Meet the Gemstones: Dark and Neutral Gems for Winter

While October is the month of flaming leaves, pumpkins, brilliant chrysanthemums, and bright costumes on smiling children, November and early December are . . . well, a reality check. This time of year, winter becomes a reality. The trees are stripped bare. Snow, sleet, rain and ice start to ruin any morning commute, and all we have to look forward to is . . . more of the same for months.

ABOVE: Botswana agate beads, from the November/December 2018 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

So late fall and early winter is the time to celebrate neutrals–the browns, the beiges and creams, the grays, the dull greens, yellows, and purples–of the gemstone world.

Neutral Gemstones: Smoky Quartz

We can certainly start with smoky quartz which adds a mystic, misty feel that echoes the darkening world outside, with its overcast skies and fogs. But for neutrals that exercise any designer’s abilities, look among some of the known and unknown stones.

This Bostwana agate, cut by Bruce Barlow, is reminiscent of the worst a November has to offer, with rain, snow, and overcast skies. 43.5mm by 28mm. Right: This yellow and white Botswana agate, also cut by Bruce Barlow, will mirror the yellowed grasses as they begin to disappear in the snow. 27mm by 20mm. Photos courtesy Barlows Gems.

This Bostwana agate, cut by Bruce Barlow, is reminiscent of the worst a November has to offer, with rain, snow, and overcast skies. 43.5mm by 28mm. Right: This yellow and white Botswana agate, also cut by Bruce Barlow, will mirror the yellowed grasses as they begin to disappear in the snow. 27mm by 20mm. Photos courtesy Barlow’s Gems.

Neutral Gemstones: Botswana Agate

The delicate curving or angular bands of gray, brown, yellow, blue, and orange in Botswana agate recommend this stone. The endless variety of this beautiful material will have you paralyzed in your decision-making process. Depending on the colors in the agate, you can pair this with almost any other type of gemstone as accents or beads. And being agate, it can take all the wear you can dish out. It can be hard to find, according to the Barlow’s Gems website, as it is no longer legal to export this beautiful stone out of the country.

 The snow falling outside on a dark evening is echoed by the shapes of feldspar crystals in this Chinese writing rock cab cut by Bruce Barlow. 50mm by 20mm. Photo courtesy Barlow’s Gems.


The snow falling outside on a dark evening is echoed by the shapes of feldspar crystals in this Chinese writing rock cab cut by Bruce Barlow. 50mm by 20mm. Photo courtesy Barlow’s Gems.

Neutral Gemstones: Chinese Writing Rock

Chinese writing rock, or calligraphy stone, with its elegant white on black pattern of feldspar in black basalt, can make a dramatic statement in jewelry. Dress it up with pearls or black onyx beads–or both! Feldspar is a 6 in hardness, and basalt is in the same range, so it is durable enough to be worn in most types of jewelry.

For something appropriately dark for November, but still showing some color, coquina stone is a good choice. In her silver pendant, Marilyn Mack accented the golden inclusions in the coquina with a variety of citrines. Photos by Jim Lawson.

For something appropriately dark for November, but still showing some color, coquina stone is a good choice. In her silver pendant, Marilyn Mack accented the golden inclusions in the coquina with a variety of citrines. Photos by Jim Lawson. As seen in the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January/February 2012 issue.

Neutral Gemstones: Coquina

Coquina, which Floridians claim as their state stone, is a type of limestone containing shells and shell fragments. It has a dark purplish-red body laced with dark gold or yellow ochre swirls and fragments. Looking for something to go with that dark maroon winter coat? This is perfect. Coquina is only a 3 in hardness, so you’ll want to put this into earrings or pendants, but it’s sure to start conversations.

Gibeon meterorite. From the March 2013 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Gibeon meteorite. From Smokin’ Stones in the March 2013 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Neutral Gemstones: Meteorites

For a neutral stone that is truly out of this world, there are meteorites. What could represent the darkness of winter more completely than a shooting star flying across a crystal clear night sky? And how much better to be able to touch one. Meteorites can be worked as metal or set as stone. They’re all unique. Accent them with almost anything from raw diamonds and other steely dark stones to the blood red of a garnet. Their metallic gray color is a wonderful foil to most gemstones.

Obsidian is so much more than black. Here, the selection includes snowflake, sheen, rainbow, and mahogany obsidian. Stones cut by Bob Rush. As seen in the July 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Obsidian is so much more than black. Here, the selection includes snowflake, sheen, rainbow, and mahogany obsidian. Stones cut by Bob Rush. As seen in the July 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Neutral Gemstones: Obsidian

For a classic dark and moody look, you can’t do better than obsidian. Although usually translucent to transparent black to dark green, it can be so dark as to look opaque. But obsidian can also be mixed with white crystals in snowflake obsidian, or colored by hematite to produce red or brown obsidian. The chocolate brown of mahogany obsidian, flecked with black patches, is warm and cozy on a nasty day. Tiny bubbles trapped in the stone produce a sheen like chatoyance—or the cat’s-eye effect. Just the hint you might need that spring will come again.

We haven’t touched on the classic neutral–black onyx—or cream-colored bone, gray raw diamonds, or the myriad jaspers in dull greens and reds. There is no end of muted or neutral colors that will match the weather or your mood.

You know what? All of a sudden, this time of year doesn’t look so bleak.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.


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