We often think of gemstones as something we decorate our bodies with—not our homes and office buildings—but a beautiful trend in interior design says otherwise. Gemstones and other stones, often in the form of geode sculptures and accents and even backlit stone walls, can add a unique, eye-catching touch to any space.
Geode sculpture can range from small pieces that accent a coffee table to larger items that deserve their own shelf in a curio cabinet. Some remain in their natural shape and therefore have an “abstract” appeal while others are carved into recognizable shapes like birds, horses—and even skulls!
Amethyst Geode Sculpture
Brass and Geode Sculpture
Agate Crystal Horse Head
Not quite sure you want an entire geode sculpture in your home? For a more subtle take on the geode decorating trend, try accenting your space with beautiful geode coasters.
Silvered Geode Coaster
Backlit Stone Walls
GPI Design, a firm specializing in lighting and surfaces, has produced luxurious accent walls featuring backlit onyx. Backlit walls have varying levels of translucency, which creates an intriguing effect. The slabs of onyx are carefully selected to effect a sense of organic fluidity.
Lithos Design is another company specializing in this striking decor and drawing attention to the art of backlit stonework.
When I received this charming, coral Buddha figurine, I knew I wanted to do something special with it and give it a little home, if you will. The result was this Buddha in a Box, a charm that’s roughly 1½ inches tall, designed to be worn on a necklace or hung on a pretty cord for display.
The box is made from oxidized silver. Behind the Buddha’s head is a gold halo. I made this by thinly rolling a piece of gold and soldering it to the silver behind the Buddha’s head. The Buddha figure is held in place by two small prongs atop each shoulder. The two beads on the top right of the box are made from cut glass. These look like little lanterns.
I enjoy the way the asymmetry of the box and the organic texture of the oxidized silver and rolled gold add a touch of whimsy to this fun piece. The tiny smile on this miniature Buddha may be small, but it certainly brightens the room!
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The jewelry market grows ever more complex, which is why it’s important to be an informed customer—whether you’re shopping online or working directly with a jeweler. The following free online resources can improve your knowledge of gemstones, so you’re ready to make a smart investment when the time comes. Many of these may also be useful if you're a gem collector or professional appraiser.
Where to Go Online to Learn about Gems
This channel features tutorials on gemstone and precious metal testing and demonstrates the practical application of these methods.
Forgive the self-plug here, but we’ve got a wide variety of reader-friendly articles about gems and the jewelry industry with a focus on conflict-free stones and eco-friendly methods of production. Explore posts like Gem Hardness and Diamonds vs. White Sapphires to brush-up on some gemstone basics.
An Emeritus Professor at the College of Southern Nevada, Smigel has made her teaching materials on gemology available to the public.
A learning institute for professional gemologist training, the CIGEM is a fantastic resource for individuals interested in pursuing a career in gemology. You may be interested in subscribing to their quarterly newsletter.
Emporia State University offers 44 lectures and accompanying course notes on topics like gemstone identification and gemstone testing methods.
This database of public domain books on gems is an invaluable resource. The site even offers its own online reader.
Written by gemstone scholar Vincent Pardieu, this blog is for the reader interested in travel, local mining operations, and the origins of gemstones.
Looking for a spectroscopy resource? Check out John Harris’ lessons, reference charts, and illustrations on Gem Lab.
Created by FGAA Gemologist Edward Mendelson, this extensive channel features a compilation of gemology tutorials. Thoughtfully organized playlists make the browsing experience a breeze.
One of the world’s most trusted resources on gemstones, the GIA site features articles on the latest developments in the industry and a free gem encyclopedia.
This non-profit database for gem enthusiasts offers both basic and advanced tutorials on gemstones.
GemSelect.com – Gemstone Information Center
With hundreds of details articles, Gem Select is an expansive resource for information on gems.
For all things relating to gemstone magnetism, explore Kirk Feral’s research and reference charts on Gemstone Magnetism.
Gem Val helps users estimate the value of many kinds of gems using regularly updated pricing data. (Pricing data for certain gems requires a paid subscription, however.) The site also features information on historical prices.
With beautifully illustrated articles, Lotus Gemology provides detailed explanations of various principles in gemology.
