Rarity, Beauty, Durability: Gemstone Truths or Myths?
Ask anyone in the jewelry trade what makes a good gem and the standard answer is "rarity, beauty, and durability." The problem is that many people take these ideas to mythic proportions and believe that all gems have to be all three of these things. Here's why they do not.
1. Gems have to be rare.
Nonsense! Some gems are very rare, but rarer does not necessarily mean better. A stone can be widely available and still look spectacular on your finger. In fact, gems can't be too rare or there aren't enough of them to create a market—no one knows about them. Drusy kinoite is a lovely, sparkling blue stone that's almost never seen in jewelry because there's so little of it around. You'd have to prowl the halls of many a gem and mineral show to ferret some out. On the other hand, it's hardly an accomplishment to locate a ruby, emerald, or sapphire in a jewelry store. And don't even get me started on diamonds, the one gemstone that really is traded as a commodity!
2. Gems have to be beautiful.
Because gems are ornamental objects, usually used in jewelry, we pretty much expect them to be appealing to the eye—but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you or your customers go weak in the knees over earthen-colored jaspers, while the blue aquamarines your friend loves make you yawn and vice versa, who's to say only one of you is right? Let academics argue over what beauty is: decide if you like a gem and leave it at that.
3. Gems have to be durable.
This is almost always true. If you want to put a gem into a piece of jewelry, then that gem needs to be durable enough to withstand being drilled and strung or set in metal or another material. A jewelry gem should also hold up under reasonable wear, without getting scratched, chipped, or otherwise damaged. But not all jewelry takes the same amount of abuse in daily life.
A ring stone can get smacked around pretty hard. The stones in a bracelet less so. Quartz gems, such as agate, jasper, citrine, and amethyst, are up to the ring or bracelet challenge. The beads of a necklace may interact with someone's body chemistry or perfume: pearls may suffer this fate, which is one reason the pearlescent layer of nacre shouldn't be too thin. A pendant or pin gets little, if any, wear and earrings, virtually none, so wearability isn't much of an issue.
Then, too, not all gems are put into jewelry: some are collector gems, meant strictly for display in a case. They only have to be durable enough to be cut and some gem cutters can cut almost anything.
Gems aren't indestructible, but you can recycle them. Quite nice gems do break sometimes and when they do they can often be salvaged by recutting them into smaller stones for use in something new—like a stone bead sliced in half to make a cabochon ("cab" for short), a gem that's domed on one side and flat on the other. This is exactly what lapidary and metalsmith Michael Boyd shows you how to do in the next issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. You don't even need special lapidary equipment. Plus, he shows you how to use the broken beads you convert into cabs to create a pair of very cool, two-sided, kinetic earrings.
It's part of our Special Design Issue in September, in which you'll also learn more about the stones used for those bead/cabs, how to reuse your metal scrap and make copper wire spacers, and see great designs galore: the Jewelry Arts Awards winners, readers' Design Challenge Execution pieces, the amazing work of Mary Ann Scherr, Arline Fisch and other artists who think about jewelry as textiles, and a lot more besides.
You can buy the Design Issue from the online Interweave Store or subscribe now with this special offer. It's a gem of an issue and a gem of a deal.