Monday, November 30, 2009

December Birthstone - Turquoise

It is time for another month, and also another discussion about the various birthstones for each month of the year. There are several birthstones associated with December. Today, I will discuss turquoise.

Turquoise gemstones come in a wide range of natural colors and shades including blue, green and yellow-green. It is also considered the wedding anniversary gemstone for the 5th and 11th year of marriage. and the Zodiac sign Sagittarius.

There are varying opinions as to how the stone came to acquire its name. Some think that it comes from the French word Turquie - for the country Turkey. Many had the thought that the gemstone originated from Turkey, so the combination of this belief and the French word for Turkey resulted in the word Turquoise. Others believe it came from the French words "pierre turquin" which means a dark blue stone.

Turquoise was mined by early Egyptians from at least 6000 BC. For centuries, the most valuable turquoise was considered as originating in Iran (Persia). Areas of the Southwestern United States now compete with this honor. "Persian Turquoise" is now generally used to refer to any turquoise stone that does not have the black or brown veining commonly found in turquoise mined in the United States and used in a style of jewelry created by the American Indians. The Aztecs also mined turquoise and a significant amount of turquoise comes from New Mexico, California, Nevada and Arizona.

Turquoise is not one of the hardest gemstones. It only rates 5-6 on the Mohs Scale of hardness, lower than even Quartz. Turquoise will scratch quite easily and is also somewhat brittle. Immersing it in liquid for any length of time will also impact negatively on the stone. Any turquoise jewelry that you own should be handled with care.

This gemstone has been used for jewelry making since 5000 B. C. - making it one of the oldest stones used in jewelry. It was worn by ancient rulers of many countries, including Egypt, Persian, and Ancient China. The mummy of King Tut of Egypt was discovered with turquoise jewelry, which attests to the age of some of the pieces.

The Aztec and Native Americans have also been making turquoise jewelry since 200 B.C, although the styles with which we are familiar - sterling silver and turquoise - are a relatively newer combination, dating from the late 1800s.

Since so much Native American turquoise jewelry is made in the southwestern part of the United States, the gemstone was designated the official gemstone of Arizona in 1974 and New Mexico gave it this honor in 1967.

As with other gemstones, turquoise has mystical properties attached to it. It was often used by both Aztecs and Native Americans in spiritual ceremonies and rituals. It is thought to promote mental clarity and to enhance trust, kindness and understanding of others. Turquoise has long been appreciated as a holy stone, a good-luck-charm or a mystical talisman. It is believed to promote good fortune, happiness, and long life.

Turquoise jewelry is much appreciated and coveted. The nature of the gemstone is such that the pieces are often one of a kind, since the stones vary so much in design and pattern.

Caring for turquoise jewelry needs a bit of extra care, since the gemstone is somewhat fragile. It should be store separately from other jewelry, so that it does not rub against, or become scratched by, harder gemstones. If possible, store it in an air tight box. Keep turquoise jewelry aware from perfume, cosmetics and other chemicals and avoid prolonged exposure to high heat and direct sunlight.

Cleaning turquoise jewelry is easy. Just light wash it with mild warm water and then with a soft cloth. If the gemstone is set in sterling silver, a Sunshine Polishing cloth should help with any tarnish that might develop as the piece is worn and exposed to moisture. Ultrasonic cleaners are not recommended for turquoise or other soft gemstones.

This Georgian poem aptly describes the birthstone for December:

“If cold December gave you birth
The month of snow and ice and mirth
Place on your hand a turquoise blue
Success will bless whate’er you do.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rhinestone Repair - Re-Foiling Rhinestones

Vintage jewelry, by nature, is usually quite old and will often have minor flaws and blemishes. Rhinestone vintage jewelry, in particular, is prone to various stages of wear, since the foil backing of a rhinestone can sometimes be damaged by moisture, or can easily get scratched if the stones are ever replaced.

