A quick post of progress on “Sangria”…please forgive the amateur photo. The bats, roses, and leaves are done and resting comfortably on an index card. Each piece gets its own card to help me keep track of all of the tiny Sculpey bits. I also put in one of the natural garnet briolettes that will adorn each earring. And now for a good night’s sleep.
Baltic amber beads. Photo by Lauras at http://www.etsy.com/shop/Gumstone
It is always a pleasure to learn more about gemstones, even the ones considered common, and amber is a scientist’s and historian’s dream. Amber is one of the few organic gemstones (those made from living organisms or their products), and with pearl and ammolite covered in weeks’ past, that leaves just coral and jet. Amber had its own trade routes as early as 3000 BCE, and like pearls, was cherished in both hemispheres, but it was more utilitarian.
The vast majority of the world’s amber comes from Northern Europe and is termed Baltic amber. Over time lumps of tree resin became trapped under pressure and heat inside layers of sediment, which were then picked up by glaciers that swept across the continent. It is still possible to walk along Scandinavian beaches and find 40-60 million year-old amber that arose from the sea floor. The oldest ambers are around 320 million years old. Aside from the traditional golden color, amber can be creamy white, all shades of yellow to brown, and almost black. There are also highly sought-after red, green, and blue ambers.
People once thought amber was magical because of its ability to draw dust to its surface through static. Though its Grecian name “elektron” meant “formed from the sun”, the word was given to electricity in the 1600’s. Amber is also a natural plastic, and several hundred prehistoric species have been identified through the study of the little time capsules. Amber gives off a pleasing resinous odor when heated, harkening back to its origin in trees, and across the ancient world it was an ingredient in perfume. Amber is a bit of a cure-all for pain and disease in folk medicine, and one common use is to string the beads in a teething bracelet for infants. In Lithuania, where amber is common, it was burned as incense to drive away evil spirits, help souls reach the afterlife, bless marriages and newborns, and protect its wearer from harm and disease.
It’s hard to say much about pearls that isn’t general knowledge, but that’s also part of their magic. Once known as the Queen of Gems, pearls have always been fashionable and valuable, across all of the major societies of the ancient world. They were once so rare that they were nearly priceless, and there are too many awesome legends for me to tackle them all. The efforts of Kokichi Mikimoto and other Japanese enthusiasts brought us the techniques that led to the abundance of pearls we have today. For very little money we can have pearl jewelry that rivals and even surpasses the quality of the fabled pearls of the ancient world.
Pearls are made of nacre secreted by certain mollusks as a form of protection against foreign substances. Nacre is made of hard layers of Aragonite (a specific crystalline structure of calcium carbonate), regularly arranged like bricks and laced together with organic, flexible biopolymers. This creates a very durable substance, and the smooth layers create the iridescent effect. Gem-quality saltwater pearls come from oysters of the genus Pinctada of the Pteriidae family, which are different from the true oysters typically grown for consumption. (Not knowing this as a child, I secretly wanted to get otherwise unappetizing oysters at seafood restaurants in hopes of finding a pearl.) Freshwater pearls come from a variety of mussel species across the world. It can take decades for a natural saltwater pearl to form, while in the freshwater pearl industry it can be as little as six months.
Pearls naturally come in shades of white, cream, pink, mauve, purple, and black that can have hints of green. The color of the Mother of Pearl lining inside the oyster or mussel dictates the color of the pearl. Bleaching and dying processes exist to create every color of pearl imaginable, though as always, I prefer untreated gems.
Pearls have historically been associated with the moon, purity, love, and good fortune. Since they historically arose from a coarse grain of sand, pearls can also mean overcoming adversity.
A few days ago I thought about doing a jewelry series with bats, because they are so well-adapted for flight and are really beautiful creatures. That led to me realizing that Halloween is on its way, which led me to realizing I should get pieces completed well before Halloween (eep!). My crow and deer projects are going to have to wait a little longer, for it’s full-steam ahead with bats and cats!
I’m excited because the ideas for the pieces are coming together so well, and after a lot of searching I have found the perfect beads for both sets. “Sangria” is going to live up to its Spanish name, with bats and roses (both common symbols in Spanish heraldry and history) dancing around vintage deep red glass and real garnets…the perfect complement to a Gothic vampire’s wardrobe. “Absinthe” will feature poised cats and bright yellow-green to go with the infamous drink, with the coolest glow-in-the-dark Czech glass beads (they took forever to find but I’m excited). I’m imagining they would be fun to wear to a Halloween party as the sun goes down and the earrings start to glow :-).
