The summer of 2002 was hot and dry. Opals miners were taking very little good material out of the ground. When opal carver Christine Roussel had a large black opal on her bench, she was initially afraid. She knew that she had never carved a Lightning Ridge black opal of that size before. She studied it for two weeks. Slowly, she began to remove the sandstone in which the opal formed. Since you never know what will be underneath of a layer, a big patch of gorgeous opal or a big patch of undesirable sandstone, Christine grew more nervous with each layer she removed.
Christine is quoted as saying that “mother nature is finished producing opal,” so if she blew this shot at carving, she couldn’t just start over. Thankfully, it seems that she had steady hands and nerves of steel because 5 months later, the world’s largest freeform opal (6,ooo carats) emerged from the matrix.
Christine must have felt a lot like Michelangelo carving David. It’s rumored that the famous artist had said that David already existed in the marble. All he had to do was remove the excess material to reveal the sculpture inside.
6,000ct Lightning Ridge Freeform Black Opal cut by Christine Roussel
There are some people who do more than others to promote something. Christine Roussel is one of the biggest influencers in making Lightning Ridge black opals what they are today. She was a big proponent of the opal and cutting trade and helped put Lightning Ridge on the map.
Christine believed that all the opal that came out of the ground was precious and none of it should be wasted. Before her, all opals were cut in oval cabochons which wastes a lot of opal. Christine’s goal was to help the world understand that different cutting styles preserved a natural resource. Opal takes millions of years to form, so it’s not something that can be found easily. There’s a finite amount of ANY opal that the Earth can give us and Precious Black Opal is even more scarce. Cutting it in a way that allows more of the opal to be preserved is important. Christine promoted a freeform cutting style to allow that preservation. Today, she is so well known for changing the industry, that she has a cutting award named after her.
Unfortunately, Christine lost a battle with breast cancer, but the lessons she taught us all have changed the dynamic of the opal industry.
You can sometimes find opals that Christine cut today at auction. In December, Bonhams will be auctioning a Lightning Ridge black freeform opal that Christine cut for designer John Ford. As you can see, she imagined the only portion of green/blue colors in the gem as a fish and cut the opal to display that. The rest of the opal was cut in an undulating form to give the impression of waves. It was a clever way of not only preserving the precious opal itself, but allowing her artist’s imagination to shine.
I support women jewelers and artists. I raise awareness of the contributions that women make to the jewelry industry. Breast cancer takes women jewelers from us every year. If you’d like to help support the efforts that women jewelers make to the industry, you can click this link and donate to Breast Cancer Research.
International Opal Jewelry Award Association
Nothing is hotter this fall (or this whole year) than Dendritic agates in jewelry. Get your fall fashion game on with some of these ideas to incorporate dendritic agate into your wardrobe!
It’s considered one of the more sought after varieties of agate, even though it’s technically not an agate since it’s not banded. The word “Dendrite” comes from a Greek word meaning “Tree-like” due to the plant-like inclusions within the stone. Before I was in the jewelry business, I thought the fern-like/plant-like images WERE plants. Then I learned that it’s actually traces of iron or manganese inclusions within the stone. This is another example of my “inclusions are cool” idea. If you had any doubt of that, you can take a look at this bracelet from MaryAnn-Tiques!
Since the iron/manganese inclusions can grow in agate, quartz, chalcedony or opal, you can also see similar inclusions in all the above materials. (Chalcedony is a member of the quartz family, but since most people think of them as separate stones, they are listed separately.) Here’s a dendritic quartz ring by Sarah Nehama on the left and a dendritic opal ring by Sarah Freedenfeld’s Amali Jewelry on the right.
Agates were used extensively over 3,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, making them one of the first gemstones used in recorded history. More recently, dendritic agates were prized in Russia as stones of prosperity, good health and longevity. In fact, from 1885-1916 Carl Faberge’ was commissioned to use them in pieces for gifts to the Czar’s family.
You could readily find them in Western countries during the Victorian period. You are probably all familiar with the Ladies of the Wandering Agate (of which I am a member) on Instagram. You can follow the travels of the lovely Denritic agate ring of Reneeink under the hashtag #wanderingagate.
It’s luckily a very durable stone which makes it an acceptable choice for every day wear. It’s about the same hardness as Amethyst and Citrine on the Moh’s scale.
Dendritic agates are easy to clean- just use warm soapy water and an old, soft bristled tooth brush to remove dirt. Rinse, and dry it with a soft towel.
Other stones can scratch your dendritic agates, so when you’re not wearing it, store it in your jewelry box. Be careful to not touch it to other stones in your jewelry box or keep it in a soft cloth pouch.
They are versatile and durable, beautiful and exotic. They are a great choice for something different! They are hot for fall this year, so you can be fashionable and cool at the same time. If you don’t have any antique dendritic agate, don’t worry. There are some great designers using the stone in inspiring ways! Here are some from Judi Powers.
