When is Clarity not Clarity?

Clarity’s a simply enough concept, right? A stone is clean or not and it’s clarity is described in neat categories. Well, no, not really. Diamonds are one thing, with the scale running from Flawless to Included, but the similarly categorised scale for coloured gems is a bit more complicated. And if you think about it for one second, this makes perfect sense. Because with diamonds, clarity is a huge value-factor. It has to be accurate, reliable and valid. It has to be able to be taught so that everyone grading the stones is doing roughly the same thing. But coloured stones are different, and one of the biggest ways they differ is in terms of their clarity types. This is a system of classification developed by the GIA to describe the way in which some stones, above and beyond the level of clarity of an individual stone, are basically more included than others. It divides stones into 3 types, and each clarity grade means something different for each type. It goes like this:

Type I Stones:

Stones that are usually eye-clean. For example, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, smoky quartz and blue zircon (there are others). These are stones that it’s not hard to find in clean quality, and for these, a VS stone means an eye-clean stone with inclusions that can be seen under 10x magnification.

Type II Stones:

These are stones that are usually included. For example, corundum, garnet, iolite, peridot, tourmaline, amethyst. These are stones that will usually have some degree of inclusion, and for these, and a VS stone will likely have noticeable inclusions under 10x magnification and these may well be eye-visible.

Type III Stones:

These stones are almost always included, and yes emerald, I’m talking about you. Because it’s hard to find clean crystals the standards for a VS stone are pretty low and so a VS type III stone will have obvious inclusions at 10x magnification which will be likely eye-visible. Such stones are, yes, emerald and the red and pink tourmalines. As well as red beryl, not that we are likely to come across a lot of that!

All of this ought to be obvious, but I am aware that when we talk about stones, we get hung up on things like clarity and grades, whilst forgetting that sometimes clean stones are just not realistic. Stones are natural, they come out of the ground. The marks and trauma within tell the story of their birth. All of this should be celebrated and there’s a place for every kind of stone, however included. As with everything, information and disclosure is the key.

Below you can see how beautiful included stones can be. On the left is a ring made from a tourmaline bought by a customer. This was made by Custom Jewelry Co in Australia. This is an included tourmaline but it’s just beautiful, like a map of the world.

Aqua and pink tourmaline ring by Custom Jewelry Company

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In Praise of Inclusions: Feathers and Fractures 1

  • Joopy Gems Rainbow Moonstone 6mm Rose Cut Round AA Grade, $22
  • Joopy Gems Aquamarine Pear Cabochon
  • Joopy Gems Labradorite Cabochon 6x8mm Oval
  • Joopy Gems Emerald Cabochon 4mm Round
  • Joopy Gems Tourmaline Rose Cut Freeform, 0.39 carats

What a lovely sounding title. If there is one thing that people generally want to avoid in gemstones, it’s a fracture or a feather; whether the crack is surface reaching or completely included in the stone, there’s always the danger of it opening up and splitting or at least weakening the stone. More than that, it’s unlikely that it’s ever going to actively add to a stone’s beauty. However, it’s such a common feature of stones, and indeed sometimes an integral part of the stone’s make-up that it bears closer inspection. A fracture can tell you how the stone was formed, give you information about whether and how it’s been treated

The first thing to be said is that all fractures are not equal. There is a difference between a large, unsightly feather right under the table of a diamond and a delicate fingerprint pattern inside a ruby. In addition, some types of stone are much more likely than others to be fractured in the first place. Let’s find out where they come from and in what forms you might find them.

Where do they come from?

  • During crystal growth; a result of internal tensions caused by structural defects or tectonic activity
  • During crystal growth; an integral part of the stone’s make up – eg parting in labradorite, cleavage etc
  • Whilst formed crystals are in the host rock, due to changes of pressure or mechanical damage produced by tectonic activity.
  • Secondary deposits, when gems are transported and accumulated, eg after being tumbled and washed down a stream.
  • In primary deposits, during mining or the recovery process (blasting and crushing of the rock).
  • During cutting itself: sawing, cutting and polishing, accidental blows or if internal tensions release, or if the stone becomes too hot.
  • In some treatments, due to thermal shock
  • During heating, included crystals inside the host crystal can expand leading to ‘halo fractures’
  •  For mechanical reasons during jewelry making or repair process, eg setting
  • Once in jewellery, normal wear and tear, for example accidental bumps and abrasions
Labradorite with lamellar twinning lines (photo courtesy of Gem Rock Auctions)

