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0 In Gems & Jewelry

Garnet: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Don’t like garnets? You need to know them better.

Like Tia Garner, in Trust Not the Heart, many women complain they don’t like garnets, the birthstone for January. What they usually dislike, however, is the dark, brownish-red garnet so common in jewelry, especially old jewelry.

And that’s understandable, because it wasn’t until the 1970s, really, that other kinds of garnets began making their mark in the jewelry industry, starting with the reddish-purple rhodolite that Cassie Franklin is designing a ring for as Trust Not the Heart opens. (An exception is demantoid garnet which may be found in antique jewelry. Yellow-green demantoids have almost always been small and rare.)

Wear garnets and never be blue.

Garnets belong to a large group of stones that all have the same crystal structure and similar, but different, chemical compositions. There are seven generally recognized species of garnet: almandite, demantoid, grossularite, hessonite, pyrope, rhodolite, spessartite. (There will not be a test.) But as Cassie explains to Tia, what makes garnets special for women born in January is that they come in all the colors of the rainbow except blue. “I like to think it means that you can’t be unhappy if you’re wearing garnets,” Cassie tells her young friend.

There’s the rich green of Cassie’s favorite, tsavorite, named for the Tsavo Valley in Tanzania which is still the only source of the stone. (Full disclosure: It’s my favorite, too.) There are blood-red garnets, pink to purple garnets, yellows and oranges. There are even star garnets and garnets that change color depending on the light they’re in. There is almost no gem family with more variety.

Garnets are tough as nails.

In fact, I can’t think of anything to dislike about garnets. They are hard (resistant to scratching), tough (resistant to breakage). In fact, the particles in old-fashioned “emery boards” used for filing nails, is garnet. But most of all, garnets are beautiful. They take a high polish and come in any kind of cut you can imagine. To my knowledge, garnets are not treated in any way. That can’t be said for most gemstones on the market today.

If that’s not enough, garnets—especially red garnets—have a rich history. They were the most popular gemstone in Hellenistic jewelry, created in the centuries before the birth of Christ. Sympathetic magic connected the red color, of course, to blood and the female cycle and, as a result, to fertility. A good stone to have on your side if you wanted children or a safe delivery.

A diamond prospector’s friend.

One of my favorite stories is about garnets and ants.

Garnets are often found in association with diamonds. In fact, sometimes, tiny garnets are actually trapped inside diamonds. Because the two gemstones are often found together, garnets are considered an “indicator mineral”—one that geologists look for when searching for new diamond-bearing areas.  

Tiny grains of garnets are often brought to the earth’s surface by industrious ants. When geologists find bunches of garnets around ant hills, it’s a small indication that diamonds may not be far away.

0 In Gems & Jewelry/ Liz's Life

Memory Stones

If you’re like me, you’re genetically pre-disposed to pick up rocks wherever you go.

I tend to come home from a simple trip to the beach with pockets dragging. I’ve picked up stones in Japan, Greece, Turkey, England, Michigan, Brazil, and on the top of Mt. Vesuvius. They fill bowls and line window sills.

However, you may have the desire to make something of your finds: drill them, tumble them, have them cut into a cab or carving, and set them. But how do you know what might make a good jewelry stone?

First, the stone should be hard.

Well, yes, all stones are hard, relatively speaking. But if you want to cut or tumble it, this means your stone should be higher than a 5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. The Mohs Scale is a comparative scale of mineral hardness with talc, as in talcum powder, being 1 and diamond being 10.

How do you know if a stone is “hard enough”?

If your stone scratches a knife blade (5.5), it is hard enough to cut and take a good polish. Scratch your stone across the blade. Wipe away the powder to be sure you’ve scratched the blade not just powdered the stone. If the stone scratches the blade easily, its hardness is much higher. If it scratches only with effort, it is about the same hardness as the blade.

