There are more gemstones than most of us are aware of. They come in every degree of hardness and color. They can be cut and polished, dyed and foiled. Even the most seemingly simple of stones can be utilized to make a fabulous jewel.
Here are a few of my favorites.
I thought I had a lot of antique jewelry set with peridot, the August birthstone, but then I noticed that much of it was sold. It seems that peridot is more popular than I realized. The color is very wearable and shows off every complexion to advantage. The price is relatively affordable, even for antique jewelry.
Peridot is the gemstone form of olivine. Its yellow-green reminds me of sunshine in foliage, perhaps the reason some call it 'laughing green'. Poorer quality examples are more brown or yellow. Peridot is sometimes confused with green garnets, especially demantoid garnets, which command a much higher price.
It is suspected by many that Cleopatra's emeralds were really peridot.
The best peridot came from Myanmar/Burma. Perhaps as that bountiful and beautiful country opens up, we will find more of these beautiful gems on the market. At this point, it is not known whether their resources have been depleted.
Besides being the birthstone for August, peridot is also used to celebrate a 16th wedding anniversary. Relatively affordable, peridot comes in all cuts and sizes.
There are contradicting claims to the origin of the name. Whether Egyptian or French, this stone is attributed to have numerous remarkable powers and magic qualities: success, peace, good luck, especially fortuitous against night evils (due to its daytime magical light qualities?). The powers include the intriguing ability to ward off evil spirits, only if it was hung on a donkey’s hair and wore on the left hand. It was also believed that it could be the anecdote to black magic. Of especial interest to us, is the belief that for its full powers to be employed, it should be set in gold.
Peridot is the National gem of Egypt. Ancient Egyptians knew it as “the gem of the sun.” Known also to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and mentioned in the Old Testament. In Europe, peridot brought back by Crusaders was set in many a European Cathedral.
One famous large peridot gem adorning the shrine of the Three Holy Kings in the cathedral at Cologne was for centuries, believed to be an emerald, and only identified as peridot late in the last century.
While Cleopatra and the Crusaders of Europe may have been mistaken about the true identity of their gems, they knew how to recognize great beauty and whatever the name of the jewel, if our antique peridot jewelry is beautiful, we should enjoy it to the full.
Antique topaz jewelry is no less exciting than the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Topaz, about spies and the Cold War. When you delve into the topic, you will find antique topaz jewelry just as intriguing. For anyone born in November, this is your birthstone.
What an array of colors! Really?... Pure topaz has no color and is transparent. Impurities in the crystal tint it to a wide range of shades.
Natural pink topaz is very rare and costly. We especially look for Georgian jewelry with pink topaz, which they managed to combine so beautifully with other stones or set alone in a wonderful work of cannetille.
Imperial topaz (yellow-brown) is also highly desirable as its name indicates. The magic of this warm color has to be seen to be appreciated.
Orange is called Precious Topaz, blues regarded as less so, albeit natural blues are rare. Today, much topaz is heat treated for color.
Where does the name ‘topaz’ originate?
Confusion reigns: the name 'topaz' derives from the Red Sea area and the Hebrew word 'tapuz' - orange and Sanskrit word for fiery. The gems mentioned by the Bible, ancient Egyptians and Greeks are believed to be forms of chrysolite and not topaz at all. During the Middle Ages, any yellowish gem was referred to as Topaz.
While antique topaz jewelry is usually very fine and delicate, enormous topaz, weighing as much as 100kg, thousands of carats, have been found. There are many sources of topaz across the world.
Like many other gems, topaz in ancient times was associated with a host of magical and mystical powers, many based on sun-like qualities. A cure for everything from insomnia to hemorrhages. Worn as an amulet or, did they actually ingest it? Along with his famous diamonds, pearls, rubies and sapphires the rich and powerful Mughal Emperor of India had a favorite gem, the Topaz of Aurangzeb (approximately 158carats) - substantially less than the American Golden Topaz at 22,892.5carats. Glad to hear they got that .5 right.
Garnets are the birthstone of January. We normally associate them with a deep red color, but they also come in greens, yellows, pinks and purples.
These gems were very popular during the Georgian and Victorian eras. The Georgians, about 200 years ago, would cut them flat and wear them tightly wound around their necks, sometimes paired with pearls. The Victorians on the other hand, loved nothing more than a big, fat red garnet, cabochon cut (like a hill, without sharp facets) and they called these stones carbuncles.
Much cheaper garnet jewelry became popular, set in silver or low grade gold, in Bohemia, what is now known as the Czech Republic around the end of the 1800's and early 20th century. This gave garnets a bad rap and for a while, they were regarded as cheap, undesirable gems. Today, we know to look at each item on its own merit and recognize that a beautiful stone is a beautiful stone.
Green garnets, especially demantoids, found in Russia, are highly desirable and often command prices greater than diamonds. Their bright, almost electric color is quite unforgettable and I've seen collectors salivate at the thought of them. There are tsavorite garnets, discovered in the 2nd half of the 20th century whose color rivals that of emeralds and whose brightness can surpass emeralds.
Over the generations, garnets were associated with many qualities:
Strength, prosperity, awareness, perseverance, regeneration, insight, and commitment are qualities associated with garnets - all good things to have as you travel through life’s ups and downs. Wearing the garnet can enhance and encourage those properties in the wearer. Physically, the heart, blood and lungs are said to benefit from garnets.
Moonstones are an alternative birthstone to the amethyst for February. It is also the traditional gem for the 13th wedding anniversary.
Moonstones are an affordable stone with a high regard by many an enthusiastic antique jewelry collector.
