Art Nouveau: Broken Lights of Color

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Art Nouveau Style Boarders and Frames

Art Nouveau Style Boarders and Frames

Leslie Jordan Clary

Art Nouveau was a short-lived art movement from the 1880s to World War I that has had a big influence on the world of jewelry design. With its wild flourishes and free form sensual lines, known as the “whiplash line,” Art Nouveau provided a flamboyant contrast to the staid conventions of Edwardian jewelry that was also popular at the time.

The term Art Nouveau (new art) comes from the French, and France is generally considered the heart of the movement, the place where the art form culminated in both vision and technique. But Art Nouveau was a global movement. Known also as the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain, Jugendstil in Germany, the American Arts and Crafts movement as well as other terms, each country made its unique contribution to the style. All sought to celebrate freedom and to express the organic spontaneity of nature through art.

Floral Design in art nouveau style

In an age when the world was hurtling toward modernity, Art Nouveau rose up as a protest against mass production and the decline of individual craftsmanship. For inspiration, its artists looked to nature and the imagination. Designs that were surreal and disturbing were juxtaposed with gentle, floral motifs.

New lines of communication brought new ideas and artistic techniques to the attention of European artists. Japanese art, in particular, with its simple lines representing wind and water, as well as its subtle use of color, was a major influence in the development of Art Nouveau.

The impetus for the movement

During the 19th century Great Britain was the focal point of modernization. The Industrial Revolution began here, and England’s role as a colonizing empire opened the public’s mind to new ideas and art forms.

Not everyone was happy with industrialization, however, and many critics, particularly among artists and writers, spoke out against mass production, which they believed lessened the intrinsic value of an object. An artistic movement called the Arts and Crafts movement was born that called for a return to traditional methods and individual craftsmanship. The movement was spiritual in origin. It rejected the cold, mechanical influence of industrialization and yearned to reconnect with nature. Yet, industrialization also created the conditions for new cultures and ideas to emerge. It was dichotomy that found expression in the emerging new art forms.

The Arts and Crafts movement sought to reestablish the Medieval tradition of guilds and schools where artisans were taught how to craft an object from conception to finished product. The past was idealized as a time of lost innocence and ancient patterns of Gothic and Celtic art were rekindled, along with an appreciation of the history they represented.

Art Nouvveau peacock design

Two of the most influential designers from Britain’s Arts and Crafts period are Charles R. Ashbee and William Morris. Ashbee became well known for his vibrant peacock designs. The bodies were fashioned from abalone or turquoise-colored enamel with flamboyantly bejeweled tail feathers.  He also used floral motifs with sinuous, fluid lines that heralded the early patterns that would come to define Art Nouveau.

William Morris, although best known as a poet, is considered one of Great Britain’s great cultural icons. He was a major force in many avant-garde artistic circles and had a major influence on Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Although significant artists and artwork emerged from the Arts and Crafts movement, Great Britain was not quite ready to embrace the free form sensuality of the designs, and the movement there was relatively short lived.

On the European continent

Art Nouvveau Style Eve Painting

Whereas Great Britain was prim in their interpretation of the new ideas put forth by the Arts and Crafts movement, France picked up the thread and ran with it without inhibition. From France emerged Art Nouveau, as we know it today. Like Great Britain, France also embellished upon Gothic and Celtic designs, but now these flowing lines and patterns moved into the realm of the surreal. Like a nightmare on Sesame Street, in the hands of the French, Art Nouveau took on a deeper, psychological edge with nightmarish images. Woman as muse continued to be a recurrent theme, but these representations no longer idealized women in the manner of Victorian or Edwardian art, capturing them in cameos or in stiff portraits. Half woman and half insect creatures emerged from lotus blossoms. Medusa heads peeked out from bunches of leaves. Tree trunks took the forms of sinuous nudes.

Japanese Style Art Nouveau Floral Design

Japanese art with its delicate lines and subdued colors continued to have an impact and was absorbed into the French expression, but often with a twist. Some of these bizarre images may have been spurred on by drug use among the avant-garde Parisian café society who experimented with both drugs and ideas as a way of breaking through strictures and confinements. Natural beauty continued to be celebrated, but along with the flowers, the French gave the worms equal attention.

Several prominent jewelry designers came from this period. One of the most influential and innovative is René Lalique, who is credited with being the first Art Nouveau artist to use the female nude in his work. Lalique’s dramatic pieces are unequaled in their vision and surrealism. These sensual renditions were often portrayed as part insect, part fish, with strong sexual undertones. His pieces are experimental and he often incorporated glass into the enameling techniques. In gemstones he favored opals and moonstones and liked to play with the interplay of light and sparkle in his creations.

Lalique reached his pinnacle at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, but he became disillusioned with replicas of his work and moved away from Art Nouveau jewelry. Dozens of other designers, however, left their mark, as the movement transformed the way Europe looked at art.

Art Nouveau Butterfly

Known as Jugendstil in Germany, the early Art Nouveau work from this period is often indistinguishable from that which came from France. One representative artist, who also exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, is Wilhelm Lucas von Discuss Cranach. Like his French counterpoints, the Gothic influenced Cranach’s work. Blending beauty with terror, Cranach’s fantasy creatures came in the mutated forms of bugs and fish. His most famous brooch is an octopus with butterfly wings that is made from enameled gold, baroque pearls, diamonds, rubies, amethyst and topaz.

Jugendstil found inspiration in the British Arts and Crafts movement, but it evolved into a unique style of its own, and the later period distinguished itself with new emerging designs. Gentle floral motifs morphed into abstractions and then geometric shapes serving as a prelude to the Art Deco movement that would eventually pass up Art Nouveau.

Across the Atlantic

On the other side of the ocean, in the United States, a unique style that was strongly rooted in the Art Nouveau tradition yet with a distinctive flair was coming into its own. Two primary forces are behind the innovative jewelry of this era: Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Chicago Arts and Crafts movement.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was born into the well-established jewelry company his father had founded. Unlike his father, however, Louis was drawn to art more than to business. Louis traveled widely and brought new ideas from abroad to the Tiffany workshop. Inspired by Arts and Crafts movement in England, particularly their use of enamels and metals, Louis also incorporated Oriental and Byzantine motifs into creations that have been described as a blend of the English Arts and Crafts school and the motifs of Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau style jewelry

Tiffany’s first gemologist, George Frederick Kunz, also had a profound effect on American jewelry design in the early 20th century. Like Louis, Kunz also traveled the world, but his search was for the world’s most exquisite gemstones to add to the Tiffany collection. At the time, most fine jewelers had little appreciation for unusual colored gemstones, preferring the standard diamonds, rubies and emeralds instead. Kunz, however, recognized their potential and began collecting the world’s most unusual gemstones, which began to create a buzz in artistic circles. In a 1927 Saturday Evening Post article, Kunz recalls a conversation with writer Oscar Wilde in which Wilde is quoted as saying, “My dear fellow, I see a renaissance of art, a new vogue to jewelry in this idea of yours. Bah! Who cares for the conservatives? Give them their costly jewels and conventional settings. Let me have these broken lights — these harmonies and dissonances of color.” (Kunz, 1927).