Turquoise and obsidian (volcanic glass, apache tears) are on the low end at about 5 to 6. Feldspars (sunstone, moonstone) are 6 to 6.5 Quartz (smoky, amethyst, and citrine) is 7. Garnets and tourmalines are 7 to 7.5. Topaz is 8. Corundums (sapphires and rubies) are 9. Only if you’re rockhounding in the Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park and find a greasy/shiny stone will you have to worry about stones of 10 in hardness.

Second, look for something without fractures, if possible.

Fractured stones will break during tumbling or cutting. Stones with holes or pits in them will capture grits during the tumbling process. The trapped, coarser grits will continue to scratch the stones as you tumble with finer grits. You won’t get a good polish.

If it has too many fractures, but you love it anyway, admire it on the windowsill. I tumbled an agate I found in the Namib Desert, to my regret. It lost all the interesting wind-sanded skin it had.

Third, look for dense, finely grained stones.

These are your best bet for tumbling, cutting or carving. Stones with large grains—many types of granite, for example — may crumble during cutting or tumbling. They may polish unevenly. If you can easily see the grains, the stone might not be a good candidate for cutting. Rub a couple stones together. If they don’t create a pile of debris, you may have a stone dense enough to work with. If the stone is already shiny—especially if it’s been tumbling in a lake, river, or ocean—you’ve got a winner. Sandstone or rocks containing mica will just make dust.

Lastly, consider size.

Depending on whether you tumble it or have your stone cut, you’ll lose between 30 and 50 percent of what you pick up. Believe me, when traveling, rock size is definitely a consideration. 

Here are some winners.

The best stones for tumbling, cutting, or collecting are agates (including thunder eggs), jaspers, petrified wood, quartz of any kind, obsidian, moonstones, sunstones. Garnets and tourmalines are a price, if you can find them. If you get to Arkansas, I wish you good luck.

One last hint.

Carry a permanent marker. Whatever stone you find, write on it where it was found. They’ll all look alike when you get home.

Have fun.

0 In Gems & Jewelry/ Liz Writes

The Enduring Allure of Gemstone Crystals

This 18k yellow and white gold pendant is set with an amethyst of extraordinary color. Design by Deborah Spencer, Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

As I worked on the revision of Dangerous Visions I was tickled to find an article in the March/April 2019 edition of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine entitled “Crystal Hues Persuasion” by Deborah Yonick, who writes a monthly column on jewelry style and trends for LJJA. 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.

Gemstone crystals in jewelry made their debut in the 1970s, as Yonick writes, and remained popular into the early 1990s. Today, of course, they are popularized by their visibility on the Internet and by a number of celebrities. Yonick quotes The Guardian saying that crystals are “one of the breakout stars of the everyday wellness movement.” As crystals come back into the public awareness, many of the myths long associated with gemstones and crystals—that they can ward off negative emotions or energy, or promote harmony—are coming back, too.

Yet while marketers may take advantage of the legends of metaphysical properties associated with gemstone and crystals to improve sales, more often it is the crystal’s beauty and mysterious perfection that makes them irresistible.

Crystal jewelry lets people express their own personality. It lets them be different. It means that jewelry containing a natural crystal (as opposed to a gem material simply cut into a “crystal” shape) is as unique as the person wearing it.

Crystals also allow the wearer to keep in touch with the natural world, to strike a blow against an ever-more-mass-manufactured world.

This burgeoning—or rather resurging—interest in crystals is very lucky for me. In Dangerous Visions, Stacie Cappella, owner of The Bell, Book and Crystal in Eden Beach, California, is very aware of the pull of certain stones. Pure quartz augments her natural gift of Second Sight—a gift she’d rather not have. The irreplaceable amethyst crystal she wears, a centuries-old family heirloom, is said to foretell true love.

Yet Stacie firmly believes that crystals and gemstones cannot heal, as she is at pains to explain to the fraud detectives who respond to a complaint against her.

“[Mir] got it into her head that it was the touchstone I once gave her that healed her acne.”

“Why would she think that?” asked Cruz. Her tone said the idea must have gotten into Mir’s head because Stacie put it there.

