November 2016

Topaz in matrix (Photo GIA)

The Colorful World of Topaz

I have always thought it was a shame that the general public has been forced into the misconception that topaz is merely and inexpensive blue gem. Incidentally the blue color is hardly ever natural: It’s almost always caused by treatment. Topaz has a far broader and more colorful story to tell gemstone lovers. 

Topaz is allochromatic. This means that the color you see is caused by an elemental impurity or defect in its crystal structure rather than by an element of its basic chemical composition. For example, the presence of the element chromium causes natural pink, red, and violet-to-purple colors in topaz. Imperfections at the atomic level in topaz crystal structure can cause yellow, brown, and blue color. Brown is a common topaz color, and the gem is sometimes mistakenly called “smoky quartz.”

The 97.45-carat Blaze Imperial Topaz is in the collection of the Field Museum of Natural History. - (Photo: "Gems and Gemstones: Timeless Natural Beauty of the Mineral World" by Grande & Augustyn, U of Chicago Press.)

Topaz actually has an exceptionally wide color range that, besides brown, includes various tones and saturations of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple. Colorless topaz is plentiful, and (as was mentioned earlier) is often treated to give it a blue color.

The color varieties are often identified simply by hue name—blue topaz, pink topaz, and so forth—but there are also a couple of special trade names. Imperial topaz is a medium reddish orange to orange-red. This is one of the gem’s most expensive colors. Sherry topaz—named after the sherry wine—is a yellowish brown or brownish yellow to orange. You may hear stones in this color range are referred to as "precious topaz". This term is used to distinguish them from less expensive citrine (yellow quartz) and smoky quartz.


Topaz crystals are typically elongated, with grooves parallel to their lengths. For this reason, they're commonly cut into long oval or pear shapes. These crystals show orange, pink, and brown colors. - Eric Welch/GIA

What is Imperial Topaz?

Red is one of the most prized and rare topaz colors. Red represents less than one-half of 1 percent of facet-grade material found. The color known in the gem the trade as "imperial topaz" is even more highly prized and rare. They color is a bit elusive and subjective; however, many dealers insist that a stone must show a reddish pleochroic color to be called imperial topaz. The reddish pleochroic color often appears at the ends of fashioned gems—like pears and ovals—that have an otherwise yellow-to-orange bodycolor. This look is illustrated in the images below. 
The name for "imperial topaz" originated in nineteenth-century Russia. At the time, the Ural Mountains were topaz’s leading source, and the pink gemstone mined there was named to honor the Russian czar. Ownership of the gem was restricted to the royal family.

This untreated 45-carat imperial topaz displays an attractive reddish peach color. (Photo: Constantin Wild, Idar-Oberstein)

Spectacular prize-winning, orangy-red, flame-shaped Imperial Topaz gem. (Photo: Gem courtesy of John Dyer & Co.)

The Württemberg Pink Topaz Tiara

The Württemberg Pink Topaz Tiara features pink topaz stones 

This tiara is part of an extravagant parure which includes, the tiara, two bracelets, a pair of earrings, and a devant de corsage (large brooch).  The set features a series of large and small pink topaz stones, surrounded by diamonds, mounted in gold and silver.

Princess Marie in the Topaz Parure

All of the pieces feature diamonds and striking pink topaz. The topaz stones are believed to be sourced from Russia.
The parure is linked to Princess Marie of Waldeck and Pyrmont (1857-1882), who married Prince William of Württemberg (later King William II) in 1877. Marie died just five years later following complications during the birth of her third child, a stillborn daughter.  Her pink topaz jewels are no longer with the Württemberg family and were last associated with the Faerber Collection.


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Gemology 101

Allochromatic: When color is caused by impurity elements or defects in its crystal structure rather than by an element of its basic chemical composition.
Idiochromatic: An idiochromatic gem is one where the color is not due to impurities, but where the coloring element is an essential part of its chemical formula. An example of an idiochromatic gemstone is peridot, because iron is part of its makeup; no iron, no peridot. 
Pleochroic: Pleochroism is when a gemstone shows different colors in different crystal directions. 

Pleochroism in a tourmaline cut with the c-axis parallel to the table, as seen with the unaided eye through the side (left), crown (center), and end (right). (Photos: Wimon Manorotkul and Mia Dixon.)

What You Might Have Missed

October 2016


American Contra Luz Opal from Oregon, Sold by Bonhams Auction House


Opal is formed in dry areas such as Australia’s semi-desert “outback.” Seasonal rainwater drenches the dry regions and showers soak deep into ancient underground rock, carrying dissolved silica (a compound of silicon and oxygen) downward, forming deposits in cracks between rocks. During dry seasons much of the water evaporates, leaving the silica deposits underground in the cracks and fissures of sedimentary rock.

Depending on the conditions in which it formed, opal may be many colors. Precious opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. Of these, black opals are considered the most rare while white and greens are the most common. 

As with their color opals vary in optical density from opaque to semitransparent, and there are two broad classes of opal: precious and common. Precious opal displays play-of-color while common opal does not.

