The history of lab-created or synthetic gemstones is much longer than you might think. Scientists began making synthetic ruby back in the late 1800’s. Initially, rubies were made for industrial rather than decorative purposes. Ruby is harder than steel, so it can hold up to moving metal parts. It actually helps reduce friction in devices like watches or compasses, allowing the metal pieces to move with a consistent pattern.
In the early 1900’s, a young boy named Carroll Chatham tried to grow diamonds in his garage. He was fascinated with the work of Henri Moissan, a French chemist who also tried to grow diamonds but ended up with Moissanite. Making diamonds requires more heat and pressure than Chatham could produce at the time, so he re-directed his focus to emeralds. Even then, the work wasn’t easy. In fact, his first emerald crystals were accidentally formed. By this time Chatham was in college, and it took him three years to figure out how to replicate the “accident.”
Lab-created Emerald Rough Crystals
Lab-created Cut and Polished Emerald
By 1938, Chatham had perfected the process of growing emeralds for jewelry, and he moved on to creating other valued gems like sapphire, ruby, opal, spinel, and alexandrite. Chatham began selling his lab-created gems under the Chatham label. The company is now 80 years old and is one of the leaders in the making of lab-created colored gem stones. Carroll never gave up on his dream of growing diamonds and, in the late 1980’s, the company was successful. Unfortunately, Carroll didn’t live to see this dream come true.
In 2018 there are many, many companies that produce diamonds–companies like Brilliant Earth, Clean Origin, and EcoStar. Years of refining the High Pressure, High Temperature technique has led to better quality diamonds. While diamonds have many industrial uses, today’s lab-created diamonds are beautiful and can also be used in jewelry. Anyone purchasing an engagement ring today has a decision to make that his/her parents and grandparents didn’t have to make–Should the center stone be natural or lab-grown?
Photo courtesy of Rogers & Holland
There are pros and cons to purchasing a synthetic diamond or colored gemstone. Some of the advantages are 1) synthetics are less expensive than their natural counterparts; 2) growing synthetics is kinder to the environment than mining for natural stones; and 3) gem cutters can sacrifice more synthetic material to create the perfectly cut gem because, well, you can always grow more! Partly because of these advantages, we’ve seen more customers move towards this option.
One big disadvantage of a synthetic stone is that it’s, well, synthetic. Fine jewelry symbolizes pure and natural feelings of love, gratitude, or friendship. How will it feel to wear or give jewelry that has a lab-created stone? Another disadvantage is that synthetic stones will only go down in value. They are a manufactured item and, as the technology improves in the making of them, the cost to produce will decrease. Fine natural gems are rare, and that rarity will keep values high.
It’s a decision every consumer has to make for him/herself. What’s imperative is that consumers are presented with clear options, and that they know what they are buying. Gemstones are not obviously natural or synthetic, so customers must rely on reputable jewelers to distinguish between the two. For an important jewelry purchase, go to an A.G.S. (American Gem Society) member store. There you will find associates dedicated to the highest integrity in the jewelry industry. Ask questions and do comparison shopping. And feel lucky to live in a time when there are so many gem stone options.
Ultra Violet, Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year
In December, Pantone came out with its Color of the Year. This year it’s Ultra Violet. My mind goes to the gemstones that exhibit this glorious hue. Many people will think of Amethyst and Tanzanite. I’d like to introduce some other options– two gems most people have never heard of and two gems most people have heard of but never in this hue.
SUGILITE was first identified in 1944 by Ken-ichi Sugi from Japan. But gem quality Sugilite wasn’t discovered until 1979 in South Africa, making it a very new gem in the jewelry industry. The color ranges from a pinkish purple to a deep bluish-purple. The hardness is between 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs scale. Sugilite is generally cut as a cabochon because it’s opaque. It usually has veining and a mottled appearance.
CHAROITE is another “young” stone. Named after the Chara River in Eastern Siberia, the only place it’s ever been found, it was discovered in the 1940s but not really known until 1978. The stone ranges from lavender to purple in color, is usually opaque, and is readily identified by its swirling, fibrous appearance. Considered a rock rather than a mineral, its hardness on the Mohs scale is listed as 5 – 6.
