Moonstones in Jewelry: The Timeless Allure of Diffracted Light

Moonstone Bracelet Sterling Silver
Moonstone, Amethyst and Sapphire Bracelet

Visible light diffraction occurs when a traveling light wave meets an obstacle and bends to find an outlet, a common occurrence in many gemstones,  but the defining characteristic of high grade moonstones.  In fact,  the cut, setting, and ultimate value of a moonstone piece is largely dependent on showcasing this effect.

Moonstones consist of two varieties of the mineral, feldspar, fused together and layered.  When light travels between these layers it diffracts producing “schiller,” a bluish luster that is said to mimic lunar light falling on water, hence “moonstone.”

Moonstone Ring
Exceptional Schiller / Moonstone & Sterling Ring

Moonstone naturally occurs in various regions across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America, and was prized by ancient polytheistic cultures as a manifestation of the power of their lunar gods.  The civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome were particularly fond of the stone, and began to incorporate it into their jewelry, showcasing the beauty of what they believed to be frozen or solidified moonlight.

Today we know better, but the knowledge of this gemstone’s earthly beginnings hasn’t diminished its popularity. In fact, Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and more recently New Age/Nature and Revival jewelry styles feature moonstones. Regardless of the style, era, or method of manufacture (artisan-made v. machine-made), moonstones are usually cut and set in a fashion that highlights their unique schiller. The most popular of which is the cabochon. This polished rounded cut allows more light to penetrate all those feldspar layers and gives the impression of a flowing blue glow. When moonstones are not the main character in a piece, you’ll often see them in faceted cuts to provide accent to another gemstone, otherwise their hypnotic blue luster might just steal the show!

Moonstone Earrings Sterling Silver
Roman Style Moonstone Earrings

For all their staying power in the hearts and on the fingers of jewelry lovers throughout history, moonstones are rather delicate. They are a relatively soft stone and porous, so care should be taken while wearing, storing, and cleaning. When it comes into contact with a hard surface of even another piece of jewelry, moonstones are quite susceptible to nicks, scratches, and even shatters. Prolonged contact with chemicals and cosmetics can even rob your moonstone of that all important schiller, so be sure to clean it gently with warm water, and keep it apart from other jewelry while not wearing  – lest you incur the wrath of your favorite lunar god!

Visit our ebay store today and find your own piece of captured moonlight.

Lapis Lazuli Jewelry

Lapis Lazuli’s exotic blue color works equally well in both gold and silver jewelry. It ranges from a fine ultramarine blue to a light-blue, almost gray, color and hits every point of saturation in between. Like many gemstones, it has been used as an adornment since the dawn of civilization.

Lapis is a metamorphic rock that derives its blue color from its primary component – the mineral Lazurite (though varying amounts of Sodalite also contribute to the blueness of Lapis). It is a semi-precious gemstone that is quite affordable. It is graded based on a traditional Afghani  system (Afghanistan remains the primary source of lapis) with the most brilliant blue inclusion-free stones being afforded the highest grade and the gray-blue calcite-included pieces being afforded the lowest grade.  Some people strongly prefer pyrite included lapis over uniform blue lapis. The best pyrite-included pieces look like a sea of blue with tiny flakes of gold scattered throughout.

Arts_Crafts_Lapis_Sterling_BroochWe regularly offer for sale many pieces of jewelry that feature pyrite as a primary or secondary gemstone.  The Brooch to the left is an excellent antique example of a brooch that heavily the subtle beauty of lapis. The single, large teardrop shaped stone has speckled white and gold inclusions that are remniscent of an artistic depiction of the cosmos. It has an infiniteness to it that charms the eye. The brooch itself is an antique arts and crafts style piece forged from hammered and hand shaped silver. A trombone clasp is attached at the back for added security. 

Lapis can be found in every conceivable type of jewelry and every period from ancient to that which was manufactured this morning. The earrings below are set with lapis cabochons that capture the non-uniformity of this earthy stone. One cabochon exhibits bold pyrite inclusions while the other is nearly inclusion free.

