October’s Duel Birthstones

Greetings! This note is long overdue, but between craft shows and storm preparation (and survival) life has been a bit busy. That said, I hope all of you on the East Coast came though the storm at least relatively unscathed. If not, I send positive thoughts your way and hope you get life back on track quickly and easily!

This note might be overdue, but it’s not too late to discuss October’s birthstone. To make this more interesting, October actually has two birthstones. Let’s explore each of them now.

The first birthstone is opal. This is a very soft stone that starts as a silica gel material which hardens through nature’s heating and molding processes. Opals possess a phenomenon known as opalescence, which is what causes the play of colors they are most famous for. What I mean is if you take an opal and turn it from side to side, you will see flashes of various colors which seem to dance within the stone. Sometimes they are large flashes and sometimes they are smaller flashes depending on the makeup of the stone. These flashes determine the value of the stone. According to American Gem Society, “Opals range in color from milky white to black with flashes of yellow, orange, green, red, and blue.”

Australia is the primary source of opals, but they can also be found in Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Japan, and Ireland. In the United States, they can be found in Nevada.

Depending on the time period and location in discussion, opals can have either positive or negative metaphysical properties. Some believed the opal was a symbol of health, while others believed it was a symbol of death and darkness.

October’s other birthstone is tourmaline. This stone comes in a wide variety of colors including yellow, green, red, blue, pink, brown, and black and some are bi-colored.

As I was digging around to find out more about tourmaline, I found that it has an unusual property for a gemstone. When it is warmed or rubbed, it becomes charged with static electricity and can attract small bits of paper and dust.

Tourmaline, which is a fairly hard stone, can be found in Brazil, Afghanistan, East Africa, and the United States.

When it comes to the history and lore that surrounds tourmaline, there is very little compared to other stones because tourmaline is a more recently discovered stone. It is believed to be a calming stone and used to dispel fears. Gemologists are finding that many stones in history were misidentified as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds when they were actually tourmaline.

I did some searching as to why October has two birthstones, and I came up empty-handed. I’m also trying to find out how long its had two birthstones. If you know, please let me know!

Thanks for stopping by!

This image is an opal and shows the flashes of color I discussed. (Image courtesy of Gemological Institute of America. http://www.gia.edu)


This image shows the variety of colors in which tourmaline can be found. (Image courtesy of Gemological Institute of America. http://www.gia.edu)


A Little Sapphire for September

Can you believe we are almost to the end of September? I hear people asking where the summer went and I’m just wondering where the past month went! If the next three months go as quickly as the previous three, I better get some shopping done now or I’ll miss Christmas!
Before the month escapes us, let’s look at September’s birthstone.

Beautiful dark blue sapphires are the birthstone for the month of September. However, did you know sapphires naturally appear in colors other than blue? Let’s explore sapphires for a little bit and see what else we can learn.

Sapphires come from the mineral corundum, which is the same mineral rubies come from. The primary difference between two is their color. Rubies are red corundum while sapphires come in just about every other color in the rainbow. Sapphires can even be shades of gray or black and they can also be colorless.

As with rubies, sapphires are considered both hard and tough; however, it’s still good to be careful with them in case they have small fractures which could break under pressure. Heat can also affect the color and/or clarity of the stone.

Sapphires are considered one of the more rare stones; however, they can be found in several places throughout the world. The most region most famous for sapphires is the Kashmir region, which is located between Pakistan and India. The sapphires which come from here are sometimes called “Kashmir sapphires.” They are known for their vivid blue color. Very few sapphires come from this region today; most of them were mined out about 100 years ago. Sapphires are also found in Burma/Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Africa, Australia, Cambodia, and the United States.

The deep blue color of sapphires has been associated with royalty and romance for centuries. In the Middle Ages it was used by the clergy because they believed the blue color symbolized heaven. It is also known as a stone of love and commitment and it has been claimed that sapphires encourage faithfulness and loyalty.

In ancient times, people consumed sapphires because they believed the stones were a remedy for poison and poisonous bites. It was also thought to cure fevers, colds, and ulcers.

Currently, I do not have any pieces made with sapphires, but I would like to show you two of the different colors of sapphires. The first image is what is traditionally thought of as a sapphire with its deep blue color. The second image is a pink sapphire. This has more of the elements that are found in rubies, but it is not the correct hue to be considered a ruby, so it is still a sapphire.

Both of these images are from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which is considered the authority when it comes to gemology.
I hope this has been educational for you. It’s fun to see how many people are surprised by the fact that sapphires come in colors other than blue, and they are even more surprised to learn the connection between sapphires and rubies.

Thanks for stopping by!

Emerald – May’s Birthstone

Now that we are almost to the end of May, I thought I would do a write-up on this month’s birthstone, emerald.

Emeralds come from the mineral beryl, a colorless stone which has impurities in it to give it the green color we associate with emeralds. I have previously discussed aquamarine, which is also from the beryl family.