JADEITE has been known and valued for centuries. It comes in many colors, not just green. Lavender jade is beautiful! It can be semitransparent to opaque and is usually cut into cabochons or beads. It comes from many different places–Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, and Canada to name a few. Jade is a harder, tougher stone than either Sugilite or Charoite. But it also has the possibility of being dyed, which brings down the value. Neither Sugilite nor Charoite undergo treatments. Always ask if the jadeite has been treated or enhanced before you buy!
PURPLE SAPPHIRE is very rare, coming usually from Sri Lanka or Madagascar. Again, sapphire has been valued as a gemstone for centuries, but most people don’t know that it comes in so many different colors. Most sapphire is heat-treated, but purple, lavender, and violet sapphires usually don’t need to be. Purple sapphire has a Mohs hardness of 9, so it’s the most durable of the options presented here. Because it’s hard and transparent, this gem is usually faceted. Not surprisingly, it’s also the most expensive option listed.
Amethyst and Tanzanite are lovely purple gems, and they would work well with this year’s fashions. But now you have LOTS of options if you want to be “styling” with the Color of the Year!
Tanzanite, that beautiful violet-blue gemstone with the interesting history, doesn’t seem that rare. Most jewelry stores have at least a few pieces. Most consumers recognize the name, tanzanite, and can’t remember when it wasn’t available. But we are actually the lucky “generation” to have this precious gem. Going to the store and buying a new piece of tanzanite jewelry will probably not be an option for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The history begins back in the late 1960s, when the blue-purple variety of the mineral, zoisite, was first discovered. Found in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro, the gem quickly gained the attention of Tiffany’s president, Henry Platt. It was Tiffany & Co. that named the gem, Tanzanite, and began marketing it in 1968. The popularity of the gemstone grew over the next few decades and, in 2002, Tanzanite became an official birthstone for December. It also is the gemstone for the 24th wedding anniversary.
Most gemstones are found in various places on Earth. But the geological circumstances that allow tanzanite to form are very rare and have only been found in the Merelani Hills. All the mines are located within eight square miles! A big reason for this is that vanadium, the trace element responsible for the violet-blue color, is not a common element. And it was very rare during the formation time of tanzanite. Another reason for tanzanite’s rarity is that only in this one location has erosion of the Earth’s surface tipped the scales enough to allow the continental crust, where the gems were formed, to be pushed up by the oceanic crust. Bringing the gemstones closer to the Earth’s surface has allowed mining to be profitable.
For how much longer will mining be profitable? In the early 2000’s money was invested in understanding the conditions ripe for tanzanite. Mining became more efficient and production increased. Recent reports, however, point out that mines have to go deeper to find more tanzanite. At some point, the cost of mining will be prohibitive. When production slows and the jewelry industry can’t count on a steady supply, it will look to other, more available, gems. This may lead to a downward spiral of demand and supply for tanzanite.
You are part of the “generation” that can still go to your favorite jewelry store and buy this beautiful gem. Unless some other deposit is discovered, future generations will have to buy previously owned tanzanite. So, if you love tanzanite, don’t delay in getting your special piece of it.
Our pieces of tanzanite, currently in stock
A few months back I wrote about Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry, based on her book, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Little did I know that the blog would spark so much interest, both in me and in others. After more research and a presentation at our store, I feel empowered to add to the topic.
Elizabeth Taylor was always a lady, always “put together.” These were the words of a friend of hers who I was fortunate to speak with. She wore jewelry appropriate to the occasion. She owned big, dripping, diamond, emerald, and ruby jewelry which she wore on the ‘red carpets.’ But she also owned more modest pieces like strings of beads and charm bracelets. According to her friend, she never left her room without jewelry adorning her outfit, but she made sure the jewelry fit the occasion.
She obviously loved receiving gifts of jewelry, but she was always willing to share her pieces with the world. She didn’t lock them away. As she said in her book, “When I wear it anyone can look at it, and I’ll let anyone try it on.” For all that she owned, I’m not convinced she was materialistic. I think she cared most about people. She related to people and had many friends. The people who knew and loved her most understood that the receiving of gifts was her top ‘Love Language.’ Malcolm Forbes once gave her a suite of paper jewelry that she treasured. A gift was an expression of love, and that was most important to her.
Paper Jewelry from Malcolm Forbes
Elizabeth always knew that, when she died, most of her jewelry would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Her collection would not remain intact. She hoped that the new owners would love the pieces as much as she did, and that they’d see themselves as caretakers. “Nobody owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians,” she said.