Sterling_Lapis_Earrings_Pyrite

Lapis is used prominently in Native American Jewelry. The shell shaped, hand engraved earrings below are Navajo made and rely on two brilliant blue oval lapis cabochons. Both stones have strong pyrite inclusions that contrast well against the silver background.

fine lapis earrings

We also frequently encounter lesser-grade lapis set in 950 silver. These pieces are almost certainly all of Mexican origin and usually utilize hinged links for bracelets, necklaces and even some earrings. Below is an example of one such piece. You can see that the lapis used ranges in saturation and inclusion. The round cabochon towards the top left has heavy white calcite-inclusions and no pyrite-inclusions. The teardrop shaped cabochon at the center has an abundance of pyrite-inclusions with little white streaking. This is one of the things that makes all natural gemstone jewelry, and particularly lapis, such a joy to wear.

lapis_950_braceletThere are many stones that imitate lapis, but should not be confused with lapis. First among them is sodalite – a less brilliant blue stone which usually occurs in lapis, but is not lapis by itself.  Sodalite is quite a lovely stone, but it should not be marketed as lapis. The large modern pendant below is set with a dark Sodalite cabochon. It lacks the brilliance of lapis but has its own unique beauty.

sodalite

Other stones that frequently mimic lapis include dyed howlite, dyed calcite, imitation “Gilson” lapis and blue glass. All of these stones can be fairly reliably distinguished from real lapis with a simple macroscopic analysis.

A recently more trendy stone in the “lapis world” is pale blue stone termed “Denim Lapis” which can be identified by its sky blue color and blotch inclusions. This stone was always popular in southwestern jewelry and used to be substantially cheaper than regular lapis. However, a rise in popularity has pushed the price of this once inferior grade stone to be competitive with its more traditional cousins. A baby blue variety of Chilean origin has become quite popular in recent years and is often seen on television shopping networks.  The ring below is is an example of a piece that that features a large Chillean denim lapis cabochon.

Denim_Lapis

Victorian Jewelry – Victorian Brooches

Brooches Top

It’s time for Victorian to come back into style! Keeping with that, we hope to do a short series on Victorian Jewelry and are going to begin with brooches…..

The Victorian Era ran during the reign of Queen Victoria of England and is generally acknowledged as covering the years 1835 to 1900 (though Victoria’s coronation was in 1837 and she passed in 1901). A number of styles and cultural trends influenced the jewelry produced during this lengthy period and it does not fit neatly into any single box.  Among the many influences are the following:

  • Romanticism – a carryover sentiment from the reign of the Georgian Kings. People were reaching back to the “good old days” when romantic knights errant traveled the English countryside doing good deeds for chivalric purposes.
  • Ancients – Archaeology was becoming an obsession. Etruscan, Classic Roman and Egyptian treasures influenced the design of jewelry. Think Scarabs, Roman Dangle Earrings, Intaglios.
  • Mourning – with the Death of Victoria’s husband (Albert) in 1861, the Queen went into permanent mourning and was fittingly dubbed the “Widow of Windsor”. Mourning jewelry became more popular. Think hair pins, carved black jet, black enamel, mini-portraits of passed loved ones.
  • Industrialization – we learned to make things with machines….including jewelry. Pieces that once took a skilled craftsman hours upon hours to craft could now be cranked out in a series of parts that needed only to be soldered together. Jewelry came to the masses.

Enough history… let’s look at some brooches:

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Early Victorian Solid Gold Brooch with Pearls and Diamonds. Quite “Romantic” with some carryover Georgian elements. We sold this piece in September.

This is a classic early Victorian Mourning Brooch. The brooch is crafted from solid yellow gold (somewhere around 12K). The gold is quite thin and the piece was maintained and repaired for many years by the original owner. It was plainly very dear to someone. The beveled glass front protects….wait for it…a woven mat of human hair that was gathered from the dearly departed before burial. By wearing the Brooch, the surviving relative, lover, friend etc., was able to literally “keep a piece” of the deceased next to her heart. While it has a certain morose quality to it, one can’t help but appreciate it as a memento of lost love. Still for sale.

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This in an early Victorian Solid Gold and Amber Etruscan influenced brooch. It is really quite spectacular. We sold it to a lovely woman from Toronto last year. The amber is slightly crazed but it has a magnificent yellow glow.

This next piece is a mid-Victorian silver filigree circle brooch with a dangle ball in the center. We’ve never seen one quite like this before and certain exactly what to make of it. Initially, I suspected it may have been Scandinavian, but a knowledgeable collector of Scandinavian jewelry disabused me of that notion, rather abruptly (sorry!). Still for sale.

  

We love these later Victorian punched brooches. They incorporate early machine stamped pieces with gentle hand engraved details. They were affordable at the time they were produced and remain affordable as collectibles today. They’re easy to date because they are usually fully hallmarked as are both of the pieces pictured above. All for sale.

Visit our eBay Store for more Antique Jewelry

WWII Era Sweetheart Jewelry

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet

Today is Veteran’s Day – a day on which we all recognize the sacrifice and burden borne by those men and women who put their Country and its people before themselves. Anyone with a close family member in the service knows that the commitment of our soldiers, sailors and airmen (hereafter “service members”) effects not just the service member, but the families who stay home waiting and hoping for a safe return.

Fortunately, advances in communication technology during the last several decades have made it somewhat easier for service members to communicate with their families and friends– when time and circumstances permit. During the WWII era, however, the overwhelming majority of communication with the folks back home was by written letter.

It was not uncommon for service members to send small gifts back home along with their letters or to bring these gifts home. These gifts often consisted of jewelry items that corresponded with the member’s branch of service, specialty or posts. The jewelry was then worn at home as a memento, a display of patriotism, and an acknowledgment of the pride derived from a having a family member in the service. Recipients included mothers, sisters, wives, fiances, friends and of course – sweethearts!

Nowadays, these special items are collected by military collectors, jewelry enthusiasts and regular people who just appreciate them for the special items they are.

We like to divide jewelry items of this type into two broad categories: handicrafts made by service members (sometimes called trenchart) and manufactured items that were purchased by service members for the purpose of gift giving. Most of the Sweetheart Items we carry from the WWII era are of the manufactured type. We have not yet come up with a good system for verifying the authenticity of trench art pieces and are thus refraining from carrying them at the moment.

Many pieces of sweetheart jewelry, like the “Jump Wings” bracelet at the top of this article (from our ebay store – sold) are crafted from sterling silver. This bracelet uses the paratrooper’s symbol of a parachute between two gothic wings. The clasp is a classic 1940’s fanning hook clasp. It is marked sterling but bears no maker’s mark.

It is not uncommon for Sweetheart pieces to be engraved, wither by the service member, or the dealer from the member acquired the piece. Below is an example of 1943 West Point sweet hear bracelet that is engraved on the back.

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet 2West Point Bracelet from our ebay store

Authenticating WWII Sweetheart Jewelry

Unlike trench-art, there is not a lot of manufactured WWII era sweet heart jewelry being counterfeited. It is more common to run into a later piece that is wrongly attributed to the WWII era.

WWII ran from 1939-1945 – but there is some disagreement in the community as to what items can fairly be said to be from WWII. The United States did not enter WWII until December of 1941. Thus, arguably, U.S. pieces from before 1941 are not “WWII pieces”. Likewise, because the War ended in 1945, pieces manufactured after that date are also not “WWII pieces”.  But this date range – 1941-1945 – does not consider the first few years of reconstruction or the fact that a brutal war was raging in 1939 and 1940. Because we are jewelers, rather than military collectors, we prefer to use the catchall “WWII ERA” when describing military items that date from 1939-1947.

Authenticating items from this period requires close examination. We rely on three approaches. First – ask the current owner. Personal prevenance is one of the best ways to authenticate an item. If it was sent by your friend’s grandfather from the front line – you’re pretty much done.  Second, we look at general (non-military specific) jewelry construction and markings:

1. U.S. Sterling Silver Jewelry from the WWII Era should be stamped “Sterling” “Ster.” “Silver” or “SS”. We have not encountered any U.S., British or Australian pieces marked 925. If the piece was made in continental europe, or from materials derived from continental Europe, this rule goes out the window.

2. Clasps and catches should be fanning hooks, spring clasps, fold over hooks or custom safety clasps. Be weary of lobster clasps and lightbulb shaped clasps.  At this point, safety (aka helmet) clasps were already common on most pins and brooches. Pin hinge construction was also modern.

3. Electric welding was uncommon and Laser Welding was  not used.

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet Clasp

Example of a Fanning Hook Clasp on a WWII Era Bracelet

Third, we look at the symbols, military insignia and any dates (obviously dates can be a huge help)

1. It is imporant to identify, at a minmum, the branch of serivice that the member was serving in. Hopefully you will also be able to determine his unit / division etc. If like me, you’re not an avid military historian or collector – this can be very tough. If you don’t have one of the many guidebooks available, you can try to describe the insignia and google it. For example “WWII Parachute between two wings”.

In general – Anchors indicates Navy. Wings indicates U.S. Army Air Forces (USAF’s predecessor). Keep in mind that there are hundreds of unit specific insignia. I like to use the website of “War Dog Militaria” – this site provides good color examples of authentic WWII era patches http://wardogmilitaria.com/index.php?main_page=index

 2. Look for Dates! While they can be faked – it’s uncommon.

 3. Ask for help. Most military collectors I’ve encountered are happy to help identify items for non-collectors, as long as you don’t abuse their willingness to help. If you frequently rely on a particular forum for assistance, you should make a contribution to that forum. 

WWII Sweetheart EarringsWWII Prop and Wings Sweetheart Earrings from our ebay store

Finally – all of us here at Hunter Ridge would like to express our deep gratitude to all service members and their families.

Vintage and Antique Mexican Silver Jewelry

Deco

Following up on Marjorie’s post last week, I thought I would take a moment to share my take on Vintage and Antique Mexican Silver Jewelry as well as some of the pieces we have recently encountered. Mexico has long produced some of the finest Artisan jewelry in the world.

Through most of the major 20th century movements, from Art Deco to Post Modern to Pop — Mexico’s silversmiths have been putting out gorgeous pieces. We are fans of Mexican silver and buy and sell it on a pretty much daily basis.

I generally separate Mexican jewelry into two categories: Tourist pieces and art pieces.

donkey 1. The Tourist pieces are often figural and usually depict traditional Mexican themes of aboriginal and modern origin. Donkeys, Aztec Designs (calendars etc), Sombreros and Masks are quite popular today and have been for the last 75 years. These pieces are usually crafted from Sterling Silver and often incorporate semi-precious mosaic work (turquoise and coral) as well as carved stones (quartz, obsidian, turquoise etc). Many of the more modern tourist piece rely heavily on dyed turquoise and fabricated coral.  I have mixed feelings on the tourist pieces. Some of them (especially pieces from the 70’s) are so kitschy that they are irresistible. Others are outright garish. The quality ranges from student work to master crafted and everything in-between. We feature many of the nicer tourist pieces in our eBay store.Mask

2. The art pieces are of course a completely different ball game. While often incorporating some of the same motifs as the tourist pieces (both aboriginal and traditional) these items are reflective of artistic movements and personal artistic inspiration. Modernism seems to have flourished particularly well in Mexico. We’ve sold a number of mid-century Taxco pieces that easily meet or exceed the quality of modernist Danish and American works. Several studios, owned by both Mexicans and Gringos, operated during this era and thus there is an abundance of representative pieces available in the marketplace.

bracelet

Dating Mexican Silver

Dating Mexican silver can be a bit tricky. 925-1000.com has a useful primer on the subject and a great break-down of particular artists’ marks. We use the following rules of thumb:

1. “Silver” “Silver Mexico” “980 Mexico” “980” Generally pre-1950

Taxco 980

2.  Eagle Marks –  1950’s-1970’s

Mask Taxco Mark

3.  Coded  (for example “TH-121 925 Mexico”) or Just 925MEXICO = Late 1970’s to Present.  The coding system was introduced  by legislation and used the first initial of the City (e.g. T for Taxco) followed by the first initial of the registrant’s last name (e.g. “H” Hernandez) and the a number indicating how many people before the smith registered in the same city with the same name. A lot of jewelry coming out of Mexico right now (especially from the big manufacturers like ATI) is just marked “925 MEXICO”.

In addition to these marking rules, you can rely on dating techniques that apply to all jewelry (see our article on the subject). For example, screw back earrings are going to generally pre-date butterfly nut posts. Laser welding marks = modern. However, keep in mind that a lot of Mexican art jewelry and tourist jewelry is made exactly as it was 50-100 years ago and thus it can be difficult to pin down an age.

A note on Fakes: There is an increasing amount of non-silver jewelry in the marketplace that is stamped 925 Mexico. It is usually very easy to spot based on weight and quality and is not nearly as prevalent as the general junk silver around that is just marked 925. Alpaca is also sometimes mistaken or intentionally misrepresented as Silver. There is no silver in Alpaca, but it is quite lovely in its own right. We will be doing a post on Alpaca in the coming weeks.