BMJ Blog

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings

Posted on June 18, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

These beautiful Jewish wedding rings featuring a “house” motif are steeped in centuries-old tradition, and although that tradition is poignantly shadowed by mass tragedy, these unique pieces ultimately symbolize love, union, and community.

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

The “houses” adorning these rings are actually miniature palaces or castles (and sometimes even temples symbolizing Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem) that represent a couple’s home. Often, the rings are inscribed with Hebrew, and on some, the house may open via a clasp to reveal the phrase “Mazal Tov,” which means “good luck” in Hebrew.

Sometime in the 10th century, these wedding rings were first documented as a part of the traditional wedding ceremony. Their existence may date back earlier, however. In the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom symbolically acquires the bride, and the ring serves as a representation of money. The exchange wasn’t necessarily akin to the groom buying property, however. Rather, the bride’s acceptance of the ring symbolized her acceptance of the groom. The significance of the ritual explains why the rings were so ornate.

The ring’s ownership was likely determined by the relative wealth of the family. In some communities, a single ring may have been used during the wedding ceremony of every bride and groom and returned afterward. (A simple wedding band may have served as the everyday symbol of the couple’s union.) Wealthier families may have actually owned one of these rings, passing it down through the generations, thereby keeping the ring in the family. 

The first traditional Jewish wedding rings to be discovered date back to the 14th century. Beginning in the 1340s, the Black Death swept through Europe, killing up to 200 million people. Sadly, local communities sometimes blamed their Jewish residents for poisoning the wells and cursing Christians. Thousands of Jewish people were massacred while many others fled to avoid persecution. Those who fled often buried their valuables, hoping to return to them at a later date. Many families did not return to their former homes, however, and some of the most ornate wedding rings were discovered among the valuables unearthed centuries later.

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

Jewish wedding ring discovered at Erfurt, ca. 14th century. 

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

Jewish wedding ring discovered at Colmar, ca. 14th century. 

Fortunately, the sad events surrounding the Black Death didn’t permanently halt the production of these beautiful pieces. During a period between the 16th and 19th centuries, more advanced craftsmanship ushered in incredibly ornately designed rings, many of which included filigree and enamel. Gemstones were absent, however—likely due to religious reasons.

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

Ornate Jewish wedding ring, ca. 16-19th century.

After a period during which these style of rings were mostly absent from wedding rituals, an interest in their history (and owning contemporary versions!) has emerged. Jeweler Chloe Lee Carson has created a line of Jewish wedding rings suited to a contemporary aesthetic. But just like the wedding rings of yore, these are intended to serve as a “universal symbol of love, harmony, and holiness.” Check them out here!

The Fascinating History of Antique Jewish “House” Wedding Rings | Barbara Michelle Jacobs

Chloe Lee Carson 18 kt Gold Hoyz Sanctuary Ring

You may also be interested in: How to Store and Take Care of Antique Jewelry
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Photos: Chloe Lee Carson

Posted in antique jewelry, jewelry history, jewelry lore, jewelry traditions

Montana: The Sapphire State

Posted on May 09, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

More gem-quality sapphires are produced in Montana than any state in the United States. Montana sapphires (or corundums) come in a variety of colors (although rubies are rare).

The first sapphire found in the U.S. was found along the Missouri River by Ed “Sapphire” Collins in 1865. Other areas along the Missouri River in Montana, including Butte, Philipsburg, and Bozeman, have also produced sapphires. Some of the first sapphire finds were deemed low-quality, however, giving Montana sapphires a bad reputation. Because of their poor color quality and lack of clarity, many Montana sapphires are treated with heat to enhance their color and clarity (a general trend that does not apply to Yogo sapphires, discussed below).

Montana: The Sapphire State

Raw Montana Sapphire

Due to environmental concerns, high cost of recovery, and low-profit margins of general-variety, non-blue Montana sapphire, not many are mined today. 

