Thursday, February 27, 2014

What's so special about Paraiba tourmalines?

It’s 1989. Don Johnson is the hottest thing on television. Everyone and their mother is wearing bright glowing colors and Mother Nature decides to grace us with the stone that makes every colored stone junkie’s insides vibrate: the Paraiba tourmaline.

Paraiba (pair-a-eee-ba) tourmalines come from Paraiba, Brazil. One man is credited with their discovery: Heitor Dimas Barbosa. He just KNEW there was something amazing in the hills of Paraiba and put his reputation on the line (and I believe every cent) to find them. He spent 5.5 years digging (with a crew, of course), but was too sick to witness the amazing first discovery when they finally struck gold (or in this case, neon glowing turquoise).

What makes Paraiba tourmalines so special and makes them glow is the copper inside of them. They can be found in many colors (emerald green, turquoise to sky blue, sapphire blue, indigo, bluish-violet, and purple) but the colors to end all colors is radiant blue, turquoise and green.

Large Paraibas are extremely rare and can command prices of up to 5 figures per carat. Even small Paraibas of electric colors can cost an arm and a leg (who needs two anyway, right?). There are blue/green tourmalines out there that are amazing in their own right, but that glow, like someone has a neon flashlight on a ring - that’s the stuff dreams are made of. I’ve yet to see one in person, but I imagine there will be more than one blingasam when I finally do.

Just a note: there are a lot of Paraiba imposters out there. Apatites resemble Paraibas but are extremely soft/brittle and really should only be worn as a necklace or earrings. So please don’t be fooled by eBay sales. If you truly want a Paraiba, remember to buy it from a trusted source and have it tested through a reliable lab (I like the American Gemological Lab "AGL").

Hope you enjoyed the eye candy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mahenge Spinel

Today I’m going to tell you about my holy grail stone: Mahenge spinel (maa-hen-gay) (spin-el).

Mahenge is a region in Tanzania where my holy grail is mined. Spinels can come in just about any color but what makes Mahenge spinel my holy grail color is the very rare neon red pink to neon pure pink colors that were mined from it. I mean, just look at this puppies:

Art Nouveau's Leon Mege Mahenge Pricescope

Chrono's Mahenge Pricescope

They were discovered in 2007 and have almost been completely mined out. There are still spinels mined in Mahenge, but that perfect glowing specimen has all but been depleted. Every once in a while you’ll hear stories about some "old mine" Mahenges hitting the market, and the scramble to get one is epic!

I spent two years buying stones and returning them (I probably went through about 20 different stones).

I’d basically given up hope until I got a call from a vendor in New York who remembered my quest and told me he had my holy grail. Long story short I now have it and it makes me blingasam every time I look at it.

I’ll probably go into some more technical details about spinels at some other point in time, but since I’m wearing my holy grail today and I seem to be on a pink kick, I thought it’d be fun to introduce you all to my baby and I why I love her so.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What's your color IQ??

As you probably can already tell, the most important thing when buying a colored stone is its COLOR.  So how well do you see color? 

Test your color IQ

February's birthstone: Amethyst

Purple is considered a royal color.  Because of that, fine amethyst are found in the Royal Jewel.  Ancient Greeks also believed that amethysts could prevent intoxication, but I bet they never had martinis ;-)

Amethyst is a member of the quartz family.

There is a green variety of quartz that is incorrectly referred to as green amethyst but since true amethyst is defined by its purple color, it cannot be considered amethyst.

Amethyst ranks a 7 on the Mohs scale and if worn in jewelry should be worn very carefully as they can scratch/chip easily.

Amethyst is considered semi-precious and is readily available in many pre-made peices.  The cost to synthesize it for jewelry is too high so more than likely if you purchase any pre-made amethyst jewelry in a store, you are getting real amethyst.   

Amethyst and citrine are very closely related.  In fact, some lighter colored amethyst is heated to produce heated golden citrine.

Amethyst's colors range from purple, violet to pale red-violet. The deep colors are the most valuable, particularly a rich purple with rose flashes. "Siberian" deep purple amethyst with red and blue flash command the highest prices.

