It’s my birthday and I’ll sparkle if I want to!

This weekend we’re throwing it back all the way to primary school with some good old birthstone chat. Later on we can play MASH and maybe a bit of Red Rover…

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My oldest school friend turned 26 last week, and for one of her gifts I designed her a silver and emerald earring and necklace set. As well as being one of her favourite stones, emerald is also her birthstone, which is something we were VERY excited about back in junior school (along with birth flowers, star signs, and any other vaguely mystical identifiers we could find…).

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All this birthstone nostalgia made me wonder where birthstones even came from. I mean, it’s a fairly niche idea when you think about it. Star signs, the Chinese zodiac, all of those identifiers are based on astrology, but birthstones? Whose idea was that?

The birth of birthstones

Surprisingly, it seems like it was Aaron’s. Not as in Aaron Burr, but as in the High Priest Aaron, Moses’ brother. In Exodus 28, when Aaron is being fitted for a new breastplate, Moses decrees it should carry 12 gemstones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Historians have since argued that these stones were also linked to the months of the year and the signs of the Zodiac. Because names of gemstones have changed over time and translation, nobody is quite sure which stones Aaron was sporting, but a commonly-accepted list is as follows:

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Source: peacefulmind.com

As you can see below, some of these stones or close alternates still appear on today’s lists…

However, the practice of wearing your birth month’s stone only appeared in Europe a few hundred years ago; before that, it was customary (presumably only among those who could afford it!) to keep one of each stone and wear it during its month. However, by the 20th century, birthstones were such a popular (and lucrative) concept that both the American National Association of Jewelers and the British National Association of Goldsmiths created their own ‘official’ list of birthstones.

Let’s get stoned

Ever wonder what your own birthstone is? Well, wonder no longer – I’m about to take you through the official (British NAG) list of birthstones. Some of them are pricier than others, but the NAG have thoughtfully provided alternatives on some months. I also have a couple of suggestions for budget-friendly dupes for some of the more expensive stones…

January: Garnet

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, I bloody love garnet. If only my mum had held onto me a solid month past my due date this stone could have been mine… The gorgeous dark red colour is perfectly set off by faceting, and it looks lovely in a gold or silver setting.

 

February: Amethyst

February’s stone is amethyst, a lovely violet-coloured form of quartz. Fun fact about amethyst: its name comes from the Ancient Greek for the words ‘not’ and ‘intoxicate’. This belief that amethyst protected you from drunkenness (and, indeed, hangovers!) led to lots of drinking vessels carved from or inlaid with the stone, as well as charms:

 

Maybe I’ll try wearing amethyst charms on my next night out and see how my head is the next day…

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Available here

March: Aquamarine/Bloodstone

Two quite different stones for March – perhaps March babies are meant to be more indecisive? Bloodstone sounds – and looks! – a bit emo, whilst aquamarine is delicate and classic:

 

If you don’t fancy either of these, March’s birth colours are white and light blue, so you could always consider substituting a pearl or a moonstone for the two ‘official’ options…

April: Diamond/Rock crystal

One of the most expensive months of the year is April, with diamond as its main stone. Luckily, a more affordable alternative, rock crystal, is given, and you could also substitute crystal quartz:

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Available here

May: Emerald/Chrysoprase

If only I’d be born in May… Emeralds speak for themselves, and luckily chrysoprase makes a nice, affordable substitute for emerald. Chrysoprase also has some lovely marble-esque inclusions which adds a bit of interest:

 

June: Pearl/Moonstone

June’s stones of pearl or moonstone give some lovely, neutral-coloured options for birthstone jewellery, but the benefit of pearls is they also come in different colours to suit all tastes and styles, and rainbow moonstones also produce lovely colours when the light hits them:

 

July: Ruby/Carnelian

Another red month, with cardinal stone ruby and semi-precious carnelian for some fiery birthstone jewellery:

 

August: Peridot/Sardonyx

Leaving aside the fact that Sardonyx sounds like me as a Pokemon, it’s also quite different from the better-known August birthstone of peridot. August babies have tons of colours and patterns to choose from with sardonyx, as well as a light green sparkler with periot. I think I prefer the sardonyx for its variety (and name!), but peridot isn’t too shabby either:

 

September: Sapphire/Lapis Lazuli

Yet another month I’m jealous of; more for the lapis lazuli than the sapphire, actually. I just love its gold flecks and historical appeal. That being said, you can’t go too far wrong with a sapphire, and they come in a bunch of different colours as well, so you can choose your favourite or sport a rainbow birthstone piece (if you’ve the budget for it!):

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October: Opal

Opals have come back in in a big way in the past couple of years, so lucky October babies! Opals were extremely rare before the 19th century discovery of huge opal deposits in Australia, and appear in the treasuries of many European royal houses. Like many of the stones on this list, opals come in a range of colours and styles…

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November: Topaz/Citrine

November is the only month with predominantly yellow stones, perhaps to make up for the lack of sunshine the UK during these babies’ birthdays… Topaz does, of course, come in blues, greens and pinks as well as yellows, whilst citrine (as the name suggests) is just yellow. According to British superstition, Topaz also cures ‘lunacy’, so take from that what you will…

 

December: Turquoise/Tanzanite

I love turquoise now, but when I was little, it did feel a little like they’d just run out of stones by the time they got to my birth month. I mean, turquoise isn’t even sparkly! Gorgeous, purply-blue tanzanite is, but I didn’t know about it back then. Tanzanite is also a lot more expensive; turquoise is definitely the affordable December stone, but it does have the advantage of a huge range of variations in colour and inclusions (the speckly bits)…

 

What’s your birthstone, and, more importantly, do you like it? If your month has two stones, what do you prefer? Let me know in the comments…

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State your case

While researching a previous post, I discovered the existence of state gemstones, and I was delighted. Some American states, it turns out, started adopting state gemstones in the late 1960s, as a marketing tool to promote stones which were an important part of their economy. Although this is a rather less romantic origin story than I’d hoped for, I’ve still enjoyed finding out which stones fit where, so here goes…

