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Gem Profile September 13: Derbyshire Blue John

by Layna Palmer, Wire-Sculpture.com

Today's Gem Profile is...

Derbyshire Blue John

Gemstones

While surfing the internet for more beautiful and unusual minerals and gems, I came across another rare stone found only in the Peak District of England near Castleton, Derbeyshire.  This rare blue and yellow banded fluorite is known as Blue John.

The name comes presumably from French language for the colors of the stone; Bleu et Jaune (blue and yellow), although there are no records of the French mining the stone or it being exported to France. The most likely origin of the name comes from the miners themselves to differentiate the banded fluorite from the zinc ore called Black Jack that was mined in the same area.

Blue John. Photo courtesy of Blue John Gems.

Derbyshire Blue John.

What is Blue John?

Originally mined by the Romans over 2000 years ago for smelting and ornamental uses, Blue John has been admired for centuries. Pliny the Elder referred to the stone as Murrhine and gives an account of a Roman consul drinking from a goblet made from Blue John and gnawing at the rim of his cup.

Murrhine is described by Pliny the Elder as a stone “with a great variety of colors…shades of purple and white with a mixture of the two” that was used to carve drinking vessels.  Two such cups were found in Roman graves near the border between Turkey and Syria and were carved from Blue John. They now reside in the British Museum.

Blue John Goblets - Chatsworth House

Blue John Goblets – Chatsworth House

Blue John Bowl - Chatsworth House

Blue John Bowl – Chatsworth House

Cliff Blue Vein Bowl - Castleton Visitor Centre

Cliff Blue Vein Bowl – Castleton Visitor Centre

 

How do we get Blue John?

Blue John today is mined from two caverns in the Peak District; Blue John and Treak Cliff caverns. They sit in a complex of caverns beneath the rolling hills that lie in Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. The caverns are a local tourist attraction in addition to being an active mine. Blue John is found in ganges, or veins, around 3 inches thick along the sides of the limestone caverns in rakes, scrins and pipes.

Blue John Veins inthe Blue John Cavern. Photo Courtesy of Blue John Caverns.

Blue John Veins in the Blue John Cavern. Photo Courtesy of Blue John Cavern.

Rakes are vertical with areas nearly 10 feet wide at points and can be followed for often more than a mile. Scrins are veins that branch off a rake and are smaller in width and shorter than a rake.  A pipe is an area between rakes that is horizontal and irregular often occurring as nodular masses.

While fluorite occurs worldwide and in various colors from pink, purple and blue to clear and yellow, only the banded fluorite Blue John is found in the Peak mining district of Derbyshire.

Fluorite Vein of Blue John Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John Cavern.

Fluorite Vein of Blue John Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John Cavern.

Blue John is a soft stone at only 4 on the Mohs scale. It has perfect cleavage and is easy to carve and is rarely faceted. Lapidarists option to form the stone en cabochon to better show the beautiful color variation of the stone.

Blue John Cabochon

Blue John Cabochon

Take a trip to see Blue John:

If you’re planning a trip to the United Kingdom leave a day for a trip to the Blue John caverns in Derbeyshire. The caverns are open year-round except for Christmas and New Years Day. The caverns are well-lit and debris free for tours and dogs are always welcome.

Old Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John cavern

Old Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John cavern

Old Cavern Photo courtesy of Blue John cavern

Old Cavern Photo courtesy of Blue John cavern

Old Blue John mining equipment.

Old Blue John mining equipment.

Blue John cavern

Blue John cavern entrance today.

Inside Blue John Cavern. Courtesy of Blue John Cavern

Inside Blue John Cavern. Courtesy of Blue John Cavern

Inside Blue John Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John Cavern.

Inside Blue John Cavern. Photo courtesy of Blue John Cavern.

 

There is some interesting history surrounding the mine with bones over 4.000 years old being found in the mine. Those are on display for all to view. There is also a story of the most valuable vein of Blue John that had been lost for over 70 years only to be rediscovered under an old piece of carpet in the mud.

4000 year old bones now displayed at the Blue John Cavern

4000 year old bones now displayed at the Blue John Cavern

You can also explore the beautiful stalactites in the Treak Cliff cavern and learn more about the history of the caverns, mining and Blue John.

Treak Cliff Cavern

Treak Cliff Cavern

Wrapping it up:

Next week we’ll take another dive into the rare and unusual with Eilat Stone. This beautiful green-blue stone gets its name from a city and is the national stone of a country…tune in to find out what it is!

Eilat Stone

Eilat Stone

Do you have any jewelry you’ve created that you’d like to share with us? Send us pictures at tips@wire-sculpture.com and they could be featured!

