Turquoise – Prized by the Ancients

The ancient Aztecs believed that turquoise was a holy stone and that mortals were not worthy of wearing it.  As such, it was reserved for the worship of gods. 

Double headed turquoise serpentAztecbritish museum

Double headed serpent originally for Aztec Mexico, now found in the British Museum. The serpent is a mostly turquoise mosaic over a wooden carving.

Turquoise is a very soft material that is blue to green to yellow-green in colour.  It has been mined since at least 6000 BC and used in jewelry for almost as long. 

Médaillon Musée Guimet 27117

Medallion with turquoise, originally from Tibet. Now found in the Musée Guimet in Paris.

Turquoise has long been sought-after because of its beautiful blue colour.  In the past, the finest material came from Persia (Iran) and was a sky blue colour.  Persian turquoise is no longer mined.  Most turquoise today comes from the US and China.

Turquoise is the birthstone for those born in December. 

Turq mcGuin bunker (retouched)

Turquoise rough and cabochons

I have always loved turquoise.  The beautiful blue colour of this gemstone guaranteed that it would be one of my favorites.  Until I started making jewelry, I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it could be found in the US Southwest.  I was surprised to discover that much of the turquoise sold today is not natural turquoise and some of it isn’t even turquoise at all.   

Simulated turquoise is not new.  Ancient Egyptian artisans developed faïence, a copper glazed ceramic imitation, when high quality deposits of turquoise were no longer available.  But I was still surprised at how prevalent treatments and imitations are for turquoise on today’s market.   

Although natural turquoise does exist, this high-grade material comes with a high price tag.  Natural, in the context of a stone, means that the stone is not treated, enhanced or dyed in any way.  Because turquoise is such a soft stone (5 to 6 on Moh’s scale of hardness), it is usually treated for stability.

When purchasing turquoise, it is best to be aware of the different treatments and imitations that exist for this stone.  And one should always remember the saying “if it seems too good to be true, it usually isn’t (true).”   

  • Stabilized turquoise – Real turquoise that is treated with plastic resin or waxes to make it more stable and less crumbly. 
  • Reconstituted turquoise – Small chips and powder of real turquoise are bound with resin and dyes.  This material is much less expensive than natural turquoise.    
  • Block turquoise – Mixture of resins and dyes and does not contain any actual stone.  Does not have the same value as natural turquoise.   
  • Imitation and simulated turquoise – Materials that are dyed to look like turquoise.  These include stones like howlite and magnesite as well as glass, plastic and ceramic.  These materials do not have the same value as natural turquoise.    
  • African Turquoise – This stone is not turquoise.  It is jasper and should have a lower price. 

Howlite that has been dyed to imitate turquoise

 Caring for Turquoise

Turquoise is a porous material and natural and stabilized turquoise can darken with wear as it tends to absorb body oils.  It should be wiped with a damp cloth after wear for cleaning. 

Protect your turquoise jewelry from heat, chemicals and shock.  Ultrasonic or steam cleaning should not be used and one should avoid putting on lotions or perfumes when wearing turquoise jewelry.

Rings and bracelets made from turquoise should not be for everyday wear.  Keep them for occasional wear to protect the stone from the abuse that bracelets and rings often take.

Store your turquoise jewelry in a cool, dark box in a layer of acid-free tissue paper.

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Citrine for November

In ancient times, people carried this stone to protect them against snake venom and to ward off evil thoughts.

Citrine crystal

Citrine’s appearance in jewelry is rather recent, beginning only in the 19thcentury.  It is one of the more affordable stones that is available in earth tones, and has therefore become a popular choice for jewelry.  

Citrine is a variety of quartz that ranges from yellow to red-orange to brown in colour.

Citrine crystals

Although quartz is the second most abundant mineral on earth, naturally occurring citrine is rather rare.  Most citrine available on the market today is heat treated amethyst or smoky quartz.  Some of the heat treated material can change colour over time if left out in bright sunlight therefore it is best to store this stone away from light when not being worn.  

Citrine is sometimes misleadingly called topaz or quartz topaz.  Topaz is a completely different mineral that has a higher value than citrine. 

There is a lot of citrine available on the market, which makes it a rather inexpensive gemstone.  It is also available in large sizes.  

Citrine is the birthstone for those born in November.

Faceted citrine

Faceted citrine gemstone

Tourmaline – The Facts

Now that you have fallen in love with the beauty of tourmaline (see here if you missed the earlier post), it is time to find out a bit more about this gemstone.