  • Alabama – The Heart of Dixie chose its gemstone in 1990…and it shows. Have you ever seen a more 90s gem than this blue star quartz? They do redeem themselves by having our old pal haematite as their ‘state mineral’, though, so we can’t judge them too harshly!
Star Blue Quartz
Source: Wikipedia
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Source: kouragallery.co.nz
  • Arizona: Turquoise – I would have thought this would be California’s vibe, but there we go…
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Available here
  • Arkansas: Nothing but the best for Arkansas, ‘the Wonder State’: their state stone is a diamond.
  • California: Unsurprisingly, the Golden State’s official mineral is, well, gold! The state gemstone is one I hadn’t heard of before: the obscure but pretty blue benitoite:
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Source: Wikicommons
  • Colorado: Aquamarine
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Available here
  • Connecticut: Connecticut doesn’t technically have a state gemstone, but its state mineral is almandine garnet, which is a nice brown colour. Very popular with the Victorians, apparently.
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Florida: Despite being full of alligators and serial killers, Florida wins this list because it has my new favourite stone as its state gem: moonstone.
  • Georgia: I guess Georgia was too busy growing peaches to hone their gemstone selection too carefully, so they just have quartz. Just all kinds of quartz, apparently!
  • Hawaii: Black coral. It’s pretty, but I’ve never felt the same about coral since I watched Blue Planet and learnt they expand by puking themselves onto other corals and absorbing them.
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Not pictured: copious amounts of vom… Image source: gemrockauctions.com
  • Idaho: The so-called Gem State is a bit disappointing with their choice of star garnet, which is basically just black garnet as far as I can tell. Shame!
  • Kentucky: Kentucky’s keeping it classy with freshwater pearls – can’t argue with that.
  • Louisiana: Finally, a hint of scandal! Louisiana’s state gemstone from 1976 to 2011 was Louisiana agate, but this was ditched in 2011 for Lapearlite, which is the shell of the Eastern Oyster. But why? Well, it seems it was an attempt to boost the fishing industry by publicising this new gemstone, and the Louisiana agate was installed as the state’s first-ever official mineral. They made this change by law – apparently they take their official gemstones seriously!
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Source: constantcontact.com
  • Maine: Maine’s keeping it varied with tourmaline, which comes in a whole host of lovely colours.
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Ooooooooh, puuuuuuurdy. Image source: Pinterest.
  • Maryland: Patuxent River Stone Agate is only found in Maryland, and its red-orange colour echoes the Maryland flag – perfect! Excellent marketing there.
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Massachusetts: Rhodonite – aka my wardrobe that awful year dressing like you were an extra in Grease was in (circa 2002).
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Source: Pinterest
  • Michigan: Chlorastrolite, another form of the greenstone/nephrite jade we saw earlier.
  • Minnesota: Lake Superior agate, a local, iron-filled agate.
  • Montana: These magpies have not one but TWO state gems: the Montana sapphire and the Montana agate. Montana sapphires are only mined within the state, and have a pale, denim blue colour and exceptional clarity.
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Found around the Yellowstone River. Source: bernadine.com
  • Nebraska: Yet more agate, blue this time.
  • Nevada: Another magpie state: black fire opal and turquoise (no surprises there – states near the current (and behind the old!) Mexican border obviously mine a lot of the stuff). Black fire opal is quite full-on, though – I’d probably have just stuck with the turquoise…
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Source: Pinterest
  • New Hampshire: Keeping it classy with a muted smoky quartz.
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Source: geology.com
  • New Mexico: Turquoise – shocker!
  • New York: Garnet. Another one of my faves; they get points for this.
  • North Carolina: Sticking with the cardinal stones, North Carolina has beautiful green emerald as their state gemstone.
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Available here
  • Ohio: Ohio flint. I’d argue this isn’t a gemstone, but Wikipedia claims otherwise…
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I mean, I guess I sort of see it…? Source: Wikipedia
  • Oregon: Oregon sunstone laboradite. I’m liking states naming their gems after themselves – nice and tidy.
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Source; Wikipedia
  • South Carolina: Amethyst – strong showing from the Carolinas!
  • South Dakota: Fairburn agate (reddish)
  • Tennessee: Tennessee river pearl – the deep south loves a classic pearl, it would seem…
  • Texas: Texas blue topaz. For bonus points, Texas also have their own stone cut: the Lone Star Cut. It’s big and over the top, so seems fitting! It looks like this:

 

  • Utah: More topaz – no colour, just general topaz.
  • Vermont: Grossular garnet. Not a grimmer version of garnet, just a type with a different structure!
  • Washington: Petrified wood. I mean, I get what they’re trying to do but c’mon, guys, it’s not a gemstone. Didn’t your namesake teach you not to lie?!
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I mean, right? It’s not even shiny! Source: Wikipedia
  • West VirginiaLithostrotionella fossil coral. Kind of gross, kind of pretty. What do you think?
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Wyoming: Wyoming’s rounding us off nicely – we’re back to nephrite jade.

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And there you have it! Not all states have stones (boo), but those who do tend to really go niche with their choices (not surprising if they’re limited to what they can grow in-state I suppose!) which made for some interesting research.

What would your state stone be if you had one? I’m torn between moonstone and haematite, although garnet is a close third…

Colours of Christmas

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Our tree has been up for 2 weeks, and last night The Goblin covered the flat in fairy lights and all of the leftover fake tea lights from the wedding. It’s safe to say we’re excited (even the usually Scrooge-like Goblin is full of Christmas cheer!), so this week’s post had to be a festive one.

Everywhere you look, it’s red and green, and my workshop is no exception, so here are the colours of Christmas in precious and semi-precious formats…

Reds

Currently my favourite red stone is garnet (which is actually the birthstone for January, so I’m a bit early, but never mind that…).

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A deeper blood red than its ruby cousin, garnet is a truly historic stone which has been popular for centuries, featuring heavily in both Roman and early-medieval English design:

Fast facts:

  • Garnet is a member of the silicate family of minerals, which is the largest and most important class of rock-forming minerals, according to Wikipedia. My GCSE Double Science doesn’t give me any more clues on what that actually means, so let’s move on to language, which I’m a bit more familiar with…
  • The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Middle English word ‘gernet’, meaning dark red, although garnets do occasionally come in other colours, including green, purple, and blue.
  • Garnet is the state mineral of Connecticut and Idaho, and the official gemstone of New York. (More on state gemstones in a later post, because I just discovered they exist and I love it… If I ruled a state, the gemstone would be haematite or moonstone, if anyone is interested.)

