Today’s blog post is a little technical, but the topics mentioned herein come up often enough in the jewelry industry and among our ‘collector clients’ that we thought it was time to add our two cents to the debate on Paraiba nomenclature.
The Back Story:
Paraiba Tourmaline was first discovered in 1989 in the state of Paraiba, Brazil- hence the name. The find was the crowning achievement of Heitor Barbosa, a Brazilian geologist who focused his prospecting efforts in a region that was not previously known for its minerals. This initial mine was called the Batalha mine, and it is still considered to have produced the finest Tourmaline crystals in the world. (While the Batalha mine still produces a small amount of lower quality stones, the fine Paraiba tourmalines were mined out by the mid-1990s).
When the material first hit the market at the Tucson Gem Shows in 1990 it captivated jewelers and collectors with its amazing neon blue and green colors never before seen in the natural gem world. Gemological laboratories performed complex testing on the material and discovered that it was a natural Elbaite Tourmaline- therefore a sibling of Rubellite, Indicolite and Watermelon Tourmaline. Elbaite is normally achromatic- meaning the crystals are colorless unless there are trace elements present in the chemical formula. In the case of Paraiba Tourmaline the crystals contain trace amounts of copper (sometimes alongside gold, too) that give the crystals their unique color. Thus the GIA and AGTA adopted a technical name of “Cuprian Elbaite Tourmaline,” though jewelers, auction houses and collectors continued to use the term Paraiba Tourmaline when discussing and selling the material.
The Confusion Begins:
Paraiba Tourmaline terminology remained a non-issue until a decade later when a deposit of similarly colored tourmalines was discovered in Nigeria. While the colors of the Nigerian material weren’t as intense as the Brazilian stones, testing confirmed the presence of copper in the crystal structures. Hence the main gem labs certified the stones as “Cuprian Elbaite Tourmaline” just as they had certified the original Paraiba material. Depending on the dealer who sold the gems, buyers could find them listed under a variety of names and descriptions since no rules or guidelines for nomenclature existed. The naming confusion didn’t last long, since the Nigerian deposit was soon exhausted and the gemological community promptly forgot about the issue.
That lull lasted until 2005 when amazing Cuprian Tourmaline crystals were discovered in Mozambique. These new crystals were often larger than the Brazilian material, cleaner than the Nigerian material, and the colors were quite intense (above photo shows the color range from this source). While maybe not as vivid as the finest Brazilian stones, the Mozambique material was stunning and quickly captivated the Paraiba-starved market. Most reputable gem dealers marketed the new find as ‘Mozambique Copper Bearing Tourmaline’ or ‘African Paraiba Tourmaline,’ but there were those who tried to inflate their prices and increase demand by labeling their stock as simply ‘Paraiba Tourmaline’ which implied a Brazilian origin and a price tag to match.
The Gemological Community Reacts
It quickly became obvious that something would have to be done to establish identification and naming guidelines for all Cuprian Tourmalines. Led by the foremost laboratories (like GIA, AGS and Gubelin) gemologists determined easier methods to a) to confirm copper content in the gems and b) distinguish Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline from other sources. While the gemological community was able to unite behind the testing methodology, naming the gems was a different matter.
In the first camp were the traditionalists. These jewelers and gem dealers had been selling and stockpiling the original Brazilian Paraiba for 20 years, and were concerned that the new find of Mozambique material would flood the market and thus decrease the value of their assets. They also felt that the Brazilian gems were more intense and saturated in color, and they wanted to make sure that there was a distinction between the two sources. Their best argument was that one could not sell a ruby from Africa as a “Burmese Ruby” since it had not come from that source. Thus they wanted to make sure that the famed Paraiba name was limited to stones only from Paraiba, Brazil (like the below suite of small, but intensely colored gem).
In the second camp were dealers and designers who were excited about the new material, and wanted to be able to more effectively market it to consumers. They didn’t so much care about the source of the gems, but they loved the unique color and thought that consumers might be a little overwhelmed by the “African Cuprian Elbaite Tourmaline” moniker. Some dealers also hoped that the Mozambique material would increase in value if it was marketed alongside its more infamous Brazilian cousin (the below stones are from Mozambique). One of the cornerstones of their argument was that the name Paraiba had been adapted for use with other stones, such as Apatite, to describe neon Windex-blue color, and that they were simply appropriating the name in the same way.
Where we stand now
This argument raged for several years, until the International Colored Stone Association and the American Gem Trade Association combined efforts with the Gemological Institute of America to clarify the naming in 2012. Their decision was that Paraiba was in fact a location name, thus Brazilian stones are the only ones to be called “Paraiba Tourmaline.” However, they did acknowledge that the term ‘Paraiba’ had come to be associated with copper bearing Tourmaline and neon blue gems in general. Due to this, African stones can be called “Paraiba-type Tourmaline” and stones that are similar in color, but do not contain copper (or do not have a laboratory certificate stating as such), can be called “Paraiba-color Tourmaline.” Some dealers take it a step further, using Brazilian pronunciation and spelling when describing Paraíba, and using standard spelling and pronunciation when selling Paraiba from other locales.
