Were wealthy people and royals of medieval time able to distinguish real diamond/pearl/gold from fake? or did they rely on jewelers?

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    This is a "gemology"(?) question, not history.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 6:41
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    How is this different from today? Can people today tell the difference or do they rely on professionals? The second question is not relevant to history; I will delete it and refer you to google.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 20:09
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    @TomAu In what state some science was in the past, IS a historical question. The fact, that some person is not interested in that subject changes nothing on it.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 11:04
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    diamonds were, If I Recall, unknown during medieval times; we didn't have the technology to cut them
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 11:56
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    @Gangnus: "In what state some science was in the past" is a better fit for History of Science. We don't want History to be an "overflow" site for questions that are better suited to other SE sites.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


(Posting this as a speculative answer, since I doubt there are any credible sources out there to answer the highly specific question in your title.)

Until the industrial age you'd tell gemstones apart using the naked eye (and a magnifying glass if you had one). Synthetic gems weren't a thing until recently, but there were mundane crystals like quartz. It's not easy for an untrained eye to tell cardinal gems apart from mundane ones, so it's highly likely that you'd involve a jeweler of some kind to make sure. (This page has an unsourced story of a buyer acquiring sapphire for the price of quartz. I'd surmise it's an urban legend, but it's nonetheless a concrete example of where confusions might arise.)

As to precious metals, they were used as coinage because they were relatively corrosion resistant and easy to work, so it's sensible to speculate that someone accustomed with using them day in day out might be able to tell e.g. a brass coin apart from a gold coin. (Plus, gold is softer.) Anything beyond that would likely have required some kind of expert too.

(That said, I'm extremely suspicious that you'd encounter many coins made of non-precious metal that masqueraded as gold or silver in the medieval ages. A more sensible problem would have been clipping bits of metal off of genuine coins as described here. They used small balances like this one to detect them.)

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    Coins might be one thing, but more complicated objects another. The backstory of Archimedes and the bathtub was that he was trying to find out if a crown was made out of pure gold or if it had been mixed with lead.
    – andejons
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 8:29
  • thanks Denis, you have been very helpful, can you recommend a book/source, an unbiased one and one we can trust, about life of common people in medieval time
    – Vikram
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 8:34
  • @Vikram - I don't recollect ever reading a book that was specifically on that topic, sorry. But you'll find plenty of crunchy anecdotes in just about any book that covers that timeframe. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 8:44
  • You'd encounter ubiquitous coins made of non-precious metals; most governments debased coinage as a way of inducing inflation.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 11:21
  • @Vikram: haven't read it yet, but Paul Freedman wrote a book on medieval peasants that might be worth checking out. Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 12:33

The legend of Archimedes came to us from the medieval times. And notice, nobody found anything strange, on the contrary, it was natural that a ruler/king asks a specialist to check the item.

I haven't heard or read any mention about some royal family member to obtain a gemology or goldsmithing education. Without that we could only believe in some sacred abilities of the kings.

Counterfeit stones were often found in some historical crowns. Scotland, for example.

What is interesting, the meaning of the word counterfeit was different in the past. If some stone looked as a precious one, it was taken for a precious. For example, in the Czech crown of Charles IV, there are some stones that are not precious by themselves. But they were beautiful and that was enough. In the medieval times they would take artificial rubies for absolutely natural, even if they knew they were made. And any stone that was not a real ruby, but looked as such, and was harder than quartz, would be taken for a ruby, too. They could not tell two stones from each other, so these stones were the same for them. BTW, our science work the same way, only we can distiquish much better.

And only in Renaissance times European kings and aristocracy started to learn. Before that they were interested in theology and war craft at best. In Islam world, on the other hand, the science and art were highly valued. A legend about a king - carpet maker is well known.

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    How were artificial rubies made in medieval times or do you mean, hypothetically, if given a ruby that were told had been made artificially, its appearance and other attributes would have been enough for the buyer?
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 18:40
  • @Jeff Yes, imagine that in 15th Century some "alchemist" makes artificial rubies. They have all attributes of rubies, so, they are rubies. That is all. Maybe, if the production would be too great and could displease some important people, they could declare these stones unholy or bad for health or something else, but that would be a shift of the existant common sense. And it was practical enough.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 6:46
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    @Jeff Artificial rubies were not made in medieval times, but other red stones existed. And when they were beautiful as rubies, they were put in crowns.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 6:48

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