Diamonds, more than any other gemstone, are steeped in legend and lore. Some are famous for their history, some for an exceptionally rare color, and some for their size.
The Cullinan Diamond, discovered more than 100 years ago, is one such diamond.
On January 26, 1905, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found was discovered at the Premier mine in South Africa. It was named for the mine’s owner, Thomas Cullinan.
The fist-sized rough stone weighed 3,106 carats (1.37 pounds), and was mined at a depth of only 18 feet, although its origins were likely to have been more than 200 miles below the earth’s surface (a bit more on that later).
As amazing as a diamond of this size is, some experts believe it was originally part of an even larger stone and that it had sheared off at some point in the past, a theory arising from the fact that the stone had one flat side.
The rough stone was put up for sale, but it took two years before it was purchased by the Transvaal Colony government (the region which is now Pretoria, South Africa) to give to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
Transporting the Cullinan
Even without the scourge of modern-day social media, the fact that the incredibly rare and valuable gem was being transported from South Africa to England could not have been kept secret. Armed detectives took the stone to Cape Town, where it was locked in a guarded safe on a steamship to London. Or so everyone was led to believe. The package contained a fake, and the real gem was sent to London in a plain box via ordinary registered post.
Cutting the Cullinan
Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam was chosen to cut and polish the Cullinan. One of the brothers, Abraham, picked up the real gem in London and traveled back to Amersterdam with it in his coat pocket. Meanwhile, another anti-theft diversionary tactic was being used. Publicly, the Royal Navy was given the responsibility for transporting the “gem” across the North Sea. Not even the captain knew his package was empty.
In Amsterdam, Joseph Asscher spent weeks studying the diamond. An incision was made preparatory to cleaving the diamond. This step alone took four days. Then, on the first attempt to cleave the diamond, the steel knife fitted into the incision broke. But on the second attempt it split cleanly.
Over a period of eight months the diamond was split and cut into 9 major stones and 96 minor ones. Three cutters worked 14 hours a day during this time to achieve this.
The two largest cut diamonds are the Cullinan I (aka Great Star of Africa, 530 carats) and Cullinan II (aka Second Star of Africa, 317 carats). These were returned to King Edward VII and became part of the British Crown Jewels. The remaining stones were kept by the Asschers as payment for their services.
Mysterious Origin of Really Big Diamonds
Most diamonds are formed 90 to 140 miles beneath the earth’s surface. But a geologist named Evan Smith, who is a Post Doctoral Fellowship Researcher at GIA (the Gemological Institute of America), has studied exceptionally large diamonds such as the Cullinan and discovered that they have some unusual characteristics.
He has found that they have inclusions which are highly magnetic. This, along with other research, led him to conclude that unusually large diamonds are formed between 220 and 460 miles below the earth’s surface — 3 or 4 times deeper than all other diamonds.
Diamonds, whether they originate 100 or 400 miles deep, are brought to the earth’s surface in the same way: volcanic eruptions. These eruptions form what are known as kimberlite pipes, some of which have diamond-rich deposits.
While kimberlite pipes are primary sources for diamonds, the gems are also found in what is known as alluvial, or secondary, deposits. In such cases the diamonds were separated from the kimberlite pipe either by the explosive force of the eruption which formed the pipe, or were washed away after millions of years of erosion. The oldest recorded source of diamonds (dating to before 500 BC) is India, and these were all alluvial deposits. No one has ever discovered the original kimberlite source!
Thanks for reading!
You can read about the world-record setting Pink Star diamond in my blog post from April 2017.
And for unique (yet still affordable) hand-crafted jewelry, visit my website at studio44jewelry.com.
A certain amount of my work time is spent staring into space. It may look like I’m doing nothing, and indeed it is hard for me to ignore the voice inside my head yelling “you’re wasting time!!!!!”, but this is an essential part of how I come up with new ideas. And, in fact, how I write this blog (what should I write about? how much should I say? is anybody interested? have I got my facts right? what pictures should I use?).
Sometimes I have an idea, and I sketch it out, and the piece comes together exactly as I planned, and no staring into space is required.