Whether as a result of naming or not, prices do seem to have changed since the Mozambique discovery and the naming debate. Due to the increased availability of low to mid quality Paraiba-type Tourmaline the price for lower quality Brazilian material has decreased and prices for African stones have remained quite affordable- as low as $500 per carat in 1ct sizes. However, the prices of finer quality Paraiba Tourmaline have increased, with Brazilian stones still commanding a substantial premium over other sources. In fact, we have seen top gem quality Brazilian Paraiba in intense colors sell for $40,000 per carat (when you see gems like those above, you can see why they captivate collectors and command such high prices).
After years of upheaval in the Paraiba market, things are starting to settle down. First of all, there have been no new discoveries of copper bearing Tourmaline since 2005 so we have not had to contend with the wild ups and downs associated with new gemological finds. Most importantly, having a definitive guide and rule book for evaluating and naming these gems has allowed us to be more confident in marketing Paraiba-type Tourmaline to our clients. This confidence is increased when we purchase from American dealers who stand behind their products and track the gems from mine to market. Our added buying confidence allows us to increase the inventory our clients can choose from, and we are able to make some amazing jewelry using these incredible gems. We made the below pendant using a natural Tourmaline from Mozambique, and while the color and glow look like the gem contains copper, we are selling it as Paraiba-color since we do not yet have a certificate on the stone.
It should be noted that we do not carry Brazilian Paraiba Tourmaline, but we can get them in on request. We do stock a good selection of Mozambique Paraiba-type Tourmaline, as well as a vast selection of Paraiba-colored mint, aqua and teal Tourmaline from mines in Afghanistan- an affordable alternative. We owe a special thank you to the GIA, AGS, John Bradshaw, and Barker & Co for the use of their photos in this post.Read the full post »
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Ever since I was a little boy I have been fascinated with things that crawl through the dirt. While I liked to catch snakes and lizards- and I have the scars to prove it- nothing captured my fascination like a rare moth or beetle I had never seen before. I certainly have never shied away from getting dirty and exploring nature, as the photo proves. So you can imagine my surprise and pleasure when I learned that there is a whole category of jewelry made to resemble insects, combining two of my passions.
The insect-as-jewelry phenomenon started during the Victorian era. English interest in Egypt, through building the Suez Canal and exploring archaeological sites, popularized Egyptian themes in jewelry. The most popular of these motifs was the scarab beetle- which had been a good luck symbol in ancient Egypt. Artists carved semiprecious stones to look like scarab beetles, or molded gold and silver in similar designs (below left). Later in the Grand Period of the Victorian era, between 1860 and 1885, other insects became popular in jewelry. During this time we first started to see spiders, flies, moths, and bees used as earrings, brooches and rings. Sometimes the bodies of the insects would be large gemstones, other times the piece would be pearl or diamond encrusted, and sometimes the items were simply carved from silver. In France, where bees were the emblem of Prince Victor Bonaparte, all of the fashionable ladies had to have a patriotic bee brooch. A few examples of Grand Era insects are pictured below.
These early renditions of insect jewelry inspired many jewelers in the Art Nouveau period that followed. The difference between the jewelry made during these eras is drastic. The Victorian pieces were chunky, with lots of character- crafted more for whimsy than realism. The love of nature that blossomed after the turn of the century was more refined. Advances in jewelry technology allowed craftsman like Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany to play with complex enameling, new metals white gold and platinum, as well as different gemstones such as opals, tourmalines and garnets. Insect pieces from the Art Nouveau period tend to be the most collectable, as they have a beauty and realism that is impossible to replicate. The top two photos below show the incredible enamel work of Fench jeweler Lalique, and the below three images show work from the same era but made in Great Britain and America- with more emphasis on gems and diamonds. The beetle below right derives its iradescent green and blue color from an actual beetle shell affixed to a platinum mounting.
Insect jewelry took a back seat to more traditional and modern styles in the earlier 1900s, but came roaring back from the 1950s to the 1970s. Wearing multiple small brooches on scarves or a chunky piece on a lapel was all the rage. Costume jewelers like Trifari sold insect pieces by the thousands, and fine jewelry soon followed. Below are two costume pieces, made in sterling silver with enamel and glass gemstones, that were extremely popular in the 1950s.
