Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gemstone Spotlight: Watermelon Tourmaline

Six round brilliant diamonds are channel set into the wide shoulders of this gorgeous tourmaline stone ring. Its shank crafted of 14k gold, is contoured to hug the fingers, and its geometric shape and size grant it unisex appeal. Crowned with a stunning 9.8-carat cabochon slice of Watermelon Tourmaline, witness a juicy cocktail ring fit for any occasion. Watermelon tourmaline is the rarest form of elbaite tourmaline found in nature. Like all tourmaline varieties, it forms when magma is forcefully injected into hardened granite. As the hot viscous solution begins to cool, crystals form.


 For watermelon tourmaline to grow, this liquid syrup must be rich in sodium, lithium, aluminum, boron. In addition, atoms of chromium (red), vanadium (green), lithium (green, pink), and/or manganese (pink) must be present during growth. These chromophores fuse themselves just so into the lattice structure of the crystals, resulting in the layering of green, white, and red indicative of watermelon tourmaline.

These beautiful stones are rare, and rarer still are specimens greater than 10 carats. Watermelon tourmaline is typically flecked with inclusions, but these only seem to add to their allure. Depending on the precise crystal structure of the stone, tourmaline rates between 7 and 7.5 on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness. Experts agree that while tourmaline is fairly durable, it is wise to remove one before undertaking heavy labor, most especially if you'll be working in dirt.

 A fine grain of quartz or other harder mineral could scratch it, and the stone itself could crack or break under pressure. Experts further advise the avoidance of ultrasonic or steam cleaners. Rather, a soft brush with warm, soapy water is all that's required to maintain your stone's lustre. In addition to its unique play of color, watermelon tourmaline, like all tourmaline, is naturally piezoelectric, pyroelectric, and pleochroic. Piezoelectric stones become electrically charged when friction is applied, and pyroelectric stones become electrically charged when heated.

By heating or rubbing your watermelon tourmaline, you will find that small particles of dust and dirt will jump onto its surface as if it were magnetized. Long ago, Nederlanders capitalized on this characteristic, heating them in order to clean their pipes {cited}. Pleochroism refers to the variation in color achieved when viewed from different angles. The color of your stone may darken or even change color depending on how the light striking it reaches your eye. Legend has it that tourmaline is a lucky stone, protecting its wearer from danger and misfortune {cited}. It is also said to promote relaxation, joy, and artistic expression. It is also believed to enhance cooperation and connection and to promote happiness. Sounds like a recipe for a powerful cocktail party:
  1. Wear this stunning ring to the next party you attend.
  2. Bend down as if your hands are cold, and breathe your warm breath upon the stone. (Or discretely rub it against your jacket.)
  3. Demonstrate to your table mates the stone's magical ability to attract dust and debris to its surface. (Just don't embarrass your hostess who may be astonished at the dust it attracts.)
  4. As your watermelon ring casts its enchanting spell, take note of how all eyes are on you.
  5. Smile big, and witness how magnetic you've suddenly become.
  6. Take a brief bow and whisper a word of thanks to your stone. You've just made some new friends.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Opal's Bad Rap: Superstitions of the 19th and 20th Centuries

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

A brief look at the status of Opal Jewelry in 19th and 20th century Europe demonstrates the power of the written word and our human tendency to equate correlation with causation. Prior to the early 1800s, opal was reputed to be a stone of good fortune. It was widely believed that the magnificent iridescent stone strengthened eyesight, conferred virtue to its wearer, cheered the heart, and prevented infection. Some ancients even believed it could render its wearer invisible in plain sight. However, by the early 1800s the stone's stellar reputation began to tarnish. Writer's from the period cite several possible reasons for the opals' decline in popularity. Probably the most widely acclaimed assertion was that Sir Walter Scott's novel, Anne of Geierstein, published in 1829, was responsible for the downturn.

Hermione's Opal

The novel opens on Hermione, a beautiful young woman whose moods appear to be reflected in an opal hair clip she never removed, except for during the few minutes it took her young maidens to comb her hair {cited: Scott}.