Play-of-color occurs in precious opal is due to the way in which silica is arranged on a sub-microscopic level. Opal is made up of sub-microscopic silica spheres that arranged in a grid-like pattern (think of it like a box of ping pong balls). This arrangement causes light to bend (diffract). As the light bends it breaks apart into spectral colors (all the colors of the rainbow) producing an incredible display of color.  The color that can be seen varies with sphere size. According to GIA "spheres that are approximately 0.1 micron (one ten-millionth of a meter) in diameter produce violet. Spheres about 0.2 microns in size produce red.  Sizes in between produce the remaining rainbow colors".

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Opalized Fossils

OpaliZed freshwater mussell shells 110 million years old

What are Opalized Fossils?

Opal usually forms within fissures in rock layers, but opal can also form in other materials. If a cavity has formed because a bone, shell or pine-cone was buried in the sand or clay that later became the rock, opal may form in these cavities. 
One of the richest sources of opalized fossils is Lightning Ridge in northwestern New South Wales. These fascinating fossils transport us back in time approximately 110 million years! The fossils of dinosaurs, marine reptiles, fish, early mammals, mollusks, and plants give us a window into our planet's history. 

There are two kinds of opalized fossils:

Type 1. In this type the internal details are not preserved. The water and silica solution fills an empty space left by a shell, bone, etc. that has disintegrated away and then hardens to form an opalized cast of the original object. The opal inside doesn’t record any of the creature’s internal structure. Most opalized shell fossils are this type of ‘jelly mold’ fossils. 

Type 2. In this type internal details preserved: If the buried organic material hasn’t rotted away and a silica solution soaks into it, when the silica hardens it may form an opal replica of the internal structure of the object. This happens most often with with wood or bone.

OpaliZed theropod dinosaur tooth. Lightning Ridge, New South Wales.

OpaliZed Fossil Wood from Queensland Australia

The Virgin Rainbow

THOUGH superficially Belemnites resembled squid, they are distinct from modern squid for several reasons. they possess hard internal shells/skeletons composed of calcium carbonate and also lacked the pair of specialized hunting tentacles POSSESSED by modern cuttlefish and squid. belemnites instead hunted with ten arms covered in tiny hooks. (Artist's depiction of a belemnite school)

The Virgin Rainbow, it was discovered in the opal fields of Coober Pedy by opal miner John Dunstan in 2003. 
It's actually an opalized fossil, from an extinct cephalopod called belemnitida that existed during the Mesozoic era. During that time, much of South Australia was under a vast sea that was filled with prehistoric aquatic life. When these creatures died they sank to the bottom of the sea and were buried by sediment.

Over the millennia the sea eventually dried up and the land turned into a desert. The acidity levels in the shallow top layer of the sandstone increased causing the release of silica from weathering sandstone. Groundwater then carried it down to the layer of clay beneath, where bones and pockets left by disintegrated bones lay buried.

Further weathering lowered the acidity levels allowing the silica gel to harden into opals in the pockets and impressions left by decayed animal material to create a replica of the internal structure (see a description of opalized fossil types above).

The famous Australian opal fields of Coober Pedy are located in this prehistoric sea region. No other environment in the world is known to have undergone this same process, which very well may be why over 90 percent of the world's opals come from South Australia.

Artist rendering of a Plesiosaur next to the Addyman Plesiosaur

Opalized fossils in this region are not uncommon. The South Australian Museum is home to a spectacular (almost complete) opalised skeleton of a six-metre (20-foot) plesiosaur known as the Addyman Plesiosaur, although you have to look closely to see its opalescent sheen. This is not the case with the Virgin Rainbow.

The Virgin Rainbow opaliZed fossil of an extinct cephalopod called belemnitida that existed during the Mesozoic era.

"You'll never see another piece like that one, it's so special. That opal actually glows in the dark -- the darker the light, the more colour comes out of it, it's unbelievable," said Dunstan.

"I've done a lot of cutting and polishing [of opals], I've been doing it for 50 years, but when you compare it to the other pieces that claim to be the best ever, this one just killed it." 

The Virgin Rainbow is considered to be the finest opal ever unearthed and is worth more than $1 million. (In case you were wondering the Virgin Rainbow isn't even the most valuable opal in the world! A massive, 3.45-kilogram (7.6-pound) stone named the Olympic Australis opal, excavated in the Coober Pedy in 1956 gets that honor. In 2005, the Olympic Australis was valued at $2.5 million.)

Both the Addyman Plesiosaur and the Virgin Rainbow are currently on display among a dazzling collection of opals at the South Australia Museum in an exhibition, called "Opals". The exhibition began in September 25, 2015 and will run until February 14, 2016. 

"From jewellery to fossils to specimens embedded in rock, visitors will be treated to a spectacle of unmatched colour and beauty. This is an exhibition literally millions of years in the making because these opals were formed back when dinosaurs walked the earth and central Australia was an inland sea," - Museum Director Brian Oldman.