But sometimes, I start with only a concept, and the piece comes together in stages. I don’t know what the next stage will be until I finish the one I am working on. I admit that this is not ideal. Long periods of staring into space are required.
I recently created a custom pendant using a tahitian pearl belonging to one of my customers. A rather large tahitian pearl – 15 mm in diameter.
I started with some rough sketches, but because the pearl was so large I felt I needed something 3-dimensional to help visualize how the designs would look. I used wax and polymer clay to crudely mock-up the design I liked best:
I knew there would be several challenges in fabricating this piece. The first was that I would be using substantial pieces of silver to form the waves, which would make it difficult to get the curves exactly right. After annealing (a process that makes precious metals like silver & gold more pliable) I managed to get the curves close to what I wanted.
However, it then took quite a bit of time to get the curves exactly how I wanted them, because they had to join up perfectly at either end while at the same time leaving the correct space for the pearl and a visually pleasing relationship between the two waves. Invariably, changing one curve just a little affected the other curves in undesirable ways. Once the two waves were correct and soldered together, I soldered another piece of silver between them to create a platform for the pearl.
Now came more staring into space. I had to decide how the pendant would hang. I originally thought that I would attach a loop at either endpoint to connect the chain, but after considering various combinations of loops and means of connecting them (solder on? drill and cold-connect? full circle loop? half circle loop? wavy loop?) I didn’t like how any of them fit with the overall design.
Eventually I decided to solder small circles to the top wave, positioned a few millimeters in from the end points. The pendant itself was already quite wide and I knew it would hang better if the attachment points were brought in a bit. Because the pendant is asymmetrical, I had to determine what size loops (one is larger than the other) to use and where on the top wave to position them in order for the pendant to hang level.
The next fabrication challenge involved the remaining soldering steps. When soldering, you need to bring the pieces of metal being joined (and the solder that joins them) up to the same temperature at the same time. So when soldering two pieces which are significantly different in weight and thickness, it is difficult to get the larger piece hot enough for the solder to flow without getting the smaller piece so hot that it melts or deforms.
The design incorporated five small tube-set white topazes, so I not only had to get the loops soldered on to hang the chain, I had to solder the settings for the other gems (yes, there was at least one do-over along the way). The final soldering step was to attach a post on the platform for the pearl.
The pearl was not drilled, so I also had to decide on the best place to drill it, and do the actual drilling. I created a small mold to hold it while I oh-so-carefully drilled. That done, all that was left was the final polishing and using a 2-part epoxy to secure the pearl on its post and platform.
I love how the piece turned out, and most importantly, so does my customer!
It has been called “The Greatest Treasure Hunt in the World”, and the city of Tucson, Arizona is invaded annually by its participants.
“It” is the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase — the largest event of its kind in the world. From its start as a one-weekend show put on by a local club (the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society), The Tucson Show (as it is commonly called) has grown to encompass more than 40 separate gem, fossil, and mineral shows located at venues ranging across the entire city of Tucson. It has become so important to the City of Tucson that the City Manager’s Office created a position for a TGMS Liaison Officer.
Many of the shows are open to the public, although there are a few, such as AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) and GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) which require proof that you are a wholesale buyer in the gem and jewelry business. One year, as I was standing in line at GJX to get my badge, I overheard a woman trying to get in with a reseller license for an interior design business – she was turned away.
It is difficult to imagine the scope and range of this event unless you have experienced it. From cheap tchotchkes to rare minerals to the most magnificent gemstones and jewelry, The Tucson Show has it all. As someone before me has said, if it’s not at Tucson, it probably hasn’t been discovered yet.
It is not just designated event venues that host the various gem shows. Any open space will be taken over, either by RVs where dealers just park and set out their wares on a table or by tents (some simple pop-ups, some that are hundreds of feet in length, complete with air-conditioning). If a show is located at a hotel, not only is every public space in the hotel given over to vendors, but the rooms themselves become stalls.
The photos below were taken at this years’ 22nd Street Show, one of the event-tent venues.
The Tucson Show By Numbers
There were 42 separate shows in 2018.
