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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Leslie Jordan Clary
Francine Ruth doesn’t hesitate to admit she was a girly girl growing up. As she talks a light dances in her eye and you can almost see the impish child she might have been, flouncing in her mother’s castoffs or filching her sister’s favorite bangles from the jewelry box.
She probably can’t help it. It runs in the family.
“My grandmother was a jewelry freak,” she says. “My mother and grandmother both wore a lot of jewelry. Even my sister. Every birthday, Christmas, graduation, my grandmother bought us gold. Everything was jewelry. That’s how we celebrated things. By getting a nice piece of jewelry. I still have everything she gave me in a box.”
While her family might have influenced her love of jewelry, the impetus to create her own line developed more slowly. “I did the corporate world, and then realized I needed an outlet for my creativity because the job I was in didn’t really allow my creativity to flow. So I started taking classes at a local bead shop.”
She then took an introduction to soldering class and “I fell in love with the metal aspect” of jewelry. From there Francine seemingly couldn’t get enough. She has traveled the country studying her craft as well as learning locally at the Cleveland Institute of Art and with her mentor in Columbus, Ohio.
“Any time I can learn something new I take advantage of it,” Francine says. “I’m always increasing my design aesthetic, adding little bits and pieces. Instead of just setting the stone, maybe I’ll add gold via keumboo, an ancient Korean technique of attaching gold to silver.”
Much of Francine’s work includes blending metals, generally sterling silver with gold accents or soldering small granules onto her pieces to add depth and texture.
“I love texture,” she says. “You’ll rarely find something of mine that doesn’t have a kind of texture to it.”
Gemstones are another passion and something she uses with unique flair in her designs. However, if you ask her what her favorite stone is, you are likely to get five different answers. “Right now I love opals. I find myself drawn to the opal doublet such as opal with rutilated quartz.” She pauses a moment. “I also love natural rubies. And citrine. Maybe prehnite is my new favorite gemstone. It’s one of those exotic newer gemstones a lot of bench jewelers are starting to use because it’s less expensive. Pearls too. I don’t think you can go wrong with a pearl. It lends itself to a variety of tastes. My younger base and older base both like pearls. “
Whether it’s blue chalcedony, amethyst or Francine’s beloved pearl, the sterling silver settings perfectly showcase the gems and accentuate their natural beauty. One of her favorite cuts is a rose cut, a faceted cabochon, a look she calls both organic and fancy because of the way the color diffuses through the stone.
After a corporate career, Francine is sympathetic to the need for creative expression and encourages aspiring jewelers to follow their dream. “Don’t try to mimic anyone else,” she says. “When people buy from an artisan jeweler, they don’t want something that looks like it came from a jewelry chain story. They want something that looks hand made. It gives it character. People pay for creativity so follow your own design.”
Although she encourages individuality in design, Francine stresses the importance of learning from and supporting each other as artists. “I love to look at other artists, not to copy them but to get inspiration. A calla lily has been done thousands of times, but this is my take on it.”
With her background in corporate communications, it’s no surprise she also has practical advice for new designers selling their work. While an online presence is important, Francine says becoming active in juried arts and crafts shows is one of the best steps you can take. New designers may apply to many shows before getting accepted, but persevere. And once you are accepted, don’t allow discouragement to creep in. “There’s no guarantees,” she says. “You could have a great show or a not so great show. But don’t give up. Maintain a positive attitude because when your customers come to your booth, they will see that.”
She also recommends hiring a good photographer. “You absolutely need a good photographer if you’re entering shows. Get someone used to photographing for juries. Spend the money. It’s definitely worth it. Include a good booth shot. Make sure you have the right canopy and that your cases are professional. What do you want to portray? What is your brand image?”
Above all Francine stresses the importance of letting the world inspire us, whether it’s nature or the geometric shapes on carpets she confesses she dreamed into jewelry designs while sitting through corporate board meetings.