I also wanted to start sharing my process along the way. After the planning and finding reference photos for the animals and plants, I start sculpting the originals in Sculpey on a plain ceramic tile. This part is the longest, and each animal takes about a day of work. Most of the animals have to be less than a centimeter tall or wide to fit on a ring band, and because the silver clay is expensive, I try to keep my pieces small to keep prices down. Here is a photo of the first bat for “Sangria”, halfway done with a dime for scale:
Here are also my three favorite tools: a sewing needle, a “Size 0 taper point extra firm Clay Shaper”, and a fine-tip embosser. I stumbled across the rubber Clay Shaper at my local crafts store and it has become my little work horse. I also broke down and bought a magnifying lamp, which has been a big help and keeps me from holding the tile right up to my face like I used to. When all of the animals and plants are baked, they are *carefully* removed from the tile (I cry inwardly when I break one) and they are positioned on another piece of Sculpey (the ring/earring/pendant shape) for another bake before the next step.
Thanks for reading, and now, back to work for me 🙂
Image by greenzaku on deviantart.
Its name stemming from the Greek “ios” for violet, iolite is a quaint little stone with unique abilities. Iolite is pleochroic, meaning that its color depends on the viewing angle. Iolite is neat in that it is trichroic (has three colors): the true blue-purple color, the midway grey-purple color, and the clear or slightly yellow color. Gemcutters have to pay attention these colors to bring out the stone’s best. Iolite is also nicknamed “Viking’s Compass” as it is thought the stone’s ability to change color in polarized light allowed sailors to navigate towards the sun, even on cloudy days. For this reason it is sometimes given to people about to travel for good luck.
There are no treatments that work on iolite to change its color or remove inclusions, and so it’s pretty safe to expect that any iolite you find is natural. Most of the world’s iolite comes from India, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. Its hardness of 7-7.5 makes it suitable for jewelry, and as there are not many blue stones out there, iolite is a reasonably-priced option. Iolite is thought to help artists find inspiration, improve vision and memory, and help ease troubles for better sleep.
Slice of Esquel meteorite containing peridot. Image by Doug Bowman, 2004. Handful of green sand from Kona, Hawaii. Image by Dr. Anne Helmenstine.
Before researching for this report, peridot was honestly not a very interesting stone to me. The universe has again proved me a fool, for peridot has an amazing history that goes back before our planet was formed 4.54 billion years ago (more on that later). Peridot has a long history on earth as well, and was especially favored in Egypt and the Middle East. There are ancient papyri indicating its mining as early as 1500 BCE on the island of Zabargad off the Egyptian coast. Peridot was also brought back to Europe in the crusades to adorn relics in churches. Today, peridot is mined in several places worldwide, and gem-quality material has been found inside meteorites. The idea of sparkling pieces of pre-earth peridot spinning through space (try saying that three times fast) is amazing.
Peridot is like the little brother of diamond, as both can be found in meteorites and on earth they form miles below the surface in the mantle (most gemstones form in the crust). While diamond is made of carbon, peridot contains magnesium and iron with silica and oxygen. Peridot is always green, with the shade depending on the amount of iron present.
In Hawaii there are green sand beaches composed of grains of peridot eroded from volcanic rock. The natives believe the sand is related to the goddess Pele, and use it in healing ceremonies. In other parts of the world, peridot is believed to remove enchantments, ward off evil spirits, and calm an anxious heart.
Image from http://www.mineraltreasures.co.uk
I first came across this enchanting stone about a year ago and for some time I have really wanted to make pieces with it. Labradorite is in the feldspar family, which accounts for over half of the composition of the earth’s crust, making them the most common minerals on earth. Labradorite is named for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, and the native peoples had long-used the stone for ornamental and medicinal purposes. According to an Inuit legend, the Northern Lights were once trapped inside the stone and freed into the sky by a warrior’s spear. Not all of the light could escape, seen in the stone’s shimmering colors.
The effect is called labradorescence, also known as the schiller effect. It is caused by light refracting through fine layers (iridescence tends to work the same way every time…gemstones, butterfly wings, peacock feathers, etc). It was not until Moravian missionaries came to the island and sent specimens back to Europe in the 1700’s that the gemstone was made known to the world, and shortly thereafter it was highly sought after in France in England for jewelry. Labradorite is said to reduce anxiety, replacing it with inspiration, and help in understanding the meaning of one’s dreams.
Now for the classification stuff: labradorites belong to the plagioclase subgroup of feldspars. Spectrolite is a generic term for varieties of labradorite with a wider array of colors such as yellows and reds, instead of only blues and greens, and is found in Madagascar and Finland. I was also surprised to learn that the set of rainbow moonstones I just purchased are not moonstones at all but a form of labradorite. They are also called white labradorite and come mostly from India. I’ll be getting my chance to make labradorite pieces ahead of schedule, it seems :-).