“The earth is blue like an orange.
No mistake – words can’t lie.”
– “L’amour, la poésie” by Paul Èluard
the color you see
Do all people see color the same way? Do cultural influences change how we perceive the world of color? And if so, in which way do they change our perception? How do we communicate these differences to each other? But before we move on to explore these questions, we should ask: How many colors can a person perceive?
One of the first people to try to answer this question was Johann Tobias Mayer in “De affinitate colorum commentatio” (“On the relationship of colors”). His approach was based on white, yellow, red, blue and black, and dates back to 1758. Further, he created mixed colors by combining these five basic colors to various degrees. Taking everything together, he came to the conclusion that a person could perceive 819 different colors.
Today, most people concerned with this matter conclude that a person can probably perceive and distinguish 15,000 to 20,000 colors. Some go as high as 100,000 colors.
Providing each and every perceivable color with a distinctive name will not be possible. Looking back to the Antiquity, the prevailing system was one of direct and indirect names. Direct names would be red, blue or green. Indirect names had a more relatable impression based on experience. These are names such as canary yellow, sapphire blue or sky blue.
Thus, direct names are more general. Indirect names relate to a more distinct color variation.
However, when it comes to indirect names, given the factor of experience, people will have a slightly different understanding of a color. For some, it will be more intense than for others and vice versa. “Given the fact that gemstones are a natural creation, differences in the intensity of a color are common. Therefore, having vast experience in the trade is necessary to know the relative scarcity of a gemstone’s color variation. This knowledge has to be built up by studying thousands of gemstones over many years, if not decades. It creates a valuable repertoire of colors,” explains Stefan Kreis, Managing Director at KREIS.
Colors in Different languages
How does culture play into the perception of colors?
Hebrew, for example, doesn’t have a word for the color blue. On the other hand, it uses the same word to describe the colors green and gold.
The Assyrians connected the word “Za” to the color blue and used it to describe the appearance of distant mountains. Thus, the color blue had a distinct, cultural usage in the Assyrian language.
Thus, different cultures can bridge these particularities of their language by using the indirect approach. Further, the understanding of color and their customs provide a different way to look at the world we live in and can broaden our understanding of each other.
“It is through these differences that we see the world more nuanced. The word “esperar” is from the Spanish language and means “to wait”. However, it also means “hope”, which is a romantic touch, that contains a grain of truth,” concludes Alexander Kreis.
[Pendants from the Princess Collection by KREIS]
[Cufflinks with Oregon Sunstone by KREIS]
[Ring “Opal Spheres” with Black Opal from Lightning Ridge, Australia by KREIS]