Also called a Jewelled, Crystal or Glass Cross, Marquise Cross, or with 13 gem stones, a Crux Gemmata
Two rough timbers nailed together make a cross. But it doesn't have to be wood; other material can be used. Stone, metal, resin, papier-mâché, straw, rope work, ice sculpture, laser light beams, virtual ... the list is as extensive as man's imagination. Little wonder that the list includes diamond decoration. The diamonds may be large or small, many or few, and may include other gems such as a ruby centred at the junction of the cross arms.
Writing this page was stimulated by the question: Why? Why do we see many jewelry crosses encrusted with sparkling diamonds? There are many 'why not' reasons, not least the appalling nature of the diamond trade. But on this page we will attempt to show some possible Christian connections between the diamond and the cross.
It has been said that the greatest jewelry in the world is one's own nobility, but even so, both men and women like other sparkly things. In jewelry artwork, the cross is a good background for a cluster of diamonds, rubies or gem-substitutes such as glass crystals which don't cost so much. (Glass, being clear and transparent, is a symbol of purity.) Much easier for the jeweller to attach diamonds to the flat arm of a cross than to the convex rim of a ring. And many of these art workers happen to be Jews.
Jews in Eastern Europe
After the Babylonians exiled the Jews from Judea in 586 BC, the Jewish race lived a migratory life. Not only were they stateless but they were unable to own land and attend university. Jews lived with danger, uncertainty and impermanence. Thus they entered trades that were portable, such as watchmakers, carpenters, goldsmiths, shoemakers, dressmakers, butchers, bakers, etc. And those who were jewellers could carry their precious metals and gems with them as currency or to pick up their trade elsewhere. Their stones were also a means to pass their savings down from one generation to the next.
Being familiar with these materials, plus their success at being merchants, resulted in many Jewish people being very proficient jewelry art workers and dealers. Diamonds in particular have been popular stones for Jewish merchants and have been incorporated into Jewish religious icons for many years. Christians copied this style from the Jews and we see gemstones in many old Christian icons.
Around 250 AD gems were engraved with Christian symbols, most notably the fish.
Message for Christians
Hebrew words for diamond are shamiyr (shaw-meer') and yahalom (yah-hal-ome'):
- Shamiyr means thorns, sharply adamant, or a sharp stone or flint such as a diamond. Shamiyr is mentioned several times in the Bible as a hard, sharp thorn1 and as being hard-set or adamant2. A related word is shamar which means 'to guard' or 'to protect', as sheep might be protected from wolves by a corral of thorn hedging.
- Yahalom is the current name of an elite special operations unit in the Israeli army, a bit like America's Delta Force which was modelled on the Britain's SAS. But since Sayeret Yahalom's activities are hush-hush, we'll just talk about the older Hebrew yahalom, which means a hard precious stone, perhaps jasper, onyx, or the hardest, a diamond. Yahalom is mentioned several times in the Bible as a gemstone3.
A primitive root of the word yahalom, is halam. This means to strike down, stamp, conquer, overcome. Jesus was 'struck down' but conquered the grave, overcoming death and the evil of the world. Through Christ, believers may overcome the same evil.
A Jewelled Cross of gem stones (not necessarily diamonds) is known as a Crux Gemmata. Sometimes there are five stones, representing the five wounds suffered by Jesus on the cross, and sometimes 13 stones, representing Christ and the twelve Apostles. These crosses have the alternative names of Marquise Cross or Navette Cross. A gem cut to a low pointed oval shape is called a marquise cut or navette cut, and usually the oval has 56 or 58 facets. 'Marquise' comes from the story of Louis XV, who commissioned a craftsman to cut a diamond. This diamond was to resemble the mouth of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. 'Navette' is French for 'small boat', since the shape is similar to the hull of a boat. A very small boat.
In contrast to the simple, rough, wooden cross used to crucify Jesus, the sparkling jewels remind us of his Resurrection. For some Christians, a crucifix with an image of Jesus is only telling half the story; the Resurrection being as significant as his suffering and death. (See also the Meaning of the Cross.)
So gems have a very real Christian message. Wearing diamonds arranged as a cross is perhaps usually because the wearer likes the glitter. Yet it can also be a useful talking point for Christians.
However, they must be ready with suitable answers if asked whether it was a good idea to spend so much money on jewelry, directly inflating further the wallets of the hyper-wealthy and powerful gem industrialists.
And what is the answer when they ask why the wearer's divine leader, Christ, did not wear gemstones. Indeed, showing humility, He wore a crown of thorns.