If you think that sphene makes you sound like you have a speech impediment, you can always go for its alternative name: titanite. Either way there’s a good chance that you have never heard of this incredibly beautiful, unusual and lively stone. Sphene has more fire than a diamond; its dispersion – that is, its ability to separate white light into the colours of the spectrum – is higher than a diamond. This fire is obvious to the naked eye and is even more extreme under incandescent light. It is hard to describe the colour of this stone as it has strong pleochroism and will change colour according to the angle it’s being viewed but think autumn leaves, many-coloured and flashed through with oranges and yellows. Most sought after is a bright, chrome green. It’s hard to find it completely clean; it normally will have needles, mistiness and veils but this in no way detracts from the beauty of this most unusual stone. It’s soft – 5-5.5 Mohs, which means really it’s best for necklaces and earrings, maybe you could get away with an occasional use ring, especially if it’s in a protected setting, but do give it a go, you’ll be amazed.
Sphene was discovered in 1785 but not named until 1801, with the name deriving from the Greek word for ‘wedge’ – which is not the most romantic entymology, and also I’d have thought a name that applies to quite a lot of crystals! Its alternate name, titanate, derives from the presence of titanium in the mineral. It’s always been considered a bit of a collectors gem, due to its scarcity but if you’ve never used it, give it a try. It really is unique.
I currently have sphene rose cuts in 3mm-5mm including half sizes, and you can find it all by clicking here
Yes, it’s May and the birthstone for this month is emerald and it’s time for me to do my customary post about emerald alternatives. Not that I have anything against emerald per se, I don’t want the Emerald Appreciation Society on my back, but I just think that there are many alternatives to emerald that are both cost-effective and just as beautiful, and less likely to break on setting, or in general use. I’m always surprised by emerald engagement rings, for example, as emerald is a brittle and often included stone, prone to breakage. Not a great ring stone. Why is it often so brittle and included? The jury is out; it could be that that is just how it grows; it could be an artefact of how it is mined, which is often using explosives. Because it is such an included stone, some 95% of emerald is routinely fracture-filled, either with oil or resin. It’s completely accepted by the trade, and it should be disclosed to the customer on purchase so if you are buying emerald, make sure you are clear about this.
Here’s a few alternatives, ranked according to my personal opinion! I’m not talking about imitations and synthetics here; simply what might you use if you want a green stone and want to get a bit more bang for your bucks.
It’s a bit too yellow to be a particularly convincing substitute, and it can have a bit of an oily lustre but it is the most affordable untreated green gem, and it has in the past been mistaken for emerald. It is speculated that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collection was in fact peridot. It isn’t particularly difficult to find clean quality up to around 6mm; after that it gets a bit harder to find clean quality and whilst its characteristic lily-pad inclusions are rather beautiful, you also often get small, black mineral inclusions which are less appealing. I have clean quality up to 6mm but my 8mm stones are sprinkled with these tiny black inclusions. It is possible to get clean quality at this size, but expect to pay around 5 times the price. Peridot looks particularly beautiful with gold, which draws out the warm, gold tones. It isn’t, however, a great ring stone as it is rather soft – 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale – and it doesn’t take much for facet edges to become abraded. It’s iron that causes its attractive yellowish-green tones and most of it comes from China and Arizona in the USA. You have to be a bit careful with it – plunging in cold water after soldering can crack it and ultrasonic cleaning can wreck it. Below you can see how the warm gold of the setting picks up and complements the warmth of the stones.
This will substitute for translucent emerald – the kind you often see in polki cuts and beads. The kind of emerald that is used for this is often very included and often has those blackish inclusions. The colour and lustre can be poor, so lovely chrysoprase can be a good option if you want a brighter colour and cleaner look. Chrysoprase means ‘golden apple’ in Greek, and indeed, its best colour is a zingy apple green with just a touch of yellow. This stone is coloured by nickel and makes fantastic earrings. Again, it is really complemented by yellow metal settings but it is also quite soft – 6-7 on the Mohs scale, so is best suited to earrings or pendants that don’t get a lot of rough treatment. These two earrings below are a perfect example of the kind of clean, opaque material with that lovely emerald-like blue-green shade.
