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


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.


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



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.









The “Little Black Dress” of Jewelry

Every well-dressed woman has certain “go-to” pieces in her wardrobe–a black dress, patent leather pumps, a cardigan sweater. . .These are the articles frequently pulled out of the closet.  They work in a variety of situations and always improve the ensemble.

When it comes to a jewelry wardrobe, what are those classic, “go-to” pieces?   What should every woman have in her jewelry box?  Based on the opinions of many, here are the top five.  They make wonderful holiday gifts because you know they’ll be worn over and over again.


  1. DIAMOND STUD EARRINGS are not only classic, but also a great investment.  Since the setting for the earrings is a minimal part of the cost, and diamonds rarely go anywhere but up in value, this “must” is the perfect gift.  At Dearborn Jewelers, we have a trade-up program for customers who’ve purchased their diamond stud earrings from us.  Fair market value for the earrings can be used towards the purchase of a larger pair of studs.
  2. GOLD HOOP EARRINGS, in white and/or yellow gold, are an important mainstay in a woman’s jewelry wardrobe.  They can be dressy or casual, and they coordinate with other pieces of jewelry.
  3. DIAMOND PENDANT NECKLACE just sparkles at the base of her neck.  It’s another great investment,  since, again, Dearborn Jewelers has a trade-up program.  And a diamond pendant and earrings together?  Stunning.
  4. A GOLD OR SILVER CHAIN that can be worn alone or with a pendant is an essential part of any jewelry wardrobe.  Small, simple chains are great for layering with other necklaces.  Probably the most versatile chain is a 16-18 inch adjustable wheat or box chain. (One hint for gift-givers, though, is to pair a pendant with that chain.  A chain by itself is probably not the most exciting gift.)
  5. A WRIST WATCH rounds out the top five.  At Dearborn Jewelers we carry the Tissot brand, which is a Swiss-made watch.  We have a wide selection in stock.

If you are looking for that perfect gift for the woman in your life, check to see if she has these classics.  If not, stop by Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth.  We can help you round out her jewelry wardrobe.  If she has them all, maybe what she needs is a jewelry box.  We have those, too!

jewel box4


Current Jewelry Trends

stackables-blogSTACKABLES are in fashion!  People like to stack bracelets, necklaces, and even rings.  This trend has led to thinner, smoother styles that stack easily.  The picture above features “bamboo” bangles from Thistle and Bee.  The agates and topaz stones can be easily offset so the bangles fit nicely together.

In reading articles from Huffington Post and Harper’s Bazaar,  I learned that stacking is rather an art form.  It strives for a carefree feeling, fun and not too heavy. If you are stacking necklaces, stick to thinner chains, smaller pendants or charms, and only a few small stones or beads.  It’s best if you stagger the lengths and not wear anything too chunky.  If it’s rings you want to stack, try mixing metals and textures.  Again, it’s best if the rings have flat edges and small, single, or no stones.  Keep your stacked rings to one finger per hand.  It’s just as important to have fingers bare, so that the eye goes to the stack.   Bracelets, on the other hand, can be wide and bold.  The more, the merrier with these!  You can dress up both arms and stack them to your elbows if you want.  Mixing a couple of different metals is fun, and using different shapes and thicknesses is preferred.  The main caution is to minimize other types of jewelry if you’re wearing a lot of bracelets.

ROSE GOLD is quite the rage!  This alloy of gold and copper is not just for the strawberry blonde.  Some people say it looks great on those with a warm skin tone–think peaches and autumn.  But other people say it looks wonderful on those with a cool skin tone–think strawberries and summer.  Obviously, rose gold is a lot more versatile than one might think.  Rose (or pink) gold looks fabulous with the vintage ring styles that are popular right now.  It has a delicate femininity that coordinates with the vintage look.

CIGAR BANDS are an up and coming trend, according to David Connolly.  These are wider than the traditional wedding band, and they can be ornate or simple.  Think of years back, when men proposed to the women they loved with an actual paper cigar band!  Years ago we had a client who kept the paper her husband had used to propose and, decades later,  had us custom make a gold version of it.  She was ahead of her time!  Or maybe it’s just that trends operate with the “what goes around, comes around” philosophy.

Trends are fun to observe, even if you don’t want to follow them.  They are more obvious if you know what to look for.  For instance, the Pantone Color of the Year is Marsala, so make sure to look for it this fall!  If you pay attention to people’s jewelry, you’ll see more stackables and rose gold.  Have fun and don’t forget to see our selection of rose gold and stackable jewelry!

rose gold for blog


Jewelry for Valentine’s Day

What are you planning to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day?  Will it be chocolate, flowers, a simple card, or maybe a gift of jewelry?  Whatever you decide, you really shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to express your love for that special person in your life.

Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love in the late 1300s, when Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) wrote a poem to honor King Richard II’s engagement.  The poem, which linked the Feast of St. Valentine to birds choosing their mates, was called the “Parliament of Foules (Fowls).”

But St. Valentine’s Day was celebrated long before the middle ages.  It used to be a liturgical celebration.  There were several saints named Valentinus (Latin for worthy, strong, or powerful). While it’s no longer celebrated by the church, Valentine’s Day has become a more and more popular secular holiday.  Many countries celebrate Valentine’s Day.  It became very big in 18th century England as an occasion to express love.  And when Hallmark began producing Valentine’s Day cards in the early 1900s, its success was sealed.  All of those saints named Valentine have to be happy about the wide-reaching celebration and the meaningful sentiments expressed on their name-day!

How do you plan to say, “I love you?”  If you’re on a budget, don’t give up on a gift of jewelry.  Dearborn Jewelers has gifts in all price ranges, starting at $25. We have sterling silver heart pendants on chains for around $70.  A bouquet of roses or a box of fine chocolates can cost that much!  So go for the gift that doesn’t wilt and won’t add calories.  Jewelry lasts forever–just like your love.


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