By the late 1960s, fine insect jewelry was big business. A New York jeweler named Herbert Rosenthal, known for elaborate and costly brooches, trademarked his designs for bejeweled bees. They became so popular that other firms started making similar designs, often times at much lower prices. In response Rosenthal sued these other jewelers for design infringement. The case ended up in the US Supreme Court where it was decided that while the other brooches were surely imitations of Rosenthal’s designs, Rosenthal should not have been granted a trademark in the first place, as bees are of natural origin not a unique design created by Rosenthal. Despite his loss, and maybe because of the interesting story, Rosenthal pieces are especially collectable today. The below bees are both of mid-century origin, the one at lefy by Rosenthal, and the one at right by Van Cleef and Arpels.
Insect pieces have continued to be popular, especially now that the fashion world emphasizes larger statement jewelry. The majority of the more recent insect pieces take the form of pins and brooches, but we also see some rings and pendants too. Most of these later pieces feature textured or carved gold wings, with diamond set eyes, and pave´ set sapphires, rubies or emeralds as bodies. While some can be pricey, many of these bugs were made in smaller sizes and are affordable to collect and enjoy, and these are the pieces we tend to carry in our store. The below insect brooches are all currently for sale, and retail between $350 and $750, set in 14k gold with natural diamonds and gemstones, each one has a wing span of approximately 1 inch.
I also can't forget to mention Frederick, the Rosenthal bee I have in my personal collection. If you visit our store, you will likely see Frederick on my suit lapel, or even resting on my fleece vest. This shows why insect brooches are still loved today: they can be worn by men and women alike, dressed up or dressed down, on any occasion. Frederick is set with diamond eyes and Australian black crystal opals for the body, and he measures 1 1/4 inch across.
Stop by our store to see our ever-changing insect jewelry, or contact us to learn more.Read the full post »
Statement rings, aka cocktail rings, are terms commonly applied to large right-hand rings that are fun to wear and get lots of attention. While large and impressive rings have been worn by the wealthy for centuries, it wasn’t until the middle of the last century that statement jewelry became affordable (and socially acceptable to wear) for the middle class. While these rings were frequently made in gold and platinum and set with gemstones, they were also made by high end costume jewelry makers. Thus everyone from Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor to moms in the suburbs could afford to glam up their wardrobe with a statement piece. Magazines like Vogue, as well as movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, (both shown below) showed women wearing large and impressive jewelry, fueling the trend.
We’ve probably all heard it said that fashion repeats itself. Some even go so far as to say trends follow a 20 year cycle- people in their young twenties emulate what their parents did before them, and thus trends from 20-30 years prior make a reappearance. For example, right now we are seeing aviator sunglasses, printed fabric shirts, bold colored jackets, and lots of other fashions that were popularized in past decades. We see this same trend occur in the jewelry world, and chunky statement jewelry has made one of the strongest comebacks of all.
This white gold and aquamarine cocktail ring is a good case study. Made circa 1950, this ring was the height of fashion for the time, usually set with one large colored gem: citrines, amethysts, aquamarines, topaz, etc. The love of large jewelry faded in the down-to-earth 60s, but made a return in the 70s. In the 70s statement rings were “in” again, but tended to be crafted in chunky yellow gold and set with multiple smaller colored gems as opposed to one large center stone- remember the rings that were made to look like a coral reef? The love of chunky yellow gold jewelry made a return in the 90s, except the majority of these statement rings were diamond encrusted without the use of colored gemstones. The above photos show the progression of statement rings from left to right 1950s, 1970s, 1990s.
Thus it should be no surprise that 20 years onward fashion and jewelry trends are once again focusing on statement rings. Women are now wearing large gems set in simple white and yellow tone settings in a style very reminiscent of 1950s high-fashion statement rings. Women who want a bigger look with more variety are buying multiple rings- sometimes simple bands, sometimes set with large gems- and stacking them on the same finger. The nice thing about this particular ring is that it straddles the line between chunky fashion piece and classic right hand ring. While the aquamarine is large and noticeable, the mounting is elegant and the greenish blue color is timeless, so we don’t see this ring ever going out of style.
It should be said that the main reason we are in love with this jewel is the gemmy color of the aquamarine. Today, many people think of aquamarines as a pale blue March birthstone but for centuries the most in-demand color was this intense greenish blue (aquamarine translates literally to water of the sea). The closest thing I can compare it to is frosted sea-glass people collect on the beach- a lovely medium greenish blue with remarkable brilliance and sparkle.This ring is available for $3495- but the ring is truly “unshoppable” at any price due to the rarity of this natural colored aquamarine. We have several other statement rings in stock from various past eras- come in to see them in person!
Please contact us with questions or comments.