 Sir Walter Scott writes: "In such moments, when her eyes sparkled, her cheeks reddened, and her whole frame became animated, it was pretended that the opal clasp amid her tresses, the ornament which she never laid aside, shot forth the little spark, or tongue of flame, which it always displayed, with an increased vivacity.... Her maidens were also heard to surmise, that when their mistress was agitated by any hasty or brief resentment, (the only weakness of temper which she was sometimes observed to display), they could observe dark-red sparks flash from the mystic brooch, as if it sympathized with the wearer's emotions." {p. 221}.

Opal's Dimming

This book, originally published in the 1820s, was reprinted in 1846, at the peak of opal's popularity in Europe. Many of the opals on the market at that time appear to have been hydrophane, which according to an 1878 definition meant they would lose their luster when touched by water, oils, or excessive heat. Additionally, during this age of plagues, in the absence of germ theory and a clear understanding of the nature of conductivity, opals slowly grew to superstitious status. In modern times, more is known about the delicate nature of the opal, and some of these early assumptions about how opal loses its luster have been amended. We also understand more about opal's conductive properties, that it flashes more when warmed in the hand or against the body and fades when cold. However, when Sir Walter Scott connected the demise of Hermione to her opal's dimming, it was easy for writers of the day to speculate that the fall of the opal came on the heels of the popularity of this compelling story.


Sir Walter Scott wrote that after a drop of holy water landed upon her opal it "shot out a brilliant spark like a falling star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colourless as a common pebble, while the beautiful Baroness sunk on the floor of the chapel with a deep sigh of pain" {p. 225}. It is true that by the 1840s, a pall had begun to fall over the ethereal stone. This pall would take full shape in the 1870s, when women would gladly own an opal, but would rarely wear the unlucky stones. Luck was simply too valuable. No one in the Industrial Age could afford to squander it.

The Patron Stone of Thieves

In 1878, it appears that The British Quarterly Review may have been the first to widely publish that "the notion of the opal being an unlucky stone, cannot be traced farther back than the publication of [Sir Walter] Scott's novel" {cited: Quarterly Review}. The Quarterly Review, presumably in an attempt to refute the superstitions surrounding the opal, reverse this notion of the unlucky stone by citing Marbodus Gallus (Marbodei Galli), who wrote a 12th-century treatise on the virtues of precious stones, which became "one of the most popular lapidaries through the 16th century" {cited: Schuh}. According to Marbodus, opal "confers the gift of invisibility upon the wearer, so that the thief, protected by its virtue of dazzling all beholders, could carry off his plunder in open day" {cited:British Quarterly Review}. Marbodus successfully revised the common supposition of the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century), that the opal possessed and conferred the virtues of every gemstone whose color was represented within the opal's depths {cited: crystal-cure}, to a whole new level, ensuring it as the patron stone of thieves.

Undue Neglect

Twenty years later, speculation continued among the literati that a well-written novel had the power to drastically effect the economy of a society. And who can really blame them? Even this writer fantasizes about the power of the written word to affect the world. Though it is really just an afterthought in a treatise against the dominion of the diamond, in 1894, Charles Dickens contributed to the discussion in an article which not only affirms that the opal had by then fallen into disrepute, but also presents a subtle bid for a more favorable view. He wrote, "the opal is said to show, in its diminished lustre and fire, the approaching illness or death of its wearer. And this imaginary property has had the effect of causing a beautiful gem to be unduly neglected, especially since Sir Walter Scott diffused the notion in his novel Anne of Geierstein" {All the Year Round p. 127}.


 In the same article, he briefly cites the second most popular assumption regarding Opal's bad rap, again calling for at least a more balanced view. Apparently, the Empress Josephine's 'Burning of Troy' opal appears to have been associated, quite illogically, with her divorce from Napoleon I. Of the famed opal, Mr. Dickens wrote that it "might be held to justify the current superstition as to opals, as Josephine's divorce speedily followed its acquisition" {p. 127}.