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Gemology 101

Aboriginal Origins of Opal

"The Path of Enlightenment" necklace contains 180 magnificent opals from Lightning Ridge, Australia, a famous opal producing area. - Courtesy Cody Opal

We Came From the Land  
This aboriginal story teaches how areas around the Flinders Ranges were created and the origins of opal. This is a Wirangu story from near Ceduna on the west coast of South Australia as told by M. Miller and W.J. Miller.

A long long time ago, a huge meteorite hurtled towards the earth from the northward sky, and smashed into the ground near Eucla. Because it was so big, a dent appeared in the crust of the earth and the meteorite bounced high into the air and out into the Great Australian Bight where it landed with an enormous sizzling splash. It was hot from its trip through space so it gave off a great deal of steam and gas as it sank through the waves. But this was no ordinary meteorite. It fact, it was the spirit Tjugud.
In the deep water near by, the spirit woman Tjuguda lay asleep. All the noise around her woke her up and she was very angry. She bellowed and the elements roared with her. The wind blew, the rain pelted from the sky and the dust swirled.
From the joining of the two spirits, the Tjugud and Tjuguda, a man was born, but he was no ordinary man, he was of enormous proportions. He rose from the deep water of the Bight to swim through the maze of limestone caves which run through the earth and into the sea. Then, he emerged from the ground through the cave of the Nullabor.
This was the birth of the Wirangu man, a coastal dweller. Wirangu walked towards the east, taking huge steps in keeping with the stature of the man. Each time he stepped, the ground shook and a dent appeared in the earth. These would later fill with water and are the rock holes which can still be seen today. You can clearly trace the journey of this man.
When he reached Coober Pedy, he was very hungry so he found some food and then lit a fire. The fire he built was so fierce it burned with an enormous amount of heat. A lot of water from the body of the man dropped into the ground and was captured by the stones which held a lot of water anyway. The beautiful colours from the raging fire went down into these stones, changing the water into a magnificent display of color. This is the colour of the opal and can be found in the stones still.

(Education Department of South Australia 1992: 32-33)

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What You Might Have Missed

September 2016


Sapphires are a color variety of corundum, a crystalline form of aluminium oxide. Corundum is one of the hardest minerals, rating 9 on the Mohs scale. Corundum gems of most colors are called sapphires, except for red which is called Ruby. Multi-color sapphire earrings in 18kt yellow gold. Available from Valentin Magro

Montana Sapphire and Diamond brooch by JAR

Montana's Sapphires

The official nickname for Montana is "The Treasure State" because of its rich mineral reserves. The mountains of Montana have yielded gold and silver since the first substantial deposits were discovered in the mid 1800's. Montana is also home to one of the most valuable gemstones that can be found in the United States of America: sapphires. 

Montana Sapphires. Photo courtesy of Georgetown Lake

Sapphires were first discovered in Montana in 1865, in alluvium (a deposit of clay, silt, sand, and gravel left by flowing streams in a river valley) along the Missouri River by Ed "Sapphire" Collins. Collins sent the sapphires to Tiffany's in New York City, and to Amsterdam for evaluation. These stones however, had poor color and of overall low quality and little notice to them beyond giving Montana sapphires a poor reputation.

Corundum was later found at Dry Cottonwood Creek near Butte in 1889, Rock Creek near Philipsburg in 1892, and Quartz Gulch near Bozeman in 1894. Sapphires from these three sites are routinely heat-treated to enhance color. Millions of carats of sapphires have been mined from the Missouri River deposits, but since the 1990’s there has been little commercial activity. This is because of the high cost of recovery as well as environmental concerns. Production at Dry Cottonwood Creek has been sporadic and low-yielding. Other than Yogo, the majority of the sapphire producing areas Montana sapphire mines produce few blue sapphires and non-blue sapphires have low profit margins. The Rock Creek area (also known as Gem Mountain) is the most productive site in Montana (even moreso than the Yogo Gulch area). Rock Creek has produced over 190,000,000 carats of sapphires since 1906. 

Even with the mining difficulties and expenses, more gem-quality sapphires are produced in Montana than anywhere else in North America. The term "Yogo sapphire" is the preferred wording for gems found in the Yogo Gulch, whereas "Montana sapphire" generally refers to gems found in other Montana locations. The gemstones have made such an impact on the state that in 1969, the sapphire and agate were jointly declared Montana's two official state gemstones. The stones have also  influenced the naming of features including the mountains near Rock Creek Montana which are known as the Sapphire Mountains.

Yogo Sapphires

Yogo sapphires are sapphires that are only in Yogo Gulch, part of the Little Belt Mountains in Judith Basin County, Montana, United States. Yogo sapphires are typically a cornflower blue color which is attributed to trace amounts of iron and titanium. About two percent of Yogos are purple, due to trace amounts of chromium. A very small number of rubies have also been found at Yogo Gulch. 