Start-to-finish, the event runs for 28 days, although the majority of shows occur during a two week period in the middle of that time.
An estimated 55,000 visitors come to Tucson for the shows.
More than 3,300 dealers, representing over 30 countries, participated in the shows.
42 gazillion dollars changes hands. Not really – I just made that up! No one know how much business is done, but it is almost certainly in the millions of dollars.
An Abbreviated Timeline
1955: The Tucson Gem & Mineral Society organized a small club show at the Helen Keeling Elementary School. The show was held over one weekend, and about 1,500 people attended.
1956: Because of their success the previous year, the show moved to the Pima County Fair and Rodeo Grounds.
1960: The Smithsonian Institution was invited to attend, and Paul Desautels, the assistant curator of the Smithsonian’s mineral collection, brought some noteworthy items to exhibit. The Smithsonian’s participation continues to this day.
1961: A 19,227 carat ruby from Ceylon was exhibited. The first satellite shows occurred, in an empty gas station across from the fairgrounds, and motel-room sales started in the Holiday Inn South.
1966: The show was extended to 3 days.
1970: The British Museum exhibited and lectured, and legendary gemologist Campbell Bridges brought tsavorite garnets and emeralds from Tanzania.
1972: The show moved to the Tucson Convention Center and was extended to 10 days. The satellite shows have continued to grow.
2018: The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase runs from January 19th through February 16th and includes 42 shows with more than 3,300 dealers (according to The Tucson Show Guide).
How many of you with January birthdays know that your birthstone, garnet, comes in colors other than red? Garnets can be green, yellow, orange, black, violet, and of course, red. According to the GIA (Gemological Institute of America), garnets are divided into more than 20 categories. They are collectively known as the garnet group.
The garnet group is a set of minerals which are closely related in terms of crystal structure and chemical composition. Within the group, the gems are divided into species, and some of those species are further subdivided into varieties.
Some Garnet Trivia
The name “garnet” is thought to be inspired by the vivid red crystals which can look like pomegranate seeds. The name comes from the Latin word for grain or seed: granatus.
A 5,000 year old garnet bead necklace was found in a grave in Egypt.
The Bohemian mine (in modern-day Czechoslovakia) began mining red garnets in the 1500s, resulting in a regional jewelry industry that peaked during the late 1800s.
Campbell Bridges discovered Tsavorite Garnet in 1967. Tsavorite is a bright green, easily mistaken for emerald, and is part of the Grossularite garnet species. Although he first discovered it in Tanzania (where he also discovered Tanzanite), Bridges traced the line of the deposit back to Kenya, and wanted the gem named after Tsavo National Park.
Demantoid Garnets: The “Emerald of the Urals”
The rarest and most valuable garnets are the brilliant green demantoid garnets (a variety in the Andradite garnet species). The name means “diamond like lustre” and they do indeed exhibit fiery flashes of color, as diamonds do. Demantoids were discovered in the Ural mountains in Russian in 1853, and that remained the only known source until 1996, when a major find was discovered in Namibia (the Green Dragon mine). Russian demantoid garnets can exhibit what is called “horsetail” inclusions, and this phenomenon makes them even more valuable.
More recently, deposits have also been found in Madagascar, Afghanistan, Italy, Iran, China, Korea, Zaire, and the United States. Demantoid garnets are usually small (stones larger than 1 carat, or about 6mm in diameter, are rare), so if you see a large stone advertised as a demantoid garnet, be suspicious.
Color Change Garnets
A few garnets exhibit a very rare phenomenon known as color change — their color changes based on the light source (e.g. under a lightbulb versus under sunlight).
One such variation is:
In incandescent light (light bulb): color is pink to red
In sunlight or fluorescent light: color changes to greenish-yellow
A second variation might be:
In incandescent light (light bulb): color is grayish violet to purple
In sunlight or fluorescent light: color changes to greenish-blue or violet
More Than Red
Garnets come in such gorgeous colors that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I have to admit I’m partial to the fiery brilliance of the demantoids and the rich purple-red of the rhodolites. Remember, garnets are more than red!