Kunz was equally passionate about American gemstones. Matrix turquoise, peridot from Arizona’s Apache nation, scintillating tourmaline from southern California, Montana sapphire and other American gems, formerly overlooked, found themselves suddenly coveted with a new value.

Using gemstones that Kunz had chosen, Louis set to work combining these stones in new and unusual patterns, ones that were more concerned about color and effect than intrinsic value. With graceful, coiling gold scrolls and unusual stones, he also incorporated glass into his pieces. The result was an art jewelry that became known as Tiffany Studio jewelry

Just as France was the global hub for Art Nouveau, Chicago served as the focal point for the American version. Founded in 1897, the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society adhered to an aesthetic of simplicity of design and use of natural materials. A number of innovative metalsmiths emerged from the Chicago Arts and Crafts movement. They drew inspiration from Native Americans, the American colonial period and nature. Their work reflected both the idealism of nature found in the British Arts and Crafts movement and the sensuality of the French Art Nouveau.

During this period several prominent women jewelers emerged in what had previously been a male dominated vocation. If you’re going to be in Chicago during the next year, the Driehaus Museum will be exhibiting Maker and Muse: Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry, which will feature the work of several of these early jewelers from the Chicago movement as well as some exquisite period pieces. The show opens Feb. 14, 2015 and continues until January 2016.


Beer Labels Art Nouveau Style

Each country that embraced Art Nouveau expressed it in a slightly different way, yet there were significant unifying connectors. The whiplash line is distinctly an Art Nouveau line expressing movement and passion. This line shows up in virtually all pieces. The lithe female nude also achieved prominence during this period, portrayed in ways that were both innocent and sensual. Mythological beasts, winged demons and other fantasy creatures were also adapted. Color and gemstones were also brought together in new and innovative ways.

Art Nouveau was a hopeful movement, celebrating freedom of expression and a sensual response to the natural world. The intentions were optimistic: to renew an interest in art and develop a new art form. Perhaps World War I damped some of the hopefulness of Art Nouveau. Or maybe it was the rise of cubism and modernism, but the Art Nouveau movement died out quickly and Art Deco with its sharp angles and geometric shapes became the next rage.

However, today it is one of the most sought after periods at major auction houses and throughout the past 100 years Art Nouveau has enjoyed limited revivals.


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Brazil’s Rich Gemstone Legacy

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Agate - a popular Brazilian gemstone

By Danielle Olivia Tefft

One of the world’s most bountiful locations for natural colored gemstones is the country of Brazil. The variety of specimens waiting to be unearthed in almost every corner of the hilly country is simply amazing. But Brazil doesn’t just have ample deposits of popular gems like agate and topaz. The naturally abundant South American country also touts many more desirable gemstones. These include beryls (which include emeralds), chrysoberyls, iolite, kunzite, spessartite garnet, tourmaline and coveted varieties of quartz. Like Madagascar and Russia’s Ural Mountains, Brazil can truly be considered to be one of nature’s jewelry stores.

Amethyst, Citrine, Aquamarine Gemstones From Brazil

Brazil’s foray into the modern gem industry has a history over 500 years in the making. It began early in the 16th century when the Portuguese landed on Brazilian shores and began establishing colonies. This was the first encounter the indigenous people of the country had with the Europeans. The French and Spanish also tried to claim parts of Brazil but the Portuguese thwarted their attempts and kept Brazil for themselves. By the 1700s, the Portuguese discovered the gold and gemstone wealth of their South American acquisition. They forced African slaves to labor in the mines and usurped all profits from mining endeavors for the Portuguese Crown. Copious amounts of gold and fabulous gems were transported back to Portugal to be incorporated into royal jewels.

Tumbled semi-Precious gemstones From Brazil


Today, if you ask where gem and mineral lovers should travel to view and shop for the most coveted jewels in Brazil, you will undoubtedly be directed to Rio de Janeiro. It’s located on the country’s southeastern Atlantic coast. The sprawling seaside city is well known as a playground for the rich and famous. It’s also the main hub of Brazil’s thriving tourist industry. So it should come as no surprise that Rio de Janeiro is also the most renowned gem dealing hub in the country. Both H. Stern and Amsterdam Sauer, giants in the industry, have headquarters in the city. Both companies also house impressive gem museums there, as well.

Tourmalated Quartz, Ametrine, Golden Rutile Quartz, Smokey Quartz And Citrine From Brazil

As notable as Rio de Janeiro is for the gem trade, Minas Gerais is actually the highest yielding gemstone producing state in Brazil. Minas Gerais is a landlocked Brazilian state. It covers an area slightly larger than that of the country of France. Its eastern-most border lies between 100 and 150 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro. The state’s name, “Minas Gerais” actually means “General Mines” in Portuguese. It has long been known for its bountiful deposits of gold and gems.


Brazil flag made of precious stones

The capital of Minas Gerais is Belo Horizonte. The city is also the gem dealing center of the abundant Brazilian state. With major gem dealing hubs like Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, you would think that gemstones were only available in these large metropolitan locales. However, there is also a strong “mom and pop” gem trade in the outlying Brazilian villages located near gem fields, alluvial deposits and rural mines. Such small lapidary businesses are run by local families who have learned to hand cut and polish the gemstones they find through several generations. It’s not uncommon for even young children to be involved, selling loose stones to willing tourists right out of their pockets.

The following is a list of some of the more notable Brazilian gems and where they are found. (Note: the Mohs hardness of each gem family or gem is given. Gemstones are graded on this scale created by German geologist Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839). The scale ranges from 1 to 10. Diamonds rank 10, as they are the hardest naturally occurring mineral known to man.)




The Beryls: (Mohs hardness 7.5-8)

Aquamarine – color: deep sky blue; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Enormous specimens have been found, including a 552,500 carat aquamarine in 1910. It weighed over 240 pounds.

Emerald – color: deep forest green; where found: The states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, and Goias; notable fact: Brazil is the one of the world’s largest emerald producers. It isn’t uncommon for emeralds over 200 carats to be unearthed.

Morganite – color: dusky pink to lilac; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Most of the morganite on the world market today hails from Brazil.





The Chrysoberyls: (Mohs hardness of 8.5)

Cat’s eye – color: brown with shifting white central band; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Cat’s Eye displays the property of chatouyancy whereby the center band appears to shift back and forth when the stone is moved in the light.

Alexandrite – color: purplish-red in artificial or candle light and green in natural or fluorescent light; where found: Hematita in Minas Gerais; notable fact: This rare pleochroic (color changing) gem was discovered in Brazil in1987. Today Hematita is a major source of alexandrite.

