Storied Stones: Special Gemstones Come in Surprising Varieties

You’d think a pleasing color with a dash of splash would be enough for some people. And it is enough for me, sometimes even more than enough. For example, I have a simple silver ring with a small citrine round that looks good with whatever I’m wearing and brings a lot of compliments. And even though my husband is right that by trade standards, the pale hue barely counts as citrine, it makes the ring. But show me a gemstone with a lively mix of colors, graphic pattern, light show, or cool story, and it’s a true moth-to-the-flame moment for me.

ABOVE: John Dyer’s 3.24 ct DreamScapeTM rhodolite garnet. While garnet’s a common gemstone material, rhodolite’s not. This one has particularly impressive color and is oh-so-uncommonly cut! Photo: Lydia Dyer

Like what? Here are five examples.

1. Gemstones from Space

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This summer we celebrated the 50th anniversary of hearing astronaut Neil Armstrong telling us the Eagle has landed. Hours later, as he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered his most famous words: One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Sleep deprived, bleary eyed, alone because my parents figured seeing it on the news the next day would be good enough (WHAT???!!), I stayed up to watch. And when that staticky, flickering, stilty, jilty, black-and-white coverage came into our living room live from the moon, I was thrilled to witness it.

Pallasite meteorites are composed of nickel-iron studded with olivene. This slice is from the Esquel meteorite, courtesy Robert Haag; photo: Jim Lawson

Pallasite meteorites are composed of nickel-iron studded with olivene. This slice is from the Esquel meteorite, courtesy Robert Haag; photo: Jim Lawson

True, our explorations have brought “outer space” a whole lot closer to us in the last half century, but it’s still amazingly exotic. And the idea of a piece of jewelry sporting a gem from anywhere beyond our planet? That is just too cool, and meteorites aren’t merely exotic. They can be shiny, display striking etch patterns, and even contain crystals of olivene — known in the gem world as peridot. Now that is what I call awesome!

2. Accessorize with Ancient Life

The coiled form of an ammonite makes a compelling design element; photo: Jim Lawson

The coiled form of an ammonite makes a compelling design element; photo: Jim Lawson

When I tell friends outside the field about what we cover in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist or what I’ll be on the prowl for at the Tucson shows, they kind of twitch a bit. Fossils and jewelry at one event? Actually, yes — they make a natural pair. The fact that digging them out of the ground is a huge part of gathering gems, metals, and fossils is just the start. As preserved forms of once-living plants or animals, fossils can make excellent models for designs. Preserved just so, and they make excellent components themselves.

Ammonite earrings by Lexi Erickson show naturally formed spirals and the intricate pattern of the shell’s chambers when seen in cross section. Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

Ammonite earrings by Lexi Erickson show naturally formed spirals and the intricate pattern of the shell’s chambers when seen in cross section. Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

Distant cousins of the modern nautilus snail, fossil ammonites can be cut in cross section, polished, and set in jewelry. They are generally best used in items that are protected from rough wear.

3. Message from the Sea?

Once you’ve seen the gemstone called coquina, you won’t forget it; cabs courtesy Marilyn Mack; photo: Jim Lawson

Once you’ve seen the gemstone called coquina, you won’t forget it; cabs courtesy Marilyn Mack; photo: Jim Lawson

Its graphic pattern combined with a seashore-evoking name, the stone coquina (from the Spanish for shell) makes me think of the fairytale message in a bottle. Instead of slowly bobbing its way across an ocean’s vast expanses, though, coquina is a limestone containing bits of shell and is found on reefs. So, while there is no bottle involved, the message of coquina’s origins is rather written in the stone.

Marilyn Mack’s coquina pendant makes use of this dramatically patterned stone in combination with drusy agate, citrine, sterling silver, and 14K gold. It originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January/February 2012; photo: Jim Lawson

Marilyn Mack’s coquina pendant makes use of this dramatically patterned stone in combination with drusy agate, citrine, sterling silver, and 14K gold. It originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January/February 2012; photo: Jim Lawson

4. I’ll Take a Slice, Too, Please

 

Among faceted stones, a fine amethyst is a gem to behold. This outstanding Improved Simple Trillion was designed and cut by Jim Perkins and originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

Among faceted stones, a fine amethyst is a gem to behold. This outstanding Improved Simple Trillion was designed and cut by Jim Perkins and originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

Best known of purple gemstones would be amethyst. It’s a classic, a royal color, and birthstone for February. I’d move my birthday to February to wear this faceted amethyst in a ring! But amethyst in other forms can be used in jewelry, too.

Cross section or slice of a Brazilian amethyst stalactite. Wouldn’t that make a fabulous pendant? Stalactite courtesy Rare Earth Mining Company; photo: Jim Lawson

Cross section or slice of a Brazilian amethyst stalactite. Wouldn’t that make a fabulous pendant? Stalactite courtesy Rare Earth Mining Company; photo: Jim Lawson

We tend to think of stalactites as dripping, kinda slimy columns of limestone in a dank cave. But crisp, quartz-hard amethyst can crystallize around a cylindrical core, too. A slice of such an amethyst stalactite is so eye-catching, yet nothing like the amethyst most jewelry wearers have ever dreamed of.

5. It’s Not All About the Stone

5.94 ct aquamarine in a DreamscapeTM cut by John Dyer & Co.; photo: David Dyer. John Dyer’s work was featured in Smokin’ Stones in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist June 2009.

5.94 ct aquamarine in a DreamscapeTM cut by John Dyer & Co.; photo: David Dyer. John Dyer’s work was featured in Smokin’ Stones in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist June 2009.

Gemstone materials are only half the equation. Creating a gem is also, always, about the cut and the cutter. “Every rough has at least one ideal use,” says lapidary John Dyer. “My goal is to achieve that ideal use.” Using traditional faceting and other cutting techniques, Dyer produces extraordinary gemstones that are a perfect example of that “light show” idea I mentioned at the top. Faceting transparent material is all about manipulating ambient light to enter, bounce around, and come back out of a stone in ways that enchant us. Dyer is one of an elite group of cutters who have taken a new look at gem art in recent decades and brought it to spectacular new heights.

Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

Learn More About These Stones — Plus About a Hundred Others!

In 100+ Favorite Jewelry Gemstones, a special compilation from the editors of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, you’ll find the basics plus a bit of lore about a host of gems that jewelry makers love to set.

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