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Attributing antique jewelry to the particular era in which it was made can be quite difficult. One must use a combination of clues like the design of the piece, manufacturing techniques used, materials and gems present, as well as intended use of the item to establish an approximate age. Thus it is with a blend of resignation and frustration that I often see jewelers and antique dealers misidentify or inaccurately attribute a piece, and it seems that the most frequently overused but misunderstood period was the Victorian Era. If you were to search for photos of “Victorian jewelry” on Google, you would doubtlessly see pieces made anywhere between 1750 and 2016! So if you are interested in learning more about the Victorian Era and what makes a piece truly Victorian: keep reading.
The Victorian Era is the name given to the period in which Queen Victoria sat on the throne of Great Britain, roughly 1837 to 1901 (the above painting is her official coronation portrait from 1837). Her ascent to the throne came after years of the “George Kings” whose reigns had been blackened by years of war (the war of American Independence and the decades of war with Napoleon, just to name two) and public scandals. Thus the people of Great Britain were ready for a new, more optimistic era. People today can be understandably confused by the fact that an entire era of history and design would be named after the long-gone monarch of a small nation. But when Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, she became the Queen of Great Britain, Empress of India, as well as the Queen of the Commonwealth Realms such as South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Thus her sphere of influence covered the entire globe- and her presence was amplified by the advent of mass media, making Victoria one of the first ever celebrities.
Victoria’s wedding portrait (shown above wearing her 'something blue' gift from Albert, the sapphire brooch at right) was reproduced in newspapers around the globe and her likeness was made into prints and fabrics used to decorate homes, so she quickly became a fashion icon. Her dressmakers supplied her with the best and newest designs which would then become the height of fashion for the following season. Fortunately for antique jewelry lovers, Victoria also had amazing taste in jewelry. Items of jewelry were the most common gifts given to the young queen, and she loved it! Her passion for jewelry led her to redesign many of the royal pieces she had inherited, and these pieces featured prominently in her portraits. Once her jewelry had been seen, all of the fashionable ladies wanted to have something similar, and talented jewelers poured into England from around the world to supply the queen and her wealthy subjects with the latest jewels and baubles.
According to Antique Jewelry University, the Victorian Era can be separated into three segments, each with its own unique history that influenced jewelry design. The first segment is known as the Romantic period, from 1837 to 1860. During this period Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and after a whirlwind romance married Prince Albert. The two were inseparable, and they gave the country a model of what a happy marriage could be. On a national level the British economy was booming and they were not involved in any major conflicts. Thus the entire country had an upbeat and positive attitude, which was reflected in jewelry designs of the era.
During this period people were very nostalgic about bygone eras. Discoveries in Egypt sparked interest in ancient designs like scarabs and goddesses (below right), while themes common in the Middle Ages were re-popularized, such as moons, stars, and crosses. The most popular items of jewelry during this period were rings and bracelets, often covered in metal work or enamel then set with diamond designs. Sleeveless gowns allowed women to wear wide bangle-style bracelets and to stack slimmer ones, which were made in gold and silver. Victoria’s engagement ring was an emerald-studded snake, so snake rings became a must-have item, often set with pearls, garnets and diamonds. In this early 1840s Victoria purchased Balmoral, an estate in Scotland, due to her love of her Scottish heritage. She also began collecting Scottish antiques and jewelry, which popularized ancient Scottish motifs in jewelry such as kilt pins, Celtic crosses, and agate jewelry (two examples shown below left). These items were usually brooches or bracelets and were made primarily in silver with regionally sourced gems.
During this time period jewelry was still entirely hand-fabricated, so older techniques like cameo carving, hand chasing or metal carving, and enameling were employed to make new bold designs. There was much emphasis on fine and detailed design work, versus the chunkier and less elegant Georgian designs. It should also be noted that Prince Albert was also a jewelry connoisseur, and he worked with the famed jewelers of the era to give Victoria priceless gifts. He also commissioned these jewelers to make items based on his own designs, and he was known for finding the best talent in the jewelry world to work for him. (Below are a grouping of items common in this period)
The second period is often known as the Grand Period, and it occurred between 1861 and 1885. This period is aptly named, as more changes in the jewelry world occurred in this 24 year time period than in the entire preceding century! The first main theme of this period was sparked by Victoria’s personal losses, the Queen Mother in the spring of 1861, quickly followed by the passing of her husband Albert. One cannot overstate the impact of Victoria’s mourning (photographed below). She followed the rules of society to a tee, wearing black and avoiding leisure for years after his passing (in fact, she remained in a state of semi-mourning until she died). The entire British society followed suit, adapting mourning clothes in honor of Albert. This resulted in a huge production of mourning jewelry. Black gems like Whitby Jet, Onyx and Tourmaline that were carved or fashioned into brooches and lockets to be worn as accessories to mourning clothes. We also began to see jewelry made from hair or incorporating miniature paintings used to commemorate the lost love one (below right).
