Nano Gemstones Get a Nod from Lis-el Crowley in Metal Clay Jewelry
When metal clay jewelry artist Lis-el Crowley ordered some mysterious nano gemstones from Thailand a year ago, she was in for a surprise. “The thing that excited me the most were the beautiful colors. I’m used to seeing a lot of sparkle and beauty, but my eyes just lit up when I got them in the mail the first time,” she says.
ABOVE: Nano gems courtesy of CoolTools
A certified metal clay instructor, Crowley works with Art Clay Silver and EZ960. She kiln fires these micro-ceramic/glass/spinel gemstones directly into her lyrical metal clay jewelry settings. She’s also an on-camera instructor at CoolTools.us and recommended that the company offer nano gems to the public.
Cool Tools, based out of a small town in Wisconsin, appears to be one of the first companies to offer these gemstones in the United States. They’re also one of the best suppliers of innovative tools, molds, videos, and other materials for metal clay jewelry artists.
“You work with nano gems just the same as CZs,” Crowley says. “They are created under such a high-heat process that the colors survive kiln firing.” Although nano gems can be more expensive, they come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes and hold their color better than some CZ hues.
Richer Color for Metal Clay Jewelry
To me, they also seem just a tad more natural in color than CZs. I bought several of these gemstones from Cool Tools for a closer look. The largest nano gem, a $9 barrel-cut 11x15mm blue “spinel,” showed flashes of red under incandescent light, known as dichroism. Two 6mm peridot colored stones contained very similar tones to a couple of Colorado peridot gemstones I had on hand. Same for a purple Asscher-cut stone when compared with gem-grade amethyst rough from Canada.
The Cool Tools website notes that nano gems are safe to kiln fire in metal clay jewelry up to 1675F/913C when embedded in silver clay heated on an open shelf, except for dark orange and orange stones. Those are safely fired up to 1650F/899C.
Just What Are Nano Gems?
These manmade gemstones were developed around 2011 by a Russian company at their factory in Thailand and come in hundreds of transparent, opal, and opaque colors. According to the Russian-based website, nano gems are a glass-ceramic material with nano sized (10⁻⁹m) crystals of spinel in an aluminosilicate glass matrix. But it’s not a glass, mineral, or synthetic crystal. Instead, nano gems are hybrid gemstones. This composite material has unique physical and optical properties, too. The color is homogenous; the melting temperature is more than 1650 C/300 2F), and the stones’ high thermal shock resistance makes them suitable for stone-in-place wax casting in addition to kiln-fired metal clay jewelry
Hardness: 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale
Refractive Index: 1.61 to 1.64
Hardness: 8–8.5 on the Mohs scale
Refractive index: 2.15–2.18
Hardness: 10 on the Mohs scale
Refractive Index: 2.42
Azure Settings: Nano Gems in Metal Clay Jewelry
Crowley says it’s important that the stones be set in metal clay bezels so that the back of the setting is open, known as an azure setting. Light should be able to pass all the way through these manmade gems. Otherwise the colors can change, get muddy, or lose their luster.
For instruction, Crowley has created numerous videos for Cool Tools and has collaborated with them on new tool ideas. Cool Tools offers a set of calibrated templates for creating metal clay jewelry bezels for faceted stones.
Cool Tools Tip: The size of the azure should be slightly smaller than the size of the stone. For example, a 4mm stone would benefit from a 3.5mm or larger hole.
Destructive Testing on Nano Gems
Of course, I had to try to destroy one of the stones to see how durable it was. I dropped it on the bathroom tile floor several times to see if I could chip it. This can be a common accident with jewelry. But nothing happened. So, I threw it down with force, but it still did not chip.
Undaunted, I taped it to a bench block on a stump and hit it with a light hammer. It survived that, too, until I hit it a couple times with a 2-pound mallet. This durability means it could be a good candidate as a prong-set stone in gold or silver jewelry.
Finally, I put shards of it on a Solderite board and heated it with a torch until it glowed and began to sink into the surface. Once it cooled back down, its color returned.
As confusing as lab-created gemstones can be for some people, they have a place in the jewelry making world. They can be a fun and inexpensive way to add more bling to your bling, and offer more options for firing stones in metal clay jewelry. And watch–more and more companies will be offering them soon.
Master metal clay jewelry making and learn more about gemstones with these resources!