Other prominent red stones include:

  • Ruby – everyone knows what these are, but did you know they’re part of a group called the ‘cardinal gemstones’ which includes sapphires, diamonds, emeralds and amethysts, and which were traditionally valued above all other stones?
  • Red Topaz (topaz also comes in tons of other colours, most often blue or yellow)
  • Red Spinels (spinels also come in a range of colours, including black, and I’d never heard of them until I bought a couple to try in the design below…)
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Available here

Green

It would be a cardinal sin not to pick emeralds for my favourite stone here (geddit), but I covered them in an earlier post, so I’m going to hone in on my second-favourite: aventurine.

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Available here

It’s a type of quartz that, like lapis lazuli, has gold inclusions, which gives it extra shimmer despite being a translucent stone.

Fast facts:

  • The shimmer the gold inclusions give off is referred to as aventurescence. I aspire one day to be so shiny that my glittering has its own descriptor…
  • It was discovered by chance in the eighteenth century, which is why it’s called aventurine, after the Italian for ‘by chance’: a ventura.
  • As well as jewellery, aventurine is used in landscaping, monuments, and interior design:

Other popular green stones include:

  • Jade – historically significant and highly-prized for centuries
  • Garnet – that’s right, my favourite stone above also comes in green (huzzah!)
  • Sapphire – these usually-blue stones have other varieties, notably pink and green
  • Malachite – pure stripy gorgeousness:

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That’s all for tonight, folks – I’m off to wrap some pressies to put under the tree…

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Design diaries: Winter 2017

There was no post last week, but I do have an excuse, because I’ve been working on a whole bunch of lovely new designs for you all! After a crazy weekend where my workbench looked like this –

– I have some new pieces I’m really proud to share with you! I’ll also go into a tiny bit of the inspiration behind them and give you my top picks from the collection, because I definitely have a few favourites among my new babies…

Pretty in pink

Rose gold is the trend that shows no sign of shifting – and I, for one, am thrilled! The delicate pink tint adds interest to simple pieces and offers different possibilities with colour and shape. For the first time ever at Tiding of Magpies, we now have some 14-carat rose gold fill pieces available!

(Side note, I’m loving rose gold and gold fill – much more staying power and less tarnishing than gold plating, but a way smaller price tag than pure red or yellow gold. Gold-filled metals have pure gold pressure-bonded to another, cheaper metal, whereas gold-plated metals just have the gold on top, where it can rub off upon skin contact etc.)

Top pick: the rose gold circle necklace. Oh-so-simple but sure to get compliments – mine has already!

Hoop-la

Hoops are another long-term trend that seems to be enduring the past few seasons, so I made myself some prototype designs a couple of months ago and haven’t stopped wearing them since. Because it’s a Tiding of Magpies design and I can’t resist a bit of extra sparkle, all of my hoops have charms or gemstones on them:

Top pick: I love them all and wear all the prototypes constantly, but if I had to pick I’d probably go with the small gold hoops with hammered discs – can’t beat a bit of texture on simple shapes.

Lovely lariats

Ever since I made my friend Sami’s bridesmaids’ jewellery, I’ve been a tiny bit obsessed with lariat (or ‘Y’) necklaces.

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I even made some for my own bridesmaids:

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Photo by Suzy Wimbourne Photography

That design (perfect for bridesmaids, as you can see!) is available now in sterling silver, gold fill and rose gold fill (like my maids wore):

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But I didn’t stop there, oh no… inspired by the different stones and metals on my workbench, I came up with another 6 lariats in lapis lazuli, freshwater coin pearl, garnet, turquoise, yellow topaz, and haematite:

Top pick: We all know how I feel about a bit of haematite…

Knot too shabby

Another design from my own wedding (because the best artists are self-referential…right?):

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Photo by Suzy Wimbourne Photography

This is also the only design which I’ve made in 9ct yellow gold for something a little luxe (although it comes in sterling silver too for a more purse-friendly option):

Top pick: The gold – can’t argue with sentimental value!