Some rhinestone pieces are very valuable and worth the effort and cost of the restoration. There are several places that sell vintage rhinestones. One company that I have used and recommend is Matthew Ribarich's site called MrStones.

But what do you do when you have a vintage rhinestone piece that has badly damaged foil, you have searched high and low, and you still can't find a stone which will blend in well with the others?

Rhinestone foil backings such as those used by Swarovski and other rhinestone manufacturers involves a process similar to that used for the silvering of mirrors. The original process involves some tricky chemical processes. Actual silver is applied to the back of a mirror and then a paint-like coating is applied to protect the silver from oxidation and darkening. Re-silvering a mirror is a process often done and the end result is usually very satisfactory.

To duplicate the process with something as small as a rhinestone would take a miniature set up of the same process and would be quite specialized. You could contact a glass seller who resilvers mirros and ask them if they would undertake the job of resilvering your rhinestones. Don't be surprised if you are greeted with widened eyes and a dropped jaw at your request, since you may be the first person to ask them about this.

A curator at a nearby museum might be able to give you some names of those craftsmen that they use for preservation or restoration. These craftsmen who may know of some other techniques that will assist you. Obviously, this step would only be undertaken as a last resort and if the piece is particularly valuable and suitable for the expense of this type of repair.

If you have a piece which you adore which has damaged stones but it doesn't warrant the expensive of a professional repair, there are vintage rhinestone re-foil kits available. I have seen them on ebay, but haven't tried the product, so I can't guarantee that you will like the results.

Quite honestly, I would be surprised if there is a suitable paint easily applied which will blend well enough with the original silvering or golding. If you do decide to use this process, be sure to remove all of the old silver or gold coating first and then tackle the painting job.

If you do purchase this re-foil product and use it, please publish your results in the comments. I'd be interested to see how it works.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vintage Jewelry Word of the Week - What is Basse-taille?

Today's vintage jewelry word is Basse-taille. This is a French word which means "shallow cut." The term refers to an enameling technique which has chased relief metal which is overlaid with a translucent enamel finish.

During the process, the metal is engraved deeply enough so that the enamel can be held when heated. It also has sides high enough to be sure that the colors of the enamel are kept separate. The addition of the translucent enamel allows light to reflect from the relief and creates a very artistic effect. The end result has a lovely play of light and shade and a brilliance of tone.

The process of basse-taille was first developed in Italy in the 13th century, and was especially popular in Europe during the Gothic and Renaissance periods. This technique was also very popular with mid 20th century Scandinavian silversmiths such as David Andersen, Hroar Prydz and Askel Holmsen. The technique has also been called "translucent enameling."

Here are some xxamples of basse-taille jewelry:

Michelle Obama Dazzles at the First State Dinner

There has been speculation for the last week about what the first lady, Michelle Obama, would wear to the Obama's first state dinner to honor the visit of Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and his wife, Gursharan Kaur. As predicted she wore a gown by an Indian American Designer.

Her strapless gown was designed by Naeem Khan and featured hand cut sterling silver sequins which were sewn onto silk chiffon in a floral pattern. All hand made, the dress took 40 people three weeks to complete. It was made in India and is a one of a kind design. The sleeveless gown was gold and cream-coloured sheath dress and had a matching shawl.

The overall look was a departure from Ms. Obama's sometimes controversial style of fashion. Her whole look was fairly traditional and more conservative than normal and was slightly reminscent of her predecessors - although the jewelry was pure Mrs. O.

The first lady's accessories included elaborate chandelier dangle earrings with a fleur de lis pattern and large hoop dangle, and a huge stack of glittering gold and diamond bangle bracelets piled high on her left arm.

Photo credit: Getty Images

What do you think of her look for the state dinner?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to my Readers

Happy Thanksgiving! This year I will be hosting the meal and my husband's nephew is visiting us from England, so he gets to find out, first hand, what an American Thanksgiving is all about. I have a table full of all manner of side dishes, the proverbial turkey and many deserts, and he also brought over an English fruit cake to add to the celebration.