This non-profit project features information on collector gemstones.
This branch of the Smithsonian Institution provides a stunning photo gallery of gemstones and minerals. Handy search filters allow you to view results by country origins and more.
Starla Turner is an experienced gemology instructor. Her engaging and informative videos may benefit the professional and hobbyist alike.
This site is especially suited for the professional gemologist or gem appraiser. Stone Group Labs offers advanced gemological testing services and global consulting. The site’s “Published Works” section features journal articles relevant to the trade.
Like the Farlang Education Center (see above), the Swedish Gem LAB is full of digitalized, non-copyrighted gemological books, a collection that offers both historical and scientific perspectives on gems.
Check out this site to access lecture notes and course materials from the department of Earth & Planetary Sciences of UC Berkeley.
This site offers gemology course notes on gemstone types, mining sources, and pricing and valuations—plus you can browse through over 6,000 photos of gemological specimens.
Courtesy of the University of Washington, full-length lecture notes and accompanying illustrations on minerals and gems are available to the public.
Visit the US Gemological Survey to learn more about the production of gemstones in the United States. You may also want to view their page on Minerals Information, which details the global supply and demand for minerals.
This free online gemology school and reference resource offers several engaging tutorials on gemology basics, including lessons on minerals, created and treated gemstones, and jewelry appraisals.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below if there's a resource that should be added to this list!
Photo: Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash
For many jewelry lovers, the whole point of owning fine jewelry is enjoying it. A special thrill comes from wearing that sparkling tennis bracelet when it calls our name and taking pleasure in the way the sun sets the diamonds on fire.
Taking our most prized pieces out of safe storage comes with risks, however. Wearing jewelry exposes it to damage, loss, and theft, which may mean greater expense—especially if we’re traveling with our fine jewelry and need to adjust our insurance plan accordingly.
Increasingly, as a way to mitigate these risks and potential expenses, those who can afford it are opting to wear high-end replicas of their most cherished jewels while keeping the real thing in a secure vault. Some celebrities prefer to wear replicas during the day and reserve their truly fine pieces for evening wear and special events. Accordingly, faux gems are becoming more socially acceptable and are often seen as a practical way to flaunt your style without the anxiety that comes with wearing thousands of dollars on your finger!
Advances in diamond simulation technology have made it possible for diamond simulants (cubic zirconia) to look just like the real thing to an untrained, unexamining eye.* The key is to make sure the setting is high-quality. A low-quality setting is more likely than anything else to give away the secret.
A simulated diamond ring by Diamond Nexus
Diamond Nexus is just one company aiming to produce high-end simulated diamonds. Speak with your jeweler about high-quality custom replicas for additional recommendations and advice.
Of course, the drawback of high-end replicas looking as real as they do is that they can still attract unwanted attention, robbery, and even bodily harm. Therefore, it’s always wise to avoid flaunting your bling (real or not), especially while traveling in wealthy tourist areas where visitors are more commonly the target of theft.
*Note: A faux/synthetic/simulated diamond is different from a lab-grown diamond, which has the same tetrahedral structure as a naturally grown diamond. See more about lab-grown diamonds here.
Photo: Pexels, Diamond Nexus
Among the major periods of art, fashion, and jewelry, Art Deco remains one of the most fascinating and beloved. After all, its arrival marked a new era of Western history during which industrial production flourished and many older social mores were cast aside, arguably paving the way for many of the modern luxuries and social freedoms to come.
The Art Deco era began during the early 1920s and received its name from the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which was held in Paris in 1925. The exposition celebrated the association of art and industry and was largely dedicated to jewelry arts.
Art Deco earrings featuring diamond and onyx
Indeed, as the aesthetic themes of Art Deco jewelry illustrate, art and fashion of the time were indelibly informed by developments in the thriving industrial sector. In addition to a booming economy, the vivacious social scene of the Roaring Twenties that sparkled with jazz, speakeasies, and flappers further encouraged individual expression and creativity.