Iolite: (Mohs hardness: 7 to 7.5); color: deep purplish-blue where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Iolite is pleochroic, (changes color in different light). It was used by the Vikings to navigate their ships on overcast days.

Kunzite: (Mohs hardness: 6.5 to 7); color: pale pink to lilac; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Brazil is one of the world’s largest suppliers of kunzite.


Watermelon Tourmaline

Quartz Varieties: (Mohs hardness of 7)

Amethyst – color: grape purple; where found: Mined in Southern states of Brazil; notable fact: Brazilian amethyst is considered to be the best in the world.

Citrine – color: yellow to dusky orange; where found: The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul; notable fact: Most of the citrine on the world market today hails from Brazil.

Rose quartz – color: rosy pink; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: Most of the rose quartz on the world market today hails from Brazil.

Topaz: (Mohs hardness 8); color: dusky to deep orange; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: The deep orange hues of Brazilian topaz are called “Imperial Topaz” in the trade. Imperial topaz is one of the most expensive varieties.

Tourmaline: (Mohs hardness 7 to 7.5); color: light green to forest green; where found: Minas Gerais; notable fact: There is a thriving market for Brazilian tourmaline in China.


How to make an Ombre Blend Necklace

This item was filled under [ How To Make Jewelry ]

Ombre color schemes are a favorite among fashion designers and jewelry lovers everywhere, because frankly, it’s a timeless and often elegant look. If you’ve never made an Ombre piece, get your first burst of inspiration with this easy tutorial to follow on how to make an Ombre Blend Necklace.

See the video on how to make this beautiful necklace here at…

How to make an Ombre Blend Necklace





How to make Snowman Earrings

This item was filled under [ How To Make Jewelry ]

The holidays are indeed the most wonderful time of the year. With this in mind, we’ve created simply beautiful wire-wrap Snowman earrings that can be worn not only at Christmas, but year round. Combine crackling or solid glass beads  or silver wire to create your very own Frosty.

Check out the slide show/presentation here. Happy beading, and happy holidays from the House of Gems team.

How to make Snowman Earrings




Fall and Winter Jewelry Trends 2014

This item was filled under [ jewelry Articles ]

by Ellen Steiber

Fashion is such a slippery concept, always promising something new and exciting, yet often recycling older ideas.  Jewelry, in particular, clings to classics. It’s safe to say that diamond solitaires will be in fashion as engagement rings for the foreseeable future, and the majority of pieces made with gold or platinum and high-quality gemstones will retain their value and appeal over generations.  Also, winter is eternally the season for the glitziest jewels—a necessary sparkle to counter the long, dark nights and light up holiday parties.

But jewelry design, like any art, is inventive and always pushing old boundaries to bring us something different to crave and acquire. Luckily for us all, fashion continues to embrace a wide spectrum of styles, with something for nearly every taste.  Recently, I wrote about the Resurgence of Delicate Jewelry.  But if delicate jewelry isn’t to your liking, chunky cocktail rings and long, elaborate earrings are back.  Which just goes to prove that many of the hot “new” styles are really old friends from the past that have simply come round again. So if you’ve always loved chokers and Cartier-esque panther jewelry, this is your year.  Possibly the only thing that is truly new–and even this has been gradually building for the last few years– is Smart Jewelry, aka Wearables.



Before I get into the trends of the current season, I should say that many of the trends that we identified in previous seasons are still going strong, especially the stacking of bracelets, necklaces, and rings.  Really, this year you cannot wear too many bracelets or too many rings.  The more, the merrier.  Multiple earrings—following the line of the cartilage or placed just about anywhere on the ear—are also very much in vogue.   Though there’s a genuine interest in the minimalist look–think of the single skinny bracelets that are showing up in magazines—at this point, minimalism is taking a back seat to a kind of joyful piling on of precious metals and gems and other materials:  bracelets made of leather, string, resin or even rubber; cocktail rings featuring crystal, resin, or faux gems. It’s the ability to put them all together that matters.  Ideally, the multiple bracelets, rings, earrings, or necklaces set each other off—make each other pop–rather than look like a chaotic tangle.

As for stacking jewelry being a new idea, I should mention that wearing many bangles at once is an ancient Indian tradition, still very much alive in contemporary India.  Not only did the temple dancers wear them, but bangle bracelets were given as wedding gifts. It was considered unlucky for a married woman to be bare-armed.  In today’s India, even young girls wear stacks of bangles, made of materials as varied as gold and glass.

Geometric also being called architectural jewelry is more popular than ever, especially in big, bold bracelets and in earrings constructed of triangles or dangling cones.  Bangles that open on top of the wrist, sometimes called pinch bracelets, are also on the rise. Rings that are open on top are being shown, but not as frequently as the bracelets.    Hand, or flower, bracelets—in which a bracelet is connected by a chain to one or more rings—are also showing up more frequently.
Geometric or architectural jewelry is perhaps most typified by Tiffany’s distinctive T bangles:

Geometric architectural jewelry Tiffany's

So for the new trends:

Single, Long Earrings and Asymmetric Earrings (also known as the Mono Earring):  We’ve been wearing neatly paired earrings for centuries now, and for some of us, that look is getting a little tired.   A while ago, it became popular for women to wear a third, usually much smaller, pieced earring above a pair of matched earrings.   But now this asymmetric trend has gone bold, and what’s being shown is a small stud worn on one ear, and on the other, a long, elaborate dangling earring, often consisting of several charms on chains. I love this look that calls attention to both the face and the neck. At the same time, it’s got a bit of gypsy influence, unpredictable and wild.  (And speaking of classic gypsy looks, big thin hoop earrings are also making a return.)


Single long earrings or The Mono Earring

Mono Earrings

What’s essential in the single earring is that it be big and noticeable.  Usually, they’re quite long—sometimes grazing or even going past the shoulder–though there are also curved mono earrings that owe their inspiration to horns.

Chunky cocktail rings:  Ever since I learned that cocktail rings first came in during the Roaring Twenties as a kind of antidote to engagement rings and wedding bands, I’ve been fascinated by them.  Originally a statement of independence—I don’t need a man to give me jewelry—these rings were worn to the (illegal) speakeasys by young, single women who dared to go out and drink and smoke on their own.   After years of Victorian propriety, cocktail rings were worn to be naughty.  And, of course, they  were worn for the pure pleasure of flaunting bold, colorful gems.  Even then, the cocktail ring cut across class lines. There were the pricey jewels for the rich, but it was also perfectly acceptable to wear cocktail rings set with semi-precious stones, crystal, or glass.

