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Jewelry Information

A Time for Cloisonné

Cloisonné is a French word that refers to an ancient and meticulously detailed technique for designing metalwork. This technique, which requires thin silver or gold wire strips to separate the object into compartments, has been used for clothing, weapons, and jewelry, among other things. From its place of origin — the Ancient Near East — this style traveled eastward, reaching China in the 14th century. The “compartments” (called cloisons) made by wire edges were filled with brightly colored gemstones and glass inlays or, in more recent eras, enamel. These inlays are made into intricate and ornate patterns that inevitably attract the eye. It’s not surprising, therefore, that pieces of jewelry with this design would fetch a heavy sum. Especially one that is also a timepiece, where this tricky design technique is made even more complex by the presence of the inner gears and outer hands that move along the watch’s face. A wristwatch made with a cloisonné dial is fairly rare. Even rarer — given this method’s frailty — is a cloisonné dial that is still in perfect, never-been-repaired, condition.

For these reasons, the 18-karat gold Rolex in Christie’s December auction of Important Watches attracted an impressive sum. The dial of this automatic wristwatch depicts an exquisitely colorful map of the Western Hemisphere, replete with fish and seagull shapes and daggers as well as a polychrome cloisonné compass in the bottom left quarter of the face. After an estimate of $200,000-$400,000 value, the piece sold in New York for $425,000. A great catch, according to Jeffrey Hess, who co-wrote a book about Rolex watches. Hess generally avoids offering advice to collectors about what to buy, but when it comes to cloisonné dial watches, he is more than willing to break his own rule. They are, as he explains, “the crowning glory of any collection.”

Copper Fun Facts

You may think your copper jewelry is just another “pretty face” in a sea of silvers and golds, but you’d be wrong about that. Copper has plenty more to offer than its fashionable looks and more than pulls its weight in other areas of life. In fact, copper is a lot of the reason you’re still alive!  Inside the body, it supports nerve function and helps the body produce energy. It’s at work in enzymes and even functions in the production of skin color.

In folklore it was believed that copper bracelets were a remedy for arthritis. Some claimed that the bracelets worked by allowing tiny amounts of copper to get absorbed into the bloodstream, where they helped regrow cartilage and relieve arthritic pain. While scientific studies and disproved its usefulness in this department, copper certainly has many other functions in the health market. For one, some studies have indicated that copper’s natural antioxidants help prevent cancer. For another, copper is known to kill bacteria growth. Long before modern medicine, copper was used to sterilize wounds and drinking water. This phenomenon was documented in the Smith Papyrus, one of the oldest recovered texts in existence.

Another little factoid you might enjoy: copper is actually the first metal ever to have been used by humans in any capacity.

Fun Facts: Stones

A couple of “did you knows” to educate you about the gemstones in your jewelry…

Garnet, a category comprising several related minerals, was named after the word “pomegranate,” for their similar shades. Although garnet can come in a variety of colors, the most common one you’ll find is dark red, a hue similar to the seedy pulp of its namesake.

Most people know the hardest stone — diamond — but did you know the softest?  Next time you’re asked, you’ll know it’s amber.  In comparison to diamond’s impressive score of ten on the Mohs scale, amber measures up at two and a half.  (And in case you were wondering where amber got its name, it is derived from the Middle Persian word “ambar” or “ambergris,” a substance extracted from a whale’s stomach for its pleasant smell.)

Before becoming October’s special stone, the opal was widely utilized.  For what, you ask?  It was believed that wearing opals would help maintain the color in blond hair.  If your hair dye isn’t sticking, maybe you should take a peek inside your nearest jewelry store instead!

 

Engagement Annual Survey

Of all milestones in life, weddings are possibly the most steeped in cultural significance. After all, the prospect of forgoing a reception — in lieu of simply a visit to a government building for a marriage license — would fill most people with disappointment. If you’re a traditionalist, then this special occasion may leave you with a slew of questions about how to fulfill those conventional expectations. Well, the XO Group Inc. (formerly The Knot) may be able to ease your concerns with its comprehensive Real Weddings Study, the results of which were released this past month.

These statistics won’t help you determine your personal cultural traditions, but they can at the very least identify some of the many factors found in an average wedding. And if you’re someone who likes to stand out from the crowd, then this report will tell you precisely what to avoid.  For example, the most popular month to get engaged is December, an engagement that lasts typically about fourteen months.

According to this same survey — as mentioned in a previous post — the average price of an engagement ring is documented at $5,855. That’s up nearly $300 from 2013’s $5,598.  Another useful fact to know when picking out your ring is that “round” the most common diamond shape used, with “princess” as the next likely option. In terms of material, you’ll find white gold far in the lead, taking over 73% of the population.

As for the bands exchanged during the ceremony itself, while last year’s final stats haven’t yet been publicized, the year before has quite a bit of information on the subject.  In 2013, more grooms wore wedding bands than brides (96% to 93%), which is an interesting and perhaps unexpected twist.  If you’re looking for most common metals, it will depend on which half of the couple you are; the most frequent choice for brides is — like the engagement ring — white gold, used by an overwhelming majority of the population (70%).  For grooms, meanwhile, the spread is much more diverse.  Only 27% of men go for a white gold band, which comes as a close second to the top metal — tungsten carbide — accounting for 32%.  Least common option?  For women it’s cobalt, at under 1%, whereas for men it’s the dainty rose gold.

Costume: Is It Fake?

