GemNotes

THE BIOLOGICAL BEAUTY OF AMBER

Most colored gemstones come from the ground. But one dripped like molasses from trees more than 30 million years ago, forming a yellowish-brown material treasured by many cultures as a gem with symbolic powers.

Amber was once again the focus of admiration in August and early September during an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, N.Y. On display were 94 artistic and decorative objects made of the ancient tree resin, which has been preserved in the clay or sand of lagoons and river deltas for millions of years. Among these objects was jewelry representative of the intricate craftsmanship of centuries of cultures.

Highlights included a 2nd century Roman “finger ring” from a private collection. Amber rings were popular in the Roman Empire during the reigns of Nero and Septimius Severus. The surface of the 1.4-in. diameter ring was carved from a piece of clear red amber and set with a small oval plaque of carnelian inscribed with an eagle. Another display compared a necklace of polished amber beads with a giant piece of unpolished Baltic amber to demonstrate the stone’s natural fissures before polishing.

For those more enthusiastic about biology than art, the exhibit also featured 146 pieces of amber that became the homes of unfortunate insects for eternity. The insects, who were trapped in the tree resin, serve as valuable clues to the types of ecosystems that existed millions of years ago. Exhibit creators also reconstructed a Dominican amber forest, similar to the ones in today’s Dominican Republic, based on evidence from plant-feeding insects.

In conjunction with the amber exhibit, the museum’s gift shop offered various souvenirs, including a necklace created with a tear-drop shaped specimen of Dominican amber, estimated at 22 million to 30 million years old and set in a sterling silver bezel and suspended from an 18-in. chain. The museum has established a permanent boutique in its gift shop to sell necklaces, earrings and other jewelry fashioned from amber and other gemstones and minerals. American Museum of Natural History, Central Park W. and 79 St., New York, NY 10024-5192; (212) 769-5100, fax (212) 769-5233.

SPOTLIGHT ON RUBY

Rubies are hot. Deposits are opening up in Myanmar and Africa, making rubies more affordable and available. And a year-long marketing campaign by the International Colored Gemstone Association has capitalized on the gem’s availability and popularity.

Called “The Year of the Ruby,” the campaign is designed to boost consumer interest even more in time for the holiday shopping season. This is the first time a single type of colored gem has been promoted in such an organized fashion.

In conjunction with the campaign:

  • ICA will sponsor special ruby events at six jewelry stores across the country.

  • Some manufacturers have created ruby jewelry designs they hope consumers will find enticing.

  • Some ICA gem dealer members will make outstanding loose rubies available for promotions and sales.

  • ICAwill place ads touting ruby in fall issues of Town & Country, W and Departures magazines.

  • ICAsponsored a ruby fashion show at the Couture Collection and Conference in May in Pasadena, Cal., and displayed a $10 million museum-quality collection of loose rubies and ruby jewelry at the JCKInternational JewelryShow in June inLas Vegas, Nev.

International Colored Gemstone Association, 3 E. 48th Street, New York, NY 10017; (212) 688-8452.

PENDANT KIT ALLOWS GEM SWITCH

Take the pendant between your thumb and index finger, apply gentle pressure and presto – the pendant opens, and the now-loose gemstone glides smoothly out of its channel setting. The pendant is ready for a different gem.

This is Keith Baker & Co.’s new double-hinged jewelry, a pendant that will be sold as a kit and packaged as Alter-Gem Jewelry(tm). Individual kits will have a pendant and four gemstones and will retail for $1,400. Sets are available in emerald, oval or pear shapes.

Matching earrings are available, and other jewelry based on the same concept is in the works and a patent is pending. Keith Baker & Co., 3113 Paul Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17109; (717)-564-7930, fax (717) 564-3983.

CONCH PEARLS IN MIKIMOTO COLLECTION

The pearl that isn’t a pearl premiered in a collection of jewelry by Mikimoto, originator of the cultured pearl process, at a recent party and exhibition in New York, N.Y.

The conch pearl, an oval-shaped stone that forms naturally inside mollusks in the Caribbean, is covered with a substance called calcareous concretion. This is a different combination of aragonite and calcium than that which forms the nacre of cultured pearls. Therefore, the conch pearl is not technically a precious pearl.

Ranging from pink to yellowish-brown, the conch pearl is known for its flame structure, a sheen that gives it a silky quality. Conch pearls are usually very small – measured in carats instead of millimeters (most are around 0.2 carat to 0.3 carat) – and are sometimes compared to coral because of the opaque pink surface that contrasts the lustrous, almost translucent, surface of a cultured pearl.

Conch pearls will likely never be cultured like precious pearls. “Conch pearls might be a little more difficult to culture,” says Kikuichiro Ishii, president of Mikimoto Co.’s U.S. branch.

Mikimoto has adopted the gem for a collection of necklaces and rings available its retail store at 730 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019; (212) 664-1800.

AGTA NAMES ’97 SPECTRUM JUDGES

The AmericanGem Trade Association has named a panel of three judge for its 1997 Spectrum Award Design Competition. The contest annually honors 15 winning designs that best use natural colored gemstones in American jewelry design.

The judges are Mark Loren, Elana Verbin and Susan Sadler.

Loren, a three-time Spectrum Award winner, is a designer and retailer based in Fort Myers, Fla. His designs are created, manufactured and sold in his two Fort Myers galleries.

Verbin, editor in chief of Colored Stone magazine, has covered the industry for more than six years. She studied journalism and art at Temple University, Philadelphia,Pa.

Sadler is an award-winning jewelry designer with an international following. She has been Jewelers of America’s “New Designer of the Year” and is a member of the American Jewelry Design Council.

Contest entries will be judged this month and the winning designs will be showcased at AGTA’s 1997 GemFair in Tucson, Ariz. in January.

AGTA’S NEW SOURCE DIRECTORY

The American Gem Trade Association announces the publication of its Source Directory 1996/1997.

The membership directory lists addresses of more than 300 colored gemstone dealers and pearl suppliers and more than 100 retail jewelers, manufacturers, lapidaries, laboratories and designers. Companies are listed alphabetically, geographically and by specialty, all in color coded sections.

The directory is available for $15 to all members of the trade by contacting the American Gem Trade Association, World Trade Center, P.O. Box 581043, Dallas, TX 75258; (800) 972-1162 or (214) 742-4367, fax (214) 742-7334.