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.