Review: Dan Brown’s “Origin”

Origin is another Dan Brown novel featuring Robert Langdon. Brown really hit a home run with the creation of this great character. Langdon is everyone’s favorite professor (which gives Brown the opportunity to pontificate), the voice of reason in situations that are usually very unreasonable, and even as he ages (Brown doesn’t tell us how old Langdon is), he’s a bit of a babe magnet. He’s also the kind of physically fit even young guys dream about. Continue reading

The Enduring Allure of Gemstone Crystals

The color of this amethyst is extraordinary. 18k yellow and white gold pendant design by Deborah Spencer, Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

As I work on the revision of The Listening Heart–thank you Beta readers for such excellent feedback–I was tickled to find an article in the Ma

As I work on the revision of The Listening Heart–thank you Beta readers for such excellent feedback!–I was tickled to find an article in the March/April 2019 edition of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine entitled “Crystal Hues Persuasion.” It was by Deborah Yonick, whose specialty is jewelry style, and who writes a monthly column on jewelry trends for LJ. The piece describes how the “mystic beauty” of crystals has become a trend—or perhaps we should say has returned as a trend–in the making and marketing of jewelry. Continue reading

Birthstone Friday: Amethysts and Crystal Power

John Dyer is one of several gemstones artists who have taken cutting to another level. This 68.49 carat amethyst is one of his Dreamscape™ series. Photo courtesy John Dyer & Co.

Perfect crystals, such a the breathtaking amethyst below, are the jewels of the mineral world. Because of the metaphysical powers attributed to crystals, as well as the real power of quartz crystals, I thought we’d look at that juxtaposition for today’s Birthstone Friday. (Okay, technically today is Thursday. But it’s the last day of February when amethyst reigns as the birthstone. Though, you can still celebrate amethyst until March 20th, since amethyst is also associated with the zodiac sign of Pisces.)

Gemstones are best known in their cut form. You see them in every window in every jewelry store and all over the Internet. (Check out Etsy!) If you go to gem shows, you’ll see thousands more. There are lots of good reasons gemstones are cut. Good cutting directs light into, around, and back out of a gemstone in such a way that light becomes an inseparable part of their beauty. Cutting gives stones their sparkle, can intensify the color, and make them objects of intense desire. Some gemstone carvers not only do all this but create miniature works of art. If you doubt that, simply look at gemstones cut by innovators like John Dyer. Continue reading

Draft of The Listening Heart Done!

Finally! The second book in my Eden Beach birthstone series, The Listening Heart, is done and out to beta readers. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought. From some of the comments coming in, it will take a bit longer yet as I make it stronger. I’ve added a suspense element to this one, and that has made the pacing trickier.

This one has a stalker/serial killer who is shadowing my main female character, Stacie Capella. I’ve already had one friend tell me she won’t read it and that’s fine. But I wanted to try something darker. Not sure I’ll try it again, but I’ll have to wait and see.

Now, on to book three as I wait for the rest of the comments from beta readers. I’m determined this one will get done faster.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Bananas. I’m ready when you are! Photo Stuart Robertson/Dreamstime.

Happy Valentine’s Day! A day for hearts, flowers, chocolate, and, of course, love.

It’s Stacie Capella’s 29th birthday. Her wonderful friends have surprised her with a small celebration in her shop, The Bell, Book and Crystal, before opening. Eileen has brought a beautiful cake, which pleases the ever-hungry Colin, and a couple of Milk Bones, which is awarded much tail-wagging by Bananas, the labradoodle on steroids. Stacie is surprised and touched by the exquisite card Colin, a graphic designer, has created for them all to sign, and delighted with the lovely brooch Mir has made from repurposed costume jewelry. It is a wonderful surprise and Stacie enjoys it completely. Colin enjoys the cake. Continue reading

Tucson! The World’s Gem Market

One tiny section of the vast Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, Arizona. This is the Tucson Convention Center. Where do you even start? Photo Derrick Neill, Dreamstime.