“Who knows why anyone believes anything?” said Stacie, an edge to her voice. She was getting a bit angry now that the terror of federal prison had passed. “Someone buys a touchstone because it gives them something to hold onto during chemo treatment. When their cancer goes away, why do they credit the stone and not the treatment?” Stacie had had a customer who believed just that, though she wasn’t going to say that to the detective. “Why do placebos work? Doctors still don’t understand that.”

She glanced at Ben. His face was closed.

She remembered the odd sense of confusion she’d sensed at South Coast Heritage Park.

Not confusion. Imbalance. Uncertainty. As if his tether to the ground had been cut.

As if he were torn between desires. Feeling guilty.

Stacie turned and walked to the case where she kept exquisitely formed quartz crystals—smoky, amethyst, colorless—under glass to protect them from damage as well as from too much handling.

“Personally?” she said, as she unlocked and opened the case and pulled out the drawer holding the crystals. “I think that, for most people, the crystals, the wind chimes, the music—beautiful things, beautiful sounds—just make them feel better, more connected, calmer.” Her hand went unhesitatingly to a smoky quartz the size of her thumb. The specimen was cloudy and dark at the base, but gradually cleared to a lovely gray brown at the finely pointed terminus.

She went back to Ben and held it out to him. Startled, he reached for it, and she laid it in his hand. Stacie saw Colin’s puzzled look as she turned back toward Cruz.

“The tarot, the runes, they simply give people a way to acknowledge what they already know. That it’s time to change jobs. That their boyfriend is no good for them.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Ben watching her, listening to her. She saw his thumb stroking the crystal.

“Just because I sell these things doesn’t mean I’m a healer. Nor does it mean I endorse them as a method of healing. In fact, I always tell people—like your Mrs. Byers—to see a health professional if they have health concerns.”

“But you let your employee continue to tell customers something different,” said Cruz doggedly.

“Yes, well.” Stacie sighed. “I’ve tried to tell her the stones don’t heal, but she’s convinced they’ve helped her.” Stacie spread her hands. “I can’t help what she believes. I have asked her not to say things like that to customers. The shop alone creates enough trouble by itself.”

Stacie does not really believe that the amethyst crystal she wears can identify her heart’s true love, either. But…

Ah. That would be telling.

0 In Gems & Jewelry

Amethysts and Crystal Power

Gorgeous amethyst crystals with small quartz crystals, from the Jackson Crossroads Mine, Wilkes County, Georgia. USA. Easy to see why people believe in crystal magic. Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

Perfect gemstone crystals, such a the breathtaking amethyst crystals here, are the jewels of the mineral world. Many jewelry makers are in thrall to that beauty, so it’s not all that hard to find gemstone crystals set into earrings or pendants. (Some of those may be man-made material cut into the shapes of crystals, which shows you how popular crystal shapes have become.)

In addition, because of their color and perfection, for millennia metaphysical powers have been attributed to gemstone crystals. The mystic properties associated with gemstones have made them desirable for time out of mind. After all, we all want a little boost of power sometimes, and what better way to feel that power than to wear a beautiful stone?  

A lot of crystal myth and legend is just that. But quartz (amethyst is a type of quartz) is an unusual stone with a number of superpowers. One of the most intriguing is that it’s piezoelectric. Applying pressure to the stone generates electricity and vice versa—applying electricity makes the stone vibrate.

The thickness of the stone affects the frequency at which it vibrates. In fact, during WWII, quartz crystals were an integral part of radios. Tons of crystals were cut into slices to enable communication. Quartz is used today in watches and clocks to ensure precision timing. The material used for this is man-made, or synthetic, quartz. It’s no longer natural quartz cut from mined quartz crystals.

When writing Dangerous Visions, I used this quartz super power by giving Stacie a quartz crystal to augment her Second Sight abilities. I took the liberty of including amethyst under the blanket of quartz’s “radio capabilities,” though to my knowledge, the impurities that give amethysts their color would probably make the stones useless for radio communication.

But that’s the fun of writing fiction.

0 In Gems & Jewelry

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 →