Peridot and Perseids

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.

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Peridot Gemstones

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).


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.

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Moldavite in jewelry (photo: Jaroslav Hyrsl)

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.

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Jewelry from King Tutankhamen’s tomb, featuring 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.

You can view my jewelry creations using earthly gemstones at

Sawdust Art Festival Booth Build

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).

This was taken back in 2009: yours truly, trying my hand on the pottery wheel.

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.

View of the grounds on Booth Pick Day

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.

Same view, only two days later!


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.


As always, you can shop online at

Pearl Farming

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.

Texturing Metal with Roll Printing

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!


Rarest of the Rare

One of the many things that fascinates me about gemstones is the stories that surround some of them. Diamonds, in particular, can have long and legendary histories.

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On April 4th of this year, a world record was set by a gemstone. Or, more accurately, by the new owner of the gemstone. The Pink Star diamond, the largest pink diamond ever found, was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for $71 million. The stone, weighing just under 60 carats, was bought after only 5 minutes of bidding. Mined in Africa in 1999, the gem was cut over a period of 2 years and is now owned by the jewelry company Chow Tai Fook.

What makes a single gemstone so valuable? In a word: rarity. Diamonds are among the world’s rarest gemstones (40 tons of ore might be dug to get a 1 carat diamond), and diamonds which naturally have a distinct color are rarer still. They make up only 0.01% of the world’s diamond production, with pink being among the rarest. Factor in the size and clarity of the Pink Star, along with its color, and you have a $71 million gem.

The rarest of all are red diamonds. A 2010 New York Times article stated that less than 20 were known to exist. I actually had a chance to see one of the most famous red diamonds, the Kazanjian Red, at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History when it was on exhibit there in 2009.

Diamonds are 99.95% pure carbon – the only gemstone composed of a single element. Their colorless appearance is due to the fact that they do not absorb light. The brilliance and sparkle that characterizes diamonds is caused by the way they reflect light. With the exception of the pink/red diamonds, the colored ones get their color from chemical impurities – the tiny part of the diamond’s composition that is not pure carbon. Blue diamonds contain boron. Yellow diamonds contain nitrogen. But no one knows what makes pink diamonds pink (or red diamonds red). Even with a mass spectrometer (“Major Mass Spec” to fans of Abby’s lab in NCIS) scientists have not been able to find any trace of impurities that cause the pink color. Slices of pink diamonds examined under a powerful electron microscope show that they are not uniformly pink – pink zones alternate with clear zones, which has lead to a theory that the color is in fact due some kind of seismic shock that happened to the diamond.

Stories of Famous Pink (and one red) Diamonds

Enough of the technical talk! I want to tell the (abbreviated) stories of some famous pink diamonds



The name means “Sea of Light” in Persian. First documented in 1739 as part of the collection of the first Mogul of India (a collection which also included the historic Koh-i-Noor diamond). Estimated to be 182 carats, it is currently in the Iranian Crown Jewels collection. It’s color is a very pale pink.

The Agra

From India (once 32.24 carats, recently re-cut to 28.15). In 1526 it was given to the founder of the first Mogul empire, Babur. After conquering the city of Agra (the eventual site of the Taj Mahal), he spared the life of the incumbent Rajah and his family and was given a cache of jewels in gratitude. The jewels included the Agra, which Babur liked so much he wore it in his turban. It was purchased by a Hong Kong jewelry company in 1990 for $7 million (at the time, a record).

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The Williamson Pink

Discovered in Tanzania in 1947, the 54.5 carat uncut stone was presented to then-Princess Elizabeth as a wedding gift. It was cut in 1948 (to a 23.6 carat round brilliant) and set in a brooch designed by Frederick Mew of Cartier in 1952. It is a piece of jewelry which the Queen still wears.

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The Kazanjian Red

This blood-red diamond is 5.05 carats. It was mined in South Africa in 1927. In 1944 the Nazis stole it from its hiding place in the Netherlands and sent it to Germany. After the war it was  found in a cache of gems in a salt mine near Hitler’s Bavarian retreat. It was initially listed as a ruby, but Louis Asscher, the diamond merchant who received the gems, immediately recognized it for what it was. It was purchased by Douglas Kazanjian in 2007 and is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Be Aware….

Pink diamonds can be lab-grown, so it is critically important to know if a gem is natural or man-made, as this has an enormous impact on value.

A Contemporary Redesign

Do you have diamonds gathering dust in a drawer? Perhaps you have a piece of jewelry which has lovely stones, but which are set in a design that is not really something you would wear?  Use the stones to have a custom piece made which you will truly enjoy! I recently had the pleasure of working on just such a project. A customer inherited a ring in which the center diamond was not only a fantastic gem, but which had tremendous sentimental value. However, she did not care for the design.

the original ring

To begin, I created some rough drawings of my design ideas to show the customer. After she selected the one she wanted, I got to work at my jewelry bench. The first step was to remove the diamonds from the original setting. The ring was 14kt white gold, and the prongs were quite thick, so bending them back to release the stone was not an option. Instead, I used a gentle abrasive wheel attachment on my flexshaft to grind away the tips of the prongs.


I decided to make this ring using traditional fabrication techniques (as opposed to creating a wax model and having it cast). This meant I would be working directly with the metal, and that each component of the new piece would be made by sawing various forms of white gold stock and joining the individual components by soldering.  All in all, there would be 15 solder joints needed. Here’s one of the soldering set-ups.


After all the fabrication work was completed, the piece was polished. Then I needed to cut the seats for the diamonds. This is done with a specially shaped steel burr (again using the flexshaft tool), carefully grinding away enough metal so the stone could slide inside the small tube settings, just low enough to allow the top edge to be compressed over the girdle of the stone to hold it in place. And then, even more CAREFULLY, push the metal down around the diamonds to hold them securely.

And here is the finished piece – now a pendant – in white gold.