Large fractures in stone varieties known for easy cleavage; tanzanite, kyanite or topaz for example should be avoided. They don’t look good and worse, will seriously impact the durability of the stone. Any blow or accidental damage could cause the fracture to open up. As stone-cutter Meg Berry states, she likes to apply the ‘rule of thumb’ when it comes to fractures in stones; namely, if you can snap it with your thumb, you probably ought to. Smaller fractures are a different matter; some milky aquamarine is full of fractures and beautiful, watermelon tourmaline tends to come up quite fractured and of course with emerald it’s almost impossible to avoid. Below, the aquamarine is crazed with tiny fractures, but it adds to the density of the colour and the movement of the cut. The tourmaline slice is imperfect but the colours are still bright and the emerald looks like a planet, with its visible fractures and liquid inclusions.

It’s hard to think of any situation where a large inclusion adds to the beauty of a stone but as I was writing this I thought, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 10 years in this business and that is that people are endlessly creative and can conjure beauty from the most unprepossessing of raw materials. Enter Jamie Johnson, and her Golden Joinery collection. These are all one of a kind; broken stones set in sterling silver with the seams of both cracked halves dipped in 22k gold. They are absolutely stunning. Below from left Aussie Boulder Opal Joinery Ring, $2860, Golden Joinery Turquoise Earrings, $2330 (photos courtesy of New Twist), Pendant necklace in oxidized sterling silver with 22k gold and rainbow moonstone, $2,970 and finally the group at the bottom featuring turquoise, ruby, boulder opal and green tourmaline (photos courtesy of David Wentworth at Flutter Studios). Aren’t these amazing?

Parting

Ah yes, labradorite. Think of labradorite and in your mind’s eye you’ll no doubt think of a multi-veined stone with the characteristic flash. Years ago I was having trouble with customers sending back stones because not only is the stone soft, but there’s a thing called lamellar twinning. Also known as ‘repeated’ or ‘multiple’ twinning, this results in the layered make up of the stone, which makes it prone to fracturing along these twin planes. It is also, however this make-up which gives rise to the flash – it is the light refracting off these planes that results in the characteristic labradorescence. So when customers tell me they want great flash and no fractures, I kind of want to throw my hands in the air and shriek!! However, I have now done my best with it; not entirely fracture-free but my labradorite is less fractured than most. I try to buy the translucent material with the superior flash, and that way I have happier customers and fewer returns. Even so, you’ll see in the picture below that there are still fracture lines across the stones. It’s pretty much unavoidable.

Cleavage

Cleavage is the tendancy of a crystal to break along distinct planes, and some stones are more prone than others, depending on their specific characteristics. It’s where the atomic bonds are weaker, so the crystal can split easily along those lines. Some have no cleavage – eg quartz, opal, agate, turquoise, ruby and sapphire, and some have perfect cleavage along one or more planes, for example topaz, diamond, kyanite, and all feldspars. It’s more of an issue during cutting – and in fact it used to be used to divide large gem crystals. Now cutters make sure that they cut such stones to minimise the chance of the stone cleaving during setting.

So we have seen that fractures have a function and a place. They may even be beautiful, and certainly they are sometimes unavoidable. I think I ‘ve gone on enough so next time we will be looking at other kinds of fracture – eg halos and fingerprints and also clarity types: the tendancy of some stones to be more included than others.

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When Prehnite Packs a Punch

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Many years ago, shortly after I started out, the price of prehnite went shooting up. It was one of those odd things, where I had to do a bit of a double take. What could be going on? I was told, it was because it was being used as a jade substitute for the Chinese market. I did another double take, because I just couldn’t see it. Prehnite is so commonly pale, fractured, full of wisps and veils that I just couldn’t see how it could possibly substitute for jade. And then they brought out the good stuff; deep green, clean and glowing with an unearthly, dreamlike lustre. Ever since, I’ve tried to stock the better stuff, because when prehnite is good, it’s very, very good indeed. You might never even have heard of it. The GIA thinks not, as they have included it in their ‘Hot Gemstones’ round-up, but that makes it an excellent choice as you are not likely to run into it in your local jewellers. It’s a bit different, unusual and the prices (except for the really fine stuff) are pretty sensible. For meaning, it is best known as the stone of unconditional love, said to connect the head to the heart. It’s found mainly in Australia, Canada, China and the USA, and it’s a good choice for anyone who likes their stones untreated as it never is.

