Somewhere below the Caucasus Mountains, at the intersection of Europe and Asia, lies a tiny country with vivid natural wonders. Armenia is an ample source of gemstones and one of them in particular – agate – is continually used by artisans in the country to impress both locals and tourists.
One can wander around Vernissage, a vast open-air flea market in the capital city Yerevan and be in complete awe. Along with authentic pieces of artistry such as paintings, sculptures and vases, to name just a few, handcrafted agate jewellery designed by local craftspeople are lavishly displayed from one table to the next. The gemstones are meticulously cut and married to silver, titanium, copper or even bronze.
For thousands of years, agate was used by Armenians to build temples and embellish the royal garments of kings and queens. Today, agate is one of the most exploited types of rock in Armenia. Those coming from Mount Aragats, a dormant stratovolcano, have a vibrant allure in their rawest form. Some believe that agate has spiritual properties, helping to boost intelligence and sentimentality.
The agate from the mountains is believed by Armenians to have divine powers. The most important characteristics are its natural colour variations and asymmetric patterns. Possible pigments for this gemstone include mustard, burgundy, cool saffron, pearlescent aqua, turquoise, black, white, deep berry and magenta.
Multiple colours often swirl together within a single cut of the gem, and when examined closely seem to recreate tiny landscapes. One gemstone might mimic an autumnal Austrian forest, while another may resemble Saharan sand dunes with undulating waves of colour.
When it comes to cuts, smooth cabochons can be a true collector’s item, even unset, while briolette and oval cuts can be ideal when making earrings and pendants. Metal choices to match with Armenian agate tend to vary, depending on the colour of the stone and jeweller’s preference, but can include silver, titanium or copper.
Finding Armenian agate at a jewellery store outside Armenia can be tough, though makers on Etsy, including SjostrandStudio, have some gems to offer, as do galleries such as Arts Crossroad in Switzerland and artisan jewellers such as Minter + Richter in Boston in the US.
For a truly authentic experience, however, the best place to buy Armenian agate is back at the Vernissage flea market in Yerevan, where you will find it in abundance. It is a trip for the intrepid, but most definitely one to add to the travel bucket-list for serious rock hounds.
Multiple colours often swirl together within a single cut of the gem, and when examined closely seem to recreate tiny landscapes