Helen Molesworth


Available on back-order

When Helen Molesworth joined the gem and jewellery industry she began her own love affair with one of humanity’s oldest and richest fascinations. For as long as people have known about gemstones they have treasured them. Born of violent geological events and the chance meetings of minerals, their stories are an extraordinary journey through time, and are significant to the human narrative in as many ways as they boast sparkling facets. Selecting ten of nature’s most dazzling jewels, Helen Molesworth makes journeys across the world to trace stones from their discovery to the moment a glimmering cut and polished masterpiece is traded, and then fought over, adorns oligarchs and kings, falls out of favour, and then raises eye-watering sums in another age.

ISBN: 9780857529091 Category:


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.

‘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

Additional information

Weight 0.691 kg
Dimensions 24.2 × 16 × 3 cm










553.8 (edition:23)


General – Trade / Code: K

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