Resources:

 

 

Gem Profile by Layna Palmer

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Gem Profile September 6: Strontium Titanate (Fabulite)

by Layna Palmer, Wire-Sculpture.com

Today's Gem Profile is...

Strontium Titanate (Fabulite)

Gemstones

The 40’s and 50’s in America were exciting times.  We saw the end of one era and the beginning of another one. The latter half of the century would see a moon landing, a wall that was built come tumbling down, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and many amazing discoveries on the scientific and medical fronts.

One of those unique discoveries was a chemical formula researched and developed by the National Lead Company. It had the cubic crystal structure and fire greater than that of a diamond. With this discovery, it looked like they had accomplished their goal. The result: SrTiO3 or Strontium Titanate.

Strontim Titanate

Strontim Titanate

What is this stone?

Strontium Titanate quickly gained popularity in the industry for its clarity and was found to be the closest thing to diamond in appearance, though it has nearly twice the fire of a diamond. The major competition for diamond simulants at the time was Titania which is a simulated rutile compound.

However its popularity, like most, was short-lived when the stone was overshadowed by the newly created CZ. Sadly, Strontium Titanate faded into the background, but occasionally reared its pretty head in pendants and earrings.

One thing I love about the 1950’s were the futuristic names given to new products and Strontium Titanate fared no different with names like; Diagem, Marvelite and Fabulite.

Fabulite

Fabulite

 

In 1982, the stone found a new interest when Tausonite was discovered in Siberia.  This crystal is small, red to brown, or gray with a translucent to opaque clarity.

Tausonite

Tausonite

 

Creation and Care of Strontium Titanate:

The crystal structure is cubic and the chemical compound (SrTiO3) makes Strontium Titanate the only gemstone (that I know of) to be created in a lab before it was discovered in nature!

Structure of SrTiO3.

Structure of SrTiO3. The red spheres are oxygens, blue are Ti4+ cations, and the green ones are Sr2+.

Strontium Titanate is created through a process known as flame-fusion where powdered strontium and titanium are combined with oxygen in a precise manner to create a “boule” or pear-shaped crystal that is then annealed to become clear.

 SrTiO3 Crystal Boule


SrTiO3 Crystal Boule

Strontium Titanate ( fabulite)

Strontium Titanate (Fabulite)

The crystal is then cooled and faceted for jewelry, used in precision optics or powdered to be used in superconducting ceramics.

Stocrystal

A plate cut out of synthetic SrTiO3 crystal

At only a 5 on the Mohs scale, Strontium Titanate is soft and scratches fairly easily so care should be taken to store it away from other stones that could mar the surface. Use a soft cloth to clean the stone and avoid chemicals or sonic cleaners to prevent clouding and pitting on the surface of the stone. It can be distinguished from other stones by its softness and the inclusions of small gas bubbles visible under a microscope.

Strontium Titanate can also be colored light pastel colors like purple and off-white by the addition of trace elements during creation.

Fabulite

 

Wrapping it all up:

Today Strontium Titanate can still be found to purchase both in loose gemstone form and set in jewelry.  You may even run into some of it in the back of an old jewelry box or as a mineral sample at some little obscure rock shop.  Any way you find it, Strontium Titanate is a beautiful stone with a rich and interesting history.

Strontium Titanate pendant

Strontium Titanate pendant

Next week in our Gem Profile we will hear about the rare and beautiful gemstone Blue John!

Blue John

Blue John

 

Do you have any jewelry you’ve created with Blue John that you’d like to share with us?  Send us pictures at tips@wire-sculpture.com and they could be featured!

Resources:

 

 

Gem Profile by Layna Palmer

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Gem Profile August 30: Maw Sit Sit

by Layna Palmer, Wire-Sculpture.com

Today's Gem Profile is...

Maw Sit Sit

Gemstones

In my pursuit of unusual gems to bring to your attention, I came across one that is unusually pretty and the name is just incredible!  Maw Sit Sit, pronounced mah-sitsit, is a rare gem found only in one place in the world; Northern Myanmar (Burma).

A little about Maw Sit Sit?

Maw Sit Sit is a temperamental stone. It’s about a 6 to 7 on the Mohs’ hardness scale, but can vary from 5 to 7, depending on the mineral makeup of the stone. It is usually cut en cabochon or round beads as it is difficult to facet given the tendency to have soft spots within the material when cutting and polishing.

Cabochons of Maw Sit Sit

Cabochons of Maw Sit Sit

Maw sit sit was originally thought to be a form of jadeite, which is mined in the same area of the Jade mines, but in 1963 a Swiss gemologist Dr. Edward Gubelin found that it is not imperial jadeite, but an entirely new material with a high chromium content. It is however still a cousin of jade and is an aggregate of numerous minerals.