I love how Judi Powers is using dendritic agates. If I could stack all 5 of these around my neck and up my neck game this fall, I’d do it in a heartbeat! The purity of the design really showcases the gemstone, so her pieces are a great choice for that simple elegance that is so “in” right now.
Dendritic agates coordinate with so many outfits; they are really perfect to wear all year. They allow that touch of nature to be carried with us no matter where we go. It’s a perfect talisman for the outdoor types or anyone who lives in an asphalt jungle to keep nature close by.
If you’re already wearing dendritic agates, I want to see it! Post a picture to my Facebook page, or tag me on Instagram.
Would you be surprised if I told you that many modern jewelry designers were creating their jewelry from ancient inspiration? Some designers use ancient techniques to create their breathtaking masterpieces, and some designers base their styles on ancient designs. Many jewelry designers do both. Read on to see how the old world styles have been incorporated into some new world wearable art.
Ancient Roman coins and archaeological digs inspire Lika Behar’s jewelry. Since ancient goldsmiths didn’t alloy the gold they used to make jewelry, Lika uses pure 24kt gold for her jewelry too. These ancient pieces often come from dig sites with a wonderful patina on them. Either from hundreds of years underground or perhaps the way they were forged, this patina inspired Lika to recreate it for her line.
Lika’s family lineage goes back to the ancient gold coin dealers of the Mediterranean, and it’s certainly noticeable in many of her pieces. I was able to try on some of her rings at a show recently and was struck by how comfortable they were for their size. I like big jewelry, but I find that it’s often just bulky and uncomfortable, especially for my small hands. I was able to wear her rings, they looked good on my hands, and were not the slightest bit awkward. I came to learn that she spent two weeks shaping the rings so that each one became a comfortable, pleasing experience. It was time well spent as far as I could tell!
Before I even tell you about his jewelry, I’m going to tell you what a Master Goldsmith is. Think of Master Goldsmith as more of a title than a thing. It’s a title one can only assume after YEARS of study and apprenticeship. The process usually requires a degree from an accredited institution, an apprenticeship and the ability to have mastered many, many forms of traditional goldsmithing techniques. Look up what’s required one day. You’ll learn words you never knew existed and each of those words equates to a rigorous training schedule (and often decades of time) to master. Think of these people as the PhD’s of the jewelry world. The techniques required and the process itself, have not changed much from the Guilds put in place in The Middle Ages. It’s a coveted honor among bench jewelers to be a Master Goldsmith and Anthony Lent is one of them. You can see the level of craftsmanship and impeccable detail in each piece, so I’m going to let his jewelry speak for itself.
I wrote a whole blog on repoussé’, so when Margery Hirshey told me that she uses that particular technique to create some of her jewelry, I took notice. I love being able to show people the antique influence in modern designs, so these earrings were always going to find their way into a blog, it just happened to be this one. If you look at the pictures from the blog, you’ll see what repoussé’ looked like in the 1820’s. Margery Hirshey’s earrings are what repoussé’ looks like in 2016.
The inspiration she pulls from ancient designs is evident in the ring above. I’ve seen similar styles in museums from ancient cultures.
The ancient coin influence is obvious in Erica Molinari’s jewelry. Anyone who loves to style multiple charms on a chain will love this whole line. It’s all meant to be mixed and matched. Layer the pieces, put them on bracelets, anklets, earrings, charm rings, EVERYTHING. They go with anything and look great! There’s everything from ancient symbols, Latin writing, bees, birds, crosses and architectural designs. You just can’t go wrong with these charming charms!
Complex but elegant, Zaffiro Jewelry uses the ancient technique of granulation in all their designs. This technique from the ancient Etruscans was reinvented in the mid 1800’s by Castellani (read the blog I wrote on the subject here
The ancient techniques are evident, but it’s so modern and updated. The jewelry tips its hat to the ancient technique, but keeps in mind how we wear jewelry NOW. Every time I see the creators at a show, there are new and interesting gemstones incorporated into their designs. The gemologist in me goes a little crazy over that aspect and I get to geek out over the stones. Basically for me, Zaffiro Jewelry combines all my particular nerdy-ness in one jewelry line- ancient jewelry making techniques and awesome gemstones. What could be better?
Welcome back! It’s always fun to see new designers, so in this blog I’m going to show you some great modern designers who are reinterpreting Mourning Jewelry and Memento Mori Jewelry for the 21st Century!
Acanthus jewelry creates a whole line of cool jewelry with oxidized silver and 24 karat gold accents. The contrast is not only very visually appealing, it’s very NOW. To have styles that harken back to yesteryear is also a cool contrast in itself. **See the historical notes at the end of this blog in relation to the Vanitas pendant.