While fashionable society was in mourning, businessmen and scientists were making leaps and bounds. First, new alloys of gold and silver were invented. British and French laws were changed so that jewelry no longer had to be 18k or higher, but could be made using 9k, 12k, 14k, 15k, etc. This resulted in jewelry being more affordable, but also more durable for everyday use. This period also saw the first uses machinery to create jewelry. Across the US and England factories were being built to house machines that could make jewelry components in mass, but there were also companies that could make complete pieces using stamped metal. These pieces were made using steam-powered presses that could make larger and intricate gold jewelry with less weight and less man hours, so the pieces were more affordable than ever. (This era is seen as an inspiration for steampunk artists.) Mechanization was also brought into the gemstone industry during this period. Diamond cutters in Antwerp and Paris were able to use machine powered saws and polishing wheels, allowing greater control over diamond cutting. Thus we started to see fewer rough-cut and rose cut diamonds, and more antique cushion and mine cut stones (like those below). While the mine cut diamonds were still cut by hand, they often used mechanized tools to do so, so there was more precision involved, resulting in diamonds that were more sparkly.
The Grand Period also ushered in new gemstone discoveries. Most importantly vast amounts of diamonds were discovered in in South Africa. The new diamonds mines were of top quality, adding to the allure of an already coveted gem. Furthermore the mines produced diamonds in enough quantity to make diamonds more affordable, so they began to be used in abundance. It was during this era that we first saw diamond “halos” around colored gemstones, diamond stud earrings, and even diamond engagement rings. This era brought several other amazing gem discoveries. Two incredible gems were discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia: color changing alexandrite (below left) and the rare green garnet Demantoid. In Australia amazing opals were found near Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy, and they were to become Victoria's favorite gem (below right). The result of the “hype” surrounding these gem finds was an increasing demand and use of color in jewelry.
The last period of the Victoria’s reign was the Aesthetic Period which lasted from 1885 to Victoria’s death in 1901. As Victoria got older and she continued her mourning for Albert, she was no longer is the spotlight as much as in her youth. Thus society and fashion started to revolve around newer personalities like her son Prince Edward, New York Socialites, Princess Alexandra of Russia (pictured below left, she was a jewelry icon), and Parisian designers. This period marked a reversal of prior trends in that society was more excited about new discoveries and new technology, and less excited by past events. Designers shook off the cloak of mourning and broke out with new styles, bold looks, and lots of color, like the ladies in the below right image.
In the early 1890s an emphasis was placed on wearing multiple smaller pieces over larger statement pieces. Dainty and whimsical brooches were in abundance, especially stylized animals and insects. Women also started to wear lockets and pendants on long chains over their dresses instead of choker length necklaces. These often contained photographs of loved ones, the lockets often took the shape of a heart encrusted with pearls or engraving (below left). Many of the best jewelry designers made elegant pieces with multiple smaller components, like lavalier pendants and negligee necklaces that used multiple smaller diamonds and gemstones in intricate and lacy designs (like the Tiffany piece featuring a fine sapphire and diamonds, below right).
Toward the end of the 1890s innovation really started heating up. At home, many houses now had electric lighting, and a few people even had motorcars! These innovations allowed artists and artisans to flourish with new styles. Many goldsmiths started using silver-topped gold, which provided a neutral background for white diamonds to shine from. Likewise artists began experimenting with glass enamels and new ways of using old materials. But the key innovation that changed the jewelry world was the invention of mass marketing. By the 1890s there were several high-profile magazines dedicated to women (an early example is shown below left). They featured the latest designs, tips for homemakers, and places for companies to advertise. Thus women around the world could see the jewelry Princess Alexandra was wearing, and on the very next page see a similar item advertised to purchase. In the US, companies like Sears were capitalizing on mass production technology to sell jewelry to women via catalog (a similar catalog is shown below, turned to a page advertising brooches). Similar publications existed in the jewelry and art community allowing artists to see what others were doing and making around the globe. Art and jewelry expositions allowed the public to come and see the famed artists and their designs.
During this time the classic jewelers like Girards of London and JE Caldwell continued to make fantastic pieces but the new names in the industry made their fame via innovation. Rene Lalique took his inspiration from his work in glassware and created exotic jewelry featuring leaves and vines, insects and beautiful women, all expertly crafted in enamel- the basis for the Art Nouveau movement. Artists like Merle Bennet and William Morris worked with less refined materials, instead focusing on texture and unique gems- their work became the basis for the Arts and Crafts movement. Other master craftsmen of the era combined design influences from both of these movements- names like Tiffany and Cartier that are synonymous with quality and style even today. Below, from left to right: a Cartier pearl, diamond and enamel brooch, a Louis Tiffany opal and enamel brooch, and a Lalique enamel, sapphire and pearl brooch.
