What’s Old is New Again: Colored Gemstone Wedding Jewelry

Posted by & filed under Bridal, Ruby, Sapphire.

Omi Privee ring with Kashmiri sapphireThough diamonds are currently the gem of choice in engagement rings, it was only in the 20th century that diamonds became popular. Before the 20th century, colored gemstones had a long history of being considered most precious.

Engagement rings as we know them began as a result of Pope Innocent III implementing a mandatory waiting period between engagement and marriage in the year 1215. Until that time, people simply married once they made the decision to do so. Couples in the limbo between not-married and married began to exchange symbols of commitment, and the engagement ring was born. Jump forward 150-200 years, and it was the sapphire that was the favorite engagement gemstone, because it symbolized love, truth and commitment. Plus, it was believed that a sapphire’s color would fade if worn by an unfaithful or untruthful person!

Royalty were known to use diamonds in their engagement rings, but no more often than they used sapphires, rubies and emeralds. And of course, back in those centuries diamonds were extremely rare. But starting in 1870, when huge diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa, diamonds began to flood the market and prices for diamonds started to come down. De Beers launched its massive effort in to make diamonds part of every wedding in 1938.  They coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” in 1947 and by the 1960s, diamonds were synonymous with engagement.  That slogan was named the best advertising slogan of the 20th century.

Today we see a resurgence of interest in colored gemstones for engagement rings. Today’s brides are open to a broad range of gemstones and designs, basing their jewelry decisions on personal taste, the desire for uniqueness, and concerns about diamond origins. Colored gemstones – many of which are rarer than diamonds – offer exciting stories for today’s brides; from historic lore to the metaphysical properties of gems and the various meanings associated with colors. It appears the old adage is true: What comes around goes around. At Omi Privé, we’re just excited that colored gemstone bridal jewelry has come around again.

To Cast or to Fabricate?

Posted by & filed under Craftsmanship.

One of the most important decisions a jeweler makes when creating a new piece is whether to cast or to fabricate. Both casting and fabrication have been used to make jewelry for thousands of years, so the decision about which method to use is based on several concerns including complexity of the design, intended use of the piece, and the size of the gemstone being set. But perhaps we should step back and review the two methods:

When you fabricate, you start with gold (or platinum or silver) in the form of ingots, sheet, or wire. Using hammers, torches, pliers, and other hand tools, you form it into bands for rings, backings for settings, bezels, prongs, baskets, and galleries.

Anatomy of a RingWhen you cast, the traditional method (which is still used widely today) begins by carving a model of the item you plan to make in wax. A more modern method is to design a computer model of the item using a CAD program, then create the model in plastic using a 3D growing device. Once the wax or plastic model has been created, it is encased in a plaster-like material called investment, and heated in a kiln to melt out the wax or plastic. What remains is a plaster model with an impression of the jewelry item inside where the wax or plastic used to be. Into that void you pour liquid metal, and once the metal has cooled and hardened, you break away the plaster to reveal the rough piece of jewelry.

Either method of jewelry making is a valid, artisanal process. So why do we choose to hand fabricate nearly everything we make at Omi Privé?

First, the soldered prongs of a hand-fabricated jewelry piece are stronger than the prongs of a cast piece. This is not to suggest well-cast prongs are likely to break — they aren’t.  But at Omi Privé we are setting the finest gemstones, so it is important to us that the prongs be able to stand the maximum quality test, and that means hand fabrication.

Second, many of our designs require delicate wire work. We use drawn or extruded gold or platinum wire, which is much stronger than cast metal.  Just one look at the galleries of our rings will show you the intricacies of our designs. Less skilled jewelers would choose to cast these pieces, because the hand work is extremely challenging. But true masters of jewelry making do this work by hand to achieve a more refined, more delicate, and longer-lasting piece than casting can produce.

At Omi Privé, we want to create more than beautiful jewelry. We want to create masterpieces. So our choice is almost always to fabricate, and only cast when casting is the superior choice. Because when you’re working with the most beautiful gemstones in the world, only the most masterful settings will do.

Looking at Gemstones the Mohs Way

Posted by & filed under Gem Knowledge.

Mohs Scale of Hardness

Image Courtesy of GIA

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “diamonds are the hardest material on earth” (and who hasn’t?), though you may not have known it, you were referring to the Mohs scale. The Mohs scale was created by a German mineralogist named Friedrich Mohs in 1822 to measure the relative hardness of minerals. He had been hired by a banker who had a very large collection of minerals, and he wanted Mohs to curate them. In order to properly curate the collection, Mohs had to sort the minerals, and at that time there was no acceptable method for categorizing minerals. Some scientists used color, others used geographic origin, and still others used various geometric characteristics.

Mohs noticed that some minerals scratched the surface of other minerals, and using that observtion he decided to explore their relative hardness. Though the minerology establishment at the time widely criticized Mohs for considering hardness as a meaningful characteristic, Mohs was ultimately validated. Today the Mohs scale is recognized as one of the most important measures of mineral categorization.

We’ve already mentioned that the diamond is at the top of the Mohs scale. Its measure of “absolute hardness” is 10. So what is at the bottom? Talc, with a measure of 1. We all know talcum powder, but some of the other elements in the Mohs scale — like fluorite and calcite — are less familiar to us in their mineral form. However, you probably do know minerals like quartz (7), and topaz (8).

Another good way to wrap your mind around Mohs hardness is to consider the Mohs rating of more every-day items:

  • Maple or Oak hardwood floors are 1.3 – 1.4
  • A fingernail has a hardness of 2
  • The average knife blade has a hardness of 5
  • The window panes in your house are 5.5
  • Granite countertops are typically around a 7
  • Tempered glass — like the average windshield — is usually a 7
  • Bulletproof glass could be anywhere from 8 – 9

The Mohs scale is very important to us as we decide how to set various gemstones. Some gemstones are much softer than others, so how a gemstone will be worn must be considered. You’ve probably heard before that pearl rings are best saved for special occasions. Why? Because pearls are between 2.5 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale, so they scratch rather easily. Along with pearls, amber (2-2.5), coral (3-4) and malachite (3.5 – 4) all tend to last longest when worn in pendants or earrings because of their relative softness.  Take more care in storing these softer gemstones by wrapping them in cloth or placing them in separate pouches.

At Omi Privé, we admire any gemstone that represents the best of its kind. If we find something rare and beautiful, we want you to see it. But for the most part, we work with gems that are a hardness of 7 or above, because these gems allow the most options for wearability. Diamonds may be the hardest on the scale at a 10, but rubies and sapphires are very durable at 9. Topaz, chrysoberyl, and spinel have a Mohs hardness of 8, and aquamarine and emerald are between 7.5 – 8.  Quartz is a 7 and is the most common mineral on Earth.  Because quartz is the most common mineral in dust, any gemstone softer than 7 can be scratched by common dust and, therefore, should be treated with more care than harder gems.

So the next time you’re looking at a gemstone, remember that it’s not just characterized by its color, its type, or its absolute beauty. Every gemstone also has a hardness rating on the Mohs scale, thanks to a fellow nearly 200 years ago who was faced with a sorting project.