Ancient Egyptian lore says that as tourmaline travelled up from the middle of the earth toward the sun, it travelled along a rainbow and collected all the colours of the rainbow.  I like this story.  Rainbows are beautiful, whimsical and ephemeral.  The idea fits tourmaline, my favourite stone.   

Tourmaline, the birthstone for October, is available in a wide range of colours – blue, green, yellow, pink, red, brown, black and clear.  This means that those born in October can have pretty much whatever colour they want for their stone.  

Tourmaline cabochons

This variety of colour is great for family jewelry.  Does your husband, who is born in October, not want to be represented by a pink stone in your family ring?  No problem, he can pick a blue or a green tourmaline.  Are you born in May, your husband in August and your daughter in October?  Rather than having 3 green stones in your ring, why not pick a yellow or pink one to represent your daughter?  Those born in October have all the options. 

Tourmaline was first introduced in Europe in 1703 when the Dutch imported the stone from Sri Lanka.  Tourmaline’s name originates in Sri Lanka.  It comes from the Sinhalese word tura mali, which means “stone of mixed colours”. 

Tourmaline-51113

Multi-coloured tourmaline crystal

In Victorian England, black tourmaline (also known as schorl) was frequently used in mourning jewelry as it is tougher and longer lasting than jet.

The value of tourmaline varies greatly and depends on the quality of the colour of the stone.  The most expensive tourmalines are the Paraiba tourmalines (bright neon blue), verdelite tourmaline (green), rubellite tourmaline (pink to red) and indicolite tourmaline (blue).

Elbaite-cktsr-11b

Faceted indicolite tourmaline gemstone

Tourmaline is often heat treated to enhance its colour.  Blue tourmaline crystals are treated to lighten the colour while low grade pink and red ones are treated to intensify their colour. 

In addition to being beautiful, tourmaline has an interesting physical characteristic.  If heated, rubbed or pressurized, a tourmaline crystal will become electrically charged, causing it to attract small objects such as dust, hair, fluff and dirt.  This results in the need to clean tourmaline more often that most gemstones. 

Tourmaline is my favourite gemstone, so you won’t be surprised that I have incorporated it into my work.

Tourmaline and Sterling Silver Chandelier Necklace

Chrysoprase and Sterling Silver Earrings with Tourmaline Rondelle Dangles

Quartz and Sterling Silver Bracelet with Tourmaline Dangles

Tourmaline – The Love

Tourmaline is probably my favourite stone.  I have a lot of favourite stones, so it’s hard to pick just one as my #1 favourite, but I would say it is tourmaline. 

Pink tourmaline crystal

When I was a university student, one of my roommates worked in a family-owned jewelry store.  She became friends with the son, and one day he brought a tray of loose gemstones to our place for us to admire.  Was he trying to impress her?  Maybe.  Did it work?  Yes!    

There was a variety of gemstones in his tray, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds.  And there was also a really interesting crystal.  It was about 1-2” long, and it was yellow at one end, then green and then pink at the other end.  That is what caught my eye.  It was a piece of tourmaline.  While my roommates were drooling over the diamonds, I was captivated by the tourmaline. 

Tourmaline-26460

Pink and green tourmaline crystal

It’s not the fact that tourmaline comes in such a wide variety of colours that fascinates me.  Other stones, like sapphire and garnet, do too.  It is the presence of multiple colours in the same crystal.  That’s just not something one sees every day.  The raw crystals are gorgeous! 

Tri-colour Tourmaline Crystals

Tourmaline-23008

Multi-coloured tourmaline crystal

I hope that one day I will be able to acquire a faceted stone that is multi-coloured.  It would be expensive, but worth it!

Today is all about feeling the love for this gemstone.  In a few days, I’ll share more information about it. 

Tourmaline-34580

Rubellite Tourmaline Crystals

Watermelon Tourmaline - watermelon tourmaline has a pink core with a green rim

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Light green tourmaline crystals that grew in a spray

Sapphire – September’s Birthstone

I spent many years wishing that I was born in September so that sapphire could have been my birthstone.  Instead I have emerald, which is of course a beautiful stone, but it doesn’t come in my favourite colour – blue. 

When you think of a sapphire, you probably think of this.

Faceted Sapphire from Montana - photo by Astynax

 

What you might not think of is this.

Pink Sapphire Crystals - photo by Rob Lavinsky of iRocks.com

 

Although sapphires are often a beautiful deep blue colour, they also come in a vast range of colours, including yellow, green, white, colourless, pink, orange, brown or purple.  What you won’t find is are red sapphires.  A red sapphire would in fact be a ruby.  Sapphire and ruby are the same mineral, corundum.  It’s the presence of small amounts of other elements such as iron or chrome which gives sapphires (or rubies) their colour.  