The Victorian Era came to a close with the death of Victoria in 1901. Her passing sent the world back into mourning, but it seemed like nothing could hold back the optimism of the era, so the mourning period didn’t last long. Instead the jewelry world looked forward to even more progress- like modern diamond cutting, the use of platinum, and other innovations that would keep the momentum of new and exciting jewelry designs continuing into the 20th century.
Sources: "Answers to Questions about Antique Jewelry" by C. Jeannine Bell, "Starting to Collect Antique Jewelry" by John Benjamin, and I owe a huge thank you to Antique Jewelry University, a sub-page of Lang Antiques, for the use of their photographs and tons of information. For further reading visit their webpage.Read the full post »
It sure seems like we find ourselves showing clients and talking about alexandrite more than any other gem. Among jewelry connoisseurs, one of the measures of a jewelry store is whether or not they carry natural alexandrite. On the other end of the spectrum there are a large number of June babies that have only heard of alexandrite, and have a natural curiosity to see what their birthstone looks like in person.
So if you don’t fit into either of the above categories, you may be wondering what Alexandrite is. In short, Alexandrite a very rare chromium-rich member of the mineral chrysoberyl that in fine qualities exhibits a change of color depending on the light source it is viewed under. It is often said that alex’s are “emerald by day, ruby by night” because they tend to be a teal or grass green under fluorescent light and a raspberry to brownish red under incandescent or candle light. The stone was named after Tsar Alexander because the first examples of alexandrite were found in Russia in the 1870s; since that time they have been discovered in Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, Tanzania and Madagascar. The above Brazilian gem is a particularly fine example, photo courtesy of the GIA.
As with all colored gemstones there is no such thing as the perfect specimen. In alexandrite the most common fault is clarity. Some of the gems with the strongest (most apparent) color change are heavily included or foggy looking. Likewise the most beautiful gems will often display a strong green, but almost no red in the color change, or will be too light in tone to view the phenomenon. One of my pet peeves is when I see a fine alexandrite, which due to its rarity, has been cut to make the largest stone possible instead of to maximize brilliance and beauty.
Most of the Alexandrites we carry are from Brazil and Sri Lanka because the Russian stones are scarce, the African stones tend not to change color as well, and the Indian stones are often too small for our uses. My favorites are Brazilian because they have a color intensity that is unrivaled even by the finest Russian stones. We are also a strong buyer of Alexandrites on the second hand market, which allows us to source fine quality alexandrites at a slightly lower price point than if we had to pay for multiple middlemen in the import process. While we will order in synthetic alexandrite on request, nothing quite compares with the real thing so we only stock natural alexandrites.
The above ring is a true stand out for alexandrites. The center gem weighs 1ct and is accompanied by a Stone Group Labs report stating that the gem is natural and likely Brazilian in origin. The left photo shows the gem in pure outdoor light, the center photo is mixed lighting, and the right photo is under an open flame. This gem displays a very strong 90-95% color change and is coupled with a medium-dark tone so that the gem is bright and lively. This is simply the best Alexandrite ring we have sold in my 9 year tenure at FWCJ.
Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about our alexandrites.Read the full post »
Most of us have heard the word “deco” thrown around by countless designers, jewelers, etc- but more often than not we hear it used incorrectly. If you are interested in learning about the Art Deco period, or just want to drool over some amazing pieces of jewelry, continue on below.
The Art Deco era (approximately 1922 to 1938) was a unique period in the art and design world, resulting in revolutionary ideas in areas of fashion, architecture, home furnishings, and especially jewelry. To understand this period one must understand the decade leading up to the 1920s. Europe had been fully preoccupied by the horrors of World War I so the following peacetime caused a light-hearted spirit to sweep the continent, resulting in a boom in the worlds of art and academia. In the United States the post war era caused a financial boom- the roaring 20s- that lead to increased household incomes and freedoms. This happier attitude and increasing financial means allowed ordinary people to buy nice things, like cars, homes, and jewelry.
There were also a couple on unintended consequences of the war that seemed to fuel the Art Deco movement. Women who prior to the war were restrained by social etiquette and corsets did not want to give up the freedom they found through war-time work. Thus what had been necessity on farms and in factories during the war effort became fashionable after the war- shorter dresses and sleeves, short hair, no corsets, fun accessories, etc (notice the short hemlines, v-necklines, fun hats, and chunky jewelry accessories that the "flappers" in the above image are wearing). At the same time the world was seeing more innovations in science and technology. While the mechanized warfare of WWI was horrific, many scientists and businessmen realized that the same technologies used during the war could be modified and applied to the arts and manufacturing of other products.