An Absolute Phobia of Opals

Like the connection to Hermione's opal, the belief that Empress Josephine's opal deserved blame for the superstitions was propagated by several writers throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Since she wore them often, it is hard to imagine that Empress Josephine would have believed such a preposterous notion. Other writers speculated that it was actually her granddaughter-in-law, Empress Eugenie de Montijo (of Spanish descent) who propagated such a notion. Since it was widely known that Empress Eugenie was terrified to wear an opal, it was surmised that her fear of the gemstones lay in Empress Josephine's misfortunes. However, this bears very little credence, as Empress Josephine, despite her divorce, led a very happy and fulfilled life. Furthermore, such a distant connection is very small in comparison to Empress Eugenie's absolute phobia of opals. We may never understand the origins of her fear, but it is possible that it grew in the same soil as the Black Plague.

An Ominous Notoriety

Apparently, despite Dickens' feeble attempt to shift public opinion on the matter, the opal continued to bear the burden of an ominous notoriety. Isidore Kozminsky, in her 1922 book, The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones, discusses in great detail the superstitions surrounding the beautiful stone, many of which relate to opal's conductivity--that it flashed when a person fell ill and lost its luster upon their death. Ms. Kozminsky writes: Perhaps against no other gem has the bigotry of superstitious ignorance so prevailed as against the wonderful opal. The reason for it dates no further back apparently than the 14th century. It was at this time that the dreaded "Black Death" was carrying off thousands of people in Europe. The year 1348..saw Venice assailed by destructive earthquakes, tidal waves and the Plague. The epidemic in a few months carried off two-fifths of the population of the city, sparing neither rich nor poor, young nor old. It is said at this time the opal was a favourite with Italian jewelers, being much used in their work. It is further said that opals worn by those stricken became suddenly brilliant and that the lustre entirely departed with the death of the wearer {p. 293}.

The Grand Opal of Spain

Unsurprisingly, this was not the only story of opal's mystic tendencies in the face of fever and death, and the conditions in Italy were repeated throughout Europe in the decades leading up to the 19th century. The conclusion that the opal was to blame for sickness, in the absence of an understanding of germ theory and conductivity, is not at all unsubstantiated.


 Ms. Komzinsky cites several other possible reasons for the stone's stigma, none as compelling as The Grand Opal of Spain. Although Empress Eugenie came from Spain, this tragic story would not have been to blame for her fear of the stone, as it happened long after her aversion developed. The story opens in Madrid in the winter of 1877. King Alfonzo XII has stilted his lover, the Comtesse of Castiglione, to marry his cousin, Princess Maria de las Mercedes. The Comtesse, burning with anger, sent a Trojan horse of sorts to her former lover. This "magnificent opal set in a filigree ring of gold" attracted the affections of the new Queen of Spain {Kozminsky, p. 296}.

Opals Caused Disease

She adopted it as her own, and within six short months she was dead from "a mysterious illness." Following Queen Mercedes's death in June of 1878, King Alfonso reportedly gave the ring to his grandmother, Queen Cristina. Her demise came less than one month later. According to legend, the ring was then given to the King's sister, Infanta Maria de la Paz, who is said to have also perished from a mysterious illness shortly afterward. After so much tragedy, it is said that the King dared to don the ring himself, and he died from tuberculosis. It is supposed that the opal was blamed for these deaths, and the rumor was widely circulated that opals caused disease.

The Legend Breaks Down

As far as history goes, this legend holds little factual credence. It is true that Queen Mercedes died from typhoid fever just six short months after her marriage to Spain's King. It is also true that King Alfonso's grandmother, Queen Cristina, perished one month later. However, although her cause of death is not readily known, it is noted that the Queen and her grandchildren did not get along {19}. One must wonder, then, why King Alfonso would have given her the opal ring. It further breaks down when we discover that Alfonso's sister died in 1946 after falling down the stairs, not from a mysterious illness in the late 1800s. It is possible that King Alfonso's role in the cursed opal's story might bear a bit more weight. Though he died seven years after his first wife's death, he did die from dysentery while suffering from typhoid fever, and in all likelihood he did still possess the dread opal.