Yogo Sapphires

Montana: The Sapphire State

Yogo Sapphire

Yogo sapphires are found only in the Yogo Gulch, part of the Little Belt Mountains in Judith Basin County, Montana. The land was once inhabited by the Piegan Blackfeet Native Americans, and it’s speculated that “yogo” means “romance” or “blue sky” in the Blackfeet language, but no one is quite sure.

Montana: The Sapphire State

Purple Yogo Sapphire

Yogo sapphires are celebrated for their uniform clarity and brilliance. Trace amounts of iron and titanium render most yogo sapphires a beautiful cornflower blue (though about 2% of yogo sapphires are purple.

The first gold discovery at Yogo Creek occurred in 1866, at which point miners found “blue pebbles,” but these stones weren’t recognized as sapphires until 1894. In 1895, rancher Jake Hoover sent a cigar box full of these rocks to an assay office that sent it to Tiffany’s in New York City where these gems were declared “the finest precious gemstones found in the United Stated.” The discovery of Yogo sapphires was arguably more valuable than several gold strikes.

The allure of Yogo sapphires endured through the twentieth century. In the 1980s, gem company Intergem (which controlled most of the Yogo sapphires at the time), declared that Yogo sapphires were the world’s only guaranteed “untreated” sapphire, drawing attention to the fact that by that point, 95% of the world’s sapphires were treated to enhance color and clarity (the context of that figure is rather complicated, however, and sapphires can be treated in more than one way).

Montana: The Sapphire State

The life-size Tiffany Iris Brooch, contains 120 Yogo sapphires set in platinum (circa 1900).

Although Yogo sapphires continue to be valuable, the difficulty of mining them makes them expensive to produce and therefore less profitable than equally valuable gems that are easier to mine. These days, Yogo sapphire mining is mostly practiced by hobbyists, and most of the larger mines are inactive.

 

You may also be interested in: The Rich History of the Sapphire

 

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Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in american gems, mining, montana, sapphires, yogo sapphire

How to Use a Jeweler’s Loupe

Posted on April 11, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

If you’re interested in repairing jewelry, becoming a jeweler, or collecting antique jewelry, you’ll need to have a jeweler’s loupe in your arsenal. The following are a few tips for choosing the right jeweler’s loupe for your needs—and then putting that loupe to use!

 

How to Use a Jeweler’s Loupe | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Finding the Right Loupe

There are three common varieties of loupe lens configurations.

Singlet: This is a single lens that serves as a magnifying glass. There may be some distortion in the magnification, but these are fairly inexpensive. Keep in mind that if you’re using a singlet to look at a particular point in a gem (like an inclusion), you will likely be able to focus only on that point; the surrounding area will be distorted.

Doublet: A doublet features two lenses glued together. It offers a clearer, sharper view than a singlet.

Triplet: Triplets are the industry standard. These include two concave lenses and one convex lens stacked together. Triplets offer an even clearer and shaper image. Of the three lens configurations, triplets present color most accurately. A clear view of a gem's color is integral in determining its value. A triplet is also the best option for viewing a gem with minimal distortion. (Keep in mind that any magnifying lens may distort subjects viewed through the perimeter of the lens).

The are three most common powers of magnification.

10x: This is the standard power for triplets. When using a loupe with a magnification of 10x, you can keep the loupe about one inch away from your eye. This gives you a pretty decent field of vision.

20x: A loupe with a magnification of 20x will need to be brought closer to your eye (about ½ inch), which decreases field of vision. A lens configuration with a power of 20x is more expensive to produce, so many loupe manufacturers will make 20x loupes smaller than 10x loupes. This means that the natural distortion around the edge of the lens will be closer to the center.

30x: Any challenges experienced with a 20x loupe will be experienced to a greater degrees when using a 30x loupe.

Other considerations:

Some loupes come with LED lights mounted around or beside the lens(es). Some also include diffusers to cut down any glare caused by the lights. This innovation in loupes can certainly come in handy if you’d appreciate a little more light when viewing small pieces.

 How to Use a Jeweler’s Loupe | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

A loupe with an LED light.