0.43 carat, cornflower blue Yogo sapphire from Yogo Gulch, Montana. Photo by Pumpkinsky

0.37 carat, purple Yogo sapphire from Yogo Gulch, Montana. PHOTO BY PUMPKINSKY

Yogos are considered unique in that they are usually free of cavities and inclusions, have high uniform clarity, lack color zoning, and do not require heat treatment due to their uniformity. Yogo sapphires tend to be small, but very expensive. The roughs tend to be small and flat, making faceted Yogo sapphires heavier than 2 carats exceptionally rare. Approximately 10 percent of faceted stones from the Yogo area are over 1 carat. The largest recorded Yogo rough was found in 1910 and weighed 19 carats. The stone was faceted into an 8-carat gemstone. The largest faceted Yogo is 10.2-carat. The rarity of large rough Yogo sapphires means that prices for the gemstones begin rising sharply over the 0.5 carat mark. 

The rarity of Yogo sapphires is also due to difficult mining conditions. Yogo sapphires were first discovered in alluvial (river streambed) deposits during gold mining operations downstream from the Yogo dike. Later the source was traced to igneous bedrock. Three other Montana locations also have alluvial sapphires (upper Missouri River, Rock Creek, and Dry Cottonwood Creek). The Yogo sapphires that are found in igneous rock are more difficult to acquire since the only way to extract them is through the difficult process of hard rock mining. This difficulty together with American labor costs makes their extraction fairly expensive. Because of the sporadic mining activity over the years, it is estimated that at least 28,000,000 carats of sapphires are still in the ground. 

Location of the Yogo mine area from a 1902 USGS topographic map

Yogo sapphires were not initially recognized or valued. Even so, Yogo sapphire mining has turned out to be very valuable. 

Yogo Gulch lies in a region originally inhabited by the Piegan Blackfeet people. Gold was first discovered at Yogo Creek in 1866, but the small numbers of early prospectors were driven off by local Native peoples. During the 1878 Gold Rush in 1878, approximately one thousand miners descended on Yogo Creek looking for gold. Miners noted that "Blue pebbles" along with small quantities of gold that were found. The mining camp at Yogo City followed the pattern of many gold towns of the era flourishing for a brief three years, and then the population dwindled to only a handful of people.
Yogo City was briefly known as Hoover City, named for Jake Hoover. who is credited as the discoverer of the Yogo Sapphires in 1894. Sapphire mining began in 1895 after Hoover sent a cigar box of “blue pebbles” he had collected to an assay office. The assay office then sent them via regular, uninsured mail to Tiffany's in New York City for appraisal by Dr. George Frederick Kunz, who pronounced them "the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States". Tiffany's sent Hoover a check for $3,750 (approximately $106,700 which would be approximately in 2016) and a letter describing the blue pebbles as "sapphires of unusual quality".

Hoover purchased the original mother lode from a sheepherder, later selling it to other investors. This became the "English Mine", which operated and was profitable from 1899 until the 1920s. A second less profitable operation called the "American Mine" owned by a series of investors operated in the western section of the Yogo dike. The “American Mine was eventually bought out by the syndicate that owned the English Mine. In 1984, a third set of claims, known as the Vortex mine, opened.

Sapphire mine of Yogo District, Montana. Face of dike in open cuttings 1897. Photo from Geography of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana, by Walter Harvey Weed and Louise Valentine Pirsson, 1900, United States Geological Survey, Washington DC.

Sapphire mine of Yogo District, Montana. Mine shaft 1897. Photo from Geography of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana, by Walter Harvey Weed and Louise Valentine Pirsson, 1900, United States Geological Survey, Washington DC.

In the early 1980s, Intergem Limited, which controlled most of the Yogo sapphire mining at the time, marketed Yogo sapphires as the world's only guaranteed "untreated" sapphire. This innocent sounding marketing claim exposed the general public to a not talked about common practice that existed in the sapphire world, the enhancement of a sapphire’s color through heat treatment. It was estimated that approximately 90 - 95 percent of all the world's sapphires were heat-treated to enhance their natural color. Intergem eventually went out of business, but the stones continued to be sold. In 1994 Citibank (who had obtained a large stock of Yogos as a result of Intergem's collapse) sold a collection of the sapphires, that had been in a vault for nearly a decade, to a Montana jeweler. Today the major mines are inactive and any mining is largely done by hobby miners or rockhounds in the area.

Yogo Sapphires that are part of the Smithsonian Collection

Jewelry containing Yogos was given to First Ladies Florence Harding and Bess Truman. Montana sapphires, including Yogo sapphires, can be seen in various museum collections.

Detail of the Tiffany Iris Brooch by Paulding Farnham circa 1900, currently held by the Walters Art Museum

Sketch for the Tiffany Iris Brooch by Paulding Farnham. Farnham served as the chief designer and director of the jewelry division of Tiffany & Co. from 1893 until 1907 when he was replaced by Louis Comfort Tiffany. 