Maw Sit Sit rough rock

Maw Sit Sit rough rock

The stone is a deep emerald green to bright neon or apple green color and can be mottled, veined or striped with black or darker green. Maw Sit Sit has no real crystal structure and is formed by regional metamorphosis of igneous rocks, probably from the pressure of the Indian plate colliding with the Eurasian plate which formed the Himalaya’s.

Rough and cut maw-sit-sit Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt

Rough and cut maw-sit-sit Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt

Where is it found?

Myanmar (Burma) is nestled between Thailand/Laos to the east, India and China which borders the North and Bangladesh to the West. Maw Sit Sit is found in the Tawmaw mining district of Myanmar in the Himalayan foothills and the stone is named for the village of the same name, which is located nearby. The mine sits on a plateau within the Uru River drainage basin and is nearly inaccessible during the rainy season; March through October.

Jade Mines

Jade Mines

How  is Maw Sit Sit mined?

Mining Maw Sit Sit is still mined in the same manner as Imperial Jadeite has been mined for centuries; by hand, in the mud. The only modernization has been the addition of power tools and dynamite. Due to the fact that the mining area is very remote,  and that trucks don’t travel well to the site, miners have to continually dodge the automobile graveyards of those less-fortunate vehicles mired in the muck.  Miners have resorted to using teams of elephants to un-stick the vehicles from mud holes during the rainy season.

Elephant pulling cars

Elephants shriek and strain to pull a stranded truck from the mire of the Hopin-Hpakan road. Photo: R.W. Hughes

The rock in generally pulled from the mine, inspected by miners and “experts” on site and then shipped to a larger village to be graded and sold for cutting. The raw stone really doesn’t look any different on the outside than the ordinary stones sitting next to it; gray/brown and caked with mud.

Often the miners will inspect a stone for several minutes and then toss it aside because they can’t figure out whether it is a valuable piece of Maw sit sit or just a rock.  The dike being mined is estimated to hold years worth of material so even though the stone is rare, it’s not likely to run out in the near future.

 Mining jade at Maw-sisa, near Lonkin, Burma. Photo: Richard W. Hughes

Mining jade at Maw-sisa, near Lonkin, Burma. Photo: Richard W. Hughes.

How to care for your Maw Sit Sit:

If you are fortunate enough to purchase a piece of rare Maw Sit Sit, treat your Maw Sit Sit as you would turquoise; never put it in a steam, ionic or sonic cleaner; use only soap and water to clean it.  Don’t expose your stone to extreme temperature changes and be careful to store it away from harder stones that could scratch the surface.

lace created and wrapped  by Mint Schlief

A beautiful Maw Sit Sit wire wrapped necklace by Mint Schlief. The lower pendant  a carved triangle, and the upper, an emerald cut stone, both set in gold filled wire. Photo provided courtesy of Mint Schlief

 

Wrapping it all up:

Maw Sit Sit is a beautiful stone, rare and unusual in both look and name.  If you find yourself answering the question, “Oh, how beautiful, what stone is that?” make sure you have a camera handy to capture the look when you answer, “Thanks, it’s Maw Sit Sit.”

Next week’s Gem Profile will be on the sparkling Strontium Titanate! Have you created any jewelry with this that you’d like to share? Send us pictures at tips@wire-sculpture.com and they could be featured!

Resources:

 

Gem Profile by Layna Palmer

Click to Receive Daily Tips by Email


Wire Jewelry Inspiration: Wedding Bling

by Narlene Allen, Wire-Sculpture.com

Wire Jewelry Inspiration for August 28, 2013

Wedding Bling

Wire-wrapping ideas for any wedding or special occasion!

Fall is in the air…there is nip of cool at night, the kids have gone back to school, and we are starting to see hints of orange and red in the trees. With the fall comes wedding season.  Now I’m not sure what the ratio of Spring/Summer to Fall/Winter weddings might be, but just based on the number of celebrations I’ve attended recently, it seems both are very busy times of year!

Whimsical wire decor

Beautiful Unions:

I love weddings! I love the excitement, the nerves, the tears of joy, and the decorations. I think that a wedding brings people together, creates traditions and makes memories that are priceless.  Since I love weddings,  I thought I’d like to see what kind of wire wrapping was going on in the wedding world, and share a few of my findings – much like sharing the experience of atending a beautiful wedding with a good friend. Enjoy!

