A Vintage Jewelry Mystery Maker – Part Three

Since writing my first two articles on my 1930s jewelry ‘mystery’ maker, I’ve come across some new examples of their work that I’d like to share with you.

This pendant is an intriguing juxtaposition of their chevron element – which we’ve seen on its own with a cascade of chains beneath, and also as half of a duo forming a bow – with a flat oval.  In this pendant only the lower half of the oval is enameled to match one of the two greens in the chevron but one can easily imagine a version in which the entire oval is enameled. The same two shades of green are found in the triple box chain necklace (item A12 in my first article); a somewhat similar combination of central station attached to an enameled backpiece can be seen in the second Transitional necklace (item T2) where the backing shape is a circle and it is fully enameled in blue.  This is the very first pendant that I have seen of theirs; all of the other examples have been full necklaces. I would love to know whether the chain is original to the piece!

This example is a design that we’ve seen before: the “nubbly” bow combined with a triple snake chain which is the same combination seen in example A09 in my first article. That necklace was enameled in autumn colors of bright yellow, pumpkin orange and chocolate brown. However, this one combines black, white and yellow; it is the first time that I’ve seen black used in a Style A piece  (until now, the darkest color I have found on those styles has been the very dark brown used in necklace A04).  Considering that black was a popular Art Deco color it has puzzled me that I haven’t seen it in any of their pieces until now.

A third new colorway for this design appears in this navy blue/silvertone metal combo. This blue appears to be the same color as the darkest of the three blues found in necklace A02.  Although necklace A06 combines blue enamel with silvertone, that one uses a much lighter (almost robins’-egg) blue and so the overall effect of that piece is more “icy” than rich.

This box chain/fringe necklace is another example of a transitional piece between styles A and B; in fact other than a slight difference in enamel color it is a “twin” to the first Transitional necklace in my second article. The only difference is that this necklace is accented with red enamel on the chevron instead of green.

Turning to the Style B designs, here we see black enamel used for the second time, in combination with pumpkin orange. This necklace intrigues me on several levels, not least of which is their use of silvertone rather than goldtone metal in order to really play up the contrast between the two enamel colors. I’m rather surprised that they did not also use the black enamel to accent the detail within the center areas of the bow (a damascene effect) as was done in necklace B1 in my second article. This is the second time that I have seen the combination of this bow with this flat herringbone chain; the previous example is necklace B4; however, that necklace appears to be either enameled only on the drop, in some shade of red, which is a bit odd – I’ve never seen that small a percentage of enameling on a central station and it doesn’t seem to make much sense unless the rest of it has been completely worn or polished away. The enameling on this newfound necklace does seem logical.

This necklace clearly has a replacement drop, and at first I assumed that the chain was not original either; mainly because it isn’t quite as heavy as the other Style B link chains seen thus far. However, a closer look at the clasp does indeed show that it is one of their typical findings even though all of the other Style B chain clasps have been a thumb-ring rather than a box clasp. Furthermore, the finish on the chain appears to match that of the bow.  So this might indeed be its original chain and clasp; if so, it is definitely “lighter” in appearance than any that I’ve seen matched with this bow before. The age is misattributed, of course; although vintage, it is definitely neither antique nor Victorian.

We’ve seen this all-silvertone neckace in my second article, represented by item B2 there; however there is a subtle difference because that first necklace has black enamel Damascene-style accents throughout, whereas this one does not. This is another case where the necklace is being represented as a Bengel piece via “word of mouth” (more about such occurences in my next article).

This last necklace may seem at first glance to be a particularly well preserved example of this maker’s work, with a typical Art Deco color combination of black and mint green enameling. The shapes and patterns of the bow and drop certainly are in line with what we’ve seen so far. However, a side by side comparison with any of the authentic Style B bows shows that they are not the same pieces. The middle part of the bow is entirely different from the originals and the drop is not exactly the same either. The bow itself, despite the similar interior patterning, is also different on the ends: not only do they extend farther out than the originals do, but the ends are notched instead of having a straight edge. The chain is also one that I have not seen them use before, and appears to have enamel accents only on the front third; all of this maker’s other chains either have enameling along their entire length or have no enamelling on them at all. And lastly, the metal seems to be much brighter, shinier, and “yellower” than any of the finishes yet seen. In my opinion this necklace is possibly a more modern copy of one of the original 1930s necklace designs. Which is not to say that it isn’t vintage, depending on one’s chronological definition of that term; but I highly doubt that it is from either the 1920s, 30s or 40s.

 My next article about this mystery manufacturer will examine the probabilities that any or all of these pieces were produced by Jakob Bengel, as some have claimed.

Vintage Featherweights Celluloid Orchid Jewelry - A Delightful Find!

This is a followup to my previous two posts about vintage Featherweights celluloid jewelry pieces (in the archivies here  and here ); a reader discovered a pair of pierced earrings still on their original clear plastic manufacturer’s card and contacted me with some photographs which I was thrilled to receive!

 image

image

As you can see, ‘Featherweights’ was a registered trademark rather than just a generic name for this type of lightweight ‘whitewashed’ celluloid. The card also notes ‘hypoallergenic surgical steel’, obviously referring to the posts. My source also advises that the only markings on the earrings themselves, other than the copyright registration ® is the word SURG which is obviously an abbreviation for surgical steel; this reassured purchasers that they need not fear an allergic reaction from nickel or other cheap plated metal findings. This is a lovely pair of earrings representing white cattleya orchids and exhibiting a marvelous level of detail in all of the petals. The flower measures 1 1/8” high x 7/8” at its widest point which is across the upper petals.

I was even more delighted when she sent me an additional photograph of the matching pieces which form a complete set: a brooch, a pair of screwback earrings, and a necklace! Examples of Featherweights jewelry are often mis-identified because they were rarely marked on the item itself; instead, the name would appear on either a plastic card (for earrings) or a paper hangtag which was usually immediately removed and discarded by the original purchaser. The lack of identifiers commonly results in pieces like this being attributed to earlier eras – I’ve seen several examples whose sellers wrongly claimed they were made in the 1930s!! – or simply being called “wedding-cake celluloid”.

 image

The necklace is particularly interesting because the design flips two of the orchids upside-down; these are the flowers that flank the large central orchid. This is because the ends of the broad, ruffled upper petals aren’t conducive to having a link attached to them; the slimmer, thinner sepals (narrower petals) accommodate drilling and linking more easily. As a former orchid grower, I usually cringe when I see any orchid portrayed upside-down (usually it’s because the artist or designer literally didn’t know which end of the flower is “up”, probably from having seen too darn many orchid corsages worn that way, LOL) but in this case there is a logical reason, so the manufacturer is forgiven. :-)

This is a truly lovely vintage set of Featherweights celluloid jewelry: an everblooming garden of exotic white orchids!

 My sincere thanks to the lady who brought these to my attention; she is an avid orchid grower and collector of orchid ephemera as well as a member of New York’s Manhattan Orchid Society.

A brief update and apology!

I must apologize for the long break between posts; I have started a third article on my German(?) vintage jewelry mystery maker, with new examples and a theory, but I have recently been caught up in what seems like a real-life remake of the Tom Hanks movie ‘The Money Pit’. All of you who have seen it will know exactly what I’m talking about! LOL  Yes, complete with rusty running water although not the exploding toaster — simply because the kitchen isn’t functional. However, the electrician is due to be there on Monday, so who knows what thrilling prognoses he will deliver. *sigh*

Hopefully when a modicum of sanity returns to my world, timewise, that third article will appear. Thanks for your patience in the interim!



Weird and Wonderful: Broken Color Iris

Anyone’s wish list of plants with wild, wonderful or weird coloration should definitely include the type of iris known as ‘broken color.’ Although I love irises, it wasn’t until about six years ago that I discovered these unique variants. The broken color iris have petals that are variously splashed, spotted and/or streaked with color. The cause of the color breaking is a genetic instability which prevents the plant from producing its normal coloration in a uniform manner. A genetically normal iris cultivar will look the same from plant to plant; but each individual broken color iris is unique in its color patterning even within its own cultivar. Thus, every broken color iris is literally one of a kind.

Surprisingly, broken color iris have been around a long time… in fact, the first one was recognized as early as the 1840s. It was a French variety originally named ‘Victoire Lemon’ after the mother of the man who introduced it, but over time the name became accidentally transmuted to ‘Victorine’ which is how it is known today. The falls are rich purple randomly veined, striped and edged in white; the standards are white but their interiors are splashed with the same deep purple as the falls.

In the very early 1900s a German hybridizer introduced the cultivar ‘Loreley’ which although it cannot boast a classic bearded-iris form is one tough cookie as far as thriving in difficult growing conditions. This pretty iris displays classic “Eastertime” colors in its purple and white falls with a bright yellow edge, combined with bright yellow standards speckled and flecked with purple.

Also from the first half of the 1900s is the Miniature Tall Bearded iris ‘Kaleidoscope’ whose golden yellow standards rise above paler yellow falls that are splashed and spotted with rusty red and sparkling white. Also in the yellow family is ‘Corsage’ from 1956; both the falls and the standards combine snow white and sunshine yellow in a wild profusion of broad brush-stroke splashes and narrow streaks.

The Border Bearded category joined the broken color community in the early 1970s with the appearance of a cream, yellow and purple confection with the charming name of ‘Minnesota Mixed-up Kid’. Although it was developed 30 years earlier, it was not actually registered until 2003.

One of the modern pioneers (and who many regard as the hybridizer who has perfected the art of the broken color iris) is Brad Kasperek of Zebra Gardens. Since the 1990s his Utah nursery has produced some of the best and most whimsically named broken color varieties. One of the best known is ‘Bewilderbeast’ which displays white, yellow, and mauve shades in an extravaganza of flecks and stripes. For the science fiction lovers among us, 1998 saw the introduction of ‘Millennium Falcon ’ – a striking white and purple explosion of which Han Solo would surely approve.

Many of these fascinating iris have found a home in my own beds and borders, as can be seen in the photos below. I have always had a weakness for flowers displaying wild, weird and wonderful coloration!

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

SOURCES:

Some reliable nursery sources for broken color iris are (in alphabetical order; the nursery name will open a link in a new tab):

Blue J Iris

Painted Acres Farm

Zebra Iris

The Chocolate Garden: A Guilt Free Pleasure

The chocolate lover who also gardens has the unique opportunity to combine both addictions into a guilt-free pleasure in the creation of a Chocolate Garden. I did exactly that some years ago in a small east facing bed and my first decision was how I should define a plant’s qualifications for admittance: should it be by color or by name of plant? I quickly discovered that the two were usually close enough to be almost synonymous. Even so, it was a bit of a challenge to find as many different plants as I hoped to include, given the conditions of direct sun only in the morning; I was fortunate that I did not have any specific difficult soil conditions to contend with as well. A few of the plants would have done better in full sun but managed an acceptable showing even with the light conditions provided.

I have always been fond of iris and I was happy to discover that I had quite a few to choose from in the “chocolate” category. I immediately pounced on this perfect cultivar called Chocolate Ecstasy which looks and sounds like nothing so much as a luscious box of Godiva.

image

The amazing broken color iris ‘Chocolate Moose’ is a product of Brad Kasperek’s Zebra Gardens breeding (and sense of humor, LOL).

Still in the dessert category, I quickly acquired Iris ‘Chocolate Vanilla’ followed by ‘Chocolate Mint’. I was to discover that many iris that are described as brown are more of an oxblood color in reality, as can be seen in the photographs of Chocolate Vanilla and Chocolate Daddy below. And although Chocolate Mint has no trace of brown in its coloration, it absolutely does give the impression of the cool taste of that particular treat.   

image

image

image

I was puzzled at first about the cultivar name of Iris ‘Chocolate Chess’, until I realized that it must have been named for the Southern classic dessert called chess pie, which is sometimes made even richer by the addition of cocoa to the basic recipe. The color of this particular Iris reflects almost perfectly the actual pie filling which normally is a creamy yellow but with the addition of cocoa acquires shades of pale brown.

 image

Other iris cultivars which unfortunately I did not photograph (and due to the depredations of Hurricane Sandy are no longer with us) were  Chocolate Swirl (a frosted brown with an electric blue beard) and Death by Chocolate.

I also found an interesting array of chocolate-named plants among a wide range of perennials that would tolerate my conditions. First came an unusual aquilegia species, Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’, with its graceful dainty flowers hanging from delicate stems about 12 inches tall. Like most aquilegia as it is happy in conditions ranging from sun to part shade.

image

Berlandiera lyrata is often called the “chocolate daisy”, not for its coloration but for the unmistakable fragrance of chocolate that it produces. An unassuming plant in both flower and foliage (it may actually look a bit weedy) it is definitely a “chocolate fragrance” novelty.

 image

The perennial Cosmos atrosangineus not only flaunts the color of rich dark chocolate but offers a chocolate fragrance as well.

image

I was delighted to find a relatively compact dahlia called Chocolate Sundae whose petals almost exactly duplicated the color of the cosmos at a later point in the season after the cosmos had finished flowering.

image

Among the foxgloves there is a species, Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’, whose spikes of dainty bells remind me of the color of a cup of coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in it. Perhaps this is a form of chocolate that is midway between white and dark, LOL!

image

Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ is named for the rich color of its foliage. It bears bells of tiny white flowers reminiscent of a miniature Queen Anne’s lace in very small scale, starting in early summer and continuing until frost. Although the white flowers make a lovely contrast against the dark foliage, like most of its family it spreads prolifically by seed and so I usually try to remember to trim the flowers off and simply enjoy this for its foliage.

image

Normally I would never allow a mint into my garden but an exception is always made for the tiny creeper Mentha requinii (Corsican mint) whose foliage smells strongly of a York’s Peppermint Patty upon the slightest touch. Unfortunately it prefers damp shade and so the morning sun and sloping bed of my chocolate garden was not to its liking.