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When I first started making jewelry, I worked exclusively in silver. If I accidentally melted something while soldering, it was frustrating (to say the least), but not a financial disaster. Gold, however, was fluctuating around $800 per ounce at the time, so accidentally melting a piece of gold was not a risk I was willing to take.
Over time, I became more skilled technically and more confident with my designs, and I started incorporating gold in my work.
Gold is one of the eight “noble” elements, meaning it resists oxidation and corrosion, and is not easily attacked by acids (the others are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, and platinum).
You’re probably familiar with the expression “passing the acid test”. It is a reference to a test developed in the 18th century, which used nitric acid to determine whether or not a metal was actually gold.
Fun Facts About Gold
According to the World Gold Council:
It is rarer to find a one ounce nugget of gold than to find a 5 carat diamond.
About 187,200 tonnes of gold have been mined since the beginning of civilization.
Of that, over 90% has been mined since the California Gold Rush (1848 – 1855) – approximately 168,480 tonnes.
But all of the gold ever mined would fit in a crate only 21 cubic meters in size!
The world’s oceans are estimated to hold up to 15,000 tonnes of gold.
One ounce of gold can be stretched into a length of wire 50 miles long and only 5 microns thick (0.001 mm).
Another Fun Fact: Gold is Biocompatible
Pure gold is biologically inert – it will pass through a human’s digestive tract without being absorbed. It is sold in very fine, thin sheets or flakes and often used to decorate chocolate works of art.
Gold Leaf in Jewelry Making
In jewelry making, gold leaf is used in a Korean technique known as keum boo. Heat and pressure are used to fuse nearly pure gold onto sterling silver or other metals. The gold leaf will bond with the silver using temperatures between 700°F and 900°F, which is much lower than temperatures used when soldering two pieces of precious metal (soldering temperatures range between approximately 1,200°F and 1,500°F).
This is a new design which I’ll be introducing at the upcoming Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy. In this example of keum boo, I’ve used a chemical solution to blacken the silver after applying the gold foil. It’s called liver of sulfur – it blackens silver, but gold does not react to it. I like the way it creates a contrast between the black and the gold.
The Golden Buddha
There are countless beautiful, masterful, inspiring works of art created with gold. But the most astonishing one I have ever seen myself is the Golden Buddha.
Sitting in glowing serenity in Wat Traimit in Bangkok, Thailand is what is probably the world’s most valuable buddha statue. It weighs in at 5.5 tons of gold. Disguised for an unknown number of years under a layer of plaster, its true composition was revealed in 1954 when it was being moved and was accidentally dropped, breaking off some of the coating. According to Wikipedia, the statue is in nine parts, and the purity of the gold varies throughout the statue, from 40% pure gold in the body to 99% pure gold in the hair and topknot. Using an estimated value of $1,275 per ounce (approximately what gold has been this month), the gold in the Golden Buddha has a material value of nearly $230 million.
This is not the post I planned to write this month, but the scary number of natural disasters in the news recently (one of which impacted my family) made me want to reach out and remind my customers to take a few steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Coincidentally, September is National Preparedness Month.
What if you lost your home due to a fire, a flood, an earthquake? My mother and step-father lost theirs in the Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, and that has motivated me to offer a few suggestions. Disaster planning is not my area of expertise, so this is hardly comprehensive, but after helping them in the aftermath of Harvey, these are the things that have been on my mind.
I also wanted to share an article I wrote for our local paper, a personal account of the devastation caused by the flood.
Another option to a cloud-based back-up is to periodically back-up to an external drive which can be kept in a safe location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You will not always have the most current back-up of your data doing it this way, but it is a very easy option.
2. Use A Password Management App
Do I really need to explain why it is a bad idea to keep your passwords on a sheet of paper in your desk drawer? No, I didn’t think so. A good password management app will provide both a high level of security for your information and allow it to be synchronized across devices, so that even if you have lost your computer, you can access the data on a tablet or smart phone.
Also, make sure that the contact information you have registered with important online accounts, such as banks or credit cards, is current and includes your cell phone and the correct email address. If you are logging into your account using a device or browser that has not previously been authorized, you will generally have to go through a verification process that involves texting or emailing an authorization code. If your contact information is not current and you cannot receive the authorization codes, getting back into your accounts becomes much more complicated and time-consuming.
