How seeing the Smithsonian gem collection impacted The Rift

On a vacation to see your brother’s family in Virginia, who wouldn’t stop in D.C. for a bit? And if you stop in D.C., the thing you absolutely must see is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Way more interesting than seeing the White House from behind the fence and waaay across the lawn.

The Smithsonian jewels

I loved the gem collection best of all. I got to see the Hope Diamond:

Geee, I HOPE that this diamond... err... I can't think of a good end to that pun.

And yes, as you can see, it’s basically a little glass box surrounded by people taking pictures. A bit of a letdown.

But the other gems, now those were spectacular:

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Soul Armor gems

Over a year ago, I was outlining characters and their soul armors for The Rift. Each soul armor has an embedded gemstone, something like the heart of the artifact. The color or feeling of the stone in some way matches the artifact. Vero, for example, has a ruby for her fire armor.

When I ran out of gemstones, I realized very quickly how little I knew about them. I could name some of the classics: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethyst, opal… and… uh… pearls, maybe?

 

I googled some rare gem lists, but nothing could compare with seeing some freakin’ huge rocks up close:

20150614_142433I lost myself in a crowded room of similarly-awed tourists. Beauty of any sort has that sort of mesmerizing effect. I never knew jewelry could be so interesting. Like this tiara, given by Napoleon to his second wife:

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Gem names

One takeaway is that there’s a lot of types of gems out there. And SLO teenagers don’t know what they’re all called. In the future, I may have some passages describing soul armor jewels which read something like, “It looked like a light blue gem of some sort.”

Because honestly, that’s what most of us would think. Somebody in Ruach knows what kind of gem it is. A chemist could maybe figure it out. But to SLO teenagers? It’s just a light blue gem.

And really, some soul armor gems don’t even have names, because they don’t exist on earth, just in Ruach. Don’t be surprised if I end up making up gem names by the end of the series. Any suggestions?

  • A bluish-green crystalphony
  • A pink superquartz
  • A vibranium diamond (A little Neil coming out, there).

Gem-making process

The gem-making process also surprised me. I mean, I knew that a diamond didn’t come out of the ground ready to embed in a necklace, but I didn’t realize how it worked. Here’s what I discovered.

A crystal comes out of the ground in a rough form:

20150614_144113After that, a gemcutter will cut, grind, polish, and sand the material to get it into a more gemmy shape. That’s how a diamond gets its cliché “diamond” shape. A gemcutter forms it that way. The gemcutter gives it the facets (or faces). And then you have a gemstone:

crystals2I suspect that some of the more famous gems out there are famous not just because of size and history but because the gemcutter did an excellent job cutting them.

Related to The Rift

Soul armor forging is an important thing happening in the background of The Rift. As hinted at early in the story, the side with the best/most soul armors will likely win the war. It’s something of an arms race between Terian’s and Rolland’s sides.

Duncan the royal smith, invented the original soul armor. More recently, he forged the main characters’ armors. The purity of the metals and gemstones used to make a soul armor affect its power. The main characters have some of the best out there.

The gemcutting process (as of last week) is also an important factor. Cutting the gems is part of the process of enchanting a soul armor—one of the more time-consuming parts. Power is imbued by the smith as they cut the gems. Some of the shaping can be taken care of ahead of time by an assistant gem cutter who doesn’t really enchant it (just shapes it), but the final smith must take a period of intimate work with his gemstones.

As I’ve only released the first book of the series, I won’t spoil much more about the magic system. But the Smithsonian definitely helped me to flush out some details of the soul armor creation process. Indeed, it was fascinating getting a glimpse into the jeweling world.

Google only gets you so far. There is no substitute for seeing something with your own two eyes.

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