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Sometimes jewelry can be viewed as extravagance, as a monetary investment, or as simple vanity. It’s no shame to like something simply because it is pretty or unusual. A great many things derive their value from these two assets.
But what if there was something that encompassed a deeper, stranger, and more intellectual impulse? What beauty could perfectly encompass the cool precision of math and turn it into a gorgeous, wearable piece of art? What could make math into art itself?
Fossil Ammonite focal beads, showing organic growth and the Fibonacci Sequence.
Ammonites were sea creatures, visually similar to the modern nautilus, that lived over 400 million years ago. Though extinct, their closest descendants live on as squid, cuttlefish, and octopi. Over the course of time, the harder spiral shells survived long enough to fossilize into fascinating pieces of history.
Quartz and iron pyrite infused their shells, making them into rock-hard versions of their original forms. Sometimes these pieces retain their original dappled patterns, sometimes they change to white or black. What makes an ammonite really striking, however, is the creamy nacreous finish on the inside. This soft glow highlights the delicate chambered interior and transforms an interesting jewelry piece into something truly remarkable.
The growth pattern of ammonites is particularly intriguing. It follows a strict numerical pattern known as a Fibonacci Sequence. This series of numbers describes how spirals form in natural patterns and can be found in an astonishing number of life forms. Nautilus shells, pine cones, and tree branch patterns all follow a Fibonacci sequence.
Simply put, a Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers where each one is the sum of the two before it. So:
This Fibonacci Sequence is 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. It continues onward and upward, following a circular spiral path that can be seen everywhere from tiny seashells to the movement of the galaxy. They can be seen in combination, radiating in opposite directions in the arrangement of the center of flowers. For an ordinary person, these numbers are fascinating and usually graceful-looking. To an intellectual, they reflect the unfolding pattern of existence all around us.
A spiral described in Fibonacci numbers.
Fibonacci (also known as Leonardo of Pisa) was an Italian mathematician who introduced the idea of this progressive set of numbers to Western mathematics. Though his Liber Abaci describing this was published in 1202 AD, the concept was based on much older mathematical studies. Though his original work is lost, the idea is attributed to the Indian mathematician Virahanka, who lived somewhere between 500 and 700 AD.
A Fibonacci Series, showing mathematically precise growth.
The Middle Ages were a peculiar time, knowledge-wise. Though much of the learning of previous centuries was painstakingly preserved, the greater portion of it was not shared with the public at large. It was an age of endurance and superstition, and ammonites gained unusual attributes because of that.
With the spread of Christianity thought western Europe, a brisk trade emerged in the business of holy relics. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a little piece of the mystical to call their own and reinforce their faith.
According to Christianity, Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Ammonites were one of the proofs held up for this miracle, being seen as petrified coiled snakes caught in the brunt of the expulsion. To encourage the impression, snake heads were sometimes carved at the opening side of the ammonite. These “snakestones” were attributed with mystical powers, like that of oracular divination and mystical healing because of their divine connection.
As you can see, there is more to an ammonite than a simple piece of jewelry. It is art and decoration, to be sure. But it also encompasses scientific ideals. Mathematics, biology, history, and paleontology all combine into a single, elegant statement.
A luminous ammonite piece speaks of not just physical beauty, but also of a gorgeous mind. They make a statement about the complex nature of a person while still being a graceful, unusual, and treasured accent.