The Conchita Butterfly Brooch

The Conchita Montana Sapphire Brooch. The Butterfly can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant.  It has boxes attached so that it can be incorporated into an elaborate neckpiece or strung with beads as well.

This magnificent butterfly brooch is made up of Montana Sapphires. The brooch demonstrates their wonderful range of color and a Yogo sapphire is prominently featured on the head of the butterfly.  The brooch was a collaboration by designer Paula Crevoshay and gem dealer Robert Kane of Fine Gems International. Fine Gems International has the world’s largest stock of Montana sapphire—thanks to its 2001 acquisition of the entire inventory of American Gem Corporation, mined at Rock Creek, Montana’s richest alluvial sapphire deposit, in the mid-1990's. Blue to green-blue are the most predominant colors in this large selection of sapphire. It was gifted to the Smithsonian Museum in 2007 and is part of the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian.  The piece includes 333 sapphires weighing 27.97 carats and 98.48 grams of 18K gold.

An excerpt from Pauala Crevoshay talking about the Conchita Butterfly brooch's creation:

A year ago a Smithsonian spokesperson approached me asking if I would be willing to take an amazing collection of Montana sapphires that were so generously being bestowed to the Museum by Robert Kane of Fine Gems International and create a finished jewel for our nation’s Gem and Mineral collection so the many small stones could be preserved and beautifully displayed.
Without a moments hesitation I answered, “I would be honored.” The process unfolded like a flower with all its many stages.
First, there was the question of what these delicious, highly refractive sapphires would wish to become. I felt our National gem and mineral collection should have a marvelous image to symbolize our nation’s immeasurable natural beauty that the sapphires from Montana represent.   As I pondered the range of colors of Montana sapphires with their many primary and secondary hues, I decided I would like to honor my mother’s amazing spirit and her love of the butterfly. As a child living in the Deep South I would catch Monarch butterflies every season just to see their magnificence a little more closely (and then of course let them go).  My mother had raised me to believe that the butterfly symbolized the Holy Spirit, Resurrection and Creation itself.
I have named the butterfly “Conchita” as my mother has left the physical plane and her deep connection with nature, spirit and freedom touches all that I am or do.
The artistic vision and creativity that flows abundantly through me always seeks an anchor to balance that flow and channel it into the finished product. That is where the academic and scientific brilliance of Robert Kane enters. This blessed spirit focused the selection and fine tuning of the gemstones so that each one set was perfectly cut to classical proportions and were perfectly clean under high magnification.  His uncompromising integrity and commitment blending with my creativity and free spirited truth produced a jewel that will become part of our great nation’s heritage and a source of delight and learning for generations to come.
Paula Crevoshay
February, 2007

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Gemology 101: Two Jewelry Terms

Collet Setiing: A Collet setting (also called a bezel setting) is a ring or rim of metal, designed to encircle the girdle of a gemstone. The upper edge of the collet is then pressed over onto the stone to secure the gem in place. Collets may be plain or decoratively enhanced with carving, piercing or millegraining.

Navette: Navette is French for "little boat", because it resembles the hull of a sailboat. It is a term used to describe a gemstone or jewelry piece that is oval with a point at both ends. The alternate term for gemstones cut in this shape is marquise-cut. 

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Stories You Might Have Missed

August 2016


Peridot, Diamond and Gold Five Strand Bracelet handcrafted by German jewelry artist Eva Steinberg. Available from Szor Collections


Lovely Lily Pads: Peridot Inclusions

Like many gemologists I am often more enamored with what is inside a stone than any other aspect of a gemstone. A good inclusion can make my day! Peridot just happens to have one of my all time favorite inclusions, lily pads.

Lily pads are reflective, disk-shaped inclusions resembling a lily pad shape. The inclusion is the result of a stress fracture. At the center of the formation there is often a crystal of another mineral or a void. These voided spaces can also be negative crystals (the space left by a crystal that is no longer there).

Lily pads can occur when the gemstone is heated in the ground or when heat-treated by man, and they are present in peridot from all mining sources in the world. Lily pad inclusions are never seen in synthetic or any other natural material that might be used to imitate peridot, so these inclusions can help in the separation of peridot from other materials. 

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peridot tiara

Archduchess Isabella's Peridot and Diamond tiara


The tiara dates from the 1820s fabricated by Kochert, court jeweler to the Habsburg family of Austria. It is believed that the tiara was originally been made for Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg (1797-1829), wife of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. But the tiara is more strongly tied to Princess Isabella of Croÿ (1856-1931), who married Archduke Friedrich, grandson of Henrietta and Charles and a successor to the Duke of Teschen title. Archduchess Isabella is the first person we have depicted wearing the parure (set).
The tiara is part of a parure which includes a set of earrings, a large brooch (or devant de corsage), and a necklace; the necklace includes seven drops which can be removed and mounted upright on the tiara. The parure is composed of large peridots in a deep olive color surrounded by a scrolling foliate diamond frame.