For many people the term “costume jewelry” suggests gaudy, over-the-top necklaces they once used for playing dress-up at a grandmother’s house.  For others it brings up thoughts of gold rings that turn your skin green.  Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile less satisfactory pieces with the high quality costume jewelry you can find on the market now because our instinct may be to assume that anything “fake” is not worth our money.

In reality, though, costume jewelry has quite a bit to offer if you give it a chance.  True, the cheaper options, produced in bulk by machines, go for quantity over quality, and you’ll find the gold or silver plating chips easily and the rhinestones fall out.  But there is a higher quality available, too, on that bridges the gap between costume jewelry and fine jewelry.

The main difference between costume and fine jewelry, aside from price, is the materials that are used.  Fine jewelry will be made with precious metals, namely, silver, platinum, titanium, or gold that is 10 karats or higher. All natural stones are classified as fine jewelry, including cultured pearls (which are still naturally formed). Diamonds that were created in a lab are still considered fine jewelry because they have the same chemical properties as mined diamonds, but when sold they must be identified as having come from a lab. (They are also significantly cheaper than their naturally formed counterparts.)

In contrast to that, costume jewelry can be made with any other type of metal, like copper and stainless steel; often these non-precious metals are coated with silver or gold.  Gems used in costume jewelry are synthetically made, the most common of which are quartz, rhinestone, cubic zirconium, and even glass. When you talk about jewelry that stains your skin, you're referring to the lower end of the costume jewelry spectrum.  Those are pieces made with nickel, copper, or silver, all of which react with the acidity of lotion or sweat. But metals like stainless steel, if pure, are fairly nonreactive with the skin.  In the higher quality fashion jewelry, you will often find semi-precious stones, like jade or high quality crystal.  Stones like cubic zirconia, which simulates real diamond, don’t cheapen the look of the piece and are just as durable as are precious stones.

Chanel, a major purveyor of jewelry, has costume pieces reaching prices in the thousands — with one vintage necklace made of gold-tone metal and faux pearls.  For an heirloom that you can pass on for years to come, fine jewelry is still probably your best bet.  It’s made to last for generations, using materials that are more durable in the long-term.  But costume jewelry shouldn’t cause an upturned nose.  There is much more to costume jewelry than what you may have gleaned from a first impression, and if you give it a chance you’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Gem Cuts

Jewelry is not just about which stones get placed where, but about how each stone is cut or placed.  Last week, we discussed some of the basic terminology used in the jewelry market, you may also want to learn about the different styles available.

There are a few gemstone shapes, the most common of which is the “round brilliant” cut. Each cut is designed for varying degrees of color and light reflection; the intricate cuts are, of course, also beautiful in their own right.  The round brilliant is the shape of the classic engagement ring stone. It contains exactly fifty-eight facets, arranged specifically to reflect the maximum amount of light out of the top of the stone.  If cut inaccurately, the light that is meant to reflect off the top instead leaks out of the bottom, giving the stone a duller appearance.

A similar style is the “oval” cut, which relies on the same design, using only fifty-six rather than fifty-eight facets. Another with fifty-six sides is the “marquise” cut, with a history dating back to King Louis XIV of France.  According to some historians, he had a diamond formed into the exact shape of Madame de Pompadour’s mouth.  This then became the marquise, a narrow almond-shaped stone. The “pear” cut, shaped like a teardrop, is most common in earrings and pendant necklaces.

Some other shapes include the “heart brilliant” cut and the “princess brilliant,”a square stone with facets stretching out like an X from the center of the gem’s top to its four corners. The “emerald” and “baguette” are both rectangular cuts, but beyond their basic shape they have strikingly distinct features.  The “emerald” has broad, flat facets that resemble stairs, as well as beveled – rather than pointed – corners. The baguette, meanwhile, has fewer facets, with a flat top surface and beveled cut along all four of its edges, as opposedto just its corners. These eight are most of what you’ll find when looking for gemstones in the jewel industry.

Be sure to know what you’re looking for before you go shopping for your next diamond ring!

Rosetta Stones

To the casual jewelry wearer, the way experts talk about jewelry can sometimes seem like an entirely different language.  Most of us understand what they mean when they label gold as “18 karat” but beyond that the lingo may start to get a bit technical.  Here are a few terms — and their explanations — that may help when you are shopping for your next bit of bling.

  • If a piece of jewelry is gold plated that means only its surface is made of gold. This very thin layer gets electrically charged onto a less expensive metal like copper, nickel, or silver. This gives the appearance of solid gold but lowers the cost and maintenance dramatically.
  • A facet is any flat, polished surface of a stone.  Of those facets, the ones comprising the uppermost surface are called the crown. The opposite end, which usually (but not always) comes to a point rather than a facet, is called the culet.
  • The terms dispersion and fire are used to describe the same phenomenon, which is the prismatic appearance of colors reflected from a diamond.  The more fire a stone has, the greater the spectrum of colors it reflects.
  • The girdle is the widest part of a cut stone, usually a thin band. It functions as a divider between the crown, situated above the girdle, and the pavilion, which is the portion of diamond below it.
  • A rough stone — as in, “diamond in the rough” — is a gem in its natural form, uncut.
  • When point is used as a technical term (as opposed its unscientific definition as “a sharp tapered end,” which we used earlier), it actually refers to a specific measurement: one-hundredth of a karat.  In case you wanted a less scientific reference, that’s just about half the size of a single grain of sand.

These are just a few of the many terms you may hear around the precious stone market.  Now that you’re ready, go ahead and whip out your newly acquired expert lingo and find yourself the perfect jewelry!

 

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