In December, 2011, nine months after Elizabeth died, her jewelry did indeed get auctioned by Christie’s, both in a live auction at New York’s Rockefeller Center and also through an on-line auction. The live auction was the most valuable jewelry auction in history, raising almost $116 million. I spoke with someone who went to the auction. She and her husband had hoped to purchase some of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry for their store, just for promotional purposes. But the pieces were fetching two, three, and up to ten times the auction estimate. They ended up buying the paper jewelry, and even that sold for $6,875!
The on-line auction had over 950 items–jewelry, clothing, accessories, and decorative arts–that sold over the extended period of December 3rd – 17th. Altogether the auctions raised over 150 million dollars for the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and its beneficiaries. The Trust completely funds the operating costs of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
One controversy regarding the auction casts a shadow over its success. In May, 2017, the Elizabeth Taylor Trust filed suit against Christie’s for misrepresenting one of Ms. Taylor’s most iconic diamonds, the Taj Mahal. In 2012, the buyer of the diamond claimed that he was led to believe the diamond was once owned by Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. He wanted his $8 million back when he learned there was no proof the Shah had ever owned it. Christie’s refunded his money, but the Trustees felt that Christie’s action was inappropriate. The trustees never portrayed the diamond as something that had belonged to the Shah, and they were upset that the best opportunity to sell the diamond was gone because of miscommunication. As it stands right now, Christie’s possesses the diamond and the Trustees have the cash. After years of trying to resolve the controversy through mediation, the decision was made to go through the courts. It sound like a terrible mess which will probably take years to untangle.
Elizabeth Taylor lived a complicated life. She was often misunderstood. It makes sense that, even after she’s gone, there’s some untangling to be done. But I hope you agree with me that learning more about this fascinating celebrity is worth the effort.
We have two full-time bench jewelers at our store. They are always busy, repairing and creating jewelry. We know them well but, for the general public, they seem a mysterious breed–tucked out of sight in the dark recesses of the shop. They work with tools and heat and chemicals that can be dangerous. From the shop come loud noises that sound like wheels whirring, metal clinking, or compressed air escaping. “What’s happening back there? What motivates them to do this kind of work?”
I asked them the pros and cons of being a bench jeweler. From the comments and letters of other bench jewelers there is a broad consensus on the following:
A bench jeweler is fulfilled by making pieces of art that people will treasure. Clients are usually full of admiration and gratitude for the jeweler who can repair a sentimental favorite or create a masterpiece.
A bench jeweler gets to be creative. Whether he/she is making a custom piece for a client or for the store, there are a lot of decisions to be made on gemstone colors, metal design, and the engineering of the piece. Even if the job is a repair, there’s creativity involved in solving the problem.
Bench jewelers have lots of variety. Each repair, each creation poses different challenges. If you don’t like a steep learning curve, don’t be a bench jeweler.
No college degree is needed, however it helps to study at a trade school or design studio. Much of what a bench jeweler needs to know is learned on the job from a mentor.
The environment back in the shop is one of collaboration. Our bench jewelers have shared memories of repairs they’ve done and jewelry they’ve made. Camaraderie is the natural state for a bench jeweler.
As with all careers, there are downfalls. The work of a bench jeweler can be dangerous. It’s not uncommon to get cut or burned. One of our bench jewelers described hot metal flying out of a centrifugal casting machine and being burned in several places.
Even without injuries on the job, years of sitting and bending over tiny jewelry is hard on the eyes and the back. It’s a sedentary job, complete with the multitude of health issues that can come with not moving much.
Bench jewelers often feel pressure to complete jobs. Clients don’t want to be without their jewelry. There’s additional pressure around holiday times, so overtime during the Christmas season is common.
It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be good at this work. In the meantime, you are someone’s apprentice and probably not making much money.
A bench jeweler has to be very patient. He/she has to be able to concentrate for long periods. Just imagine having to work daily with tiny parts, gems, and tools!
IN THE END
Bench jewelers are a special breed– good-humored, courageous, sympathetic, and humble. They must be willing to put up with interruptions from their colleagues and impossible requests from their clients. They must be prepared to take on difficult jobs with potentially expensive consequences because, as one bench jeweler put it, “Somebody has to do it!” They must understand that, regardless of the quality of the jewelry, it has special value to the owner. And they must accept that, stuck in the back of the shop, they won’t always receive credit for their efforts.
And that final quality attributable to bench jewelers–playfulness. They jokingly say that they love playing with fire and banging away with their hammers. They may be kidding, but I think they really mean it!