Although they are a hard stone (7.5–8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness), emeralds have many inclusions in them, which cause them to lack in toughness. An inclusion is anything that is enclosed within a gemstone. These inclusions can often be air pockets and small fractures, which can cause the gemstone to break more easily therefore reducing its toughness. (Please note hardness and toughness are not the same.)

The inclusions in the stones are generally filled with oils and/or polymers to help make them stronger. These treatments are regarded as standard practice for emeralds; however, there are different amounts by which a stone may be treated and it is always good to ask your jeweler for a treatment report. Knowing how your stone is treated will save you headaches in the long run. Because most emeralds have inclusions, if you put them into an ultrasonic cleaner, they will break or fracture at the inclusions.

According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “the first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald, and used it in her royal adornments.” Today, Colombia is one of the largest sources of emeralds and Colombian emeralds are also highly sought after for their beautiful color.

If you are interested in the metaphysical properties of the emerald, it is thought to make its wearer more intelligent. It was also once believed to cure illnesses and the green color is thought to reduce stress and relieve eye strain.

I keep thinking about working an emerald piece into the Gretchen Smith Jewelry lineup, but I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. Do you have any ideas?

Thanks for reading!

Raining Diamonds for April

We’re almost through April and I haven’t covered the April birthstone yet. Let’s do something about that…

Traditionally, the birthstone for April is the diamond. I found a few articles stating there are two different birthstones for April depending on the zodiac symbol (people born between March 21 and April 19 are Aries and those born between April 20 and May 20 are Taurus); however, according to the American Gem Trade Association (http://www.agta.org), the birthstone for the month is diamond. I am going to trust the AGTA because they are considered an industry authority when it comes to gemstones.

Because of the cost associated with diamonds, alternative stones can be used in birthstone jewelry. The alternative stones used in place of diamonds typically include quartz and white spinel (pronounced spi-nel).

According to Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com), a diamond is crystallized carbon and is usually nearly colorless. It is the hardest known mineral and because of this, it’s not only used in jewelry, but is also used as an abrasive.

Diamonds have been used in both jewelry and cutting since ancient times. It is believed that most diamonds came from the area now known as India. Even today, most of the world’s diamonds come from India. Most diamonds are then traded in Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp’s association with the diamond trade dates back to the late 15th century when new techniques for polishing and shaping the stones were developed there.

Recently, manufacturers have developed new methods of creating synthetic diamonds. These stones are grown in laboratories and they are visually identical to naturally-occurring diamonds. When purchasing diamonds, your jeweler should inform you whether or not your diamond is natural or synthetic.

All gemstones have at least a little folklore following them, and diamonds are no different. It is believed diamonds protect those who carry one bound to their left arm. It is also thought to ward off panic, pestilences, and enchantments.

Sadly, I do not have diamonds worked into any of my current jewelry designs, so I do not have photos to share with you. However, if you have questions, please let me know. If I cannot help you, I can direct you to a reliable information source.

Thank you for reading!


How I destress

I’ll admit I’ve been a funk the past few days. We all go through those, right? Days when we feel like we aren’t getting anywhere, when we’re feeling unmotivated, and the like. The one thing that often helps me is creating jewelry. I might not be a fan of the other aspects of running a business (the paperwork, the taxes, etc), but the joy I get out of creating a pretty piece of jewelry makes everything worthwhile. So, I decided to sit in my “studio” and give it a whirl. I cranked up some classical music (it’s great for thinking), pulled out some sterling silver wire and some moonstone pebbles and went to town. Here is the result:

I think I accomplished my goal of breaking my funk. This bracelet measures 7-1/2” long. My skin is a little pale for the white, but it’ll make a great summer piece.

Now for the stone. Moonstone.

Moonstone comes from the feldspar mineral group and is found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Madagascar, Brazil, Australia and India. It is the state gem for Florida, although it is not found in Florida. It is also not found on the moon. When the Greeks and Romans looked at moonstone, they thought it was born from the moon because the visual effect is has reminded them of the moon.

That visual effect is called adularescence, which comes from the floating light that appears to come from below the surface of the stone. This is due to the way light reflects off of the layers within the stone. Some stones have a white light while others have either a blue or an orange light. The stones in this bracelet have a blue light, although I was not able to get my camera to pick it up.

If you are interested in the metaphysical properties of gemstones, moonstone has several. It is believed to bring good fortune to its wearer and is thought of as a stone of protection. It is also thought to fight against obesity and to calm emotions.

Have you ever seen moonstone? Were you able to see the adularescence? If not and you are in the Lancaster County, PA, area come out and check out this pretty new bracelet this spring. You can see my upcoming schedule on my new website: Gretchen Smith Jewelry. Just go to the “Find Jewelry” link at the top of the page. Thanks for reading!


Amethyst – February’s Birthstone

Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February, it also happens to be one of my favorite stones. I’m not a huge fan of the color purple, but I think amethyst is really pretty, especially when it is used with silver or gold. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, amethyst is “a clear purple or bluish-violet variety of crystallized quartz that is often used as a jeweler’s stone.” Unlike most quartz stones, amethyst contains more iron oxide, which is thought to give it the purple color.