One of only two representatives of annuals in my chocolate garden was a Japanese morning glory, Ipomea ‘Chocolate’. I tend to favor the Japanese morning glories because they are not as invasive as the usual species. My photograph shows the flower as containing more pink and of a lighter shade than it was in reality. It was more of a dark grayish dusty rose, with the neat white edge providing a nice contrast.

image

Oriental poppies are not normally one of my favorite perennials because of the huge mound of unsightly foliage that one must allow to remain all through the rest of the summer, taking up valuable border real estate; but I could not resist this Papaver orientale ‘Royal Chocolate Distinction’ with its dark chocolate/almost black accents against a rich dusty rose background. For some reason this flower calls to mind a huge frilly Victorian gift box of yummy chocolates!

image

On the other hand I admit to being addicted to peonies, and was happy to find a cultivar named Hot Chocolate for my collection. I apologize for the photograph which was taken in bright sun without enough compensation in the camera setting and thus the photograph makes it appear to be a bright red when in reality it is a more subdued and richer red closely approximating the color of black cherries.

image

Another perennial that falls into the “invasive but probably worth it with eternal vigilance” category is Persicaria ‘Chocolate Dragon’. This plant is safe as long as you don’t allow the flowers to go to seed… Otherwise, like most dragons it will quickly stake its claim to your garden territory!

image

The very useful family of rudbeckias includes the cultivar Chocolate Orange, which I grew from seed from Thompson and Morgan. Although sold as an annual it is often considered a tender perennial and has survived for three years in my zone 7 garden. I did not really expect it to survive the days-long saltwater bath it received last year from Hurricane Sandy, and my suspicions proved to be correct. But in the absence of such extreme weather conditions it will probably do very well almost anywhere.

image

The other annual I included in my chocolate garden was a sunflower, Chocolate Cherry which ironically grew right next to the Chocolate Orange rudbeckia. This is one of the medium height sunflowers, growing to about 3 or 4 feet tall so it is manageable even when space is at a premium. It is also one of the plants that would have been happier had it been given full sun all day long – I kept feeling guilty that it wanted to start peering around the corner into the South and West facing exposures! – but it performed admirably even with just morning sun.

image

One of the smallest plants in my chocolate garden was an absolutely adorable viola with the delightful name of Velour Frosted Chocolate. The caramel-colored petals do indeed have a “frosted” appearance.

image

I was very disappointed to come up completely empty in my search for any lilies with “chocolate” in their name – hybridizers, PLEASE take note! ;-)

 Of course, one of the side benefits of having a Chocolate Garden is the extra (chocolate) calories that are burned whilst tending it – a win/win situation!  :-)

A Vintage Jewelry Mystery Maker – Part Two

Those who have read Part One of these posts about my 1930s vintage jewelry Mystery Maker will no doubt be surprised at the apparent difference in style between those pieces and the ones you are about to see, which I have dubbed Style B. In fact I was totally clueless that these were from the same design shop until I accidentally discovered two transitional pieces – which we will also see in this second post. (Part One can be found as an archived post here, and also directly below the end of this post.)

It was pure coincidence that I happened to purchase the first example of this Style B, (Example B1 below). I normally gravitate toward more delicate or smaller scale jewelry but the combination of the soft- and graceful-appearing central bow plus a box chain which I have always had a weakness for, inspired me to purchase that particular necklace. Some months afterward, the seller told me that another example of the identical necklace could be seen on Sheryl’s Art Deco Emporium website within the section devoted to Jakob Bengel jewelry, and that given its placement in that section it might be possible that it could be a Bengel design.  I was even more pleased at this possible attribution, and of course had no inkling that the necklace was indeed the product of my 1930s Mystery Maker shop. That discovery would come sometime later. In the meanwhile, I slowly began to develop – via happening to find variations of this first necklace – a list of characteristics common to these necklaces and related pieces. For clarity, these characteristics are compared to their counterparts in the Style A designs.

Characteristics of Style B:

* Only one chain; no more multiples.

* Larger diameter box (5mm square) in the chain, and a longer length (17” instead of 15”-15 1/2”)

* Larger scale/heavier “look” overall.

* The chain never goes “through” the central station, as is the case in all of the A styles, but is instead attached to each side of it.

* The bow design is soft and realistic instead of the more geometric forms encountered in Style A items.

* Enameling is reduced compared to the Style A jewelry; there is a much larger percentage of metal surface to enameled surface, whereas in Style A pieces the enamel predominates.

* The chains that do have enameling are no longer “dipped”, but instead have the enamel applied across the top surface only.

* There is a single drop/dangle element (if one is present) below the central station, instead of a “fringe”. The one exception may be the flat mesh chain necklace A-11 seen in my previous article, which originally clearly had a single drop element below the bow. This, and the minimal use of enameling, makes me think that necklace may well have been a transitional piece between Styles A and B, especially since the same chain is used in one of the definite Style B examples below.  The scale and length of the necklace is typical of Style A. Oh how I wish that I could find an example with the original drop!!

* Spring ring clasps (no more box clasps, except possibly for one flat chain style below).

Examples of Style B (description follows photo)

 image

(B1) Single box chain in goldtone metal with fine black enameling in almost a “damascene” fashion. This is a thicker box chain than the ones used in the A styles. The ‘soft’-looking bow also has fine black enamel accents within its chevron-pattern design; similarly enameled reverse teardrop shaped drop matches. Spring ring clasp. Necklace is 17” long overall, and the central motif is 1 1/2” top to bottom. Sold in 2013 by my shop, ChatsworthVintage.

image

 (B2) The identical necklace as #B1 but done in silvertone metal. It is unclear from the photo whether this necklace has black enameling or not.  Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

 image

(B3) Flat double-row chain identical to the one used in the #A-11 choker, except that it is silvertone instead of goldtone. Identical bow and drop to #B1, #B2 and #B3; it appears to be a shinier silver metal than the chain. I cannot tell whether the reddish tints on the drop and part of one bow end are enameling or merely a reflection from the person photographing it. No idea what the clasp is like (there was only one photo) but assume it is the same as used for #A-11 although it could also be a spring ring clasp if both ends of the chain terminate in the same way as the front ends shown here.   This is the Sheryl’s Art Deco Emporium item mentioned earlier.  The description says that this is a “German Art Deco” piece and it appears in the same section as her Jakob Bengel offerings although that name does not appear in its description. I have contacted her to ask for a clarification but did not receive a response. Therefore I am assuming that these necklaces may be German in origin but am not sure whether they have anything to do with Bengel. Also please keep in mind that the attribution of a country does not necessarily mean, on her site, that it was actually made there. For example, she told me that the #A12 necklace is described as being an “American” necklace purely on the basis that she acquired it from an American source. If, as I believe, the same source produced all of these necklaces, it is clear that either the German OR the American attribution is incorrect.

image

 (B4)  Open flat rectangular link chain with dark green and bright white enamel accents. This appears to be the same dark green and white colors used on necklace #A5. This too is a “new” chain style. Central bow is enameled more heavily than in necklace #B1, and the faceted bead drop is clearly a replacement for its original reverse-teardrop. The clasp ring may be a replacement as well.  Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

image

 (B5) Thick oval link chain goldtone necklace with black and dark green enameling applied to one portion of the links only. Bow and drop enameled likewise. We will see this identical color combination in another piece. This is the first example of this thick link chain that I have seen. Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

image

 (B6) Round snake chain in plain goldtone. this is the identical chain that was used in the orange/yellow/bronwn enameled  #A9  + #A10 necklace/bracelet set in the previous section, but this necklace has NO enameling whatsoever.  Found on Pinterest, origin unknown.

 image

(B7) The identical round snake chain as #B7 above, and also with no enameling on the necklace… but now made as a lariat necklace utilizing only the “tails” of the bow, and adding a pair of ornate finial drops! The bow element and finials are accented with white and medium-brown enameling. Length is unknown but it may be somewhat longer than the 17” overall length of the other examples. Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

 image

(B8) A brooch (the first I have discovered by this maker!) utilizing the same round snake chain and bow “tails” as the necklace above but with the use of a pair of snake heads instead of the finial drops seen in the #B8 necklace. No enameling at all anywhere on this piece. C clasp. This brooch was wildly misidentified by its eBay seller as being an “antique Victorian pinchbeck” item and thereby went for an exorbitant price to another bidder.

 image

(B9) Box chain identical to the one used in necklaces #B1, #B2 and #B3; with medium-green and black enameling on the top surface of the boxes only (and not to every one of them). Instead of being a bow, this pendant is an off-center dome or circular pyramid shape formed by asymmetrical (not concentric) circles rising upwards in step fashion in alternate rows of solid green enamel and neatly accented  rectangles. This is a newly discovered pendant from this maker. Sold in 2012 by my shop, ChatsworthVintage.

And now, two examples of  what I have dubbed “Style T” because they are clearly transitional pieces between the “heavier” B designs and the “daintier” ones shown as A. Both of these necklaces utilize elements found in both A and B, as does #A-11 which I may well reclassify as transitional in the future. Unfortunately I have no idea which of the two styles came first chronologically!

 image

(T1) Single box chain necklace in silvertone, with the triangles/fringe element used as a pendant. I am assuming that the box chain is the same as the smaller ones used for the Style A necklaces because there are still the same five lengths of fringe beneath the triangle; if this was the Style B box chain, five lengths would be too many to fit in that location. Therefore this must be the smaller-scale box chain.

Even though the chain and triangle pendant are identical to the Style A pieces, I classify this as transitional for two reasons: (1) there is no enameling at all on any of the chains and very little on the chevron; all of the Style A pieces except for the #A-11 choker have much more enameling than this (which IMHO reinforces the possibility that #A-11 might also be a transitional design) and (2) although the Style A necklace #A1 is also a pendant, that one still has its chains running through the bale. The method of attachment of this item’s pendant is the one we find in Style B pieces. If I had to assign this necklace to one or the other style, though, I would place it into the Style A category. This necklace was suggested by its eBay seller as being a “Bengel style” and thus went for a ridiculously high amount, especially for one with its enamel in such poor condition, to another bidder. I would have liked to acquire it but not at that price with this much wear.

 image

(T2) This extremely interesting piece combines elements from A and B styles in equal measure while adding two new elements! This flat chain is one that I had not seen before and at first I thought it was a new chain for them. However, it’s equally possible that it is “one half” of the two-row chain used in the choker #A11.  This chain is entirely enameled which is a Style A technique. The pendant incorporates the bow tails from Style B, enhanced with the same neat precise enamel accents seen in #B1. The smaller of the two circles (circles are another new element! no open circle pendants were seen before) is the identical finding that serves as the clasp ring in necklace A4 (the triple round mesh chain in two shades of brown)! The two shades of blue enamel used on this necklace are virtually an exact match for those used on necklace #A2 (see photo below of them together).

image

However, despite its more delicate Style-A scale, on this necklace the chain length falls into the B category at 17” plus a 1 1/2” pendant drop. The top designs of the silvertone hidden box clasp forms a tailored-bow shape.

So in #T2 we have five elements from Style A pieces (the fully enameled chain, same blue enamel colors, use of an “A” finding within the design, use of a flat link chain, and smaller overall scale ); three elements from Style B pieces (half of the B bow, a side-attached pendant rather than the chains going through or behind it, and the longer chain length); and at least one new element (the large central circle motif).  IMHO this is a truly transitional piece between the two styles that this maker produced and I was delighted to find it!

And so to summarize all of the different design elements discovered to date in pieces from this Mystery Maker:

Eight different chains: 3 mm box chain, 5 mm box chain, round (tubular) fine mesh chain, snake scale chain, heavy oval link chain, single flat mesh chain, double flat mesh chain, and open rectangular link chain with zigzag design and enamel accents.

Six different clasps: hidden box box clasp with a diamond motif with a small flower in each of the four corners;  hidden box clasp, rectangular, top has three half-cylinders; central section is enameled to match chain; hidden box clasp, rectangular, top motifs form a tailored bow shape; hidden box clasp, rectangular, ends have top motif to match design of double flat mesh chain;  J hook with flat ring; spring ring clasp.

Eight different central station motifs:

* Triple-chevron/open diamond shape, faux marcasite effect, enamel/metal, solid flat back, hangs from matching bale; removable from necklace (example A1)

* Triangular shape with point uppermost; all or partly enameled; fringe drop made of 5 box chain lengths (examples A2, A3, A4 and T1)

* Tailored bow design resembling two of the above triangular shapes point to point, but cast as a single element; appears to have had a single (unknown shape) drop. (example A-11)

* Tailored bow with ‘pebbly’ or ‘faux bead’ textured surface; incorporates 8 semi- or quarter-circle designs, all or some of which have enamel accents. (examples A5 through A10)

* Soft bow, with reverse-teardrop shaped single drop (examples B1 through B6)

* Bottom half (tails) of soft bow only (examples B7 and B8)

* Combination of soft-bow tails and flat open circles (example T2)

* Asymmetric ‘stepped’ semi-bullseye dome with Greek key/Aztec motifs (example B9)

Two different lariat end caps: Snake heads;  textured and ribbed elongated finials

By the way, if any readers have photos of any of the above pieces in different colorways or different combinations of design elements I would be delighted to see a photo and include those versions in a future update of my “research”! I can be contacted through my Etsy shop, http://www.etsy.com/shop/chatsworthvintage.

Archived blog posts can be found here.

A Vintage Jewelry Mystery Maker – Part One

Collecting vintage jewelry can often present quite a mystery when it comes to unsigned pieces. Not only are there unsigned pieces by known makers but there are often entire lines of jewelry that were never signed at all. Often they have a distinctive style which makes the mystery of their maker all the more intriguing and challenging to solve.

