The Green Sand Beach

There are four green sand beaches on Earth.  One of them, Papakolea Beach, is at the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii.  And I was lucky enough to go there this January, during my 2-week vacation in the Hawaiian Islands.  (Side note:  If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii, TAKE IT!)   This beach isn’t easy to get to, as it’s about two and a half miles from the dirt parking lot.  Your choices are a “shuttle” which is actually an old van or pick-up truck for $15, or a good 45 minute walk.  Both choices leave you dusty and thirsty, as you make your way towards an amazing oasis.  

The Green Sand Beach

Why is the sand GREEN?  Well, the answer lies under the crust of the Earth, in the upper mantle, where one of the dominant rocks is Peridotite.  The name may remind you of August’s birthstone, Peridot, whose color is a yellowish to brownish green.  Peridotite is brought to the surface on the waves of magma that erupt from the same volcanos that formed the Hawaiian Islands.  It’s made primarily of the mineral, Olivine, which has a much higher melting temperature than most minerals.  So, the magma brings it to the surface, surrounds it with lava rock (basalt), but doesn’t melt it into the mixture.  These peridotite xenoliths eventually reveal themselves as erosion breaks down the basalt host rock.  

What happens next is what happens to every rock, given time and exposure to the elements.  The peridotite breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s a bunch of tiny olivine grains.  But these little grains are heavier than most sand, so if the conditions are protected enough, they have a tendency to stay.  And if enough of them stay in one place, it makes the beach look green.  Conditions are rarely as perfect as here in this bay, cut by the ocean into the side of a former cinder cone.  

So, how does it feel to play on a beach of green gems?  The truth is, most peridotite is not gem quality, and grains of sand are way too small to be valuable.  But there is something special, at least to this gemologist, about having tiny peridot between your toes.   It was great building a sand castle out of what the Hawaiians call their Hawaiian Diamonds.

The sand is protected by the state, so you’re not allowed to fill a container with it unless you are a native Hawaiian.  But, wouldn’t you know, the driver of my shuttle was a twelfth generation Hawaiian, and he was trying to impress the young, pretty woman sitting next to him.  He gave her a handful of green sand, mixed with larger peridot pebbles, in an empty water bottle.  When she showed them to me, I gasped in delight.  “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed.  “They’re beautiful!!”

When she found out I worked with gemstones, she secretly gave me the water bottle, saying, “You’ll appreciate it so much more than I will.”  So, I have my special little stash of green sand which I will keep forever!

Hawaiian Diamonds (aka The Tears of Pele–Goddess of Volcanos)

 

Out of this World Jewelry made of Meteorite

Jewelry is made of things from the earth–like metals and minerals.  Or it’s made of animals from the sea–like pearls and coral.  But meteorite is one material used in jewelry that doesn’t come from the earth or the sea.  Meteorite is extraterrestrial material, recovered after it hits Earth.  It’s used a lot in men’s wedding bands, and its use is starting to seep into women’s pendants and bracelets.

Lashbrook's Meteorite Men's Wedding Band

Lashbrook’s Meteorite Men’s Wedding Band

What is meteorite made of?   Well, it depends on which type you’re thinking about.  The three types are stony, iron, and stony-iron.  Only 5% of meteorites are classified as iron, but they are the ones that are used for jewelry.  These meteorites are primarily iron but contain trace elements like nickel, cobalt and gold.  The metal shows a distinctive crystalline pattern when cut, polished, and acid etched.  The pattern is the result of slow-cooling iron and nickel crystals.

One manufacturer of men’s wedding bands, Lashbrook, uses material from the Gibeon meteorite.  The Gibeon material is found near the town of Gibeon in Namibia.  Turns out that all meteorites are named for their location. It’s believed the tons of material that showered Gibeon 30,000 years ago is about 4 billion years old.