“The nice thing about the creative thing,” she says, “is everyone is different.”
By Danielle Olivia Tefft
Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 marked the beginning of the Victorian era. Her death in 1901 marked its end. During the 64 years of her reign, there were three distinct periods in which fashions and jewelry changed considerably. These changes were due to monumental events in the Queen’s influential life and in the world at large. The types of chains worn by Victorian women changed during these periods, as well.
The early Victorian period from 1837 to 1860:
The early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, as the 200 years prior, were still heavily influenced by the Renaissance jewelry and chains of the 15th and 16th centuries. The popular jewelry of this early Victorian era included plenty of enamel and gemstones like that of the Renaissance. This included dainty handmade chains set with cabochon or table-cut gemstones and enameled floral plaques or cartouches between the chain links. No two chains were ever exactly alike. They were meticulously crafted by hand as was most jewelry until the age of industrialization which would not begin until the 1850s.
These dainty, feminine chains reminded the sentimental Victorians of all things romantic in Shakespeare’s tales. Images of chivalrous knights defending castles, damsels in distress, and prosperous, bustling kingdoms were all conjured up when these delicate chains were worn. Early Victorian women’s dresses were extremely cumbersome with volumes of fabric and balloon-like sleeves. But many of these dresses had deep necklines that dipped well below the shoulders. These necklines showed off the dainty chains well.
The Victorians were especially fond of chains with floral attributes because of the symbolic meanings of flowers. These chains were typically made of 18K or 22K gold for the wealthy. But chains could also be crafted out of less expensive silver or pinchbeck for the less affluent. Pinchbeck was an alloy combining zinc and copper. It looked quite like real gold. Even the wealthy commissioned pinchbeck jewelry with paste stones to wear during their travels in case they were robbed.
In the 1840s, the process of electroplating gold onto base metal was introduced. Electroplated chains were made of lower quality base metals than pinchbeck. Electroplate is not to be confused with gold filled pieces (also called rolled gold pieces) which were created by fusing thin gold sheets to base metal with high heat. Whether electroplated or gold filled, gold overlay was typically 10K, 12K, or 16K.
Berlin iron work chains, first introduced in Germany, were also popular during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. These distinctive dark grey iron chains typically had elaborate neo-classical or Gothic features on large embellished cartouche links. Some Berlin iron work chains even featured mother of pearl plaques with iron pictorial scenes mounted upon them. Unlike most chains of the day, Berlin iron work chains were molded in factories, first in Germany but then in Austria, Bohemia and France.
Cut steel chains were also in vogue. These intricate works of art took a lot of time to assemble. Each link and each embellishment was riveted in place by hand. These chains typically featured cartouche style links encrusted with gemstones. Cut steel balls and Bohemian garnets were popular embellishments on cut steel chains.
Snake chains were introduced early on, as well. They actually looked like real snakes with a head and tail at either end. Snakes had long been symbols of eternal love and good fortune. After Prince Albert presented Queen Victoria with a snake-shaped engagement ring in 1839, snake motif jewelry including chains became mega-popular. These chains remained popular throughout the entire Victorian era. Victorian snake chains were more “knobby” than the snake chains of today. Often they were set with turquoise or seed pearls to more closely imitate a snake’s skin.
The Industrial Revolution changed the way chains and other jewelry was made. Chains and other jewelry began to be made by machine in the 1850s. Prior to that time, most chains were assembled by hand. Mechanization enabled chains to be made more cheaply. It also made mass-production possible. Chains and other jewelry became more widely available to the growing middle classes in both Europe and America.
In 1854, to compete with the world market, Britain legalized 9K and 15K gold. In America, gold chains could be as high as 18K and as low as 8K. In1855, aluminum chains were introduced. At the time, aluminum was considered to be a rare precious metal on par with gold.