I was living in Laguna Beach in 1993, when a wildfire raged through the canyon and into town. Over 400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. The fire burned to the end of the street where I was living, and only a change in the wind stopped it from getting to my apartment.
Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to make a visual record of my possessions for insurance purposes. But – true confession – for 24 years I have failed to cross “photograph contents of house” off my list of things to do. Coming close to losing my home apparently wasn’t enough motivation. But seeing first-hand what has happened to my mother and step-father’s home and helping them start to recover from such a horrible loss – that has done the job. I came home and started taking pictures.
It’s probably been years since any of you used a film camera. In fact, some of my younger readers might NEVER have used a film camera. For your digital images, if you are not already backing them up to the cloud (or as part of your computer back up), you should start doing so. But if you have old-fashioned prints of photographs that are precious to you, make a digital copy of them. Either scan them, or simply take a photograph of the photograph. Just pick a few to start with.
5. Have Important Contact Information In Your Phone
You probably have contact information for family members and friends in your phone, but what about your insurance agent, your doctor, or your pharmacy?
A Personal Account Of The Devastation Caused By Hurricane Harvey
by Lorraine Hornby
I grew up in Spring, Texas – once a rural area just north of Houston, now a congested jumble of suburbs and strip malls. Until September 3, a house on West North Hill Drive had been my mother’s home for more than 50 years. It was where I grew up, roller skating and riding my bicycle around the neighborhood in the days when parents could tell their children “go play in the street”.
It survived Alicia (1983), Allison (2001), Rita (2005) and Ike (2008). Harvey changed that. Mom and my step-father, Mike, were away when the storm hit. They managed to get a flight to Dallas, and spent the next week in a hotel there, able – for a while – to remotely access the security cameras at the house to watch the floodwaters rise.
On August 26 the water was coming up the driveway. By August 27 it was inside the house, she guessed to a depth of 2 or 3 feet. Neighbors had already evacuated.
My brother made plans to rent an SUV and drive from his home in Des Moines with his two sons, tools, and supplies, in order to be there when the flood waters went down enough to haul out the ruined possessions and rip out the sodden walls. I booked a flight.
Then the power went out and they could no longer access the cameras. One of my step-sisters saw a Weather Nation Live video on Facebook, and recognized a street name as a rescue boat chugged through the neighborhood. The video clearly showed Mom & Mike’s home, with water up to the roof of the first floor.
Mom told my brother to cancel his plans – who knew when the water would recede or the roads open. My flight was scheduled for a few days later, and I kept my reservation in the hope that the airport would be open again by then. It was, and I arrived on September 5 – the day after I closed up my booth at the Sawdust Art Festival.
Even more than the home, my mother was worried about her dog, who had been boarded at a nearby kennel before they left on their trip. It turned out that the kennel stayed dry, although roads leading to it flooded. An employee lived close enough to wade through knee-deep water to care for the animals.
As anyone who has a pet knows, though, animals suffer stress just like humans do, and when she was finally able to get back to Spring and retrieve the dog, he was clearly traumatized. He is always a source of great comfort to her, but he was also the cause of terrible worry in the first days after the flood. He got bitten by something – we suspect a spider – which resulted in multiple trips to the vet. The only time I saw my mother cry that week was when she had to leave him at the vet for the third time in as many days (he is fine now).
The Kindness of Strangers, and Friends Who Aren’t
Hard times bring out the best and the worst in people. The fact that this is a cliché makes it no less true. Mom and Mike have received an astonishing amount of help from complete strangers.
First, there was the family that they met in their hotel in Dallas, who loaned them a car to drive from Dallas to Spring as soon as the roads were open.
Then, over Labor Day weekend, there were the community volunteers who set up a command center in the neighborhood and organized dozens (maybe even hundreds, I don’t really know) of volunteers, along with food, water, and clean-up supplies. They literally dug in and did the filthy, sweaty, back-breaking job of dragging out ruined furniture, appliances, and possessions, then stripping the walls to the studs.