Pictured below are a couple of really gorgeous specimens: top is marmarModern’s Prehnite and Sterling Silver Ring – I just love this setting which manages to be interesting and unusual and not detract at all from the beauty of the stone. Below that is Mastergoldcraft’s Prehnite and 14k Rose Gold Ring ; a study in elegant simplicity.

marmarModern Prehnite and Sterling Silver Ring, $130
marmarModern Prehnite and Sterling Silver Ring, $130

Mastergoldcraft Prehnite and 14k Rose Gold Ring, $875
Mastergoldcraft Prehnite and 14k Rose Gold Ring, $875

I’ve just taken delivery of some beautiful quality 6mm rose cuts, lovely saturated green colour, clean quality, $3.75 per stone.  You can view them by clicking here. To shop all prehnite, click here.

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In Praise of Inclusions: Needles

Joopy Gems Golden Rutilated Quartz Cabochon Freesize, 55.81 carats, 29.5x23.2x11.3mm
Golden Rutilated Quartz Cabochon Freesize, 55.81 carats, 29.5×23.2×11.3mm, $184

I’ve decided to do a series of posts on inclusions, as it is simply one of the most frequent topics that comes up with customers. Everyone knows the value of a nice, clean gemstone: no-one wants a diamond with a dirty great fracture, or a ruby with a big black crystal under the table. However, the search for a perfectly clean stone is a bit of a fool’s errand. The GIA no longer uses the term ‘internally flawless’ to describe diamonds as there is simply no such thing; with increasingly powerful microscopes, if you magnify anything enough times, you will find something. But above all, I think we need to reconsider attitudes to inclusions. The GIA doesn’t call them inclusions; preferring the term ‘clarity characteristics’, and if you believe that the very words we use are instrumental in influencing how people feel about a thing then we can see that this is a much less judgemental term to use. They describe clarity characteristics in a stone as ‘the eyewitnesses to its birth’. They can provide valuable information as to how and where it grew, indicate events in its history and sometimes on a broader scale, in the the events and internal turmoil of earth’s history. They can help detect whether a stone is natural or synthetic and provide evidence as to whether the stone has been treated or not. They almost always tell a story. And if you’ve ever held a pile of synthetic rubies in your hand you might find yourself thinking, as I have, that stones without inclusions can have all the appeal of a piece of coloured glass.

Inclusions are not always bad, either, and that’s my subject today. Sometimes they have a beneficial effect on a stone’s beauty, and that is certainly the case with needles! Needles are defined as long, thin, solid crystals or hollow tubes; if it’s hollow it might be filled with fluid or gas. A group of fine needles is called ‘silk’. Silk is what gives high quality sapphires their soft, velvety appearance, and can give rise to cat’s eyes and stars, if it is oriented along the stone’s crystal planes. Needles to me are at their best when they are present as visible needles in stones such as quartz and prehnite. These stones are desirable precisely because of their inclusions. In quartz, rutile needles can appear gold, copper, red and black. They can occur sparsely or in clumps; they can be thick and coarse, or they can be fine, the so-called angel-hair variety. You can also get rutilated prehnite; a soft, green bodycolour intersected with striking black needles. When we talk about inclusions it’s easy to see this as always having a negative connotation but it simply isn’t so. Rutilated stones really need only a simple, beautiful setting to show them off to their best, however, I love the setting below, where the design on the body of the ring echoes the spokes of the rutile in the quartz.

Peter Schmid: Rutilated Quartz Ring
Peter Schmid: Rutilated Quartz Ring, $4950

Fernando Jorge Rounded Rutilated Quartz Ring
Fernando Jorge Rounded Rutilated Quartz Ring, $7830

William White Big Rutilated Quartz Cabochon Ring in 18K Yellow Gold
William White Big Rutilated Quartz Cabochon Ring in 18K Yellow Gold, $1100

Sasa Jewelry Rutilated Quartz Ring
Sasa Jewelry Rutilated Quartz Ring, $950

To shop our collection of rutilated stones, please click here. Next time I’ll be talking about the dreaded fractures!

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like London Blue?

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When I first started selling gemstones 10 years ago (blimey) one of the first stones that I focussed on was London Blue. It was reasonably priced, plentiful and the colour was like no other. Before I started my journey into gems, blue topaz to me meant swiss blue; bright, vivid cornflower blue. I’m not really a bright and vivid kind of girl (!), or at least, the colours don’t look good on me, so it wasn’t a stone I was interested in selling. London Blue, however was a different story. Prussian blue, petrol blue, I had so many names for this distinctive and elegant shade of greenish blue. No other stone could touch it, except perhaps blue tourmaline (indicolite) but you needed deep pockets for that. And my customers appeared to agree! They couldn’t get enough so I started cutting it in all shapes and sizes. However, around 2015 something unpleasant started to happen; the price started jumping up, the quality began to waver. What could be happening? Well, there two main drivers of this price increase. First of all, let’s be clear. When we are talking about blue topaz we are talking about treated topaz. Blue topaz is irradiated white topaz. It has to be irradiated, and then it has to be cooled – that is, allowed to sit whilst the radiation disperses. The darker the topaz, the longer it has to sit. So whilst sky blue topaz has a 3-month cooling period, London Blue has something like 18 months. There are not many places that treat London Blue, and so that in itself puts a pinch on demand. Added to that you have the increasing popularity of the stone, the unwillingness of suppliers to treat more rough – since it effectively ties up millions of dollars for a year and a half with no return during that time. There is also a natural caution amongst suppliers around the popularity of London Blue. Is the increase just a blip, or is it here to stay? Because it’s one heck of an expensive gamble to treat more rough because it is popular now, only to find that in a year and a half it’s gone out of fashion and they have a whole lot of treated rough that they cannot shift. In my view this wont happen; I think the colour is unique and it has enduring appeal, but I’m not the one having to stump up the cash.

However, this is only half the story, and the woes of London Blue go further back, as so many things do, to the recession of 2008. What happened is very simple; topaz is sourced largely from Brazil, and during this time many mines were forced to close. They have never re-opened and now topaz supply is down by around 60% from pre-2008 levels. For a while there was enough rough in circulation to not have too much of an impact, but this corner was turned in around 2015, when demand began to seriously outstrip supply. So there is now a serious problem in that there are two major pinch-points in the supply chain; a lack of good quality untreated rough coming out of the mines resulting in an increase in price at this point. This has then led to suppliers taking a very conservative attitude towards treating the rough, not wanting to tie up increasing amounts of money in a stone that they fear may be something of a bubble. In reality this seems unlikely. Demand for the stone is still high; it is still a unique colour, and it still is available in clean quality. Although the colour has much more variation than it has in the past, with more greyer, less saturated material on the market some people prefer this, feeling that it looks more natural, more gemmy.

So in short, the outlook for London Blue is that prices aren’t coming down anytime soon. This makes it more expensive to buy, but it also means that it’s unlikely to be a wasted investment. And you could do worse than start here, from top, Ananda Khalsa’s London Blue Topaz ring is set in warm 22 carat gold and sterling silver and highlighted with sparkling diamond dots. I love blue topaz in silver, but putting it in gold takes it to a completely new dimension. I’ve always loved the solid, crafted simplicity of William White’s ring settings; in fact I have a number of stones in my collection I’d love him to set for me. The ring below is a 10mm cabochon in a satin-finished sterling silver band.  I do like the angular lines of Eva Dorneys London Blue topaz rings in 9kt gold and sterling silver and I also love the cool stacking system of Barbara S Jewellery. That’s 2 rings, not one; an aquamarine and a London Blue

Ananda Khalsa London Blue Topaz Ring with Diamond Dots, $1,190
Ananda Khalsa London Blue Topaz Ring with Diamond Dots, $1,190

William White Blue Topaz Cabochon Ring, $594
William White Blue Topaz Cabochon Ring, $594

Eva Dorney London Blue Topaz Rings, $305
Eva Dorney London Blue Topaz Rings, $305

Barbara S Jewellery Aqumarine and Topaz Contemporary Stacking Ring, $485
Barbara S Jewellery Aqumarine and Topaz Contemporary Stacking Ring, $485

 

I do have new stocks of 6mm London Blue topaz cabochons; they are more expensive than I would like them to be but trust me when I say I have shaved the price as low as possible! You can find all of my London Blue here.

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Glittering Black Beauty

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It’s only relatively recently that black diamonds have become prized as gemstones in their own right. Traditionally either thrown away or used solely for industrial purposes, it’s really only in the past thirty or so years that they have come into their own. Now called ‘fancy blacks’, they began their popularity streak when designers started using them to contrast with colourless stones in pave settings and have got bigger and better ever since, in fact you might say they finally ‘arrived’ when Mr Big gave Carrie a 5 carat black diamond ring at the end of Sex and the City 2! Since then, there have been more high-profile black diamond engagement rings and of course, prices have risen in line with their popularity. They are unique stones, having the adamantine brilliance you’d expect from a diamond, despite the fact that they are black and opaque. They glitter, like mirrors, with a silvery lustre. Still, there are relatively few famous black diamonds, one of which is the Black Orlov which comes laden with the usual kind of myths and legends of curse and disaster.

GIA Black Orloff
The 67.50 ct Black Orlov diamond, set in a circle of colourless diamonds (image courtesy of GIA education)

But what is a black diamond? Conversations with customers over the years have told me that this gemstone is not well-understood. Natural black diamond is, in fact, simply diamond that is so included with mineral inclusions, such as haematite, pyrite and graphite that it appears black. It is also often criss-crossed with minute cleavages and fractures that are either stained black or have become black due to graphitisation (the formation of graphite due to a process too arcane for me to wrap my feeble head around). And in fact, a great deal of black diamond on the market is irradiated, so that the inclusions turn black. I always state the black diamond I sell as irradiated, as I am generally not sure and better to be safe than sorry…

The upshot of this is that black diamond is rather brittle, and it is this that causes confusion. Yes, diamond is hard; very hard. But hardness is not the same as toughness. Glass is hard but will shatter if you drop it; putty is soft but you can drop it and it will remain in one piece. Black diamond, filled with inclusions and riven with tiny fractures is pretty brittle. Don’t drop it, don’t – as a friend of mine did – slam it in a car door and do set it with care. You can also expect it to be rather prone to pitting, certainly on the base and around the girdle and often on the facets edges and corners. But if you can live with all that, you’ve got a gemstone like none other. Below, I love the contrast of the black and white diamonds, accentuated by the use of silver and oxidised metals in this Coco & Chia stacking ring set.

Coco & Chia Black & White Diamond Stacking Ring Set
Coco and Chia Black & White Diamond Stacking Ring Set, $265

You can clearly see, top, the included nature of black diamonds in this beautiful rose cut black diamond ring from Lex Luxe – you can actually identify the blackened, frondlike clouds of inclusions. Another option from this jeweller is this black and white diamond cuff bracelet, with the contrasting colours offset by oxidised metal. And, right, just because it’s black, doesn’t have to go in white metal; this black diamond cluster ring (bottom) by Ferkos Fine Jewelry is set in 14k gold.

Lex Luxe rose cut black diamond engagement ring
Lex Luxe Rose Cut Black Diamond Cluster Ring, $1495

Lex Luxe black and white diamond bracelet
Lex Luxe Black and White Diamond Cuff Bracelet, $478

Ferkos Fine Jewelry engagement ring
Ferkos Fine Jewelry Black Diamond Cluster Ring, $238.50

At Joopy Gems we carry rose cut black diamonds in a range from 3mm-5mm. These are sized pretty precisely as small differences make a disproportionate difference in terms of price when the carat price is high. The 3mm and 4mm stones are of slightly higher quality than the other sizes but you can expect the odd pit and fracture as is normal with this stone. To browse the entire range, click here.

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Blowing my own trumpet

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Well, it’s a bit of blowing my own trumpet, but it’s in the name of giving you, my brilliant customers, some extra reassurance. Before the summer, I passed my GIA Gem Identification module, the last part of my Coloured Stones qualification. This was a completely practical, hands-on module, which involved the identification of 500 stones. These came in boxes of 20, posted from the GIA. I had to fill out a worksheet, scan and send back to my tutor in the US and pass each worksheet before moving on to the next one. As you might imagine, this took a little while. One year, to be precise, of late nights, early mornings, scrambled brains and inspiration. I learned so much over this time, not just how to separate different stones, but how to tell a synthetic from a natural, and even what kind of synthetic. This has been especially helpful in giving me confidence to offer precious stones; rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Finally I had to sit an exam, with a proctor approved by the GIA; identify 20 stones. You’ve got 6 hours, and by the way, you’ve got to get them all right to pass. Yes, that’s right; this exam has a 100% passing grade. And I did it! I passed! First time! I am still reeling with joy! So I now have my Coloured Stones qualification and I am starting the last few diamonds modules, after which I will be a fully fledged Graduate Gemologist. Loving my studies!

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March Newsletter; new additions, great discount!

Banner March 2016

Out now; my March 2016 newsletter with a round-up of new additions, gemstone news and the all-important reader offer – this month a birthstone offer – which I have interpreted very widely, taking in many different birthstone systems and adopting a very loose interpretation, to apply to all aquamarine and agate across my store. That’s cabochons, rose cuts, gemstones, beads and freeforms, all on 15% off for the month of March. Click here to open the newsletter and pick up the discount code, or go to www.joopygems.com to sign up and make sure you never miss out!

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