The amazing fashion icon Iris Apfel once said, “More is more and less is a bore.” Cocktail rings definitely belong to that school of thought. In this day and age, when it seems we have to be so exceedingly careful about so many things—our diets, our health, our money, the schools we send our children to, our on-line identities—it’s wonderful that this very decadent piece of jewelry has come back. You can wear one, of course, but now you can also wear several on each hand and, if the jewelry ads are to be believed, several on each finger. The rings themselves range from gemmy cabochons to druzy crystals to faceted stones to faux everything. The key word is big, but these rings are also all about color, deep and bright. In terms of jewelry, cocktail rings are about as close as you can get to wearing Christmas ornaments on your fingers. Though they are no longer a declaration of independence, cocktail rings still make a statement: It is fun to be fabulous, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Pomellato Chunky Cocktail Ring


Tilda Swinton ad for Pomellato


Cocktail Rings


Knuckle Rings:  In a slightly weird combination of the delicate look and the “more is more” philosophy, multiple wire-thin rings are being worn on each hand, with at least several of these rings worn above the knuckles.   Knuckle rings are almost never worn singly.  You wear them above other slender rings, and you often wear several matching knuckle rings on one hand.  Because the rings are so thin and yet worn in a decidedly odd place, they call attention to themselves.  Me, I always wonder if they’re comfortable and whether or not a ring worn above the top knuckle is too easy to lose. And yet the look is striking and a definite departure from the more classic, style of only wearing one ring per finger.   Keep in mind that worn above the top knuckle and so close to the fingernails, knuckle rings call attention to nails.  They are the perfect thing to wear when you’ve just gotten a killer manicure.

Knuckle Rings


Chokers  (aka Dog Collars):   These tightly fitting necklaces have been going in and out fashion since Sumerian times.  They were popular during the French Revolution, in the late 1800s, and then again in the  1940s. They reappeared in the 1990s with Goth style and on celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Britney Spears.  And now they are back.  You can tell because Rihanna, Hayden Panettiere, and Kim Kardashian have all been photographed in them.

One of the most famous chokers of the not-too-distant past belonged to Princess Diana and is known as the Crowns and Regalia Choker.  Before Diana married Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth gave her a 20-carat sapphire brooch, surrounded by diamonds. Diana didn’t wear brooches much, so she had the gem made into a choker with eight strands of pearls on each side.  In 1981, she wore it the night she danced with Michael Jackson at the White House.

Princess Diana's Choker

You certainly don’t need real jewels to wear an of-the-minute choker .  TopShop is selling an inexpensive black velvet choker with a faux emerald.  If you’re a fan of the classic black ribbon choker, these have to be among the easiest pieces of jewelry to make, requiring only the right pendant, beads, or ornament sewn on as the centerpiece.  Though the black ribbon is part of the choker’s return, it is only one facet of the style.  Most of the chain necklaces I’ve seen recently have been chokers—some big link, and other finer and consisting of three or more chains.  Also, there are chokers made of beads, lace, silk, velvet,  pearls,  leather, rubber, or two attached metal plates.

Custom Velvet Choker


Decarabia Choker

Extravagant Dior Choker


One variant is a revival of the Celtic torc, usually an open metal ring or collar that slips around the neck.  And some designers have gotten far more elaborate and even veer into metal Peter Pan collars.

Celtic Torc


Pamela Love Meridian Collar

Cloud Collar Necklace

Collar Necklaces

John Hardy, who designs in Bali but always has his finger on the contemporary Western pulse has also been showing quite few chokers in his sensual metal braids.

John Hardy Sterling Woven Choker


Smart Jewelry or Wearables—Since the 17th century, we’ve  worn jewelry that tells time of day. In 1816 Louis Moinet invented the chronograph, which combined a watch with a stopwatch.  In the twentieth century, well before it was even possible, we became comfortable with the idea  that our time pieces might also link us to  others—remember those nifty wristband Communicators that Captain Kirk wore in Star Trek?  And years before that , in 1946, the cartoon character Dick Tracy and his police force wore 2-Way Wrist Radios that combined watches and radios, allowing them to talk to each other.  But it’s only recently, after the advent of the digital watch and the cell phone, that objects on our wrists actually  allow us to communicate with our computers and  each other.

New wearable gadgets seem to be released every day, most  of them designed enhance to fitness and health. Almost all of them track activity—monitoring and recording the pace of a walk or run, lap times with GPS systems tracking distance and altitude.  Also measured are heart rate, calories consumed and burned, and even our sleep patterns. Some of these devices offer coaching tips and will even design a workout program for you.  Still other tracking devices are health specific, designed to monitor data that helps manage conditions like heart disease or diabetes.  Interestingly, one of the most heralded smart devices, the Google Glass has not caught on despite its cutting-edge technology.   This seems to be due to its high price and the general consensus that you can’t wear it without looking like a total nerd.

Most of the information gleaned from trackers is coordinated with a smart phone app, so that you can upload your data to the Cloud and tailor your workouts for your own goals—such as increase in strength, speed, endurance, or weight loss. In this digital age, every one of us can now generate the kind of highly specialized data about our own bodies that we used to seek out from coaches and trainers.   Some of these wearables work with Android phones, others with Apple’s IOS interface, and some like Microsoft’s Band work with both.  Tech companies are already designing similar devices for cycling and swimming.

Of course, the one everyone is waiting for is the to-be-released Apple Watch. (Spring 2015 is the new date.)  Apple products have a way of morphing from cutting-edge tech, to lust objects for the masses, to everyday tools that none of us wants to live without.   Which raises the question:  In two years, will we all be wearing Apple Watches?  I can see how recording and monitoring data about yourself could be useful for athletes and absolutely life-saving for those with conditions like heart disease and diabetes.  But honestly, in this age of hacking, I have qualms about sharing that much personal information with the Cloud.  Also, I’m not sure I want to my monitor myself that closely. And yet, it is not inconceivable that one day, I’ll wind up with all this information on my wrist.  It is the wave of the present and the future, and it is clear that these devices are becoming increasingly common.

Two caveats when choosing a tracker:  Battery life varies among the different devices, so some will need to be re-charged more frequently than others.  Also, not all trackers are compatible with all devices, so make sure whatever you choose works with your smartphone or tablet.

Being a jewelry freak, my real  question is: how are theses wearables as jewelry? Right now, they fit into several general  styles:


The Big Digital Rectangle On Your Wrist. Among these is the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, which is really more of a phone with a camera, and it comes in six bright colors; it’s been rated one of the best Fitness Tracker Smart Watches.. The Bowflex EZ Pro Heart Rate Monitor has three functions—watch, stopwatch, and a heart-rate monitor—and looks a bit like a digital diving watch, with a round frame over its rectangular face. The Basis B-1 Band, which has been rated one of the best overall fitness trackers, has a nice stainless steel version that not only tracks heart-rate but collects data on your “Habits,” providing gradually increasing fitness goals. The TomTom Runner Cardio series, specifically designed for runners and considered among the best trackers for running, comes in a number of colors and monitors heart rate, laps, calories burned, and allows you to analyze and share your stats via apps.