In the week following Labor Day the majority of those volunteers had gone back to their own jobs and I was wondering how I would move the debris still in the back yard around to the pile in the front on my own, when two people walked up to the house and asked if we needed help. I gratefully said “yes”.
As for the worst, there are of course the looters and the hustlers and the corporations that seek to profit from the victims’ misfortune. On a personal level, you will discover that some “friends” are not. It’s just another wound to your heart, already hurting from the loss of your home and the treasured mementos of your life.
For the first five days of cleanup, no confirmed information was available to as when the debris would be removed. Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, every house on the street had been cleared, and each lawn was covered with the ruined contents, piled several feet high.
Then someone came around to distribute printouts of a pretty graphic from FEMA illustrating how the rubble should be separated into tidy piles: electronics, household waste, hazardous waste, appliances, vegetative debris, construction debris, and ordinary household waste. And it should all be within 10 feet of the curb and not near any trees.
The reality bore no resemblance to the pretty FEMA graphic. Everyone worried that their yard would not get cleared if they did not sort the garbage, but truly, it would have required another army of volunteers to do so. Eventually, we learned that the Home Owner’s Association wasn’t going to wait for FEMA and had hired a dump truck and excavator. Trash removal started a week after the flood, and thankfully, they took everything, sorted or not.
There is never going to be anything easy about losing your home and its contents, whether it is by fire or flood or earthquake or tornado. But I think flood is the worst. When the water goes down and you start to clear your ruined belongings, you open a drawer and it is still full of water. All the clear plastic boxes used to neatly organize things in the garage are full of water. You see your soaked photograph albums. You are left with the task of dismantling a structure which is still standing, albeit soaking wet, and you must rush to demolish the walls so the studs can be sprayed to prevent mold.
For those displaced by a disaster, after the basic human needs of shelter, food, and water are met, what is needed most is labor. If you are going to volunteer labor, take your own protective gear: respirator masks, eye protection, gloves, sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen, insect repellant.
People who have lost their homes need help doing laundry, finding a place to live temporarily, cleaning and packing whatever possessions they have managed to salvage. And chances are, they need tech support. I spent a great deal of time setting up Mom & Mike’s iPads and phones to do things they were used to doing on their computers (Mom’s computer was lost in the flood, Mike’s survived in an upstairs room, but he no longer had internet access on it).
It is a long and stressful road, recovering from a disaster. Mom and Mike are on their way, though. Most days bring progress, sometimes huge, sometimes small. But progress.
What does the August birthstone have in common with meteors? Read on…
The peak viewing time for the annual Perseid meteor shower was August 12 this year, and that got me thinking about extraterrestrial influences on gems.
The August birthstone, peridot, is the gem variety of a mineral called olivine. It often occurs in volcanic rock formations called basalts, which are rich in the elements iron and magnesium – the iron being what gives peridot its beautiful green color.
Here on Earth, peridot is found in a wide range of areas, including Burma, Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Norway, and parts of the United States (this is only a partial list). But in rare cases, peridot has an extraterrestrial source – meteorites known as pallasites can contain pockets of olivine within their iron matrix, and sometimes the olivine contains gem-quality peridot.
The photo below shows a slice from the Esquel meteorite that landed near the Patagonian town of the same name in Argentina. It was found in 1951 by a farmer digging a hole for his water tank, and weighed about 1,500 pounds. It is considered one of the most beautiful meteorites ever found and is, of course, highly valued among collectors.
“Impact Glass” Used in Jewelry
Meteorites are also responsible for the formation of another unusual item used in jewelry: moldavite. Moldavite is part of a grouping called “impact glass”. When meteorites hit the earth, the surrounding rock is melted, and this can create what are called tektites. The impact of the meteor flings the molten rock into the upper atmosphere, where it cools, and then tektites rain down – sometimes spread over a distance of nearly 4,000 miles.
Moldavite, a green-colored variety of tektite, is formed this way. The left-hand photo below shows examples of real moldavite. Most pieces are less than 100 grams. The one on the right was seen for sale in Hanoi, and is a fake (the size is the first clue that it is not real, but it was being sold as genuine).