My own detective work on a ‘“mystery maker” came about in a rather special way. My mother owned hardly any jewelry but two pieces of hers fascinated me all through my childhood. One was the reverse carved Lucite bracelet that is pictured in my blog post “Not Your Daughter’s Plastic Jewelry”; the other was a red necklace: an enameled pendant on three enameled box chains. The chains reminded me of my favorite craft project as a youngster at summer camp. After my mom passed away I inherited both pieces of jewelry. Because the necklace was unsigned I had no idea where or by whom it was made, or anything other than my mom telling me it was the first piece of jewelry that she bought for herself when she moved to New York as a young woman of 19. This fact dated the necklace as from the very early 1930s.

Several years ago it occurred to me to see if I could find other examples of necklaces with similar workmanship. Not having a maker’s name or mark to search on, my only recourse was to look for necklaces fitting the search terms “enamel Art Deco box chain necklace”. Slowly but surely I began to find examples which were clearly made by this same Mystery Maker. Not only that, but I began to discover that whoever they were, they produced items in fascinating alternate versions both of enamel color and style elements.

I have been able to determine that this company made at least two distinct styles in the early 1930s, one of which was ‘daintier’ than the other and had more enameling. I call this “Style A” , and the heavier style with less enameling “Style B”. I have also found a third style, which I have dubbed “T” for “Transitional” because it appears to be transitional between A and B. This first of two blog posts will illustrate examples of all of the styles, beginning with Style A.

Characteristics of Style A

* Either two or three dainty box chains, 3mm square. However, one example used round fine-mesh chains instead.

* Usually all of the chains are fully enameled (dipped) but in at least one case only one of the three chains is enameled.

* Enamel colors are complementary; i.e. three shades of blue, two shades of brown, two shades of green + white, etc.

* The single central station is wholly or partly enameled to match the chains.

* Enameling is done by hand

* Central station designs are all classic Art Deco in style (bows, chevrons, triangles, etc)

* The box-chain necklaces all use a hidden box clasp. The one example with a round-mesh chain necklace uses a hook and ring clasp.

* The shortest chain length on all of these is 15 1/2” long.

Examples of Style A  (description follows each photo)

image

(A1) Double box chain, enameled in two shades of red. Enameled pendant is 2 1/2” long from bail to bottom, and 1 1/2” wide at the widest point. Although the pendant is a dark silvertone with a faux-marcasite effect, the bail and the hidden box clasp are a brighter silvertone metal. Top of box clasp has a triple-tube motif with the central section enameled in red to match the necklace. This was my mother’s necklace and definitely dates to the very early 1930s.

image

(A2) Triple box chain (same chain as #A1) enameled in three shades of blue. The triangular shaped central station and its five dangling chains are enameled to match. The central station measures 1 3/4” top to bottom including the ‘fringe’. Same hidden box clasp as on #A1 except that the central element is enameled blue.

image

(A3) The identical necklace to #A2, except that the enamel colors are creamy French-vanilla white, light blue, and pale dusky pink. This use of pastel in an Art Deco era design was quite a surprise because every other piece I have seen of theirs has used darker colors! Silvertone hidden box clasp; the design on top is a diamond shape with a small flower in each outer corner. No enameling on the clasp.

image

(A4) Triple round fine-mesh chain, enameled in two shades of brown (chocolate and caramel). Same triangle as #A2 and #A3 but this time only one section of it is enameled. It still has a fringe but because it is made of a narrower chain there are seven lengths of fringe chain (3 caramel, 4 chocolate) rather than five as in the previous examples. Has a J-hook-and-flat-ring closure in shiny silvertone metal except for chocolate enameling on the top of the inner loops. Central station triangle is the same shiny silvertone finish as the clasp. Notice the ring end, because it will be seen again later in a transitional piece.

image

(A5) Triple box chains (same as #A1, #A2, and #A3) enameled in dark green, light green, and bright white (but not the creamy white that was used for #A3). Central station is a horizontal very textural bow in a dark cast metal similar to that of the pendant in #A1; four of the half-circle elements, as well as the center, are enameled. Bow is 1 ¼” x 7/8”. Same hidden box clasp as on necklace #A3 (diamond/floral design on top, no enameling). Recently sold in my Etsy shop.

EDITED ON 6-7-13 TO ADD:

This slightly different version of the green necklace above it has replaced the white enameled chain with a slightly different (third) shade of green. Thus, this colorway uses a light, medium and dark green enamel scheme. Currently available from IfindUSeek Vintage on Etsy (image is a link to the listing); many thanks to the shop owner for permission to use their image.

 image

(A6) Identical necklace to #A5 except that only one of the three box chains is enameled. This is a brighter blue than any of those used in #A2. The bow element is also in a brighter shinier metal finish and matches the rest of the necklace. The enameling on the accent elements differs also: all of the semicircles are enameled, but not the central “tie”. Same hidden box clasp as on #A3 and #A5 (diamond/floral design on top, no enameling). Recently sold in my Etsy shop.

 image

(A7) Bracelet to match the #A6 necklace. Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry. Same clasp as matching necklace and two others.

 image

(A8) Identical necklace to #A5 and #A6 except for the enameling format. Two chains are enameled green, but the third has a shiny silvertone finish instead of enamel. (This green seems to be darker than the color used in #A5 but may be simply bad photography). The central bow also appears to be in the darker metal (as in #A5) which seems odd considering that bright metal was used for the middle chain. The enameling pattern on the bow matches that of #A5. Same diamond/floral hidden box clasp as on prior necklaces and bracelet. This necklace is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and identified simply as “1930s Art Deco Necklace.”

 image

(A9)  Triple round snake chain necklace, fully enameled in dark brown, orange, and bright yellow. Same necklace style as #A5, #A6, and #A8 except that it has a snake chain instead of box chains. Central bow enameled in the #A5 pattern and using the same hidden box clasp as previous examples. This same snake chain will reappear in some Style B designs. Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

 image

(A10) Bracelet to match the #A9 necklace. Sold by BoyleRPF Vintage Jewelry.

image

image

(A11) Flat mesh chain choker necklace with a central bow motif. This is the fourth chain style that I discovered from this maker. There are five very interesting things about this necklace: (a) It is the first choker (14”) length that I have found; (b) the clasp  appears to have been designed specifically for this chain, because the pattern on the top continues that of the chain; (c) although it appears now to be plain metal, the central bow originally had black enamel accents (see second photo) although there is no such evidence on any part of the chain; (d) the bow itself is formed by placing two of the triangular central station elements in necklaces #A2, #A3 and #A4 “point to point” – however, the bow was cast as one single piece. There is no solder or evidence that they were originally two separate pieces. And finally, something that I did not realize until after photographing this necklace: (e) The bow must have originally had a ‘drop’, because there is a small triangular loop cast into it. It is visible in the second photo and also in the first although the necklace is “upside down”. We will see a very similar bow-with-drop motif in the Style B examples, as well as a significant reduction of enameling in favor of plain metal. I still may eventually reclassify this piece as a transitional (Style T) design between Styles A and B.

 image

(A12) The identical necklace to #A2 and #A3 (triple box chain and central triangle with chain fringe underneath) using the same two shades of green enamel as the textured bow necklace #A5; however the shade of creamy white used in this necklace is not the bright white as in #A5, but instead is the creamy white that appears on the pastel version #A3. No photo showing type of box clasp. This necklace is offered by Sheryl’s Art Deco Emporium; that description says “American necklace”. When I contacted Sheryl to ask what else she knows of its provenance, she told me that she does not know where it was made and that “American” indicates only that she purchased it from someone who lives in America.

My next post will examine this Mystery Maker’s “Style B” and also the transitional “Style T”.

By the way, if any readers perchance have any of the above pieces in different colorways or different combinations of design elements I would be delighted to see a photo and include those versions in a future update of my “research”! I can be contacted through my Etsy shop, http://www.etsy.com/shop/chatsworthvintage.

Archived blog posts can be found here.

A Rogues’ Gallery of Garden Villains

Eventually every gardener compiles his or her personal ‘Rogues Gallery’ of garden villains – those plants which have proved themselves to be an unmitigated menace in one way or another. My own garden is no exception, whether a particular villain was in residence when I arrived or whether through sheer stupidity I introduced it myself. Some of my villains will undoubtedly be known to you already, while others may serve as a timely warning if you should ever be tempted to give them entry to your own garden.

HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera spp.)

image

This was a case of double stupidity. The east side chain link fence around my backyard was already covered in honeysuckle when I bought the house, but I compounded the fatal error during the first year here by allowing the fragrance to remind me of childhood memories. My friends and I had a favorite summer-evening meeting place at the corner of our street, and the house at that corner was surrounded by a honeysuckle hedge. So of course I decided to go my childhood memories one better by planting additional varieties along the other two fencelines in order to “ring” my backyard with the nostalgic fragrance. Needless to say, once my back was turned on the honeysuckle for a season or two it decided to not only cover the chainlink fence but also make a land grab for the newly made perennial borders immediately in front of it. However the honeysuckle did not gain its new horizontal territory without a fight; it had to contend with another villain, namely

ENGLISH IVY (Hedera helix)

Forget visions of ivy-covered walls – it can cover beds, borders, and lawn just as quickly. I can’t blame myself for planting this, because it was in place already underneath two huge linden trees in the front yard. It was sharing real estate there with pachysandra which at least has the virtue of not being able to climb. The ivy had climbed up the trees to a respectable height, but it was fairly easy to simply cut the vines at ground level and then yank them off the tree trunks. I left the ivy at ground level to duke it out with the pachysandra but there were also small plantings of ivy along some of the backyard fence perimeters. I made a mental note to dig those small plantings out “one of these days” but promptly forgot about it until I realized that the honeysuckle and the ivy had teamed up in an axis-of-evil pairing to smother the perennial borders along the fences. A planting of English ivy alone can be successfully eradicated using Roundup, but of course in a mixed border (which was rapidly becoming a mixture of only two plant species) that’s not an option. The only choice is to cut, pull, and dig by hand. I am sorry to report that the Devilish Duo lasted longer than my arm and back muscles did. Even the daylilies could not successfully get through the suffocating blanket they created. I have a mental picture of the daylilies slowly drowning, not unlike those old horror movies where one of the good guys sinks tragically to his death in a pit of quicksand!

THE SWEETGUM TREE (Liquidambar styraciflua)

image

Another villain that was here when I arrived. This is one of those plants where one needs to balance the good against the bad. The good is that they have the potential to be one of the most spectacularly colored trees in the world. Notice that I say “potential” and that is because this is by no means a sure thing. At least with a maple tree – whose leaf shape the sweetgum’s resembles – you have a fairly good guarantee of excellent autumn color. There may be some slight variation from one year to the next depending on temperature and rainfall during the summer, but otherwise it’s a pretty sure bet. Not so with the sweetgum, which has a large degree of variability not only from season to season but between one tree and another. A sweetgum with good color can rival any maple tree that you care to set against it, but the odds are fairly even that you could end up with a dud. I moved into my house early in the year and so had a good six months of anticipation to see how much of a “pillar of fire”(which a good sweetgum is often described as) I had inherited along with the house. Let’s just say that it ended up more resembling a candle in the wind. But I made excuses for it, rationalizing that I had only given it one season and after all I had probably disturbed the surface roots by clearing away the grass beneath it and creating a planting bed. The tree was in a corner and seemed to cry out for a planting of daylilies, hostas, and epimediums among other things.

A word to the wise: Do not EVER make the mistake of creating a planting bed anywhere near the Artillery Range of a sweetgum tree. Why? Because of the negative aspect of a sweetgum tree, which is very negative indeed: This tree produces the nastiest fruiting bodies that you will ever encounter.They are called “sweetgum balls” but in fact they look like a miniature version of the business end of a medieval mace. About the size of a golf ball, they are armed in every direction with spines which have the infuriating habit of grabbing everything they encounter. This is one of the plant kingdom’s best imitations of Velcro.

image

Because they are lightweight, they can be blown a fair distance in all directions from the tree rather than simply falling straight down in accordance with Newton’s Law. But once they come to rest, whether it be on one’s lawn or in nearby planting beds, they are determined to stay there.  If you try to rake them up, one of two things will happen. Actually both of them will happen because there will be so darn many of the miserable things. Some of them will lodge between the tines of your rake while the others will simply refuse to budge until you literally hack at them, cursing inventively all the while, in order to convince them to release their deathgrip on the grass. An alternate method of getting them mobile is to kick them individually with your foot and then rake them up. To add insult to injury, the sweetgum tree sheds these delightful little objects all year long and not just in the winter, although the largest crop is deposited during that season. Because they are hard, they are by no means a lawnmower’s best friend and so they need to be removed before mowing can commence. Trust me, your lawnmower blade has a better chance against a small branch than against these things. By the way, the sweetgum in my yard only somewhat approached pillar-of-fire status one year out of the past 10. Not the greatest track record and certainly not worth all those damn sweetgum balls.

RUBUS CALYCINOIDES ‘EMERALD CARPET’

image

You may see this perennial described as the ground cover in answer to many prayers. And on paper it does have an impressive list of supposedly positive attributes. It is evergreen; it has small, scalloped, highly textured leaves which are impervious to foot traffic; it has small single pure white flowers in early summer; it is a weed-smotherer par excellence; it will grow in pretty much any soil or sun conditions; it is impervious to pests and diseases; it spreads by runners and thus never needs to be divided. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? What they don’t tell you is that this plant has territorial ambitions that would make Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great look like shy shrinking violets. I had a difficult area along one side of my house wall and thought this would be the perfect solution. That was about five years ago. It behaved itself for about two years and then decided that it was hungry and needed to gobble up everything in its path. And although it is not a climbing plant, its runners began to investigate the underside of my exterior siding.