Though it won’t be released until next spring, we know that the Apple Watch will be one of the Big Digital Rectangles on Your Wrist, but being an Apple product, it will be, as they say, “extensively customizable.” Apple has always put a premium on innovative and elegant design. So it is no surprise that there will be a choice of sizes, bands, and metals. Apple has also designed gorgeous graphic interfaces that allows the actual watch face to change, so that you’ll have a choice of screen displays—anything from what looks like a traditional watch face to a butterfly design to a set of icons to– in a nod to vintage collectibles–a Mickey Mouse watch face. And because Apple products tend to be status symbols, there are plans for Edition, the luxury version of the Apple Watch, which will come in several shades of 18-K gold.

Apple Watch

Tory Burch Fitbit

The Slender Wrist Band—If you prefer a more minimalist look in your trackers, there are quite a number of what are essentially slender rubber or silicon wrist bands, some with digital displays, some without. A number of these including the Jawbone Up24, which tracks the patterns in your sleep, are thin, light and, yes, comfortable enough to sleep in. Most of these, however, don’t log training sessions. The Skechers Go Walk Activity Tracker counts steps, monitors sleep patterns, and holds 9 days worth of memory. And the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band comes in five colors, records exercise, assigns personal daily goals and lets you know when you’ve been inactive too long. Some of these slender wrist bands wrap around your wrist like a snake bracelet, including the second generation Up by Jawbone.

The Jawbone Up24 is considered one of the best for sleep tracking and can even be set to vibrate gently and wake you up in the morning. Microsoft’s Band, a smartwatch with Windows-like tiles, can tell time, count your steps, let you know if you need sunscreen (it has a UV sensor) and can be synced to a number of fitness apps that keep track of your data. The Fitbit Flex tracks steps, distance, calories burned, and at night tracks your sleep patterns.

The Disk Tracker—These may look the most like traditional watches, a round disk on a band. Among them are Moov, which has a voice coach that will guide you through walking, running, and even boxing workouts. Despite the wristband, the Moov can be placed almost anywhere on your body and is considered one of the best fitness trackers for exercise. The Fitbug Orb, another movement and sleep tracker, is one of the most affordable of these devices and is considered to be a great value for the price.

Disguised Trackers: If you don’t want the world to know that you are tracking your every move—or if you simply prefer jewelry that looks like jewelry– there are several cleverly designed covers for trackers. The Fitbit Flex has joined with designer Tori Burch to create a series of metal hinged bracelets and pendants that the Fitbit tracker slips right into. These have the sleek geometric lines of architectural jewelry and provide a classy way to dress up your tracking device, so that you can wear it just about anywhere:

Misfit Shine is a round, almost coin-like device, that comes in ten colors and offers wristbands in four colors. But you can also snap your Shine into a Bloom pendant with a lovely metal floral design, which also comes in several colors:

Misfit Shine Bloom Necklace

The Return of the Panther: It’s a birthday celebration. Cartier’s elegant panther has just turned 100. First introduced in 1914 in black and white onyx and diamond pavé, the Cartier panther has long been a staple of fine jewelry, evolving over the years and featuring just about every gem.
The term panther usually refers to a mountain lion or cougar, but Cartier was using it as Panthera, the genus that includes the big cats– leopard, tiger, lion, and jaguar—the only cats who roar. So for Cartier and other jewelers who followed, panthers sometimes are spotted and other times have tiger stripes. There have been panthers with black onyx noses and emerald eyes, panthers with fur of gold and ruby eyes. They’ve been part of brooches and earrings and bracelets, rings, watches, and clocks. The Duke of Windsor had one commissioned for his wife, Wallis Simpson, in 1948, and she promptly bought more, including a spectacular cabochon emerald topped by an onyx-spotted gold leopard; a panther bracelet; and another incredible pin, this one a leopard made of diamonds and sapphires, perched atop a star sapphire orb weighing 152.35 carats.

Great Cats by Cartier

The heiress Barbara Hutton wore the Cartier panthers, as did Daisy Fellowes and Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis. In more recent times, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Juliette Binoche, and Stella McCartney have all sported Cartier panthers.

Juliette Binoche in Cartier Panther jewelry

Lady Gaga wearing Cartier Panther Jewelry

According to Natasha Silva-Jelly, Cartier’s panther motif was inspired by Jeanne Toussaint, Cartier’s friend, muse, and artistic director, whose nickname was La Panthère. Toussaint was an original, known to appear at parties in silk pajamas and a leopard-skin coat. Cartier’s very first panther was not a piece of jewelry. Rather it sat on top of a vanity case that he designed for Toussaint in 1917.

This year, in honor of its birthday, Cartier is introducing all new panthers—all of them extravagant and quite amazing. The panther rings, in particular have evolved from the older pavé style into creatures more geometric and quite a bit fiercer.

Panthere de Cartier rings

Cartier’s panther necklaces have also been updated with styles ranging from relative simply panther pendants to panthers atop fringe and panthers suspended from chains.

Cartier Panther Necklace

What’s interesting to me, though, is how the panther has caught on with other jewelers. The big cat is no longer limited to Cartier. So don’t fret if you don’t have a Cartier budget. There are knock-offs made with CZ’s and panther bracelets in blackened sterling silver.

Affordable Panther cuff by Rick Cameron

I suppose what it comes down to is that inspired by Toussaint, Cartier let the big cat out of the bag—and it’s adorned fierce, strong women ever since.

Though other trends are surfacing, these have been the main ones to be shown in the autumn and winter of 2014. As we move toward solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, it’s a good time to deck ourselves with sparkling stones and colorful jewels, always holding onto that promise of returning light.


Dating Vintage Necklaces by Their Clasps

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Antique Clasps

By Danielle Olivia Tefft

Did you know the type of clasp used can reveal important clues about when a vintage necklace was made? Well, it can! But before we dive into the fascinating study of necklace clasps, it’s helpful to define the difference between antique and vintage jewelry. Antique jewelry is jewelry that is one hundred years old or older than today’s date. (Yes, this means the definition is a moving target!  FYI: Many antique dealers and collectors are currently snatching up Art Deco necklaces and other pieces from the 1920s. This is because a few years down the road, this highly coveted Art Deco jewelry will be considered “antique.” Therefore, it will garner an even a higher price than it already does today.) Vintage jewelry is anything younger than one hundred years but not less than ten years older than today’s date. For example, necklaces from 1915 through 2004 can be considered “vintage” in 2014.


Vintage jewelry Necklaces And clasps

Unfortunately, you can’t always date a vintage necklace by its clasp alone. You have to take a few other factors into consideration, as well. First, you need to become familiar with the distinct styles for any time period in question. After a short time of familiarizing yourself with the styles from different eras, you’ll naturally begin to accumulate knowledge about the materials used in necklaces during that time period, as well. You will also become familiar with maker’s marks from certain eras if necklaces are signed.

Vintage Fur Coat Clips

If you are interested in vintage necklaces from a certain time period like the 1950s, it can be very informative to spend some time looking at photos and drawings of necklaces from that era online and in books. After a short time, you will get a feel for what clasp styles were most popular in that era. Knowledge of clasp types and the time periods in which they have been the most popular can help you verify the approximate age of a vintage necklace you might come across later on.  Don’t worry; you won’t have to attain this knowledge from scratch. There is a helpful chart that summarizes popular clasps for each era in the 20th century a bit later in this discussion.