This year, I am most thankful for my health and that of my family and loved ones, and that my daughter is having a great year at university with roles in many of the college drama productions. It is nice to see her so happy and involved.

I hope that you also have much to be thankful for. With all the problems in our economy, it is nice to take the time to think of little things that are good in our lives.

What are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What is Christmas Without a Candy Cane?

Statistics say that most of us gain a few pounds over the Christmas holidays each year. In the next few weeks, many of us will be baking and eating sweets of all sorts, so I thought it would be fun to feature some of my cute candy cane Christmas pins. Perhaps one of them would be just the sweet treat for you - minus the calories of course.

Christmas brooches come in a wide variety of designs and one of the most popular style is the candy cane. These are made in a myriad of designs and materials - with the most popular being enamel and rhinestone designs.

Most of the major vintage jewelry designers included them in their range of designs, and contemporary designers seem to come up with new ideas for the motif each year.

Here are a few for you to choose from. Each of my online stores also has a larger range of styles. One of them is sure to make a cute stocking stuffer or even a present to yourself! You can click the pictures for more details and additional photos. Prices range from $8.99 to $16.99.

Now you can enjoy your Christmas sweet with never a fear of gaining those unwanted holiday pounds!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jewelry and Astrology - Sagittarius

This blog post is another in my series about choosing jewelry suitable for individual star signs. Today's astrological sign is Sagittarius, which is the sign for those born between November 22-December 21. The sign is depicted as the archer and it is considered a fire sign.

Zodiac Logo courtesy of

Thinking about buying jewelry for your Sagittarius friend and don't know where to start? Let's examine some of these zodiac facts for a bit of inspiration.
  • Their special colors are yellow and orange
  • The lucky numbers are 1,3,5, and 9
  • The gemstones associated with this birth sign are Amethyst, and Turquoise
  • Their animal symbol is the horse
  • Flowers that Sagittarians love are pink flowers, carnations and thistles
Let's combine some of these traits and see what we can come up with for gifts that might please your Sagittarian friend. All the pictures can be clicked for more details and descriptions.

This genuine turquoise necklace would be a lovely choice:

And for the horse lover Sagittarian, this lovely Gerry's Christmas horse drawn sleigh pin would be a perfect stocking stuffer:

This wonderful bakelite demi parure which combines yellow and orange into one pretty hue would also make a great choice:

Finally, here is a Georgian poem which depicts the Sagittarius personality well:
Who loves the dim religious light;
Who always keeps a star in sight?
An optimist both happy and bright-

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today's Vintage Bling - Japan Signed Diamante Rhinestone Expansion Bracelet

I thought that it would be appropriate that the piece I choose for this week's vintage bling should be something that might work well for the upcoming holidays and New Year's Eve. This fabulous rhinestone expansion bracelet will do that and then some!

The bracelet is set in silvertone metal and features three rows of clear diamanted rhinestones in prong settings. The bracelet is 1/2" wide and is an expansion style so it should fit most wrist sizes.

It is signed Made in Japan on the inside of the bracelet. The lovely piece is available from my Ruby Lane shop - The Finishing Touch Vintage Jewelry for only $25.

Rhinestone expansion bracelets were all the rage between the 1930s and 1950s and they have recently had a resurgence in popularity. This lovely example is in gently used very fine condition with clear and bright rhinestones.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Limited Edition Vintage Jewelry - A Real Collector's Find

Those who collect antique and vintage items are well aquainted with the term limited edition. It is used to refer a design, book, print, or collectible which is limited to a specified number of copies. Numbered limited editions normally give more value to the lower numbers in the total run of pieces.

There were several designers of vintage jewelry who used this term on their products. Some which come to mind are Reed and Barton for their damascene designs, Sarah Coventry for her religious crosses and Birds and Blooms for their pewter nature designs.

Many contemporary designers use the term for their products. Judith Ripka is one popular designer of limited editions, but many modern jewelry artisans use the term for their products too.

