A Focus on the Accent Stone

The accent stone(s) is an important part of some jewelry.  It’s meant to enhance the beauty of the center stone and provide added interest to the jewelry.  Diamonds are the most often used gem for accentuating a piece of jewelry.  They “go” with every other gem, and they add sparkle and richness.  But, what if you want something different for your accent stones?  Are there rules or best practices that apply when choosing accent stones?

An important guideline to follow when creating jewelry is to make sure the accent stones don’t compete with the center stone for attention.  Features such as size, cut, polish, and color should all be considered.  The size of an accent stone should always be smaller than the center stone, but there are many acceptable proportions.  Cut and polish of the accent stones can be similar or quite different from the center stone.  For example, I love the look of this rough drusy quartz with the polished and faceted diamonds.  But the smoothly polished chrysocolla and turquoise pendant is also pleasing to the eye.

Sleeping Drusy Quartz with Diamond Accents

Chrysocolla and Turquoise Cabochon Pendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study of color starts with the color wheel.  There are terms for colors that look good together, such as complementary or analogous colors.  Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, and analogous colors are adjacent.  Monochromatic colors are different tints or tones of the same color.  For example, blue and orange are good colors together.  And blue with green can be a vibrant combination. But dark blue can look great with light blue, too!  

In the end, your eye is the best judge of what colors look good together.  So much depends on the exact tint and hue of each gem.  Some people prefer bold, saturated colors while other people prefer pastels. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the hues of accent stones. Here are some suggestions for accents to put with birthstone gems.

  • January – Red Garnet paired with Yellow-Green Peridot
  • February – Violet Amethyst paired with Yellow Citrine (Note: Ametrine is the natural pairing of these two.)
  • March –  Aquamarine paired with Pink Tourmaline
  • April –  Diamond pairs with anything, but consider Blue Zircon for its high dispersion of light (aka Sparkle!)
  • May  –  vivid Emerald paired with another vivid gem, Blue Sapphire
  • June – Pearl, often used as accent itself, would pair well with the pastel hues of Morganite
  • July – Ruby, another vivid stone, would look great with Emerald as long as you’re okay with Christmas colors.  If not, consider Pink Sapphire, with its less saturated,monochromatic hue, as an accent gem.
  • August – Green Peridot paired with Ethiopian Opal
  • September – Blue Sapphire paired with Orange Spessertine Garnet
  • October – Precious Opal, if white, would pair well with Pink Spinel or Tourmaline.  If the Precious Opal is black, it would pair better with Emerald or Sapphire.
  • November – Yellow Citrine paired with Red Garnet
  • December – Robin’s Egg Blue Turquoise paired with Black Spinel or Diamonds

I recently helped create a Lavender Star Sapphire ring.  The sapphire had a very pale hue, as star sapphires often do. The goal was to enhance its color with effective accents.  We chose faceted trillion amethysts, fairly light in color but more colorful than the sapphire.  When the three were side by side, it really helped the Star Sapphire appear more lavender.  This can be another great use of accent stones.  

Star Sapphire with Light Amethysts

Choosing accent gems for your next jewelry project can be lots of fun.  Diamonds are wonderful, and they’ll never lose their appeal as an accent stone, but there are lots of other possibilities.  We’d be happy to help you figure out your options.  

What’s a Boulder Opal?

Boulder Opal from Australia

Opal can be a confusing gem stone. For one thing, it’s not a mineral like most gems. Minerals have an identifiable crystal structure.  Opal has a non-crystalline, amorphous structure, and so it’s labeled a mineraloid.  Another unusual quality of opal is all its different variations.  Most people think of opal as the stone that flashes different colors.  Gemologists call that quality “play of color.”  But that only happens with precious opal, which represents about 5% of all opal.  Most opal is called “common opal” or “potch opal”, and it shows no play of color.  These are just two reasons why opal is, well, complicated.

If you are really serious about your gem stones, you’ve probably heard of Black Opal, White Opal, Crystal Opal, Peruvian Opal, and Fire Opal.  You know that most of the precious opal comes from Australia or Ethiopia.  You understand that an opal doublet is really a layer of precious opal too fragile to survive alone in jewelry, so it’s backed with a non-precious material.  An opal triplet is an even finer layer of precious opal, with both a backing and a protective clear quartz dome over the top.

But what is Boulder Opal?  I describe it as ribbons or veins of opal that are embedded in the host rock it formed within. Because the host rock is tougher and harder than opal, boulder opal is considered more durable.  And because the host rock is less valuable, you can get a big piece of boulder opal for much less money than a small piece of crystal or black opal.  Boulder opal is mined in Queensland, which is the northeastern part of Australia.  Mine fields in places like Quilpie, Bulgaroo, Koroit, and Yowah are yielding a lot of product.  As Boulder Opal has become more popular, these mines have kept up with demand.  

Three pieces from our collection

For the month of May, 2018, we’ve brought several beautiful pieces of boulder opal into our store, courtesy of our distributor, DuftyWeis Opals.  They’re only here for a limited time so, if you have the chance, come in to be personally introduced to boulder opal. 

