PRECIOUS (O. Fr. precios, mod. precieux, Lat. pretiosus, of high value or price, pretium) , costly or of high value, particularly used in political economy of those metals which are " valuable enough to be used as a standard of value and abundant enough for coinage" (The Century Dictionary). The term is thus practically confined to gold and silver. platinum in theory may be included as it was used for coinage in Russia in 1828; the fluctuations in the value of the metal caused its discontinuance in 1845 ( see gold, SILVER and MONEY). " Precious stones " include those gems which are valued for ornament and jewelry. " Strictly speaking the only precious stones are the diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald, though the term is often extended to the opal, notwithstanding its lack of hardness, and to the pearl . . . strictly an animal product," G. F. Kunz, Gems and Precious Stones of North America (1890) (see GEM, and LAPIDARY AND GEM-CUTTING). A particular use of " precious " as meaning fastidious, over-refined, is taken from the French precieux, familiar in the appellation of Les Precieuses, given to the social and literary circle of ladies which centred round the H6tel de Rambouillet in the 17th century (see RAMBOUILLET; CATHERINE DE VIVONNE, MARQUISE DE).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)