Birthstone Friday — Pearls: Gemstone of the Senses

The very definition of sensuality. A strand of graduated, round cultured Tahitian chocolate pearls with 18 karat white gold, diamond-set clasp. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio, Evanston, Illinois

Pearls. The birthstone for June. The most sensuous, the most glorious, the most feminine gemstone of all. Other gems have to be fashioned in some way, but pearls are perfect just as they are. They’re exquisite water-borne gifts of seas, lakes and rivers.

Pearls are an appropriate choice for one of the most luscious months of the year. Breezes scented with flowers and damp soil. Morning skies delicately colored like pearls. The soft touch of blossoms like the skin of pearls. Pearls, too, gratify all the senses.

Pearls just glow. They’re not flashy, like faceted gemstones. They’re simply quietly commanding. In the white to cream-colored oceanic oyster pearls most of us are familiar with, there is a translucency, a sense that you can almost, but not quite, see into them. This is especially true of natural pearls, the now-exceedingly-rare gems that were found in the mollusks of the Indian Ocean. I’ve only been lucky enough to see these as tiny seed pearls in antique jewelry. And perhaps it was because of their tiny size, but they seemed to hold light inside of them, like the nacre surface was just a shell surrounding tiny candles. Continue reading

Birthstone Friday: Lab-Grown Emeralds

14k yellow gold pendant, set with pear-shaped Chatham-created emerald and small diamond. Courtesy VerbenaPlaceJewelry.com.

Emeralds are some of the most beloved gemstones in the world—especially by those whose birthdays are in May. However, richly colored, unflawed or lightly flawed emeralds are difficult to find and very expensive when they are found. So it was only natural that someone would try to do better than Mother Nature. In the 1930s, Carroll Chatham succeeded. Other growers soon followed.

As they grow in the earth, emeralds are subject to temperature changes, intense pressures, and impinging hot liquids that can burn, melt, crush, or corrode the stones. Violent mining methods don’t help. As a result, many mined emeralds come from the ground with a number of inclusions and fractures that can not only dull the beauty of the stones, they can weaken the stones as well. In fact, emeralds can be notoriously difficult to cut and set if they are badly included.   Continue reading

Birthstone Friday – Emeralds’ Bloody History

In 1558, the Spanish began drawing on the vast emerald mines at Muzo, Colombia, which produced high-quality emeralds. This style of cross, with large cut stones, was favored by wealthy aristocratic women of the Spanish court including Archduchess Isabella. Photo: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Birthstones often have swashbuckling histories, but for me, one of the swashbuckling-est is emerald.

I always think of Spanish conquistadores, those blood-thirsty, gold-hungry invaders of South America when I think of emeralds. They terrorized the native populations, tortured, enslaved and slaughtered them, and once they had their booty on heavily loaded ships, they were hunted by pirates themselves. Often those overloaded ships went down in hurricanes in the Caribbean. Some truly amazing emeralds have come up with divers to those galleons. Continue reading

Researching the Mystical

Gemstone crystals can connect us to the earth. But can they heal? Photo Somakram @ Dreamstime.com

Gemstones have been attributed with a variety of mystical healing, protective, and self-improvement properties. But I was trained as a gemologist, learning all the “hard facts” about gemstones. However, I often want to use the mystical, magical, legendary properties of gemstones in my Birthstone Romances. For that background, I usually turn to two places. Continue reading

Birthstone Friday—A Taste of Emerald Lore

14k white and yellow gold ring set with Afghani emerald. Ring by Deborah Spencer. Photo courtesy Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Of all gemstones, emeralds, because of their long history and rich color, have a wealth of wealth of lore and legend surrounding them. That makes it particularly fun to have emerald as your birthstone. They’re full of myth and magic!

Can the intense green mean anything else than spring, rebirth, and fertility? Perhaps not surprising that it was chosen as the birthstone for this month of almost overwhelming green in the season of fresh starts. Continue reading

Birthstone Friday – Emerald Dreaming

Sergei Kamenskikh via Dreamstime_xs_78932905 YG Emerald Pendant

Photo Sergei Kamenskikh via Dreamstime

If my mother hadn’t been in such a nesting mood and decided to wash walls in the weeks before she was due to deliver me, I would have been born in May, not April. My birthstone would have been emerald, not diamond.

Perhaps my near-May miss was why I always had a burning desire to own an emerald, although you can probably chalk part of it up to the Wizard of Oz and his Emerald City. When I first fell into the jewelry business, that was almost my first order of business: see and own a real emerald!

So it was with a crushing sense of disappointment that I saw my first emerald. It was kind of dull, yellowish green, not a pretty emerald green. And it wasn’t clear. It had stuff in it. I could not imagine what all the hype had been about.

Completely turned me off emeralds. I still watched Dorothy and friends every chance I got, but I thought the Wizard had a lot to answer for.

Since then, however, I’ve been privileged to see some breathtakingly spectacular emeralds, including some early stones mined and cut in Colombia that had lain drowned in the Caribbean for hundreds of years. (More on that another time.)

So I’ve reversed my opinion. Emeralds truly do deserve their place among the big five gemstones. (These are emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds and pearls. I always include pearls although some don’t. In fact, in my book, pearls are probably the greatest gemstone in the world. More about that, too, another time.) However, the emeralds that earn that top spot have always been, and will always be, far beyond my budget. Although I can never own one, at least in the quality I would enjoy, I can and do enjoy seeing fine emeralds whenever I can.

For those lucky enough to have mothers who delivered in this fair month, enjoy your lovely stone!

Getting to the (Diamond) Point

Rough diamond octahedral. Photo Bjorn Wylezich via Dreamstime.

Rough diamond octahedral. Photo Bjorn Wylezich via Dreamstime.

Diamonds are best known today in their colorless cut form seen in countless jewelry stores. However, they look considerably different when they come out of the ground. They’re not always lovely in that state. But one interesting and common shape of diamond rough is the octahedron. It looks like two pyramids stacked base to base. (Well, actually, as you can see in the photo, they’re often kind of plump and rounded pyramids.)

But those points can be handy. Continue reading

Jacob Albee Goldsmith

Trust Heart Sml

The cover of To Trust the Heart would not be nearly so beautiful without the work of Jacob Albee, a goldsmith and jewelry artist in Burlington Vermont. The piece presents a striking contrast between the rough, etched, literally out-of-this-world texture of a Gibeon Meteorite slice, the sharp precision of the golden spessartite garnet, and the smooth, cool surface of 18k gold. This combination, I thought, made it the perfect example of imagination that might have been used by a jewelry designer such as Cassie Franklin, the female lead in To Trust the Heart.

So I was delighted when Jacob gave permission for me to use his pendant, Yin Yang, on the cover, although this might have been one of the strangest requests for photo use permission he’d ever gotten. Continue reading

To Trust the Heart

Trust Heart SmlI’m so happy to announce that my first Birthstone Romance, To Trust the Heart, is now available.

I’m grateful to everyone who helped bring this to fruition, from beta readers with their invaluable insights, to proofers with sharp eyes, to cover designer Robin Ludwig who made the beautiful cover.

But I particularly want to thank two people. First, Jacob Albee for the spectacular spessartite garnet and meteorite pendant on the cover! It’s a privilege to feature the work of such a talented jewelry artist. And it’s a wonderful introduction to the multi-hued world of garnets, the underrated birthstone for January.

But without the support and encouragement of dear friend, superb knitter, avid hockey fan, and amazing author Devon Monk, I would never have tried this. Thanks, Devon!