Suppose you want a piece of outer space in your ring.  After all, how cool is that?  But you should know a few things first.  Iron meteorites are magnetic so, if your job is working with magnets, you may want to reconsider.  If you have a nickel allergy, you shouldn’t wear meteorite.  Gibeon material is about 9% nickel.  And, even if none of the above holds true for you, you will want to treat your ring with care.  It’s important to never wear it in a pool or hot tub.   Because iron can rust, keep the ring dry as much as possible.  If you do notice rust, rid the meteorite of any moisture by soaking it in 90% rubbing alcohol and then air drying it.  You can clean it gently with a soft toothbrush, and then apply a small amount of gun metal oil, wiping away any excess.  Finally, the etch pattern that makes meteorite so distinctive can wear down and become fainter over time.  It is possible to re-etch the pattern, however.

A raw piece of Seymchan Meteorite

A raw piece of Seymchan Meteorite

One thing that surprised me was how many meteorites exist on Earth.  Over 40,000 have been found and cataloged.  Small pieces of meteorite fall to Earth everyday, but most of them are small and impossible to find because they fall into an ocean!  If you want to look for iron meteorite, here are a few tips.  Look in regions that are dry and have a barren expanse, like the Mohave Desert or the Great Plains.  The black to dark brown color of a meteorite’s exterior, due to the fact that it’s on fire when it enters our atmosphere, is easier to see when the land is tan-colored and without vegetation.  Also, the dryness of desert areas helps keep the meteorite from rusting.  Use a metal detector to find iron meteorites.  And check with the land owner before beginning your search.  It’s usually okay to search on public land, but you can’t take any specimens from a National Park.

I have only one tip if you want a meteorite ring.  Come to Dearborn Jewelers!!

What Are You Grateful For?

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Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year.  I feel that the emphasis on appreciation makes me, at least temporarily, a better person.  When you spend more time thinking about what you’re grateful for, you end up being happier, kinder, and, in general, a more pleasant person.  One of the many things I have to be grateful for is my colleagues here at Dearborn Jewelers.

Not everyone has the encouraging, optimistic work environment that we have here.  We respect and understand each others’ strengths, and we support and help each other when help is needed.  As one of my colleagues said, “We work as a team.  We want to make the other person successful.”  It’s not that we never have disagreements or times of stress.  But we have so much trust in the good intentions of our team members that small disagreements are quickly resolved.

This camaraderie is part of what makes our store so comfortable to our clients.  And because we don’t spend time thinking “grumpy thoughts” about our co-workers, we have more time to think about helping our customers find exactly what they are looking for.  Especially at holiday time, it’s nice to know there’s a place you can go and be treated to a genuine smile and a true desire to help.

As always, we are so thankful for all of you who are friends and clients of Dearborn Jewelers.  We hope you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, friends, and good cheer.  But we are also thankful for the family we have here–Nick, Teri, Matt, Emily, Joy, Joan, Jill, and Ellyn.  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Back in Business with Burma

I’ll never forget vacationing in Thailand, trying to decide whether to buy a pair of jadeite earrings.  The beaming salesman chanted to me, “Burmeeeese jade,” with a knowing nod. His smile implied that nothing could be better.

Imperial-quality jade. Courtesy of Mason-Kay.

Imperial-quality jade. Courtesy of Mason-Kay.

That was about eight years ago, when jade and rubies from Burma (Myanmar) were banned from the United States.  Retailers in the U.S. could not sell them.  Wholesalers could not import them.  Well, that recently changed, and the announcement got me interested in the story of how these gems came to be sanctioned.

It was back in 2003 when George W. Bush signed the trade embargo, prohibiting the import of Burmese goods.  The military ruling group, the “junta”, of the country had imprisoned the people’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.  Citizens of the country were having their human rights violated.  The embargo was a response to what was considered an unacceptable way to govern.

But there were loopholes in the 2003 document, and Burmese jade and rubies still found their way into the U.S.  If a “middleman” country got involved, either in the cutting or polishing step, it was still legal to import these gems to the U.S.  That is, until July 2008.