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

Inspirational Ideas

 

Cakes and Tableware:

Crystal Cake Streamers

Wedding Cake Topper

Beaded Servers

Rings-n-things:

Wire Wrapped Rings

wirerappedaccessorieslg

I’ve included the links to and names of those artists who are creating these amazing masterpieces, so that you can take a closer look!

I’ve also given you links to items we carry to help you create wire-wrapped masterpieces of your own!

Wrapping it up:

Now that you’ve see what others are doing out there with wire-wrapping, crystals, beads, ribbon and pearls – what are creating?  Tell us about it!  I’d love to see some of your Wedding Bling!

Do you have something to share?

Do you have an interesting tid-bits or tutorials you’d like to share with us? We are always looking for great new tutorials from our readers – so feel free to share your ideas with us. Click Here to submit your idea. You could be featured on our Blog!

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Gem Profile August 23: Desert Rose

by Layna Palmer, Wire-Sculpture.com

Today's Gem Profile is...

Desert Rose

Gemstones and Crystals

In front of my home in the park strip are beautiful rose bushes that I have tended and nursed through hot summers, teenaged drivers running over them, and aphids. Every spring as the snow melts I look forward to watching those lovely plants bloom and bring forth blossoms as big as a dessert plate. They are so fragrant that the smell wafts along the breeze and into my home making everyone take deep breaths and comment on how wonderful they smell.  I gather cut stems to decorate ancestors resting places on Memorial Day and bring them into my home to sit on the piano and fill the room with their fragrance.  I also stock up on bandages and antiseptic when I cut and tend them because if it weren’t for the thorns, we would have no roses.

Roses des SablesTunisie

Saharan gypsum desert rose from Tunisia (length 47 cm)

What is Desert Rose?

There is another type of rose that doesn’t have thorns and is equally as beautiful both in its aesthetic properties and its creation.  This rose is nicknamed the “Desert Rose” because it is found primarily in the desert and other arid regions around the world. The Desert Rose is born as water precipitates through sand at the waterline and mineral crystals form. There are several types of minerals that create Desert Roses; Selenite (Gypsum), Barite and Hematite.

Selenite Rose

Selenite Rose

Barite

Barite  Rose

Hematite Rose

Hematite Rose

A rose by another name:

Selenite:

Winnipeg Selenite rose

Winnipeg Selenite rose

Selenite is the most common type of Desert Rose and is the crystal formation that gave these phenomena their name. Selenite is a form of crystallized gypsum and the roses this mineral forms are usually clear columns of crystals and can form into huge columns as are seen in the Naica Mine in Mexico.

Desert Roses form when water with high concentrations of Selenite evaporates through sand causing the crystals to form in flat concentric circles reminiscent of rose petals. The crystals are usually clear or have white fibrous inclusions called spar, but in the formation of Desert Roses, will have the native sand as druse as the surrounding sand “sticks” to the forming crystal.  Selenite, or Desert Roses, are found throughout the world with concentrations in the deserts of the United States, Mexico and the Middle East.

Barite:

e Barite - Oklahoma state rock

Barite – Oklahoma state rock

Barite is another mineral that forms roses and is also the state rock of Oklahoma. Barite roses form the same way as Selenite roses, but are often a more red color due to the red sandstone they are formed in. Geologists think that these roses formed about 250 million years ago as ice retreated across the Permian Garber sandstone.

Today the roses weather from between the layers of the stone as a positive relief where they eventually free themselves and are found in the loose soil. Most of the roses measure from about ½ inch up to 4 inches with larger specimens over 10 inches.  The largest Barite rose that has been found measured 17 inches in diameter, 10 inches high and weighed over 120 pounds!

 

Hematite:

Hematite rose

Hematite rose

Hematite is among one of the most common minerals in the earth. It forms primarily in banded iron and is the main ingredient in iron. It can also form in bladed crystals that resemble roses.  Hematite roses are beautiful and look like metallic roses and are often labeled as “iron roses.” Other minerals that can form roses are; Chalcedony, Celestine and Calcite though these are not readily found and often look more like pressed roses than the defined “petals” of the Desert Rose.

Wrapping it up.

With Autumn fast approaching and my roses quickly fading, I think I may travel to the desert and see if I can find a rose of my own…or just visit the rock shop and purchase one, that may be easier.

Maw Sit Sit

Maw Sit Sit

Next week in our Gem Profile we will be learning about the gemstone Maw Sit Sit!

Do you have any beautiful jewelry  you’ve made with Maw Sit Sit?  If so, send us pictures at tips@wire-sculpture.com and they could be featured!

 

 

 

Resources:

 

Gem Profile by Layna Palmer

Click to Receive Daily Tips by Email


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