Jade is one of the most coveted and appreciated gemstones with one of the oldest and culturally significant histories in the Human tale. The Chinese have been utilizing, appreciating and admiring Jade for 5,000 years or more. Early Meso-Americans such as the Maya and the Olmec, Maori of New Zealand and others especially throughout Asia also have a deep connection with this gem.
It’s hard to believe I haven’t written since October 19th (!!) And that a full year ago today I was in England!
I’ve touched upon Amber in a few other of my Postings.
Like Pearls, Jet, and Ammolite (and others such as Coral, Bone, Shell and Ivory) Amber is an Organic Gemstone (‘gemstone’ being a bit of a misnomer). That means that unlike gems such as Ruby, Diamond, Garnet and most others, it was created from a once living thing.
For myself, Organic Gems are especially fascinating because of this, and Amber was the first gem that spawned my interest in Gemology as a child, even before Jurassic Park hit the theatres.
Amber is the hardened, fossilized tree sap of trees that grew 120 to 1 million years ago. The 1 million mark is important, as it ensures that the resin is durable enough to be considered Amber as opposed to Copal, which is immature Amber, and also finds its way to the market.
Although it can occur in rarer colours such as blue, most Amber is brown, yellow, white, orange or various shades of gold. It ranges greatly in transparency and can even be opaque. Of the many variations, red, transparent Amber tends to be the most valuable.
Although Amber’s sunny colours are very appealing, I’m most taken with Amber’s most famous characteristic–it’s organic inclusions. Not all Amber contains inclusions and not all included materials are Amber of course, but a lot of commercially available Amber contains leaves, pollen, moss, dust, soil, air bubbles and even insects and (very rarely) small reptiles who lived before being trapped for a small eternity and exposed by humans millions of years later. A piece of included Amber is a porthole to the past and no other natural material contains the same types of inclusions as Amber!
Amber’s oldest and richest history comes from Northern Europe, where 90% of top quality Amber hails from. While it occasionally washes ashore as the first people to discover Amber thousands of years ago noticed, probably while foraging for food, the vast majority of Amber is currently commercially mined along the shores of the Baltic Sea in relatively shallow pits.
Across the globe, the Dominican Republic is the second largest producer of Amber, although some maintain that this material is inferior to the Baltic Amber as the chemistry of the tree sap differs. The fossilization process of the differing saps however, is the same.
Ancient peoples along the coasts of the Baltic and most likely other ocean shores found and made use of Amber, however, the history of Amber in the Baltic is far more documented, and commercial production of Amber in the Dominican only began to come to fruition in the late 1940s. Dominican Amber tends to be paler, more translucent and more likely to contain larger more”exciting” inclusions such as insects than Baltic Amber, which may make it more desirable to some collectors.
Someone who is skilled at finishing and polishing Amber will take interesting patterns formed by the inclusions into account when fashioning the Amber into smooth, domed cabochons or beads. Amber is rarely but sometimes facetted. As Amber is comparatively soft amongst gemstones (2-3 on the Moh’s Scale–about the same as many harder plastics), it’s incapable of taking on an exceptional polish–the beauty of Amber lies in it’s warm colouring and inclusions and smooth cuts like cabochons and beads make the most of this.
Aside from being colourful, lightweight and easily carved/formed, Amber is warm to the touch, and there’s something very pleasing about handling it and wearing it, so it’s no surprise that it is one of Humanity’s oldest materials for adornment–wearing it puts the Wearer in direct contact with the past and their own life energy radiates thru the material. Amber beads and artifacts have been found where their fashioning dates back more than 13,000 years. There is evidence that Amber was traded by the Vikings and other Northern European tribes across the continent and beyond and it was revered by many peoples and cultures. Amber was even found in King Tut’s famous tomb!
Its beauty aside, some ancient people believed that wearing Amber treated or calmed various ailments now known as Arthritis, Depression, Colic, and Kidney Problems. Many people still believe this today, and Teething Necklaces (to be worn by cranky babies, not chewed by them!) are a Folk Remedy that has regained tremendous popularity. It’s thought that Amber worn against the skin releases minute amounts of oil that can assist with many types of pain.
Amber was also burned as an incense–it gives off a sweet, pine fragrance and is undoubtedly the origin of the German name for Amber, Bernstein, which literally means “burn stone”.