Gold Filled, Silver, Brass Spring Ring Clasps

Rose And Yellow Gold Filled, Silver and Brass Spring Ring Clasps

Dating a vintage necklace by its clasp is not a straightforward task. The spring ring clasp, for instance, was developed back in the 1840s. This clasp has been a favorite for necklaces for over a hundred years since then. So you need to take into consideration other elements of a necklace you are trying to date, as well. As mentioned above, these elements include style, material and maker’s marks, if any. Just like true detective work, dating necklaces always requires piecing together several clues. The following two charts on clasps contain helpful information to help you with your detective work:

Toggle, S-Hook & Slide Out Clasps

Important Clasp Developments:

Prior to 1800: s-hook, hook, pin & barrel, slide-out (tongue-in-groove) clasp, toggle

Circa 1840: spring ring clasp

Circa 1890: screw barrel clasp

Circa 1940: box clasp

Circa 1990: magnetic clasp*

Silver And Gold Filled Magnetic Clasps

Silver And Gold Filled Magnetic Clasps

*(note: A patent for a magnetic clasp was applied for during the 1950s but it did not see mass-market production)

Common Vintage Necklace Clasp Types by Era:

Early 1900s through the 1920s: pin & barrel, screw barrel, spring ring, hook, slide-out

1930s through the 1940s: spring ring, hook, fish hook, box, screw barrel, fold-over latch, slide-out, multi-strand

1950s through the 1960s: hook, fold-over latch, fish hook, box, slide-out, multi-strand

1970 through the 1980s: spring ring, screw barrel, fold-over latch, hook, lobster, toggle, fish hook, box, slide-out, multi-strand

1990 and beyond: lobster, trigger, magnetic, toggle, fish hook, screw barrel, spring ring, slide-out, tube (modern pin & barrel), multi-strand

Gold Filled & Silver Filigree Fish Hook and Multi-strand Slide Clasps

Of course, even with the helpful charts above, you must follow a few words of caution: None of the information above will help you date a vintage necklace if someone has replaced the clasp. Sadly, this is very often the case. Clasps are susceptible to corrosion and breakage over time. This should not be surprising since clasps see more wear than the rest of a necklace due to continued opening and closure through the years.

Be wary of clasp “marriages” (incorrect clasps for the time period of a vintage necklace). For example, if you come across a flapper bead necklace from the roaring twenties with a magnetic clasp, the clasp can’t possibly be original to the piece. Many clasp marriages are not malicious attempts to deceive but done out of necessity. Quite often an original clasp or a reproduction made from the proper material is just not available.

Lobster and Trigger Clasps In Silver, Copper, Gold Filled And Brass

You will learn to identify when a clasp has been replaced almost immediately upon inspection. The clasp might look newer than the rest of the findings or be made of a different material. Often, it will be the incorrect type of clasp for the time period in which the necklace was made. Once you can identify a clasp marriage on a vintage necklace, you’ll have bargaining power. Any alterations from what was original will lower the value of the piece.

The only way to maintain the value of a vintage necklace in need of a replacement is to find a clasp of identical age, style and material to the original. Even collectors, bead artisans, antiques dealers and others who deal with vintage jewelry on a daily basis might not be able to scrounge up a “period” clasp. Or they might not have the fortitude to undertake the task. However, they should disclose the fact that they have replaced an original clasp to all potential buyers, whether or not they found a proper substitute.

Copper, Silver and Gold Filled Box Clasps

Knowledge of proper clasps for the era in which a necklace was made can be very helpful when dating a piece. Unfortunately, this process is not straightforward. Original clasps are often replaced with inappropriate substitutes made from different materials and from different time periods. However, with a bit of study and awareness of what clasps were popular in different eras, you will be able to spot a vintage necklace with an improper clasp. It just takes a bit of detective work.


How to make an Autumn Pendulum?

This item was filled under [ How To Make Jewelry ]


This gorgeous autumn pendulum made of two sizes of copper wire, some small beads  and skillful hands. Great for the season, try this easy to make jewelry piece, you may be surprised how easy it is. You can also find a slide show here .


Kokichi Mikimoto: The King of Cultured Pearls

This item was filled under [ Pearls ]

Kokichi Mikimoto

By Danielle Olivia Tefft

Kokichi Mikimoto has aptly been called “The Pearl King.” Without his efforts, cultured pearls would not be the coveted, yet accessible, treasures that they are today. Here is the story of this great Japanese entrepreneur who rose from very humble beginnings.

An Entrepreneur is Born


Mikimoto Pearl Island Toba City Japan

Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954) was born on the brink of a bold new era in Japan. The country’s isolationist policies and trade restrictions with the outside world were coming to an end. Japan had been closed to trade with foreign markets for hundreds of years prior to the 19th century. Mikimoto was born the eldest son of a modest shop owner. He dropped out of school at age 13 so he could work to help support his family. Initially, he grew vegetables to sell at the local market in his humble seaside town of Toba. Unlike the old timers in his town who found change difficult, he easily and quickly embraced the new era. The idea that a merchant could make an excellent profit by selling product to the outside world as well as the local market excited Mikimoto. He observed sea merchants trading a vast array of lucrative treasures from the deep. Clearly the sea offered an enormous bounty from which to make a living. But which marine product could he possibly entice an entire world to buy? He solved his conundrum the first time he saw women pearl divers working from the shores of Toba. Their occupation sparked a passionate fire and a lifelong vision inside the young Mikimoto.

Fascination with Pearls and the Ama


Demonstrations by Ama (women Pearl Divers)

Kokichi Mikimoto had always been fascinated by the scarcity and beauty of the natural pearls found in the saltwater Akoya oyster beds off the shores of his home town of Toba. It is no wonder that the women pearl divers of the town, known as “ama,” held a fascination for young Mikimoto. But he noticed the ama never found large hoards of natural pearls when they dove in search of Akoya oysters. The few handfuls of pearls they found during a fruitful dive were usually irregularly shaped, as well. This was because natural pearls are formed by chance inside mollusks like the ama’s coveted Akoya oysters. Oysters only form pearls when they try to soothe irritations caused by external debris that becomes trapped inside their shells. They surround each irritant with multiple layers of secretions called nacre. These layers eventually form a pearl. Because of the variance in debris type and shape, natural pearls have very little consistency.

Spurred by his passionate entrepreneurial spirit, Mikimoto spent long hours trying to figure out how to make the Akoya oysters produce more of their breathtaking pearl bounty.  But he also wanted to find a way to make the oysters produce more uniform pearls. He was a perfectionist at heart. It bothered him that the pearls being retrieved from the sea were often of poor quality. Even Japanese royalty settled for these inferior pearls, especially the irregular shapes which were most often found. He believed a perfect pearl should be round. He knew there must be a solution to the problem.

