old. Diamonds and gems are important to geology, art and technology.

Credits: Gems (00:57)

Credits: Gems

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Part of the Series : NOVA: Treasures of the Earth
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Their beauty has captivated us for millennia. Their cost can be extraordinary–some are even considered priceless. Precious gems like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opal, and jade are the ultimate treasures of the earth, and each one is made from a specific–and often torturous–recipe of chemistry, pressure, and heat.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: FPT166790

Copyright date: ©2016

Closed Captioned

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