While some of it’s other properties have a “magic” to them, the fact that Amber is static electric probably fascinated ancient people! Friction across hair, skin and furs charged the Amber and it would have been truly unusual for our Ancestors to see a piece of Amber “move” and “draw” small bits of fur or hair to it. While many modern Plastics and other modern materials are also capable of this, to the Ancients this was truly magical and prehaps indicative of Amber’s “life force”.
Although relatively inexpensive, there are many Amber simulants and treatments on the market, most notably Plastic and Synthetic Resins. Many Plastics and imitations are capable of taking on the same colours, finish and entrapments as Amber and it does take a skillful eye to separate good imitations–something best left to an expert if one is really in doubt. As natural Amber has a low melting point, it is relatively easy to join separate bits of Amber together. The result is known as Pressed Amber or Reconstructed Amber and its price is not as high as comparable natural Amber. Keep in mind that large examples of Amber containing large and or well preserved insects and reptiles are very rare and very expensive–these tend to be Collector’s Stones and don’t usually end up in the unspecialized market. With some practice, it can get easier to tell if a specimen was naturally trapped in Amber or if it was implanted.
Bakelike was created as one of the first man-made plastics, appearing at the end of the last century. It had a variety of applications, but was also used for jewellery. It was lightweight, relatively durable and fun–a true innovation at the time!
While it was created in all shades of the rainbow for use in jewellery, much of it was yellow, brown and gold and made to be an Amber imitation. Bakelike is highly collectable and it’s a bit ironic to me that vintage Bakelite pieces very regularly fetch comparable or more money, and seemingly appeal to a wider market, than similar pieces made out of Amber. While I’ve seen many attractive jewellery pieces made out of or incorporating Bakelite, I’d rather have the ancient history and natural beauty associated with natural Amber close to my person.
I’ve been focusing a lot on my painting, which had taken a place on the back-burner these past months. I should be in the Studio working on jewellery and I should be focusing more on my last few gemmology assignments, but painting fever has hit and I have to comply if I’m at all able to. Maybe it has something to do with all of the tomatoes that we’ve been eating from the garden? Today’s tomato dish was a lite and fresh tasting Caprese Salad, but I think making more tomato sauce will be in order.
If you don’t already know, Caprese Salad is about the easiest thing to make, and is an especially convenient way to use up a few garden tomatoes–the flavour of garden grown tomatoes is really enhanced this way.
Take about 1/2tsp of Sea Salt and throw it into a large bowl. Remove the leaves from about 5 generous sprigs of Basil and roll the leaves up in your hand lightly to make a cigar shape. Cut the leaves into the bowl along with your salt and smoosh the cut leaves into the salt a few times to release the fragrant, tasty oil from the Basil. Add about 1/4 of Olive Oil to the mix. The oil tastes better if it’s allowed to infuse for a day or so, but if you’re in a hurry, you can finish (and get to eating) your salad in just a few minutes. Although you can buy Buffalo Mozzerella in a large ball and cut it into medallions, I tend to buy mini Cow’s Milk Boccacini in a tub (very similar to unripened Mozzerella, less expensive and easier to find) from the deli fridge and cut up the pieces into more bite-sized pieces (with kitchen scissors or a sharp knife) and add to the bowl with the olive mixture and stir. Add about 5-6 large RomaTomatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces and voila. Traditionally, larger Tomatoes and Fresh Buffalo Mozzerella are sliced into medallions and drizzled with the oil and basil mixture, or the basil leaves are left whole and served on top of the slices. But I find my way a little more flavourful and easier to store and serve. Traditionally, it’s served as a Starter or Antipasto, but sometimes I eat it as a meal with bread.
It’s funny how one seemingly insignificant event or experience can change the course of one’s personal history….We all have those moments, from meeting a special someone, to discovering a hidden talent, to stumbling across a piece of information at exactly the right time.
In the span between my previous post and now, I attended a beautiful wedding, solidified my moving day plans, became a licensed driver (my late start on this was the result of many years of living in Toronto and ample public transit!) and I celebrated a birthday (number 34 to be specific)! I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys and what has shaped my life up until now.
My birthday was a wonderful sunny day spent in Toronto, and the high-lights of it include a pleasant dinner at my favourite Toronto restaurant, Le Select Bistro, as well as a visit to the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, which is a small yet very interesting and inspirational museum devoted to Ceramics.