Joan Rivers, wearing the necklace and earrings at the 2004 Golden Globes   

Joan Rivers, wearing the necklace and earrings at the 2004 Golden Globes


The parure has been through a few sales since Archduchess Isabella's time. In 1936 after the death of her husband, Archduke Friedrich, it was sold for the first time; in 1937, the set was sold to Count Johannes Coudenhove-Kalergi (1893-1965) and his wife Countess Lilly. The jewels ended up in the United States, after passing to their daughter, Marina. The jewels stayed tucked away in a bank safety deposit box until her death in 2000 when her estate appraisers discovered that the jewels from her mother turned out to be so exquisite and to have royal provenance which was verified by Sotheby's.

The jewels were auctioned by Sotheby's in 2001 where they sold for approximately $400,000 by the Fred Leighton jewelry firm. The jewelry firm lent the necklace and earrings out to comedian Joan Rivers for the 2004 Golden Globes where they were photographed. At some point, Lily Safra had posession of part of the set. We know this because the earrings and brooch were placed on auction in May 2012 when a selection of jewels from her collection were sold by Christie's for charity. The whereabouts of the necklace and tiara are not know to the public today. 

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Vintage bakelite with round orange spessartite garnet set in 18k yellow gold bezels. Available from Barneys

Designer Spotlight: Mark Davis

Founded in 1999, Mark Davis is an ultra-niche designer and manufacturer of "hypercrafted" luxury goods. Mark’s expert use and adaptation of alternative materials is one reason that his jewelry is so special. By applying the exacting techniques of the haute joaillerie to materials not traditionally considered “fine,” Mark has created collections remarkable for their freshness and exceptional distinctiveness. 

While each collection has its distinct characteristics, all share important attributes. Quality is paramount in every respect: Mark works in close collaboration with his team of highly skilled artisans to realize his designs and to maintain exceptionally high standards not often offered today. A tremendous amount of manual labor—using both ancient jewelers’ techniques and modern manufacturing methods—is invested in every Mark Davis piece. Every item is meticulously handmade in their New York City studio. Nothing is mass-produced, and most pieces are one of a kind. Those created in multiples are available only in limited quantities.


"Sugarloaf" ring of laminated, hand-carved, vintage bakelite "scraps" mounted in 18 karat gold.

Invented by Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907, Bakelite was the first completely synthetic plastic material. It contained no petroleum or plant-derived ingredients. The development of Bakelite changed the course of mankind and the planet. Unfortunately, all the changes have not been good. Some of the properties that made Bakelite so remarkable 100 years ago have come to haunt us today. Bakelite does not melt and cannot be recycled like most petroleum plastics. Its once-desirable durability becomes a liability when it enters the waste stream.

The vintage Bakelite used in Mark's products is an example of recycling in its purest form. They repurpose material that cannot be recycled, preventing it from entering the waste stream in the first place. By treating it like a precious material, has essentially elevated its status to highly desirable as well as beautiful.

Mark Davis bakelite jewels depends on exacting techniques of working the bakelite that are similar to those employed for natural ivory, but without ivory’s associated ecological devastation. In addition, the bakelite offers a range of colors and patterns that are unique and remarkable in their own right. Thermosetting resins cannot be melted and reformed. They must be reformed by hand with labor-intensive techniques. Every piece is individually subjected to a combination of sawing, carving, filing, sanding and polishing. All work is done by hand in their New York City workshop.

Vintage bakelite bangles with 18 karat gold wire inlay and amethysts.

Bangles created from vintage bakelite with 18 karat gold wire inlay and peridot.

Mark Davis chooses to use the term “bakelite” with a lowercase “b” as a blanket term to identify a wide range of vintage thermosetting resins. These include Bakelite, Catalin, Prystal, Beetle, Galalith and others. All of the bakelite they use are vintage material which they have searched the world for. They cannibalize material from wherever they find it, including old clocks, jukeboxes, game pieces, lamps and billiard balls.


Wooden bangles inlaid with vintage bakelite and set with colored gemstones mounted in 18 karat gold.

The woods used in Mark Davis jewelry are selected for their natural beauty, durability, and sustainability. The wood that is used is from managed resources or naturally fallen trees, as well as wood reclaimed from architectural demolition. All woods are presented in their natural colors: no dye, stain, or paint are uses on them. Depending on the physical characteristics of the type of wood used, the pieces are finished with a natural wax or a more durable lacquer.


Hand-carved vintage bakelite "sugarloaf" ring mounted in 18 karat gold.

Mark Davis has choosen to use only recycled eighteen karat gold and platinum in our jewelry. All of the precious metals come from suppliers that are as committed to environmental stewardship as Mark Davis is.


Even THEIR earring backs are hand-made. They do not use commercially produced stamped backs. 

