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Heavy Lies the Head who Wears the Crown: The Koh-I-Noor Diamond

Koh -I-Noor Crown on a gray backdrop

The passing of Britain’s esteemed Queen again raises the issue of who should own the 105-carat Koh-I-Noor diamond that graces the center of the Queen Mother’s Crown. I am quite sure that the diamond will never be removed from the Imperial Crown and handed back to India, but it started me thinking about the spoils of war and seizing prized objects. Is there a statute of limitations after which objects should remain where they are? Is possession really nine-tenths of the law?

Nearly every major country has helped themselves to historical heritage objects from countries we have explored, invaded, or colonized. In current times, provenance is a key topic in museums as they reevaluate collections of significant cultural objects. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a full-time provenance researcher named Christel Force. She tells us that “provenance is the lives of objects and their owners wrapped into one." She talks about the Nazis looting art and continuing efforts to reunite owners with their works.

But back to the Koh-I-Noor. I’ve attached an article here from the Smithsonian about the Crown Jewel because there is more to this than I can write in a newsletter. You will see that the original “ownership” of this gem is murky, and it was nabbed back and forth in power struggles for many years. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so read on.

The True Story of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond—and Why the British Won’t Give It Back

Back to creating…
Diana

Traceable Sapphires Are Here

You all know I love sapphires.  Any color, any shape, as long as they are well cut and refractive. 

OrstadiusSapphiresDW

For quite a while now, I’ve been buying from a Swedish gem group which carefully sources its sapphire material from a small mining village in Sri Lanka. The Swedes have recruited and trained local miners and cutters so they can work together and benefit more directly from selling local material. Each stone is traceable to a particular mine.  This amount of transparency may seem a bit quirky, but I love knowing that the stones in my work translate to gain for the hardworking and under-recognized locals. At the wholesale level, I pay a bit more, but I don’t mind. We are getting unheated sapphires in beautiful colors and unusual geometric cuts.

Following are some excerpts from an interview done by the Swedes when asked about their fair trade operation. 

The backstory…

“For 14 years, I’ve searched for the most skilled cutters in Sri Lanka and India. Early on, I vetoed India since they are more industrialized, whereas Sri Lankan cutters are usually smaller-scale artisans with family-run operations.

I noticed there was incredible skill hiding among Sri Lankan cutters. My breakthrough came where I offered to pay double the price to a promising Sri Lankan lapidary, but only if they always used ”ideal angles” when cutting. Previously, cutters were making the bottom of the stones bigger to retain more weight. They did this to maximize income, because the cutters were paid per carat. Our new agreement solved this issue and guaranteed us only premium cuts.

When I found an independent stone cutter in the town of Nivithigala name Sampath, I was astonished (as was my extremely picky Cutting Manager here in Sweden). He was using a home-built machine which probably cost about $200 to make (compared to our $5,000+ machine here in Sweden) and his cutting was magnificent.”

OrstadiusSapphires

How do you Ensure Traceability?

When we started this project, we didn’t know that our cutter in Nivitihigala was such an impressing cutting artist. We originally collaborated with him because he knew numerous miners in the area and could ensure traceability. He would source the rough sapphires from mines in the area, and later transfer the rough sapphires to our regular lapidary closer to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

Upon discovering this man’s unparalleled cutting skill, our project turned out even better than we dreamt. Now, both the mining and cutting happen locally in Nivithigala. Even the heat treatments (in the cases where they’re applied) are done by traditional “burners” locally in Nivitihigala. They use old blow-pipe and fire techniques, rather than the electrical furnaces used in the larger processing centers in nearby Rathnapura and Thailand.

OrstadiusSapph1

How Do Miners Protect the Environment? 

Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest and most fabled source of sapphires. In 2000 years of mining, they have developed a system to work with the environment and not against it:

  • They have learned exactly which plants and wood can be used for building fully water-resistant support for the mine pits. They've perfected this niche of engineering.
  • Sri Lankan mining has never ruined large areas of rainforest or other valuable biotopes. Instead they dig small pits, oftentimes in rice paddy fields. The idea of massive open-pit mines that scar the land is madness to most Sri Lankans, including the miners themselves.
  • The land owners are usually deeply involved in the mining operations occurring on their paddy field (traditionally, they’re entitled to a share of the profits). Many of the miners have two jobs. They're farmers during the rainy season and join a mining team during the dry season. Some land owners are even miners themselves. This means they are invested in keeping the land in good condition for their farming operations.
  • Several of the miners in our project are farmers that dig for sapphires using shallow pits on their own property.

There is so much more to this story, but I’ve already gone too long. I’ve made and sold some recent stone acquisitions but there are more for you.  Just give me a call or come visit.

Sapphire sparkles from me to you.
Diana

Thank You for a Wonderful Show

Two weeks ago, we did our annual show at Port Clinton in Highland Park, IL. It was such fun to see so many of you and reunite after three years away. It was also very gratifying to see the citizens of Highland Park come to the town center and support the artists who have traveled long distances to show their beautiful creations. It means everything and allows us to continue doing what we love.

To my existing clients: thank you so much for being collectors. We share so many special occasions and stories and it is an honor to be your jeweler. We’ve renovated and redesigned your heirloom pieces, put old stones into completely new settings, and shared memories of your beloved family members. I hope you continue to share your journey with me.

To my new clients: I thank you for your new purchases and hope you will remember me when you need something special or just because… I do get phone calls asking if you can come over to get some earrings because you just feel like it. As a spontaneous person myself, I love it. Let’s build on our initial contact and create heirloom jewelry for you to wear with everything.
“Elegance for Every Day.”

Whether old clients or new, you are why I love my work.

With gratitude and wishes for good health…
Diana

True North Rubies and Sapphires

Smiling miner holding up a pink rough ruby gemstone in Greenland

In the icy white North of Greenland lays a cache of red ruby and pink sapphire rough.  Formerly covered with ice and now revealed by global warming, this rich red ruby and sapphire deposit is “believed by geologists to be the oldest rock formation on earth,” according to Company exploration reports. The mine in Aaplauttoq, Greenland opened five years ago.

The mining rights are owned by a Norwegian company which is the only group allowed to mine in this delicate area. The local Greenlanders do the mining (35% are women) and reap the benefits of this small and very high-tech operation. Mining standards in Aapaluttoq adhere to the highest health, safety, and environmental requirements and each stone is traceable from mine to market. I can see this because all of the rubies I’ve purchased have code numbers, color grades, and sourcing information. I am thrilled to support this venture because of its environmental standards, traceability, and support of those who work in the field. Plus it’s just fun to have something so relatively rare to put into my work.

Each stone has inclusions characteristic of corundum (ruby and sapphire) and also particular to Greenland. They are heat treated using standard methods.

The prices of these rubies and sapphires are relatively reasonable now and I can offer them to you with that in mind.  I’m enthusiastically planning designs now. I have small and larger stones here in various shades of deep red, bright red, magenta, and pink.

Greenland Rubies

Call 312-346-2363 or email me if you want dibs or are just curious. There are quite a few ruby and pink sapphire lovers amongst you.

Regards from the reds and pinks,
Diana

Global Gem Shopping with Purpose

Group of colorful sapphires

I hope this finds you all healthy and happy. If you’re a long-time reader of this newsletter, you know I’m a big-time gem geek. I love finding you the best colors, the high-quality gems and treasures that you seek when you call. I also love meeting gem dealers, miners, and cutters from all over the world. It always reminds me that there are more things that unite us than divide us.

Lately, there has been much discussion about source transparency, environmentally respectful mining practices and fair trade, which allows the local community to benefit from its own product whether gems, coffee, textiles, decorative arts, or natural and rare earth minerals. Lately, I’ve been selling a lot of colored sapphire pieces, so of course, I’m shopping for more.

Since rubies and sapphires are the same species (corundum) I added in ruby shopping on a trip to New York. I love my job! As I’m searching for stones, though, I’m limiting my purchases to dealers representing the above-mentioned small mining communities.