Birthdays are a celebration of the Self and it’s a no-brainer that many people take a few moments to contemplate themselves, their interests and their accomplishments on their special day.
Spending the better part of a day enthusiastically checking out ceramics with my Sweetie may seem either super dull or super exciting depending on your own interests. It’s pretty exciting for me as you probably can tell by my previous posts about Bjorn Wiinblad, Doris Bank and other less known ceramic artists. I like the symbolism and tactility of ceramic work: enduring yet fragile objects of both utility and beauty are created out of the earth, sculpted and sometimes painted by the artist. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the creation of one’s own life. But probably if you’re still reading this and have been a regular follower of my blog, you can at least relate a little. As you likely are as well, I’m a tremendous art, history and geography buff, and while I believe I was naturally inclined to have an interest in these subjects as most children are, I can pin-point where my lasting and devoted interest in these topics sprang from….
I forget exactly how or why I first picked up a copy of Gary Jenning’s epic tale of the fictional journey of Marco Polo, aptly titled, “The Journeyer”, but I was about 15 or 16. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down until all 800 pages were devoured.
The story relays what is known about the famous journey of Marco Polo, the son of a Venetian merchant, who sets out in 1271 to explore the Eastern lands, and adds some historically probable “meat” to the bones of the tale in order to make it interesting and readable. This is historical fiction at it’s best and it took Jennings many years of research and travel to weave this splendid story.
Written from the perspective of a young middle class European man, the story is steamy, brutal, racist, intriguing, humorous, and more than a little ignorant in some places, but it is fitting to what someone of Marco’s time and background may have thought about all of the “exotic” encounters and customs that were prevalent at the time outside of medieval Italy. It is likely that he experienced or was aware of many of them through his journey.
Credited with bringing that seemingly quintessentially Italian dish, pasta, to Europe, this story exposes Marco and the reader to all sorts of architecture, customs, foods, medicine, science, beliefs, inventions and practices that were part of the rich, highly advanced and diverse cultures of the medieval Middle East and Asia, many of which in turn shaped Europe after Marco Polo returned to Venice as an old man.
It is said that Marco Polo was exposed to so much during his time away from Venice, that whenever he attempted to share his tales he was increasingly labelled a liar, to which an old and frail Polo finally retorted, “I have have not told the HALF of what I saw and did!” Certainly this is a very bold and intriguing statement, and Jennings states that this famous quote was the inspiration for the writing and many years of research that went in to the creation of the story.
The story itself is solidly written, well-composed, and a fairly easy read. The language Jennings uses paints some truly vivid and detailed pictures and it is a joy to read.
I will admit here that there are many people out there who would discredit this book as it does contain some pretty graphic depictions of sexuality, and not all of them are necessary to the story. Yes, there are sex scenes that have been added purely for the sake that sex sells. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed by this as a teenager, but reading these scenes didn’t corrupt me into an amoral pervert. Let’s face it. People like sex. People have sex. That enjoyment is the reason we are all here and able to enjoy the multitude of other things that being here allows! Sex is a component of this book just as it is a component to life.
I have to say that growing up in a fairly conservative, rural and predominantly Christian-rooted Canadian small town in the 1990′s (before the Internet was a house-hold fixture!), this book made me begin to ponder and appreciate so much of what was around me and made me want to seek out more. In short, I began to see my life in a new light. Some of the facts outlined were so strange and interesting to my young mind that I felt compelled to do further research, a habit that I am still enthusiastic about today.
Reading this book was an amazing eye-opener and I have to credit it for sparking within me a real interest in history, art, food, religious and spiritual studies, chemistry, math, design, geography and the development of language. My love and interest in ceramics was also a direct development of this book!
This book set me on the journey of life-long learning be it self-directed or formal–it was a gateway to so much of who I am and what I enjoy doing today, almost 20 years after I first read it. It opened me up to the range of humanity and made me think about how far we’ve come and what we still collectively have to realize. I really owe a lot to reading his book and find it pretty incredible how something so trivial can have such a lasting and rewarding impact. These connections make pondering my own journey all the more enjoyable.
And fittingly, despite all of what Marco undoubtedly saw and experienced on his journey, the only known surviving object from his epic adventure is a modest Chinese porcelain incense burner, which is now housed in the Louvre in Paris….It seems to echo my sentiments so well.