Michigan isn’t known as a state rich in gemstones. We have Petoskey (our state stone) and Isle Royale Greenstone (our state gem). There are no sapphires, emeralds, or rubies, but this hasn’t stopped us from making our own gems. Be thankful for the ingenuity of artists who use the materials readily available to them. If you’re a Michigander, you can be proud of our “Made in Michigan” gems.
Detroit is the Motor City. Henry Ford started making automobiles around the turn of the 20th century. Little did he know he’d be helping the jewelry industry! But Fordite, or “Motor Agate” as it’s sometimes called, is made from the same kind of lacquer or enamel paint that graced the cars of the mid-1900s. Today the material is used to make such things as pendants, earrings, and cuff links.
Fordite Pendant made from Cadillac Paint
For decades, automobiles were spray painted by hand in rooms called painting bays. The painted car frames sat on skids that could then be moved to the oven when the paint was ready for curing. Over time, excess paint on the skids, baked hard by many trips to the oven, made the skids less efficient. Workers would chip big chunks of psychedelic enamel off, and, at some point, they realized that the colorful chunks could be cut and polished.
According to experts on the material, the heyday for Fordite was in the 1970s, because such a variety of color was offered. Experts can look at a piece of Fordite and know, approximately, when the piece was formed. For example, bright colors of red, green and yellow were popular in the 1960s. Earthtones of olive green and brown were popular in the 1970s. Experts can also distinguish Fordite from the creations of contemporary jewelers who can make their own “Fordite-like” pieces. Obviously, the “natural Fordite” is more valuable.
By the late 1980s, innovation in the painting process reduced the amount of wasted paint. Today’s cars are painted with robotic arms and a magnetic process which eliminates the chance of overspray. Sadly, colorful Fordite is no longer made. If you want to own a piece of Fordite, don’t wait too long!
Fordite isn’t the only example of recycling in jewelry. In the town of Leland, near Traverse City, jewelry is made from the slag by-product of an iron smelting process. Back in the late 1800s, Leland was home to the Leland Lake Superior Iron Company. Situated close to the harbor, right on Lake Michigan, the company separated iron from the raw ore. The glass-like slag, made of silicon dioxide and metal oxide, had useful purposes when the company was in business, but when it folded in 1885, heaps of unneeded slag were dumped into the harbor. Within a few years green, blue, gray, and even purple pieces of the slag were coming up on shore like beach stones. Snorkelers find larger chunks of the slag further out in the harbor. No one seems to know who first decided that the material could be shaped and polished for jewelry, but it’s been used for at least 30 years. Today, almost any jewelry store in the Leelanau Peninsula has jewelry made from Leland Blue.
Leland Blue Rough
Let me mention one final example of recycled material in jewelry. A young company, Rebel Nell, figured out how to use another of the Motor City’s commodities. They make sterling silver jewelry from peeling and fallen graffiti paint. The process Rebel Nell uses to stabilize the paint is a trade secret, but it’s no secret that they are doing great work. The mission of the company is to employ, educate, and empower disadvantaged women living in local shelters. The work they do, making bracelets, rings, pendants, and earrings, allows the women to transition to an independent life.
Graffiti paint bracelet, made by Rebel Nell
Recycling is a strategy that only grows in popularity. Michigan jewelers take slag, paint, and other things that have little value (think beach glass and copper nuggets) and make new treasures from them. It’s the Michigander way!
One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry. Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry. She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories. She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it. As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”
The first story she told was one of the best! She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor. There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother. It was pretty expensive–about $25. That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week! But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day. It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.
La Peregrina, before and after re-mount
Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing! Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms. Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below. All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone. In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina! Amazingly, it was not scratched. “I did finally tell Richard,” she said. “But I had to wait at least a week!”
The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson
Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life. Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much. It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales. When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research. She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.
If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor. And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing! I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share. Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs. I don’t understand that mentality at all. Each piece is different, each piece is unique. And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”
I’m not sure it’s ever been explained in this blog, but Dearborn Jewelers isn’t actually in Dearborn anymore. After 53 years, the store moved to Plymouth, Michigan, and that’s where it’s been for the last 14 years. Those of us who work at the store are very proud of our town. We support the other businesses as much as we can, we donate to many worthy local causes, and, most recently, we’re contributing to the celebration of Plymouth’s 150th birthday!
