Saturday, July 3, 2010

The World Cup of Gems - Mexico

One unique stone that has been found in abundance in Mexico is the Fire Opal. The main opal "state" in Mexico is Querétaro. The opal deposits are located mainly in the mountain ranges within the areas of the state in Columbus, Tequisquiapan, and Ezequiel Montes. This region is known to produce the best Fire Opals in the world. They are usually found in regions where extinct volcanoes reign. With few exceptions the gemstone is hidden in niches and caves and is mined above the surface. At times there will be areas rising up the wall of canyons and caves. Many of the top quality fire opals from this region were mined from 1965 to 1975. They are much harder to come by these days and thus are at a much higher price on the market today than back then.

The Aztec Indians of Mexico were among the first recorded to know about the fire opal. Europeans learned about them from the Spanish explorers whom brought them back on their journey from the Americas.

Here is an interesting paragraph I found on fire opals: "Opal - a panoply of captured light refracting endlessly off the surfaces of billions of microscopic spheres; full of water, yet ablaze with internal fire; a precious gem , yet not a crystal: in short, a paradox. The play of colour, or "FIRE", within the stone arises from the phenomenon physicists call diffraction: something breaks up white light into all the colours of the rainbow, spreading them out as if for the pleasure of the human eye."

I was under the misunderstanding that opals were soft they are actually harder on the Mohs scale than lapis and turquoise - but they are still more prone to cracking, scratching and breaking when subjected to a hard hit. So you must be more careful when wearing them.

The fire opal is a symbol of deepest love.

The World Cup of Gems - United States

I just read that Tourmaline was the first gemstone mined in the United States "by miners other than prehistoric man or Native Americans." I thought this was an interesting way to put things. The year was 1822 and the place was Mount Mica, ME.

Tourmaline is also found, within the U.S., in California - and there in large quantities.

It is very popular because it can be found in almost any color. Green, Shades of red, blue green to light blue, and colorless.

Tourmalines have many scientific uses because it has a property known as piezoelectricity. An electrical charge can be induced in some tourmaline crystals simply by applying pressure to the crystal in the direction of the vertical crystal axis.

On the metaphysical level tourmaline is supposed to enhance a person's understanding and increase self-confidence. They are also supposed to neutralize negative energies and are thus useful in relaxing the body and mind. They are used in the treatment of infectious diseases, anxiety, blood poisoning, arthritis, and heart disease.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The World Cup of Gems - South Africa

I am just a little obsessed with soccer these days. So I thought it may be interesting to learn a little about gemstones from the 32 countries that make up this year's World Cup finals. Come back and see what I learn.

Country: South Africa
Gem: Sugilite (aka luvulite)

A new gem to me, sugilite is relatively rare mineral that is pink to purple in color. It was first discovered by a Japanese petrologist in 1944, but is now found in some quantity in Canada and in the Wessels mine in Cape Province of South Africa.

It is touted on many sites as the "best" love stone and is known as one of the stronger stones to wear to ward off evil or negativity and reduce stress. And used by alchemists and or metaphysical healers as a "violet ray" healing stone. So it is sold quite often in a raw-cut crystal form.

I like what I have found already - stay tuned for two more tomorrow.....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

And back to metals again...

As you can't tell I am an information junkie. So again, my husband picked me up another book from the library - one of the Eyewitness books about gemstones. Of course, I had to look at the pages on my favorite metal for jewelry, silver.

Did you know that the best silver comes from a mine in Norway? At a mine in Kongsberg, Norway, dendritic silver is found naturally in the shape of twisted wire. Convenient… (now of course I want to see how I can get my hands on some - will let you know)

Silver in its natural purity tarnishes and is too soft to work into jewelry, so is alloyed with other metals, often copper or gold. The standards are Sterling silver at 92 ½ percent or more pure silver (often with copper), Britannia Silver with 95 percent or more pure silver. Additionally, one ancient alloy contains 20 to 25 percent silver alloyed with gold and is called electrum.

Personally, I like the coloring of silver and its starkness against other colors. Just suits my work well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Emerald

May is finally here. Several big things for me this month: first up is Mother’s Day then I have a birthday, and finally at the end of the month a craft show in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Onto the stone for the month: Emerald

The name comes from the Greek smaragdos, meaning green stone. The stone symbolizes growth and hopes for the future. It concentrates the green of nature and provides relief from emotional suffering. Additionally, the emerald is associated with artistic creativity. The stone has represented a symbol of innocence and purity.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans associated the stone with eyesight and improved vision.

The zodiacal signs of Taurus, Cancer, and Capricorn have special attachment to the stone. Taurus will be able to see clearer. The sometimes indecisive Cancer will be invigorated by emeralds. And Capricorns will be encouraged in their meditation and reflection by emeralds.

On a final note, as you will remember emerald is one of the ‘precious’ stones.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Taurus and Gemstones

I picked up an interesting book at the library the other day, Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals. According to the book, each zodiacal sign has multiple stones that influence and accentuate the person born to that sign. Since April 21 began the sign of Taurus, here are the stones that represent them: agate, chalcedony, chrysocolla, citrine, emerald, lapis lazuli, malachite, and blue sapphire. Each of these stones has properties that enhance or mitigate the nature of a Taurus person.