In response to these trends, the French ministry of commerce organized the 1925 Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. This was a large trade fair intending to draw international notice to the artists and jewelers in Paris who were creating these new and unusual designs. The jewelry exhibit blew away all who came to see it (so much so that the Art Deco moniker came from this show). Some jewelers found inspiration in the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb and used ancient motifs like scarabs and Egyptian gods in modern pieces. Other jewelers seemed to be inspired by the bold designs of the Far East. Tiffany made pieces inspired by the art and nature of Japan, Cartier made pieces inspired by the Moghul rulers of India. Other jewelers came up with totally new designs, like Van Cleef and Arpel’s invention of invisible setting which is so popular today. The one theme that seemed to run throughout all of the jewelers was a love of bold, symmetrical designs that were far less frilly that the Art Nouveau pieces. These jewelers wanted their pieces to be worn and enjoyed, making jewelry more of a statement of personal style than ever before.
The Art Deco movement in jewelry was known for its bold designs and innovations. The pre-war pieces were more ornate, intended to be worn at formal occasions and candlelight whereas the Deco pieces were more symmetrical, with a focus on geometry and order that contrasted with previous eras. Many new materials were employed at this time. Platinum and flush-settings were employed to make the pieces wearable on a daily basis. Modern cut diamonds were becoming popular, but there were also some more unusual cuts invented or popularized at this time, such as marquise, emerald and Asscher cuts. Likewise, we started to see new and exciting styles in jewelry. The early 1900s had been dominated by mass-made jewelry ordered through the Sears catalogue, but increased selection ruled king in the 20s. Gone were the days of women wearing plain gold wedding bands, and in was an era of ordinary people wearing diamonds and custom made jewelry. Even two rings that looked similar would be different, as hand chasing and engraving of the metal made each piece unique, and items ordered in small town jewelry stores could be modified to match the hottest trends in magazines and on the screen.
The Art Deco period has had a lasting impact on jewelry design. It was during this era that we first saw platinum used in mass, and the first era in which white metal was used more than yellow gold for fine jewelry. Also, prior to this time we had never seen the use of smaller colored gemstones in jewelry design. From the Van Cleef invisible settings, to calibre´ rubies, emerald and sapphires set in intricate motifs: fine gemstones were used to highlight incredible workmanship and design. Additionally some of our now favorite designs were first used during the Art Deco Era. The “Tiffany 3-Stone Ring” using tapered baguettes on either side of a central diamond was first used in this period. Cartier and other French design houses started using fancy shaped diamonds, like trillions and shield cuts, to flank emerald cut or cushion shaped center stones- a style that is still synonymous with understated elegance today.
In our April newsletter we highlighted this consummately Art Deco wedding ring (see below), which is a great case-study in the Art Deco style. First, the square stepped geometric design is classic Deco. Second, the use of platinum and transitional-brilliant diamonds demonstrates the focus on the new and exciting manufacturing processes of the time. And lastly the entire ring is covered in hand carving work which allowed the platinum to look its best even through heavy wear. This particular ring has some unique features too. The center diamond is of the highest quality. The transitional brilliant was cutting edge technology in its day, and this particular diamond is a very good one (the diamond is rated G color, VS2 clarity). Another interesting fact is that one of the matching wedding bands is constructed in 14k white gold, while the rest of the ring is made in platinum. It was uncommon for these to have matching wedding bands at all, so it seems likely that these were added in stages, with the white gold band added in the 1950s (25th anniversary gift, maybe?). The best part about this ring is the look on the hand when it is worn. It sits low, allowing everyday wear without an issue, and yet the entire ring is diamond encrusted, so it sure does shine- even 90 years after it was made.
Contact us for more details on this and other Art Deco pieces we have in stock. We owe a special thanks to the Gemological Institute of America, Romanov Russia, and Antique Jewelry University (a fabulous website courtesy of Lang Antique Jewelry) for the amazing photographs in this piece.Read the full post »
Save up to 20% on our loose colored gemstone inventory!
At our Naked Stones Sale, we reward you just for coming and playing gems with us! Stop by and view our gems to be entered into a drawing to win a FREE gemstone pendant. This year we are giving away two- a 14k yellow gold and Australian black opal pendant and a 14k white gold hot pink sapphire and diamond pendant, each valued over $1500! Schedule an appointment or bring a friend for more entries to win- click here for an entry form.
So whats they sale all about? We have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the AGTA International Gem Show in Tucson, Arizona. As in previous years, we focused on fine and rare colored gemstones. Some of the highlights include three amazing natural Ceylon sapphires that are over 3cts each, an old-stock Burmese ruby that is fire-engine red, as well as a sampling of rare tourmalines, spinels and garnets with awesome cuts. This year we also sought out large statement pieces at more affordable price points. We sourced some incredibly rare cat's eye Moonstones, cabochon and cat's eye tourmalines, large aquamarines and morganites, and an incredible selection of gemmy Ethiopian Opals.
