Tag Archive | glass

From Egypt to Hollywood, the evolution of costume jewellery

The term ‘costume jewellery’ was initially used in the early 20th century to describe imitation jewels and gems that fashion designers would create to complement their clothes, hence costume jewellery.

They were made from inexpensive materials such as glass, base metals and plastic. Although thought of a modern invention due to their mass production, this type of inexpensive jewellery can be traced back through to ancient times, from the Egyptians, through the middle ages, and medieval times.

In the early 18th century there was a greater prosperity within the middle classes who wanted to dress to impress, diamonds were, however, extremely expensive and relatively scarce.  The solution was a new glass imitation – paste. This hard brilliant glass could be cut and polished to produce ‘gems’ with a convincing sparkle. The most stylish pieces were bold and extravagant, some jewels were spring mounted and swayed when you moved. Examples of which can be found in the jewel room at the V&A quivering as you walk past!

1950s paste & faux pearl necklace

1950s paste & faux pearl necklace

 

Around 1720 ‘Pinchbeck’ (named after Christopher Pinchbeck) came into being an alloy of copper and zinc that successfully mimicked gold, and retained its colour without tarnish, it could also be worked and decorated in the same way as gold. The formula was widely imitated by other manufacturers and it remained popular until it gradually became replaced by rolled gold and other gilt metals.

These early discoveries led onto other technological advances and over the centuries a number of jewellery styles emerged which embraced the costume jewellery ethos. Unlike much of the costume jewellery available today these pieces were exquisitely made by highly skilled craftsmen.  They were often quality pieces which despite their intrinsic value stood the test of time and are still valuable and fashionable today!

When the United States entered World War II, base metals such as brass were rationed which led many of these costume jewellery manufacturers to start using sterling silver in their ranges.  An example of this is below in this 1940s brooch and earring set by American brand VanDell.

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In the 1940s and 1950s Hollywood glamour came to town and a number of costume jewellery brands began making mass market statement pieces, early examples often imitating precious Art Deco jewels, this heralded the era of the ‘cocktail style’ and we still use the term ‘cocktail ring’ to describe a big, bold, bling ring; usually inexpensively made.

 

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A number of jewellery manufacturers from this era are now highly collectable names in the vintage jewellery market, and we will look at a few of these designers in a future post…

 

 

 

 

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Turquoise, the friendship gem

The sun is out and we’ve been breaking out our summer jewellery, one of the most fabulous summer jewels is turquoise which might seem a strange choice, but it’s an excellent summer stone as the bright colour gives a great fresh look to nearly every outfit and faux turquoise jewellery is frequently found on the high street during the summer season (ok we admit it’s also a great choice in winter too – amazing contrast against black and in fairness it is December’s birthstone, so let’s agree that it’s an all round jewel).

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Turquoise is an opaque gem which has been valued by people for thousands of years due to its colouring.  It can be traced back as far as the Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs and is thought to have been introduced to Europe through Turkey, and it’s believed that this is how it was given its name.  Given it’s age there’s no surprise that myths and beliefs surround this gem, in ancient times it was thought that it could have some prophylactic uses (!) and that it changed colour to reflect the health of the wearer.  Whilst it’s true that Turquoise does turn green with dehydration and chemical reactions or treatments can change the colour even more,  as far as we know this doesn’t actually link to the wearer’s health…  Turquoise has also at times been believed to protect the wearer, and  has been used as both a talisman and holy stone.

Double Headed Serpent Turquoise Mosaic, the British Museum Collection

Double Headed Serpent Turquoise Mosaic, the British Museum Collection

What is clear is wherever you go in the world you are likely to spot a fair amount of Turquoise in their museum pieces, turquoise was often inlaid into both jewellery as well as building decoration, bridles, swords to name but a few.  Turquoise was even found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in his burial mask amongst other items, and famously examples can be found in the British Museum such as Aztec death masks.

Turquoise Mask, the Turquoise Mosaics collection, the British Museum

Turquoise Mask, the Turquoise Mosaics collection, the British Museum

Much admired, but often under appreciated in modern society, Turquoise has been much copied throughout the ages.  It’s fairly surprising that it has stuck around so long, particularly preserved ancient pieces, as it’s not one of the more durable gems.  Even the best turquoise is fracturable and on the Mohs scale it’s just under 6 at it’s hardest, similar to glass.  It’s also a porous gem and can be affected by reactions with other chemicals.

Turquoise is generally known as a fairly low value gem in today’s society, due to the prevalence of fakes or synthetics, and variety of available treatments means that it can be hard to tell what is real and what is not.  This uncertainty affects the price, as does the large influx to the market that synthetics bring.  However, this has not always been the case and it used to be held in high esteem by the Apaches of North America.  It was thought of as a particularly useful gem giving authority, protection and if given (rather than bought) can bring good luck (particularly on a Saturday…) and preserve friendship.