Another thing that the descriptions don’t tell you is that this plant is an absolute nightmare to remove if/when you want to get rid of it. After several fruitless attempts to cut into the ever spreading original planting which had already swallowed up my nearby Chocolate Garden (more on that in a future post), choked out the daylilies on the other side of the bed and was now invading the lawn, I resorted to chemical warfare. Even so, it took three separate heavy applications of Roundup to kill the surface growth sufficiently to let me cause my arms and back further damage by digging out the now-dead roots a few months later. If you have a few acres that you will never want to plant anything else in for the rest of your natural lifetime AND those of your grandchildren as well, you might risk planting this. (In idle moments I have wondered which plant would win in an invasiveness contest between this and bamboo. I think it would probably be a tossup.)

BISHOP’S WEED (Aegopodium podagraria)

image

You would think that the hybridizers would know better than to try to create a decorative garden plant from what is essentially a noxious weed. Admittedly, the variegated version of Bishops Weed is an attractive plant, with toothed leaves of clear true green bordered in white and eventually sporting umbels of white flowers resembling a miniature Queen Anne’s Lace. But it shrugs off difficult conditions of soil, light and moisture far too easily to be a safe resident in most gardens. It spreads both by runners and by seed which is always a dangerous combination. Give it a couple of seasons and it will betray the rampant territorial acquisitiveness acquired from its wild parent. Out of morbid curiosity I planted this along with two other supposed “thugs”, Vinca minor and a plain green mondo grass, in a narrow planting strip bordered on one side by a sidewalk and on the other by the roadway. I figured that unless any of these plants were able to colonize concrete, I would be safe as long as I didn’t allow them to set seed. Whoops. All it takes is a couple of those cute little Queen Anne’s lace flowers to broadcast its progeny far and wide. The only thing that seemed to stop it more or less in its tracks from spreading into the nearby lawn was the recent flooding of the property by Hurricane Sandy: it doesn’t seem overly fond of saltwater bathing. Even so, its two thug companions seem to have gotten the worst of their salty dunking compared to the Bishops Weed. As bishops go, this plant is very far from saintly!

In fairness, what is a villain in one garden may not be quite so in another. For example I have often seen Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) described as an invasive pest and yet this is the third garden in which I have been trying to get it even to attempt to establish even though I have given it the soil, moisture and light conditions which it supposedly prefers. After 10 years my original planting of a several dozen pips has just barely spread over an area approximately 2’ x 5’ wide. And in the other garden locations in which I tried it, the plantings rapidly dwindled into nothingness within the first four years. I can’t blame pests or other critters for their disappearance and can only assume that this is one of those plants that simply dislikes me personally. I will try it yet one more time in my next garden but if it still hates me then I will give it up for good.

Also in fairness, there is one member of the honeysuckle family which I suspect may not share the rampant invasiveness of its relatives – this is the winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, which I have had in my last two gardens.

image

As its name suggests, this plant has late winter flowers with the most delightful fragrance all the more welcome because of the time of year. In my Zone 7 garden and depending on temperature conditions, this is usually sometime anywhere from late February to the middle of March although in an exceptionally mild winter it has begun to bloom as early as the week before Valentine’s Day. It happens to be against a south facing house wall which I’m sure helps it along. But in any case it has not tried to take over the planting border, nor crawl underneath the siding nor invade the nearby lawn even though it does widen with age by suckering somewhat from the base. It will form a large shrub if left to its own devices but I always cut it back every April in order to neaten it up and to create denser growth with more blooms next winter. It does not have the long twining canes of most honeysuckles and so perhaps it might safely be planted among more well-behaved companions. My current shrub sits in the middle between a rose and a mock orange and thus obligingly starts off the gardening year early with a lovely scent wafting into the adjacent windows.  I would venture to say that this is the one white-hat good guy within that particular family of villains!

(Lonicera fragrantissima image from Curtis’ Botanical Magazine 1914; in public domain) 

Archived blog posts can be found here.

Click here to visit the ChatsworthVintage storefront on Etsy

Jewels That Play with Light: Cats and Tigers and Stars, Oh My!

The final instalment in our series on jewels that play with light examines three different gems that, while they do not change color, have a unique internal structure that allows light to produce interesting optical effects. Two of them, popularly known as cat’s eye and tigers eye, are well known. The third family of stones exhibit asterism, an effect that produces a star on the surface. Let’s look at the “feline” stones first.

CAT’S EYE

The only stone that can be properly described as being a cat’s eye is the variety of chrysoberyl known as cat’s eye cymophane. It is formed of beryllium aluminum oxide and appears as a relatively small percentage of the chrysoberyl stones. Although cymophane is often found in Brazil, Africa, and Madagascar the largest and best examples come from Sri Lanka. It is rated between 8 and 8.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness which means it can take a fairly high amount of abuse compared to some other stones often used in jewelry. The color range of cymophane runs from a golden honey color to a mint green, but the highest value colors are a rich gold. There are also stones as pale as yellow and as dark as brown. The usual size seen in the trade is somewhere between 0.10 carat and 3 carats, although there is an 85 carat stone on display in the Museum of Natural History in New York. That is one big cat!

The popular name of this stone is taken from the optical effect known as chatoyancy, a term derived from two French words: “chat” meaning cat and “oeil” meaning eye. This reflectance effect occurs because of very fine fibrous inclusions within the cymophane stone. When light hits these inclusions it creates a bright, visually almost white, stripe that appears and runs perpendicular to these internal inclusions. As either the stone or the light source is moved toward one side or the other this narrow white stripe appears to follow it. A stone that is cut as a cabochon oval particularly resembles an actual cats eye with the iris narrowing in response to the ambient light in which the animal finds itself. There is a legend in some Eastern countries that if one brings one of these stones out into the light of a full moon on a clear night, the light reflected by the stone could show you the way to a hidden treasure. Some others stones such as alexandrite, tourmaline and moonstone may occasionally exhibit something that appears to be the chatoyancy effect but the only stone in which it is produced in this particular way is cymophane. Sometimes these other stones are called cats eye but they are properly described differently than in the actual real cats eye which is always called (or should be) cats eye chrysoberyl. As you can imagine, this technicality often causes much confusion!

image

A particularly desirable attribute of some cymophane is what is called the “milk and honey” effect. When you direct the light source at one of these stones, one side of the cats eye stripe will be a milky whitish color while the other side of the stripe will remain gold. As the stone is moved in relation to the light source, these two colors will swap positions. This milk and honey effect is especially important in evaluating the overall quality of the stone.

image

Also, the thinner, straighter, and more contrasting the white stripe, the more valuable the stone in question. Some people prefer the green variety because the color is more similar to the actual eye color of many cats. However, the golden tones are more valued in the marketplace. It should be mentioned that there is no such thing as a transparent cats eye, and that the only cut that will produce the desired effect is a cabochon.

Some stones exhibiting less than optimal chatoyancy or color can be irradiated. Such a treatment can indeed bring the the color of a rather wishy-washy stone up to the desirable honey brown, and this particular practice was quite popular in the 1990s in the Asian jewelry market. A good stone, from Sri Lanka for example, should never need to be irradiated but if the stone has been treated it should always be disclosed to the potential buyer. Although cymophane is a relatively tough stone it should not be subjected to excessive heat, ultrasonic cleaners or steam jewelry cleaners. It is best cleaned using warm soapy water and perhaps a very soft brush if there is any dirt lodged in its setting. Make sure that it is thoroughly dry before putting it into its storage space.

There are a few other stones that are sometimes mistaken for or sold as true cats eye chrysoberyl, such as cats eye tourmaline, apatite and fibrolite which is also known as sillimanite. This last stone was discovered in the early 1800s in Connecticut and was named after an American chemist Benjamin Silliman; it’s alternate name comes from the fact that the interior looks like a bunch of fibers twisted together.

image

Cats eye quartz is also fairly commonly seen but does not deserve the technical appellation. In fact, it is one of these quartz stones that is discussed in the next section.

TIGER’S EYE

Tigers eye is also a chatoyant gemstone but the effect is not the same as that of cymophane. First of all, tigers eye is a quartz although some of the honey colored tigers eye stones are sometimes sold as the true cats eye cymophane, especially if the stone in question does not have significant banding. This banded effect of the lighter and darker areas is reminiscent of the striping on a tiger’s coat.

image

It is a popular stone for men’s jewelry as well as being often formed into beads for necklaces and earrings. It is a bit softer than cymophane, having a hardness of 7 as do most of its quartz family relatives. It has a silky luster and takes a nice high polish easily.

image

The greatest number of mines for this stone are located in Africa but it is also found in somewhat smaller quantities in India, Burma, China, Brazil, Canada and even the USA. It is often found near iron deposits. The technical name for the type of quartz that forms tiger’s eye is cryptocrystalline and indicates its very fibrous nature. The attractive and unique rutilated quartz ring shown below is a perfect example of how the interior of a stone can contain numerous parallel fibers.

image

Tigers eye comes in a fairly wide range of color but the most common is from golden to reddish brown often in a single stone.

image

There is a gray-blue variant which is known as Hawks Eye, and a multi color swirly variant from Africa known as Pietersite.

image

image

Buyers should be aware that there is a synthetic version of the typical banded variety of tigers eye made from plastic materials and even sometimes from a type of fiber optic glass.

 THE STAR STONES

A gemstone that exhibits the trait of asterism (from the Latin word for star) is sometimes referred to as a star stone. The two most commonly seen are star sapphire and star ruby. In order to produce the star effect on its surface, such a stone must be cut as a cabochon and even then it takes a very skilled cutter to bring out the best star on any individual gem. This asterism is caused by inclusions within the stone, just as chatoyancy is produced in cymophane, but in the case of the star the light is reflected in more than a single band or direction. As a result, any given stone may have as few as four rays in its star or in the case of some really spectacular gems as many as 12 rays – such stones are known as double stars because the most common number of rays is six.

Star Ruby

A ruby can be classified as a star ruby if when light hits the stone it produces a crisp clear star effect. Although in most gemstones the presence of inclusions is considered to be a detriment, in the star stones this actually is an advantage because otherwise this unique effect would not appear. A star ruby of fine quality overall may be worth more than a ruby that does not have the required inclusions to produce this effect.

image

The Smithsonian Institute houses an extremely large and fine quality star ruby weighing 137 carats. However, the world’s largest star ruby is the Rajaratna, weighing 2475 carats. But perhaps the most amazing star ruby of all is the famous Neelanjali Ruby which is known as a double star ruby because it has a 12 pointed star; it weighs in at an impressive 1370 carats. Although such wondrous specimens do exist, nowadays most star rubies today are synthetic stones rather than natural ones.

Star Sapphire

Most people are more familiar with star sapphire than with its cousin the star ruby. Star sapphires usually display a three ray star which produces six individual points. Just as with the rubies of this type, these stones are always cut in a cabochon. Star sapphires are most often found in shades of blue, but there is a type that is sometimes called a black star sapphire which in reality is an extremely dark brown or very dark green when closely inspected. Although sapphires in nature also occur in orange, yellow and pink, it is rare to find these colors with asterism. Natural star sapphires are hardly ever treated to enhance or change their color, because the application of heat carries a high risk of destroying the internal inclusions of rutile that produce the star effect. In any case, the most typical sapphire blue color of the natural stone is usually the one most desired in the star versions as well.

image

In 1947 the Linde company patented a process to produce star sapphires in a laboratory. These stones became extremely popular and back in my high school days I was very proud of a Linde star ring of my own. Unfortunately it was lost over the years but it was one of my favorite pieces of jewelry as a teenager. They were extremely well-made and many of these synthetic star sapphires were and still are mistakenly sold or regarded today as natural stones. However, there are a few ways to check on whether a given blue star sapphire is a natural or a synthetic stone made by Linde.

First, look at the bottom of the stone if it is visible with in its setting; if there is a capital L on the stone then it is a Linde star. You will probably need a magnifier of at least 10 X to see it, especially if the stone is not a large one. The next thing is to look critically at it for imperfections. In the case of the Linde stars, the stone will probably appear too perfect to be true. The underside of the Linde stones are almost always perfectly smooth and even, which does not always occur with a natural stone even with the best cutter and polisher. But you may not be able to see the underside and so the next thing to look at is the star, using a flashlight or other strong concentrated source of light to examine it. Are all of the rays of the star absolutely consistent in their length, thickness and straightness? If so, it is probably a synthetic stone because Nature is rarely that precise. But just to make sure, try moving your light source around the stone in a circular motion. In a natural star sapphire, the star itself will shift to almost follow the source of the light. A synthetic star will stay at the top center of the stone with a little or no shift of position of the star’s rays. If you are still uncertain and the price of the stone warrants it, you can take it to a jeweler for a professional gem testing which will tell you whether or not the stone in question is corundum (sapphire) or not. If I recall correctly, Linde also produced a black star sapphire as well as their trademark blue.

image

Occasionally some other gems can exhibit an unexpected degree of asterism. This trait has been found in quartz, sunstone, aquamarine, blue topaz, spinel and quite a few others. A very interesting collectors forum gallery of such unusual star gems may be found on this page of the gemologyonline.com site.

Whether your taste runs to cats, tigers or stars there is sure to be just the right stone for you among the jewels that play with light!

 Many thanks to the Etsy sellers who kindly gave permission for me to use their photographs to illustrate this article; each of those images is a live link to that item’s listing.

Archived blog posts can be found here.

Click here to visit the ChatsworthVintage storefront on Etsy

Jewels That Play With Light: Amazing Alexandrite

By far the rarest of all the “jewels that play with light” is alexandrite. Despite the fact that it is the precious birthstone for June as well as for a 55th wedding anniversary, it is not well known by the public. It may surprise many people to learn that this gem can be far more expensive per carat than diamonds.… that is, if it is indeed the original old-mine alexandrite that one is talking about. So what exactly is alexandrite, anyway?

