What’s So Special About These 10 Gemstones?

Be prepared to change course abruptly. Ask anyone who’s walked a gem show with me: it’s an exercise in zigzagging from one tabletop to another to drink in the most intense orange or purple, curious optical effect, or strange pattern. I like other colors. I appreciate how sophisticated a matte finish or simple solid can look. But I am drawn like a magnet to gemstones that are splashy or display some unexpected effect.

ABOVE: Pierced Overlay Silver Pendant with Opal by Marie-Chantal Nadeau, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist May/June 2017; photo: Jim Lawson

1. A Drop of Opal

Just to demonstrate that I am not a total magpie all the time, I give you Exhibit A above. It’s a contained little piece, mostly about the silver and the different depths within it, displayed through piercing, overlay, and patination. Even the artist who made this pendant describes adding a stone as optional, but I think that one gemstone sets off the rest of the piece and finishes it. When it’s brightly colored with pinks and blues and greens and yellows like this little cab, all you need to make a big difference is one little drop of opal.

2. Drusy Rainbow in Pyrite

Drusy rainbow pyrite nodule seen at Russian Gems at the 2018 Tucson shows; photo: M. White

Drusy rainbow pyrite nodule seen at Russian Gems at the 2018 Tucson shows; photo: M. White

Then again, why not go for something that has brightly colored pinks, blues, greens, and yellows — that’s also big and has orange and purple, plus a coating of glittering drusy crystals? Most of this material is sold as smaller bits (as in the charoite pendant farther down). But I could see the sections of a half nodule like this making a heck of a centerpiece, with just a couple of caveats. To be wearable, a stone or composite focal probably shouldn’t be more than a few inches across. Likewise, it shouldn’t be so heavy it topples the wearer or tears clothing. This drusy rainbow pyrite nodule might be a tad large, but keep looking when you’re at shows. The right piece, breaks and all, would look smashing on a substantial jacket or overcoat lapel.

3. The Lotus Flower Padparadscha

Pear-shaped, lab-grown Chatham-Created padparadscha sapphire gemstone; photo: Jim Lawson

Pear-shaped, lab-grown Chatham-Created padparadscha sapphire; photo: Jim Lawson

Or, you could go for the most exquisite deep pinkish orange, classically faceted, for a stunning center stone. Then just stand back and accept compliments. Named for the color of an outstanding lotus flower, padparadscha sapphires are amazing, but also amazingly expensive. This one happens to be a Chatham Created gem, a manmade material, and manmade gemstones are usually far less pricey than their natural counterparts.

4. The Gentle Glow of Prehnite

Hollowform Prehnite Pendant by Tom & Kay Benham, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist October 2018; photo: Jim Lawson - gemstones

Hollowform Prehnite Pendant by Tom & Kay Benham, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist October 2018; photo: Jim Lawson

The warm greens of prehnite make a great complement to my favorite oranges and purples, but what attracts me most to this gemstone is its mysterious light. Translucent enough to be bright but almost never transparent, there’s nothing quite like prehnite with its soft glimmer.

Hang it from the center or a corner: this bail design allows the piece to be worn either way; photo: Jim Lawson

Hang it from the center or a corner: this bail design allows the piece to be worn either way; photo: Jim Lawson

The bail on this pendant is placed on the back, making the finding invisible when worn. This lets you focus entirely on the stone and its setting. It also makes the pendant stand up just a bit when worn, giving it a little extra pop. The bail also gives the pendant more versatility because it can be worn at different angles.

5. Charoite: Purple Chatoyance at Its Finest

Charoite Pendant with other gemstones: ametrine, citrine, corundum, and rainbow drusy pyrite, by Marilyn Mack. Originally published with a profile of the artist in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

Charoite Pendant with ametrine, citrine, corundum, and rainbow drusy pyrite, by Marilyn Mack. Originally published with a profile of the artist in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2013; photo: Jim Lawson

There aren’t many options for chatoyant purple gemstones anyway, but this one is a killer. Charoite’s deep violet shades are rich without going black, happily set off with lighter purple shades, white, black, and sometimes a bit of peach or pale green, too. Charoite’s swirling patterns give it a sense of movement, which is made greater in material with that light-bending phenomenon known as chatoyance.

