Lexi's Gemstone Cabochon Collection: Finding Your Personal Color Palette


This one was way out of my comfort zone, but I had to bring it home. I call it "Leonardo Meets Tim Burton." Do you know what it is?

Those of you who have followed my writing on JMD know two things. My absolute passions are writing for JMD and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and teaching. Well, I have a third passion–ROCKS! Remember in junior high (for those of you who remember when it was called junior high), all your friends had boxes of make-up hid under their bed, and they experimented with it when mom and dad were gone? Well, I had boxes of rocks, and a few Lapidary Journals, too. Now we are talking…uh…a few years ago. But I loved agates that I found on my grandparents' land in West Texas. Give me a bag of agates and a hammer and I was happy for hours. (I'm so easily entertained.)


I don't have many blue stones, but when I do, they are doozies….I mean drusies! This chrysocola drusy is from The Clam Shell.

Now that I'm grown up, I love taking my students to the Denver Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show each September. It's the second-largest rock show in the U.S. and has great cabochon and bead selections. I'm known to bring anywhere from four to fifteen students at a time with me–my entourage, as Mark Lasater at The Clam Shell calls it. I love showing off the stones my favorite cutters have on display. And OH WOW! I get so tickled at watching students pick stones. They choose a creamy blue chalcedony, passionate purple charorites, dreamy amazonites, a luscious eudyalite from Russia…get the picture? I get petrified palm wood and Chinese writing stone. Nor can I refuse a yummy green serpentine, or the religious experience of that special chrysoprase, or hot red jaspers, and fossils… (Need I explain fossils???)

No, I don't buy one or two of each, but five or ten of each. Students look at me and say, "Lexi, those are the same stones you bought last year." Yes, they are. And I'll let you in on a little secret few people know: I'm colorblind. These stones are in the colors I can see well, plus I have learned they blend well together. The only blues I have are turquoise because they seem to blend well, no matter if the blues are a bit different. If you look back at my articles in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, you will find I have a particular color palette. While I never thought these were my "favorite" colors, the colors appealed to me, and they chose me to put them together. You may soon discover your own color palette, too. As you progress as a jewelry artist, you will find your favorite cutters and learn which of their shapes and stone colors work best with your designs.

Just a few of my favorite Chinese writing stones, the cross is about 4 inches long. I really love these stones. I must, I have about 100 of them and that's still not enough!

For example, let's take Chinese writing stone, also called Chinese letter stone. I love a strong white, which are andalusite crystals, shining against the dark black matrix background. Though it has been found in a few areas of the world, I like the kind that is primarily from the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. This mixes well with red jaspers, especially if they both have matte finishes, made popular by Gary B. Wilson. Love, Love LOVE them!

But maybe red, black, and white just isn't your choice? There is rare Chinese writing stone that comes in black and green.

This rare green Chinese writing stone is so unusual, I just can't part with it.

Lots of us like a bit of glitz and glam. Drusies give you that sparkle and can be found inside the large spheres called geodes. While not too gorgeous on the outside, cracking open a spectacular geode and finding crystals on the inside can rock your world! Check out geodes on the web; I won't go into the formation process here, but it's pretty fascinating.

Petroglyphs: Drusies mixed with petrified palm wood. Who says they don't go together?

Natural drusies come in a variety of colors, from a pale lemon yellow or delicate apricot to black, which is oh-so-sophisticated and fabulous. A super simple setting really sets off a spectacular black drusy. No need to have curliques and dangly things on a black drusy, because the stone itself speaks volumes.

Drusies: A natural apricot cut by Greg Genovese and some titanium-flashed drusies.


This is a particularly nice piece of petrified palm wood, cut by Gary B. Wilson. One of my favorites!

Sometimes drusies can be surface treated with a coating, which gives stunning metallic blues. Some people love them, others not so much, and it just depends on your taste. Whether natural or enhanced, drusies are always conversation starters. A little tip here: when setting a drusy in a metal bezel, paint a few layers of rubber cement on the stone. That way, if your bezel pusher slips, it won't mar the drusy. After setting, the rubber cement peels right off.

Shall we speak of ancient treasures? Like petrified palm trees? Believe it or not, these stones are full of color and texture. One of my favorites in my collection is an unusually shaped stone in which the color fades from khaki to black. I will set it with a small diamond in a gold tube set, snuggled down into the black part. I'm pretty sure I'll never part with that. It's mine (rubbing my hands greedily).


This is one of my all-time favorites, soon to be set in gold. It's about 2 inches across. I just have to buy the gold!

Another favorite purchased from Greg King in Taos, New Mexico, is a very pink petrified palm. Evidently many of these stones are from trees that grew around the Louisiana and Texas border, though Brazil has contributed mightily to the collection, too.

And ammonites, the shells of marine animals, are another favorite. In fact, I have a step-by-step project coming up in the April issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist on how to set a pair of ammonites as earrings. I hope you will enjoy it, as I have loved these earrings.

Finally, one of the most luscious colors ever found, even if you don't like pink, is the world's finest rhodochrosite from the 11,381-foot-high Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado, one of my old stomping grounds. The color is unbelievable in the specimen found in the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. This gem-quality material is not like the rhodochrosite you so often see, which has a lot of white veining and also some concentric circles. The Sweet Home rhodo is translucent and gemmy. It is available in cab form too, but it's not cheap.

So as I've said, your color palette will choose you as you progress as a jewelry artist. I've seen it happen many times with my students, so give it some time. Right now you may be grabbing everything sparkly that catches your eye, and that's okay. That's how you learn. We all do it. It took me a while for the colors to really say, "Pick me!" Now that I have, I have a pretty good collection of my color palette stones. Stones that I thought I loved at one time, and then not so much–well, those pieces are now in galleries and shops. Someone will love them. You see, I have bought stones I fell in love with, and now I won't part with them. Don't do that if you plan on selling your work. You just may be like me and never sell anything you truly love.

Enjoy your search for your color palette. Come with me to the Denver show and meet my favorite cutters. I promise you will fall in love many times. Yes, I promise! Somewhere out there is your palette, your stone, and when they find you, you will never forget that moment.

Happy hunting,

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