THE FAMILY

Alexandrite belongs to the chrysoberyl family of gems, of which there are three varieties: the typical chrysoberyl usually seen in shades of yellow to light green; cymophane which is commonly known as cat’s eye; and alexandrite which is the only one of the family that exhibits a definite color change. However, unlike opal and moonstone whose change in appearance is dependent upon the angle of view of the person seeing the gem, alexandrite’s color change is dependent upon the type of ambient light – whether it is daylight or artificial.

A quick look at how chrysoberyl is formed helps to explain how this effect occurs. The subterranean magma that ultimately forms chrysoberyl has a larger percentage of water in it and also has a higher concentration of rare elements; if one of those elements happens to be beryllium crystals then either beryl or chrysoberyl are likely to form. Confusingly, beryls and chrysoberyls are entirely different gem families – we can blame the gurus of mineral and gem naming for that one!

So if all three types of chrysoberyl contain beryllium, why don’t they all behave like alexandrite? The difference lies in the amounts of yet another element – which in this case is chromium in alexandrite, versus iron in ordinary chrysoberyl and cat’s eye. Of course Mother Nature does not always do things in a precise scientific manner and so sometimes a slight color change may be observed in an ordinary chrysoberyl, leading it to be incorrectly classified as alexandrite; however, examination will show that a chrysoberyl will not florescence under a UV light, whereas alexandrite will do so.

THE DISCOVERY

There are a few different stories about the discovery of alexandrite but all pretty much agreed that it was first found in 1830 in the Ural Mountains of Russia. It was officially named in 1839, from the Imperial Russian military colors of red and green which were the actual colors that the stone exhibited according to the ambient light in which they were first viewed. You can imagine that this new gem was seized on with delight by the Russian aristocracy and jewelers – and that furious mining proceeded apace!

An interesting theory has been proposed about the portraits, shown below, of Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, which were painted in the mid 1830s.  One portrait shows her jewels as being all red, another painting shows them as being all green, and the third one shows them as several of each color!  The theory (which can be found here -scroll down a bit for the English translation) states that the gems are actually alexandrite rather than being either rubies or emeralds; interesting and actually possible, given the fairly recent discovery and naming of alexandrite.

As you can also imagine, by the late 19th century the stone was pretty much almost entirely “mined out” at its original locations. This is why all examples of the true, original, fine Russian alexandrite are now only found in (or taken from) antique pieces or long-standing collections spanning multiple generations.

THE COLOR CHANGE

The simplest description of the color change seen in alexandrite is that it appears green in daylight but red under artificial light. However, such a description does not give any idea of the wide range in color variation this gem can exhibit. When people see a natural alexandrite they may even be disappointed in what they perceive as its dull coloration because it might seem like some shade of not-very-exciting green and they may well wonder what all the fuss is about! In fact you may think at first look that the stone is rather boring but nothing could be further from the truth. The secret lies in the type of lighting in which the stone is viewed, as well as the natural structure of the human eye.

The color change between red and green in alexandrite depends on the color spectrum of the rays of light that strike it. This change is called pleochroism, and stones that exhibit it are termed pleochroic. Examples of light sources that contain a larger amount of red are candlelight and incandescent light. Natural daylight contains more blue. We see this effect every day in our homes when we go into a room with painted walls illuminated only by the light coming in through the windows, and then go into the same room at night and turn on a light fixture that contains an incandescent bulb: That same wall paint color now has a distinctly warmer or more yellowish tone, especially in the areas closest to the light fixture. The perceived change in paint color is due to the fact that incandescent bulbs emit light that contains more red and/or yellow rays – and is why the popular Reveal light bulbs, which have a special blue coating to neutralize the “warm” light coming from their incandescent filaments, are rightly advertised as maintaining the true color of the room surroundings when the light is turned on.

But how does the human eye itself come into all this? And if natural daylight contains more blue than red, then why do we not see alexandrite (in daylight) as being mostly blue? It is because the human eye is more sensitive to the green color wavelength than it is to either blue or red. The two colors most predominant in natural daylight are blue and green, whereas other types of light are higher in red. Alexandrite itself reflects both green and red light predominantly, with a smaller percentage of blue… Thus, when a stone is placed in daylight it has a higher proportion of green (and some blue) to reflect, but when it is exposed to candle or other artificial light which has a greater red component the stone will now reflect more red to our eyes. This tug-of-war between the blue and red ends of the spectrum in human vision is why flowers in shades of pink and blue are so notoriously difficult to reproduce in photographs exactly as they appear to the human eye in real life. It is almost impossible for any photographic medium to exactly duplicate the action of the human eye and brain when it comes to these two wavelengths.  Certain stones in shades of green that have a secondary blue component (chrysoprase for example) can easily cause a photographer to invent extremely creative combinations of words when she views the resulting picture (speaking from personal experience here! LOL)

In a perfect world, a natural alexandrite should look green or blue-green in daylight or under a “daylight” flourescent bulb (remember, daylight is predominately green and blue) and then appear as a rich ruby red or purplish red under incandescent, mixed artificial, or candle light; the colors should be intense or at least relatively vivid instead of being washed out and weak looking. It is said that the modern era alexandrites from Brazil often perform best as far as color change percentage. In the best stones the change of color should be uniform and fairly complete over the entire stone; those that have sections in which one color seems to predominate over the other while both are visible are known as having ‘color bleed’ and while this is fairly common it also does reduce the overall value and price of the stone. A more realistic evaluation of a very good quality natural alexandrite would be to say that it could be blue-green, emerald green, or even a dark teal color in daylight and would change to a purple-red, garnet-red or ruby-red under artificial light.… keeping in mind that it is perhaps not realistic to expect most modern stones to look equally good under both kinds of light.

The one of a kind engagement ring below exhibits a nice rich consistent blue-ish green daylight color.

If I were buying a piece of alexandrite jewelry I would think about under what type of lighting conditions I would be most likely to wear it: If primarily in daylight or under “daylight fluorescent” lighting, I would look for a stone that exhibits the best color under those conditions but if I knew I would be wearing it mainly under incandescent or mixed artificial lighting (such as when going out for dinner) I would probably opt for a stone that looks best in that environment.

THE SOURCES

When the original Russian alexandrite mines were finally depleted in the late 1800s, it was thought that this might literally become a “lost gem” but then in 1987 alexandrites were discovered at a place called Hematitia in Brazil. They exhibited good color and color change although neither as strongly as the old Russian stones did. It is a fact of life that no stones from any other location exhibit all of the wondrous qualities of the original 1800s Russian gems.  During the last several decades alexandrite has been mined in such disparate locations as Ceylon/Sri Lanka, southern Tanzania, India, Burma, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. The stone in the ring shown below comes from Madagascar.

Each location has its characteristic pros and cons as far as the appearance of the stones; for instance most stones from Sri Lanka have a good green level of color in daylight but are at best a brownish red in artificial light.

Nowadays most newly mined alexandrite comes from India and in particular there is a mine dating from 2005 located in the town of Narsipattnanm that produces stones with good clarity and color and of a slightly larger size – however the majority of the stones from India show only a moderate color change. A notable exception were the stones that came from the Samunda mine which sadly closed in the early 2000s after only a few years of production; these stones had a beautiful bluish green color in daylight and dramatically changed to a deep plum-red-purple under incandescent. An unusual property of some of the stones from Brazil and also the mines near Araku in India is a cat’s eye effect similar to that of one of alexandrite’s “sister” stones in the chrysoberyl family.

QUALITY, VALUE AND COST

Alexandrite is one of the hardest stones, rating 8.5 on the MOHS scale which means that the only two stones harder than alexandrite are corundum and diamond! In the case of alexandrite the two important C’s are color and clarity. Naturally, the closer the colors approximate pure green and pure red the higher the value; another color consideration is the percentage of color change. The official color change percentage rates were set by the American Gem Lab and state that a stone in which all of the facets completely change color is considered to have a 100% color change; if only half of the facets change, that stone would have a 50% color change… etc. etc. Alexandrite with a 90% or higher color change is typically considered fine or gem quality. It is easy to see how the color change of any given stone will be highly influenced by the lighting under which it is examined by the buyer and the seller – a stone that might have looked emerald green under the precisely calibrated daylight fluorescent lighting in a jewelers shop environment will not look as vivid a green when the buyer gets home and looks at it in her living room while standing in front of a window. Thus a clear understanding of how much (which is in fact considerable) the ambient light will affect the appearance of an alexandrite is critical in order to avoid disappointment.

Clarity also comes into play but for most people it takes second place to the color properties of a stone. Within the GIA grading system alexandrite is considered to be a Type II which means that inclusions are expected.

Due to its rarity, the market prices of fine gem quality natural alexandrite are sure to bring on acute sticker shock in all but the most well-heeled of purchasers. As a ballpark example, for a faceted (cut and finished) alexandrite weighing anywhere from 1/2 to 1 carat and exhibiting the most intense colors and color change properties one would expect to pay from $5000-$15,000 per carat; the same stone weighing over 1 carat could sell for as much as $100,000 per carat depending on its actual size and other properties. The same stone with a less desirable color change or intensity might range from $3000-$9000 per carat if one carat or less, and as much as $70,000 per carat for a larger stone. One with a color intensity or change classified as weak would be in the relatively affordable range of $100-$1000 per carat… still not exactly the sort of thing you might be likely to add to the office holiday grab bag items!

The 1.73ct Brazilian alexandrite and Madagascar ruby ring shown below was put up for auction in 2010 with a pre-sale estimate of approximately $10,000.



It should be mentioned that most alexandrites tend to be of one carat or less in weight. The old Russian stones tended to top out at about 30 carats max, and were typically no more than 5 carats.

CONFUSING LOOK-ALIKES, SYNTHETICS, and IMITATIONS

You’ve probably noticed that I have used the adjective “natural” many times when discussing alexandrite in the sections above, and that was deliberate because there are quite a few stones that look or act like – and thus may be either mistaken for or deliberately sold as – the real deal. Let’s take a look at the natural stone look-alikes first.

Color Change Sapphire: Some sapphires from Tanzania exhibit a visual color change similar to that seen in true alexandrite. The most common appearance is a sort of brownish green in daylight and red under incandescent; for this reason, these particular stones are often called “alex type sapphires” in the trade. They are attractive stones and interesting, especially if one understands that what they are buying is a sapphire rather than an alexandrite. There are actually two different color change categories of this kind of sapphire: the green to red type, which is the one properly called an alex type sapphire, and also a blue to violet or purple type.

Color Change Spinel: These stones are currrently found in mines in Sri Lanka in relatively small quantities. There are two slightly different categories of color change in this stone: either from violet or blue-purple in daylight to a sort of violet-red under artificial lighting, or from the violet/blue-purple in daylight to a truer blue under artificial lights. In either case some level of blue is always present, which means that the color change is not really the typical alexandrite type spectral opposite of red-to-green. The pair of earrings shown below exhibit nice deep blue and purple tones in the respective ambient lightings.



Andalusite: This is another African-origin stone that is sometimes called the “poor man’s alexandrite” because it does exhibit a type of color change although not to the extent or intensity of alexandrite. Confusion often results because true alexandrite is also mined in some locations in Africa.

Color Change Garnet: The best natural stone approximation of alexandrite, and often worth acquiring in its own right, is natural color change garnet. Many of the best of these stones are from southern Madagascar and often the colors are quite rich and vivid. This is an unusual garnet because although both the red and green (known as demantoid) garnets are known in the trade, it is not that often that one finds a stone that can exhibit each color under specific lighting.

The apple shaped pendant below offers nice deep color under either kind of lighting.

However, color change garnet is not always limited to only green and red.  This very unusual stone, mined in Africa, has a daylight color of teal blue instead of green; in artificial light it appears a fuschia-red.

Color Change Chrysoberyl: An article published in 1994 by Mr. Ron Campbell of the Central Coast Gem Laboratory and entitled “The Misconception and Erroneous Marketing of Alexandrite versus Color Change Chrysoberyl” mentions an “influx of” this type of stone from mines in South America, East Africa and Sri Lanka and that such stones were being marketed and priced as true alexandrite. His short but excellent article, a copy of which may be found online at http://www.gemsociety.org/info/igem13.htm , includes a very detailed but easy to read specific color shift chart for alexandrite, for purposes of comparison with other similar appearing stones. It is well worth reading if you are at all interested in alexandrite and wish to protect yourself against buying something that may look similar but is not the the real thing.

Synthetic Alexandrite

Synthetic gemstones are nothing new; the process dates back over 100 years. A synthetic stone is manmade but has the same appearance, chemical formula and crystal structure as the true gemstone that it is intended to imitate; a simulated or faux gemstone may look like the natural stone but does not have any of the chemical or internal physical properties of the real one.

Synthetic alexandrite can be created by one of two different methods, both of which are properly and correctly described as lab created or lab grown alexandrite. One method is called “flux”, and the other “Czochralski” after its Polish inventor in the early 1900s.  These stones have a color change very similar to natural alexandrite.  Microscopic examination may reveal inclusions or bubbles depending on the method that was used to “grow” the synthetic crystal.  The synthetic process not only produces alexandrites, but also similar stones such as corundum, ruby and sapphire. 

One thing to be aware of when shopping for a lab grown alexandrite is the use of the term “Russian Czochralski alexandrite”. As you now know, Czochralski in a description is a clear indication that it is a lab grown stone; however, to the uninitiated the word “Russian” might give the impression that it is a natural stone mined in Russia.  A reputable seller will always clearly disclose the fact that the stone was created in a laboratory rather than being a natural gem taken from the ground.

A good laboratory can produce synthetic alexandrite that is extremely difficult to differentiate from a natural stone. These stones will also command premium prices.  Many are fully worthy to be set in metals such as platinum and accented with diamonds, such as in this dramatic engagement ring.