Here are a few limited edition jewelry pieces that I currently have for sale in my Vintage Jewelry Lane store:
Reed and Barton 1st Limited Edition Christmas angel damascene necklace - $42.99

Sarah Coventry Limited Edition Cathedral multistrand Signed Necklace - $21.99

Birds and Blooms Limited Edition Birdhouse pewter brooch - $12.99

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seed Pearls - A Natural Beauty Jewelry Style

Early Victorian jewelry is known for many different styles and design techniques. One particularly popular material used is that which is known as the seed pearl.

This type of jewelry first appeared early in the 19th century, during the Romantic period of Queen Victoria's reign. This period was characterized by all sorts of romantic symbolism, so seed pearls fit in beautifully with the jewelry styles. It reached the height of its popularity around the middle of the 19th century.

Generally, seed pearl jewelry was sold in sets, which consisted of bracelets, earrings, brooches, a collar and a corsage ornament. A gift of seed pearl jewelry was often given to a girl on her 18th birthday, or to a bride before her wedding.

The designs of the jewelry were very delicate and quite ornate, often with flower or scroll motifs. It was generally made from hundreds of tiny seed pearls which ranged in size from a minute 1.5mm to 5mm in size. These pearls were then sewn into a design using white horsehair thread and backed in silk.

During the mid 2oth century, Miriam Haskell used seed pearls (as well as baroque pearls) in her designs with great success, bringing back a short revival of the popularity of them in jewelry. However, most of her designs used artificial seed pearls, rather than genuine ones.

It is rare to find good examples of Victorian seed pearl jewelry today because it is so delicate and fragile. Only rarely are entire sets found intact.

The design featured here is a full parure of seed pearl jewelry received by Mary Lucile Stevens in 1836 as a gift from her mother. These pearls were passed down for several generations, as gifts to succeeding daughters in the family on their 18th birthdays. In 1984 the sons of the last woman to inherit the pearls donated them to the Smithsonian where they are now on display in the Museum's Treasure House.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

JCK Jeweler's Choice Awards - It's Time to Vote!

JCK online is a wonderful site full of information about all aspects of the jewelry business. JCK is currently running their annual design contest which recognizes jewelry designers and manufacturers for the best designs of the current year.

You can vote in one or all of the categories featured, which include everything from diamond jewelry to best necklace, bracelet or earrings. They even have a category for best bridal design.

Each vote that you submit will enter you into their special Venetian Hotel Sweepstakes, for a change to win a 4 night stay at the Venetian Hotel, during their upcoming Las Vegas Jewelry Show, which will take place from June 4 to June 10, 2010.

One of my favorite bracelet designs is this fabulous sterling silver bracelet which has semi precious stones of turquoise, quartz, freshwater pearls and champagne topaz. This beauty is by Starborn Creations and has a suggested Retail of $995.

You can view all the jewelry categories and vote on this page of the JCK website. Which piece is your favorite? Hurry...the voting is open until December 15th. Winners will be announed in March 2010.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hair Jewelry - How The Victorians Mourned Loved Ones

It was popular to wear mourning dress during the 17th and 18th Centuries, but England's Queen Victoria took this to a new level with her practice of mourning her husband Prince Albert. She wore mourning dress for the following 42 years and required her court to do the same!

A special type of jewelry item used as a mourning accessory during this time was a brooch or other style of jewelry made from the hair of a deceased friend or loved one. These were hugely popular in Victorian times. These jewelry designs were very complex and also often incorporated other materials such as black jet, gold and diamonds.

Photo credit

The brooch featured here was made in the form of the Prince of Wales Feathers. It was adorned with seed pearls and also used gold thread.

This "hair jewelry" was used as a reminder to the mourners that death was inevitable, and that the wearer should lead a good life, lest they be struck down without warning.

Hair jewelry was not always used just to mourn the dead. It was also made as a love token from a lover or cherished friend. Many jewelry pieces of the times had hidden compartments for the hair of another.

This use of hair jewelry was fashionable during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. It faded from popularity during the roaring 20s.