Australian teal sapphire
Australian teal sapphire

Fortunately, there are at least three people operating in local territories and I’m purchasing some gorgeous, well-priced materials. I will introduce them to you in a subsequent newsletter but for now, just know that my sources are Greenlandic, Australian, and Swedish. The latter dealer has trained miners and cutters primarily in Sri Lanka and his stones are all cut by his trainees, who do beautiful work.

From the Swedish-Sri Lankan dealer, I buy the small, gorgeous, odd-shaped sapphires and spinel that make up most of the earrings and rings I’m producing. From Australia, I’m buying lots of the teal and green sapphires you love in smaller, more classic cuts like cushions and pear shapes. From the Greenlanders, I’m buying red rubies and pink sapphires. Theirs is a story you won’t want to miss.

Greenland
Greenland

I’ll be getting gems all this week so if you want dibs, give me a call. 312-346-2363

Best regards from the studio!

Diana

Pearl Divers of Japan: The Ama Culture

Group of women Ama pearl divers of Japan from the 1950s

Off the coast of Okinawa, a 2000 year old culture of the Ama or free-divers is still going strong. These gutsy, fearless divers had a major role in developing the cultured pearl industry started by Mikimoto. They dove down and planted the oysters and brought them back to the surface. Amas live in tight knit communities and are each other’s “family” in all the ways we might expect a community of women to support one another. There are Ama divers in China as well.

Ama traditional practices revolved around diving for seafood. The free-diving began much before we developed masks, oxygen tanks, and dive suits. The women would simply don a white loin cloth thought to symbolize purity and possibly deter sharks. Early Ama’s dove by inhaling gently and plunging straight down. Some dive on the exhale. The Amas stay a few minutes underwater, seeking abalone and other seafood. A special blowout upon surfacing creates a slight whistle which alerts the boat guardian that they are up safely. They only spend about 60 seconds at the surface before reentering the depths. In modern times, they wear wetsuits and use masks.

Alma Pearl Diver

According to an article from somethingcurated.com, we learn that “For close to two thousand years, intrepid women residing along the coasts of Japan have earned a remarkable livelihood diving into the depths of the Pacific Ocean for abalone, oysters, pearls, seaweed, and other shellfish. Ama, 海女 in Japanese, translates directly to “women of the sea” in English. These impressive diving women were recorded as early as 755AD in the ancient Japanese anthology of poetry, the Man’yoshu. Early ama were known to dive for seafood and were honored with the task of retrieving abalone for shrines and imperial emperors. Ama traditionally wore white as it was believed to deter sharks. Early divers wore only a loincloth but later in the 20th century an all-white sheer diving uniform was adopted.”

“Even in modern times, ama dive without scuba gear or air tanks, making them traditional free divers. Pearl diving ama were considered rare in the early years of the practice, however, Mikimoto Kōkichi’s discovery and production of the cultured pearl in 1893 produced a great demand for these specialists. He established the Mikimoto Pearl Island in Toba and used the renowned female divers’ findings to grow his business internationally. Women began diving as ama as early as 12 and 13 years old, taught by their elders. Despite their early start, divers are known to be active well into their 70s and are rumored to live longer due to their diving training and disciplines. In Japan, women were superior divers due to the distribution of their fat and their ability to hold their breath. Utilizing special techniques that allow them to descend to depths of 30 meters, ama hold their breath for up to two minutes at a time,” the article continues.

The Amas no longer participate in the cultured pearl industry which has become more industrialized, although machines can never replace pearl assessment and grading.  If you want to read a great book about this, try “Pearl of China” by Anchee Min. It’s worth reading especially on a lounge chair with some lemonade or something stronger. I found it very engrossing.

Pearl divers of Japan 1950s

 

Ancient World

Ancient Garnet Ring

If you’ve been reading my newsletter for a long time, you probably know that I am fascinated with the ancient world and its influence on modern life. I remember going to Pompeii a few years back and learning that the ancients invented street signs, gutters, and fast-food stalls in the marketplace. They invented spas with hot and cold baths. One guide told us that the word “Spa” comes from the Latin “salutate per aqua” which means “health through water.”