Examples of our own Turquoise are below, despite it’s structure and nature it can be faceted, it also takes a great polish and there are some simply stunning examples of cabochon cut Turquoise.  One of our favourite Turquoise pieces at the moment is this gorgeous Astley Clarke friendship bracelet.

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Turquoise has distinguishing inclusions caused by other minerals and metals being within the gem, but rarely it can be found without these, which is known as sleeping beauty turquoise.

Treatments

There are lots of treatments which can be applied to turquoise, and it is often treated to enhance its durability as in its natural state it is not particularly hard and suffers from being highly porous.  Other treatments are used to change the colour of the gem and there are some great examples particularly of purple turquoise.  Be warned if you are bothered about your turquoise being treated, whilst a gemmologist may be able to test to ascertain they type and occurrence of treatment, such tests are likely to damage your stone.

Some of the more basic treatments are waxing and oiling turquoise which enhances the colour and lustre of the gem, whilst these add to the appearance of the stone it can result in some discolouration over time if the stones are exposed to too much heat or sun.

Some turquoise is “stabilised” by having resin or plastic inserted into the stone under high pressure, this treatment is more stable than wax or oil so has better long-term results and can lead to otherwise unusable turquoise being brought up to gem quality.

Other treatments are more radical, such as reconstitution or “block” turquoise which is formed by bonding small fragments of turquoise with resin, or gluing thin turquoise onto another material to reinforce it which is known as “backing”.

Care

Whilst it’s important to take care of all your gems, the nature of turquoise, even when treated, means that chemicals such as oils, perfume or sun cream could lead to discolouration or damage of your stone.  The gem can dehydrate so try to keep away from strong sunlight for prolonged periods and store in a breathable material.  Due to it’s softer nature it’s also preferable to keep your turquoise away from items that could scratch it so a special section of your jewellery box or a pouch is a good idea to try and protect it.  Also bear in mind that it can’t be cleaned with the majority of jewellery cleaners, so when you take it off try giving it a gentle rub with a lint free cloth to keep it looking at its best.

The colour of love?

As it’s July we thought we should do a quick shout out for July’s birthstone today (particularly as one of us is a July baby!)

Ruby spray

Ruby is a gem quality variety of corundum, and is essentially a red variety of sapphire.  Fine rubies are actually rare as they are formed when a soft limestone rock was put under extreme heat and pressure within the Earth’s crust, but more than that the limestone then had to come into contact with just the right elements, including chromium, which makes them relatively rare.

Due to the way they are formed all natural rubies have imperfections which include colour differences or markings, and silk, although this silk is an imperfection it is important to enable natural rubies to be distinguished from synthetic rubies.

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The majority of us will identify a ruby simply because it’s red, but there’s actually more to this gem’s colour than simply one word.  As they are part of the sapphire family different countries take a different approach to colour identification, for example in the United States a minimum colour saturation must be met before a “ruby” becomes a ruby rather than a pink sapphire.  The ICA takes a more liberal approach, but it’s something you should certainly turn your mind to the issue of colour.

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 True or false?

Synthetic rubies are relatively common and were first created in 1937, by 1910 the annual production of synthetic rubies had reached 1000kg.  The fewer imperfections in a ruby the more likely it is to be treated with suspicion and identified as synthetic.  In addition to its use in gemstone jewellery synthetic ruby has use in industry as they can be used to make lasers or other production where it’s hard nature is useful.

What is interesting is that in addition to having to detect synthetic rubies, a number of imitation rubies are often found in the form of glass, or the genuine gemstones such as garnet and spinel.  The confusion between ruby and other gems has been a long standing issue, sometimes not helped by the use of some trade names such as rubellite, but one of the most famous examples of this confusion can even be found in the Crown Jewels!  A stunningly large spinel can be found on the Imperial State Crown, known as the Black Prince’s Ruby.

Myth & Legend

Back in time, as with many precious stones, people used to believe that ruby had powers to preserve the health of the wearer.  Particularly ruby was seen to help the wearer by changing colour when danger was close at hand, protect from poison and plague and even make the wearer invulnerable to steel weapons.  Ruby is absolutely surrounded by acres of legend, particularly stemming from the reverence it was given in South East Asia. and it’s definitely worth a read as some of the stories are interesting.  Star rubies were even more highly prized, it was believed that the star was formed by three benign spirits which had been imprisoned in the stone for a misdemeanour, the spirits represent faith, hope and destiny and it is thought that this type of stone can bring good fortune to the wearer.

Treatments

Due to their nature and the naturally occurring imperfections the overwhelming majority of rubies are treated before coming to the jewellery market.  The most common treatment is heating, but other treatments include colour alteration, fracture filling or dissolving silk defects within the ruby.  Heating can improve both the colour and silk within the ruby.  Fracture filling does what it says on the tin, essentially using lead glass (or similar translucent) to fill the cracks within the ruby, which improves the translucency.

Unlike with some gems the treatment can be observed through a 10x loupe, and the majority of treatments are acceptable due to the nature of natural ruby.

Ruby pendant

If you do manage to find a natural, high quality, untreated ruby then snap it up as they are extremely rare!  However you should be warned that you will need deep pockets (far beyond our own means sadly) to keep hold of it!

 

Wood you consider non-metal jewellery…?

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Traditionally we’re used to our jewellery being made out of one of the precious metals, but just looking through the high street wares jewellery now can be made out of pretty much anything.

Personally I’m a fan of wood, I love wood, it’s all over my home and I can’t resist a bit of wooden jewellery.  My favourite piece is this wooden bracelet, I bought it in Prague I think from memory and wore it continually for ages.

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On the other hand I’ve had more of an issue with wooden earrings, I have 2 pairs but I can’t help thinking that they look a bit clunky when I wear them…perhaps I just don’t have the right look for them rather than the other way round…

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Plastic beads are also always a pretty safe bet…although my baby does like to chew them (top tip try www.gumigem.co.uk if you also struggle with this).  It has the benefits of being relatively durable and cheap as well as fabulously versatile in terms of shape and colour.

Glass has been used for many years to imitate gems in jewellery and is great in terms of different colours and effects, just check out Working Glass Jewellery to see the stunning designs that can be achieved, some of their pieces are so beautiful I could actually eat them…but I won’t.

But there are also more modern approaches to jewellery, 3D printing has become useful in jewellery making and is allowing more unusual materials to be used in jewellery, for example the stunning Phase collection from Lynne MacLachlan where large statement items of nylon jewellery are surprisingly lightweight.

So while many of us may dabble with alternatives to precious metals, will they ever become our ‘go to’ material?  Whilst cost of the alternative is generally lower, particularly on the high street, high-end pieces can easily reach the same prices as gold and silver pieces.  Check out this amazing twister bracelet from Carolina Bucci, or Bex Roz Gina twisted bracelet.

In short I doubt that anything will ever completely remove our love of shiny metals, and the durability of these in contrast to many of the alternatives is clear.  But I think that the metals and non metals work at their best when they work together giving that stunning contrast.   I’ve failed to mention that fallback for jewellery makers of leather, the contrast with metal can be amazing and Givenchy certainly knows how to make the most of this with simple clean lines and minimalist look.  There’s something so beautiful about a worn piece of wood or soft leather which is so tactile and appealing and the contrast with other materials can be really striking even when on a smaller item of jewellery.

 

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That said when my metal jewellery gets scratched or dull I can find it frustrating, it sometimes adds character but sometimes completely detracts from the item of jewellery.  We certainly “wood” consider alternatives and love the innovative ways jewellery is being made out of all sorts!

 

Gorgeous fabric can really add an unusual look

Gorgeous fabric can really add an unusual look

 

Does it have to be a diamond…?

Whilst there are many different colours of diamonds (which we’ll come onto in a different post) we’re going to look specifically at alternatives to the colourless diamond.  Common replicas include Cubic Zirconia, Moissanite, Petalite, Zircon and Topaz.  For even cheaper prices clear glass or acrylic is often used in high street jewellery.  These can all be found in incredibly clear and brilliant examples, they’re cheaper, many look similar, so how can you tell what is real?  Take the well known crystal brand Swarovski, this beautiful necklace (below) is stunning in many different lights, can you really tell that it’s not diamond; Wedding necklace and if you can does it matter?  In the cases of white Zircon, Topaz and Petalite, among others, you’re still getting a real gemstone, similar mining processes and cutting, but paying nowhere near the price of a diamond.  In any event to be fair can anyone really tell whether the rock around your neck is actually synthetic crystal or diamond anyway. Disadvantages of the alternatives So the obvious disadvantage of anything that isn’t diamond or one of the other really desirable gems is that it is likely to lose value, a real diamond is more likely (but not guaranteed) to gain in value over time, particularly good quality gems which are well looked after.  However, turning this on its head of course you probably won’t have paid anywhere near as much for a moissanite or CZ so does it really matter, to each their own. The other obvious disadvantage is that unless you’re wearing a diamond you are not wearing one of the hardest gems known to man…this could make your item easier to scratch or damage…you might not be able to use it to carve your name onto furniture… On a serious note each gem (real or synthetic) has different refractive/fluorescence and brilliance or sparkle.  This is where the real trick lies in trying to distinguish real from fake but in reality without close examination it’s unlikely that even an accredited jewellery professional is going to argue if you tell them your CZ is a diamond. There are also advantages to none diamond pieces, unless you’re particularly precious about your precious gems, synthetic or less pricy gems means you can afford either bigger pieces, or more items than you might be able to with real diamonds.  They can look just as stunning (I wore CZ on my wedding day so no arguments please, but cue an opportunity to flash some wedding bling!) Wedding bracelet and chances are most people you pass in the street won’t be able to tell.  After all how many of us have spent our journey to work staring at someone’s engagement ring wondering whether that giant rock is real or not…?! Ooh more importantly this means it’s more difficult to tell if that rock he got for you is real…hmmm that’s when it’s good to know a gemologist 😉