It’s February. And while most people are thinking groundhogs, Valentines, or simply not freezing in a polar vortex, in the gem and jewelry world, the movement of dealers, jewelers, designers, and suppliers–not to mention TONS of rock–to Tucson is shifting the Earth on its axis. Continue reading

Birthstone Friday – A Little Emerald Lore

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

If you need a reason to own your emerald birthstone, besides the beautiful color and rich history, you might think about its self-improvement properties.

Cramming for exams? Preparing for a big sales presentation? Dating a new love interest? Wearing an emerald might help boost your memory, give you the gift of gab, or let you know if that new someone is telling you the truth or not. Continue reading

Spectacular Spinels

Hope Spinel. 50.13 carats. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Practically everyone has heard of the Hope Diamond, the large, blue, supposedly accursed diamond now in the Smithsonian Institution. But a couple years ago, the London office of the auction house Bonhams sold the 50.13 ct. Hope Spinel, presumably un-cursed.

Spinels have been largely unknown among mainstream gemstone customers. Even those who had heard of the stones thought of them as lesser versions of rubies and sapphires, two gemstones that share colors with spinels. Part of the problem in the past was that spinel supply was often spotty and undependable. Many historical stones came from Tajikistan, at the border of Afghanistan, geographically difficult and often politically dangerous to get to. But in 2007, there was a find of red spinel in Tanzania that flooded the market with top quality stones and people started to notice.

3.78 carat red Burmese (Myanmar) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Rising popularity led to rising prices. Then when the costs of sapphires and rubies went through the roof, everyone “discovered” spinels. Unfortunately, that means the costs of fine red or deep blue spinels have also gone up–significantly–but you can still find the less intensely colored spinels that may not break the bank. (Colors other than reds are can range from $25 per carat to $500 per carat; commercial grade red stones may be as low as $700 per carat.)

Spinel-producing regions tend to have their own peculiar color range, according to Hemi Englisher owner of Gemcal Co. Ltd, in Bangkok. Burma (Myanmar) produces “the best reds in the world,” pink, purple, Sienna orange, brown, blue, gray, and colorless stones, he says. From Vietnam: orangey red, blue, cobalt blue, baby pink, “the best lavenders in the world,” and purple. From Tanzania: pink, pinkish red, and red stones that “tend to be slightly foggy or silky.” Small gray and silver material comes from Madagascar. Blue, lavender, change color, and purple stones, “most with a dark shade to them,” are produced by Sri Lanka.

4.68 carat cobalt blue Ceylon (Sri Lanka) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Who’s buying spinels? Says Englisher: “Non-traditional buyers, rich hipsters, ex- hippies, and designers.”

A New August Birthstone–Spinel

5.48 carat Burmese Spinel, cinnamon color. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

There is a lot to love about peridot, but because color is such a personal thing, I can imagine there are people who don’t love its yellow-green color. But you can still have a birthstone to love! Because last year, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and Jewelers of America (JA) announced the inclusion of spinel as an official birthstone for the month of August.

Red spinel crystals. Photo courtesy ThaiLanka.

 

Okay. My bias is going to show here. But when it comes to spinel, I think it’s one of the most under-rated and under-used stones in the jewelry industry. Part of the reason for that is because it’s not as common as, say, garnet or tourmaline. But to have a stone that is beautiful, is rarely treated, is extremely durable (it’s an 8 in hardness and has little to no cleavage risk), that comes in a luscious range of reds, pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and to make little use of it is, well, spine(l)less! (Sorry.) Just a few of the gorgeous possibilities are pictured here.

10.25 carat purple spinel from Burma/Myanmar. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Neon pink spinel. Photo courtesy ThaiLanka.