The Language of Gemstones

Gemstones are part of my life.  I’m around them all day at work!  But many people feel that their interaction with gems and jewels is minimal.  Our language, however, is quite “loaded” with references to gems.  This pervasiveness means that it’s literally impossible to live life without some knowledge of gems.  

Many women, and some MEN!, are named after gemstones.  Have you ever met an Amber, a Ruby, or a Jade?  Other well-known names include Beryl, Pearl, Opal, Jett, and Jasper.  Names like Gemma and Crystal aren’t gemstone names, per se, but they mimic the idea of gems.  And there are plenty of less-common names like Jacinth, Sapphire, and Garnet.

Beryl Markham, Aviatrix, and character in the movie, Out of Africa

Pearl S Buck, author of The Good Earth

 

 

 

 

 

Amber Tamblyn, actress. Starred in Two and a Half Men

Companies like Crayola and Pantene have borrowed names from gemstones to describe their colors.  Do you remember coloring with crayons labeled Aquamarine or Amethyst?  What about Pantene’s Color of the Year last year–Rose Quartz!  Names like Ruby, Emerald, or Turquoise bring colors vividly to mind.  The gemstone names can be colorful adjectives, and the entertainment industry has used them for years.  Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz with her RUBY red slippers? Or how about Dolly Parton singing about Jolene and her eyes of EMERALD green?  

Even gemstones with little or no color get used a lot in our language.  Diamond is the most popular gemstone used in songwriting.  Pearl is the runner-up.  Over 1200 songs were counted as having the word, Diamond.  Rhianna has a recent song, “Diamonds”, which, I’m sure, is quite popular.  My mind goes back to my 8th grade synchronized swimming program, when we swam to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” by Ethel Merman.  (I guess that dates me, doesn’t it?)

There are sayings and quotations about gemstones.  For example, “Diamond in the Rough” means that something or someone is valuable and good, but not polished or finished.  “Pearls of Wisdom” means rare and worthy words of advice.  Even the Bible contributes to the list with “Pearls before Swine” which talks about not giving out words or things of great value to those who won’t appreciate them.  In general, gemstones are used as synonyms for something or someone rare, valuable, and special.  

I love these funny quotations about gemstones and jewelry that I came across while researching for this blog.

Diamonds are only chunks of coal, that stuck to their jobs, you see.    by Minnie Richard Smith

Jewelry takes people’s minds off your wrinkles.  by Sonja Henie

I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage.  They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.    by Rita Rudner

But I want to end with a reference to gemstones that we all learned from early in our youth.  This is proof, in my opinion,  that one can’t go through life without some knowledge of gems:

Twinkle, twinkle little star– How I wonder what you are.  Up above the world so high–Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle little star–How I wonder what you are. 

Sculpting Gems

Most of us think of Michelangelo, Picasso, or Rodin when someone mentions sculptors.  But here are three more names of skilled artists who sculpt and polish gem stones.  Tom Munsteiner, Steve Walters, and John Dyer have all won multiple awards for their work.  Here are some examples:

John Dyer

Tom Munsteiner

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Walters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Munsteiner is a fourth generation gem stone carver from Germany.  His father, Bernd Munsteiner, is famous for the development of the fantasy cut, and he even has some of his work in the Smithsonian!  Tom knew early on that he wanted to carve gems.  At age 16 he began training with his dad.  One thing I found very interesting is that his dad first taught him how to classically cut gems before attempting any fantasy cuts.  By the time he was 22, he had been trained as a Gemologist and was beginning to win awards for his gemstone creations.  His work is distinguished from his father’s for its softer, less angular designs.  

Steve Walters grew up in California.  He taught himself how to carve gemstones by reading books and practicing.  For a short period, he produced gemstone sculptures for his parents’ company.   In the mid-1980s he started to carve gems for jewelry.  His work is very recognizable as many of the pieces are composites.  He might put gems like onyx, citrine, and hematite together, backed with mother of pearl.  He’s won several A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association) Cutting Edge Awards, and his booth at the Tucson Gem Show is always one of the most popular.  

John Dyer grew up in Brazil, the son of missionaries from the United States.  When his parents saw his interest in gems, they bought him books and helped him obtain his first rough gem stone material.  John tells the story of taking his rough to a cutter who overcharged him and did a terrible job.  That’s when he decided to cut his own gems.  With lots of practice and a few “disasters”, he’s become one of the most recognized gem stone cutters and has won over 50 cutting awards.  

At Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth, we’ve been fortunate to set gem stones cut by all three of these artists.  It’s so gratifying to see these gems being worn and appreciated.  Here are some of our designs.  If you’re inspired to have your own creation by one of these well-known artists, come and talk to us.  We’d love to help.

Blue Topaz by John Dyer

Composite with Watermelon Tourmaline by Steve Walters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peridot by Tom Munsteiner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Synthetic Gemstones–What are the Advantages? Disadvantages?

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.

Pantone’s Color of 2018, Ultra Violet, Suggests New Gemstones

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.

Sugilite

Charoite

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

Lavender Jade

Violet Sapphire

 

 

 

 

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-Birthstone of a Generation

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

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor Revisited–When One Post Just Isn’t Enough

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.

 

Being a Bench Jeweler–the Pros and Cons

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:

PROS

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.  

CONS

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! 

 

 

Made in Michigan Jewelry

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!