Using Your Loupe

Using a jeweler’s loupe may feel a bit counterintuitive at first. You don’t have to close one eye or squint when using the loupe. In fact, keep both eyes open to avoid eye strain and headache. You will, however, want to view the subject with your dominant eye.

With one hand, bring your loupe about one inch away from your dominant eye. You can rest your hand against your cheek for extra stability. With the opposite hand, bring your subject under the lens. For stability, you can rest your hands together.

Using a Jeweler's Loupe | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

How to hold and steady a loupe.

There you have it! With two hands and your loupe, you’ve created a microscope of sorts through which to view jewelry.

You may also be interested in: 

DIY Wooden Jewelry Box

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Photos: Grainger Industrial Supply, Esslinger, FDJtool 

Posted in antiquing, Diamonds, gems, jewelry tips, jewelry tools, loupe

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects

Posted on March 14, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

The appeal of jewelry created with found objects is immediate: found-object jewelry is incredibly unique—and often a piece is one of a kind—plus, it’s exciting to imagine the backstories behind the upcycled objects featured in the jewelry. Here, we feature three talented jewelers who take inspiration from found objects.  

Riberyron

Riberyon, designed by Jacques-Elie Ribeyron, features pieces inspired by hardware and industrial objects as well as the art of John Chamberlain, an American sculptor who created pieces with the scrap metal of old automobiles.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

The New York Times describes the latest collection as “a deconstructed take on familiar, everyday objects.” The F/W 16 collection includes hardware-store plumbing clamps reinterpreted as 18k-gold and rhodium screw bracelets and helmet bags remade with into clutches with industrial mesh.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

This creative collection is intended for both men and women, and no piece is denoted for a particular gender: “I do not want to dictate that one piece is for boys and the other for a girl,” Ribeyron says. “I really feel people should wear what they are comfortable with, and I appreciate the diversity it creates.”

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Ribeyron’s process is largely defined by speed. The former product-designer-turned-jeweler finds that the ability to quickly design a piece of jewelry keeps him from getting bored: “With product design, the function is important, but it can block many ideas. The good thing about fashion is it’s very quick; it’s not like designing a table or couch. It’s good not to overthink things. Now it’s about developing things very fast.”

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Alice Sprintzen Studio

Alice Sprintzen of Alice Sprintzen Studio creates beautiful statement necklaces with found objects from everyday life. The Long Island-based artist espouses an eco-friendly stance on jewelry-making: “Jewelry is, by implication, pro-reuse and anti-consumption. It elevates ordinary materials to diamond status—at least, that's the challenge,” she told Jewelry Span.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

The special history of repurposed items offers unique value to her pieces:  “Found materials have often ignored qualities and a past life that can be brought to light when they are juxtaposed with other materials and used in a new context,” she explains.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Sprintzen initially got into the art of creating jewelry from found objects when she placed a small domino in a stone setting. From that point on, any object was fair game. Now, the artist’s friends bring her small baggies of bits and pieces they’ve found, and she creates one-of-a-kind jewelry with them, giving the found materials a new life.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

To learn more about Sprintzen’s process, check out her book: The Jeweler’s Art: A Multimedia Approach.

Studio 410—Susan Richards

Susan Richards of Studio 410 creates jewelry with found objects including old silver spoons, beach stones, and vintage beads, often sourcing her materials from second-hand shops and even the beaches of Hawaii where she found some very old barbed wire.

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Like Sprintzen, Richards is inspired by finding new uses for common objects: “As long as I can remember, I have always loved to take objects and turn them into something other than what they were intended for.”

Trend Watch: Jewelry Inspired by Found Objects | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

When creating designs with silver, Richards often oxidizes the material to enhance details of the design. 

Are you inspired by found objects?
You may also be interested in: How Gold Is Recycled

 

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Photos: Ribeyron, Alice Sprintzen Studio, Susan Richards

Posted in eco friendly jewelry, eco style, eco-friendly, Recycled and Eco Conscious, recycled jewelry

How Diamonds Are Used (Beyond The World of Jewelry)

Posted on February 07, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

How Diamonds Are Used (Beyond The World of Jewelry)

Although diamonds are beloved for their starring role in many a fine jewelry item, they have a lesser-known yet critical role to play in many industrial and non-jewelry pursuits. We often forget that diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring substance—each carbon atom in a diamond is surrounded by four other carbon atoms connected by strong, covalent bonds. Thanks to this structure, diamonds are the only stone with a hardness of 10 on the Mohs Scale. Because diamonds are so resistant to being scratched, they can come in handy for a variety of uses.