Thready to go

My popular pearl threader earrings were worn by both my mum and my maids at the wedding (in silver and rose gold, respectively), and I thought it was about time to see what other shapes and stones worked. I ended up with a few really varied designs:

Top pick: Probably the haematite cubes. What can I say? I’m just really into haematite!

All wrapped up

The originals of this design were a present for my best friend/bridesmaid/Girl Friday, Beth, but the design was too good not to expand upon… One manic weekend later and they’re available in the original lapis lazuli, as well as amethyst, rose quartz, black spinel, turquoise, and chalcedony, with silver, rose gold or gold wire. Phew!

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Top pick: These earrings are all about the combinations, so it would have to be rose quartz with rose gold, black spinel with gold, or turquoise with silver…

Stone cold rocks

I also experimented with a bunch of other stones in different shapes and sizes, and I got really side-tracked by the beautiful blood-red of some faceted marquise-shaped garnets:

I also worked with emeralds for the first time (such excitement!), and amber as well. I’ve definitely fallen in love with rough-cut stones for adding interest and texture to my pieces:

Since getting back from Central Asia, I also have a minor obsession with lapis lazuli, and when I found these gorgeous, geometric slices, I knew they’d be perfect for a simple design:

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Top pick: Impossible to choose! I love the emeralds for the ombré effect, the amber for colour, and the lapis for the vibrant blue and interesting shape. Guess I’ll have to make myself one of each…

What’s your favourite piece? Let me know in the comments!

Spotlight on: haematite

If you’ve browsed my Etsy store for more than a few seconds, you may have noticed that haematite is by far my favourite semi-precious stone to work with. It’s relatively unusual in 21st century jewellery design, gives strength to delicate designs, and evokes centuries of jewellery without seeming dated.

Haematite is also one of the most melodramatic minerals, because it’s formed near rivers, streams and volcanoes, and when polished up it looks like mercury. Oh, and its name comes from the Greek word for ‘blood’ (haema) because inside is a red pigment that has been used to write and draw for thousands of years. The association with blood is also the reason it was so popular with the Ancient Egyptians, carved into amulets and other trinkets.

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Haematite amulet, c.664-620 BCE. Christie’s.
Haematite amulet, c.1859 – 1648 BCE. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Haematite’s association with blood, and the belief that it soaked up blood and/or formed at the site of battlefields, meant that unpolished haematite remained popular in Egypt through the Byzantine period.

Amulet Carved in Intaglio (Incised)
Coptic amulet, 6th – 7th century CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Haematite as we know it today had a major moment in the UK during the Victorian period, where the national fetish for performative mourning hit an all-time high. Not only was it a dark, gunmetal grey, it was harder than flaky, black jet and perfect for carving into cameos – the Victorian dream!

Victorian haematite ring, Etsy
Victorian cameo brooch, Etsy.
Victorian Mourning Ring 10k black hematite by LuceesTreasureChest:
Haematite mourning ring, Etsy.
9ct gold Antique Victorian Hematite Ring Mens by NeatstuffAntiques, $155.00:
Haematite mourning ring, Etsy.

Unsurprisingly, its popularity in Europe took a bit of a tumble in the inter-war years, finding a niche later in the century once Victorian nostalgia and steampunk became a thing.

Black venetian lace choker necklace with hematite stone and drops (gothic, goth, jewelry, romantic, women, bib, renaissance, victorian):
Victorian revival haematite choker, Etsy.

I love a good revival, but I think only using haematite in replica pieces is a waste of its potential as a part of modern designs. The lustre of haematite beads really highlights delicate silverwork and emphasises curved lines. Haematite can get hidden amongst fussy, Victoriana designs, but it pops beautifully in clean, modern settings.

Slinkygems, Etsy
Blackberry Lane Studio, Etsy
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Tiding of Magpies, Etsy
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Tiding of Magpies, Etsy