Red cinnabar is a relatively soft gemstone that is made from sulphur and the poisonous metal mercury.
Most “cinnabar” jewelry on the market today is imitation, made of either plastic or dyed and stabilized howlite.
Cinnabar gets Its name from the Persian word zinjifrah meaning “dragon's blood.”
In ancient times cinnabar was mined in the south of Spain and was brought along trade routes to India and China, where it was highly valued and used to make red lacquer.
Lipstick & Gladiators
Unaware of cinnabar's extreme toxicity, Romans used cinnabar to paint their gladiators and statues of their emperors and heroes. Roman women used lipstick made of the poisonous mineral.
In the ancient metropolis of Pompeii wealthy residents used red ochre and expensive cinnabar to decorate the inside of their homes. Cinnabar has been used for hundreds of years to make a kind of red paint called vermillion.
In Medieval times monks made cinnabar in their alchemy workshops. They blended liquid mercury, which they called quicksilver, and powdered sulphur to make a cinnabar powder. The cinnabar powder was then used to make red paint. A 7th century alchemy manuscript describes how to make the cinnabar powder:
The Elephant and the Dragon
Cinnabar, which is red in color, is made from mercury, which is silver in color, and sulphur, which is gold in color. The ancient Greek naturalist Pliny described cinnabar as the resulting product from a fight between a silver elephant and a golden dragon. In the end both the elephant and dragon died, and as their blood mingled cinnabar was formed.