Sapphires that are not blue are described as “fancy sapphires”.  The most coveted of the fancy sapphires are the padparadscha sapphires, which are found mostly in Sri Lanka.  It is a stone with a pink-orange colour. 

Faceted Padparadscha Sapphire - photo by Alextryan

 

A sapphire’s value depends on its size, colour and transparency.  The best sapphires have a rich, translucent colour.  The most valuable colour is a cornflower blue. 

Sapphire is commonly heat treated to improve the stone’s colour.  Heat treated stones do not have as much value as a natural stone of comparable colour. 

Corundum (sapphire and ruby) is the second hardest mineral, after diamond.  It is a 9 on Moh’s scale of hardness.  The hardness of the stone makes it easy to look after and makes sapphire an ideal choice for all types of jewelry, including items that typically take more abuse, such as rings and bracelets. 

The ancient Persians believed that the sky was a huge sapphire into which the Earth was embedded.  I rather like that image of the Earth, nestled into a gigantic blue gemstone.

Blue Sapphire Crystal - photo by Kluka

  

Long ago, a gift of sapphire was considered to be a pledge of trust, honesty, purity and loyalty.  This tradition is part of the reason that sapphire remains a popular choice for engagement rings.  And the fact that blue is the favourite colour of about 50% of people likely contributes to this too.

So for all of you that are September babies, with sapphire as your birthstone, remember, many of us are jealous 😉

Pele’s Tears

Hawaiian legend says that it is the goddess Pele’s tears.  In Roman times, it was known as “evening emerald” because it appears green, even in low light.  What is this gemstone that so captured the imagination of people?  It is peridot, the birthstone for the month of August. 

Faceted peridot - photo by Michelle Jo

Although it was used in jewelry thousands of years ago in Ancient Egypt and in Ancient Greece, peridot was introduced to Europe only during the Middle Ages when it was brought back by Crusaders.  It was often used as a decorative element in churches.  Peridot remained popular until about the 1700s, but then it fell into obscurity.   

This changed in the mid 1990s, after a rich deposit of high quality peridot was found in Pakistan.  The high quality gemstones are known as “Kashmir peridots”.

Peridot crystal from Pakistan - photo by Rob Lavinsky of irocks.com

Peridot can be different shades of green ranging from yellow-green, to olive-green, to an  intense apple green or even a brownish green, but it is always green. It is one of few gemstones that comes in only one colour.  The intensity of the colour is dependant on the amount of ferrous iron present. 

Emerald cut peridot - photo by Michelle Jo

 

Peridot is sometimes treated with colourless oil, wax and/or resins to improve its appearance.  It is safe to assume that inexpensive peridot has been treated in some way. 

Store your peridot jewelry with care as the stone picks up scratches easily and can be difficult to polish.  This gemstone is sensitive to quick temperature changes, so avoid steam cleaners and ultrasonic cleaners.  Instead, clean peridot using mild dish soap.   Peridot is also sensitive to acids, which will quickly remove the polish on the stones, so avoid using household cleaners when wearing peridot jewelry.

Queen of the Gemstones

The Ancient Romans considered this to be the stone of the war-god Mars.  It has adorned the crowns and sceptres of royals for centuries.  It is ruby, one of the most rare and precious gemstones.

ruby crystal

Ruby Crystal - photo by Rob Lavinsky of irocks.com

 
Ruby is a red variety of corundum, a mineral with a value of 9 on Moh’s scale of hardness.  Pure corundum is colourless, but traces of chromium give ruby its legendary colour.
 
ruby crystals in matrix

Ruby Crystal - photo by Rob Lavinsky of irocks.com

 

High quality rubies are mined in limited places.  The most famous rubies are Burmese rubies, mined in Myanmar (formerly Burma).  These stones are often of the highly sought after and expensive “pigeon’s blood” colour.  This is a pure red colour with a hint of blue. 

The colour of rubies is what most highly influences the stone’s price.  Inclusions are acceptable and don’t affect the quality of the stone as long as they don’t affect the stone’s transparency.  Transparency is the secondary factor affecting the price of rubies.

faceted ruby with inclusions

Faceted ruby gemstone with inclusions - photo by Humanfeather

 

Today most rubies are treated in some way.  Heat treatment, to improve colour, is the most common.  Synthetic rubies are also readily available.  Treated and synthetic stones have lower prices than natural stones of the same quality.  Because of their rarity, untreated rubies of excellent quality command premium prices.

Ruby, the “queen of the gemstones” is the birthstone for July.

Ruby and sterling silver earrings

Ruby and sterling silver necklace