Synthetic Gemstones–What are the Advantages? Disadvantages?

The history of lab-created or synthetic gemstones is much longer than you might think.  Scientists began making synthetic ruby back  in the late 1800’s.  Initially, rubies were made for industrial rather than decorative purposes.  Ruby is harder than steel, so it can hold up to moving metal parts.  It actually helps reduce friction in devices like watches or compasses, allowing the metal pieces to move with a consistent pattern.  

In the early 1900’s, a young boy named Carroll Chatham tried to grow diamonds in his garage.  He was fascinated with the work of Henri Moissan, a French chemist who also tried to grow diamonds but ended up with Moissanite.  Making diamonds requires more heat and pressure than Chatham could produce at the time, so he re-directed his focus to emeralds. Even then, the work wasn’t easy.  In fact, his first emerald crystals were accidentally formed.  By this time Chatham was in college, and it took him three years to figure out how to replicate the “accident.” 

          Lab-created Emerald Rough Crystals

Lab-created Cut and Polished Emerald

 

 

 

 

By 1938, Chatham had perfected the process of growing emeralds for jewelry, and he moved on to creating other valued gems like sapphire, ruby, opal, spinel, and alexandrite.  Chatham began selling his lab-created gems under the Chatham label.  The company is now 80 years old and is one of the leaders in the making of lab-created colored gem stones.  Carroll never gave up on his dream of growing diamonds and, in the late 1980’s, the company was successful.  Unfortunately, Carroll didn’t live to see this dream come true.  

In 2018 there are many, many companies that produce diamonds–companies like Brilliant Earth, Clean Origin, and EcoStar.  Years of refining the High Pressure, High Temperature technique has led to better quality diamonds.  While diamonds have many industrial uses, today’s lab-created diamonds are beautiful and can also be used in jewelry.  Anyone purchasing an engagement ring today has a decision to make that his/her parents and grandparents didn’t have to make–Should the center stone be natural or lab-grown?  

                                    Photo courtesy of Rogers & Holland

There are pros and cons to purchasing a synthetic diamond or colored gemstone.  Some of the advantages are 1) synthetics are less expensive than their natural counterparts; 2) growing synthetics is kinder to the environment than mining for natural stones; and 3) gem cutters can sacrifice more synthetic material to create the perfectly cut gem because, well, you can always grow more!  Partly because of these advantages, we’ve seen more customers move towards this option.  

One big disadvantage of a synthetic stone is that it’s, well, synthetic.  Fine jewelry symbolizes pure and natural feelings of love, gratitude, or friendship.  How will it feel to wear or give jewelry that has a lab-created stone?  Another disadvantage is that synthetic stones will only go down in value.  They are a manufactured item and, as the technology improves in the making of them, the cost to produce will decrease.  Fine natural gems are rare, and that rarity will keep values high.  

It’s a decision every consumer has to make for him/herself.  What’s imperative is that consumers are presented with clear options, and that they know what they are buying.  Gemstones are not obviously natural or synthetic, so customers must rely on reputable jewelers to distinguish between the two.  For an important jewelry purchase, go to an A.G.S. (American Gem Society) member store.  There you will find associates dedicated to the highest integrity in the jewelry industry.  Ask questions and do comparison shopping.  And feel lucky to live in a time when there are so many gem stone options.

Pantone’s Color of 2018, Ultra Violet, Suggests New Gemstones

Ultra Violet, Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year

In December, Pantone came out with its Color of the Year.  This year it’s Ultra Violet.  My mind goes to the gemstones that exhibit this glorious hue.  Many people will think of Amethyst and Tanzanite.  I’d like to introduce some other options– two gems most people have never heard of and two gems most people have heard of but never in this hue.  

SUGILITE was first identified in 1944 by  Ken-ichi Sugi from Japan.  But gem quality Sugilite wasn’t discovered until 1979 in South Africa, making it a very new gem in the jewelry industry.  The color ranges from a pinkish purple to a deep bluish-purple.  The hardness is between 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs scale.  Sugilite is generally cut as a cabochon because it’s opaque.  It usually has veining and a mottled appearance. 

CHAROITE is another “young” stone.  Named after the Chara River in Eastern Siberia, the only place it’s ever been found, it was discovered in the 1940s but not really known until 1978.  The stone ranges from lavender to purple in color, is usually opaque, and is readily identified by its swirling, fibrous appearance.  Considered a rock rather than a mineral, its hardness on the Mohs scale is listed as 5 – 6.

