Precious Red Coral
This year’s Pantone Color of the Year is Living Coral, and it started me thinking about the organic gem that the color is named for. Coral has been used in jewelry for thousands of years. First century Romans used it to ward off evil and impart wisdom. Their children wore branches of the stuff around their necks to keep them safe. Coral was extremely popular in jewelry made during the Victorian Age. Again, it was seen as good luck to wear it, as it would keep away evil spirits. Lately, coral jewelry, especially vintage and antique jewelry, has seen an upsurge in value. At a recent Sotheby’s auction, the beautiful coral brooch below sold for $27,500.
Coral, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Brooch from Cartier, circa 1955
Part of the reason for the increased value may be the decreased supply. Coral is harvested from tropical or subtropical oceans. It takes thousands of years for the tiny marine animals, called coral polyps, to build the branch-like structures. Made mostly of calcium carbonate, the structures survive long after the little animals that built them. But years of over-harvesting, combined with rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, have depleted the supply. The Mediterranean Sea used to be the main source of coral, but not anymore. Waters off the coasts of Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Midway Islands, and the Canary Islands are major sources of coral today, but many have strict government regulations on the amounts of coral that can be harvested. The state of Hawaii protects its black “King’s” coral as an endangered species.
Coral is usually associated with a warm reddish-pink color. But gem quality coral comes in many colors–white, cream, pink, orange, red, dark brown, gold, and black. Coral can even be blue, purple, or lavender! The most common color is white, but the most prized color is red. The coral used in jewelry is not usually dyed, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if the coral is a deep red. The Gem Coral pendant we have in the store is a custom design in 14 karat gold. The coral is cream and brown. The accent stones are green and white diamonds. It’s such a unique piece made here at Dearborn Jewelers.
Custom made at Dearborn Jewelers
Pantone describes its newest color of the year, Living Coral, as “vibrant yet mellow.” It personifies the color with adjectives like “sociable”, “spirited”, and “nourishing.” I would agree with them that Living Coral, both the color AND the gem, embody our “desire for playful expression.” Wearing a piece of jewelry made with coral just makes you feel good. It’s bright, it’s fun, and it’s approachable. It reminds you of Spring!
Pantone’s Color for 2019, Living Coral
Padparadscha sapphires are more popular than ever, thanks to Princess Eugenie of York and her fiance, Jack Brooksbank. Her engagement ring, which the two designed together, holds an estimated 5 carat padparadscha, and is surrounded by 10 round and 2 pear-shaped diamonds. Because padparadscha sapphires are the most rare of all sapphires, and because they’re seldom cut above 2 carats, Princess Eugenie’s stone is a world class gem. The estimated value of her ring is $175,000.
Jack Brooksbank, Princess Eugenie, and her engagement ring
The two tie the knot on October 12, 2018 in beautiful St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Although the ceremony is rumored to be at least as grand as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, it’s uncertain whether those of us who live outside the U.K. will be able to watch the wedding ceremony. The BBC, the major broadcasting station in the U.K. declined to televise Princess Eugenie’s wedding, thinking that the number of viewers would not justify the cost of production. Another, more local British station, is planning to televise the full wedding, so we’ll have to see whether the ceremony airs here in the U.S.
Padparadscha is a variety of sapphire based on hue and saturation of color. And these traits can be subjective! Narrowly defined, a padparadscha is supposed to be from Sri Lanka and it’s supposed to be pinkish-orange or orangish-pink. It does not have to be highly saturated and, in fact, a delicate color is preferred. But where exactly is the line between an orange sapphire, a pink sapphire, and a padparadscha sapphire? Even gemologists have a hard time agreeing on a uniform standard for this gem. Because the premium for a padparadscha is so high, there is incentive to stretch the narrow definition.