So, citrine will help a Taurus in eliminating anxiety and fear and improve concentration. The malachite helps increase creative potential. Lapis luzuli symbolizing a taurus’ ideals that emerge through patience and perseverance.

Happy Birthday to all Taurus'!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

History of Lapidary

So I was having a conversation about gemstones and up came the topic of the history of cut gemstones. So, of course, I wanted to take a look at the history of lapidary, the cutting of gemstones.

Interestingly, I found that it took until 1914 for someone to develop the “ideal brilliant cut” diamond. A Polish engineer, named Marcel Tokowsky, developed the proportions and angles for this cut to enhance the optics and features of the diamond and make it sparkle and scintillate with an unmistakable quality. I found it surprising that it took many thousands of years for someone to come up with the “ideal” cut.

He was not the first to really experiment and struggle with new designs of cutting diamonds to show off their brilliance. In 1475, a Belgian named Louis de Berquen developed the Sancy cut to really enhance the reflective and refractive properties of diamonds. This type of cut created a whole new outlook on the possibilities of diamonds and led to further developments like Mr. Tokowsky’s ideal brilliant cut.

Before these craftsmen and their fellows most diamonds were supplements to jewelry in combination with colored stones. The diamonds were point cut, a design that is rhombus shaped and leaves the crystal with eight natural facets – four on the crown and four on the pavilion. Point cuts did not exactly show off the scintillating properties of the diamond crystals, so the diamond took a backstage to the colored precious stones such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

All that glitters may be gold

So I am on a big metal kick it seems...

I recently read that you can put all the gold ever found in a cube less than 19-meters in length on each side. So it got me reading more about gold.

In a good gold mine they need to move and refine 10 tons of dust for each ounce of gold - imagine how hard it was during the gold rush on the West coast of the US so many years ago.

Gold does not rust, corrode, or oxidize so when they pull out artifacts that have been burried for centuries they still have their luster.

Uses of gold outside of personal adornment include - Gold transfers electricity with less resistance than any other metal on Earth so is used more an more in electronic devices. There are thin layers of gold used on sunglasses for astronaut suits and for pilots because it is best at cutting down the intensity of the sun's rays.

While I still perfer platinum or silver - gold is certaintly an interesting metal.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Copper - not just for good pots

I have worked primarily in sterling silver the last several years. But at a recent bead buying excursion, I got drawn into the shiny copper table and picked up a bunch of interesting stuff. I am facinated by the color of copper. I am further facinated by the fact that this lucious orangy color turns this unique green color when oxidized - rather than black or dingy like most other metals. As usual, this led me to do some research into the history of the use of copper in jewelry making. Here are some interesting facts I discovered.

The use of copper dates back at least 10,000 years to origins in the Middle East. From that point several independant sites show the technique of copper smelting being used. It was used in jewelry but to a much lesser degree than gold. Copper is used today in a lot of utilitarian applications - pipes onn higher end homes, roofing, the bottoms of high-end cookware, and many other uses. If you use sterling silver to make flatware it must contain a certain percentage of copper. One interesting fact is that U.S nickels are 75% copper and only 25% nickel.

I just love the color - it is like no other. So next month check in my store to see what interesting necklaces and bracelets I have made with my new found metal.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Aquamarine: Birthstone for March

The aquamarine is the blue or blue-green forms of the mineral Beryl. The word "aquamarine" comes from Latin for "sea water". It is usually heated to enhance the blue color.

There is a lot of legendary uses for the stone. It was the most appropriate gift for a wedding couple after their first night together. And said to enhance romance between couples. The Romans used it - specifically carved in a frog shape - to reconcile enemies. But there are other examples where it has been used in ancient times for similar purposes.
It is a symbol of youth - happiness - and is said to provide its wearer with oracle perceptions. It was also used in this manner as the best stone for a fortune teller's ball during Medieval times.

The largest aquamarine found was in 1910 - the stone weighed 243 pounds. It was cut into smaller stones creating over 200,000 carats.

Wouldn't that be nice to run across!

Happy birthday to all those March birthdays!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Making of the Vancouver Olympic Medals

I have been an Olympiholic the last two weeks. I am fascinated by the dedication of the human spirit, and the diversity of sport. I have been glued to my seat through hours of curling, skiing, skating, and so much more.

Along this two week journey, as a craftsman I became acutely aware of the Olympic medals so I did some research (spent two seconds typing in a search term) and discovered a video about the artist of the Vancouver medals and her inspiration for this year's awards. Pretty fascinating stuff - available at:

But of course that was too easy so I did some research into how they came up with gold, silver, and bronze for the medals in the first place and discovered (little to my surprise) that the Greeks weren't so into giving medal as awards. The first medals were presented at an Olympic game at the onset of what is called "the modern games" beginning in 1896. But at that game they were after my heart awarding silver for first place and bronze for second. Just the two, nothing for third.