The ancient goldsmiths had to work twice as hard as modern goldsmiths, because they had to refine the gold, hammer out thin sheets used to form breastplates, collars, and bracelets. They had to pull their own wire (something we do in my studio), drill out tiny, delicate gems for beading, and scrounge for gemstones to set. I’m sure there was a hierarchy in the labor pool, but still…

I love the fact that so many of the things we still do, build, or wear have their roots in the ancient world. The ancients developed a vocabulary of design that has outlasted each generation. Who doesn’t love hoop earrings or high carat gold set with cabochons, or cuff bracelets? Ankle bracelets, arm bands, pearl drops….

In a recent article in the New York Times, Kallos Gallery director Madeleine Perridge explains:

“In a gleaming shade of warm yellow so identifiable as the high gold content of ancient jewelry, the bracelet was tapered smoothly inside and out. Compared with the often mass-produced, uniformly finished pieces in the windows of contemporary mega-brands on that same street, it was singular in its warm patina — and distinguished by the fact that it had been owned and worn by someone more than 3,000 years ago."

It also reflected, at least in part, why there is an active market for ancient jewelry today.

“Ancient jewelry is the very definition of a unique piece,” said Madeleine Perridge, director of Kallos Gallery in London. “A lot of people who collect art of any sort are looking for that unique aspect, that sense of connecting you to the past, linking you very strongly to the people who may have originally worn it.”

You’ll see in some of the photos contained here how our sense of style has merged with ancient tastes insofar as gold jewelry goes. In this crazy world, the fact that we have some language and style continuity with the past is very grounding and feels very “clean” to me. Beauty has its eternal language.

Ancient gold jewelry

The World's First Recorded Opalized Pearls Discovered

two colorful opalized pearls on black background

The world's first recorded opalized pearls, relics of creatures in an ancient inland sea dating back 65 million years, have been unearthed by two miners in the South Australian outback.

Dr. Ben Grguric from the SA Museum, where the pearls have gone on display, said opal miners Dale Price and Tanja Burk were sorting through a spoil heap when they made the discovery.

"The miners pick out anything that glows with ultraviolet light because even a small chip of opal might be worth something if it's high quality with a high range of colors," Dr. Grguric. "It turns out these resembled pearls."

Opals formed when seas dried up and alkaline soil dissolved the silica in certain rocks, as well as bones and shells - and in this case, pearls.

"A lot of the opal fossils, including bones and shells, were formed during the cretaceous period, which was an era earlier than 65 million years ago and the age of the dinosaurs," Dr. Grguric said.

The pearls are still owned by Mr. Price and Ms. Burk, and are only on display for a short time at the SA Museum. "It's difficult to put a price on them, and from the point of view of a gem they're not particularly valuable," Dr. Grguric said.

"But from a scientific view, you'd argue they were priceless." He said there were a lot of shell fossils in the Coober Pedy region, and those with a sharp eye may come across more opalized pearls in the future.

I'm definitely keen to see some more of these pieces unearthed!

Now, the Good News

vintage European cut diamond on a white background

Last week, I sent out a client letter about Alrosa and the current government sanctions against Russian diamonds.  Read it here.

Today, I received notice from GIA (Gemological Institute of America) that the body will soon offer GIA Source Verify, a geographical origin notation for natural, mined diamonds that will be included on the GIA diamond reports we all use. GIA will also identify lab-grown diamonds.

Several of you have written or called about the diamond situation.  You wanted to know whether lab-grown diamonds are a good alternative to buying sanctioned material.   Indeed, lab-grown diamonds represent one way to buy knowing that the gem has not come from Russian mines or underserved mining communities.

The other thing to consider is natural, mined diamonds recycled from vintage jewelry.  The market for vintage diamonds is continuing strong for lots of good reasons.  One, vintage diamonds are recycled, so no new mining, no conflict diamonds, no sanctions… just a beautiful old stone. The older stones are cut very differently than new material, so they glow rather than sparkle, although they do have a lot of life.

Old European Cut


I love them. So, if you are in the market, please let me know.  We can do some amazing work with the old, mined stones.  Stay tuned for my latest project with one.

Regards from the studio,

Diana

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+1.312.346.2363

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Suite 411
Chicago, Illinois 60603

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