The artistic period preceding Art Deco was Art Nouveau, a period defined by soft pastels, organic curves, and nature-inspired motifs. If Art Nouveau is a beautiful, flowing country landscape spotted with delicate irises and cranes, then Art Deco is the luxe, glittering city lined with brightly lit skyscrapers. The latter era favored more masculine, geometric lines, distinct angles, and futuristic motifs. Art Deco’s clean lines perfectly suited the budding machine age, and the style exuded confidence.
Artistic inspiration for Art Deco was sourced from all over the world. Oriental, Indian, African, and South American art all play a role in the special touches that defined Art Deco jewelry. Perhaps most interesting is the influence of ancient Egypt on this modern artistic style. The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of Kings spurred a fascination with all things Pharaoh-esque, including lotus blossoms, pyramids, the eye of hours symbol, and even scarabs. These motifs inspired new combinations of materials, including lapis lazuli with gold and cornelian with turquoise.
Egyptian Revival Scarab Pin, circa 1925
Schools of Design
The Bijoutiers-Artistes comprised a school of Art Deco jewelry design. They prioritized eye-catching design over the intrinsic value of the materials. Often, their designs included carved, sculptural gems, and diamonds were usually used as accents or punctuation rather than as the main feature. Jewelry created by the Bijoutiers-Artistes was usually created within an artistic community by artists with various trades—rather than by jewelers alone. This school of design favored a mix of precious and semi-precious stones.
Art Deco Sapphire, Moonstone, Enamel, and Diamond Ear Pendants by Georges Fouquet, circa 1925.
The Bijourtiers-Joulliers hailed from the well-established jewelry scene in Paris. Although their designs may have appeared more conventional than those of the Bijoutiers-Artistes, this group of jewelers is credited with introducing unusual diamond cuts, including triangle, trapeze, and half-moon, among others. They mostly favored precious stones but occasionally incorporated coral, agate, and turquoise into their pieces.
Cartier Art Deco Necklace
Major Art Deco designers included Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Harry Winston, Lalique, and Mauboussin.
Materials & Innovations
Art Deco diamond and sapphire ring
Thanks to the economic prosperity of the 20s, more people were able to afford fine jewelry, including diamonds and engagement rings. New casting techniques allowed for more efficient production of intricate setting, further increasing the accessibility of fine jewelry. Advancements in cutting techniques prompted the advent of the modern round brilliant cut, a diamond cut that really allows the stone to dazzle as only diamonds can. Finally, platinum was the most popular metal at the time, but white gold served as a more affordable substitute.
Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs, Lang Antiques
One of the most popular semi-precious stones worn in the U.S. is the blue-green beauty we call turquoise. Turquoise is a mineral created when water containing copper and aluminum, among other elements, leaks through rock, forming hardened veins or nuggets. Sometimes referred to as the “oldest stone in man’s history,” turquoise has played a role in many ancient cultures, the earliest of which (that archeologists are able to tell) is Egypt’s first dynasty with the first known use of turquoise appearing the mummified arm of Queen Zar, circa 5,500 BCE. It’s also believed that turquoise appeared on The Breast Plate of Aaron, as detailed in Exodus.
In the Americas, turquoise was valued as a sacred stone by native tribes who lived in areas rich with turquoise. The Zuni, for example, carved colorful shapes from turquoise and created stunning mosaics of turquoise in their jewelry. Before the introduction of modern tools to these regions, turquoise was mined with stone tools. By the late nineteenth century, North American native tribes in the Southwestern United States began setting turquoise in sterling silver, using inspiration from European styles to create a distinct style of jewelry that’s still recognizable today. The Navajo, in particular, are credited with this beloved style.
Present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and California have produced the most turquoise in the United States with Arizona boasting the richest supplies. Sadly, due to the high cost of production, depleted mines, and the decline of the copper mining, an industry that often went hand-in-hand with turquoise mining, turquoise is increasingly difficult and expensive to source. One of Arizona’s most prominent mines, Sleeping Beauty, ceased production in 2012, and as a result, the price of untreated high-quality Sleeping Beauty turquoise has risen dramatically. Given the challenges facing the U.S. turquoise industry and the increased incentive to value natural resources and treasures, it’s likely that the value of turquoise will continue to increase.