The name of this gem derives from its ethereal, semi-transparent, moonlight-like quality. Like the light of the moon at night, the best moonstones have a blue-ish tinge.
Historically, moonstones have been adored in many cultures. Hindus believed that moonstones were made of solidified moonbeams. Romans thought that drops of moonlight formed moonstones. Even George Kunz, who worked for Tiffany ascribed special qualities to moonstones. He described one such stone with a white point in its center that changed size as the moon waxed and waned.
Naturally, moonstones have always been associated with love and romance. Special qualities attributed to moonstones include passion, healing, fertility, fortune-telling, good luck and special women’s interests.
While certainly not up there in the pantheon of precious stones, moonstones have been appreciated by the very best jewelry designers such as Renee Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany, both of whom incorporated moonstones in their jewelry, using their dreamy qualities and offsetting them with contrasting strongly colored stones. Other Arts & Crafts jewelers favored moonstones in their handcrafted jewelry.
Moonstones are almost always cut en cabochon (rounded and not faceted) and when carved into man-in-the-moon-faces, they are very popular.
When looking at moonstone jewelry, move the jewel about to see how the moonstone’s gleam alters with its position relative to the light.
Traditionally, antique opal jewelry is the birthstone for October.
There is evidence of opal mining in America as much as 10000 years ago. Myths and legends regarding opal jewels go back tens of thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks and Romans often regarded opals as the most valuable of all the gemstones. Lightening fire and tears of gods are some of the metaphors used since ancient times for opals. Passionate Mark Anthony chose an opal as a gift for Cleopatra, luscious man-eater of the day. The owner of that antique opal jewel preferred to run and hide rather than give up his gem to the love-struck ruler.
Sanskrit, African, Russian and European writings all reference the marvels of these multi-colored stones. Unsurprisingly, opals were believed to assume the magic and religious powers of all the colored stones that are reflected in the opal's spectrum.
During Medieval times, it was believed that if you held an opal wrapped in a bay leaf, you had the power of invisibility. Blond women of the time wore opal necklaces to maintain the color of their tresses. Most superstitions regarding antique opal jewelry related to its benefits until the publication of Sir Walter Scotts novel in 1829, which persuaded many Europeans of the gem's sinister qualities. Queen Victoria scoffed at these superstitions and gave her own daughters opal jewelry as wedding gifts and loved wearing them herself. The cool Queen did not persuade her Russian contemporaries about the benign nature of these stones: they continued to live in mortal fear of their malevolence well into the 20th century.
Antique opal jewelry is difficult to find. In 1877 the discovery of black opals in Australia got opals really rocking and rolling. From here on, antique opal jewelry abounds. Today, 97% of the world’s opals come from Australia. It is therefore poignant to learn that the Aborigines of Australia understood about opals in the times called Dreaming. They told that opals originated when the Creator put all of the colors of the rainbow into one gem, the opal, which was named the Rainbow Serpent.
Colors and Qualities of Opals:
Antique Opal jewelry is very popular. Good opals may include every color of the rainbow. Quality stones flash such intense color that they often rival the fire and value of diamonds and other fine gems.
The value of opals is largely dependent on Fire Color, Pattern and Brightness. Other qualities of Antique Opal jewelry include size and setting. Opals may include every color of the visible spectrum, but here are some broad groups that distinguish antique opal jewelry:
1. White is the most common color for opals, especially when flashing green. Includes cream, yellow, white and other light colors.
2 Black opals have a dark body color, often blue-ish in tone. The contrasting red flash and fire of yellows and greens is most dramatic and makes these often the most desirable and expensive of the opals. Red against black is considered the rarest.
3 Fire opals: Usually bright, fiery orange in tone, they range from yellow to red. While they do not have the usual play of color, good ones have great fire and flash. Jelly Opals are part of this family and usually cut en cabochon, while the orange gems are usually faceted.
4. Boulder opals are the opal in its host rock. This is most commonly seen the antique jewelry of the Arts & Crafts movement.
The fire Pattern in antique opal jewelry is also to be considered
The Play of color in antique opal jewelry depends on the above and other factors, such as the kind of light and the way the light hits the opal. Sunlight, clouds, artificial light of various sorts will give your antique opal jewelry a different appearance.
So, when looking at antique opal jewelry, it's important to shake, rattle and roll: turn the piece this way and that, up and down and then do it all again.
Look out for Doublets and Triplets! What does this mean? When we look at a stone in a jewel, we expect it to be a single piece. Sometimes, jewelry manufacturers cheated. They wanted a big look, but they wanted to use a cheap stone. They would layer a thin layer of brilliantly fiery opal over a layer of dull rock. Unless you look carefully from all sides, you might not notice the join where the ‘real’ and the poorer gem join. There are cases where the opal slice is protected from damage by yet another layer of transparent material such as rock crystal. This would be a triplet.
Opals in recent history:
Queen Victoria, clearly poo-pooing prevailing superstitions, was a great fan of opal jewelry and wore lots of it herself. Opal jewelry of the late Victorian era is very often accompanied by small rose-cut diamonds.
At roughly the same time as the late Victorian period, the French Art Nouveau movement produced some of the most fabulous antique opal jewelry ever made. Rene Lalique was a great fan of this stone.
Simultaneously, the Arts and Crafts movement was incorporating gems of lesser value into beautifully made pieces. Craftsmen and women of this popular movement used opals in their full range. From the simplest boulder to the flashiest fiery gems. Here, the artistic value superseded the intrinsic value of the stone.
Opals have never gone out of fashion. Their variety and magical fiery qualities ensure that they will mesmerize us forever.