The middle Victorian period from the 1860s to 1880:
1861 was a year no Victorian could remember without sadness. Queen Victorian lost her beloved husband Prince Albert to typhoid fever. The Civil War began in America. Death of loved ones and subsequent despair permeated every aspect of Victorian society from then on. The dresses of the day were still bulky but typically darker and more somber than those of previous years. They often had high collar necklines that no longer accommodated the dainty chains of previous years.
During this time period chains took on a heavier look. Heavy chains were popular because they could accommodate heavy mourning jewelry ; lockets, crosses and medallions worn in remembrance for lost loved ones. By this time, most metal chains were machine made. Thick chains of tortoise shell, jet (black fossilized wood), woven hair and other materials besides metal were also popular.
By the 1860s, the Victorian fascination with ancient civilizations was in full swing. Much of the jewelry, including chains, took on archeological themes from ancient Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman civilizations. Revival of Renaissance themes also came into vogue. New chain styles in the middle Victorian years included thick Etruscan revival mesh chains and chunky book chains which had an air of the Renaissance about them.
Book chains consisted of large flat plaques for links, often with elaborate engraving on each link. They fastened in front, typically by a clasp hidden behind a cameo or other large medallion. Regardless of the style, most chains created in the middle Victorian years and beyond were machine made of gold, gold plate, gold fill, silver or brass.
The late Victorian Period from the 1880s to 1901:
During the sunset of Queen Victoria’s reign, the world was advancing at lightning speed. Inventions like the bicycle, telephone and the automobile thrust society forward and made it more fast-paced than ever before. Naturalism and Darwin’s theories of evolution were hot topics of the day. Times were prosperous and the middle class was growing exponentially. Industry was booming. Both men and women were in the work force. To accommodate their active lifestyles, women had to wear less cumbersome clothing than their earlier Victorian counterparts.
Chains were made from much the same metals that had been popular in previous years: gold, gold plate, gold filled, silver, and brass. But gunmetal also became a popular metal for chains in the late Victorian era. Gun metal (also called German silver) was an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc. It had a distinctive dark grey sheen.
Etruscan revival and Egyptian themed chains remained popular. Aesthetic movement chains with lovely etched scenes of the natural world came into vogue. Long chains to hold watches, lorgnettes (eyeglasses and opera glasses), purses and chatelaines (sets of household items and keys) became a necessity. Almost all chains were manufactured by machine and mass-produced unless specially commissioned to be made by hand.
Watch cock link chains quickly became the new trendy style in the late Victorian era. These attractive chains were made from the intricate round metal findings or cocks that held clock movements in place. They were so ornate they looked like works of art.
In addition, there were other numerous manufactured chain styles available to suit every taste. Many of these chains are still popular today. They included trace chains, rope chains, curb chains, twist chains, woven chains, metal bead chains and chains with gemstone beads between the links. Some had fancy names like the Prince of Wales chain, and the Spanish knot chain. Many advertisements for chains from fine jewelers and department stores survive from this era today. They offer a delightful glimpse back into Victorian utility and vanity.
By Danielle Olivia Tefft
Over the long history of jewelry, be it bedecked with gems or beads, the most coveted pieces have had plenty of sparkle and shine. It seems human jewelry lovers have always been a bit like crows. We’ve always been attracted to shiny objects, the more shimmer and glimmer, the better. But it took trial and error and lots of time to create the dazzling objects of our age old obsession. Through the centuries, there have been four major technological advances that have made it possible for us to enjoy the super shiny gems and beads we so enjoy today.
Prior to the invention of glittery linings and coatings for glass beads and gemstones (faux and real) cut was the only way to achieve sparkle and shine. However, it took centuries to discover the trick to faceting various gemstones to draw out their maximum fire. Techniques for cutting and faceting paste (glass stones) to achieve maximum shine were developed alongside that of real gems.
The first major breakthrough in this area came from Italian cardinal and lapidary Vincenzo Peruzzi in the 17th century. He is credited with originating the 58 facet brilliant cut. Throughout the following centuries, versions of the brilliant cut were used for glass stones, quartz crystals and gemstones. But the diamond was found to be far superior in displaying the sparkle and shine attributed to the many facets of the brilliant cut.