Real Moldavite samples – most are less than 100 grams
Fake Moldavite – larger than a hand, seen for sale in Hanoi
According to a “Gems & Gemology” article by Jaroslav Hyrsl, the most famous gem-quality moldavites are from the southern Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. The meteor strike that created them occurred more than 14 million years ago and created the Ries crater in southern Germany.
Another meteorite-formed treasure is Libyan Desert Glass. It is believed to have been formed 26 million years ago in an area near the border of modern-day Libya and Egypt. Although the precise origin of the glass is unknown, scientists have theorized that it is the result of a meteorite exploding in air – the heat of which melted the sand in the desert below. The pendant shown here is from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, and the centerpiece scarab is carved from Libyan Desert Glass.
Back to the Perseids…
The Earth’s orbit crosses the path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is the largest known object to repeatedly pass by the Earth. It last passed by in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. But it leaves behind a cloud of cosmic dust and debris, and every year the Earth passes through this cloud, resulting in the annual Perseid meteor shower.
The 2017 Sawdust Art Festival here in Laguna Beach is in full swing, and this month I want to give you a glimpse into how it all comes together.
Outside of Laguna Beach, I have often received puzzled looks when telling people that I sell my jewelry at “The Sawdust.” Having been immersed in the show as an exhibitor for 11 years, and having been a visitor for many years prior to that, I tend to forget that the name does, in fact, seem a bit odd. Its origin dates back to the 1960s, when a small group of artists set themselves up on a dirt lot in town. Sawdust was spread to help keep the dust down, and when the local media called it the Sawdust Festival, the name stuck.
It is truly inspiring to me to see how far the show has come, now located on 3 acres of land along Laguna Canyon Road, with permanent structures for glass blowing demonstrations, hands-on pottery throwing at the ceramics center, entertainment, and food and drink. And — most importantly — the artists demonstrating and selling their work. And yes, there is still sawdust on the ground (well, these days it’s wood chips).
Part of what makes the Sawdust unique is the fact that each year we, the exhibitors, create our own artists’ village in a shady eucalyptus grove. No pop-up tents allowed! Our booths are not among the permanent structures, and every year each artist must design & build their own booth (some exhibitors build themselves — personally, I hire someone to do it for me).
The whole process starts with a lottery. In February, applicants receive lottery numbers, and our number determines the order in which we will later pick our spaces. You have to be a Laguna Beach resident to apply to the show, but after 10 years of continuous participation you have the right to exhibit even if you no longer live in town.
Early in May we gather on the grounds for Booth Pick Day. By this time, the spaces will have been marked with chalk outlines. As each exhibitor chooses their spot, it is noted on a giant map so that the rest of us can keep track of what is still available, anxiously waiting and desperately hoping that no one with a lower lottery number picks the space we want! Some years everyone gets a space, and some years there is not enough room for all who apply. And some years, like this one, we have extra space and are able to invite guest artists from outside of Laguna Beach to participate.
The day after Booth Pick Day construction starts, and we have about 6 weeks to get all the booths built.
Here’s my spot for this year, #221, on Booth Pick Day — the pie-shaped one in the foreground.
And here is it during framing.
After my builder does the framing, drywall and electrics for my main power supply and lights, I come in and do the rest: mudding, painting, hanging signs & posters, bringing in the jewelry cases and creating my mini-workshop in my booth.
And now I am open for business! Come see me at the Sawdust Art Festival, booth #221.
Classically elegant and timelessly beautiful, pearls (a June birthstone) are one of the very few organic materials classified as gems. They are most commonly produced by oysters or mussels, although other types of creatures produce pearls, too (such as abalone or conch). A pearl forms when an irritant enters the mollusk, which will then coat the irritant with layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-ker).
A few pearl facts:
Pearls are the oldest known gems. Unlike gems formed in the earth, which must be cut and polished to reveal their beauty, pearls can be used just as nature gives them to us.
Pearls are formed in both freshwater and saltwater. The saltwater varieties include the pearls formed by Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea oysters.
Prior to the discovery of oil, the most valuable export from the Persian Gulf was pearls. Once a rare source of natural pearls, the oyster beds there have been destroyed by pollution from the oil industry.