To increase the general confusion (as if there wasn’t enough already) many gemstones that are described in the trade as lab grown alexandrites are in fact lab grown corundum infused with vanadium which enables the color change effect.  The typical daylight color of these corundum based stones tends to be either purple or purple mauve. Vanadium-infused corundum is often available in large size stones rather than the more typical lab-alexandrite size of 1 to 2 carats.

Many synthetic alexandrites were sold to tourists in Mexico and the Middle East in the 1940s; as a result many of them have been inherited by baby boomers from parents or grandparents and the heir often mistakenly assumes (simply because of the age of the jewelry) that these are natural alexandrites even though they are in fact lab created stones.

Imitation Alexandrite

Two forms of popular faux “alexandrite” are rhinestones and glass beads.  Swarovski produces a deep lavender crystal rhinestone which they market as their Alexandrite color, and some of the lilac tinted rhinestones produced in Eastern Europe are called alexandrite rhinestones.  They are very attractive but of course do not have the color change property of the actual gemstone.

The bracelet below exhibits the typical fiery sparkle and brilliant refraction of the Swarovski ‘alexandrite’ rhinestones.

Czechoslovakia-made glass beads are found in the alexandrite color category of lilac to purple.  Again, as in the case of the rhinestones, the word is being used only to reference a color and somewhere in the item description there will be an indication that the beads are made of glass rather than being a natural, mined stone. Alexandrite colored glass beads are available in multiple forms and shapes to suit almost any project in jewelry making.



Due to its extreme rarity, the original Russian mined alexandrites will probably always be the most mysterious and elusive of the jewels that play with light.…  as well as the most expensive!  :-)

Many thanks to the Etsy sellers who kindly gave permission for me to use their photographs to illustrate this article; each of those images is a live link to that item’s listing.

Archived blog posts can be found here

Click here to visit the ChatsworthVintage storefront on Etsy




Blog Status Update

Just a brief apology for the long hiatus between blog posts. Unfortunately I have been unable to use the computer for a number of weeks, and even at this point my time online is still drastically limited; however I do plan to continue the Chatsworth blog, and the next post will be the third in the Jewels That Play With Light series.… Hopefully in the not too distant future! Thanks so much for your patience in the meanwhile. :-)

Jewels That Play With Light: Mysterious Moonstone, Luminous Labradorite and Scintillating Sunstone

Second in our series on jewels that play with light is the mysterious moonstone, along with its two “sisters” labradorite and sunstone. All three are feldspar stones, a family that comprises about 60% of all minerals found on earth. A shared characteristic of all the feldspars is that their internal structure is crystalline. It’s this crystalline structure that allows a very select few of them to display an active and beautiful interplay of light and color.

MYSTERIOUS MOONSTONE

The moonstone has been known and loved since very ancient times. The Romans thought it was composed of frozen moonlight and it has been found in Roman jewelry dating as far back as 100 A.D. Both the Romans and Greeks associated it with their moon goddess. Some Asian cultures believed that moonstones contain a live spirit whose ghostly movements were seen within. In India they are often called “dream stones” and tradition has it that wearing a moonstone to bed or placing one beneath a pillow will bring beautiful dreams. During the Edwardian and Art Nouveau periods it was extensively used in jewelry.

The chemical composition of true moonstone is potassium aluminosilicate (potassium, aluminum and silica) and it is classified as an orthoclase feldspar. If you look at a moonstone through a high powered microscope you will see that its internal structure is made of tiny crystal platelets arranged in layers. Distributed within these layers there are also inclusions of tiny platelets of sodium feldspar. Since the body of a moonstone is either colorless or highly translucent, light travels into its interior and thus inevitably strikes some of those tiny platelets of the sodium material. When that happens, the light is then directed back outward instead of passing completely through the stone. The scientific name for this bouncing-back action is schiller. Depending on the precise color of the body of the stone, its precise chemical composition and the thickness and depth of the layers, the visible color of the schiller may be either white or blue. Blue is the most prized, and the darker shades most of all. As the stone is moved, the blue sheen appears to shift and float within the interior of the stone (much like the behavior of precious opal) as the light interacts with the inclusions inside. This specific play of light and color within a moonstone is called adularescence. 

Moonstones are graded and priced according to their body color, internal clarity, the color depth of the blue sheen, and of course size as well. Because adularescence is a result of interaction with light, it is very important that moonstones be cut so as to maximize its effect. An incorrect cut can greatly impair or even destroy a stone’s adularescence. The optimal cut for a moonstone is a high domed cabochon which is why the great majority of moonstones are cut in this shape (either round or oval). Skilled cutters can also facet a stone in order to enhance the schiller effect if its internal structure needs a bit of extra help to show at its best.  Stones that display a white sheen (or extremely pale blue)  are often carved into “man in the moon” faces.

Moonstone always shows to its best advantage when worn or displayed against black; much like the effect of an opal doublet, a dark background enhances the intensity of other colors within a light-colored translucent or transparent stone.

The colorplay of moonstone is not always limited to just the blue shades; flashes of yellow, gold, and even aqua may also be present, as can be seen in the two earrings below. The pear shaped stones have been cut in the same way but the “internal color scheme” of each is quite different.

The most sought-after moonstones (nearly transparent and with a decided blue sheen) usually come from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). Moonstone is also mined in Myanmar (formerly Burma), South America, Madagascar, and India. The earliest commercial mines were located in the Adula mountain range in Switzerland… whence came the name for its characteristic sheen, adularescence.

Moonstone and its close relatives fall between 6 and 6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which makes it a relatively soft stone (a fact that enables it to be carved as well as faceted). This also means that the best cleaning method is to simply buff it with a soft cloth. Moonstone is an alternate birthstone for June and the traditional jewelry stone for a thirteenth wedding anniversary.

There is no current chemical or irradiating treatment to enhance the internal color play of a moonstone; however, if you see an extremely bright or deep blue moonstone at a too-good-to-be-true price, that stone may have been surface-coated.

Faux Moonstone

Moonstone has been imitated in glass, acrylic and rhinestones, although glass definitely does the best job of it!  Although the overall effect is similar to that of fine natural blue moonstone visually, it is easily differentiated by the fact that the blue shimmer does not vary much with a change of viewing angle. It also does not appear to shift and move within the glass stone itself. The effect is hard to describe in words but is immediately apparent when a true and faux moonstone are held side by side. Nevertheless a well-made crystal glass faux moonstone is often a very attractive  piece of jewelry indeed, as evidenced by the vintage necklace below.

These frosty blue glass faux moonstones were created as domed rectangular cabochons.

This vintage Corocraft brooch combines faux moonstones with a Lucite “ruby” cabochon; clear and blue rhinestones simulate diamonds and sapphires.

The type of Lucite (acrylic plastic) known as “moonglow” was also made in a pale blue color and is sometimes referred to as “faux moonstone” or “moonstone Lucite”. These were often produced in cabochon shapes. Although they do have a characteristic satiny surface effect their appearance does not really change in response to light and so they are best appreciated for their soft, pretty pastel-blue color and attractive sheen, as in this vintage moonglow Lucite necklace.

Certain aurora-borealis rhinestones are sometimes called “moonglow rhinestones” if their surface coating contains a decided blue tint.

LUMINOUS LABRADORITE

If I wasn’t trying to be alliterative I would title this section “Confusing Labradorite” – because not only is labradorite often confused with moonstone, there is also confusion within the different types of labradorite! So it’s best to start by explaining how labradorite differs from moonstone.

Unlike moonstone, one of the main chemicals found in labradorite is not potassium but calcium. The action of light striking internal layered inclusions (of ilmenite, in this type of stone) and being bounced outward is similar, but because of the chemical differences in labradorite  – which usually has a brownish grey body color – the color effect is different and so is the name it is given: labradorescence. Labradorite is classified as a plagioclase and “calcium sodium” feldspar; moonstone is an orthoclase and “potassium sodium” feldspar. This is why moonstone and labradorite are “sister” stones… they are in the same family (feldspar) but gemologically they are different. Moonstone is moonstone, and labradorite is labradorite.

As you probably have guessed, labradorite was first discovered in Labrador. The Eskimos have a legend that when the world was young the Northern Lights were imprisoned in the rocks along the Labrador coastline. One day a mighty Eskimo warrior was walking along and heard a mysterious sound coming from the rocks, as if someone were calling for help. He struck a rock with his spear as hard as he could and split it in two, allowing the beautiful colored lights inside it to rush upward into the sky. He freed as many of the lights as he could, but could not break every one of the stones. The stones that he was unable to break were destined to forever entrap the “lights” within, which we see today in the shifting color sheen of labradorite.

The pendant below exhibits shades of green with a ‘splash’ of blue.

This circular labradorite pendant suspended from a necklace of faceted labradorite beads displays tints of silvery blue highlighted with dramatic black.

The grayish green body color of this pear shaped labradorite exhibits a central blue schiller in response to light.

Labradorite is also found in other places than Canada. The stones from Madagascar have inclusions that can produce a yellow, green, or bluish sheen; but the most beautiful type of labradorite was discovered in Finland in the 1940s.

Spectrolite (sometimes misspelled Spectralite)

This rarest and naturally most expensive variety of labradorite is mined in Finland and no matter how you spell the name, it’s quite dramatic. It is the only variety of labradorite in which fine specimens are considered to be of true gem quality. The body color appears as a transparent to highly translucent dark grey and the flashes of iridescent color produced within it are intense hues which can range from golden yellow to bright blue to turquoise/aqua to greens through orange to red – literally all the colors of the spectrum, hence its name. The most prized color in spectrolite is purple – and the deeper the better! It is the closest in the feldspar family to the opal in ‘color special-effects’. Some dealers refer to it as “black moonstone” because of the deep body color but of course that attribution is incorrect.

It’s important to be aware that true, genuine spectrolite is found only in Finland. There is a variety of labradorite that is mined in Madagascar which has richer colors than stones found elsewhere, and these stones may be sold as “spectrolite” because of the general resemblance. However, the genuine stone is mined only in Finland and excellent specimens are becoming harder and harder to find. The rich royal-purple stones below are true (Finnish) spectrolite.

This teardrop-shaped Finnish stone shows green striations so bright that they are almost chartreuse!

This interesting stone, also from Finland, displays a combination of teal, gold, orange and brown – perfect for use in creating a piece of jewelry to coordinate with the colors of autumn.


Unlike labradorite from all other regions (except one) the color play in spectrolite doesn’t result from light bouncing off inclusions, but instead from light reflecting from intersecting crystal planes inside the stone (rather like being in one of those carnival ‘mirror mazes’ on a microscopic and multicolored scale!). The one other kind of labradorite that plays with light in this specific way is also the type that has caused the most mis-identification:

"Rainbow Moonstone"

Now here is where things get doubly confusing! The stone commonly called “rainbow moonstone” or “blue rainbow moonstone” in the trade is neither a true moonstone nor quite the same as the types of labradorite we’ve just looked at. In fact it is a fairly recent discovery on the overall timescale of gemstones.

During the 1960s a new stone was discovered in a small mining area in southern India. It was definitely a feldspar with many characteristics of labradorite but also some significant differences. For one thing, the body color is very light – quite similar to that of true moonstone – because these newfound stones do not contain ilmenite which is the mineral that gives labradorite its darker color. So in “base color” these new Indian stones do resemble true moonstones. However…its internal structure is very like that of spectrolite labradorite, which means the color effects can be wide-ranging. Some stones display a blue sheen (the darkest of which is called “royal blue”); others display either as a multicolor (which the retail jewelry trade has dubbed “rainbow”) or as “rainbow” with blue being the predominating color (known as “blue rainbow”). These descriptive phrases were coined by the trade shortly after the stones were discovered, and they have stuck firmly ever since and are now widespread. But are these stones truly moonstones, as their commercial names imply?

Not according to Dr. Henry Hänni of the Swiss Gemmological Institute, they aren’t. Dr. Hänni was the first to publish the chemistry and formal identification of these new Indian labradorite stones, so he is definitely the top authority in this instance and he has stated: “People who use the term ‘labradorite moonstone’ or ‘rainbow moonstone’ are on a ‘red emerald’ track. The historical and global agreement of the term ‘moonstone’ is used only for orthoclase. Labradorite is not a moonstone….. There is no reason – except commercial – to call labradorite a moonstone; it’s confusing, and incorrect." So there you have it: Not only is there no such thing as a "labradorite moonstone" (it’s either one or the other!) but the stones described as "rainbow moonstone" are technically "rainbow labradorite". It was perhaps inevitable that the early dealers would create a connection to the more familiar (moonstone) gem, based on the new stone’s appearance – it does look more like moonstone than labradorite – and of course marketing is key in the industry …. as evidenced by the ever-growing list of "designer" diamond cuts!. This is not to denigrate the extremely attractive rainbow labradorites – far from it! – but simply to make clear that despite their description in the jewelry trade they are not true moonstones.

The ring below is an example of a blue rainbow stone, which shows off very nicely set in silver.

This lovely round cabochon flashes shades of blue, teal and coppery gold; the artisan has created a hammered copper flower for its setting which perfectly complements the similar colors within the stone.

In the very early days of the discovery of these particular labradorites, some dealers incorrectly called the more transparent ones “water opals” (as if the term doesn’t already cause enough confusion over there in the opal world???!)  because of their body color and multi-hued sheen. Thankfully the use of this particular misnomer died out, quite possibly due to pushback from sellers of the true ‘water opal’, properly known as hyalite. (If you would like to learn more about these and other opals, see the archived blog entry here.)

Another term for the unique iridescent effect that this family of stones produces is peristerescence (pronounced pear-iss-ter-essence) or alternately, peristerism. The word derives from the Greek word “peristera” which means pigeon… a bird whose neck feathers flash iridescent hues as they walk along gently bobbing their heads.