Sugilite

Charoite

 

 

 

 

 

JADEITE has been known and valued for centuries.  It comes in many colors, not just green.  Lavender jade is beautiful!  It can be semitransparent to opaque and is usually cut into cabochons or beads.  It comes from many different places–Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, and Canada to name a few.  Jade is a harder, tougher stone than either Sugilite or Charoite.  But it also has the possibility of being dyed, which brings down the value.  Neither Sugilite nor Charoite undergo treatments.  Always ask if the jadeite has been treated or enhanced before you buy!  

PURPLE SAPPHIRE is very rare, coming usually from Sri Lanka or Madagascar.  Again, sapphire has been valued as a gemstone for centuries, but most people don’t know that it comes in so many different colors.  Most sapphire is heat-treated, but purple, lavender, and violet sapphires usually don’t need to be.  Purple sapphire has a Mohs hardness of 9, so it’s the most durable of the options presented here.  Because it’s hard and transparent, this gem is usually faceted.  Not surprisingly,  it’s also the most expensive option listed. 

Lavender Jade

Violet Sapphire

 

 

 

 

Amethyst and Tanzanite are lovely purple gems, and they would work well with this year’s fashions.  But now you have LOTS of options if you want to be “styling” with the Color of the Year!

 

 

 

 

Tanzanite-Birthstone of a Generation

Tanzanite, that beautiful violet-blue gemstone with the interesting history, doesn’t seem that rare.  Most jewelry stores have at least a few pieces.  Most consumers recognize the name, tanzanite, and can’t remember when it wasn’t available.  But we are actually the lucky “generation” to have this precious gem.  Going to the store and buying a new piece of tanzanite jewelry will probably not be an option for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  

The history begins back in the late 1960s, when the blue-purple variety of the mineral, zoisite, was first discovered.  Found in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro, the gem quickly gained the attention of Tiffany’s president, Henry Platt.  It was Tiffany & Co. that named the gem, Tanzanite, and began marketing it in 1968.  The popularity of the gemstone grew over the next few decades and, in 2002, Tanzanite became an official birthstone for December.  It also is the gemstone for the 24th wedding anniversary.  

Most gemstones are found in various places on Earth.  But the geological circumstances that allow tanzanite to form are very rare and have only been found in the Merelani Hills.  All the mines are located within eight square miles!  A big reason for this is that vanadium, the trace element responsible for the violet-blue color, is not a common element.  And it was very rare during the formation time of tanzanite.  Another reason for tanzanite’s rarity is that only in this one location has erosion of the Earth’s surface tipped the scales enough to allow the continental crust, where the gems were formed, to be pushed up by the oceanic crust.  Bringing the gemstones closer to the Earth’s surface has allowed mining to be profitable. 

For how much longer will mining be profitable?  In the early 2000’s money was invested in understanding the conditions ripe for tanzanite.  Mining became more efficient and production increased.  Recent reports, however, point out that mines have to go deeper to find more tanzanite.  At some point, the cost of mining will be prohibitive.  When production slows and the jewelry industry can’t count on a steady supply, it will look to other, more available, gems.  This may lead to a downward spiral of demand and supply for tanzanite.

You are part of the “generation” that can still go to your favorite jewelry store and buy this beautiful gem.  Unless some other deposit is discovered, future generations will have to buy previously owned tanzanite.  So, if you love tanzanite, don’t delay in getting your special piece of it.

Our pieces of tanzanite, currently in stock

 

 

Made in Michigan Jewelry

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!

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor’s Stories of Jewelry

Elizabeth Taylor

 

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!”

 

 

Mother of Female Jewelry Designers

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!

Back in Business with Burma

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

Imperial-quality jade. Courtesy of Mason-Kay.

Imperial-quality jade. Courtesy of Mason-Kay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Birthstones

garnet

Garnet: January birthstone

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

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

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

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

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

amethyst

Amethyst: February birthstone

Book Review: Stoned by Aja Raden

Stoned

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

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

In a nutshell, the chapters discuss the following:

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

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

The New Birthstone- August’s Spinel

 

Natural Spinel

Natural Spinel

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.

Peridot

Peridot

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.

1.28 carat pink spinel

1.28 carat pink spinel