By 1750, jeweler David Jefferies developed the English version of the brilliant cut. Jeffries’ version was closer to the modern brilliant cut we covet today. The old mine cut, so popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was also a version of Peruzzi’s original brilliant cut. Finally at the onset of WWI, the modern brilliant cut was proposed by Polish lapidary Marcel Tolkowsky. His version was tweaked slightly after WWII. But Tolkowsky’s cut is basically the one we know today as the standard to achieve maximum sparkle (fire) and shine (brilliance) in round diamonds. In addition, many specialty brand cuts have arisen like the Leo diamond by Kay Jewelers and Hearts on Fire. These jewelers seek to out-sparkle their competitors with patented cuts that promise unmatched fire and brilliance.
Parallel to the development of the brilliant cut for diamonds, the glassmakers in the Gablonz area of Bohemia were perfecting the art of creating faceted glass stones. These multifaceted stones had simplified versions of the brilliant cut. Maximum sparkle was achieved faceting leaded glass stones on tin cutting wheels. These gorgeous glass stones were called strass (artificial diamonds). Strass from the Gablonz region were used by the booming American costume jewelry industry in the 1920s and 1930s and made many Bohemian glassmakers wealthy.
At first, strass was all made by hand. But then, Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) invented a superior glass cutting machine in the 1890s. He became the world’s most famous producer of mass produced faceted glass stones. By that time, he was already renowned. All other glass stones were judged against his high quality glass strass. In spite of this, glass stones, even Swarovski’s, were only about ¼ as shiny as real diamonds. To compete with the real thing they had to be augmented with linings (see below).
Swarovski and other glassmakers also faceted natural rock crystal. It was colorless quartz. Rock crystal was harder than glass so it was easier to work with. As with glass, the sparkle achieved was nice, but still not as that of a properly cut diamond.
Early on, glassmakers learned to add ingredients to their glass formulas to add extra sparkle and shine to their beads and faux gems. An example was aventurine glass. It was a composition glass with sparkly ingredients like mica flecks. The Gablonz region glassmakers also perfected fake opal stones by adding flecks of colored foil to glass.
Natural rhinestones were highly prized by jewelers. They were pieces of quartz from the Alps carried down into the valleys by rivers like the Rhine, whose crystal properties created an iridescent rainbow effect when the light hit them. The Bohemian Gablonz glassmakers were able to imitate this rainbow effect in glass. The glass imitation was actually composed of transparent red, green and blue bands of glass inside a clear glass cane. Called “Iris Glass,” this sparkling glass was made to emulate the original rhinestones.
Dichroic glass has multiple layers of microscopic shiny metal oxides in its composition. The effect is metallic sparkle and shine and colorful high foil like effects. When you turn it from side to side, these layers appear to change colors. Modern dichroic glass burst upon the artisan jewelry scene by the 1990s and is here to stay as one of our coveted processes to achieve the shiny objects of our desires. It is most widely used in pendants. Interestingly, NASA was instrumental in developing modern dichroic glass for the U. S. space program in the 1950s and 1960s.
Paste (glass) stones by themselves just didn’t possess the sparkle and shine of diamonds. They had to be enhanced with metallic foil backs, at first in closed settings. These foil backs were most often thin layers of copper or silver. Similarly, glass beads were enhanced with metallic linings. Initially, glass beads were lined with mercury and lead to make them sparkle. Then, in the early 1800s, Dr. Paul Weiskopf of Gablonz introduced a method of lining beads with silver which was much safer for the glassmakers to work with. Silver became the preferred lining for paste stones and beads in the 1800s.
By 1900, Weiskopf’s son invented a method to line beads with actual gold. The demand for gold and silver lined beads was huge from the 1880s into the early 20th century. Briefly before World War I, the Japanese cornered the market for silver lined beads. But the Gablonz region glassmakers maintained total control of gold lined bead market throughout this time period. When World War I hit, they gained control of the silver lined bead market again.