It should also be mentioned that not all moonstones and labradorites exhibit noticeable schiller; some have very little or even none at all. The effect depends entirely upon the internal structure of each stone and of course how they are cut as well. Stones that are very small and/or exhibit little or no schiller are often made into beads.

SCINTILLATING SUNSTONE

Although a gemologist would take me to task for not including these in the labradorite section, I believe that the sunstones (sometimes called heliolite, from the Greek god of the sun, Helios) are sufficiently different in appearance to warrant a section of their own.  Sunstones are a plagioclase feldspar which places them firmly into the labradorite group but they certainly would never be confused with their “cool”-appearing sisters.

In the case of sunstone, the internal inclusions that produce schiller are of a metallic nature. This causes the resulting sheen to have a noticeably spangled effect which is extremely pretty. As with any metallic, the brilliance of the sparkle depends greatly on the exact angle and intensity of the light; readers old enough to remember the wildly popular “heavy metalflake” custom car paint jobs will know exactly what I mean! The particular metal found within sunstone is copper, and the actual colors that any individual sunstone produces will depend on the percentage of copper in that particular stone. Although this unique metallic component makes all sunstones attractive, one particular variety stands out from the rest.

The specific type of sunstone found in Oregon and neighboring regions is commonly called Oregon Sunstone in the trade. Its typical body color is transparent to highly translucent; in fact sometimes at first glance the viewer may be disappointed at the apparent lack of “color interest”. But as the stone is turned at different angles there will suddently appear sparkling flashes of color reminiscent of glittering champagne bubbles. A property of Oregon sunstone is that its schiller tends to be more concentrated in the center of the stone and thus the color-spangles effect is more intense there, gradually diminishing as it moves outward in a sort of starry fireworks effect. The photo of this round brilliant-cut sunstone captures the effect beautifully.

In order to take advantage of Oregon sunstone’s exceptional clarity and unique metallic flash, it is often cut as a faceted gem rather than the more typical domed cabochons of moonstones and other labradorites. This rich deep orange-red sunstone makes a simple but dramatic 14k gold ring.

This deliciously peach-hued sunstone has been set in a pendant with a freshwater pearl.

Sunstone is not limited only to the warm-colors range, as can be seen in this soft sage green stone set in a cool sterling silver pendant.

The best way to describe the difference between the color effects of sunstone vs. its sisters moonstone and labradorite is to describe the first has having a “sparkly shimmer” and the other two as having a “satiny shimmer”. It is not unusual for stones to be quite large, sometimes several inches wide.  Oregon is justly proud of its resource and has made it the official state gemstone.

Perhaps some enterprising jewelry designer will one day create a line of “sunlight and moonlight” jewelry featuring sunstones and moonstones combined in a pendant, brooch or ring! :-)

My sincere thanks to the Etsy sellers who graciously gave permission for me to use their photographs to illustrate this article; each of those images is a live link to that item. Thanks also to Wm. Mazza Fine Jewelry for lending me several of their lovely earrings to photograph and for the link to their website.

** Coming soon: The third in our series of Jewels That Play with Light **

Archived blog posts can be found here

Click here to visit the ChatsworthVintage storefront on Etsy

Vintage Featherweight Celluloid Earrings, Identification Update!

In my blog post of June 29, 2012 about vintage Featherweight, Featherlite, Bubbleite circa-late 1940s/1950s jewelry (  http://chatsworthvintage.tumblr.com/post/26183704372/vintage-celluloid-jewelry-featherlite-featherweight )  I discussed the various brand names found within this genre. However, I recently discovered that a number of online sellers are attributing certain clip back earrings in this style (both with and without rhinestone and/or faux pearl enhancements) as being produced by or for Coro. These earrings (an example of which is illustrated below and will shortly be available at Chatsworth) are all signed “Featherweights” on the clipbacks.

Upon contacting each of the sellers to ask if they could direct me to a published source for this connection, they all told me that they had obtained the information from another online seller’s listing and had not personally encountered any reference book or vintage advertisement linking these items to Coro. That was enough of a red flag to make me embark on a mission to try to answer the question “Coro or not?” for these items bearing this mark.

An exhaustive online search turned up no connection between “Featherweights” earrings and Coro other than a number of extremely similar online seller listing descriptions. The vintage jewelry makers’ mark database maintained by the experts at RCJ (Researching Costume Jewelry) likewise does not list Featherweights as an associated mark or name for Coro in their page devoted to that maker. Neither did any other book or online list that I could find. Hmmmmm….

When I directly enlisted the help of Pat and Dot at RCJ, they checked their official US trademarked names list and the only entry for a “Featherweights” mark is a company called Florida Featherweights (1966-1984)… much later than the circa-1940s/50s mark on the earrings. And the Florida Featherweights mark is completely different from the one on the earrings discussed here and in my other blog post; it is a script mark on a rising curve, whereas the one on our late 1940s-mid 1950s earring clipbacks is in simple block letters. The database also mentions that a flamingo is part of the registered Florida Featherweights mark.

One database did claim that the “Featherweights” mark (which was not illustrated) associated with a flamingo was used by the Greenbaum Novelty Company of New York, from 1947 onwards. Obviously this is a mis-attribution of the Florida Featherweights mark.

Adding to the general confusion is the fact that Greenbaum DID in fact produce items during the late 1940s to mid 1950s in celluloid, in floral motifs, in a lightweight celluloid material. They were most noted for their celluloid belt buckles which were signed on the metal hardware “Greenbaum”. They made brooches to match some of their buckle designs but the brooches were not signed. It is possible that they also made earrings as well, but because they did not put their mark on the actual material but only on metal findings large enough to accommodate them, they would not have signed any necklaces or screwback earrings that they made. Whether they did produce clipback earrings that were signed (and whether they were signed “Greenbaum” or something else entirely!) is anyone’s guess. I will say though that the font used for the “Featherweights” clipback signature is identical to that of the “Greenbaum” on the buckles (many thanks to Beautifulliving on Etsy for the use of their excellent image). If Greenbaum stamped their own findings, perhaps that is a clue… but if they had a findings manufacturer do it, the matching font means nothing. :-(


One thing is certain, however: So far, in no known Coro reference book, or Coro section within a recognized reference book listing Coro marks, companies, patented designs or vintage advertisements, does any reference to these particular lightweight celluloid earrings appear. Coro did make some jewelry in a very lightweight soft plastic, enhanced with rhinestones, during the 1950s but the material and designs were entirely different: The flower petals were created in an openwork fashion and the clipbacks were actually signed Coro. My thanks to Etsy sellers Tintiara and lovebyleya for allowing me to use their listings to illustrate these genuine Coro lightweight plastic earrings:


Apparantly the attribution of the signed Featherweights earrings to Coro is merely a case of a single misattribution in a listing that subsequently went “viral” and has been picked up by numerous other sellers over time. If anyone does have a published, documented source showing that these are definitely connected to Coro, please let me know! But in the absence of such documentation, there appears to be no official recognized source to indicate that earrings of this material, design and signature ever had anything to do with Coro.


Visit Chatsworth Vintage on Etsy

Go to the Chatsworth blog front page

Jewels That Play With Light: Opals, Real and Faux

Within the small family of jewels that “play with light”, opals surely claim top honors for variety as well as sheer beauty. The opal’s fascination deepens when one realizes just how many kinds there are and how they differ. From natural to synthetic to frank imitations, the range is nothing short of amazing. Let’s look at natural opals first.

All naturally occurring opals fall into one of two classes. Precious opals are the ones that produce flashes of iridescent color(s) when light strikes its surface at a various angles; this effect is called “play of color” or “colorplay”. Any opal that does not exhibit colorplay is classified as common opal.  Although both precious and common opals are made of the same material, hydrous silicon dioxide (SiO2nH2O) , it is the actual arrangement of all those microscopic crystals of silica that determines whether or not the stone will diffract light into various colors of the spectrum. Common opal does not have the optimum arrangement of crystals to produce this effect, but precious opal does. As the terms imply, precious opal occurs far more rarely in nature than does the other!

PRECIOUS OPAL: Within the class of precious opal there are various categories according to the nature of the stone, as well as categories for the patterns that the stones produce in response to light. Precious opal is first categorized according to body color, which can be thought of as the “background” against which the play of color “performs”; these categories are:

White Opal, aka Light Opal: Most precious opal stones are of this type. The body color may be anywhere from milky white to bluish white to various shades of cream or even a pale yellow. Within the body color are flecks, splashes or flashes of various shades of green, blue, yellow, gold and occasionally red, in varying percentages within the light body color. Solid (not doublet or triplet) stones are translucent when held up to the light.

Almost 90% of the world’s production of white opal comes from Australia, and the Coober Pedy mines in particular.  White opals are very versatile and look equally beautiful mounted in either white or yellow gold.

Some white opals have a single predominating colorplay rather than a mixture, as in this ring which displays almost all green with touches of blue.

Crystal Opal: When a white-opal body color is completely transparent (no opacity) and also has a play of color it is called crystal opal. Sometimes these are called water opal or jelly opal but those terms are more correctly applied to a form of common opal discussed below. The best crystal opals have a completely clear base color (the finest of these can be classified as Gem grade) but they can be any transparent color at all, including black. The defining characteristic for true crystal opal is that it has colorplay. 

Mexican Flash Opal:  This term is applied only to stones mined in Mexico. They are crystal opals (no opacity) having a play of color and the most valued ones are either colorless or orange in base color with a contrasting colorplay. As with crystal opal mined elsewhere, the defining characteristic for Mexican Flash Opal is the presence of colorplay.

Welo Opal: This new type of crystal opal was discovered in 2008 in the Welo province of Ethiopia. Unlike other opals, its base material has the unique characteristic known as “hydrophane” which as the word implies has to do with water. Stones with this characteristic will temporarily lose their color when exposed to water; as the stone gradually dries out (water evaporates) the colors usually return. Welo opals often exhibit very bright colors in its colorplay with red being more common than blue  (in Australian opals the reverse is true, with red being the most desired color because of its rarity).

Black Opal: The most prized of the precious opals, black opals have a black or dark grey body color. If a solid (not doublet or triplet) true black opal stone is held up to the light, little or no light can be seen through it. The play of color within black opal may range through the entire spectrum with red being the most prized because it is the least often found. However there are many spectacular black opals that exhibit only shades of blue and green. More than 99% of the world’s black opal supply comes from Australia and the finest are and have always been mined at Lightning Ridge.

The term “black opal” is often also used (even by jewelers) for light opal stones that have exceptionally deep, rich  colorplay covering most of its visible surface; in other words the lighter base color can hardly be seen. However, if held up to a light source the stone will be translucent (light will glow through it). This assumes of course that the stone in question is solid (not a doublet or triplet). These “black opals” are actually light opals that have an especially dark and consistent colorplay. The stone below is one such opal, visually classified as black but it is translucent when held up to the light.

Semi-Black Opal: These opals were discovered in Australia in the 1930s. They are distinguished from true black opals by the fact that they are slightly more transparent (more light will be visible through it from behind) because their body color is a medium grey rather than dark grey or black. Sometimes a black crystal opal may be described as a semi-black opal if it is more translucent than transparent.

Boulder Opal: Rather than being formed entirely of silica like the previous types, boulder opals consist of seams and patches of silica that have formed within a “host” or “parent” rock, often ironstone which is found especially in Queensland, Australia. Depending on the location, the host rock type can vary but the resulting finished gem is a mixture of the precious opal material plus the rock it is embedded in.

Matrix Opal: Formed in the same manner as boulder opal, the difference between them is that in matrix opal there is less distinction between the opal material and the parent rock. Whereas in boulder opal the colors appear in patches and/or seams within the parent rock, in a matrix opal they appear as spots and flecks.

Yowah Nuts, aka Nut Opal: Having nothing to do with nuts, these are a form of boulder/matrix opal found specifically in the Yowah region of Queensland. These “nuts” are small globular accretions of ironstone that often contain an inner kernel of solid opal, or a fine network of thin veins and branches of opal all through the ironstone.

Cantera Opal: These are found only in Mexico and are formed in the same way as the Australian boulder opals except that the host rock is rhyolite (called “cantera” locally) rather than ironstone. See under “Faux Opals” for an imitation version of these.

PRECIOUS OPAL PATTERNS: The colorplay patterns found in precious opals have a nomenclature all their own, as varied as the wonderful designs themelves. A few of the best known are

Floral, aka Flower: This is the most often seen pattern, with the color patches randomly occurring like the pattern in a floral fabric or a small patchwork effect. The ring below is a good example.

Pinfire, aka Pinpoint, aka Twinkle: A constellation of small pinpoint-size dots that often change in color as the stone is moved. To qualify as a pinfire pattern, the dots must cover most or all of the surface area, much like those little tiny round multicolored sugar nonpareils on top of the butter cookies at your local bakery.

Straw: The color patches are longer than wide, have a somewhat striated appearance, and resemble bits of wheatstraw or hay crisscrossing each other.

Ribbon: Multiple narrow, slightly curved parallel lines or thin bands of color reaching across the stone from one side to the other. A single ribbon that appears to move across the stone is called a rolling flash (see below).

Palette: The sections of colorplay resemble a painter’s palette, complete with a brush-stroke effect.

Chinese Writing: Found mainly in Lightning Ridge black opals, in this pattern flashes of green and gold against a black or dark grey base color look like the brush strokes of a Chinese character.

Harlequin: The rarest of all opal patterns, it is only applied to stones in which the color patches form a checkerboard of squares or rectangles of alternating colors.

Flagstone: Second only to harlequin in rarity, in this pattern the patches are a mix of diamond shapes and rectangles (like a flagstone pathway).