6. The Two-fer Phenom Pietersite

Pietersite and white gold ring; photo: Jeff Scovil

Pietersite and white gold ring; photo: Jeff Scovil

The best known gemstone for chatoyance, aka the cat’s-eye effect, is probably tigereye. That’s a golden-colored quartz containing long, thin, fibrous needle-like crystals that roll the light back at you. A similar material called hawk’s-eye is blue. Pietersite is a combination of the two, and often a little something else.

High Polish Pietersite Pendant by Lexi Erickson, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2012; photo: Jim Lawson

High Polish Pietersite Pendant by Lexi Erickson, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2012; photo: Jim Lawson

If a stone shows enough “inky sky,” it can act as the perfect backdrop for a gem’s lightning flashes of gold and blue.

7. Kyanite: Rolling Flash of Blue

Cut kyanite gemstones courtesy Barlows Gems; photo: Jim Lawson

Cut kyanite courtesy Barlows Gems; photo: Jim Lawson

A blue all its own, kyanite is known for its long, fibrous crystals and its frequent chatoyancy. Like the cabs seen here, cut stones often show a mix from very pale to deep blue, with that rollling light effect. Kyanite is also found occasionally in a rich blue and in crystals clean enough to facet, and those gemstones or beads can be mistaken for blue sapphires. (There’s also an orange kyanite, but I’ve never seen it cut . . . yet.)

8. Designer Cabs

Steve Walters’s composite agate cabochon, seen at Tucson, 2018; photo: M. White - composite gemstones

Steve Walters’s composite agate cabochon, seen at Tucson, 2018; photo: M. White

Sometimes it’s mostly about the stone, but a lot of what makes any stone look so good is the cut. And some cutters specialize in the unusual. When I first met Steve Walters (let’s just say it was a long time ago), he was carving stones like beautiful agates, chrysoprase, and blue chalcedony one at a time into lovely gemstones. He’s also been putting some of them together to make composites, such as this cabochon. If nature hasn’t provided a little quiet space in one piece of agate rough, it doesn’t mean a gem artist can’t do it for you. Here, Steve has put three agates together with a couple of little ribbons of silver.

9. Curved Flat . . . What?

Basket Set Concave Gem, blue topaz cut by Mark Gronlund, pendant by Phil Griner, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January 2009; photo: Jim Lawson

Basket Set Concave Gem, blue topaz cut by Mark Gronlund, pendant by Phil Griner, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January 2009; photo: Jim Lawson

Sometimes a gemstone’s cut is also about the cutting equipment. About 30 years ago, a facetor named Doug Hoffman was working on a machine that would cut concave facets. In 1990, he cofounded Poly-Metric Instruments and brought his newly developed Optical Magnified Facet (OMF) machine to market. Since a facet is usually considered a flat surface, “curved facets” sounds like a contradiction in terms. But what was meant was the machine could be used to cut curved surfaces in a regular, precise faceting pattern, producing even more interesting optical effects than flat facets would. And these facets certainly do just that. Mark Gronlund has made a specialty of concave faceting using the OMF and is a master of it.

10. Ametrine: It’s Both

Dalan Hargrave’s carved and faceted ametrine appeared on the cover of the 2019 Tucson Show Guide; photo: Jim Lawson - gemstones

Dalan Hargrave’s carved and faceted ametrine appeared on the cover of the 2019 Tucson Show Guide; photo: Jim Lawson

The gemstone known as ametrine is called that because it is part amethyst (purple quartz) and part citrine (yellow quartz), and can be cut to show off its distinct colors or blend them. Dalan Hargrave facets stones traditionally, uses the OMF for creating concave facets, carves, and mixes it all up. For this strikingly zoned ametrine, he chose a relatively simple design that combines faceting and carving to show both colors and the cut in perfect balance.

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

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