We have also refreshed our inventory of beautiful ring, pendant and earring mountings. Made in white, yellow and rose gold, from vintage to modern, from fancy to simple, we have a design you will LOVE for your gem of choice. We will also take your old jewelry as trade, or use your old gold and diamonds in a custom design!
Contact us to schedule an appointment, or click on the photo to view the contest entry form.Read the full post »
So what’s the deal with Morganite anyway, you know, that peach colored gem everyone wants?
In the past couple of years Morganite has gone from a rarely encountered collectors-only gemstone to one of the most requested gemstones we carry. Before I analyze why that has happened it is good to establish what Morganite is in the first place. Morganite is the pink to orange variety of the mineral beryl (so it is a cousin of Aquamarine and Emerald) thus it is a durable 7.5-8 on the Mohs hardness scale. Morganite was named after financier JP Morgan who backed the gem exploration trips that discovered Morganite in California and again in Madagascar. Since that time Brazil has become the primary source of pinker Morganite with African countries such as Nigeria and Mozambique sourcing most of the peach and orange gems. (Above photo is courtesy of Nomad's gems, one of our key Morganite suppliers. The cut stone weighs 190cts, and both pieces come from Mozambique.)
So what catapulted Morganite into popularity?
The first factor was discoveries of new Morganite deposits in Africa. Prior to 2000 the Brazilian deposits were the only commercially viable sources of Morganite, but most of the gems from these mines were a very faint pink. In the early thousands we started to see beautiful peach toned gems from a find in Pakistan, but this supply was soon exhausted. Fortunately in 2010 two new deposits were found in East African countries. Not only have these sources provided some natural Morganite, but they also produce faint pink to colorless material that can be treated to attain the famed rich peach color. Thus we are seeing more Morganite on the market and at lower prices than years past, making it an attractive gem for designers and jewelers to work with.
The second factor increasing Morganite popularity has been the focus on pastel shades in the design world. For the past 15 years Pantone has chosen a medium or light shade of blue, pink or orange for its Color of the Year, and this year the color is "Rose Quartz" which bears a striking similarity to the pink shades found in Morganite. In both 2015 and 2016 the more orange-peach shade was a noted “spring color” in the clothing and accessories world, increasing demand for high-end fashion jewelry with Morganite. Concurrently we have seen an increase in demand for rose gold, which happens to look amazing set with Morganite. The color has become so popular that we have sold several engagement rings featuring peach colored gems! (Above is the 2016 Color of the Year next to a suite of jewelry we made featuring Morganite and Aquamarine in 14k white gold. Below left: Nigerian natural Morganite set in rose gold and platinum, Middle: Brazilian morganite cut by John Dyer set with a heart-shaped diamond Right: 6ct oval Morganite from a new deposit in India set with round diamond accents.)
Hold onto your hats, it’s about to get technical.
People who are interested in Morganite quality factors should know that, like many colored gemstones, the grading is highly subjective. While most gemologists agree that Morganite should be free of noticeable imperfections, agreement ends there. Gem collectors tend to want a medium pink color, untouched by violet or peach undertones. However most of our clients want a medium to light peach color, with just a hint of pink. We tend to think that no matter which color you prefer, the key factor is a precision cut, as a good cut can intensify the base color of the gem and makes the end piece of jewelry much more sparkly and attractive.
(The four gems at left are totally natural and untreated. The first three are Nigerian, the last is from Pakistan. The right four gems are the treated material, the first two from Mozambique, the second two from Brazil.)
Pricing for Morganite has a wide range. The paler shades of peach in sizes under 5cts can be had for $50/ct, whereas the deepest peachy pinks in 5-10cts can be $200/ct. A premium is paid for natural gems from southern California and Nigeria that are totally untreated- these gems tend to be under 3cts in size but occur in deeper colors, and can be had for between $250-500/ct- if you can find them. The popularity of Morganite and pastel gems in general has increased demand for peachy colored tourmalines, spinels and sapphires, so expect to have to hunt for these colors in other gem materials.Read the full post »
The Edwardian era welcomed changes in fashion and technology that forever changed the jewelry world. The passing of Queen Victoria in 1901, still in mourning over Prince Albert, finally allowed society to cast off its years or mourning clothes. Out went the depressing black dresses, corsets and high necklines and in came lower necklines on flowing and lacy dresses, colorful hats and coats with whimsical accessories. As necklines lowered there was less room to wear brooches, giving elegant necklaces and large pendants center stage. Concurrently, technological innovations like the oxyacetline torch allowed jewelers to work with platinum, and we began to see intricate pieces and white metal more frequently. Mechanized diamond cutting hearkened the end of cushion shaped mine-cut diamonds which were replaced with round European cut brilliants for maximum sparkle.