President Bush signed a new document, the Tom Lantos Block Burmese J.A.D.E.(Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which closed the loopholes and effectively banned the import of ALL precious Burmese gemstones.  Wholesalers and retailers selling ruby and jade needed documentation to certify that the gems had not originated in Burma.

The jewelry industry was negatively impacted by the embargo.  Burma was considered the best source in the world for fine ruby and jade.  Different sources of the gems had to be found, and, over the years, they were.  Today many rubies come from Mozambique. Jadeite sources include Guatemala, Japan, and Kazakhstan.

The trade sanctions had the desired effect.  Myanmar began to make reforms in 2010. Over the next couple of years, democratic elections were held and many political prisoners were released.  In 2011, the U.S.  appointed an ambassador, and, in 2012, President Obama visited the country.  Using a cautious approach, President Obama lifted some of the sanctions in November 2012.  But the ban on rubies and jade remained in place.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now the nation’s State Counsellor (sort of like a Prime Minister), expressed patience, saying that “We believe that if we are going along the right path, all sanctions should be lifted in good time.”  And she was right!  On October 7th, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order to lift the remaining trade sanctions against Myanmar.

It will be interesting to see how this executive order influences the jewelry industry in the coming months and years.  It will take some time to establish or re-establish relationships with Burmese stone dealers.  But I believe it won’t be long before we see the deep blood-red Burmese rubies back in our stores.  And my “Burmeeeese” jade earrings (Yes. . . I bought them) may soon be easy to find in the United States.

Burmese, 25.29 carat Ruby, sold in 2015 for $30.3 million

25.59 carat Burmese Ruby, sold in 2015 for $30.3 million

The Michigan Gemstone

A large polished piece of Greenstone

A large polished piece of Greenstone

In late September I was in Swede’s, the famous light blue jewelry and rock store in the middle of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The feisty woman in charge, 83-year-old Mary Billings, asked me as I walked in–“What is the gemstone of Michigan?”

When I answered, “Isle Royale Greenstone,” she looked at me with new respect.

“You’re only the thirteenth customer this season who has answered that question correctly.  And we’ve had a lot of people who’ve  walked through that door.”  She shook her head, a little disgusted that Michiganders weren’t commonly aware of their state gemstone.

Most people, if they have any idea at all, would probably say Petoskey is the state’s gem.  And it IS the state rock.  But Isle Royale Greenstone, or just Greenstone, has been Michigan’s official gem since 1973.  Found mainly on Isle Royale or the Keweenaw Peninsula, Greenstone has the fancy, scientific name of Chlorastrolite, which is a variety of the mineral Pumpellyite.  It’s often found in and around copper mines, which are abundant in the Keweenaw.  The mineral makes its home in amygdaloidal basalt.  If you’re like me, that phrase holds no meaning.  I had to look it up, so I’m happy to share its meaning.  Basically it’s a pit or cavity in the stone.  So amygdaloidal basalt is cooled and hardened lava with lots of cavities in it that have been filled in with minerals.

Once the Greenstone is removed from its host rock, it can be cut and polished.  But it’s a tricky stone to work with because it’s not really hard–only a 5-6 on the Mohs’ Scale– and it can have its own cavities and hollow spots within it.  Cutters want to expose the best “turtle-back” pattern that they can and eliminate any bad spots.  But removing a top layer of the stone is likely to reveal a different, and not necessarily better pattern. The goal is a clear pattern showing some chatoyancy.  The best stones will demonstrate that change in luster as they are tilted back and forth in the light.

Tumbled Greenstone with pink Thomsonite

Tumbled Greenstone with pink Thomsonite

Greenstone is not a particularly expensive gemstone to buy.  Even with the labor involved in finding, mining, and cutting it, there’s just not a huge market for the material.  But it isn’t an easy gem to own.  Since the year 2000, it’s been illegal to take Isle Royale Greenstone off the island. The island is, after all, a national park.  And even Keweenaw Greenstone isn’t easy to get unless you have access to the copper mine areas.  Most jewelry stores, even in Michigan, don’t carry Greenstone.  So plan on spending some time searching for your perfect piece of Michigan’s gemstone.  Whether you spend time looking along the shoreline for a rare small piece of it, or whether you search for jewelry stores that carry the gem, enjoy the journey.

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My piece of Keweenaw Greenstone! I love it!!

Egyptian and Roman Jewelry at the Kelsey

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

After last week’s group tour to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, I had to decide which artifacts to focus on.  One of the first display cases we stopped at had this beautiful faience necklace worn in Egypt between 1991-656BC.  How many of you know about FAIENCE?  The word sounded vaguely familiar but was totally out of context.  Still, I was drawn to the beautiful blue color and vowed to learn more.  Turns out that Egyptian faience is very different from French faience, which is that pottery with the detailed painted decoration on it.  Egyptian faience could better be described as a combination of clay and glass.  It’s the oldest known type of glazed ceramic.  They can track its existence back to 4000BC.  It molds like clay, but its chemical make-up is powdered quartz.  Since quartz is basically silica(silicon dioxide), the same main elements as in glass, a better phrase for Egyptian faience would be glassy paste or sintered quartz.  The “faience” was glazed with a blue or green vitreous coating, perhaps to resemble turquoise, which was highly prized at that time.

The other jewelry pieces I wanted to learn more about were Roman rather than Egyptian.  They were described as LUNATE and BULLAE.  Again, I felt totally confused by the words.  Our guide told us that young girls wore the lunate pendant, the one that’s shaped like the crescent moon.  Young men wore bullae pendants, the hollow, pillow-like pieces in the upper right of the drawing.

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Jewelry has often been used to silently tell the wearer’s status.  Females wearing a crescent moon were known to be unmarried virgins.  The young moon meant a fresh start, with hopes and wishes for a bright future of matrimony.  For thousands of years the moon has been a feminine symbol–the waxing (crescent) moon, the full moon, and the waning moon were associated with a young maiden, a matron, and the elderly woman.  Since maidens in that time period married between the ages of 12 and 17, this was not a necklace they wore for very long.  Young males were given a bulla to wear soon after birth.  It had two purposes.  It was believed to protect them from evil spirits.   In the Roman culture, children were seen as being very vulnerable and needing protection. It also let others know that the child was freeborn rather than a slave.  Wealthy boys had bullae of gold while poorer boys had ones made of leather, but anyone with a bulla was free.  These pendants were worn until manhood, at age 16.

These were just a few artifacts found at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Each one tells a wonderful story if you have the time and inclination to do some digging.  It was fun finding out more about these pieces of jewelry.  And I always love learning the meanings of words!  I hope you can go to the museum and find your own fascinating stories.

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor

Want to spend a couple of hours lost in the ancient worlds of the Romans and Greeks? Take a pleasant drive to Ann Arbor and visit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  As an alumnus of the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.), I was recently invited to attend the Michigan chapter’s tour of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  What a fun and educational experience!

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Tied to the University of Michigan, the museum is situated on South State Street in Ann Arbor.  It’s not a large place, but it’s packed with delightful artifacts from ancient cultures. The focus is on classical Greek,  Egyptian, and Near Eastern archaeology.  Over 100,000 artifacts are housed there, with about 1500 on permanent display.  On our tour we saw Greek and Roman coins, Egyptian jewelry, and Etruscan pottery.  We also toured their special exhibit called “Less Than Perfect,” celebrating the lessons learned from failure.  It showcases art that went deliberately awry.

The museum is named after a professor at U of M back in the early 1900s.  Born in 1858, Francis Kelsey grew up in New York, went to school in Chicago, and was hired as a Latin professor in 1889.  During his 38 years in Ann Arbor, he led two archaeological expeditions to Egypt, the near East, and Asia Minor.  Many of the artifacts in the museum were unearthed during these expeditions.  Kelsey lived during a time when there was huge fascination for all things ancient.  Discoveries like Pompeii and King Tut’s tomb contributed to this fascination.  He was able to gain funding for his expeditions and his collection by seeking help from financiers like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie.  Kelsey worked tirelessly to create a collection that would help educate archaeology students, right up until his death in 1927.

Francis Kelsey

Francis Kelsey

I hope you can go to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  For me, it was just the right size museum.  It’s open year-round and every day of the week except Mondays.  And it’s always free, although donations are appreciated.  For more information, the website is https://lsa.umich.edu/kelsey/

 

History of Birthstones

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Garnet: January birthstone

Most of my life I’ve wished I was born a few days earlier, mainly because my birthstone would be an emerald instead of pearl or alexandrite.  When it came time to buy my high school class ring, I chose the emerald green stone rather than the pale purple one.  When my husband and I designed our 30-year anniversary ring, we designed it with an emerald for the center stone, even though pearl is the traditional gift for the 30-year anniversary.  As you can see, I’ve always just gone with what I wanted rather than what I was ‘supposed’ to want.  But my decisions got me to thinking about the origin of birthstones.  Who deemed that each month be represented by a different gemstone?  When was this decision made?  And why?

My research on these questions has revealed an interesting and somewhat nonsensical journey.  Most sources say that the idea of birthstones started with the Bible and Aaron’s breastplate.  Aaron had 12 stones in his breastplate, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.  No one knows for sure what the 12 stones were, but chances are high that they were pretty rocks, like jasper or lapis.  These are rocks that were native to the area.

A first century historian named Josephus supposedly made the numeric connection between the 12 stones and the 12 months of the year.  For centuries the idea was to have 12 stones, carrying a different one each month.  They weren’t really birthstones because they weren’t associated with the owner’s birth.  They were associated with months of the year.  The individual stones were supposed to bring good luck and good health during each one’s specific month.

But somewhere along the way, the idea changed.  Experts say that between the 15th and 18th centuries, people began to see themselves as having one stone, corresponding to the month of their birth, that would bring them good fortune.  These stones, with a few exceptions, are very different from the birthstones of today.  Have you ever heard of bloodstone?  It’s an opaque green stone with red spots.  It was the birthstone for March.  How about sardonyx?  That’s a banded, rusty brown-colored, translucent chalcedony that was the birthstone for August.

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1912, Jewelers of America, an association with a definite interest in marketing gemstones, sought to standardize the list.  The official list of birthstones had garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, diamond, emerald, pearl, ruby, peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz (the orange-yellow-brown kind), and turquoise.  Some of the months had two birthstones, partly in deference to the traditional stones.  So March had aquamarine AND bloodstone.  August had peridot AND sardonyx.  But, let’s face it, if you were born in March, which gem would you rather have?  A transparent medium blue one or an opaque dark green one with red blemishes?  It didn’t take long to drop these traditional choices.

The 1912 list has had few changes in the last 100+ years.  In 1952, alexandrite was added as a birthstone for June and citrine was added as a birthstone for November.  December’s traditional birthstone of lapis lazuli was replaced with blue zircon.  In 2002, tanzanite, the blue-purple gemstone that had been discovered in 1967, was added to the list for December.  And, most recently, in 2016, spinel was added as a birthstone for August.

Why the additions?  Many people would say it’s a marketing move.  Birthstones aren’t really seen as bringing good luck or good health anymore.   They don’t have the significance they used to have.  They’re just fun.  So why not have more choices?  I’m really happy for all you August babies who no longer feel confined to the yellowish-green of peridot.  Spinel offers great variety! (See my blog on spinel–July 28, 2016).

So, what do we make of this idea of birthstones?  To me it sounds like a complicated game of Telephone.  Do you remember that game when someone whispers a phrase to someone else, and it goes around the circle?  The final uttering of the phrase bears no resemblance to the original.  That’s how I feel birthstones came to be.  From Aaron’s breastplate to the writings of Josephus to the Jewelers’ list, it’s a crazy, convoluted path. But this is where we are and what we have.  My suggestion?  Adopt your favorite gemstone, the one that has meaning to you,  and make it YOUR birthstone.