In fact, only a small portion of diamonds are used for jewelry purposes. These gem-quality diamonds are graded for color and clarity. Diamonds that don’t rank highly in these respects may find themselves in an industrial setting, serving to grind, cut, drill, and polish other durable materials. In other cases, industrial diamonds are sometimes used to protect sensitive materials from heat and abrasion—or even deliver medication. Industrial diamonds are so versatile and useful that the demand for them exceeds their supply. For this reason, lab-grown diamonds (rather than diamonds mined from the earth), help meet the high demand.

The following are the primary uses for industrial diamonds:

How Diamonds Are Used (Beyond The World of Jewelry)

Diamond drill bit.

Abrasive. Most industrial diamonds are used as abrasives. To become abrasives, diamonds are crushed into micron-sized abrasive particles that are then embedded into saw blades, drill bits, and grinding wheels. In fact, diamond abrasives are used to cut and polish other diamonds!

How Diamonds Are Used (Beyond The World of Jewelry)

Polishing a diamond.

Cancer treatment. Diamond particles have been used to treat certain cancers. After absorbing chemotherapy drugs, the particles are used to deliver the medication to the right area of the body while protecting the medication from the body’s defense system. Moreover, the particles help the treatment stay in the cancerous cells for longer, rendering it more effective. 

Diamond windows. Diamonds can be turned into thin membranes to cover openings on lasers, X-ray machines, and vacuum chambers. Diamond windows are useful because they resist heat and abrasion.

Diamond speaker domes. These are used to enhance the performance of high-quality speakers. A thin, diamond dome will vibrate rapidly when exposed to sound vibrations; this vibration does not degrade the quality of the sound, however.

Heat sinks. Diamonds can absorb and transmit excess heat. In fact, they have the highest thermal conductivity of any element. When used as heat sinks, they conduct heat away from heat-sensitive parts of high-performance microelectronics. 

Low-friction micro-bearings. Diamonds can be used as bearings in tiny mechanical devices where durability and abrasion resistance is needed.   

How Diamonds Are Used (Beyond The World of Jewelry)

Diamonds serve as micro-bearings in small mechanical devices.

Water-resistant parts. To form a water-resistant coating, diamonds are vaporized, and the vapor is applied as a coating to a surface.

Were you aware that diamonds had so many fascinating uses?
You may also be interested in: Trend Watch: What Is a Raw Diamond?

 

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Photos: Wikimedia Commons, John Englart via Flickr, Max Pixel

Posted in diamond cutting, diamond uses, Diamonds

How Are Pearls Formed?

Posted on January 10, 2019 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

Contrary to popular lore, pearls aren’t necessarily formed when a grain of sand enters an oyster. That’s likely a myth. Rather, pearls form when a tiny organism (probably a parasite) enters a shell-producing mollusk (a group that includes oysters, mussels, clams, marine snails, and abalone).

As a defensive mechanism, the mollusk forms a protective crystalline substance around the irritant. This protective substance is called “nacre.” Nacre is composed of calcium carbonate and protein, and it is both lighter and stronger than concrete. (It’s also the same substance that forms the inside of the mollusk’s shell.) Nacre gives pearls their gem-like luster.

How Are Pearls Formed?

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Green with Envy Pearl Ring

Natural pearls of real value occur very rarely, however. In fact, a pearl of value occurs in less than one of every 10,000 pearl oysters. Moreover, it can take at least three years for an oyster to coat an irritant with enough nacre to form a gem-quality pearl. Low-quality pearls are often the result of a pearl being “rushed out” of the oyster after less than a year. With these pearls, the coating of nacre is too thin to create adequate luster.