Indeed, the spiritual value placed on the stone seems unwavering over the millennia. Once revered as a holy stone capable of bringing good fortune and warding off evil, the contemporary crystal healing tradition regards turquoise as a stone aiding self-forgiveness and strength. As a healing stone, it is sometimes used to treat depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and panic attacks. It is believed that turquoise helps us honor ourselves.
Whatever mystical associations turquoise may conjure for the wearer, it's undeniably one of the most beautiful and unique national treasures.
Are you a fan of this fascinating stone?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Pexels
Thanks to its versatility and beautiful shine, silver is one of the most popular metals for both fine and casual jewelry. Silver, in the form of utensils and serving ware, also finds a place on many dining tables.
To keep our favorite silver pieces looking their best, we must take regular care of them—which means preventing and staying on top of silver’s worst enemy: tarnish. When we keep tarnish to a minimum, we’re less likely to resort to abrasive cleaning measures and damage silver in the polishing process. If you want to keep your silver looking its best, follow the following silver care tips!
A Few Notes on Silver
The grade of silver you own may determine the level of care it requires. .950 sterling silver is more malleable (bendable) and will tarnish more easily than .925 sterling silver (which is slightly less pure than .950 sterling silver). Therefore, .950 may require more frequent and mindful care.
It All Stacks Up in Silver and Diamonds Ring Set, featuring oxidized silver
Some portions of your silver piece may be intentionally oxidized (blackened) to enhance details of the design. If an area of your silver piece is oxidized, avoid going over this area with silver polish to keep the oxidation intact.
Tarnish occurs when silver comes into contact with sulfur compounds (most often hydrogen sulfide in the air). Oxygen and sulfur chemically bond to the surface of the silver, making it look dirty or discolored.
The best way to keep your silver pieces looking their best is to prevent them from becoming overly tarnished in the first place. There are also several measures you can take to prevent other forms of damage, including corrosion and scratches.
If you’re using silver food items (like cups or utensils), wash them immediately in hot soapy water after you’re done using them; dry thoroughly. Air drying silver may leave water spots on the surface of the piece. Never wash a silver item in the dishwasher. Doing so may leave a white film on the silver.
Avoid exposing your silver jewelry to household cleaners, rubber, chlorinated water, or any sulfur-containing substances (like eggs, mustard, latex, onions, and wool). Also, keep your silver away from cosmetics, including lotion, hairspray, and perfume. (Jewelry is best saved for last when you’re getting ready.)
Proper Storage for Silver Items
Silver jewelry may be stored in airtight plastic bags with an anti-tarnish strip. Because silver can be easily scratched, don’t store more than one item per bag. Larger pieces can be stored in acid-free tissue or flannel, which helps keep sulfur away from silver, or in airtight bags with a packet of silica gel or activated charcoal packets. Avoid wrapping silver in newspaper or cardboard, and avoid storing silver in temperature and humidity extremes (e.g., the floor of your garage is probably not the best place for your grandmother’s silver punch bowl).
Polishing and Removing Tarnish
Silver should be polished over a towel. If you’re polishing your piece over a porous surface, like a wood table, lay a piece of plastic beneath the towel.
To polish lightly tarnished silver, first wet the piece. Apply a small dab of silver polish, and using a foam sponge, lint-free makeup pad, or scrap of flannel, massage the silver in a back-and-forth motion going with the grain of the metal (in cases where a grain is distinguishable). Q-tips may also be used to get into more difficult areas. Avoid polishing silver with paper towels and toothbrushes; these are too abrasive and may mar the finish.
As the spot on your rag gets blackened, move to a clean spot. Do not clean silver in a haste (this is especially true of delicate and antique pieces); doing so may cause you to break or damage the silver. When you’re finished polishing your piece, carefully rinse away any polish residue, and dry the piece.
Deeply tarnished pieces are best left to a reputable jeweler or silver shop. Do not immerse silver in a “mircale dip.” These dips do remove tarnish, but they may also mar the finish of the metal.
To preserve the life of your silver polish, store the polish with the lid tightly sealed. Top off the polish with a bit of distilled water (not tap water) to keep the polish creamy.
Are you a fan of silver? What’s your favorite silver piece?
You may also be interested in: How to Store and Take Care of Antique Jewelry
Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry