Category: colored gemstones
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.
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.
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:
How glass beads bought Manhattan
History and rise in popularity of the diamond engagement ring
Emeralds and their significance to the Spanish Empire
The necklace that “started” the French Revolution
The pearl, Le Peregrina, that stirred the rivalry between two queens
How Faberge’ eggs hurt Tsarist Russia and fueled Communism
How Mikimoto’s cultured pearls saved the Japanese economy
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.
I have some very good news for all of you born in August. Just recently, the American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America announced that SPINEL has been added to the birthstone list as an alternative to peridot. Not everyone is a fan of peridot’s yellowish-green color, and the gem stone has a narrow range of hue. Spinel, on the other hand, comes in almost every color of the rainbow! The most prized color is red. Pink and blue are two other popular hues. So, because spinel is a relatively unknown gemstone and because changes to the birthstone list don’t happen often, it seemed important to write about it.
Many people have never heard of spinel. It was recognized as a separate mineral about 200 years ago, but, until then, red spinel was often mistaken for ruby. Some famous gems, like the Black Prince’s Ruby, which is set in England’s Imperial State Crown, are actually red spinel. Those who have heard of it often associate it with something “cheap” or “common.” Synthetic (aka man-made) spinel has been used for years to make the stones for high school class rings because it’s inexpensive to produce in lots of different colors that mimic birthstones like emerald, ruby, and sapphire. Synthetic spinel is also used as the top, bottom, or both of a “triplet” that substitutes for a natural gemstone.
Natural spinel is a beautiful mineral made of magnesium, aluminum, and oxygen. It’s colorless unless a trace element such as chromium, iron, or cobalt makes its way into the recipe. Chromium leads to a pink or red spinel. Iron and cobalt lead to violet and blue spinels. A combination of trace elements produces orange or purple spinels. These colors need no enhancement, so spinel is rarely heat-treated or irradiated. It’s a fairly hard gemstone, scoring 8 on the Mohs Scale, and it forms in the cubic crystal system. These qualities mean that spinel is hard enough to take a good polish and easy enough to cut and facet. And the gem is usually eye-clean when it comes to inclusions.
Spinel is traditionally associated with Asia–especially Myanmar, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. More recently deposits have been found in Tanzania and Madagascar. Large crystals are quite rare, so the value goes up exponentially, not only for great color but also for size. While not as expensive as fine ruby or pink sapphire, natural spinel is not an inexpensive gem. Red spinel would cost approximately 30% of the cost of a similarly sized ruby. And pink spinel would be about 85% of the cost of a same size pink sapphire. It’s not easy to find spinel in a jewelry store. Maybe that will change now that it’s a birthstone, but, up until now, it’s been more of a collector’s stone.
So, take heart all of you who longed for another birthstone! It’s spinel to the rescue!! Ask your jewelry store for a peek at its spinel. Here’s a peek at ours.
This crystal sphere is the largest cut piece of flawless quartz in the world, weighing in at 242,323 carats! It symbolizes our fascination with something so beautiful and yet so common. Quartz is found around the world, in large quantities, and is considered one of the most common minerals on Earth. It’s found in sand, dirt, and dust. Yet, when fashioned by gem cutters and put in a stunning piece of jewelry, it can be breathtaking.
Quartz is a complicated gemstone. One of the reasons it’s tricky is because the term “quartz” is used for varieties of gems, as well as for a species of gem and as a group of gems. So, for example, Rose Quartz is a variety of the species Quartz. So is Citrine, Amethyst, and Tiger’s Eye! All these varieties, and others that are couched under the species of Chalcedony, such as Agate and Jasper, are considered to be members of the group, Quartz. Very confusing!!
Perhaps it’s best to start with the fact that mineralogists and geologists see any mineral with the chemical makeup of silicon dioxide, SiO2, as Quartz. Regardless of whether the crystals making up that stone are large, small, or microscopic, it’s all Quartz. Gemologists, on the other hand, separate the gems into those whose crystals are larger and those too small to see without a high-powered microscope. Those with larger crystals are called Quartz and those with microcrystalline structures are labeled Chalcedony.
Under these two species are many varieties that are used in jewelry. Probably the most commonly known variety of the quartz species is Amethyst. That regal purple has been admired for centuries. The purple color comes from natural irradiation acting upon a trace element of iron. The saturated, medium to deep reddish purple is the most prized color, but amethyst ranges from a light, pinkish purple to that deep purple hue. Amethyst is not rare, but the prized color is more rare because usually only the tips of the amethyst crystals have that depth of color.
Other varieties of the Quartz species include Citrine, the orange-yellow gemstone that’s November’s birthstone, and Rock Crystal, which is colorless because it has no trace elements. There’s also Rose Quartz, Smoky Quartz, Prasiolite (aka Green Amethyst), and Ametrine (a bi-colored gem combining the purple of Amethyst and the yellow of Citrine).
Members the Chalcedony species have been used in jewelry even longer than Amethyst! Agates, which exhibit wavy bands of color, were used in amulets and talismans over 3000 years ago. They were also used to make cameos. Carvers would reveal a differently colored band by carving down around the subject of the piece. Today you’ll see agate slice pendants that are sometimes dyed to accentuate the banding.
Probably the most valuable member of the Chalcedony species is Chrysoprase. This translucent gemstone is beloved for its natural apple-green color. It owes its color to the presence of nickel. A big discovery of Chrysoprase was made in 1965 in Australia. Because its color can resemble fine jadeite, it’s sometimes called “Australian Jade.”
Other varieties of the Chalcedony species include Black Onyx (dyed black chalcedony), Carnelian, Jasper, and Fire Agate. Most chalcedony is translucent to opaque, so it’s rarely faceted. Most often it’s fashioned into beads, slices or cabochons. But, just like all Quartz, it registers a 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, making it a good choice for rings and bracelets as well as earrings and pendants.
There’s so much that can be said about this beautiful mineral that surrounds us everyday. But I want to end with the sentiment– “How wonderful when something so common can also be so special!”
The romance and history of colored gemstones has always fascinated me. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story. Here are three I thought you might like.
TANZANITE: It’s said that we are all members of the “Tanzanite generation.” Discovered in 1967 by a Masai tribesman in Northern Tanzania, Tanzanite is mined in only one, 4 square kilometer, location. And the mines are getting deeper and harder to mine profitably. We will be the ones who can buy a new Tanzanite. Future generations will only see the stone in heirloom pieces. It’s estimated that Tanzanite One, the largest Tanzanite mining company, has less than 30 years of production left.
The gemstone was named by Henry Platt, great-grandson of the famous Louis C. Tiffany. Tiffany and Co. realized the importance of the gemstone and quickly made themselves the main distributor. Their marketing efforts made tanzanite one of the most popular gemstones by the 1990s. The beautiful gem hit the big screen with a “splash” as the Heart of the Ocean in the movie, Titanic.
MORGANITE: This pink to orange/pink variety of beryl was originally discovered in Pala, California in the early 1900s. It was named for J.P. Morgan, a great financier and collector of minerals. Tiffany’s gem buyer and gemologist, George Kunz, was the man who named the gem, buying up all he could find for his wealthy client. Incidentally, another pink gemstone, discovered at about the same time, was named Kunzite in honor of George Kunz. So, he got his own gemstone, too!
Morganite is the same species of mineral as Emerald and Aquamarine. Like Aquamarine, it is usually an eye-clean stone that can be cut in larger sizes. It’s a good thing, too, because a larger stone usually shows a more saturated color. Pale Morganite often needs that advantage. It’s generally heat-treated to improve its pink color and minimize its yellowish tint. The treatment is stable, so no fading occurs.
ALEXANDRITE: First discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the early 1830s, Alexandrite is the quintessential color-change gemstone. It was found by miners who thought they’d found emeralds, until nighttime came and they were sitting around the campfire. Alexandrite’s trace elements of iron, titanium, and chromium make it greenish in sunlight and reddish in incandescent or fire light. Boy, were those miners surprised when, the next morning, their red gemstones had turned back to green!
Legend says that the gem was found on the 16th birthday of young Alexander II, future Czar of Russia. The stone became the National Gem of Czarist Russia. It was the perfect fit with the red and green color scheme of imperial Russia’s military. Every Russian had to have an Alexandrite. Unfortunately, for all of us, the Russian supply was depleted. Fortunately, other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil.
Natural Alexandrites are very expensive, especially in larger sizes. Even the synthetic version is expensive, because it’s difficult to manufacture. But, if you’re lucky enough to own an Alexandrite, you have an “Emerald by day, and a Ruby by night.”
This blog is the first of a series on gemstone treatments. The truth is, all gemstones have been modified by man. We’d like to think that a gemstone’s beauty is completely natural, but the reality is man plays a part. Cutting and polishing bring out the sparkle and color. Shaping and setting is all done by man. So a gemstone’s beauty can be attributed to both man and nature. Each consumer must decide what level of man’s contribution is acceptable. Everyone sees that man must be involved to some degree, but opinions vary on enhancements such as irradiation, dyeing, or fracture-filling. Is there a point where man’s contribution to a gemstone’s beauty goes over the fine line, when the stone just doesn’t seem natural anymore?
Another fine line is the one jewelers walk everyday when conversing with customers about gemstones. There are laws and guidelines, set by the government and the AGTA (American Gem Trade Association), for disclosure of gemstone treatments. But jewelers adhering to those guidelines also have to make sales in order to stay in business. Some customers are truly interested in learning about how gemstones arrive at their beautiful state. But many would be bored by a lesson in gemstone treatments and might walk away from a sales representative who insisted on giving all the details. Certainly anyone who sells jewelry should honestly answer customer questions about gemstone enhancements or treatments. We want our customers to understand as much as they’d like to understand about gemstone treatments. We want them to understand that, if treatments didn’t exist, most of us would be unable to afford pretty gemstones.
So that’s what the series will be about. It will give you an overview of some of the main treatments on some of the most common gemstones in the market. The series will also discuss some gemstones that are not treated–ONLY cut, polished, and set. If you find this fascinating, I will include some sources for learning more. And remember, if you want to know more about the gemstone you’re buying, just ask.
I’ve lived most of my life in Michigan and my maiden name is Campbell. Most people don’t know that because I’ve been married so long! But I always thought Campbell was a good name, so I was both happy and surprised to learn that there is a gemstone named after. . .no, not me, nor my kinfolk, but after the Campbell shaft of the well known Bisbee Mine in Southern Arizona.
So, what’s the story of Campbellite? As explained by one of the stone cutters at Arizona Lapidary, Campbellite is an uncertain mixture of minerals like cuprite, azurite, malachite, calcite,chrysocolla, pyrite, quartz, and copper. Its color and look varies because there’s no set amount of these minerals. It was first discovered by miners looking for copper. The bosses weren’t interested in this unusual rock, and told the miners to discard it. But the miners had a different plan. They saw its beauty. So, yes, they dumped the Campbellite in the trashcan. But they separated it carefully from the real trash. And when no one was looking, they loaded the discarded gem into the back ends of pickups. Campbellite has been showing up in the market, piece by piece. There’s not a lot of it–I’m sure plenty WAS dumped. The mine closed in 1975, and there is no other known source of Campbellite. But I bought one piece of it, cut into a smooth cabochon, and plan to make a bolo tie for my dad.
I learned a little bit about the mine shaft itself. It was first developed in 1927, originally as a way to get oxygen to other parts of the Bisbee Mine. But soon it was one of the best producers of copper ore, with yields of 8-10% copper.
Finally, who is the Campbell shaft named after? A little research revealed an amazing coincidence. The shaft was named after Gordon R. Campbell, who actually lived and went to school in Michigan! He graduated from U of M in 1893 and was a mining executive and lawyer up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw Peninsula, jutting from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is one of the best known sources of copper world-wide. Towns like Calumet, Houghton, and Copper Harbor were booming back in the mid-1800s because of copper. Anyway, Gordon Campbell helped form the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company in 1901, serving as the company’s President from 1921-1931. It was this company that operated the Bisbee Mine. So Campbellite WAS named for a Campbell living in Michigan. Who knows? Maybe he’s a long, lost cousin?
Birthdays in December often take a back seat to all the holiday celebrations. Red and green seem to dominate the landscape. More Christmas cookies are consumed than birthday cake. But those of you born in December are very lucky to have some amazing blue birthstones to choose from–Blue Zircon, Turquoise, Tanzanite, and Blue Topaz. With so many choices, there is no reason to feel deprived.
Zircon is a gem stone which comes in a wide range of colors. The most popular color is blue. Some zircons are so electric looking as to be almost neon. They have this great ability to refract light, so the stone’s color just seems to jump out at you. A lot of people get zircon confused with cubic zirconia, which is a manmade stone used as a substitute for diamonds. Zircon is a completely natural stone. It is often heat treated, as many gem stones are, to enhance the color and improve the clarity. But it is not lab grown. It’s mined in many places, including Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Madagascar.
If you want a birthstone that is mined in the United States, turquoise is your choice. A lot of turquoise is mined in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. Turquoise is often named for the mine it came from, so you’ll hear about Sleeping Beauty, Kingman, or Carico Lake turquoise. Generally light to dark blue or green, with or without matrix, this opaque gem stone is sometimes dyed to improve its color. Stabilizing material may be used, since turquoise is a relatively soft stone. Ask your jeweler if you want to know about possible enhancements.
Tanzanite is the youngster of all gem stones. Discovered near Mt. Kilimanjaro in the 1960s, Tanzanite is the fancy name Tiffany & Co. gave to the mineral, Zoisite. I guess I can’t blame them. Wouldn’t you rather buy something exotic-sounding than scientific-sounding? It’s a pleochroic gem, meaning that it shows more than one color at a time. You can see blue, purple, and violet. Almost all tanzanite is heat treated to improve its color, since most of it comes out of the ground brown. There is only one known source for Tanzanite, and it’s in Tanzania.
Both Zircon and Tanzanite are fairly expensive gemstones, especially in large sizes. A great alternative is Blue Topaz. Topaz is mined on most continents, including South America, North America, Asia, and Europe. The gem stone is generally heated after irradiation to produce the blue color. Natural blue topaz is relatively rare. Most topaz is pale yellow, gray, or colorless. With enhancement, different shades of blue are possible–Sky, Swiss, and London. Sky blue is the palest and London blue is the darkest.
So all you December “babies”, cheer up!! Life is good. Especially if you get one of these beautiful blue gemstones for your birthday. We have examples of all four at Dearborn Jewelers. Stop by and see them!