I have a few amethyst pieces myself.  They're not "ideal" or "top" color, but they're some of my favorites because they were given to me by my husband.  I thought I'd lost my necklace for about a year and found it hidden in an old purse (apparently I really like stuffing things in purse pockets).  Happy birthday to all February babies out there and I hope you have a wonderful year.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Buying loose stones

Being an avid collector of colored stones can be exhilarating, exhausting and expensive, but that feeling you get when you see the perfect stone in that white fluffy gem box will be well worth the search.

You may notice throughout my posts that I only refer to loose stones and not pre-made jewelry. I don’t knock pre-made colored stone jewelry at all, and sometimes you can find a perfect ring/necklace/earrings/stone combo and all of your work is done for you, but if you truly want a quality piece, you have to know what you’re getting and who you’re getting it from. There are definitely vendors out there that you can trust to give you quality pre-made pieces, but if you don’t know the vendor or trust its source, you could be spending a ton of money on a heavily treated or even synthetic stone. And as you learn more, I promise you’ll become quite snobby about colored stones and those words will become 4-letter words in your mind.

Often times folks will have oodles and oodles of loose stones and never set them. Sometimes they’re just fun to look at. I mean, look at what I have in my purse right now.
I love being able to pull them out at lunch and stare at them, or bring one out for a friend to show them how spectacular a type of stone can be. I may never set these, and honestly it’s OK. I love them for their rarity and color, and honestly, I don’t have enough fingers to set them all anyway.

However there is the random stone that you may have been searching for for what feels like an eternity and have finally found. That’s the one that you want set and that’s the one that your friends will comment on and love right along with you. When you find your holy grail, you’ll know it, and you’ll love it.

I hope that I can help you learn to love every stone for its rarity, the millions of years its taken to get to you, the love that’s been put into its cutting, its size, the hours you’ve spent learning about it and the luck you feel when you finally find what you love and have it in your hand (or purse).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What is "The Mohs scale?"

I've thought and thought about how I should start educating my friends about colored stones. The world is so vast, so exciting, and so intricate.  Unfortunately, I really should start with the boring stuff.

Any person who safely wants to wear their colored stone jewelry should always know where it ranks on The Mohs scale.  Every description I give of a colored stone will start with where it ranks on The Mohs scale.  Knowing and understanding the importance of The Mohs scale will help you care for your colored gemstone and keep it beautiful for years to come.

The Mohs scale essentially rates how hard a stone is and how easily it can resist scratching and/or damage.  The scale ranks from 1-10, 10 being the hardest: diamond.  But it's a bit confusing because corundum (sapphire, rubies) ranks a 9, and topaz ranks a 8, but corundum is twice has hard as topaz and diamonds are four times as hard as corundum.  Confused yet?  :-D

You wonder now how this applies to your colored gemstone jewelry?  Think of it this way, a copper penny has a hardness of 3.5.  You're not going to wear a penny as jewelry (well you might, hmm, that could be interesting) but you may one day see some fluorite and think about wearing it in jewelry.  I'm not saying it can't be used, but knowing that it ranks a 4 on The Mohs Scale, you will know that you need to be extra careful with it because it will damage easily.
Some of the most popular colored gemstones are also extremely soft and should be worn and cared for with great caution. For example, Tanzanite - which is one of the most popular gemstones today, is a 6.5 on The Mohs Scale.  If you are wearing a Tanzanite ring and wave your hands around, you can knock it against something and break it. It's also incredibly easy to scratch while cleaning.  You may notice that your Tanzanite ring seems dull and not as bright as when you first bought it. That could be because your cleaning methods have caused abrasions on its surface making it lose its luster.  Knowing it's hardness will help you know that you have to take care to clean it with warm soapy water and a baby toothbrush at most (I'll discuss Tanzanite in more detail later, but for now you've got the general idea).
Knowing and understanding Mohs hardness is just the first step in your colored gemstone education.  Soon you will be well on your way to becoming a colored stone junkie, just like me!