3. Chrome Diopside
This is an excellent choice as it is a stone that is not routinely treated and tends to display much better clarity than emerald. A fantastic, saturated green with great sparkle, it is coloured by the same elements as emerald; chromium or vanadium. In some cases this may be too good, as it tends to look dark in larger sizes; it needs careful cutting to maintain a good, open colour. The flip side of this means that it retains good saturation even in small sizes. It is pretty soft – 5.5-6 on the Mohs scale and so is not really tough enough to make a good ring stone. This also means that facet edges will abrade over time. Below you can really see the density of colour even in the tiny studs on Isueszabo’s stud earrings.
Tourmaline comes in a dazzling array of colours, which makes it an excellent option. Although some green tourmaline shades quite yellow, the brighter grass greens are lively enough to make an excellent alternative. High quality chrome tourmaline certainly can rival emerald and tsavorite. Highly regarded as a stone in its own right, it is coloured by the elements iron and possibly titanium, and the brightest green stones contain traces of chromium and vanadium, like emerald. Measuring 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale, it’s the hardest so far of our potential substitutes and can be used with care in rings. Bot of the earrings below demonstrate the colour shade range that tourmaline can display and I love the arrangement of the different colours.
1. Tsavorite Garnet
In my view, the best option. Like tourmaline, garnet comes in an array of colours, although it’s possible that this is not quite so well known. For many, garnet refers to the dark and dusty jewellery belonging to your grandmother. The green versions of garnet are tsavorite and demantoid, and the most appropriate of these as an emerald alternative is tsavorite. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s vibrant green, it’s not hard to find in clean quality and as it is garnet, it also has great brilliance and fire. Yes, fire. Garnet is often so dark that you can’t see this, but with tsavorite you often can. Its colour is caused by the element vanadium, like emerald, and indeed the colour can often rival that of emerald. It’s one of my favourite stones and at 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale it can make a ring stone. You can see how beautiful it is both in the larger rings stone below left and in smaller stones on the right.
Click individual titles for links, or to view all my green stones, click here
Australian sapphire is popular. Otherwise known as teal sapphire, I know this partly because when I took delivery of stocks of it in calibrated rose cuts and polkis, it pretty much sold out immediately. It’s not hard to understand why – I generally struggle to keep stocks of anything in the teal colour family as it is found in so few stones – tourmaline is the other main stone which displays this colour, and even Santa Maria Aquamarine a bit, and they are all very popular. The Australian sapphire has something extra, however, as it is very often parti-coloured, displaying blues, greens and yellows in the same stone, making it appear pleochroic, shimmering and completely unique. It isn’t pleochroic as such – which is seeing different colours from different angles according to the light properties of the stone, it is actual colour-zoning within the stone. You can see this below in Lindsay Lewis’ Sway Ring Set – the blues and greens across the stone – I also love the orientation of this stone – so unusual.
It’s a fairly recently popular stone, too. When it is dug out of the ground, it can appear dull and rather dark. It is often filled with so much silk that it can appear oily. It requires heat treatment and sometimes bleaching to bring out its beauty, and traditionally it is treated in Thailand, where conrundum treatments have long been a speciality. You can get it in blue shades, but more common is the green-blue, and more rarely it comes in yellows, or greenish yellows. I’m seeing it more and more in jewellery as the market is becoming more used to it, and it makes an economical and unique alternative to bright blue sapphire.
I have sold out of most of my calibrated stones, although I do have some 5mm rose cuts – including a lovely yellow and green one – plus some rose cut freefoms (polki). To shop all of my Australian sapphire, click here
My June newsletter is out and I have a whole bunch of beautiful new stones. The ever-popular Santa Maria aquamarine I now have in an array of sizes and half sizes from 3mm to 8mm, rose cut green tourmaline and emerald, plus there’s free standard shipping for the whole month of June. My newsletter is always the first place to find new stock announcements, offers and sales and sometimes these are newsletter exclusives. You can read this months by clicking here and you can sign up at my website.