The Birth of an Empire


Ago Bay Japan Pearl Farms

Mikimoto was just 23 years old in 1881 when he married Ume. She was the shrewd 17 year-old daughter of the Toba Clan’s prestigious sword maker. Ume’s family was able to give their highly intelligent eldest daughter an excellent education. She became Mikimoto’s business partner and inspiration. In 1888, at age 31, Mikimoto bought a pearl oyster farm with Ume. It was located on Ago Bay, not far from their home town of Toba. Mikimoto, the consummate entrepreneur, set to work experimenting with saltwater Akoya oysters. He was trying to get them to produce perfectly round pearls. He picked Akoya pearls because he believed they produced a superior quality of pearls compared to other mollusks. Finally, in 1893, he succeeded in producing cultured (induced by artificial means) pearls from Akoya oysters. Ume’s keen business sense was instrumental to Mikimoto’s endeavors until her untimely death in 1897.  Nevertheless, Mikimoto persevered in her memory and opened his first pearl shop in Ginza, Tokyo in 1899.


Internal Tissues Of Pearl Oyster

Kokichi Mikimoto was not the first to attempt to create cultured pearls by introducing fake irritants into the internal tissues of oysters.  Actually, another Japanese entrepreneur first tried to obtain a patent for the process in 1904. However, it was determined that his method was identical to one Mikimoto’s biologist son-in-law had come up with, so the two had to share a patent issued in 1908. None of this deterred Mikimoto. He obtained his own patent in 1916 and then purchased the original 1908 patent, as well.  He continued to perfect the techniques involved in producing cultured pearls, called “perliculture.” It was this relentless, entrepreneurial spirit that led Mikimoto to succeed in building his cultured pearl empire which is still very much revered today.

The World-Class Marketer

Mikimoto never tried to pass his cultivated pearls off as natural pearls. But he did insist that they were as real as natural pearls and coined the phrase “cultured” for the perfectly round pearls made by his process. Every Mikimoto cultured pearl has a center bead (irritant) cut from a freshwater pearl mussel shell. This bead is injected into a live Akoya oyster upon which the nacre is deposited in layers to create each cultured pearl.


Perfect Round Akoya Oyster Pearl With Diamond

Milkimoto’s relentless and strategic worldwide marketing campaign for cultured pearls was so successful that by the 1920s, they became more sought after and preferred by women than natural pearls. Mikimoto’s cultured pearls were perfect in shape and as beautiful as natural pearls in their luster. Because of Mikimoto’s perliculture efforts, the once exorbitant prices for pearls fell. This made them affordable to the masses for the first time. With the help of fashion icons like Coco Chanel who insisted that pearls represented the height of sophistication, women of every social background clamored to own Mikimoto’s beautiful cultured pearls. His beautiful creations were now considered precious gems from the sea – even if they had a little help from man.

Mikimoto’s Legacy


Mikimoto Saltwater Akoya Pearls

Kokichi Mikimoto’s title of “The Pearl King” is well deserved. His perfectly spherical saltwater Akoya pearl is now the standard to which all other cultured pearls, whether saltwater or freshwater varieties, are held. It is also because of Mikimoto’s relentless promotion that pearls are considered as precious as gemstones like rubies, emeralds and diamonds. Fine cultured pearls are no longer associated just with royalty and the wealthy. While saltwater cultured pearls remain pricey, freshwater cultured pearls of differing quality levels can be afforded by most now. Therefore they can be found in most every woman’s jewelry box. Clearly, Mikimoto’s legacy lives on worldwide through each new generation of women as they celebrate life’s special occasions with cultured pearls.


Gems of Autumn

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Autumn Color Cut Gemstones

Leslie Jordan Clary

Gemstones have both an aesthetic and an emotional beauty to them. There is something primal about the inner fire a gem carries with it to the earth’s surface that can be icy or hot and sometimes both at the same time.

I’ve spent many years reading and studying about gemstones. The geological conditions necessary to their creation and the rarity of perfectly flawless stones all contribute to their mystery. Yet our response to them may have more to do with memory and personal taste than anything scientific.

Jewelry designers know this.  Their skill at styling and combining gems to evoke a mood or celebration is what gives a gemstone its verve. Sometimes gems can be used to express the flavor of the season.

These are four gems that speak autumn to me.


Baltic Amber

Amber, with its transparent eerie glow like a harvest moon, might be the perfect autumn stone. Amber is created when the resin of a tree fossilizes making it alongside pearls, coral and ivory one of our few organic gems. It may be the gem world’s most macabre stone as well. While forming, plants and insects are sometimes trapped inside the soft resinous sap. The most prized pieces may have entire beetles or scorpions encased inside. Essentially amber is a tomb, making it the perfect brooch for a Halloween costume.

Blue Amber

Although we generally think of amber as a pumpkin orange color, it can range in hues from creamy to brown. There is even a rare blue amber that comes from The Dominican Republic. Found throughout the world, Baltic sea amber is particularly prized for its rich golden colors. Today the main source of amber comes from Russia.


Black Onyx Beads

Autumn means dark nights and dark festivities, all centered on that dance between life and death, light and darkness. It’s a time to celebrate creatures of the night and the underworld. For a warm fire on a Samhain night, a dark gemstone seems appropriate and what better way to honor the moody shadows of fall than with inky black onyx?

According to mythology, onyx has a divine origin and came from Venus’ fingernails. One day Cupid came upon Venus sleeping on the banks of the Indus River. He settled down next to her and decided to trim her fingernails while waiting for her to wake up. The nails drifted to the river bottom where they were formed into onyx.

A form of chalcedony, onyx forms in bands of alternating colors. Whereas most banding in agates is random and disarrayed, in onyx the bands are parallel. Onyx comes in colors that range from white to deep purple. Few gems come out of the earth in all their shimmering complexity, and onyx is no exception. Most onyx is black and has probably been treated by dying or heat, as has been done for thousands of years.


Australian Opal

If you’ve ever seen an eastern fall up close, you know the leaves don’t change into just one color. Look closely at a crimson maple leave and you’ll see dark veins and patches of bronze and gold mixed in with the red. So the opal mimics the colors of fall. It may be no coincidence that the opal is October’s birthstone. This is the month the brilliant leaves begin to fall, revealing their full range of colors.

Many myths are woven around opals. An 1829 novel by Sir Walter Scott featured an evil opal and for years they were considered bad luck stones. One story said you should never buy an opal for yourself, but if given as a gift, it would bestow clairvoyance on its owner. In ancient Mexico beautiful fire opals, still mined today, were called “hummingbird stones” and were considered magical.

