Stephen Webster's Jewellery Dictionary
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed this rich purple gem could protect the wearer from alcoholism. When I lived in California I met a woman who slept with a large amethyst crystal under her pillow, she was taking no chances.
Coloured stones are all about the colour, valued by the richness and hue of the material. With this in mind Amethyst is great value for money; a top grade Bolivian or Brazilian specimen will give you real bang for your buck. And remember if you do struggle with the temptation of the demon drink, try an amethyst mocktail ring.
CARATS NOT CARROTS
There are many carats in jewellery, though none suitable for a Lancashire hotpot. Carats are used to determine the weight of gem stones and pearls; one carat = 0.2 grams. A 5ct diamond weighs 1 gram. Then the other unrelated carat is used as a gauge of pure gold against other alloys. Pure gold is 24ct or 999 parts pure out of a maximum 1000. 18ct gold means a piece of jewellery has 750 parts pure gold. 9ct is the lowest at only 375 parts. The rest may as well be a carrot. Simple really!
WHAT'S THE REAL COLOUR OF GOLD?
Gold in its raw state no matter where the ore is mined or panned or gathered is a rich yellow metal. 24ct of pure gold is considered too soft for practical use in most jewellery so over the years different metals (alloys) have been introduced in order to make the pure metal more hard wearing and also to go further. These alloys can be any colour. Using metallurgy and mystery, men in white coats can make the yellow more pink, more white or more yellow.
VERMEIL: GOLD PLATING OF AN INFERIOR CORE METAL
When I was a jewellery apprentice in London's jewellery quarter (more like an eighth really it was so small) Hatton Garden, people used to talk in terms of microns of gold plate. 20 microns would last you at least twenty years and flash guilding or a micron was so thin that it could be stripped off with a potent dose of morning breath. There was also another term bounding around known as 'rolled gold'. As far as I know, the trade's description act of 1850 saw the end of that. Vermeil is of course a clever ploy to add mystery and confusion to a good old fashioned guilding of the lily.
MY COUSIN BERYL
Aquamarine sounds and is beautiful, the same goes for Emerald. Beryl on the other hand has old aunt written all over it. It’s not surprising then that both these gems which are actually Beryl's, use aliases. Beryl comes in Blue (aqua), Yellow and Pink which is known as Morganite, so named because a one JP Morgan bought a nice one from Tiffany back in the day. When Beryl has chromium in its makeup it becomes Emerald.
Pearls are back, only this time without the twinset. Extraordinary things pearls; along with coral they are a totally organic component considered precious enough for fine jewellery. Mary I, the original pearly queen adored her pearls and in particular a conker-sized South Sea specimen known as La Peregrina. Eventually along with almost everything else, this beauty found its way into Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery box. Over the past few years Chinese freshwater oysters have been producing pearls of steroid enhanced proportions in an array of colours, the price of these are far lower than the more established varieties meaning more girls can enjoy their very own set of pearls.
Like semi-detached or semi-qualified, semi-precious suggests something not quite top shelf. In normal circumstances I would be the first to agree. Officially, precious could only be applied to the big four; diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald. However having recently viewed a glorious 40ct Mozambique Red Spinel valued at just short of €4 million, or three intense fuchsia Morganites with a price tag of €150,000 or A grade Tanzanite’s starting at €2K/ct, it makes one wonder if referring to these or the many other exotic gems with eye watering price tags as anything other than plain precious would fall under the trade descriptions act.
As luck would have it, during the middle ages, opals were, in fact, a massively lucky. It wasn’t until 1829 when Sir Walter Scott included a chapter of bad luck in his novel ‘Anne of Geierstein’ that the gems luck changed. Opals by nature contain up to 22% water. Therefore if they are stored badly in environments that aren’t humid enough there is a chance the water along with the luck could run out. This will cause crazing. Like most things that become crazed there is the question of value, with the exception of comic value which doesn’t apply to gems in general. SW recommends you keep your opals in a damp place like Britain and never on top of the oven.
I am compiling this entry from high camp on mount Kilimanjaro currently 4600m. (Summit tonight). Last time I visited Tanzania I descended 1500m down the only Tanzanite mine on the planet, located below the foot hills of Kilimanjaro. Tanzanite a Zoisite mineral was only discovered in 1967 by a part time tailor and gold prospector, Mererani de Souza. One of the rarest and most beautiful of gemstones, blue/purple in colour with flashes of red. Unquestionably exotic and 100% African
I AM TITANIUM
Recent years have seen the introduction of a few none precious materials to the notoriously rigid world of fine jewellery. One such newcomer, found in many of the collections of the Bond Street establishment, is titanium. Formally the reserve of the avant guard jeweller, thanks to modern technology this high tech, super light exotic can be fashioned into almost as many forms as the far more compliant precious metals. What's the point you may ask, because using electrical currents titanium has the unique quality of being able to be coloured to almost any shade including grey but also pink, purple, red, blue and green. Allowing it to be tonally matched to almost any coloured gem stone. It's like magic.
Whether Jadeite or nephrite, green, lavender, black or white (the purest white known as mutton fat and very rare). Steeped in mystery and belief, jade has a hold over the Chinese speaking world like the most beautiful of concubines. Every person has at least a piece, which equates to a lot of pieces. Unlike other gemstones, jade has no crystal structure, tough and sticky as well as hard, normal lapidary skills of of the gem cutter don't apply. Jade can only be fashioned by a jade master. Like everything from China change is in the air, a new generation of masters, bored with the same beads, bangles and Buddhas are producing incredible modern masterpieces in this material that the west will never fully understand but can enjoy.
Fashions come and go but the protective qualities of precious materials means that Jewellery amulets are going nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Embedded in history and the handle of a Samurai warrior’s sword or the plus size crucifix favoured by the Christian crusader to the evil eye sported by the spiritually secular. Amulets will always be the perfect gift for those who believe they believe.
MEET THE GARNETS
A family of gems occurring in many colours and locations, including the Almandine or more affectionately known as 'carbuncle'; a reddish/ brown gem which has adorned jewellery dating back to the Saxon times. The Demantoid, a favourite of Tsars and wealthy Victorians was known as the emerald of the Urals. Today, garnets such as bright mandarin Spessartine or burgundy Rhodolite are often used in modern jewellery. Tanzanian green Tsavorite garnet can fetch a cool $ million.