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Amethyst: February birthstone

A Crater of Diamonds

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Have you ever heard of Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas?  The place where you can sift through the dirt and look for the sparkle of a diamond?  I so wish my parents had taken me here when I was a kid!!  Even though the possibility of finding a diamond is small–only about 1-2% of all visitors leave with one–the probability of having a good time is very high.

Crater of Diamonds has been a state park since the early 1970s.  The park encompasses over 900 acres, but 37 of those acres sit on a volcanic pipe.  This pipe, which was part of a 95 million year old volcano (long since eroded), carried diamonds to the Earth’s surface.  Today, Crater of Diamonds is the only diamond-bearing site that is open to the public.  For eight dollars you can search from morning til night.  The park has exhibits and videos that give you the history of the area as well as good tips on how to search for diamonds.  It has equipment you can rent, things like shovels and sifting screens, or you can bring your own.  Over the years the park has been the location for some remarkable stories.

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The biggest diamond ever found there, or anywhere in the U.S., was a 40.23 carat stone called Uncle Sam.  It was found back in 1924, when the area was still owned by a diamond mine.  Other big finds have been made over the years.  As recently as 2015, an 8.52 carat diamond was found, and has been named Esperanza.  Most of the diamonds found, however, are small.  Approximately 90% of the diamonds are less than 1/4 carat, which is only about the size of a match head . The diamonds from this site are yellow, brown, or colorless.  They are not easy to find, but one feature that helps is that they look polished, almost as if they have an oily film on them.  Also, they’re usually translucent, which means you can see into them but you can’t see through them.  If you’re not sure what you’ve found, there is an expert at the site, ready to help you with identification.

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The park is a popular place.  It had 168,000 visitors last year.  In addition to looking for diamonds, there is a water park and camping.  It sounds like the place for a perfect day, if you’re a kid.  Go get dusty and dirty looking for rocks, and then get cooled and cleaned off at the water park!  Heck, it sounds great even if you’re not a kid!!

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If you’d rather look for colored gems, amethysts, garnets, and agates have also been found at Crater of Diamonds.  But there are, perhaps, better locations in the U.S. if you’re rockhounding for colored gemstones.  Check out Gem Mountain in Montana for sapphires.  Or Emerald Hollow Mine in North Carolina for emeralds, rubies, and aquamarine.  Morefield Mine in Virginia is a source for amazonite, beryl, garnet, amethyst, and topaz.

It’s not too early to start planning next summer’s vacation.  Ask your kids and they’ll tell you–“We want to dig for gemstones!”

 

Book Review: Stoned by Aja Raden

Stoned

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and how Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden was published in 2015.  A friend bought me the book, and it may well be one the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  Gemology and history are two of my favorite subjects, and this book intertwines them into eight fascinating stories.  Each chapter is a stand-alone story, of places, events, and peoples as varied as the Spanish Armada and World War I or Marie Antoinette and Kokichi Mikimoto.

Aja Raden writes with a sense of humor and an irreverence for how humans can behave when they desire something.  Her stories are intriguing and revealing, and I love how she ties gems and jewelry into topics like economics and politics.  As the author states, jewelry isn’t just a set of objects, but symbols–“tangible stand-ins for intangible things.”

In a nutshell, the chapters discuss the following:

  1.  How glass beads bought Manhattan
  2.  History and rise in popularity of the diamond engagement ring
  3.  Emeralds and their significance to the Spanish Empire
  4. The necklace that “started” the French Revolution
  5. The pearl, Le Peregrina, that stirred the rivalry between two queens
  6. How Faberge’ eggs hurt Tsarist Russia and fueled Communism
  7. How Mikimoto’s cultured pearls saved the Japanese economy
  8. How wristwatches served in World War I

I enjoyed each chapter and feel that anyone who reads a jewelry blog would like this book.  If you read it, please share your thoughts through our website.