Spring has begrudgingly made its way to my little corner of the world!
Central Ontario, where I’m currently living, has experienced a prolonged winter. In fact, it’s sleeting outside right now and it’s pretty darn cold for his time of year.
Yet despite this unusual and unsavoury weather, the trees are now in full leaf, and the hills are glowing with that fresh and vibrant, almost electric Spring Green. It’s lovely, but typically short lived as warmer days and fuller sun will soon deepen the colours and make way for summer.
There have been some days as of this past week that would have been great to do a little bit of work in my sunroom studio!
But some big changes are on the horizon for me: I’ll be moving in the next few weeks to my new home and studio!
The vast majority of my equipment as well as collections have been packed up and ready to go to my new location. All of my things that have been in storage for so so long will finally see the light of day again and be a part of my life. It’s very exciting! My life is definitely turning over a new leaf and so many of my plans are starting to blossom!
Even though I haven’t been working in my studio, I’ve still been coming up with some great jewellery concepts as well as buying a few gemstones. My latest acquisitions include this beautiful pair of electric green Titanite Sphene stones, for which I have a fabulous pair of earrings planned. This particular pair is beautifully matched and are reminiscent of those first few days of spring, when the world suddenly becomes green.
Titanite Sphene is an interesting gemstone. It’s pretty much considered a collector’s stone as it is relatively soft at 5.5 on the Moh’s Hardness Scale, with a cleavage plane. This makes it challenging to fashion and unsuitable for a lot of jewellery purposes–an unfortunate impact could break the stone if it were set into a ring or bracelet and it an easily become scratched. It occurs commercially in a small range of colours ranging from yellow, golden brown, bright green to a brownish red and fashioned stones often show two colours. Black and white crystals are also found in nature but tend not to be used for jewellery purposes.
While some of the purer greens are absolutely breathtaking in their intensity, the most appealing feature of Titanite Sphene is it’s amazing dispersion. That is the ability to separate white light into spectral colours. In essence, when a good quality, well-cut Titanite Sphene is moved in the light, it produces flashes of rainbow colours. Interestingly, Titanite Sphene has a higher dispersion than that king of gemstones, much loved for it’s high dispersion, the Diamond.
I first came across Titanite Sphene at one of my earlier jewellery related jobs working for a large jewellery manufacturer where I would prepare auction listings for loose stones. The name of these stones, Sphene, seemed at first to be the most memorable thing about them–to me it sounded like a strange medieval pond creature! These facetted stones were relatively small and seemed at first to be a rather uninspiring golden red. However, a quick inspection of these stones under light revealed their true beauty and immense personality!
The name of Sphene was officially changed to the more auspicious sounding Titanite (for the high titanium content of the stones) in 1982, but the term Sphene is still a bit clingy and still very much in use three decades later, especially within the jewellery and gem industries. Admittedly, I like the name of Sphene, not only as it is what I came to know the stone as (probably due to the older age of Gemologists that I worked with paired with the fact that it is pretty unmistakable and much less of a mouthful to speak than Titanite!).
Whatever you choose to call it, Titanite Sphene is said to resonate with the Solar Plexus Chakra, the Heart Chakra, the Third Eye Chakra and the Crown Chakra. It’s supposed to be a great stone for boosting creativity, intuitive thought and prosperity–growth on all levels. It’s even said that Titanite Sphene crystals simulate plant growth and health. Fostering a balance between inward and outward energies, this gem is governed by Sagittarius, and enhances many traits typically associated with this astrological sign: a pursuit of and interest in knowledge and ideas, optimism, sociability, playful grace, and action and adventure. Ruled by Jupiter, there’s a strong element of luck associated with both Sagittarians and Titanite Sphene.
When I’m designing jewellery, I will get a clear mental image of the finished piece before setting down to sketching or problem solving. I had such a strong image of a pair of long geometrical earrings recently with an almost florescent green pair of stones showcased in the design. I was of course thrilled to stumble upon this pair of electric green Sphene and knew that they would be perfect for my design–they’re the exact stones I envisioned!
I’m so looking forward to making these earrings as soon as I get settled in to my new space. I’ll post photos as soon as they’re created in silver!
I’m also excited about ordering my new gemological microscope this month! If I’m not totally consumed with moving, you can be sure I’ll have a bit to say about that, as well as another instalment of my adventures in England!