Contra Luz: Literally, “against light”; this is a pattern effect seen only in some crystal opals and means that the colorplay is visible when the stone has the light source behind it rather than in front. Normally the colorplay in a stone will disappear in this orientation but if it does not, then the crystal opal has a contra luz pattern.

Face-up Color, aka Face-up Fire: This is a very desirable quality in an opal because it differs from how the stones often react. Normally an opal’s colorplay only shows to best advantage when light strikes it from the front diagonal (i.e., with the light coming over your left or right shoulder as you hold it up). Opals with “face-up color”, however, also can show a strong colorplay when viewed from directly above. Clearly this is a huge advantage for jewelry pieces and displays, and such stones may command a higher price because of this quality.

Rolling Flash, aka Mobile Flash, aka Directional Flash: Stones with this characteristic display flashes of color when viewed from different angles or when the light source moves. In a directional flash, the intensity of a given color increases or decreases within its own area according to the angle of light; in a rolling flash, a single color effect travels intact across the face of the stone regardless of what colors are beneath it; a mobile flash is one in which the flash effect transitions from one color into another as the light source shifts. The most desirable is a “rolling red flash”. The largest of this color-matched trio of beautiful Lightning Ridge black opals demonstrates the progression of a rolling green flash as well as a directional red flash, against a base colorplay of ultramarine blue and forest green. As the light source moves and the green flash completes its journey, the base colorplay shifts into and through the reds and violet purples before transforming the same areas that began as dark green and blue into orange and green. It is not unusual to have a ‘dead flash’ area at certain angles in opals that exhibit multiple moving-flash effects.

Before leaving the subject of precious opal, a quick definition is in order. A ‘solid' opal is one in which there is nothing else but the natural stone. A 'doublet' is an opal (or a slice of an opal) that has been affixed to a thin layer of black or dark material – either a piece of opal matrix, black onyx, or obsidian – in order to enhance whatever color is in the white or light opal, in the same way as a moonstone's color is brought out against a black surface. The pendant below is obviously a doublet; but when such a stone is mounted in a setting that does not allow it to be inspected from the side, misunderstandings can occur. If a white or light opal doublet is held up to the light it will “behave” like a black opal (allow little or no light to shine through) because of this dark backing material.

A ‘triplet' is a doublet with the addition of a clear quartz “cap” on the top. These are often slightly curved so that the appearance of the opal beneath is magnified. As with a doublet, this is done to enhance the visual appearance of a light colored opal, and/or to make a slice of opal material appear to be a solid stone.

COMMON OPAL: Any opal that does not exhibit a play of color in response to light is classified as “common opal”. Unfortunately one type of common opal is often confused with precious opal and with an imitation opal….so we’ll start with that!

Fire Opal: The description “fire opal” is only correct when applied to a transparent-to-translucent opal that does NOT have a play of color. This term refers not to an iridescent colorplay (which in precious opal is indeed often called “fire”) but instead to the body color of the opal which ranges from deep yellow through all the shades of fire and flame to orange and orange-red. Some stones may be translucent enough to have a perceptible opalescent sheen but this is not considered to be “fire” in the sense of being colorplay.  Most fire opals are mined in Mexico. Water seeps into lava flows which are rich in silica and eventually as a result of heat and pressure this combination transforms into fire opal ‘pebbles’. Fire opal is unique among opals in that fine specimens can be faceted into sparkling jewels. The rings below show two of the warm shades and interesting cuts that can be found in high-quality Mexican fire opal.

Water Opal, aka Hyalite Opal,  aka Mullers Glass, aka Jelly Opal: Remember the mention of crystal opal waaay back there in the precious opal section? Any clear colorless transparent opal that does NOT show a play of color is known as water opal (calling it “crystal opal” is incorrect, despite its appearance). This type of opal is based on hyalite rather than silica, and has the unique property of flourescing green under blacklight – something that no other type of opal will do. Sometimes this stone will display a very faint tint or iridescence of color that could be misinterpreted as colorplay, but a quick check under blacklight will remove any doubt. There is also a Swarovski crystal color called “water opal” which, being a clear rhinestone, only adds to the general confusion about what water opal is. Again, a blacklight is your best friend, as illustrated below!

Potch Opal: These stones can appear in varying shades of milky white, any shade of grey from very pale to very dark, a blue-grey, or black; sometimes as a solid color and sometimes in a mixture. Stones exhibiting only white and black together are called “magpie potch”. These are often made into beads.

Pink Opal: This is another color often made into beads and cabochons for jewelry; much of it comes from Peru and Mexico. The colors can range from white with the barest hint of pink, through all possible shades of pink and rose, even into tints of mauve, lavender and lilac.

Blue Opal: Many blue opals are a very attractive shade of robins-egg or Wedgwood blue; another favorite for beads as well as jewelry cabochons.

Morado Opal: The Spanish word for purple is “morado”, and some of the common opal mined in Mexico is given this name if the body color happens to be in the violet or purple range. 

Treated Opals: It should be mentioned that some natural opals (both precious and common)  may be treated in order to improve their appearance colorwise or to correct a flaw. The color of a light opal can be darkened by the injection of a dye. An opal with inclusions or the potential to crack in the future may be impregnated with an oil, plastic, resin or wax to help stabilize it. Light stones might be backed with a layer of dark lacquer in order to avoid the telltale ‘bonding line’ that is visible in a doublet under magnification. A truly “natural” opal is a stone that has not been altered from its natural out-of-the-ground state by anything other than cutting and polishing.

SYNTHETIC, aka LAB CREATED, OPAL: There is a difference between “synthetic” opal and “imitation” or “faux” opal. Synthetic opals are made in a laboratory from the same chemical (silicon dioxide) that occurs in natural opals. The process was developed in the 1930s and thus synthetic opals have been around for about eighty years! Some of them look very much like natural precious opal but there are several ways to tell them apart: (1) The colors in synthetic opal are usually brighter and occur in larger patches, often with a sort of ‘snakeskin’ pattern (2) Under magnification the color patterns will appear more regularly geometric than those in a natural opal and (3) The overall pattern appears more ‘neat and orderly’ than those in the naturally formed stones. This sterling silver bracelet is inlaid with lab created opal.

Both natural and synthetic opals are used in opal-inlay jewelry. The amethyst ring below shows two squares of blue-green opal inlay on each side.

In these earrings, instead of one relatively large thin slice of opal, many small chips and slices are embedded together to form sections that are densely packed with color.

IMITATION aka FAUX OPAL: This category includes every “opal-appearing” stone that is not made of (or from) silicon dioxide, hydrophane (Welo opal) or hyalite (water opal) ….. which pretty much leaves us with the faux opals made of either glass, acrylic plastic, or resin.

Dragon’s Breath, aka Jelly Opal: This is a unique form of art glass stone developed in the early 20th century. During the production process certain metals are added to the molten glass; they produce a base color in various shades of red, orange, and rose with streaks and patches of blues and purples suspended within. The intensity of these ‘breaths’ of contrasting colors changes with the angle of the light, similar to the colorplay response of precious opal. The typical shape for these glass stones is a round or oval cabochon so that the curved top can maximize the interesting color changes within. Confusion often results from its other common name of “jelly opal” which is sometimes also used to (incorrectly) refer to the natural water opal/hyalite and sometimes (even more incorrectly) to crystal opal. In my opinion it would be a good thing if the term “jelly opal” was retired forever! Other names occasionally applied to Dragon’s Breath glass stones are Mexican glass opal, Glass jelly opal, and Glass fire opal.

Faux Cantera Opals: As mentioned previously, cantera opals are mined in Mexico and are similar to the Australian boulder opals in formation and appearance. In recent years an imitation cantera opal was developed in which a textured and colored resin mimics the appearance of the natural rhyolite stone matrix. Thin sections or slivers of either natural or synthetic opal are inlaid into this faux stone base. If these stones are mounted into jewelry it is not easy to distinguish them from the natural stones because the resin/rock weight difference is obscured.

Glass and Acrylic Plastic Opals: These are the most numerous of the precious-opal lookalikes, and the glass stones were and are the most common. Pieces of colored foil are embedded within the molded glass cabochon during manufacture. The great majority of faux opal glass stones are in shades of pink, lavender, purple and gold with touches of blue. This circa-1970s brooch-pendant by Sarah Coventry is a very typical example.

Glass faux opals were already being made at the turn of the century using the internal-foil technique, as seen in this unusual gold-and-honey foil glass stone appropriately forming the body of a bee brooch with paste rhinestones decorating its wings.

Although acrylic (lucite) plastic was often made in a “confetti” style for jewelry, and in its clear formulation does a fantastic job of imitating glass, the bits of foil are usually too regular and too widely spaced to give the same faux-opal effect as the foil glass stones. Glass stones also offer the advantage (over acrylic) of being very scratch-resistant, although chips are always a possibility of course.

FINAL NOTES ON NATURAL OPALS

The history, folklore and myths surrounding the opal have been exhaustively covered in numerous other venues and so I won’t go into those. However, one misconception still exists about opal care and that is the oft-repeated advice to soak them in either water or oil in order to prevent “cracks” or “shrinkage and loosening in its setting.” Neither advice has any basis in fact. The only opal stone that will be at all affected by contact with water is hydrophane opal (see Welo opal above) and there is a 50/50 chance of harming the stone rather than helping it by so doing. If an opal develops a crack, it is because of an internal flaw and no soaking (or lack thereof) would have avoided it.

And lastly, don’t believe that old superstition that opals are bad luck! The Victorians loved them and considered them a good-luck stone no matter what month the wearer was born in (opal is birthstone for October) and even today in Japan an opal is considered a traditional good-fortune gift for a wedding. Opals – natural, synthetic, or faux – are for everyone!

Many thanks to the vintage sellers on Etsy who graciously gave permission for their images to be used in this article (each such image is a live link directly to the item shown) as well as to those who provided opals for me to photograph.

** Coming soon: The second in our series of Jewels That Play with Light **

Click here to visit Chatsworth Vintage on Etsy

Go to the Chatsworth blog front page

Repro Alert: Vintage Celluloid Flower Basket Jewelry

In my recent blog post about vintage Japanese celluloid jewelry I spotlighted the chrysanthemum flower basket brooches produced in the 1940s. These lovely pieces were hand painted in many color variations and all were produced from one of two quite similar base molds.

I have discovered that one of those two vintage flower basket designs is currently being reproduced in a cast resin material, hand painted, and then affixed to a reproduction of a vintage brass hair ornament or brass brooch mounting. Let me be absolutely clear: The creator of these items is being 100% up-front about the fact that these are reproductions of vintage pieces! They are NOT in any way trying to pass these off as vintage items, and in fact take great pains to make sure that a buyer knows that they are modern, newly-made pieces. The reproduction pieces are sold on eBay and also at the maker’s own website which offers a wider range of colors and styles than on eBay. In both locations the descriptions include repeated clarifiers such as “new, hand stained, made of natural pine resin”, “hand molded (reproduced from the original…)”,  ”..on a piece of reproduction brass” and “mounted on a reproduction brass hair pin”.  There is virtually no way that someone buying one of these from the original source would NOT be aware that they were recently made.

However, it is inevitable that over time many of these reproduction pieces will eventually make their way into the marketplace – both online and off – via tag sales, etc., and it’s equally inevitable that many of them will be (and in fact some definitely have already been) accidentally misidentified by those sellers as true vintage items.

This likelihood is increased by the existence of photographs of the genuine vintage celluloid flower baskets in several vintage-jewelry reference books and of course in past online sales. Normally a resin piece might be heavier than the same item made from celluloid, but in this case the basket is attached to another object (the brass comb or brooch mounting) and so it’s impossible to tell how much the basket itself actually weighs. Because the entire back of the basket is affixed directly to the brass element, someone might assume that the ‘Japan’ signature is there but simply not visible; as we know, the original Japanese item was signed either on the pinback or by impression into the celluloid itself.

The reproduction pieces are quite accurate; the molds are sharp and clean, and someone who is already aware that there are many painting variations of the original brooch could be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another (even though the coloration style is not truly a match for that seen in the vintage work), and that perhaps hair ornaments and more ornate brooches were made back then as well — or that someone has repurposed one of the 1930s-1940s celluloid brooches into a newer item.

The creators of the reproduction pieces (Heidi and Reed of whereonearth) have been kind enough to give me permission to put some of their images into this article for illustration purposes. Each of the images is a live link to the page on their website that contains their current offerings within which the flower basket items are included. I have linked to their website rather than to the eBay listings because there are so many more color variations on the main site; however, do be aware that some designs are also offered via their eBay store.

Here are a few examples of the 16 different colorways currently offered for the hair ornament; the full range of 16 versions can be found within this page of their website.

Below are some examples of the 13 different brooches that are also made using this flower basket element. See this page for the seller’s thumbnail section showing all thirteen versions. The baskets are attached to reproduction brass mountings which are ornate and varied in design. Notice that the fourth example, in a solid plain cream/ivory color with no shading or tinting, could easily be mistaken for the extremely similar original 1940s Japanese brooch illustrated in the photo immediately following it (that brooch is also illustrated in my recent blog post on vintage Japanese celluloid brooches).

compare the above with the very similar circa-1940s basket below, found in its basic cream/ivory version (as explained in my other post, there were two extremely similar vintage molds which at a casual glance are often assumed to be identical):

For purposes of comparison, below are a selected four different painting variations (of which there were at least 19 which I have discovered to date!) of the original circa-1930s vintage Japanese celluloid chrysanthemum basket brooch.  These are now for sale at Chatsworth Vintage on Etsy, along with five additional painting variations as well; the images here are now live links to the listings for the brooches shown.

Collectors and sellers of this type of vintage celluloid should simply be aware that there are modern resin reproductions of the original Japanese celluloid brooch in circulation as well, as both hair ornaments and brooches in multiple color variations.

Visit Chatsworth Vintage on Etsy

Go to the Chatsworth blog front page