Thursday, 29 May 2008

Pearls - all you ever needed to know!

I have always loved pearls - those amazing, glowing orbs that throw a very flattering light onto your face, no matter what your colouring.

One of my earliest memories is digging in my mother's jewellery box where she had a long strand of pearls, plain pearl earrings and a ring that included rubies, sapphires, emeralds and a large pearl. When I started to work in the jewellery trade I still felt a heady attraction to pearls. I was ecstatic to find huge, gorgeous mabe pearls and the weird and wonderful shapes of baroque pearls.

At that time (25 years ago .... eeek!) freshwater pearls were tiny, shrivelled things that although they had a nice sheen were so far from the accepted cultured pearl that I paid scant attention to them. But my, how things have changed!

I now only use freshwater pearls in my designs. Plump and pretty, they range in size and shape and colour so that there is always something for everyone in a pearl!

I get asked a lot of questions about pearls, so here is my version of
"Pearls: 101" :)

History: Considered magic charms, symbols of purity and love, or sources of wisdom and power, pearls are one of the oldest known gems in the world having been worn in civilized Middle East and Asian societies as early as 3500 BC. India`s Hindu god Krishna was credited with discovering pearls when he took one from the sea and presents it to his daughter Pandaïa on her wedding day. Medieval knights wore them for protection in battle. The Greeks associated the pearl with love and marriage. Ancient Romans saw pearls as the ultimate symbol of power and wealth - a pearl earring reportedly paid for one Roman general`s political campaign!

How do pearls form: Pearls are formed in clams, oysters and mussels by the secretion of a substance known as nacre around an irritant in the outer tissue of the organism, or between the outer tissue and the shell. Only a few species are capable of producing pearls and can secrete the nacreous coating that has the attractive pearly luster of gem pearl. Nacre is also the substance that coats the inner surface of their shells (called mother-of-pearl). In most species, nacre forms at a slow 0.6mm of a mm a year.

Shapes: This depends on the shape of the irritant 'nucleus' around which the nacre is deposited and whether or not the pearl has moved during its growth.

Natural pearls: Forming by the chance entering of an irritant into the oyster, a natural pearl only forms in about 1 of 40 pearl producing oysters. Due to the slow rate of growth and the relatively short lifespan of the oyster, large sized natural pearls are rare and usually not round. Found in the Persian Gulf (considered the finest natural pearls in the world), the Gulf of Manaar, the Red Sea, the north and northwest coast of Australia, Burma, Tahiti, New Guinea, Borneo, and Venezuela.

Cultured pearls: These pearls grow around a nucleus that has been manually placed within an oyster. This practice dates back to the 13th century Chinese, but was only perfected in the early part of the 20th century by the Japanese.

Before the modern culturing techniques, a round nucleus, usually composed of clam or oyster shell, was placed between the the mantle and shell of the oyster and allowed to grow for 2 or 3 years. In modern cultured pearls the nucleus (a bead composed of freshwater clam shell wrapped with a strip of the mollusc's mantle) is placed within the mantle or gonad of the oyster, away from the shell, allowing it to grow freely.

The size of resulting pearls depend on the size of the nucleus, the mollusc species, the temperature and chemistry of the water, and the time allowed for growth. Several pearls may be grown in a single oyster, but these will be smaller than if a single nucleus is inserted. Growth periods are from 2 to 7 years and figures suggest only 25% produce a cultured pearl. Japan and Australia are significant producers of cultured pearls. Australia uses an indigineous oyster that produces typically large sized white or silvery pearls.

Cultured black pearls are found in oysters off Peru, Baja California, Panama, certain islands of Indonesia, Micronesia, the Philippines, Okinawa, and French Polynesia (Tahiti and adjacent islands). Only from the latter have cultured black pearls been produced in large numbers. These pearls are large and have a high growth rate as well as superior lustre.

Freshwater pearls: The process of natural freshwater pearls occurring is pretty much the same as other pearls, except one occurs in mussels (freshwater) and the other in oysters (saltwater) respectively. Cultured freshwater pearls are created by either 1) inserting a small piece of live mantle tissue (from another mussel) directly into the pearl producing mussel. These are composed entirely of nacre, just like their natural counterparts. 2) inserting a shape into the mussel in a like manner to the creation of cultured pearls to create "coin" and other shaped pearls. A mussel can grow up to 60 pearls at a time!

Blister pearls: When the oyster or mussel was coating the pearl it also coated the shell lining, resulting in a pearl that was attached to the shell.

Keshi pearls: These are formed when an oyster or mussel rejects and spits out the nucleus implanted during the process of producing cultured pearls. Because the nucleus has been expelled by the oyster, the resulting pearl is all nacre and they often have a wonderful lustre. Also known as Petal Pearls.

Colour of pearls: Natural colours vary from creamy white to yellow, pink, green, lavender, and grey to black. Colours are caused by the amount of conchiolin and aragonite present in the nacre and by the quality of the water in which the oyster or mussel lives. The freshwater pearls' natural colors include white, cream, lavender, pink, orange, gold and gray. White pearls are often bleached to remove any undesirable faint colours. Freshwater pearls are frequently treated (either by irradiation or dyeing) to create a veritable rainbow of colours.

Other terms used to describe pearls:
Lustre - the shiny exterior of the pearl. The way pearls seem to glow from within and is based on the depth of reflection.
Bodycolor - the underlying color of the pearl.
Overtone - a translucent layer of color. Not all pearls have an overtone.
Irridescent orient - the variable play of colors across the surface of the pearl like a rainbow. Not all pearls have iridescent orient.

Well. You should have a fairly good knowledge of pearls now :)

Since I've been talking pearls, pearls, pearls, I thought I would feature (surprise) a pearl necklace LOL. This is a long strand necklace (39.5 inches) that is pictured above wrapped twice around the neck. The pearls are freshwater with a stunning lustre. You are probably aware of exactly how hard I am when selecting my stones for use, and I went through A LOT of pearl strands picking only the best ones here. So that it wasn't just another 'ordinary' strand of pearls (knowing what you now know, I don't want to ever hear you call pearls 'ordinary' again!!) I added some springlike cloisonne flat discs every so often to give it some additional lift. In honour of the cloisonne I named the piece "Eostre" after the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess. I found a great write-up about Eostre here too that you might find interesting.

Till next time - have a great day!

Monday, 19 May 2008

A holly blue necklace and the fashion world.

I just read an amusing post on the Beauty Banquet blog - about the bitchiness of the fashion world and Anne's first hand experience of it... albeit at the edges of fashion. It's a sad but true fact that some people are like that - it's all about the image they project.

Now, obvious fact here - I make jewellery. And as such it is an 'accessory'. But I make jewellery that is BEYOND fashion (ooooh, those fashionistas may hate me now!)- I endeavour to make timeless pieces that you can wear for years and may very well even be handed down to your children. I like the fact that you can don a statement necklace and all of a sudden that little black dress looks a million dollars.

I have had the experience of some people buying my jewellery and then mistreating it terribly - because to them it wasn't expensive enough to look after! It was 'throw away' as it was priced in a similar bracket to some resin/plastic/acrylic/plated pieces in a local boutique. Hey, we're talking about gemstones, pearls and sterling silver here! I make my pieces to be worn to enhance their appearance, but also as items that will be loved and respected and like sharing my jewellery with people who can see that my designs are incredibly well priced for one of a kind REAL jewellery!

So, I'm with you Anne - real women of the world unite!!!! (Ahhh, that feels better :) )

Now, a piece for today.... let me see. OK, even though it's a tad on the wintry side today the sun is shining and the sky is a brilliant shade of light blue ... and the blue reminds me of this piece (which is rather spring/summery but we've all got to have something to look forward to!). Gorgeous holly blue chalcedony is the drawcard in this necklace and isn't it stunning? Separated by flat squares of rock crystal quartz and tiny silver balls. The whole effect is quite modern with its angular cuts yet the colour is dreamy and quite sofly romantic.

Have a great day!!

Monday, 12 May 2008

An outing to Scone and you as part of your product

I love doing shows. I love getting out there and meeting people, catching up with past clients and seeing the happy faces of people who have found a piece of jewellery that I know they will love and enjoy for many years.

I also am very fortunate to have a lot of clients that have my best interests at heart - they always share the "source" of their much-commented-on jewellery and recommend places to exhibit where they think my jewellery would be popular. This is so incredibly satisfying that it's very hard to actually impart how heart-warming it is! Some of these wonderful people I am now fortunate to count as friends as well as customers.

I attended the Scone Grammar School Fete last Saturday - this was on the recommendation of a long-standing customer who had also rang the school's organising committee and ensured that I could go and there was a place available for me, before letting me know. It was rather late notice (less than 24hours!) but I rallied, asked a friend (thank you so much Trista!) to come with me and we had a brilliant day! It was outdoors, which I rarely do, but the sun was shining, the temperature was perfect and the jewellery was sparkling. The school grounds were a lovely background and there were masses of people to appreciate it all :) A big thanks to Annie for organising my attendance and thanks also to Amanda and Maria for coming up and visiting (and bringing their friends!) from way down the other end of the school grounds.

I have been catching up on some of my favourite blogs and Ingrid at Heart Harmony has a very easy-to-read-and-learn-something type of blog at Small Business Ideas. I saw a post on "Brilliant Product Packaging" and it rang a bell with me. Not just in the actual packaging of an item, although I do include a little about me there too. As my endeavour is creative, part of the product is ME. People like to know a little about the person who made something that they like/love. And they like to hear the story behind each piece I make - whether it be the amazing stones and how they inspired me to create a particular piece, or a little about the stones themselves. I love to share my passion so this is not a difficult thing for me to achieve!

Now, a bit about the photo for today. I really love this necklace - it's a piece that sneaks up on you ... once you take the time to look closely you're in love with it too. Inspired by the wonderful hues in the peacock-blue freshwater pearls that form the body of this piece, I have added in bright royal blue lapis lazuli, heathery-purple amethyst, icy rock crystal and acid-green peridot. The result is quite lush up close but almost sedate from a distance. Do you like it too?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Caveat emptor (and on a lighter note, Mother's Day)

Can you believe Mother's Day is this coming weekend? Yes, it has crept up on me too! My children are taking full advantage of it and are making things left, right and centre... and all for me. They are also planning to give me breakfast in bed which will certainly be a change since I am the one that usually waits on them! But that's one of the best things about Mother's Day - having your children make you feel special! I was looking at the Small Business Diva's blog where she made mention of the origins of Mother's Day, which apparently date back to the 17th century. Mother's Day as we know was established in 1908 - so its a century of tradition already.

On a completely different note I must express my concern at the amount of misinformation about gemstone identification - particularly as used in jewellery. I recently purchased some "spectrolite" from one of my suppliers. Their spelling is often incorrect, but they usually label their gems correctly. Now spectrolite is another term for labradorite and whilst the stone I received was similar in colouring, it definitely wasn't labradorite. Around the same time someone sent me a stone which they identified as glaucophane. Interestingly the so-called "spectrolite" was the same stone. Then I purchased a stone called larvikite from another supplier and lo and behold this was the same stone AGAIN. So I have three stones, all the same, that are supposedly larvikite, glaucophane and spectrolite, depending on where you get it from! This is a typical example of the misinformation that abounds with a large number of resellers in the marketplace. These resellers believe what they are told, or make assumptions on limited knowledge and this false information goes along down the chain and the the end result is a person buying jewellery that is incorrectly identified. This is an old gripe of mine, and one I can't help feeling strongly about as a gemmologist! With regard to the glaucophane/spectrolite/larvikite debate - well I am still researching but early results indicate that they are all larvikite. And a very pretty stone too! So a word for the wise, if you are buying from someone you don't know is honest, or you don't know their knowledge level / qualifications, then "Caveat emptor" (buyer beware)!

Well, enough complaining! Now onto a new piece that I made just before Ironfest....this is a big, bold, opulent and yes, even decadent, necklace that is really long and really enormous! I can't actually put the whole picture up here so here is a detail shot of the gorgeous amazonite, the sparkling rock crystal, the glowing freshwater pearls and the shining silver that go into making this necklace very special!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Ironfest 2008 recap

Well I am back from Ironfest and almost recovered! It was a brilliant festival and once again I really enjoyed myself. I didn't get to experience much of the events eg. jousting, battle re-enactments, but of course I was able to see those wandering around in costume and managed a quick whizz around the blacksmith's area and the artisan's hall. Plus we were situated right opposite the indoor stage so experienced a good selection of music. I even weakened and bought a CD by one of the performers, Fintan, who sings and plays traditional (celtic styled) music. And I indulged a childhood fantasy and bought a wool cloak from the lovely Kathleen at a neighbouring booth, Faerietail. Not terribly practical... but it would be if I was game enough to wear it!

I caught up with many clients that I had met at Ironfest last year and quite a few went home with some more jewellery to add to their collections! One amazing client is an artist and I had recently been chatting with her via email about our recent olive harvest here on the farm. She was so inspired by the image of this, that she painted me a picture of how she imagined our olive harvest had looked. Appropriately, she had me up a tree with my head amongst the branches! She presented me with this gorgeous painting at Ironfest and I was speechless. My family was very impressed when I showed them on my return. I feel very special :)

I am constantly impressed with artists and those that can paint especially so. Jenni from Papercraft Designs has managed to use some of her original art on her handmade cards - wouldn't you be impressed to receive one of these?

I've included a picture of the booth at Ironfest one morning just before the gates opened. Pictured is Michelle, who weaves Swarovski & Czech crystals into the most gorgeous jewellery and who I was honoured to share the booth with. We did the booth together last year too and it's wonderful to catch up with each other once a year!

Well, back to trying to get back into my usual 'groove' now.... have a great day!


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