Which is how I see the Pantone colours this year. When I first saw ‘Illuminating’ and ‘Ultimate Grey’ I’ll admit I thought they were a bit uninspiring. I’m still not sure that grey is actually a colour. However, actually I think they work really well for jewellers, not least because they can refer to either your setting metal or your stones. Gold for yellow, white metals for grey. Then with stones, the choice is not huge but it is particularly beautiful with a flexible price range.
At the more inexpensive range there is lemon quartz with a cool, greenish overtone. This is a great stone for having cut in large sizes as it isn’t hard to find clean specimens and the carat price is reasonable even for large stones. Citrine runs from pale straw through to a deep almost orange-yellow and I think looks awesome with white metals. Golden rutilated quartz would often work, and these stones can be real showstoppers. More unusual stones might be tourmaline which again will come in any shade from pale yellow to deep gold, yellow beryl, which is often quite light or chrysoberyl. I have introduced some yellow diamond rose cuts in my shop; clean yellow diamond is very expensive but the included variety still offers plenty of glitter without making a hole in your pocket.
Grey stones can be simple grey moonstones; a very underrated stone that is really wearable and flexible; it just goes with everything and has an understated beauty, especially when combined with the chatoyancy that glides across the stone. Grey pearls can be pricey Tahitian or inexpensive freshwater varieties and there are all varieties of haematite, specularite and agates as well. I also have some lovely speckled grey diamonds, which like the yellow have amazing brilliance.
Below from left, I love Sarah Alexander’s multi-gemstone earrings; the mixed gemstones in different shapes and sizes and the use of colour. Natalie Perry’s ring is a pefect example of a non-traditional diamond ring, and I do prefer this style, with more included stones and irregular shapes; so much more exciting than the classic diamond solitaire. Sarah Alexanders silver and vermeil earrings demonstrate how you can work these colours using just metals and I love the chunky styling of Maviada’s white gold and citrine earrings; lovely big cabochons set in pleasingly rounded and chunky white gold.
To shop all of my Pantone 2021 themed stones, click here
My newsletter is out for this month and there is a cornucopia of new stock listed, plus look, a cool 10% off your order! I have yellow and grey diamonds, apatite, Santa Maria aquamarine, labradorite, rainbow moonstone and a lot more. Newsletter subscribers are always the first to know, and popular lines always sell first, so why not sign up at my website, joopygems.com. You can read the newsletter here and you can see all of my new stock here.
Snappy title, I know! But I think that is the first thing I need to say about it. Cubic Zirconia is a synthetic diamond substitute – and I’m not a snob about it, it is very nice and sparkly and firey. However, zircon is a natural gemstone, dug up out of the earth and it actually comes in a variety of colours – red, blue, green, amber and yellowy, pinky browns. Some of these are natural, and some via treatment. Clear zircon has a brilliance and fire that matches diamonds – and in fact has been used as a substitute – however it is easily distinguished as it is doubly refractive and much softer, so you’ll see abrading along facet edges on older pieces. The second thing I want to say about it is that I don’t understand why it isn’t more popular. I’m not alone in this, as you can see the fire even in the coloured stones, and it is a really nice and not too expensive stone to work with. The most common colour is a sort of bright blue – like a light version of London Blue Topaz, and I have stocked this in the past. However, new in stock I have natural brown coloured zircon and I just love it. It’s kind of like a champagne diamond without the price tag! It’s hard to describe the colour, it’s a lovely, warm pale pinky-brown and I have it in 2mm, 3mm and 4mm rose cuts.
Below you can see some examples – the pink of the tourmaline and peach of the moonstone in Nak Armstrong’s earrings lends the zircon a glowing warmth, whilst the silver on Stone Fever’s ring allows the colour to sing. I love the Yael Designs ring, and it’s surprising because if I saw that ring I’d myself assume it was a topaz or even a sapphire, but the fire that you’d get from a zircon that size would be quite something.
My newsletter is out, with an absolute cornucopia of new gemstones. I’ve got lots of old favourites such as rainbow moonstone 3mm-6mm in rose cuts and cabochons, plus new oval rose cuts. Opal rose cuts I’ve had in the past, but also cabochons in 3mm-5mm, which I’ve never had before. Beautiful saturated blue kyanite, aquamarine, tourmaline, sparkly, glittery zircon and so much more. Check out my newsletter here, and all new stock here. There’s a free shipping offer and I will upgrade all orders over $50 to express tracked.
