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!!

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/

 

Symbols of Good Luck and Good Life

I never realized there were so many good luck charms until I started working at a jewelry store.  Sure, I knew of the 4-leaf clover and the rabbit’s foot, but I’d never heard of the “ankh” and the “cornicello.”  One of my more embarrassing moments came recently when a woman came in with her husband’s necklace.  It needed repair so I wrote up a repair slip, describing the piece as a “hot pepper pendant on a gold chain.”  Everyone laughed at me when I took it back to the shop.  “That’s not a hot pepper,” chuckled the bench jeweler.  “That’s a gorno.”

The "corno" pendant

The “corno” pendant

“Huh? What’s a gorno?”  Well, truth is, he wasn’t completely sure.  And the fact is, it’s not a gorno.  It’s a corno or a cornicello.  Turns out this is the Italian word for “horn” or “little horn.”  It apparently protects the wearer from the evil eye.  The evil eye is a look, given to inflict harm or bad luck.  There is widespread belief in the power of the evil eye, but, supposedly, it started in ancient Greece.

Now, the “evil eye” I’d seen before, a few months back when working with a different customer.  It’s kind of confusing, because some people wear an amulet of an eye, as protection from evil.  They call the amulet the evil eye.  So I guess an “evil eye” can be either bad luck OR good luck.

I think every culture has their own version of a good luck charm.  The “ankh”(pronounced awnk) is actually the Egyptian symbol for life.  As the key of life, it represents zest and energy, and some people wear it as a protection from demons.  It resembles a Christian cross, but has a loop at the top.

The "ankh" pendant

The “ankh” pendant

I guess we all can use a little good luck from time to time.   Can it hurt to wear a good luck charm?  It’s just nice to know there are so many options.

 

Silver and Gold Revealed

Two of the most common metals used in jewelry, silver and gold have colorful pasts and lots of varieties that can be difficult to understand.  Let’s try to unravel the history and the mystery.

SILVER:

This element, called argentum by the Latins (which explains the Ag symbol on the periodic table), was discovered in approximately 4000BC.  The word argentum means “white and shining.”  Silver was the original white metal.  It has been mined in many places on Earth, including the United States.

Sterling silver signifies an alloy composed of 92.5% silver (If you see a little stamp on your jewelry that says 925, that means it’s sterling silver).  The other 7.5% is generally copper, which contributes strength and hardness.  Newly developed silver alloys, like Argentium, have a higher percentage of silver and a substitution of the element germanium(Ge) for some of the copper.  These alloys are said to tarnish less, so they don’t need to be rhodium-plated.  Rhodium(Rh) is an element that resists corrosion, but it’s also a very white metal so it’s often plated over white gold to improve that metal’s “whiteness.”

silver nugget

 

GOLD:

This metal has also been used in jewelry for thousands of years.  It has always been a symbol of wealth and stature.  The ancient Egyptians worked gold into jewelry.  So did the Chinese, as early as 1100BC.  While gold was originally found in the Middle East, today most of the world’s gold production is in Africa.  Other gold-producing countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the United States.

Pure gold, 24 karat gold, is very soft.  It’s alloyed with other metals to enhance its hardness, strength, and character.  Typical alloys are 10 karat (41.7% gold), 14 karat (58.5% gold), 18 karat (75% gold), and 22 karat (91.6%).  The karat mark will be on an inconspicuous place on your jewelry.  Here in the U.S., for example, 14 karat gold would be stamped with 14K or 585.   Gold is usually mixed with metals that will enhance the color desired in the final product.  So white gold is alloyed with white metals like nickel, palladium, silver or zinc.  Rose gold is alloyed with copper.

Not all gold jewelry is karat gold.  Less expensive fashion pieces can be gold plated, vermeil, or gold-filled.  These are all different, even though sometimes they are seen as interchangeable.  Electroplating is a process that coats the gold over a piece of jewelry made with nonprecious metals like iron or nickel.  The gold plating is very, very thin–only microns thick–and eventually wears away. Vermeil is gold plated over sterling silver rather than a base metal.  The thickness of the plating is at least 2 microns.  But when a single human hair is 50-100 microns thick, you know just how thin that plating can be.  Gold-filled jewelry has approximately 100 times more gold than a gold-plated piece.  The gold is bonded over brass or another base metal.  It’s usually stamped as 14K G.F. and will not wear off like gold plating.

gold bars

There is so much to know about metals.  This really just touches the surface.  The important thing to remember is that not all metals are equal.  The purer the metal, the more valuable it will be. So when you’re buying jewelry, be sure of the metal(or metals) it’s made of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etruscan Jewelry

IMG_0701In early April I had the good fortune to go to Italy with my husband, marking our 30th wedding anniversary.  One of my favorite days in Rome was the day I went to Villa Guilia, a museum dedicated to the Etruscans.  The Etruscan civilization was dominant in central Italy from about 800BC – 500BC. As artists, metal miners, architects, farmers, and seafaring traders, the Etruscans were able to generate a lot of wealth.  Their wealthiest had a demand for beautiful jewelry to accompany them to the afterworld.  So the Syro-Phoenicians came to Etruria and taught the art of granulation and filigree.  Granulation is the soldering of tiny beads of metal to a metal base.  Filigree is finely twisted threads of metal, soldered together onto the surface of an object to make an intricate “lacy” design.  The Etruscans generally used 18 karat gold, an alloy of gold and copper, to make their jewelry.

When the Roman Republic was established, it was the beginning of the end of Etruscan power.  By 200 BC, the city-states of Etruria were assimilated into the Roman Empire.  But it was far from the end of Etruscan influence.  They were the ones who introduced the growing of grapes and olives in the region.  Their words appear in the roots of many Latin words.  Renaissance artists like Michaelangelo admired their sculpture and painting.  And the Castellani family from Italy was influenced by their jewelry.

Fortunato Pio Castellani was an Italian jeweler and art dealer during the 1800s, when Etruscan jewelry was being found in archeological excavations.  Because of high society’s interest in this ancient art and because of a strong sense of nationalism, he began to search for ways to duplicate the delicate techniques of the Etruscans.  The “lost” art of granulation was still practiced in the small municipality of Sant’Angelo in Vado, on the eastern edge of what was formerly Etruscan territory.  He learned from its artisans and brought Etruscan jewelry back into the mainstream.  He also collected original Etruscan pieces, displaying them at his shop in Rome.  This shop passed from generation to generation until Castellani’s grandson died in 1930.  Then the amazing collection was donated to the Italian state, and that’s what I saw at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.

If you are as interested as I am in historical jewelry, you may want to pursue the details of the Etruscans.  I found www.mysteriousetruscans.com  to be a helpful site.  And, of course, if you get the chance to visit Rome, I highly suggest you take a couple of hours at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.

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