While Sri Lanka is the traditional source for padparadscha sapphires, other countries such as Vietnam, Tanzania, and Madagascar also produce them. The name, “padparadscha”, comes from the native language of Sri Lanka and means lotus blossom. A lotus flower is a little more pink than peach, so some people talk about the hue of a padparadscha as being a “sunset color mixed with a lotus flower.” Well-known author and gemologist, Richard Hughes, calls it “a marriage between ruby and yellow sapphire.” However it’s defined, a padparadscha sapphire is a beautiful gem and well deserving of the extra attention it’s receiving!
Padparadschas showing the narrow range of hue
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.
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!
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!!
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!
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?
The Campbell shaft, courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society
The other day a customer came in to get her ring sized. She was amazed and somewhat alarmed to learn that our bench jewelers would be cutting her ring with a saw blade in order to size it. Her beautiful ring–a piece of art–subjected to the saw! But jewelry is more than art and more than an expression of sentiment. It’s also a piece of engineering. It’s built with shanks and prongs, bails and bezels, and many other findings. It’s adjusted or repaired with the use of tools like saws, hammers, and torches. Using rings as our example, let’s explore the Anatomy of a piece of jewelry.
MOUNTING: This is the general name for the metal that holds the stone(s) in place and encircles your finger to keep the ring on your finger.
SHANK: This refers to just the curved part of the ring that goes around your finger. Shanks can have profiles(or cross-sections) that can be quite flat to very round. The width of the shank can also vary. And the shape of the shank, while usually circular, could be oval or even rectangular. A EURO-SHANK is curved on the sides but has a squared off bottom. There are adjustable shanks, too, which operate with hinges, allowing more room for a ring to slide over the knuckle.
SETTING: Sometimes a synonym for mounting, a setting probably refers more to how the stone(s) are held in place. Setting techniques include prong or shared prong set, bead set, tension set, channel set, bar set, flush set, bezel set, pave set, and invisible set.
PRONG: Tiny metal wires that suspend the stone, holding it in little “claws” (HEAD), so that light can enter the diamond from all sides.
BEZEL: A frame of precious metal that surrounds the stone, bezels can be thin like a wire or wide so that the side of stone is unseen.
FINISH: Whether the metal is shiny or more dull depends on the finish. You can have a polished finish, which is shiny or a matte finish, which is smooth but less shiny. Other finishes like satin, hammered, engraved or stone can give texture to the surface of the ring.
MILLGRAIN: This is a common embellishment on the shank of a ring. It’s a border of tiny beads that acts as a boundary or edging.
I could go on–there seems to be about ten- thousand terms that bench jewelers use. I learn a new one almost every day. Instead, let’s re-cap with a picture and save Anatomy 102 for another day. The important thing to glean from today is that jewelry is a designed and constructed piece of art. It’s engineered to be art that you can wear.
Engagement Ring with an Engraved Finish
If you love gemstones, ask your jeweler if he/she hosts roundtable events. These are usually evening events that last 2 – 3 hours, taking place after your jewelry store closes. Food and drink are often served, and you are introduced to a gemstone expert. This expert shares knowledge and stories about gemstones and the gemstone industry. Sitting at a, usually rectangular, table, guests are given the chance to see, touch, and dib on approximately 100 different gemstones. Dibbing simply means that you would like another look at that gemstone after it has gone around the table. These gemstones are for sale, but there is never an obligation to buy. The goal is to have fun learning about and playing with gemstones.
More people want to be involved in the making of their jewelry. Mountings can mask flaws of gemstones, so it’s to the buyer’s advantage to see gemstones un-mounted. And mountings can be unique if you work with a custom designer. On-staff designers are generally at the roundtable event and they can help you with ideas for any gemstone you select for purchase. The whole process of 1) picking out the gemstone; 2) deciding on a design; and 3) having the piece made by your local jeweler is a memorable one.
Dearborn Jewelers recently hosted a roundtable event with gemstone dealer, Judith Whitehead. Our next event will be in September. If you are interested in attending, give us a call and we can put you on the list. It promises to be a great time.