In ancient times, pearls were so valuable that a Roman general, Vitellius, paid for an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings.
In 2016, a Filipino fisherman revealed that he had the world’s largest natural pearl. He discovered it when his boat’s anchor snagged on the giant clam which produced the pearl, and kept it for 10 years as a good luck charm. Currently on display at Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island, the pearl is 2.2 feet long and 1 foot wide, and weighs 75 pounds.
Cultured versus Natural Pearls
A natural pearl is one which has had no human intervention. These are quite rare, and therefore quite valuable. The majority of pearls on the market are cultured, meaning that they are grown on pearl farms where the bead nucleus is implanted in the oyster.
The earliest cultured pearls date back to the 13th century, when Chinese pearl farmers would implant tiny carvings of the Buddha into freshwater mussels, which the mollusk would coat with nacre, thus creating Buddha-shaped pearls.
The existence of today’s cultured pearl industry can be credited to three Japanese men: Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa, a marine biologist; Tatsuhei Mise, a carpenter; and Kokichi Mikimoto, a vegetable vendor-turned-pearl-farmer. It was Tatsuhei Mise who received the first Japanese patent for culturing pearls, in 1907. The other two, Dr. Nishikawa and Mikimoto, had been experimenting around the same time, but it was Mikimoto, using the methods developed by the other two, who turned pearl farming into a successful commercial venture.
I recently visited a pearl farm in Halong Bay, Vietnam (photo below) and was able to see a pearl-culturing operation first-hand.
First, a piece of tissue (specifically, the mantle) is taken from a donor oyster and treated with antibiotic – these are the red-stained strips in this photo.
Then, a tiny section of the treated tissue is wrapped around the bead nucleus for the soon-to-be cultured pearl, and is then inserted into the host oyster.
The implanted oysters are placed in net racks and returned to the water. At the pearl farm I visited, they cultivate three types of oysters: Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea. At this particular farm, they let the Akoya pearls grow for 2 years, the Tahitian pearls for 4 years, and the South Sea pearls for 4 to 6 years.
I love pearls and use them frequently in my designs. Visit studio44jewelry to see more.
I like adding texture to the silver I use in my jewelry. It adds another dimension to the design and, quite frankly, saves me from having to polish out every scratch or tool mark that the metal picks up during the fabrication process. Sometimes the texture is subtle, such as using sandpaper to give a matte finish, and sometimes it is simple, such as hammering away with a ball pein hammer. But my favorite technique is roll printing — not that I don’t enjoy the therapeutic effect of hammering on something — which allows for endless unique textures. In roll printing, a piece of metal is passed through two steel rollers, along with whatever material you are using to create texture. A piece of mesh, for example, could be used to create a grid-like pattern. Surprisingly, even materials much softer than the metal itself will leave an imprint when roll-printing is used. How is this possible? Through the magic of annealing and the pressure of the steel rollers.
To fabricate my “leaf” earrings with tourmelated quartz (quartz which has black tourmaline inclusions), I first anneal a piece of silver. This means that the metal is heated to red-hot, then quenched in water. This reduces the stress in the metal and makes it more malleable.
In this example, I used a piece of fabric to texture the metal. I cut a piece slightly larger than the silver, laid it over the metal, then ran the two layers through the steel rollers. The rollers are adjusted to the point where the metal is being pressed hard enough for the impression to take, but not so hard that it gets excessively distorted.
After the roll-printing, I annealed the metal again, because the process of imprinting the metal will have stressed it and made it hard and rigid. Here is the metal after the second annealing, and you can see that I’ve used a marker to draw my design. Using my jeweler’s hand saw, I first cut the outside edge of the earring.
To cut the inner part, I drill a small hole to pass the saw blade through. This allows me to create negative spaces in my designs without having to saw from the outside edge.
After sawing, the edges are filed and sanded and I drill another hole to attach the tourmelated quartz drop. Then I solder on the earring post.
And here is the finished pair of earrings (which can be purchased on my website). With roll-printing, no two pieces will ever be exactly the same!