Since human hair does not decay with the passing of times, it is still possible to get examples of Victorian hair jewelry in good condition. It is a highly collectible form of vintage jewelry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bernie Madoff's Jewelry and Other Assets Fetched $1,000,000+ at Auction

Bernie Madoff will long be known for his Ponzi scheme - the largest Wall Street investment fraud in history. His personal assets, including a large amount of jewelry were auctioned off this weekend by Gaston & Sheehan auctioneers on behalf of US Marshalls.

The auction catalogue showed 25 pages of jewelry, which attests to the value of the pieces. Scanning the listings showed diamond jewelry, Taxco silver, sapphire pendants, Rolex watches (among many others - the man seems to have had a thing for watches!) and a myriad of other interesting items. Crime obviously did pay for Maydoff until his house of cards fell in, it appears.

One lot that caught my attention is this triple strand necklace of cultured 7 to 9 mm pearls with an 18K white gold clasp set with 16 blue sapphires and 14 round single cut diamonds. The necklace has a total of 159 pearls and is stunning. It fetched a price of $3,750 at the auction.

Almost every lot in the auction sold for well over their low estimate. There were a few exceptions, though. One lot which went unsold was a man's vintage Rolex watch which had an estimate of $54,000. Another unsold item is the so-called "Prisoner Watch," a vintage yellow gold Rolex Monoblocco, which sold for $65,000 but did not reach its $75,000 low estimate.

The money from the auction will go toward repaying the victims of Mr. Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme, minus a fee by the auctioneer, Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers of course. Even though the proceeds made more than $1,000,000, it will be a drop in the bucket of the total amount lost.

The items which were auctioned off in last weekend's auction became government property last July when US Marshalls took custody of the Madoff's homes. There still remain more than 2,000 items to be auctioned. There will be three more auctions to sell the remaining items which include a Steinway piano, furniture and more jewelry. Three boats and a Mercedes are next on the auction block in Fort Lauderdale.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Elizabeth Taylor for Avon Jewelry

Most of my readers are familiar with the Avon cosmetics company and know that the company has also been designing jewelry since the 1970s. But do you also know that some of the jewelry made by Avon was inspired by notable personalities?

During the 1980s and 1990s many designs were inspired by the likes of Kenneth Lane, José and Maria Barrerra, Louis Ferraud, and Corinne Simpson among others. This has given rise to the high level of collectibility of designs with these additional logos.

Elizabeth Taylor is one such person whose name graces the high end Avon lines. Ms. Taylor oversaw every detail of the design of the jewelry bearing her name. She is featured in Sandra Sturdivant's book "Identifying Avon Jewelry." The fabulous set featured here is described in her book as design with a “softly glowing matte gold rose which rests amidst textured leaves with sparkling crystal dew drops.”

This design is called “Passion Flower Collection”, and includes a brooch and pair of matching clip earrings. No detail has been spared in the design of this set. which helped Avon join the ranks of famous designers and producers of high end jewelry. Inspired by the star's passion for rose, the goldtone rose has sparkling rhinestone accents which look a lot like dew drops.

The pieces are marked Elizabeth Taylor - Avon, and is also inscribed with an “E” in a lovely script selected by Elizabeth herself. This fabulous Elizabeth Taylor Avon rhinestone rose flower Demi Parure is available from my Vintage jewelry Lane shop for $125.99.

If you are a fan of Elizabeth Taylor, you may be interested in the book Elizabeth Taylor’s Personal Jewelry Collection – My love affair with Jewelry. Known for her beauty, her seven marriages, and her stunning jewelry collection, screen star Elizabeth Taylor treats us to a first look at her jewelry, in gorgeous actual-size photos and in personal photos-some never before seen publicly-of herself wearing them. This book showcases many of the pieces from her collection with 125 stunning photographs.
Since the Elizabeth Taylor line of Avon jewelry was discontinued in 1997, it is becoming increasingly hard to find and is now very collectable.