I love this modern take on a mourning keepsake. I hear many people tell me that they’d never wear jewelry that contained hair from someone they didn’t know. If you don’t like the idea of having traditional mourning jewelry to remember a loved one, how about turning the keepsake tradition into a shadowbox pendant? It doesn’t have to contain hair at all! This pendant contains denim from a father’s favorite pair of jeans wrapped in gold wire, a diamond tie clip he wore because the diamond was both of their birthstones, a loose emerald and turquoise, plus the Levi’s tag from his jeans! It’s such a loving sentiment and way to remember someone who has gone before us.
I found Arcana Obscura through a hashtag search on Instagram when I was doing my Show and Tell on Mourning Jewelry. I kept coming across these really interesting new pieces that were representations of cemetery art. After the 3rd or 4th image, I had to find out more. Katie Hockstein is a one woman show who makes each piece to order in a variety of metals. Besides traditional death’s heads and Tempus Fugit images directly from 18th century cemeteries, she also makes snakes, daggers and crescent moons that you won’t be able to live without. I also realized that there is a name for people like me who like to walk in cemeteries (hey- they’re quiet and have cool sculpture!). “Tombstone Tourists” are called taphophiles. I had to look it up because she has a skull band with that name!
We’re all pretty obsessed with Lover’s Eye’s jewelry, so when I found out that Kim of Estate Jewelry Mama is making modern versions of these pieces, I was excited. She’s not only making them from original materials, she’s making them using original techniques! I’m sure you’re really anxious to see the whole new line called “ink and Ivory,” but this is just a sneak preview. The line isn’t even out yet, so you’ll have to wait to see more! Not all Lovers’ Eyes were made as mourning jewels. In fact, the first and most famous one was made to propose (read that story here). As with all good design though, the style wound its way around to remember those who have gone before us. With Estate Jewelry Mama’s jewelry, you can decide which meaning you prefer. Either way, you can find them soon!
Few people have the eye for mourning jewelry that Sarah Nehama has. She wrote a wonderfully informative book on the subject when she curated a show of Mourning Jewelry at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It seems like a natural extension of her psyche to reinvent mourning jewelry in her own personal way. The way she chooses to do that is to upcycle old Tin Type photographs into one of a kind, hand-made jewelry. Tin types and Daguerreotypes were often used in mourning jewels of the Mid-19th Century, when they displaced portrait miniatures as the medium of choice for capturing someone’s likeness. Sarah uses tin types of children and adults and often tries to find more obscure tin type photographs, like two women reading or two men playing cards!
If you like signet rings and memento mori, Vulpecula Jewelry is for you! These rings are cast from Georgian and Victorian wax seals. The phrases are Biblical, as is the case with the Vanitas ring, or from 19th Century poems about a King’s ring, as in the “Even This Shall Pass Away” ring. If you can’t get enough of historical explanations, please continue reading the notes at the end of this blog.
William L Griffiths is a Master Goldsmith. I don’t mean that he’s a really good jeweler although he is that. Master Goldsmith is actually a title, for those of you who may not have known. It’s a title one can only assume after YEARS of study and apprenticeship. The process usually requires a degree from an accredited institution, an apprenticeship and the ability to have mastered many, many forms of traditional goldsmithing techniques. Look up what’s required one day. You’ll learn words you never knew existed and each of those words equates to a rigorous training schedule (and often decades of time) to master. Think of these people as the PhD’s of the jewelry world. The techniques required and the process itself, have not changed much from the Guilds put in place in The Middle Ages. It’s an honor to be a Master Goldsmith and it’s an honor to feature two of them here in this blog today.
Just look at this amazing pendant and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
If it’s skulls you want, then skulls you shall have! A lot of designers make skull rings from the incomparable Anthony Lent on the East Coast (also a Master Goldsmith) to the Gent’s line, King Baby, on the West Coast (and many more in between). Skulls are just cool right now, so they’re not necessarily indicative of “mourning” or memento mori per se in designers’ eyes. In fact, skulls represent many things in art such as wisdom and power. The great thing about the jewelry we wear though is that WE get to choose its meaning.
Credits from left to right- top to bottom: Anthony Lent (author’s photo from globalDesign 2016); Arcana Obscura ( photo used by permission from Arcana Obscura), Acanthus Jewelry (photo used by permission from Liz Katner) and King Baby (author’s photo from In House Jewelers visit 2016)
I hope you have gained a new appreciation for a centuries’ old art. There are many ways to bring the tradition into the 21st century, this blog features just a few! Maybe it will inspire you to want to wear one of the pieces I’ve featured, in which case, the links take you to the artists’ sites. Perhaps, though, this will inspire you to create your own new tradition, in which case, I want to hear about it! Please contact me on Facebook or Instagram.
“Vanitas” in the memento mori tradition stems from two places. The first is a genre of paintings in the 15th -17th centuries that is directly correlative of memento mori. The second is the Biblical verse from Ecclesiastes, “Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas” which the genre of paintings stems from. In English, the Latin translates to “Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity.” The meaning of which becomes a sentiment of the transience of life. The paintings from Antonio De Pereda and Harmen Steenwijck remind us too of that same transience.