A Stigma of Mourning and Sadness

This may have been a compelling story in the late 1800s, but it is quite possible that the downfall of the opal lay within the court of another 19th-century queen, one who would not be so readily cited by writers of the day. As one of the century's most influential icons, Queen Victoria, an extremely superstitious woman, wore opals and diamonds at her wedding in 1840, and enjoyed them immensely. She often presented opals as gifts, the most elaborate opal and diamond jewels reserved for her daughters on their wedding days. Given her avoidance of all things that would bring ill fortune, it is safe to assume that throughout the mid-1800s, even for a time following the death of her dear husband, opals maintained their positive mystical attributes. However, sometime after her husband's death in 1861, and after her daughter's marriage in 1862, the Queen is reported to have stopped promoting the use of opals for weddings. She may have continued to wear them, but they would soon take on the stigma of mourning and sadness. An article in an 1875 copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal advises, “opals, on account of their signification being ‘sorrow’ are not fashionable for engagement rings” {1}.

The Russians are to Blame

While this association with grief and mourning must have played a part in the turn of the opal's fortunes, at the dawning of the 20th century, seemingly oblivious to the immense power Queen Victoria held over the world's jewelry market, writers began to adopt Mr. Dickens's theories from the 1840s, taking liberty to add some of their own, as well. In 1900, Anna Cosgrave, in the magazine, Common Sense, wrote that "the belief that opal is unlucky seems to be comparatively modern. [Edwin] Streeter says that in ancient times it was considered especially lucky, and, in the middle ages, it was even thought to possess the united virtue of all the gems with whose distinctive hues it emblazoned" {p. 188}. She purports that it was the Russians who are to blame for the opal's shady reputation. She writes, "...[the Russians] consider it the evil eye, and will give up any enterprise if they see one; if goods are being submitted for purchase, and they seen an opal, they will buy nothing that day" {p. 188}. She goes on to mention that "it is unlucky to wear but lucky to keep," unless you were born in October. Those whose birthstone is opal are allowed to wear them "on their persons" without concern {p. 188}.

Reasons Far More Practical

In 1913, legendary gemstone expert George Frederick Kunz added to the discussion. Like Dickens, it appears that Mr. Kunz was attempting to use logic to dispel superstition. His rational theory, though hinted at in earlier hypotheses, had not yet been cited as a reason for the decline: "A possible explanation for the superstitious dread of opal used to excite some time ago may be found in the fact that lapidaries and gem-setters to whom opals were entrusted were sometimes so unfortunate as to fracture them in the process of cutting or setting. This was frequently due to no fault on the part of the cutters or setters, but was owing to the natural brittleness of the opal. As such workmen are responsible to the owners for any injury to the gems, they would soon acquire a prejudice against opals, and would come to regard them as unlucky stones" {p. 150}. To read the accounts of the 1890s and 1910s, opals appear to have risen and fallen in favor nearly as often as the European empires rose and fell. Superstition plays its part, as we have seen with Sir Walter Scott's novel and The Grand Opal of Spain, but as Mr. Kunz suggests, the reasons may be far more practical. According to Allan Eckert (writing in 1997), right around 1800 the open pit opal mines in the Carpathian Mountains began to run dry.

Decreased Demand

The Slovakian government, in an effort to maintain their substantial market share, began to dig down beneath the earth in search of deeper deposits. At first, there was cause for great celebration as they hauled large quantities of opal to the surface. It appears that Mr. Kunz's "superstitious" gem setters were the first to call the parties to a halt. They recognized a significant difference between this new cache of opals and the ones found closer to the surface. The new opals were far less stable, prone to craze after being on the surface for a short time. Those which did not fracture on the cutting wheel, cracked apart some weeks or months after being purchased. Angry customers and wary stone cutters decreased the demand significantly. Mr. Kunz, well aware of this information, states, "Very widespread superstitions have no better foundation than this, for the original cause, sometimes a quite rational one, is soon lost sight of and popular fantasy suggests something entirely different and better calculated to appeal to the imagination" {cited, p. 150}. And what of the wonder of imagination? Should we abandon altogether the notion that opals just might have the power to bestow upon us the virtues of all the gemstones whose colors dance within the beautiful stone? Perhaps by simply beholding in wonder such a beautiful, beautiful stone, we might enjoy some of these grand benefits. Certainly, we will enjoy the delighted exclamations of those who notice our opal pendant or brooch.