"By its very nature, our jewelry is the most eco-friendly fine jewelry in the world. That is not an exaggeration. With only very few exceptions, our fine jewelry is, on average, created from 80 percent post-consumer recycled materials. In some instances, that number rises to more than 95 percent...
We have corporate policies in place that ensure an aggressive reduction in the amount of disposable consumables used in both our administrative and production operations every year. We also financially support environmental organizations that are working to remediate and prevent environmental damage to the world we all live in.
The precious metals used in our products, as in almost all jewelry produced today, are recycled. We purchase our gold, platinum and silver from suppliers who have received independent, third-party certification confirming that the metals are indeed recycled. Additionally, our suppliers have received independent, third-party certification of their refining processes and systems. If not properly and responsibly executed, the reclamation and refining of precious metals can be almost as harmful to the environment as the production of newly mined ore. By working with suppliers who are regularly subjected to rigorous auditing and testing, of both their products and processes, we can confidently assure our customers that the precious metals in our products are eco-friendly."


Born in Manhattan, Mark spent his formative years in Malaysia. An aesthete since childhood, he was expelled from the International School of Kuala Lumpur for refusing to wear a uniform he considered ugly. His expulsion notwithstanding, Mark returned to New York to attend Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology and New York University.

An internship in Christie’s jewelry department followed by a job with an estate jeweler in Manhattan afforded Mark the opportunity to handle a tremendous number of fine and exceptional jewels. These experiences were instrumental in teaching him both about the importance of fine craftsmanship and the value in working for himself.

Mark began designing and producing his first line of jewelry in 1999, and the fashion press quickly took notice of his distinctive aesthetic. Just months after they were created, his first pieces appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, W and Elle.

Fascinated since childhood by all things mechanical, and convinced that exceptional production methods are as important as fine design, Mark built a complete in-house production facility, where he conceives, designs and produces his jewelry along with a team of skilled artisans who work under his close direction.

Mark’s aesthetic is frequently described as “future classic.” Even when the materials used are vintage, his jewelry has a distinctively contemporary feel that is current without being trendy. His continual development of new designs and concepts offers clients an ever-expanding selection to discover, enjoy and collect.

Visit the Mark Davis website for more information. 

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July 2016


Features This Month:

Rough Ruby Crystal, Photo by GIA


The Graff Ruby sold  by Sothebys in 2014 for $8,600,410.00

The Graff Ruby sold  by Sothebys in 2014 for $8,600,410.00

The Sanskrit word for ruby is ratnaraj meaning "king of gemstones" and indeed the ruby has lived up to its name by being one of the most coveted gemstones in the world for the majority of recorded human history.
Ruby is the red colored variety of gem quality corundum (any other color of corundum is considered sapphire). Corundum is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide and one of the most durable minerals on earth.
The name ruby comes from the Latin word ruber meaning "red". The most valuable shade of red for rubies is what is called "pigeon-blood red", but rubies can be any shade of red (including purplish, orangy, or brownish). Star rubies may be almost pink in appearance.

“Sunrise Ruby,” untreated pigeon’s blood red-colored sold by Sotheby's

“Sunrise Ruby,” untreated pigeon’s blood red-colored sold by Sotheby's

Star Ruby and Diamond Ring by Cartier, sold by Sotheby's

Star Ruby and Diamond Ring by Cartier, sold by Sotheby's

Gemology 101: Asterism

Intersecting rutile needles (called “silk”) in sapphire. Photo by John I. Koivula. GIA (102014)

Intersecting rutile needles (called “silk”) in sapphire. Photo by John I. Koivula. GIA (102014)

Asterism is the name that was given to the phenomenon that causes gemstones to exhibit a star-like shape when cut into a cabochon. The optical phenomenon is displayed by some rubies, sapphires, and other gems (i.e. star garnet, star diopside, star spinel, etc.). The Star-effect or "asterism" is caused by the dense inclusions of tiny needlelike crystals of called rutile (also known as "silk"). The stars are caused by the light reflecting from needle-like inclusions of rutile which are aligned perpendicular to the rays of the star. Star gemstones are almost never transparent since rutile is always present in star gemstones.

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The Burmese Ruby Tiara

The Burmese Ruby Tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth

The Burmese Ruby Tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II commissioned the tiara from Garrard in 1973. It was constructed using gems she already had on hand: 96 rubies which were a wedding present from the people of Burma and diamonds taken from another wedding present, the Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara. 
The tiara is designed to look like a wreath of roses. The roses are separated by rays of diamonds. The rubies are set in gold and the diamonds in silver.

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Not What it Seems: The Black Prince Ruby

The Black Prince's Ruby is one of the most famous members of the British Crown jewels, but despite its name, the stone is not a ruby.  The Black Prince's Ruby is actually a deep red un-faceted spinel. The stone, which has been in the possession of the British Royal Family since 1367, was named after Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales. It is one of the oldest of gems included in the Royal Collection of Crown Jewels and currently sits in the cross at the front of the Imperial State Crown, just above the Lesser Star of Africa (Cullinan II).

At an estimated weight of 170 carats and a length of almost 5 centimeters, the Black Prince's Ruby is the one of the world's largest uncut red spinel gemstones. The Black Prince's Ruby was polished into a bead-like shape which was drilled, strung and worn as a pendant and various other forms of jewelry prior to it being placed in the Imperial Crown. The drill hole has since been plugged with a smaller ruby.

