Tag Archives: jewelry

Better Than Gold and Diamonds

It is a truism that women love gold and diamonds (and are even BFFs with an arrangement of carbon subjected to great heat and pressure). As a truism, of course, it is not always true.

So, as far as other friends go, there are always rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, the other precious stones. And topazes and opals, the hangers-on.

But for me, semi-precious stones and minerals are my best buds. And the only BFF I can choose is amber, which I’ve written about before. (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-pO)

photo by Bob Richmond

My next favorites have to be malachite, lapis lazuli, and azurite, which is like a combination of the other two, visually at least. (I think the chemical composition may differ.)

Malachite, as you can see, is a mineral of varying shades of green, all swirled together. Lapis is a dark blue stone, often with flecks of golden pyrite.

photo by Deidre Woollard

Blend them together and you’ve got azurite, an excellent stone for dramatic jewelry. (I have earrings that look almost exactly like these.)

Looking more like traditional gemstones, because they are translucent, are garnets and amethysts. Garnets are red, though sometimes with a purple or brown tinge that, along with their greater availability, makes them much less valuable than rubies.

photo by Warren Barker

Amethysts are those purple crystals often found inside geodes (round-ish rocks that when split open reveal gorgeous crystals inside). Amethyst comes in a variety of shades, from pale violet to deep purple, with the darker shades being more valuable. Huge crystal amethyst specimens make great coffee table decorations, but again I prefer them for jewelry. Similar in color to pale amethyst is iolite, which has more of a bluish tinge to it.

After the amethysts and similar colored stones, I like many of the minerals, which can also be used in personal ornaments. There are different forms of these stones as well. The agate and quartz families are good examples. Tree agate sports threads and vines of a deep evergreen against an off-white background, while blue lace agate and rose quartz make a lovely combination as beads in necklaces.

Photo by Renee Ford

The jaspers are interesting too. They are usually named for what they resemble. Leopard jasper has dark spots on a yellowish background that makes it look, well, like a leopard’s skin. My favorite of the jaspers in picture jasper, which forms in layers that often resemble southwestern landscapes. It’s not unusual to see picture jasper cut into cabochons (stones that are rounded on top rather than faceted like most of the precious stones) and used as dramatic belt buckles.

photo by PresidenciaRD

Lately, another of my favorite stones is larimar. It is found only in the Dominican Republic (and a few other spots in the Carribean), so it is fairly rare. Larimar resembles turquoise, except that its color is a light, sky blue with occasional swirls of even lighter blue or white. Set in silver, it makes quite a striking appearance. It certainly attracts attention, the most common comment being, “What is that? And where did you get it?”

Of course you can order semi-precious stones and minerals on the internet, but it’s better to find a place where you can examine the pieces closely for flaws, exact color, and even authenticity. Small rock, fossil, and mineral shops, often in the southwestern U.S., are good places to look, as are gem and mineral shows for hobbyists in your local area.

Surprisingly, another good place to look is at science fiction conventions and Renaissance fairs. In both those venues, the desire to decorate oneself combined with lower budgets results in private dealers and hobbyists who display their wares in these locales. (I’ve bought a fair number of my semiprecious stones and mineral jewelry while dodging Klingons and orcs.)

And while you’re at it, don’t overlook the even lesser-known stones, like unakite, which is a dusky green and rose mixture, and zoisite, darker green than malachite and mottled with black, often with ruby inclusions. And aventurine, pale green and translucent. And watermelon tourmaline, which looks like what it sounds like. And hematite, shiny like black chrome. And…and…and….

My Love Affair With Amber

Amber is a treasure, a jewel, a gem that I first encountered over 20 years ago and have been in love with ever since.

Amber is also a hardened old fossil. Amber is special like that.

Sometimes I meet a woman named Amber, and I ask her, “Did you know that you’re named after petrified tree sap?” I usually get the smile, don’t make eye contact, back away slowly reaction.

But amber isn’t just a girl’s name or the color of waves of grain in a patriotic song. It’s a rare and precious thing, a thing that brings beauty and delight, a thing to adorn with and admire.

A gem, by any other name. And my favorite one.

Technically, amber is not a gemstone. It’s not a stone at all, or tree sap, really. It’s tree resin, for all the difference that makes. It’s millions of years old, sometimes contains insect parts, and is therefore famous as an important plot point in Jurassic Park.

amber gold
Photo by Dan Reily

To me, the best thing about amber is that it can be made into jewelry and other decorative items. I began collecting amber years ago, when I first saw some at a science fiction convention (it’s also often sold at Renaissance Fairs). A dealer known as The Amber Fox from Rochester, MI, had cases of the stuff, lovely clear yellows like fine pilsner beer, warm golds like orange blossom or buckwheat honey, lustrous brown and gold mixes, cloudy opaques and translucent wonders. Even a few pieces of deep red cherry amber were on display. They were carved and polished and fashioned into necklaces, earrings, bracelets, animal figures, boxes, and dice.

Soon my nose prints were all over the glass cases. And soon I started to buy. I started out small, with earrings. Since then I’ve bought many more earrings, a variety of necklaces, some pins, and a bracelet and ring for special occasions (amber is too soft to hold up well where it will be bumped or scratched, though a minor scratch can be polished out with toothpaste).

Photo by Dan Reily

And the collection includes three special items: a carved amber rabbit and a box made of tiny amber squares that my husband bought for me, and a carved amber bear that I bought for him. Both of us had to save a long time to afford them and they are among our most precious possessions.

We don’t own the most expensive kinds of amber, though, nor green amber, which I don’t particularly like. Amber is more expensive and valuable when it contains insect parts and especially when it includes whole insects, trapped at the moment of their death and preserved for millions of years in gorgeous stasis.

Amber is also more valuable when you have a whole room made of it. One was constructed in St. Petersburg, Russia, but it disappeared during World War II – stolen by Nazis, hidden so well that no one has found it, or destroyed in transport either to safety or to Hitler. In the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, a replica of the room has been made. Images of it are too spectacular to describe – mirrors and lamps amplify the colors and textures. The primary item on my “bucket list” is to travel to St. Petersburg to see it.

I love and collect other gems and semiprecious stones, both jewelry and carvings. Forget diamonds being a girl’s best friend. My best friends include malachite, amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, blue lace agate, sodalite, iolite, unakite, hematite, rose quartz, moss agate, and aventurine. But amber is my true love.