Joopy Gems Rose Cut Purple Button Pearl 8mm

Not Your Classic Pearls

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.

Purple Cultured Freshwater Button Pearls, 6-6.5mm
White Cultured Freshwater Button Pearls, 5.5-6mm

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.

Surface of pearl under magnification, image courtesy of Triptar

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.

To browse all of my pearls, click here

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November Blues

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.

To shop all of my topaz, click here.

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November Blues

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.

To shop all of my topaz, click here.

joopygems.com

All New Summer Sparklers!

My newsletter is out, listing all (most!) of my new stock, and it’s all just so beautiful! You can see the newsletter at this link https://app.omnisend.com/view/5f0f4fa54c7fa46de454e89e/0 or why not sign up at my website. There’s usually an offer or sale each month and newsletter readers are the first to know! I’ve got a bunch of restocks this month, including some of the most beautiful clean hessonite and some really lovely pale pink tourmaline. Next month is going to be phenomenal stone month, with opal, rainbow moonstone and labradorite; some restocks but also new shapes and sizes and cuts. I’m also hoping for some all new high quality kyanite rose cuts, because who can’t resist deep blue stones?!

I’ve also got a double points offer on this month; if you don’t have a loyalty account, why not set one up? Just click on the ‘Rewards’ icon at the lower right hand corner of my homepage; it’s very simple, you just exchange points for money off coupons. The points boundaries are all completely reachable – you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get a reward!

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Not a Love Letter to Emerald

When I first started out in jewellery, I used to make lamp-worked beads and I sold my jewellery in various shops and galleries. One of the shops always said to me, ‘no green please. People don’t buy green jewellery.’ Well, times have changed and green is definitely having a renaissance. Of course, if you talk about green stones, the first one that comes to mind has to be emerald. I have to say that I am not a massive fan of the big E; why not? Well, it’s a combination of its price and properties. Emerald is generally a very included kind of stone. Most emeralds have inclusions; gas bubbles, liquid inclusions, minerals and fractures. And oh my goodness; the fractures. It’s not known whether emerald is a generally fractured stone, or whether it’s the extreme processes required to get it out of the ground. Either way, what this means is that emerald tends to be fracture filled. Something like 96% of all emerald on the market is fracture-filled. This means that clean emerald is very rare and very expensive, and that cheaper emerald is generally highly included, almost certainly fracture filled and the lustre just isn’t great. Emerald is also a rather brittle stone, and of course, as we all know, fractures will tend to make a stone more brittle; if you have a fracture filled stone, then it will appear much less fractured than it actually is, and therefore – dangerously – appear more stable than it actually is. It’s not a great choice for a ring stone. In recent years, emerald finds in Afghanistan have turned up high quality, intense green and relatively clean stones, but obviously there are issues involved with mining in that part of the world.

From GIA article Emerald Adventures in Afghanistan

If you had to give me a choice, my top pick for a green stone would be tsavorite garnet. It comes in a stunning intense green, it has fantastic dispersion (it’s very sparkly!) it’s durable, free from inclusions and is not generally treated. It isn’t cheap, but small stones are reasonably priced and they have a beauty and brilliance that you just don’t get with emerald. Below is Anderson Beattie’s Opal & Tsavorite Garnet Ring; the opal really brings out the chrome green shade of the tsavorite.

Chrome diopside is another intense green option. It really isn’t well known and that’s a shame as colour-wise it packs a punch. It retains its intensity of colour even in small sizes – conversely this means that the colour can get very closed in large sizes, and really you don’t tend to see this stone above around 8mm.

Tourmaline: ah my favourite stone of all time. Green tourmaline runs the spectrum from aqua blue through to yellow ‘beer bottle’ green, with all shades of green-blue, blue-green, intense chrome green and light green along the way. Additionally, because tourmaline is so pleochroic, you will often get several shades of green in the same stone – the ring below from Disa Allsop is a really clear example of this where you can see the bright green and gold green colours dancing across the stone. I also love the way that Lola Brooks uses this spectrum of greens in her jewellery. Mimi Favre’s triple claw setting ring also demonstrates the colour range of tourmaline and Monika Krol’s asymmetrical green tourmaline pendant highlights the beauty of this stone set in gold.

Peridot runs apple green through to yellow-green. It’s reasonably priced and so it’s possible to have it in much larger sizes. For me its at its best en cabochon in a nice strong setting. It’s not hard to find clean stones but larger stones can be prone to black inclusions. However, if you can find them, peridot can have very characteristic ‘lily pad’ inclusions, which I think are rather beautiful. Below is Barbara Tipple’s Lioness Peridot Torque, whose powerful linesperfectly showcases the beauty of this stone.