I’m going to have to keep this very short and very brief as I could fill several books on the subject. I deal mainly with freshwater pearls, so that is mainly what I am going to concentrate on. Natural pearls were valued from ancient times as symbols of wealth and status and were found mainly in the Persian Gulf, the rivers of Europe (including Scotland!), the rivers and lakes of China and the waters around Sri Lanka. In the 15th century Christopher Columbus discovered pearls in the New World and this amplified European demand. These sources included both saltwater and freshwater pearls and demand remained strong until around the turn of the 20th century when a combination of the development of imitation pearls by Kokichi Mikimoto, and the development of the plastic button industry (yes really!) resulted in a decline. In 1908 oil was discovered in the Persian gulf and this quickly replaced the pearl industry as the region’s primary international industry and the industrialisation that followed this polluted and ruined the oyster beds.
For these reasons, most of the pearls that are on the market today are cultured. Because pearls have to be grown, and this takes time, there simply isn’t sufficient production to satisfy demand and so most pearls – even high end pearls such as South Sea and Akoya – are farmed, or cultured. This does not mean they are fake; simply that instead of waiting for them to grow naturally, they are deliberately grown in farms, adapting the process by which they grow naturally.
Pearls grow in molluscs; soft-bodied marine animals in two-part shells. As they are created by living organisms they are known as organic gems. A natural pearl forms when a foreign object somehow gets into the shell; a parasite might bore its way in, or a tiny piece of grit might slip into the shell when the animal opens its shell to feed. This foreign body is an irritant to the mollusc and so it tries to reduce this by coating it in nacre; turning it over and over and coating it in layer upon layer. Eventually this results in a pearl. Cultured pearls are made by simulating this process. South Sea pearls are usually created by inserting a bead into the mollusc; freshwater pearls by taking a piece of donor mollusc and inserting into a host mollusc. In fact, freshwater pearl culturing is so intensive that many pieces of donor mollusc may be inserted into a single host. This is a very delicate and skilled process as, if the host mollusc is killed, as is very easy to do, then obviously the pearl won’t grow.
Fast-grown pearls with a thin nacre layer are known as potato pearls. Recognisable for their non-round shapes, they often have rings around them and may not have very good lustre. These are usually pretty cheap. The longer the pearl takes to grow, the thicker the nacre, the rounder the pearl and the better the pearl.
Freshwater pearls are relatively inexpensive and plentiful these days that you don’t need to deal with imitation pearls for cost reasons but you might for other reasons, for example vegans or animal rights activists will likely object to the process of pearl culturing. Imitation pearls may be created from dipping beads into a liquid pearlescent substance – this may be entirely synthetic or made from crushed mollusc shells. Alternatively I often see shell pearls advertised and these are either formed from mollusc shells by carving, or by crushing and reforming the shells. You may also see Swarovski glass pearls, which are usually very clearly marked and marketed as imitation.
I do often get asked about how you tell natural from imitation pearls, and really it’s one of the easiest separations in my view. You just need a bit of magnification, and you will be able to see the overlapping layers of nacre. It’s really incredible and once you see it, you’ll never mistake it. A microscope is great, but you can see it with just a loupe. This picture below indicates exactly what you’ll see. There are still plenty of sources on the internet that advocate the tooth test – as in running the pearl across your teeth – a natural pearl is supposed to have more drag, a grittier feel, but pearl is so soft that this is a really good way of wrecking a pearl. Imitation pearls are also likely to be very round, very perfect, and completely uniform unlike cultured pearls which are organic, and therefore likely to have small pits, blemishes, slightly uneven shapes, subtle differences in colour and lustre and so on. It’s worth mentioning that just because cultured pearls are organically grown does not mean they are untreated. Most will naturally have dark patches and so all cultured pearls are bleached.
I do love classic pearls. They are beautiful and glowing, and flattering. However I am also really excited when I see pearls that are a bit different. That’s either in the style of pearl – for instance I love anything keshi or baroque – or in what has been done to the pearl. Because yes, sacre bleu! Sometimes pearls are cut, faceted or drilled to make something entirely unexpected. I became interested in this a couple of years back when I wondered if it were possible to facet pearls so that they could be rose cut (since I specialise in rose cuts). We had a go and the results, in my view, were awesome. I have these in a variety of sizes and you can find them in my pearls section here.
I’m not the only one; two designers that work with pearls in this way are Melanie Georgacopoulos and Motley. When I first saw Melanie Georgacopoulos’ (in her collaboration with Tasaki as the M/G Tasaki brand) sliced pearl necklace I was blown away. I just hadn’t seen anything as different and exciting as this in a long time. I love the way that you can see the concentric rings of nacre throughout the pearls. Just stunning.
When I visited her website and the M/G Tasaki website I discovered more incredible designs. Pearls with segments removed or sliced and lined with gold, faceted pearls, or drilled with holes to expose the layer beneath.
Also in this category is Frances Wadworth-Jones who brings a playful and rebellious edge to pearls. In her collection for Motley she mounts them on gold and silver screws, challenging the classic and traditional. I love these.
Topaz is one of the November birthstones…or is it? The GIA rather confusingly states that Imperial Topaz is a birthstone for November, whilst blue topaz is a December birthstone. Other sources say that tanzanite, zircon and turquoise are December birthstones, which in my view is quite enough blue for one month. Added to that, I’m quite sure that lots of people don’t know the difference between Imperial and other forms of topaz. So I’m just going to treat all topaz as a November birthstone and be done with it. So let’s clear up the topaz issue, and you can do that quite easily by dividing it into treated and untreated. Untreated topaz comes in a broad colour range: yellow, brown, orange, pink, purple, red, as well as blue and colourless. Yellow is the most common and red is the most valuable. The name Imperial Topaz came into being in 19th century Russia, when the Ural mountains were the leading source for topaz and the deep pink colour mined there named for – and restricted to – the Russian royal family. Currently, many in the trade will define the paler oranges and yellows as Imperial topaz: as with the boundary between pink sapphire and ruby, there is no standardised definition or colour cross-over point. Actually, although you don’t see alot of it about, deep red, orange and pink topaz is absolutely stunning.
And that brings me to the issue of price. For years the price of darker coloured blue topaz, especially London Blue topaz has steadily increased. There aren’t many places that do the treatment and this, combined with the fact that it has to sit for so long – and so therefore treaters have to tie up their money for so long with no return – added to the steady increase in popularity of this gem has made it rather scarce and expensive. It is no longer so easy to find large, flawless gems and sometimes the colour can be rather more greyish than desirable. It is a shame as it is a popular stone and the colour is unusual; I can’t think of many other stones like it, except maybe some of the darker blue tourmaline…and that is also not very plentiful and correspondingly pricey. Sky blue topaz has long been used as an alternative to aquamarine. This makes sense especially for smaller sizes as it is just a little more saturated than aquamarine generally is. Swiss Blue has a saturated and vibrant cornflower blue hue whilst London Blue is a sophisticated greyish-greenish blue.
Below from top, I love the elegant, flowing lines of Laura Stasa’s Calla Lily Pendant in silver and gold; although the icy blue topaz tones look great with white metals, I think that London Blue in particular is also sensational in gold. This pendant has an Art Deco quality to me, whilst at the same time being utterly contemporary. I really love jewellery with clean and definite lines like Kate Phipp’s tapered silver pendant set with a trillion sky blue topaz. This does illustrate how well the pale blue of this stone is set off by silver; icy perfection. The Swiss blue topaz ring by Mountain Spirit Jewels demonstrates the vibrant, saturated colour of this stone, for so long the best known and favourite colour of blue topaz, and bottom left, Kira Ferrer’s stacking rings sets all three colours in juxtaposition from light to dark in beautiful, clean settings.
There is one issue that is common to all topaz, however, and that is a property of the stone itself; cleavage. Topaz has what you call basal cleavage, which means that the cleavage plane is parallel to the base of the crystal. Cutters try to mitigate this by cutting the stones so that the cleavage direction is at a 15 degree angle to the table; however topaz can be rather brittle for this reason and does need a certain amount of careful handling.
Currently I sell blue and white topaz. I’d like to start offering other colours of untreated topaz – it is on my list of desired gems for next year.