Most of the world’s gem quality opals come from the Australian outback. These are the brilliant opals like a peacock’s feathers that can be so breathtaking. But as well as Mexico, opals, each with their own unique qualities are found elsewhere including Madagascar, Peru and in parts of the U.S.  It comes in many varieties including black opal, white opal and matrix opals. Black opals, which are not really black but rather a flamboyant burst of colors, are considered the most valuable. The dark background acts as a canvas where the colors play out everything from orbiting planets to an underwater scene.


Faceted Rubelite


My final choice for an autumn gem would have to be rubelite, a playful, sometimes flamboyant gem, perfect for parties and nights around warm fires. A member of the tourmaline family, rubelite’s colors range from dusky pink to vivid crimson. It’s the color of sunset when the bruised forms of clouds magically vanish into the twilight. One of rubelite’s defining qualities is the way it can hold color in all kinds of light. Many colored gems will change color depending on the lighting and whether it’s natural or artificial. But a rubelite doesn’t care. It will hold its hue under both kinds of lighting.

Clear gems free of inclusions are generally considered the most valuable and generally this is true of rubelite as well. However, many collectors choose rubelite specifically for its inclusions, which give the stone more individuality.

Gemstones can be a creative way of expressing the seasons. What gems speak autumn to you?

Leslie Jordan Clary is a freelance writer and gem lover. Her e-book, From Mine to Market, is a collection of vignettes written while visiting gem mines and pearl farms throughout  Southeast Asia.



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Pre-Columbian Mayan Jade

This item was filled under [ Gemstones, jewelry Articles ]


Mayan Empire Yucatan Peninsula

By Danielle Olivia Tefft

Long before Columbus landed in America (nearly 300 years before the birth of Christ), the Mayans flourished in Mesoamerica. Their territories included the regions now known as Belize, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. As with the Olmec civilization which preceded them, jade played an important role in Mayan society for many reasons.


Jadeite Mineral

There are two types of jade known to exist in the world: jadeite and nephrite. Nephrite jade is the lesser quality stone. Nephrite has never been found in Mesoamerica. The jade available to the Mayans was high quality gemstone jadeite jade. The Mayans called this jadeite jade “yax tun.” It was revered and traded by the Mayans and is still considered to be the finest quality jade by modern gemologists.

The Mayans did not have one central government but instead distributed power between several independent city-states. Each city-state had a king. Within each city-state were different classes of people. These classes included royalty, court officials, priests, tradesmen, farmers and finally the slave class. The seats of Mayan power lie in the city-states of the Guatemalan highlands. These city-states oversaw the trading of jade throughout Mesoamerica and along trade routes to the Pacific Ocean.

Mayan Glyphs

Most Mayan written records were destroyed during the Spanish conquests of the 16th century and beyond. But archeologists have deciphered glyphs (carved pictures that symbolize words) from the remnants of their jade jewelry and ornaments, as well as from their stone temples and other structures. These glyphs reveal how advanced the Mayan civilization was for their time in world history. Because of this we can still admire elements of the Mayan civilization today, even though their culture had its gruesome side. Human sacrifices to Mayan deities were commonplace.

Mayan Jade Jewellery

The Mayans had very unusual perceptions of human beauty. These perceptions were much different than those we value in modern society today. From birth, they fitted their babies with large wooden head gear designed to flatten their foreheads and elongate their skulls. They considered these artificial deformities to be signs of utmost beauty. In addition, they admired inward focused eyes. To achieve this look, they placed attractive dangling objects on young children’s noses to train their eyes to become cross-eyed. They also filed their teeth to sharp pointy ends. Those of high social status had jade imbedded in their teeth, as well.

jade ear flares Courtesy


Both Mayan men and women adorned themselves with jewelry. Much of it was made of jade, an all powerful stone in the Mayan culture. Both men and women had their ears pierced with tubular beads of jade. These tubes were replaced periodically with wider pieces so their earlobes would eventually stretch to accommodate large cylindrical, hollow ear spools that were three inches in diameter. These spools are called “ear flares” by archeologists.


Jade was used for much more than to create Mayan jewelry. Prior to the introduction of metal, it was used to make tools like axe heads. This is because jade is an extremely hard material. It scores a 6.8 to 8 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale. (Diamonds weigh in at 10). Forming rough jade into useful and desired objects was not an easy task but the Mayans became experts at cutting, carving and polishing it. They fashioned their tools and weapons from lesser quality jade until the introduction of metals, especially copper. Then they began trading jade for copper and other metals.

Jadeite Mask Courtesy


Jade also held a spiritual significance in Mayan culture. The Mayans associated jade with the cycle of life from birth to death. It was also a symbol of the sun, wind and water. These were all life giving forces to the ancients. Mayan royalty and the wealthy were buried with elaborate jade jewelry, headdresses and body adornments. They were also buried with a piece of jade under their tongues. These jade beads were vessels through which their souls were transported to the afterlife. Along with jade beads and jewelry, archeologists have discovered carved jade artifacts of humans and deities in ancient Mayan tombs.

Because of the many uses for jade in Mayan culture, the Mayans revered it more than gold. When the Spanish explorers of the 16th century first made contact, they were more than willing to trade gold for more jade. The Spaniards rejoiced in the fact that they could acquire gold by trading pretty emerald-green stones that were worthless to them. The Spaniards called jade “piedra de hijada.” This term meant “stone of the loins.” This was because in ancient times jade was thought to relieve kidney ailments. Our modern name for jade is derived from “piedra de hijada.”


Jade Plaque of Mayan King


The Mayan civilization was already in decline by the time the Spaniards arrived on their shores. Those who didn’t perish from newly introduced diseases could not mount very formidable defenses.  They found themselves under attack and were eventually conquered by the Spaniards. The sacred Mayan jade mines were subsequently abandoned and eventually forgotten.


Rio Motagua valley Jade Mayan Pectoral Courtesy

Modern researchers believed the sole sources of Mayan jade to be located in the Rio Motagua valley in Guatemala for many years. Then, in 1998 a devastating typhoon hit the area.  After the floodwaters receded, more jade deposits and evidence of ancient jade mines were discovered in a rugged area in the highlands. The area was roughly the size of Rhode Island. In addition to the emerald-green jade revered by the Mayans, it included outcrops of vivid blue jade which was revered by the ancient Olmec civilization before them.

Today, the rediscovered highland jade fields are protected to keep looters away. Meanwhile, down in the Rio Motagua valley area, archeologist Mary Lou Ridinger and her husband continue to run a business called Jade Maya. After discovering additional jade deposits in the valley in 1974, they decided to sell high quality reproductions of ancient Mayan jade artifacts and jewelry. The pieces are all carved by modern descendants of the ancient Mayans.

The Ridinger’s goal is to discourage looters and educate the world about Guatemalan jade and its history. Tourists are encouraged to purchase reproductions of ancient Mayan artifacts from Jade Maya and other ethically conscious local businesses. They seek to stop the looting of actual ancient artifacts and provide a means of economic growth for the indigenous peoples of the region. Illegal trade of looted artifacts still crops up but is being stamped out by the sale of these museum quality reproductions.