And this ring from Tayma Fine Jewellery – a large, highly included peridot which looks knockout in this strong and simple setting.

I have a variety of green stones for sale in my shop; to browse, click here

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Peacock Pearls; Perfect Iridescence

The first thing I am going to say is that pearls are treated, most of them, in one way or another. Let’s just get that out of the way. Even the most beautiful and expensive South Sea and Akoya pearls are likely to have some kinds of bleaching and for the pearls that I sell, they are definitely bleached. Let’s just have a brief walk-through the pearl landscape as it were. Most expensive and desirable are natural saltwater pearls; now extremely rare. It was the main source of wealth and the Arabian Gulf until the 1950s; of course once oil was discovered, pearls were eclipsed and in fact, many of the ancient pearl beds were torn up and destroyed. Most saltwater pearls are now cultured, and tend to come from the same sort of places that natural ones came from; for example Myanmar, China, Australia, French Polynesia and Africa to name a few. I deal mainly in cultured freshwater pearls; grown mainly in China on pearl farms; this is a very established industry that can yield very beautiful and affordable pearls. Even with these, there is huge variation with the very cheap, quickly-grown potato pearls competing with slower grown, more lustrous varieties.

Today I’m looking at peacock pearls. Natural black, South Sea or Tahtian pearls have a satiny, rather than high, lustre. With a dark green-grey body colour and a purple, pink, blue or gold overtone that appears to float on the surface of the pearl as the light catches it, these are magical, mysterious, iridescent pearls. These are beautiful and eye-wateringly expensive.

It’s not surprising, then, that artificial colour treatments have been developed, and this is what I want to talk about today. Treated peacock pearls are usually first soaked in silver nitrate (the same chemical that makes photographic film sensitive), then either exposed to light or hydrogen sulphide gas. This turns the pearls black. They are then dyed to achieve the colourful characteristic overtones. How do you tell them apart from the real thing? As with most things, if they look too good to be true, they probably are. That, and price. If the lustre is too high, the colours too bright, they are probably dyed. Size is another; South Sea and Tahitian pearls don’t normally come in sizes below 8mm – anything smaller than that and you are probably dealing with a treated pearl. It goes without saying that this should be stated, and I wouldn’t personally even describe a pearl as ‘like South Sea’ or ‘like Tahitian’ due to the potential for confusion. However, if you do want your treated peacocks to look a bit more like the real thing, then there are a few simple rules:

  1. Step away from the lustre. As stated, real South Sea pearls have a satiny lustre; the high, almost metallic lustre is something that you might see on the banded Tahitian varieties, but generally, look for less lustrous pearls
  2. Colour. The colours of treated peacock pearls are vibrant and beautiful, but to get a more authentic appearance, go for pearls that have more of a subtle colouring, with a more grey and less black body-colour

This is why I’m particularly excited about the 8mm half-drilled peacock pearls I have just listed, as they do fulfill both of these criteria. Not that I’m for a minute suggesting that you pass them off as real, just that if you are looking for a more authentic, less ‘oil-on-water’ appearance, these are a really good option; a lovely grey body-colour with subtle overtone. Check them out here.

A Note on Pearl Grading

Pearls is a funny business. Every time I shop, I have to reinvent the wheel, as just because one company had beautiful pearls a year ago, doesn’t mean that they will next time they restock. Another thing you have to realise is that there is no standardisation in terms of quality grading. A pearl company will sort its pearls in terms of the qualities that they hold, and so one company’s AAA is another’s AA and so on. Also – and this is a really funny one – AAA+ is less good than AAA. Just so you know. For me, there is nothing that takes the place of painstakingly going round suppliers and carefully comparing by eye to get the best quality for the price you want.

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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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The Horrors of Glass Filled Rubies

I do periodically write about this issue as I am not convinced that – even though the practice has been around for a while – it is yet common knowledge. In short, glass filling is the practice of fracture-filling rubies with lead glass to improve their appearance. I’m going to lay it on the line, folks: this is bad. It takes poor quality, fractured material and turns it into pretty looking transparent red. It looks good but it is complete junk. Worse than that, it is no longer a ruby.

What is the treatment?

Rubies before and after treatment (photo courtesy of Accredited Gemologists)

Fracture-filling is not new; emeralds have been fracture-filled with oil for years, and it is a completely accepted treatment. The idea being that you find a filler with the same or similar refractive index as the stone and the appearance of fractures are minimised. With emeralds this is fine, as oil is used, which can be removed if necessary and the stones re-oiled; in addition, the original material is usually reasonable. With rubies, the practice of lead glass filling takes rough that is opaque or near opaque – material that would otherwise be unsaleable – and permanently filling it with lead glass. Poor quality corundum is soaked in acid to remove mineral inclusions leaving a weakened and brittle stone; a stone so weak in fact that you could crumble it to powder with your hands. These skeletons are then infused with lead glass, which makes the stone stronger and prettier. The results are actually extraordinary: opaque corundum can be turned into stones with high transparency. So what’s the problem?

The Problems with Glass Filling

Glass-filled ruby damaged during jewelry repair (photo courtesy of American Gemological Laboratory)

There are three main problems: firstly it is an extremely unstable treatment, secondly – and rather crucially – once a ruby has been glass filled it is no longer a ruby and thirdly, it is frequently not disclosed. Let’s take these one by one:

  1. The GIA reports describe glass filled rubies like this: ‘ A manufactured product consisting of lead glass and ruby…unstable to high temperatures and to chemical agents.’ This says it all. The treatment is extremely unstable. Heat during jewelry making or repair will ruin it. Pickle to remove fire-scale will ruin it. Even the wearer can ruin it – most household cleaners will ruin it. Lemon juice will ruin it.
  2. The stones are not rubies. They are ruby and glass composites and in many cases will be more glass than ruby.
  3. The treatment is not disclosed. Sometimes this is blatant fraud; sellers will blatantly charge ruby price for something that is effectively worthless. I have suppliers who say they are finding glass filled rough in with the decent stuff. But most of the time it’s happening because people simply don’t know. They go to a show and buy a ruby and think, ‘oh I got a great deal’ and then sell the stone in jewellery as ruby. Sometimes even the big stores are selling these items undisclosed and, since I’m sure these stores don’t want to wreck their reputations, it must be that they simply don’t know what they are selling. From my own experience, I myself have found at gem fairs that when I’ve asked, ‘is this glass filled?’ that sellers have readily told me. But I have not been convinced that they would have done so, had I not asked.

This is really important, because the retailer is completely liable, whether the mistake is deliberate or accidental, they can be sued for not disclosing this treatment.

How is it detected?

Well, the good news is that unlike other nefarious treatments, this one is really easy to spot under magnification. A microscope or even a loupe will show up low relief fractures, gas bubbles (as is really common with glass), voids, and a yellow and blue flash effect. Failing this, one of the easiest ways – in my experience from attending gem fairs – is simply looking at the price: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That is, if you are looking at near-transparent ruby for a few dollars a carat, it’s probably glass-filled. This is fine if you know what you’re buying and for some reason you want ruby coloured glass – the danger comes if someone thinks they’ve got a great deal, and sell the stone on as ruby.

What’s the take-home message?

I’m not pulling punches with this because it really is complete rubbish. If you buy it and sell it on you are liable. There are also reports that it is being seen in sapphire as well as ruby, although the ruby composites are completely ubiquitous. Always, always ask, if you are buying a ruby. First question: ‘is it glass filled?’ In my experience, you will be told. Carry a loupe and learn how to use it. It’s not even always deliberate fraud; sometimes the sellers themselves don’t know what they’ve got on their hands. And remember, forewarned is forearmed.

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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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A Bluer Shade of Pale

Aquamarine is a really great choice of stone; it’s pretty gemmy without being insanely expensive, it cuts well and takes a really high polish. In its transparent form, it’s more pricey but I just love the milky variety; in lovely shades of pale blue to sea-green, it is misty, hazy and dreamy. It’s common to find this material full of fractures and veils, but when it comes clean with a lovely translucency it is a beautiful, glowing stone. It is named after seawater itself: aqua = water and marina = of the sea and it is in fact a form of beryl, the same mineral as emerald. Unlike emerald, it grows in large and frequently clean crystals so it’s relatively easy to find it in large sizes and in fact can be exceptionally clean. Top colour is a moderately strong blue to greenish-blue. It’s a great jewellery stone and versatile as it’s also exceptionally hard – so a good option for a ring stone. The gemstone for March, aquamarine is offer protection in battle and make the wearer unconquerable; what more could you want! Clockwise from left below: CJ Bijoux aquamarine and 18k gold ring, AF Thomas aquamarine, blue topaz and 18k white gold ring, Gemory Design aquamarine and sterling silver ring and Gems Berry aquamarine and sterling silver ring

We sell a variety of really gorgeous, translucent aquamarine in cabochons and rose cuts as well as rose cut freeforms. To check them out, click here

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