Plymouth was incorporated as a village in 1867 and upgraded to a city in 1932. The “Old Village” was actually the center of town when the Starkweather brothers first settled here. Over the years, Plymouth has become well known for its special “features”:
- the only place in Michigan where railroad tracks are laid in all four directions
- the “Air Rifle Capital of the World” because it’s the home of the Daisy Air Rifle Company
- its annual events, like the Ice Festival and the Art Festival, earning it the phrase, “There’s always something going on in Downtown Plymouth.”
- Kellogg Park, once owned by John Kellogg and now the site of about 150 events per year. To celebrate Plymouth’s 150th birthday, the park’s famous fountain will be re-done, thanks to a generous grant from the Wilcox Foundation.
the Fountain in Kellogg Park during the Breast Cancer Walk
In honor of this great city, and to help support the Plymouth Historical Museum, Dearborn Jewelers created a one-of-a-kind diamond pendant. One hundred fifty diamonds, totaling almost 150 points (that’s 1.50 carats), decorate a white gold pendant. The letters of PLYMOUTH are subtly woven into the piece. Design elements of the 1860s were incorporated into the pendant. Many of us here at Dearborn Jewelers worked on the design, and we are so proud of our team effort! Someone is going to win this pendant–someone who’s bought a ticket to the Historical Museum event on July 26, 2017.
Plymouth’s 150 Years Commemorative Pendant, created by Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth
If you’re interested in supporting the Plymouth Historical Museum and, perhaps, winning a beautiful diamond pendant, buy a $25 ticket from either the museum or from Dearborn Jewelers. The event begins at 6:00pm and appetizers and beverages will be served. While the event is sure to be fun, you do not need to be present to win. The winner will also receive a booklet which explains how the pendant was designed and made.
Good luck to you if you purchase a ticket! And don’t forget to wish a great big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Downtown Plymouth!!
At some point you may be in the market for pearls. It’s a complicated topic, but it’s nice to know at least a little bit about what you’re purchasing. Think of this blog as a quick course to help you understand the lingo when you are shopping for pearls. Reading this will also help you understand the wide variation in pricing for pearls.
Lesson 1: All the pearls you see in the store are cultured pearls, which means that they were made with man’s help. Since Mikimoto started growing pearls in the early 1900s, the industry has grown tremendously. Oysters or mussels are tended to by pearl farmers and, when they’re old enough, they get implanted with a piece(s) of tissue(usually from a mussel) or maybe a bead. If all goes well, the mollusk responds to this “irritant” by secreting nacre around it. With time and a lot “babying” on the part of the farmers, these mollusks will produce a pearl. Some mollusks can produce several pearls at one time.
Lesson 2: Different types of mollusks produce different types of pearls. The four main types of pearls you’ll see for sale are Akoya, Tahitian, South Sea, and Freshwater. Of the four, Freshwater pearls are the most economical, partly because many pearls can be harvested from each mussel. Freshwater pearls come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Akoya pearls are usually white or cream-colored. They’re known for great luster, and they are quite round. Tahitian pearls are gray to black in color, and they’re usually bigger than Akoyas. South Sea pearls can be bigger still, and they are silver or gold in color.
Lesson 3: The shape of a pearl can vary due to many factors, some of them under man’s control. Shape can be described using many different terms. Sure, you’ll hear round, near-round, tear-drop, and button. Those are fairly self-explanatory. But what about BAROQUE? This just means that the pearl isn’t a traditional shape. It’s irregular. Many freshwater pearls fall into this category, because they are normally nucleated with just a small piece of tissue. EDISON pearls refer to freshwater pearls that have been nucleated with round beads rather than tissue. They can be quite big and round because of this. FIREBALL pearls are also bead-nucleated, but they have a “tail” because of the way the bead is placed into the mollusk. MABE, or BLISTER pearls are formed when a half-bead is attached to the inner side of the oyster. When the pearl is removed, a portion of the oyster’s lining is also taken. KESHI pearls are formed when the inserted nucleus is rejected by the oyster, but the nacre has started to gather. The result is a pearl that looks more like a single Kellogg’s cornflake. It is completely made of nacre. MOTHER OF PEARL is not really a pearl, but it’s made of the same stuff. It forms the lining of the mollusk, and can be cut out in thin layers to be used as inlay.