The current medals are actually mostly silver with a coating of gold for the first place winner. The medals for the Summer have developed to having an image of Nike, goddess of victory on one side with the host nation designing the back. The winter games still have a pretty open design based on the whims and fancy of the host nation.... curious to see what the Russians will do in 2016, but there are a lot of games to watch before then.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Necklace

So as I was making chains over the weekend I started to wonder about the history of necklaces. Men and woman now seem to like them - so why not in ancient times? We see through much of art history in the drawings and statues that people wore all different types of neck pieces, chains, jewels, and often found objects as adornments around their neck. But I was surprised to find that archeologists have found strung shells that date back over 75,000 years ago. Of course they are not sure if this was worn around the neck, but what do you think when through the first person's mind when they tied a bunch of shells to a string and then they somehow ended up around the neck. Was it an easier way of carrying home supper when hands were full with spears and knives? Did it start out as a status symbol for the leader (alpha male)? Or was there a princess in the group who just felt the need to pretty herself?

Whatever the reason, I am very happy that they made that decision so many years ago and have enjoyed seeing the fruits of their idea throughout the ages.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Grandma's Bracelet Gets a New Name

So today's tidbit of history goes all the way back to 1987. Apparently, tennis star Chris Everett made more than sport's history when she played in the U.S. Open that year. One game was stopped, momentarily, as she was given time to find an in-line diamond bracelet that had broken during the match. Such a simple action lead to the re-naming of the inline diamond bracelet as "tennis" bracelet.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Garnet's More Abrasive Side

The garnet is well known as the birthstone of January, and I have known that other hand workers, like myself, love utilizing its beautiful array of varied colors in jewelry designs. What I was unaware of, were other hand workers who utilize the more abrasive side of the garnet.

Garnets are known for their abrasive qualities and are used as the abrasive texture on sandpaper preferred by woodworkers when finishing bare wood. It is also used in many other abrasive techniques including sandblasting, and cutting steel. And finally incorporated in water filtration. Apparently, there is garnet-rich sand in large quantities in Australia and India - hmmm it is too bad that they are not these brilliant red beaches next to blue waters - wouldn't that be something. But it is interesting the varying uses of this month's birthstone.

Garnets were also among the first semiprecious stones to be mentioned in writings from ancient times. They have a deep history with warriors and journeyers. Other references have been made to the garnet's association with fire and illumination. It has been said that garnet was hung in the Ark by Noah to light the path and the inside of the boad. Healers today use garnet in cures for nightmares.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Precious? Semi-precious? It was all Greek to Me

So I was once told that the rating of gems as "precious" and "semi-precious" stones was something that dated back to the Ancient Greeks. After some research - as with most rumors in Art History - I no longer believe that to be the case.

It seems that the ratings came into existence in the late 1800s. Even if that is the case, however, I am still blown away that this rating still has the hold it has on the gem industry. Four stones - diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are considered "precious" gems. All other gemstones are "semi-precious". It is that basic.

There are so many gems that are rare and at times more expensive than these - but just these four are at the top of their game (so to speak).

Throughout Art History there are the trends where pearls, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and other stones have all had their high ranking places in society. Now tastes and trends change with wind direction - but still the four gemstones stand strong in their rating.

Additionally, there is only one standard rating system in all of gemstones and that is for white diamonds. Nothing else that I have researched is standardized.

This has been especially helpful, for me personally, when I am shopping for gemstones all over the world. In fact, I recently purchased three types of "semi-precious" gemstones for a project - all round microfacted cut, all claimed to be AAA, and all were listed at the same size. I bought them from three different reputable vendors from three distinctly different parts of the world. And the beads I received are not even the same size, let alone the differences in quality and clarity.

So as with most things - buy what you like and buy what you think is pretty.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Silver freshwater pearl neck piece available at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Precious than Gold

As a chain maker one of the things I do is watch the precious metal market. Gold has been unceasingly climbing over the past few years - as has silver my primary metal of use. Looking at this reminds me of the stories of when gold was not the most prized metal - at one time it was of all things aluminum.

Aluminum is the most abundent metal in the Earth's crust. But it is hard to find in its pure state. Before the scientific process known as the Hall-Heroult process was discovered - which more easily removes aluminum from other ores - Aluminum was more valued than gold. One source I found cited that Napoleon III gave a banquet where the most honored guests ate from flatware made from pure almuinum while the rest of the guests "had to make do" with gold utensils.

But as a resident of the District of Columbia the most facinating fact, for me, is that the top of the Washington Monument is a pyramid of solid aluminum. And while many sources I found seemed to speak to the fact that it is aluminum because of its great value, an article shines a light on the fact that it may just have been an act of circumstance. It seems that the foundry that the monument's engineer employed to make the top was run by a man by the name of William Frishmuth, the only U.S. producer of aluminum at the time.

There is a great source for detailed information about the top of the monument available from the JOM - the Journal for the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society called "The Point of a Monument: A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument.