Accounts of Cleopatra VII’s (69-30 BCE) enchanting life story abound, but the story most likely to pique the interest of jewelry lovers involves a rather large and valuable pearl that the beautiful queen apparently drank!
According to the story, Cleopatra bet her lover Marc Antony that she could spend 10 million sesterces on one meal. To prove herself (while showing off her opulence), she removed one of her earrings, which apparently contained one of two of the largest pearls known in the land, dissolved it in vinegar, and then drank it.
In the words of Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 A.D.), “She ordered the second course to be served. In accordance with previous instructions, the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar. She took one earring off, and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was wasted away, swallowed it.” And the bet was won.
Until recently, this story was thought to be mere myth, but research indicates that this trick is actually possible.
"All you need is vinegar and a pearl. In my experiments, I used a white vinegar sold in supermarkets. Wine vinegar was most common in the Greco-Roman world, so it is likely that's what Cleopatra used," classicist Prudence Jones of Montclair State University explained to Discovery News. The acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the calcium carbonate in the pearl and produces calcium acetate, water, and carbon dioxide. Interestingly, the cocktail wouldn’t taste as acidic as straight vinegar because the calcium carbonate somewhat neutralizes the acid in the vinegar.
The effect isn’t instantaneous, however. It takes roughly “24 to 36 hours to dissolve a pearl weighing approximately one gram.” The end result is a translucent gel-like substance.
Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's Departments of Classics and History of Science, suggests that the myth—and its plausibility—may give us insight into the kind of clever character Cleopatra was:
“I think this research has convincingly demonstrated the technique that Cleopatra could have used to dissolve a pearl. We already know that this curious, intelligent queen carried out toxicological experiments," Mayor told Discovery News. "It's likely she softened the pearl in advance, then crushed it and placed it in a goblet to dazzle Marc Antony with her wealth and arcane scientific expertise.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Rutilated quartz is a transparent variety of quartz with naturally occurring thread-like pigmentation called rutile inclusions. The inclusions range from thin to thick and sparse to dense and can run parallel or crisscrossed. The inclusions are usually reddish, gold, black, silver, or, rarely, greenish. Each manifestation of rutilation is different, so every piece of rutilated quartz is unique. Although inclusions are typically considered flaws when they’re present in precious gems, they lend a special, ornamental quality to quartz.
In the crystal healing tradition, rutilated quartz is associated with enhancing mental focus and getting energy moving. Practitioners of crystal healing believe rutilated quartz is connected to the solar plexus chakra (the third chakra), the core of an individual’s self-esteem and willpower.
Whether or not you believe that rutilated quartz can play a role in fire-powering your day, it’s hard to deny that these stones are just cool. I recently made these earrings with slices of rutilated quartz.
They feature two varieties of rutilated quartz—quartz with gold inclusions and quartz with black inclusions. The stones are set with an open back to allow light to shine through the quartz. The gold rutilated quartz is set in 22-karat gold while the black rutilated quartz is set in silver. I created cuts around the silver bezel settings to add texture and a sense of depth.
If you’re wondering what the earrings are hanging on, that’s a tool used to measure the height of metal objects when forming them. The pointy ends are used to etch level lines. It also makes for a handy way to display earrings!
While on the subject of quartz, I also wanted to share this raw quartz necklace. The chunk of quartz is set in 22-karat gold and is displayed on a thread of sapphires. This piece is just one example of how semi-precious and precious stones can beautifully complement each other.
Old (and New) Hollywood is an endless source of fashion inspiration--especially when it comes to jewelry and gemstones. The following are just a few classic movies featuring timeless pieces. Enjoy this feast for the eyes!
Vivien Leigh’s Cameo Brooch in Gone with the Wind (1938)
Cameo’s have a long, rich history. Dating back to the ancient Greek and Roman empires, cameos often depicted important scenes among family or even the gods. Mourning cameos depicting a lost loved one were popularized by Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
Leave it to Hollywood, however, to take the trend to the next level. In Gone with the Wind, Vivien Leigh wears an extra-large mourning brooch set in gold, depicting a figure riding birds, a rather unusual scene for a brooch at the time. The brooch belonged to the costume designer’s mother.
Katherine Hepburn’s Arrow Brooch in Sea of Grass (1947)
This beautiful, creative piece was created by Joseff of Hollywood, a prominent supplier of jewelry to the movie industry. The two-part piece worn on the heart-shaped dress with a sweetheart neckline creates the appearance of an arrow-struck heart. Was there ever a more romantic piece of jewelry?
Marilyn Monroe’s Diamond Necklace in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
In addition to sparking interest in fine jewelry designer Harry Winston (“Talk to me, Harry Winston. Tell me all about it!”), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes features an antique diamond with a fascinating history. The Moon of Baroda, a 24-carat pear-shaped yellow canary diamond was the property of the Maharajah of Baroda, India for 500 years until the 18th century, when it was worn by Empress Maria Theresa and later worn by Marie Antoinette. Eventually, the diamond was taken back to its original home where it stayed for another 200 years until Meyer Rosebnaum purchased it, and Monroe wore in the diamond-filled film.
Grace Kelly’s Faux Diamond Necklace in To Catch a Thief (1955)
The lovely Grace Kelly wore an eye-catching diamond necklace to seduce a gentleman jewelry thief played by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief—but the diamond necklace was fake (both in the narrative of the film and in real life!). Could have fooled me!
Audrey Hepburn’s Pearl and Diamond Necklace in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
“I’m just CRAZY about Tiffany’s!” So were many other jewelry lovers after Audrey Hepburn wore a multi-strand diamond and pearl necklace and matching diamanté hair piece in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Paired with her sizzling black Givenchy number, the jewelry made a gorgeous statement and launched a chic style that’s still emulated today.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Snake Belt in Cleopatra (1963)
Another piece made by the Joseff family, Cleopatra’s snake belt was an unusual, striking piece of jewelry. Joseff’s wife, Joan Joseff measured Taylor for the belt, and by the time the belt was ready, it was 2 ½ inches too small for the actress. Taylor insisted that the initial measurement was incorrect, but others wondered if the actress’s weight had fluctuated. Either way, the piece truly memorable.
Julia Robert’s Diamond and Ruby Necklace in Pretty Woman (1990)
Custom-made by French jeweler Fred Joaillier, this iconic necklace features 23 pear-cut rubies set in diamond-encrusted hearts. The piece is first introduced in the humorous scene when Richard Gene snaps necklace box closed as Julia Roberts reaches for the sparkly item. Of course, the real stunner of the scene was Roberts herself.
While all jewelry is art, sculptural jewelry is a special kind of art. It’s jewelry that thinks outside of the box—and indeed sometimes has trouble fitting into an actual box. Some sculptural jewelry is designed to be worn, boldly, while other pieces are intended more for display—whether that’s in your curio cabinet or in a modern art museum. Either way, these designs are far from boring. If you do find yourself wearing a piece of sculptural jewelry, savor the experience of participating in a work of art. After all, while these pieces are quite striking on their own, they ultimately draw attention to the exquisite contours of the human body.
Jeweler Lexi Daly created a series of sculptural necklaces from coffee shop waste including coffee cups, stir sticks, and coffee cup jackets. The series is intended to raise awareness about how much waste is created by disposable coffee cups. According to Daly’s website, “In 2010 Americans consumed 23 billion coffee cups. To create those cups 9 million trees were cut down, 5 billion gallons of water were used, creating 363 billion pounds of waste.”
“FireFall” features coffee cup jackets that have been folded, painted, and varnished. When worn, the necklace sounds like bamboo wind chimes blowing in a light breeze. The back of the necklace can be taken off, and a simple chain can be attached for times when the wearer would like a smaller version of the necklace. It would also make a lovely display piece.
Designed to position the human body as a site of display, Cheryl Eve Acosta’s sculptural jewelry combines various media (including silver, gold, copper, enamel, and fabric) to echo the natural world with an engaging twist. Acosta’s designs are inspired by the cycle of life as well as the beauty of coastal life and contemporary fashion.
“I am really inspired by fairy tales and fables. Especially those with a dark undertone or moral to the story, like the original versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Aesop’s fables. Overall, stories are an important part of my creative process,” Emily Cobb says of her sculptural jewelry.
“I imagine plots and characters that inspire the jewelry’s composition and form, ” she says, “Then I think about material choice, how the work will interact with the body, etc. At this point, the story and the piece are not definitive. The appearance of the characters, or the direction of the plot, may change as the jewelry piece is designed and made.”
Cobb employs computer-assisted design (CAD), colored nylon, and photopolymers to brings her beautiful visions to life.
“I first design the jewelry pieces on the computer using a 3D modeling program called Rhinoceros, which I learned as an undergraduate at Tyler. When I finish building the digital 3D model, I send the file to a 3D printer. Finally, once I receive my 3D printed parts, I dye and assemble the pieces.”
After studying at Studio Berçot in Paris and working at Balenciaga in jewelry design, Charlotte Chesnais began her own jewelry line. Handcrafted in France, Chesnais’ unique sculptural jewelry blends fine craftsmanship with conceptual edge, combining sophisticated, contemporary lines with dainty minimalism. The designer’s materials include silver, vermeil, and 18 karat gold.
Samantha Nania’s creative work emphasizes preciousness—the idea that everything we wear or own should be cherished and well cared for.
Nania also prioritizes reducing her material waste and makes a point to use even the smallest bits of material. Her designs that include wood are created with excess cutoffs from furniture making and flooring installation. Indeed, no piece is too small to be used in a conscious and loving way.
Photo: Lexi Daly, Cheryl Eve Acosta, InLiquid Art + Design, Charlotte Chesnais, Samantha Nania
You've probably noticed asymmetrical jewelry lately. Whether it’s in the form of “mismatched” earrings or modern, amorphous clusters of stones, this trend combines a youthful spirit of creativity with contemporary elegance. The following pieces are all about individuality and breaking the rules with a twinkle in your eye. You’ll find that despite the apparent geometrical imbalance of this jewelry, each piece manifests its own, unique brand of visual balance.
Made with 100% reclaimed silver and cast from Central Park twigs, these sexy, oxidized sterling silver earrings come with a removable white silver pod. Perfect for sultry evenings out.
The subtle asymmetry of the silver band in this sapphire solitaire engagement ring comes from the twig that was cast for this ring. Sometimes the most beautiful things are found in nature—and nature plays by her own design rules.
These cleverly asymmetrical earrings are decorated with pave-set black diamonds, carved lapis, and suspended sapphire, smoky quartz, and tourmaline gemstones. Truly a glamorous set for the woman with a creative edge.
This remarkable ring is indeed an attention-grabbing statement piece that combines mixed metals and several small diamonds with a large pearl.
Inspired by crusty yet beautiful old boats and pier beams, these “mismatched” sterling silver barnacle studs are a fun choice for anyone who loves life by the beach.
These stunning asymmetrical earrings come with lots of movement and sparkle. They’re the jewelry equivalent of a fine glass of champagne accompanied by your favorite jazz track.
Described as “artfully imperfect,” this delicate bracelet combines small diamonds with a beautiful stone (choices include labradorite, blue opal, mother-of-pearl, and ruby).
Combining three trends in one—mantras, asymmetry, and chokers, oh my!—this fun, customizable necklace was created to remind us of what’s important in life.
What’s your favorite asymmetrical piece?
Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs, Tessa Packard London, Jordan Alexander, Casey Sharpe, Nordstrom
Although no jewelry gift can quite compare to actual jewelry, these stunning coffee table books come close. Think of these tomes as the diamonds of the book world--they're gorgeous, beautifully crafted, and designed to last (both literally and figuratively--the incredible jewelry in these books depict will never be passé).
Like a diamond, these books are an investment. However, each one educates as much as it looks pretty sitting in the center of your living room or on your nightstand. Any one of these books would make a perfect gift for a jewelry lover--or just a treat for you!
Carol Woolton is the jewelry editor of British Vogue and an expert on historic and antique jewelry. This beautiful collection highlights the most memorable jewelry moments in Vogue and features both costume and fine jewelry. Illustrating the variety of jewelry featured in the magazine over the years, 300 pieces are organized into five sections: Show-stoppers, Rock Chick, Minimalist, Exotic, and Classical.
Jewelry historian Vivienne Becker captures the milestones of jewelry design from the last century in The Impossible Collection. From the Art Nouveau period to the pre-new millennium era, 100 pieces are showcased for their design and the fascinating stories behind them. Featured designers include Cartier, Van Cleef, David Webb, and Boivin.
Spanning centuries and cultures, Pearls traces the history of pearls' role as symbols of status and glamour--and in some contexts, purity. The book begins with a discussion pearls in the Roman Empire and concludes with a feature on pearls (and the impact of their cultured counterparts) in the modern era.
The European Renaissance is one of the most interesting periods for jewelry design. Written by Renaissance and world jewelry authority Yvonne Hackenbroch, Jewels of the Renaissance overflows with stunning images of some of the most creative pieces from this artistic period. Hackenbroch also weaves in the compelling stories behind the pieces--including tales about who wore the jewelry, who created it, and who commissioned it.
Split into three parts, Emerald celebrates the green gemstone that's reported to be 20 times rarer than a diamond. The first section features emerald jewelry worn by celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Princess Diana, and Elizabeth Taylor. This section also illustrates how emeralds have been featured in art and advertising. The second section covers historic emerald pieces--some created millennia ago, others created by the likes of Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari, and Harry Winston. The final section discusses the emerald trade and features specially commissioned photos from four continents.
This book features 100 of the most spectacular pieces of a single Victoria & Albert jewelry collection, the Al-Thani Collection. Enjoy gorgeous photos of pieces previously owned by the great maharajas, nizams, sultans, and emperors of India from the 17th to the 20th century. Bejewelled Treasures also examines how Indian jewelry influenced theAvantee-Garde pieces of European jewelry designers (including Cartier).
Which of these jewelry coffee table books is on your wishlist?
You may also be interested in: How to Sweetly Hint for Gifts
The fashion world has taken note of the increasing focus on wellness (see all of the yoga class-friendly athleisure for proof!)—and trendy jewelry has followed suit. Combining wellness traditions (like aromatherapy, meditation charms, and crystal healing) with high-end style, the following wellness pieces aim to help you cultivate inner peace—and look good while doing it! These pieces can help facilitate meditation or simply serve as a reminder to practice self-care in the middle of a busy day.
Aquamarine is believed to soothe the emotional body, support the throat chakra, and promote healthy and open communication.
These beautiful eco-friendly pieces can house a small amount of essential oils (about 15 drops) that gently diffuse while you’re wearing the jewelry. The charm may also be used to topically apply essential oils for a more immersive essential oil experience.
Inspired by summer’s rejuvenating quality, these silk tassel earrings are designed to soothe the senses while the gold lotus symbolizes new beginnings.
Ganesh, the Indian god of removing obstacles and fostering new beginnings, is depicted in 22 karat gold alongside an amethyst tusk and a garnet stone. Together, these three charms are designed to inspire compassion, love, success, and good fortune.
Inscribed with phrases like “Om Shanti” and “Namaste,” these pieces are designed to inspire self-love: “I hope to inspire in the women who wear my designs a sense of self-love because I think that once we can begin to love and accept ourselves for who we are, we can extend that love outwards to others much more easily,” says founder and designer Tiffany Taylor Kenney. Part of the proceeds from Tulsi Project jewelry goes toward the ASPCA and Feeding America.
The tranquil color of Amazonite is celebrated for the way it inspires emotional balance and loving actions while reducing worry and fear.
Photos: Taryn Toomey, VLTA, Satya, Prana Jewelry, The Tulsi Project, The Sage Lifestyle