Lesson 4: Just like diamonds have 4 Cs (Cut, color, clarity, and carat weight) that determine their value, pearls have qualities that you should know about. LUSTER is a combo of surface shine and a deeper glow. Really good luster allows you to see your own reflection on the pearl’s surface. If the surface seems cloudy or milky, with more of a matte finish, luster is low. SHAPE, as we talked about in lesson 3, helps determine value. It’s rare to have a perfectly round pearl, but that’s usually the goal. SURFACE is important, too. Blemishes on the surface of the pearl detract from its value. SIZE influences value. Usually bigger is more valuable, because it takes the oyster longer to produce that size. You do have to keep the type of pearl in mind, however. A large Akoya would be a small Tahitian. COLOR is dependent on the type of pearl, too. But it’s important that the pearl have both a pleasing color and fairly uniform color. Finally, if you’re buying a strand of pearls, you need to think about how well they MATCH. Well-matched pearls in a necklace command top prices because it takes so many pearls to find ones that are similar enough to be strung together.
Lesson 5: (optional) If you do plan to buy a strand of pearls, there are some terms you should know. Most strands are made of pearls that are UNIFORM in size and shape. But you can also buy a GRADUATED strand. (No, that doesn’t mean it’s smarter.) It means that the pearls graduate in size, from small near the clasp to large in the center. You can buy strands of different lengths. A PRINCESS length is 18 inches. A MATINEE is 20 – 24 inches. And an OPERA length is 30 – 36 inches long! Or you can buy multiple strands that are worn together as a single necklace. If the strands nest inside each other, you have a BIB. If the strands are twisted together like a braid, you have a TORSADE.
As I said before, buying pearls can seem quite complicated. But they are worth it! And, hopefully, Pearls 101 can help you feel confident.
For centuries jewelry was designed by men. Seems odd, doesn’t it, when most all jewelry is worn by women? But the design field was male dominated for the same reason most fields were–men were seen as the more capable sex and the bread winners of the family. When did it become clear that women could design for women?
Perhaps the first to recognize this talent in a female was Rene’ Boivin, a Parisian goldsmith and engraver in the late 1800s. He married Jeanne Poiret, a woman who became his business partner in his jewelry workshops. Together they created fabulous designs which were in high demand among their elite clientele.
Egyptian Emerald Ring by Maison Boivin
When Rene’ died in 1917, everyone assumed that Jeanne would sell the business but, instead, she and her daughter, Germaine, assumed control. Jeanne, though not trained as a jeweler, knew a lot from working with her husband. She’d think out the designs and have someone else render them. She also had a talent for finding good talent, hiring young Suzanne Belperron in 1921 and, when Suzanne left in 1931, the talented Juliette Moutarde took her place.
Suzanne Belperron opened her own jewelry design firm with Bernard Herz, and later, his son, Jean, in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. Her designs were so distinctive–very fluid and organic. Even while those around her embraced Art Deco, with its straight lines, Suzanne elevated a more modern design. Famous women like the Duchess of Windsor and Mona Williams (pictured below) bought her jewelry. Her work was never signed, though. She always said that her style was her signature.
Sketch and finished piece by Suzanne Belperron
Juliette Moutarde worked with Jeanne and Germaine at House Boivin until they sold the company in 1976. Jeanne had died in 1959, but her daughter, a talented jewelry designer in her own right, kept the business going. Throughout these successful years, custom pieces were never signed by the individual artists. Perhaps it was seen as too bold, too assertive, for a woman to sign her work back in the early 1900s.
Design attributed to Moutarde, made for Claudette Colbert in 1936.
But because of these women, and a few others like Italian Elsa Schiaparelli, female jewelry designers today feel empowered to open their own studios, sign their names to their pieces, and earn their own success in the design world. Thanks to these pioneers, we know names like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Ippolita Rostagno, who have had their own jewelry lines for decades. And because of THEM, contemporary female designers–from Kendra Scott and Irene Neuwirth to Farah Khan Ali and Erica Courtney find success in the always competitive jewelry industry.
contemporary Ippolita design
Today we don’t think much about gender when choosing a designer. If you like the creation, you respect the designer! But it wasn’t always like that, and I wanted to lift up the courage of Jeanne Bouvin and her team of female designers. They worked and made their way successfully in a male world. Good for them and thank goodness for us. Their combination of talent and determination allowed women who came after to enter the field with confidence. Because of that, I want to nominate Jeanne Poiret Boivin for Mother of Female Jewelry Designers!