Another method to achieve sparkle and shine on beads and glass gems was to coat them with shiny materials. Ballotini Beads were popular from1800 through the early 1900s. They were made by coating wooden beads with crushed crystals to produce a “sugary” effect. The beads were covered with glue and then rolled in the crushed crystals. This produced a sparkly effect when the beads were rolled around under bright light.
Metallic sparkle and shine has long been a favorite among bead connoisseurs. The bead makers of Gablonz first painted metallic finishes on glass beads, including iridescent coatings. Next, they came up with iridized and electroplated glass beads. Iridized glass was glass sprayed with an almost hair-thin vapor deposit of metal oxides. The craze for iridized glass and beads reached its height during the late 1800s and again in the 1950s and 1960s after the introduction of aurora borealis coating. Aurora Borealis Coating (often referred to as AB) was a superior iridized coating. It was created through collaboration between the famous crystal manufacturing company, Swarovski and Christian Dior in the early 1950s. By this time, the firm’s prestigious founder, Daniel Swarovski, was in his nineties. His grandson Manfred oversaw the collaboration with Dior.
In 1953, the two companies developed a technique for coating glass stones with a unique, iridescent metallic finish. This coating gave the stones a dazzling glimmer that had never been achieved before in the history of jewelry. It was named after the glimmering Northern Lights in the arctic sky. Aurora borealis costume jewelry made its public debut in 1955. This mesmerizing coating still dazzles us today. It can be found on expensive pieces of high end couture jewelry, vintage flea market finds and everything in between.
This inexpensive beautiful glass tear drop pendant can be made with simple technique using only two tools and basic material. You can use any color and size glass bead which suites to your taste. Also we do have a slide show to watch click here.
Tools: round-nose pliers And wire cutters
35 cm (14 inches) of 20 gauge wire, 10 cm (4 inches) of 28 gauge wire, 1 glass drop – 10mm x 14mm ,1 copper bead – size 5 mm , 4 copper beads – size 3 mm , 2 copper beads – size 2,5 mm.
By Danielle Olivia Tefft
Did you know that many of the world’s most coveted gemstones can be found in Russia’s Ural Mountains? Incredibly, over 1000 different gemstones and metal ores have been discovered during a roughly 300 year period in this abundant region. The Ural Mountains span approximately 1,550 miles from the Arctic Sea in the north into the country of Kazakhstan in the south. They have long been considered the natural border between Asia and Europe. From Moscow by car along the aptly named Ural highway, the foothills are about 900 miles east.
You would think such a mountain chain would present a formidable barrier of dizzying peaks and expansive terrain. But the Ural Mountains are at most only 93 miles wide. They are also an ancient mountain chain whose peaks have been eroded through millions of years. Therefore, they are more like rolling hills than mountains in most areas. Yet surprisingly, along with abundant flora and fauna, this unassuming mountain chain holds an incredible variety of mineral and metal wealth.
The story of the Ural Mountains’ gemstone and metal ore abundance begins with the establishment of Yekaterinburg. Yekaterinburg is actually located in the central Ural Mountain foothills of the eastern slope which borders the vast Siberian plains. Parts of the city actually lie in both Europe and Asia. Yekaterinburg was the epicenter of Ural Mountain gemstone processing for over 100 mines within a 10 mile radius around it. The gemstones mined within this zone included emeralds, alexandrite, amethyst, aquamarine, demantoid garnets, diamonds, jadeite, yellow beryl, malachite and jasper.
Yekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Tsar Peter the Great. He named the city in honor of his wife, Catherine I. Peter the Great was the first tsar to exploit the abundant gemstone and metal ore wealth discovered in the Ural Mountain region during the previous century. Metal works (iron, copper and later gold) and a royal lapidary (a studio where gems are cut and polished) were established in Yekaterinburg. For the next 200 years, the city flourished as the foremost location where raw gemstones and minerals were fashioned into ostentatious jewels and furnishings for Russian royalty. Amethyst of the deepest purple and glittering green demantoid garnets with feathery inclusions called horsetails were among their favorites. Also, many thousands of pounds of exceptional green banded malachite from the Yekaterinburg region were used to decorate their opulent palaces.
Carl Faberge, Imperial Jeweler to the tsars, supposedly had his own lapidary works in the Ural Mountains. But he is known to have frequently purchased gemstones in Yekaterinburg for his other discriminating customers. He also commissioned much of his work from the royal lapidary in the city.
In 1891, Tiffany & Co’s legendary gemologist George Kunz visited Yekaterinburg and the surrounding gemstone mines. He could hardly believe the vast diversity of high quality raw jewel material he saw in this remote outpost. Amethyst, sapphire, topaz, zircon, smoky quartz and citrine were among the many gemstones he mentioned in his report. He also noted that approximately 1000 people were employed in the lapidary trade in Yekaterinburg at the time. They processed an amazing bounty of over a million pounds of gemstones that year alone. George Kunz purchased as much as he could for Tiffany & Co. He included a large quantity of demantoid garnets in the purchase as the gemstone was a hot commodity in Europe and America at the time.
The actual gemstone miners in these remote Ural Mountain foothills did not have life easy. Often the mining season was only two or three months long before bitter cold Siberian winters made it impossible to continue until the following year. The miners toiled away in swampy, bug infested areas, as most gemstone veins were along river beds. To pass the time, they told each other stories of wondrous creatures and guardians of the gemstones they mined. These characters included a magical deer that could produce gemstones out of thin air by stomping the ground with his hoof. There was also a tale about the powerful female guardian of Copper Mountain who protected the Ural gemstones and metal ores from the undeserving. These regional fairytales were collected by Pavel Bazhov in his book, Malachite Casket, first published in 1939.
By the 1800s, the metal armament production begun by Peter the Great steadily competed with the lapidary reputation Yekaterinburg was known for. The city gradually transformed into an industrial hub for military arms and equipment production. By the 1900s, Ural Mountain gemstone processing took a back seat to that of the metal ores and fuel minerals needed to grow the Soviet military machine into a formidable world entity.
Yekaterinburg and the Ural Mountains became recognized as strategic for national defense. Military factories were built that refined plutonium, platinum and coal, oil and natural gas for both World Wars. Beryllium, found in emerald deposits, was used for military applications. The emeralds were destroyed to extract it. This militarization continued into the Cold War Era of the 1950s and 1960s. It left strategic Ural regions like Yekaterinburg depleted of many resources. In addition, failure to keep up with modern metallurgy practices eventually eroded the mighty industrial city and left it outdated in 21st century Post-Soviet Union Russia. There was another toll, as well. The price for building the Soviet military machine throughout the 20th century was the subsequent environmental devastation and contamination of many Ural Mountain regions, including Yekaterinburg.
In the 21st century, Yekaterinburg has begun her transformation. It is a sprawling city with a million and a half people. Seemingly, the direction to take would be to look back to her 17th century lapidary roots. Yekaterinburg has always attracted gemstone admirers from around the world. They still come to see and purchase gemstones in homage to the great history of the region. This specialty tourism has become a recognized economic resource for the city. Sadly, most of the gemstones now being sold in Yekaterinburg are imported from other parts of the world. This is because many of the original gemstone mines have been depleted or forgotten. A handful of modern entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to revisit gemstone mining in the region. This includes the proprietors of a rediscovered mine that has yielded demantoid garnets of spectacular quality in recent times. One thing is for sure: No matter what direction Russia chooses to take when it comes to the future stewardship of Yekaterinburg and the Ural Mountains, the area will always be known as Russia’s gemstone treasure trove.