The History and Mystery of Gems Across Time


Discover a dazzling deep-dive into the history of the world through a totally new lens, as told by the V&A’s Senior Jewellery Curator. Includes 16 pages of colour photography showcasing some of the world's most spectacular jewellery.

'A magnificent compendium of everything one could ever want to know about jewels: their symbolism, physical construction, worth and history.' Spectator

'Engaging and illuminating, Precious is a masterclass in the history of gems. It’s also great fun to read - one of those books where the learning is effortless' - Francesca Cartier Brickell, author of The Cartiers

'This is - fittingly - a gem of a book. Rich descriptions, fascinating histories and, at times, just pure, dazzling bling. A joy to read.' - Tracy Borman, author of Elizabeth’s Women, Thomas Cromwell and The Private Lives of the Tudors'


Travelling through moments in history and layers of soil and sediment, this is world history as you have never seen it before.

This is the story of precious gems, from emeralds and rubies, to sapphires and pearls. Explore their history and geology, as well as their famous owners, from Elizabeth 1 to Elizabeth Taylor, Marie Antoinette to Marilyn Monroe, Coco Chanel to Beyonce.

Discover the fragile emerald watch that survived cross-continental journeys and centuries under the floorboards of a London house.

Journey back through the generations of women who wore pearls as a signifier of femininity and marvel at the role these glistening objects have played in changing depictions of feminism.

Learn of the Burmese warriors who believed so strongly in the connection between rubies and lifeblood that they embedded them into their skin before battle to protect them from harm.

In this sumptuous and sweeping history of humanity's love affair with jewels, the V&A’s Senior Jewellery Curator, Helen Molesworth, takes you behind the curtain of museums and auction houses, showcasing some of history's most incredible and iconic jewels and the deeply human stories that lie behind them.


Beautifully written and superbly interesting, Helen Molesworth tells a compelling, global story of gems - their unending allure and continuing impact on human history. - Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, author of The Radical Potter

'Reading Precious is like opening history's treasure chest, to discover a trove of fascinating information.' - Jane Robinson, author of Trailblazer, Hearts and Minds, and Bluestockings


  • A magnificent compendium of everything one could ever want to know about jewels: their symbolism, physical construction, worth and history.
    Anne de Courcy, Spectator

About the author

Helen Molesworth

Helen's career has spanned the global gem and jewellery industry, from roles with leading auction and jewellery houses to academic posts. For ten years she was a jewellery specialist for Sotheby's and Christie's in London and Geneva, where she handled sales of global importance including the private jewellery collection of HRH The Princess Margaret in 2006. As a gemmologist and jewellery historian, she has since held roles as Professeur d'Histoire du Bijou at the Geneva University of Art and Design, Managing Director at the House of Gübelin, and most recently as the Senior Jewellery Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Precious is her first book for general readers.
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