Why was this spinel misidentified as a ruby? 

As with many other gemstones 'rubies' were historically a category of gemstones that would have included all red transparent gemstones. It wasn't until 1783 that spinel was differentiated from ruby. Spinel and ruby (corundum) can be distinguished based on its chemical properties and physical characteristics. 

Where did the Black Prince Ruby come from?

The Black Prince's Ruby was believed to have been mined in the 14th century somewhere from present-day Tajikistan, which was then known as Badakshan. The stone belonged to Prince Abu Sa'id of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada.  

During the mid 14th century the Moorish Kingdom of Granada was being attacked and placed once again under Castilian rule as a part of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. Abū Sa'īd's rule was confronted by that of Peter of Castile, also known as Don Pedro the Cruel. According to historical accounts, Abū Sa'īd wanted to surrender to Don Pedro. Don Pedro welcomed him to Seville. When Abū Sa'īd met with Don Pedro, Don Pedro had Abū Saī'd's servants killed and it is believed that he may have personally stabbed Sa'īd to death himself. It is said that when Don Pedro searched Sa'īd's corpse, the spinel was found and added to Don Pedro's possessions.

In 1366, Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Henry of Trastámara, revolted against Don Pedro. Don Pedro made an alliance with the Black Prince, the son of Edward III of England in an attempt to thwart the revolt. After the revolt was successfully put down the Black Prince demanded the ruby in exchange for his aid. It is thought that Don Pedro was reluctantly obligated to turn the stone over and the Black Prince took the Ruby back to England.

The Ruby resurfaces again in 1415 when Henry V of England wore a gem-encrusted helmet that included the Black Prince's Ruby during his battle in France. In the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415, the French Duke of Alençon struck Henry on the head with a battleaxe, and Henry nearly lost the helmet, along with his life. The battle was won by Henry's forces and the Black Prince's Ruby was saved. The gemstone was worn into battle once again by Richard III who wore the stone on his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth, where he died.

The Ruby as part of the British Crown Jewels

The 1512 inventory of Henry VIII's posessions mentions "a great balas ruby" set in the Tudor Crown. This is believed to be the Black Prince Ruby. It remained there until the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, when (excepting of the Coronation Chair and several other items) Cromwell had the principal symbols of the king's power disassembled and sold, while the gold was melted down and made into coins. The fate of the Black Prince's Ruby, during that time in England is not clear, but it came back into the monarchy's posession in 1660 when Charles II and the monarchy was restored. In 1838 Queen Victoria was crowned with a new Imperial State Crown made by Rundell and Bridge. The crown contained 3,093 gems, including the spinel at the front. This crown was remade in 1937 into the current, lighter, crown and a small plaque was placed on the reverse of the gemstone that commemorates the crown's history.

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Designer Spotlight


This month's designer spotlight falls on Paul Morelli. 
The Fine Jewelry House of Paul Morelli was born from a culturally vibrant and artistic family tradition of theatre and handmade costumes. Founded in the early 20th century, in what was then the Philadelphia Theatre District, the Morellis became the premier company across the country for hand made, high quality and one-of-a-kind theatre garments.
In the late 70’s, Paul Morelli, followed his passion for art, intricate detail, fine jewels and metallurgy and transformed the family operation into a fine jewelry business. The Fine Jewelry House of Paul Morelli still operates in the same building where the Morelli family’s artistic roots took hold.
Today the House of Paul Morelli, under creative director Paul Morelli, designs and creates a unique and broad range of luxury fine jewelry from made-to-order, to timeless classics, to signature pieces reflecting current influences.
Under Paul’s discerning eye for detail, pieces continue to be brought to life through collaborative expertise in handcraftmanship and modern technology by teams of craftsmen at the House of Morelli. The Morelli family maintains control over the production of every piece of jewelry, ensuring that each piece meets the family's exacting standards and only then is certified with the Paul Morelli name.

What makes Paul Morelli's Jewelry Special?

SINGLE PEBBLE NECKLACE (SUMMER VERSION) A warm-toned strand of textured, diamond-encrusted and gemstone-set gold evokes pebbles awash on the seashore.

I don't think that it is a stretch to say that there is a lot of jewelry out there that, while gorgeous, looks like it's been cloned. When faced with this sea of identical imagery finding designers that are doing things differently is like breathing a breath of fresh air, Paul Morelli is one of these designers. The jewelry is bright and full of life, while also reflecting the care and the consideration for quality that goes in to every piece. Creativity and a passion for design will leave you wanting more. 

Inspired by Joseph-Louis Lagrange, an Italian Enlightenment Era mathematician and astronomer, who developed the mathematical equations used in pave diamond settings as well as the asymmetrical stone settings in this collection.

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As always, please feel free to send me any questions or comments via email. And, if you haven't already, be sure to join the daily conversation on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr! 

- Kathleen

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