As with most gemstones, there is some interesting folklore surrounding amethyst. In ancient Greece, amethyst was thought to ward off drunkenness, so much so that historians have found wine goblets carved from amethyst. Then in medieval times, the stone was thought to promote healing and help the wearer stay cool-headed. Because of this thought, many medieval soldiers would wear amethyst on themselves during battle. According to American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), “Leonardo da Vinci believed that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence.”

Traditionally, the color purple has been the color of royalty and for this reason amethyst has been used by monarchs and rulers in their adornments dating as far back into history as history has been recorded. Fine amethyst stones are included in the British Crown Jewels. Up until the 18th century, it was thought that amethyst was one of the most rare stones and was valued as much as “the big four” (diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald); however, over the past 200 years, deposits of amethyst have been found throughout the world. Some of the places it has been found are Brazil, Uruguay, South Korea, Russia, Austria, India, Africa, Canada, and the United States. Within the United States, some of the areas where amethyst is found are Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Main, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. This widespread availability of amethyst helps to keep the cost of it significantly lower than what it could be; however it is still highly prized and higher grade amethyst stones are quite valuable.

The photos below show a necklace and a pair of earrings I created. I think they really capture the elegant simplicity I strive for in my designs, and they are made with amethyst.

Do you wear any amethyst jewelry? If so, is it one of your favorite pieces or a piece you wear occasionally? Like I mentioned above, I’m not a big fan of the color purple, but there is something about amethyst I find to be really pretty and the deep color almost has an air of mystery about it to me. Thanks for reading!

All About Turquoise

Now that we have covered some of the elements of gemstones, let’s look at some specific stones.

Turquoise is one of the most popular stones used in jewelry and can be found in both traditional and modern designs. In my last write-up I mentioned the fact that turquoise is almost always treated by stabilization before it is used in jewelry. I would like to follow up on that to explain it a little more, and also discuss some alternatives for turquoise.

Turquoise is an opaque stone with colors ranging from light blue to blue-green, and may or may not have darker colored veining through it. It is a copper aluminum phosphate (an organic compound) with the copper causing the blue coloring and the aluminum causing the green coloring. The bluer the stone is, the more valuable it is. According to the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), “Turquoise is among the oldest known gemstones- it has been mined since 3,200 BC.” Because of its popularity, turquoise is getting harder to find, especially high quality turquoise. Many mines have already closed because they were depleted and this is causing an increased production of lower quality turquoise, which needs more stabilization to work in jewelry.

In regards to its treatment, turquoise is often treated either with resin, epoxy, paraffin wax, or plastics. These chemicals absorb into the turquoise, which is naturally porous, and strengthen it while also improving its texture. Untreated turquoise can be used in jewelry, and when it is, the value of it is much higher than treated turquoise. Stones which have more of a blue color contain more copper and are harder than stones which are have more of a green color. These stones usually are not treated or not treated as much.

Because of the increasing rarity of quality turquoise, many jewelers have started to use what is known as chalk turquoise as a substitute. According to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads:

“Chalk turquoise is a form of natural turquoise that has a white chalk-like consistency. It has the same chemical composition as turquoise, only without the copper (it’s the copper that causes the blue turquoise color). Chalk turquoise is also a bit softer than regular turquoise. It is dyed pleasing colors and stabilized with resin to produce beads that are hard enough to use in jewelry. Chalk turquoise is considered less valuable than regular turquoise because it does not contain the minerals that create the rich blue and green colors.”

I will admit I often use chalk turquoise in my jewelry designs for its color and affordability. I do not generally use it as a substitute for real turquoise. I use it as if it is its own stone just like any other colored stone.

Another form of creating the turquoise look is to use “reconstituted turquoise.” To create this, manufacturers grind up turquoise stones which are too small or low quality into a powder. They mix it with a binding agent, such as resin, and then it is dried and cut into pieces. This form of turquoise should always be noted as “reconstituted” and not sold as real turquoise.

Lastly, we have synthetic, or imitation, turquoise. This is generally made of a plastic, ceramic, resin, or other reconstituted stones which have been dyed. Synthetic turquoise is used primarily in your less expensive jewelry.

A natural alternative to turquoise is magnesite. According to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, magnesite is a mineral with the same crystal structure as calcite, “a calcium carbonate with a hardness and texture similar to turquoise and marble.” It is generally white or close to white in color with darker colored veining throughout it. Because of this veining, magnesite is often dyed to look like turquoise.

Due to the increased demand and decreased availability of turquoise, it is getting harder to find quality turquoise in jewelry. Because of this, many jewelry manufacturers are going to alternative ways of creating the turquoise look, while keeping the cost affordable. If you find a piece of jewelry that is advertised as turquoise but just doesn’t look quite right, ask about it. Generally, if it is not real turquoise, it should be advertised as such, but it never hurts to ask.