You know they’re beautiful when enormous spinels found their way into the Crown Jewels of England and were, for many years, paraded as rubies. (I wrote a little about this last month.) But the range of subtle color is what really makes them great as a birthstone. You could can choose just one luscious spinel from a range of reds, oranges, and blues or create a brooch, bracelet or neckpiece with a lovely sherbet-colored palette of spinels. Thinking about using your birthstone as an engagement stone? This stone will still be around for your 50th anniversary.

Something to celebrate this month for your birthday!

Birthstone Friday–Rubies: Being Fair (Trade)

Three rings set with fair trade rubies from Malawi. Photo courtesy Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Nothing says romance like gemstones. But the gemstone story is not always a pretty one. At the mining and manufacturing end there is environmental degradation, child labor, death from silicosis, low wages, dangerous working conditions. For wholesalers, retailers, and consumers, an uncontrolled supply chain can allow treated, adulterated, imitation, and synthetic materials to masquerade as naturals, creating distrust among buyers and lawsuits against suppliers.

The good news is that millions of “Millennials,” those socially and environmentally aware consumers born in the final decades of the 20th century, are having a tremendous impact on consumerism by demanding that same level of ethical commitment from retailers. Even though many Millennials have not reached their strongest buying years, they’re already willing to pay a premium for responsibly sourced—often called “fair trade”–products, such as coffee, chocolate, and beauty products.

Pink 1.16 ct. sapphire. Photo courtesy Crown Gems.

Montana green sapphire. Photo courtesy Nodeform.

Responsibly sourced gemstones can also meet the ethical standards of anyone concerned about environmental and social issues, and return to gemstones, such as ruby, the romance they deserve.

Essentially, fair trade means fair wages and treatment for miners and cutters; enforcement of health and safety standards; protecting and/or reducing the impact of mining on the environment; controlling the integrity of the supply chain to prevent fraud and deceptive practices; and giving back to the communities in which mining and cutting take place in the form of help with improved education, health care delivery and sanitation, infrastructure, and job training. (Fair trade is not the same as “conflict free.”)

Washing Pit, Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy Crown Gems.

It’s a tall order to change an entire industry, but gemstone wholesalers and retailers are doing what they can in a variety of ways.

Columbia Gem House, one of the first to promote responsibly sourced colored stones, partners with the Chimwadzulu Nyala ruby mine in Malawi. All rough goes to a top-quality cutting house in China that shares their ethical values. By paying above average wages, CGH decreases turnover, and raises worker skill levels over time and, as a result, the quality of the final product. To give back to the producing communities, CGH participates in projects in nearby Ntcheu, Malawi, that raise the quality of services there.

Well, partially funded by Columbia Gem House, Ntcheu Malawi.

Crown Gems, a British-Sri Lankan joint venture, provides a transparent gemstone channel from their own mines in Sri Lanka, or those they trust to use mining practices with less detrimental effect on the environment. They partner with, and oversee the work of small, independent cutters, ensuring that quality cutting is done in safe, well-maintained environments.

Ethical Jewellery Australia Pty Ltd, offers only Australian and Canadian diamonds to their retail domestic market. They buy colored gemstones only from artisanal Australian gem miners and cutters, or suppliers who have strict, transparent guidelines for sourcing and processing.

Fair trade sapphire and diamond ring. Courtesy Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Owners of the US-based Trios Studio, in Oregon, educate their clients year round about fair trade gemstones. However, a special, in-store event once a year spotlights the stones and draws enthusiastic customers who appreciate knowing a percentage of the proceeds goes to support community projects in Ntcheu, Malawi. They’ve developed such a name that customer seek them out via the Internet.

The interest in responsibly sourced gemstones extends beyond the mine into the laboratory, making lab-created gems–Moissonite, sapphire, emerald, and ruby—a viable option for consumers, too. Designers, such as Konstanze, of Nodeform, and Tamara McFarland, of McFarland Designs, offer consumers the option of buying lab-created gems even for that time-hallowed purchase, the engagement ring.

Sapphire and diamond ring. Photo courtesy Nodeform.

Romance and responsibility. A match made in heaven.