  1. Andrews, Angela Magnotti. "The History of All-White Wedding Jewelry (Part 2). Jewelry History, January 24, 2013.
  2. Cosgrave, Anna. “The Stone of the Month: October—Opal.” Common Sense, October 1900.
  3. Dickens, Charles. All the Year Round: A Weekly Journal, Third Series, Volume XII, from July 7, 1894, to December 29, 1894. London: Published at 12, St. Bride Street, E.C., 1894.
  4. Eckert, Allan W. The World of Opals. USA: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
  5. Emily Gems. "Opal gemstone: History and Properties." Accessed June 10, 2013.
  6. “Gems: The Pearl.” The Mentor, Volume 4, Issues 21-25, 1917.
  7. Howard, Joseph. “Opals.” Journal of Chemical Education, December 1936, 13 (12), p. 533.
  8. Jewels for Me. "History and Lore of Opal." Accessed June 10, 2013.
  9. Kozminsky, Isidore. The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones. New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1922.
  10. Kunz, George Frederick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones: Being a Description of Their Sentiments.
  11. Opal Auctions. "What is Opal?" Accessed June 10, 2013.
  12. “Precious Stones.” The British Quarterly Review, Volume 67. London: Hodder and Stoughton, January and April, 1878.
  13. Scott, Sir Walter. Anne of Geierstein. Paris: Baudry’s European Library, 1846.*
  14. Schuh, Curtis. "Marbode, Bishop of Rennes (1035-1123). Accessed August 20, 2013.
  15. Shimmerlings Jewelry. "Opal." Accessed August 20, 2013.
  16. Wikipedia. "Alfonso XII of Spain." Accessed August 27, 2013.
  17. Wikipedia. "Anne of Geierstein." Accessed June 10, 2013.
  18. Wikipedia. "Infanta Maria de la Paz." Accessed August 27, 2013.
  19. Wikipedia. "Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies." Accessed August 27, 2013.
*The first publication of Anne of Geierstein was in 1829.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chalama Black Opal takes the fine jewelry industry by storm

Black opals are great for showing off the colors of the gem!A new variety of Ethiopian Opal has been developed by Jewelry Television (JTV), which is the world’s largest retailer of loose gemstones for fine jewelry. The gem's name, the Chalama Black Opal, comes from the Amharic (Ethiopia’s native language) word that means “to darken.” According to, Ethiopian Opal was discovered in 2008 and is known for its vibrant colors and unique patterns. The colors of the Chalama Black Opal are even more striking, as the stones are treated with smoke to deposit carbon into the gem, making the background appear black.
JTV described the smoke treatment process on their website. "In the smoke treatment process, the opals are wrapped in silver foil paper and heated. The smoke penetrates the opal and darkens the background color. This process results in a brighter play-of-colors in contrast to the darkened background color."


Although other black opals are on the market, there are few with the dazzling range of colors that come with Chalama Black Opals. If you're a fan of opal jewelry, you may want to check out a couple of vintage jewelry items that might strike your fancy.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gypsy Settings: Popular Among Men Since the 1880s

Vintage Mens Gypsy Set Diamond Wedding Band

The brilliant diamond in this 1940s vintage mens wedding band is mounted in a classic gypsy setting, complete with the star-shaped engravings typical of 19th century gypsy rings.

To make a gypsy setting, a goldsmith first drills a precisely calibrated hole into the band of the ring. He then presses the gemstone into the hole up to its girdle. After taping the stone and mounting to protect them, he rims the stone with a ring of molten metal and gently taps around the stone at 12 o'clock, 6 o'clock, 9 o'clock, and 3 o'clock.

He continues tapping gently at these points until the metal firmly hugs the stone, which appears nearly flush with the mounting at this point. As the metal begins to harden, he may use a chisel to add the star-shaped design flourishes. This was common practice for gypsy rings at the turn of the 20th century.

