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!
One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry. Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry. She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories. She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it. As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”
The first story she told was one of the best! She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor. There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother. It was pretty expensive–about $25. That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week! But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day. It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.
La Peregrina, before and after re-mount
Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing! Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms. Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below. All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone. In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina! Amazingly, it was not scratched. “I did finally tell Richard,” she said. “But I had to wait at least a week!”
The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson
Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life. Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much. It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales. When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research. She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.
If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor. And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing! I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share. Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs. I don’t understand that mentality at all. Each piece is different, each piece is unique. And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”
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!
The state of Hawaii is composed of many islands, seven of which are inhabited. I have to admit that, until I got to visit the state this past January, I would not have been able to name those islands–O’ahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai, Molokoi, and Ni’ihau. Most people know about O’ahu. How many have heard of Ni’ihau? With a population of about 160, it is a well kept secret and deserving of the name, the Forbidden Island.
Ni’ihau has been a privately owned island since 1864, when Elizabeth Sinclair bought it from King Kamehameha IV for $10,000 in gold. Her great-great grandsons, Bruce and David Robinson, own the 70 square mile island now, and they have kept the island isolated and pristine. The families that live on the island today are descendants of the original families that lived there in the 1800s. The people have their own dialect of the Hawaiian language. They live a lot like their forebears. This is one place where not much has changed.
The people of Ni’ihau are well known for the beautiful shell leis they create. Families have unique patterns that they use in their jewelry. Artists use the tiny shells that wash up on the beach, including the highly sought after Kahelelani shell. The sale of these leis, bracelets, and earrings is a major source of income for the Ni’ihau people. Prices are determined by the rarity and quality of the shells as well as the skill of the artisan. When I was on Maui, I bought a beautiful bracelet that came with its own certificate of authenticity. I was told that, in the past, there were “copy-cats” who undersold the true artists. So the certificate is important. Be wary of shell jewelry that seems poorly made or is extremely inexpensive.
My shell bracelet from Ni’ihau.
If you are planning to go to Hawaii, I would encourage you to learn about the history of Hawaii. It’s loaded with interesting characters like Captain Cook (not Hook), Queen Emma (wife of King Kamehameha IV), and even Elizabeth Sinclair (an amazing pioneer from Scotland, who ended up owning an island!) I loved learning about all the King Kamehamehas (there were five of them) and their wives. Two royal women, Queen Kapiolani and Princess Lili’uokalani, can be credited with popularizing shell jewelry. They traveled to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, where they wore their long leis and made quite the splash!
Formal photos of Hawaiian queens, wearing leis. Photos courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society
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
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.
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 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
“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
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.
On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, it seems like the perfect time to examine her taste in jewelry. Since few women have been photographed as often as the Queen, it’s very easy to see her style. She loves pearls, and often wears both the classic pearl stud earrings and three strand pearl necklace. If she has a special event, she’ll wear a tiara–she has several to choose from– and a gemstone-studded necklace. But what I found really interesting is how she accents her outfits with a brooch.
She’s received and worn brooches since she was a teenager. Her brooches come from all over the world, and her collection numbers well over one hundred. Many of them have names, like the Flame Lily and the Three Thistle. One of her favorites is the diamond brooch, the Jardine Star, which she’s wearing in the picture above. Some of the brooches are actually badges, representing specific organizations and are worn by the Queen as a mark of her ties to the groups. I found one blog that really gives a lot of detail and history about Queen Elizabeth’s brooches, and you can access it here. And if you just want to see pictures of them, click on this link.
three thistle brooch
The Queen has been in her royal role for over 60 years. She had her Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 2012. She has served her country and the commonwealth loyally. So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! QUEEN ELIZABETH!!
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in their youth
Queen Elizabeth, youthful at heart!
Most of us know that not every red gemstone is a ruby. Garnets, tourmaline, and even diamonds can be red. But if you are in the market for a ruby, know that many substitutes exist. I recently put on a seminar about rubies, their imitations, and synthetics. Let me share three pieces of advice on buying a ruby.
1) Buy it from an A.G.S. member store. Only jewelry stores who adhere to the strict consumer protection standards of the American Gem Society will have the A.G.S. sign by the front door. These stores are required to be informed on ethical issues and questionable practices facing the gemstone and jewelry industry. At least one employee of the store must be a registered jeweler, which requires yearly testing to renew the designation.
2) Look at that beautiful stone under the microscope. All A.G.S. member stores are required to have a microscope at their store. Ask to look at the piece you’re considering. If the stone shows some inclusions under magnification, especially whitish or colorless rounded crystals or a lacy-looking fingerprint, that’s a good sign. Be suspicious of a stone that looks perfect under magnification. Natural rubies generally have inclusions. Remember to ask about treatments on the stone. Most rubies have been heat-treated to improve their color and sometimes their clarity. Heat treatment is permanent and does not affect the durability of the stone. If the stone has fractures that have been lead glass-filled to enhance the clarity, it is not as valuable as one that has not. In fact, most gemologists feel that these “composite rubies” shouldn’t even be called rubies because so much of their weight is due to the lead-glass. Be aware that a glass-filled stone is not durable and should never be subjected to heat or an ultrasonic cleaner.
3) Don’t assume that, because it’s old, it’s real. Synthetic rubies have been produced since the early 1900s. Rubies were also imitated using glass, assembled stones of garnet and glass, and other natural red stones like spinel. Even the “Black Prince’s Ruby” in the British Imperial Crown is actually a 170 carat red spinel!
British Imperial Crown with the “Black Prince’s Ruby”