Here is another example from her Avon jewelry line. The design is called "Love Blooms" and is from 1995. Also available from Vintage Jewelry Lane for $27.50

Friday, November 13, 2009

Big Earrings are all the rage at the CMA Music Awards 2009

The red carpet was on fire on Tuesday, November 11, 2009 when the 43rd Country Music Awards were held.

Taylor Swift was the girl of the night capturing all four categories for which she had been nominated - Female Vocalist, Album of the Year, Video of the Year and the night's biggest honor, Entertainer of the Year.

As usual for the CMT awards, there was an array of big hair and gigantic, over-the-top diamond jewelry. Country music stars have never been known for adhering to the normal Hollywood fashion norms - seeming to prefer the idea that bigger is better when it comes to jewelry.

Even so, the jewelry from the event seemed typical of other red carpet events for the last few years - unadorned necklines, large dangle earrings and a mix of bangle bracelets.

Here are a few photos from the event.

A notable exception to the minimal jewelry rule was Lady Gaga with an abundance of everything!

Photo images credit: Getty Images

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What was in Audrey Hepburn's Jewelry Box?

Readers of my blog know that I like to take a virtual peek into the various Hollywood star's jewelry boxes from time to time. It gives me a bit of a clue about what is currently hot and trendy in the jewelry market. But for this blog post, I thought it would be fun to go back in time and have a peek inside Audrey Hepburn's jewelry box.

Famous for her roll in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961, she is a perfect choice to select for a person interested in early stars who wore what is now considered vintage jewelry.

Audrey Hepburn Photo credit:

Who can ever forget the sweet young English girl, Eliza Doolittle, who was transformed into a lady in the 1964 file My Fair Lady? With her transformation, the unadorned street girl donned a lavish display of jewelry.

Interestingly, Ms. Hepburn was only the third actor to receive $1,000,000 for a film roll. This amount seems paltry today with the millions awarded to other actors and actresses.

Examining the jewelry worn by this famous starlet was a real trip down a virtual vintage jewelry memory lane to me, since the styles are those that are often seen on my vintage jewelry website - Vintage Jewelry Lane.

Romantic pearls, large festoon bib necklaces, tiaras and simple earrings abound in these photographs. Here are a few of her famous choices, many worn in the films for which she became famous.

What really strikes me as ironic is how the styles have somehow recycled and come back into fashion in many cases. As with so many other fashion trends, it appears that nothing really dies in the fashion world!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today's Featured Vintage Designer - Art

Today's featured is Art. This company was in business from the 1940s to the 1970s and made whimsical figures, made great use of enamel techniques and used interesting stones and color combinations. Their interpretations of Renaissance, Victorian and Art Deco designs make them a popular choice of collectors. They are also known for their lovely Christmas Designs.

Art, also known as ModeArt, was founded in New York, New York by Arthur Pepper. The company manufactured reproductions of antique designs and sold them wholesale throughout the Rhinestone period after World War II. Other contemporary designers of the time in the same circle as Art were Florenza, Hollycraft and BSK.

Art jewelry was quite moderately priced at the time, and was mass produced. Their pieces were found in many department stores all over the United States. Because of this, Art jewelry is quite easily found by today's collectors. Their Christmas jewelry is readily seen today.

Since the jewelry is readily available, there is no reason to purchase pieces that are not in top quality condition.

Art jewelry pieces were marked in several ways. Some were signed "ART" in printed capital letters. After 1955, you will find them signed Art with the copyright symbol. They can also be signed ModeArt and Mode-Art. Here are examples of the marks:

Value of the pieces today - Art Jewelry is undervalued in today's market, mainly because of the quality and workmanship of the designs. The best pieces for investment are the figural pins, Glitzy rhinestone jewelry sets (some made by D & E), and Art Christmas jewelry. Enameled pieces will probably not increase in value as much as the previously mentioned pieces. Prices are steadily increasing, so now is the time to buy.

Here are a few designs from this popular designer:


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