The gypsy setting is one of the most secure settings for gemstones. As such, it has been favored by men since its inception in the late 1880s. According to an 1884 issue of the Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, while the gypsy ring had been in fashion among men for quite some time, ladies were beginning to wear them in the quintessential Victorian three-ring fashion:

"Gypsy rings, with the stones deeply imbedded in the gold, which were originally intended only for gentlemen, are now as often chosen by ladies. As a whole, these are not so massive as those worn by gentlemen. They are rounded bands of gold and may have a ruby, sapphire, cat's-eye or any other stone in the center with a diamond on each side. The stones are so buried in the gold that only the surface shows."{1}

At this same time a new trend was emerging, one so novel that it was called odd in the same issue of the Jewelers' Circular. "Rings of hammered platina* with a brilliant diamond in gypsy setting are odd looking, as the metal resembles silver somewhat."{2}

Since yellow gold was still the fashion of the day, platina was most definitely out of place. As time progressed, both white gold and platinum became widely used for crafting rings for both men and women. What once appeared odd became highly fashionable and remains so to this day. With the resurgence in popularity of antique and vintage engagement rings, the gypsy setting proves a wise and fashionable choice in wedding jewelry, especially for men.

The classic lines of the design, long associated with masculinity, offer a sophisticated way for men to include a little dazzle in their wedding bands. And the security afforded by the gypsy setting makes it an ideal choice for men's jewelry who use their hands a lot, especially if their work requires the use of tools or heavy equipment.

How about it, men? Would you choose a gypsy set wedding band?

*Platina is a native alloy of platinum with paladium, iridum, osmium, etc.


  1. "Cause and Effect." The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, Volume 15, No. 1 New York, February, 1884, p. 4.
  2. 2. Ibid.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Empress Josephine’s “Burning of Troy” Opal


This stunning example of a high-quality black opal, and possibly affords a glimpse of what it must have been like to gaze upon the most glorious opal known to man at the turn of the 19th century. Though currently lost to public record, this famous opal of which I speak once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte I's beloved Empress Josephine de Beauharnais. Called the Burning of Troy opal, there appears to be no photograph or drawing of the (alleged) 700-carat stone, but there is much discussion about it throughout the historical record.
The Burning of Troy draws its name from the fabled flashing blaze of fire which was said to have burned so brightly within its belly that it appeared to sizzle upon its surface. Though no one contests the existence of this illustrious gemstone, the journey of the Burning of Troy opal once it left Empress Josephine's possession is shrouded in mystery. Considering how frequently it's discussed*, very little seems to really be known about it. Unfortunately, as is the case with many historied gemstones, the sparse accounts inspire far more questions than answers. Until the 20th century, historians believed the opal hailed from the Czerwenitz Mines of Hungary, where most of Europe's opals were mined. However, experts now agree that the black-backed black opal had to have come from Honduras, which makes its journey into Napoleon's French hands even more intriguing. While many of the jewels Napoleon gave to his wife came from Italy as gifts or spoils of war, so far this writer has been unable to confirm when or where Napoleon acquired the stunning black opal.

 Historians also agree that after Empress Josephine's death in 1814, the gemstone was "lost" for nearly 100 years. In all likelihood, it wasn't lost, but instead kept safe among the other heaps of jewels she bequeathed to her children upon her death. It makes sense that this opal would not have been worn publicly by subsequent heirs, as it was their general custom to keep these precious gems in display cases in the palace. Furthermore, the popularity of opal waxed and waned with the superstitions of the times. Her granddaughter-in-law, Empress Eugenie, the logical choice for who possessed it during its time of obscurity, was terrified to wear opals and would most certainly have kept it under lock and key. Current historians relate that the fiery black opal reappeared in Vienna, Austria, sometime before World War I, where it was supposedly purchased from an anonymous seller by the city. These same historians relate that city officials were offered 24,000 lira* for the gem at the end of World War I. Despite their depleted financial state after the war, the Austrians held onto their prized opal. According to the accounts, they would hold onto it for at least another 20 years, after which, at the outbreak of World War II (1939), the opal once again appears to have vanished without a (public) trace. The glorious stone has remained hidden from public view since. I am intrigued by the histories of the Burning of Troy written between 1878 and 1917. They call into question current historical "facts," and leave in their wake many more unanswered questions, and an enticing trail to follow at some point in the future. Here are some excerpts from the time:
"The Empress Josephine's opal, called the Burning of Troy, from the innumerable red flames blazing on its surface, was considered to be the finest stone of modern times, but its present owner is unknown." ~Excerpt from The British Quarterly Review, 1878.
"In the Museum of Vienna is an opal of extraordinary size and beauty, for which Lira 50,000 has been refused." ~The next sentence in The British Quarterly Review, 1878.
"The largest opal in the world reposes in the Imperial Cabinet in Vienna. It is uncut, of 3,000 carats, and was found in the Czerwenitza Mines of Hungary, where the finest opals come from." ~Excerpt from The Mentor, 1917
"The Empress Eugenie was one of those who had a dread of the opals' evil influence. Perhaps she connected with it the ill-fate of another Bonaparte Empress, Josephine, who owned the most wonderful opal of her time. So brilliant were its fires that it was called The Burning of Troy." ~Excerpt from the same article in The Mentor, 1917, two paragraphs later.
Both accounts represent topical discussions of opals in general, and both reference the opal on display in Vienna and The Burning of Troy opal as if they are completely separate. Note that the one writer refers to the opal on display in Vienna as a 3,000-carat opal, whereas the Burning of Troy is (fairly) well documented as (at least believed to be) a 700-carat stone. Note also that the the dates line up sufficiently to draw a reasonable conclusion that the two stones might be the same stone, though there is a huge discrepancy in the size of the stones in question. So far, this researcher has been unable to discern whether these stones truly are one and the same, or whether a writer (or more than one writer) made a huge leap and merged two opals into one; something which is so easy to do when piecing together fragments of history to make a whole. Own a piece of fine opal jewelry and start your own legend. *Some accounts claim 50,000 lira were offered. It is hard to know which is the correct amount.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Formation of Amethyst

Amethysts are a variation of quartz crystal, chemical name silicon dioxide (SiO2). Though the earth is home to an ample supply of quartz in various colors, amethysts remain one of the most prized in the family and Amethyst Jewelry is a staple in most collections. In Firefly Guide to Gems, Cally Oldershaw affirms that amethyst “sets the standard for all other purple gemstones.”

As with all quartz, amethyst finds its origins in the oozing liquid roiling at the center of the earth. Unlike other precious gemstones, quartz does not require a great amount of heat or pressure to form. In fact, it comes forth during the rising and cooling process of magma, when the resulting alluvial flows fill veins and gas cavities nearer to the surface of the earth. These highly pressurized hydrothermal solutions consist mostly of extremely hot water mixed with sulfides, silica, and other minerals.


 Anytime silica combines with oxygen, silicon dioxide forms. The abundance of both silica and oxygen in these hydrothermal solutions explains why quartz is so abundant in the earth and why it is found in all types of rocks. When the siliceous brews includes uranium, the resulting purple crystals are what geologists call amethyst.


 In its soluble form, silicon dioxide either flows swiftly into a cavity or drips slowly layer upon layer atop itself. If the flow of this aqueous liquid surges into cavities or veins, the quartz hardens and form as druse. Amethyst is most often found in geodes or veins in this druse form. However, if it drips slowly into layers, amethyst will grow hexagonally from its base, forming the crystal stalactites jewelers and collectors covet.

1. Oldershaw, Cally. Firefly Guide to Gems (Canada: Firefly Books Ltd, 2003), 154-155.
2. The Quartz Page. "Amethyst." Last modified November 13, 2011.
3. Aldrich, Kate. "How Are Amethyst Geodes Formed?" eHow. Accessed May 15, 2012.
4. Martin, Patricia Jean. "The magic of Rocks and Stones: Amethyst." Controverscial. Accessed May 15, 2012. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Diamond Schnauzer Dog Brooch to Benefit Seattle Humane Society's Tuxes & Tails 2013

At EraGem we are proud to be able to help find this pretty dog a new home!  Tuxes & Tails is a yearly event and fundraiser to benefit the animals at the Seattle Humane Society.  What better auction item could be found for an event to help animals than this vintage dog brooch.  At an event for the animals surely there are some Schnauzer lovers that love jewelry as well, right?  The event is May 11th and tickets can be purchased here  You can preview live auction items, including this magnificent pin here Live Auction Preview.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

White Gold's History is Somewhat Obscured

Antique Engagement Ring 18k White Gold

A demure Old European cut natural diamond rests snugly within a hexagonal faceted setting. Ornate filigree graces the head and shoulders of this beautiful antique engagement ring fashioned out of 18k white gold.

White gold's historical timeline is somewhat obscured by a longstanding misapplication of the term. Some jewelry writers report that white gold was first manufactured in the 1700s by alchemists Johann Friedrich Bottger and Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus in Germany. It is true that Mr. Bottger was an alchemist rumored to have discovered the secret substance believed to cure all disease and turn base metals into gold.

However, his connection to the term "white gold" was secured in 1709 when, in conjunction with Mr. Tschirnhaus, he discovered the secret to manufacturing porcelain, Germany's "white gold". It does not appear that Mr. Bottger or Mr. von Tschirnhaus ever set out to manufacture the actual metal alloy we call white gold.

The term "white gold" makes its next appearance in the 1800s, this time in reference to both cotton and ivory. When platinum deposits were discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1819, the original metallic "white gold" flooded the market. Platinum had been in circulation since ancient times, and as early as 1796, it was referred to as "white gold" or "small silver." However, it was not widely used in jewelry until after its discovery in the Russia's mountains. It has never been labeled as white gold in the jewelry industry.

I'm sure we can all agree, despite these minor confusions, that the white gold used in this antique engagement ring is neither porcelain, cotton, ivory, nor platinum.

It is, however, possible that it is made of the white gold compound consisting of gold, nickel, and zinc, patented in 1920 by the Belais brothers, who began experimenting with formulas for white gold as a substitute for platinum in 1887. It is also possible that it is made from the amalgam of gold, nickel, and palladium patented in 1915 by Karl Richter, a German chemist.

After 1920, the Belais brothers held the patent for the only 18K formula on the market. Since this ring is made of 18K white gold, this could mean that it was made with the Belais alloy. If it is, it will bear the hallmark 'Belais 18K'.

If it does not bear this mark, then it is possible it was made with Mr. Ricther's gold, or it might have been made sometime after the Belais' patent ran out (sometime in the 1930s). It is also possible that it was made sometime after the 1930s with someone else's formulation.

Although today's 18K white gold formulas are based upon the pioneering work of these 20th-century chemists, they are of slightly different composition, granting them an even whiter, brighter color. White gold of 18K standard manufactured in the 21st century is now made of either 75% gold/2.23% Copper/ 5.47% Zinc/17.8% Nickel, or of 75% Gold/15% Silver/10% Titanium.

~Angela Magnotti Andrews, Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sapphire + Ruby Engagement Rings Style Me Pretty

The lovely ladies at Style Me Pretty wrote up a great post featuring EraGem about the great benefits to a bride to be in choosing a sapphire or ruby engagement ring.  Check out the post here Sapphire + Ruby Engagement Rings If you don't know by now, these colorful beauties are some of our favorites and come in second only to our love of Old European cut diamonds.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sapphire Engagement Rings

We have been amazed with the number of brides to be who have been selecting a sapphire engagement ring over the more traditional diamond center.  We have been adding constantly to our selection of these beauties and currently offer over 75 different high quality sapphire engagement rings to choose from.  Most all are set in platinum and white gold in both solitaire styles and with diamond accents.  A few websites we follow have featured posts about our sapphire engagement rings and give some additional information on why their readers should consider one.

Here is one of our favorites, a natural 6 carat icy blue oval cut sapphire in platinum, Enjoy!