 

What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Morganite Gemstone and Pearl Ring

Cultured pearls help meet the high demand for real pearls. In the case of cultured pearls, a bead or piece of shell called mother of pearl is surgically inserted into the oyster. The inserted piece is also sometimes called the “nuclei.” The mollusk reacts to the nuclei the same way it would to a natural parasite by layering it with nacre, thereby forming a pearl.

Although saltwater pearls have historically been considered more valuable, thanks to their natural roundness and luster, freshwater pearls, which were once usually irregularly shaped, may now look more like their saltwater counterparts due to advances in pearl farming technology. See more about the different types of real pearls.

What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Vine and Pearl Gold Ring

Finally, there are imitation pearls, which are usually made by dipping a glass bead in a solution made of fish scales. Because nacre has a distinct grit, it’s usually possible to tell the difference between a real and imitation pearl by running your teeth over them. An imitation pearl will feel smooth while a real pearl, natural or cultured, will feel gritty.

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You may also be interested in: The Meaning of Pearls
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Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Posted in gem facts, pearl jewelry, pearls

How to Stack Bracelets

Posted on December 13, 2018 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment

 How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Gold Twig Bangles

Interestingly, minimalist fashion and intricate layering are en vogue at the same time. While there’s a lot to be said for minimalism, there’s something about layering pieces that brings out the inner girl-in-mom’s-jewelry-box—it’s playful, whimsical, and joyful. Stacking or layering jewelry—whether that’s necklaces, rings, or bracelets—allows the wearer to customize her look and even artfully combine multiple styles.

Layering jewelry can be an art, and like any art, understanding a few fundamentals can take your craft to the next level. Although throwing on just any combination of pieces can lead to a cool look, there are a some loose guidelines that will have you stacking jewelry—in this case, bracelets—like a pro stylist.

How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog 

How to Stack Bracelets

While necklaces may require more precision layering, you can get away with a lot when it comes to stacking bracelets, so don’t be afraid to go big! That being said, keep in mind the length and style of your shirt sleeves. The more elaborate (lacy, patterned, etc.) your sleeve, the easier you want to go with the bracelets. You don’t want your shirt sleeve to be competing for space or attention with your bracelets.

 How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Start simple. Begin with 2-4 pieces. 

Start with a staple—like your wristwatch or a bracelet you wear almost every day.

How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Experiment with one arm rather than tackling both at once. 

When layering bracelets, keep in mind that mixing textures, thickness, materials, and metals will yield a more interesting and personalized stack. Also, don’t be afraid to mix fine jewelry with everyday jewelry—like semi-precious stones or even a friendship bracelet. In fact, avoid anything too matchy-matchy.

How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog 

Keep the rest of your look fairly simple. Skip stacking rings and layering necklaces, and allow your wrist(s) to make your style statement.

Keep your nails neat. Stacked bracelets (and rings) will draw attention to your hands, so nix the chipped polish if you’re planning to layer jewelry around your hands.

How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog 

Be mindful of where you’ll be wearing your stack. Any place (like the office) in which layered (i.e. noisy) bracelets may annoy those around you probably isn’t the place to sport your stack. 

How to Stack Bracelets | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Ideas for Bracelet Combinations

Feminine Luxe:

Gold statement watch + delicate gold chain + charm bracelet with toggle closure + rose quartz beaded bracelet.

Colorful & Fun:

Multicolored bracelet(s) + wrap bracelet + beaded bracelet + bulky statement piece.

Rocker Style:

Studded cuff + silver chain + rhodium-plated (black) bangle or chain.

Boho Chic:

Beaded bracelet(s) with tassel + metal cuff + patterned piece + friendship bracelet.

Metal Lover:

Rose gold cuff + silver bangle + simple gold chain.

Are you a fan of stacking bracelets? What are your favorite combinations?

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Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry, Luvvi9, WhoWhatWear, Personalized from Me to You, Atuces de filles, BuyerSelect, Natalie Young

Posted in bracelets, fashion trends, jewelry trends, layered necklaces, stacked bracelets

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