Ametrine is a naturally occurring variety of quartz. It is a mixture of amethyst and citrine with zones of purple and yellow or orange. The colour of the zones visible within ametrine are due to differing oxidation states of iron within the crystal. The different oxidation states occur due to there being a temperature gradient across the crystal during its formation. Most natural Ametrine is mined from the Anahi mine in Bolivia, although small deposits are also being exploited in India and Brazil as well. Buyers should be aware that green and yellow or golden and blue ametrine does not exist naturally and that low priced ametrine is almost definitely of synthetic origin. If a gem deal looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Ametrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs Scale.
Andalusite is named after Andalucia, the province of Spain where it was first discovered. A polymorph with two other minerals, kyanite and sillimanite, it shares their chemistry but has a different crystal structure. Interestingly, Andalusite is pleochroic (it displays different colours when viewed in different directions). Andalusite is still fairly uncommon in jewellery but is gaining in popularity. The stones mainly display tones of yellow-brown and green-gold. There is a variety of andalusite called chiastolite. Chiastolite (sometimes called the Christian stone) can be noted for its distinctive cross-shaped black inclusions of graphite. At present, all of our andulsite is sourced from Australia, one of the richest sources of chiastolite.
Andalusite has a hardness of 7.5 on the Mohs Scale, making it highly durable.
Citrine is the clear yellow or golden coloured form of the mineral Quartz and can be used as the birthstone for November, although Topaz is more commonly used. In ancient times Citrine was thought to provide protection against snake venom.
Citrine has a hardness of 7 on Moh's hardness scale.
Sugarpuss London is opposed to the use of coral in jewellery for environmental reasons - farmed coral is used for aquariums but much of the coral used in jewellery is actually red or pink coral - and these are endangered. Interestingly, the white coral sold for jewellery making appears to actually be a fairly unnatural bleached, filled and polished product. For an easy to read article on the myths of sustainably farmed coral for jewellery purposes, please click this coral article. We would encourage people shopping for coral jewellery to pick alternatives, such as carnelian, onyx, obsidian and tagua nut instead.
Fossilised dinosaur bone is more descriptively known as silicified (transformed into silica) fossil of dinosaur bone. The substance is a pseudomorph (atom-by-atom, one mineral has been replaced by another without changing the original mineral's external appearance). In this case, bone has been replaced by chalcedony. Although fossilized dinosaur bones are found in many places around the world, the highly silicified and beautifully colored dinosaur remains sometimes called "gem bone" are almost exclusively found in a relatively small area in the U.S.A. called the Colorado Plateau. Most of the areas that produce quality bone are in Colorado and Utah. During the dinosaur era, this was an area that included both land and water, with swamps, lakes and shallow oceans bordered by continental shelf, rising into ancient mountains. The climate changed over time, growing more arid and increasing in volcanic activity. Silica-rich volcanic sediments were then carried by the rivers and deposited as the seas retreated. This environment proved ideal for the burial and subsequent preservation of countless dinosaur remains.
Garnet is the traditional birthstone for January and has been used as a gemstone for thousands of years. Noah is even supposed to have used a lantern composed of garnet in order to steer his great Ark through the darkness at night.
Garnet is, in fact, a family of minerals, the most common species of which are: pyrope, almandine, spessartite, uvarovite, grossular and andradite. Although commonly thought of as red, garnets can come in almost every colour of the rainbow, the only exception being blue. Colour change garnets are rare and highly sought after, however, the most expensive garnets to date are emerald green and include tsavorite and demantoid.
Garnet has a hardness of 6.5 - 7.5 on the Mohs scale.
Iolite (also known as ‘water Sapphire) gets its name from ‘ios’, the Greek word for violet. When cut properly, Iolite is usually a purplish-blue, with a softness to the colour that is highly attractive.
Legend has it than when Leiff Erisson and other Viking explorers ventured far out into the Atlantic Ocean, away from any coastline that could help them determine their position, they used iolite to help navigate them. The Viking mariners are supposed to have used thin pieces of it as the world's first polarising filter. Looking through an iolite lens, they were able to determine the exact position of the sun, and navigate their way safely to the New World and back.
Iolite has a hardness of 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale.
Thai and Burmese hill tribes can be traced back to the 12th century, originating from Tibet. The Karen tribe is the largest of around twenty hill tribes whose total population to date numbers more than seven million across The Union of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand.
In Thailand, around 400,000 Karen live in the mountainous and densely forested regions of Mae Hong Son, due west of Chiang Mai. Most of the villages are remote from Thai civilisation, with houses made of teak or bamboo and usually constructed on stilts to provide space and shelter for livestock.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Kuomintang recruited various hill tribe groups, including Karen People, to raise cash crops, specifically opium poppies, to generate funds for the Chinese government-in-exile. The practice proved so lucrative that many hill tribe groups continued to produce opium and heroin even after the Kuomintang abandoned them.
In 1969, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej launched the ‘Thai Royal Project’, with the aim of transforming hill tribe economy from one based on illicit drugs to one based on food agriculture and handicrafts. The project has been very successful and has significantly reduced the number of opium fields remaining in northern Thailand.
As part of the Royal Project, skilled jewellers were sent into Karen villages to teach the art of becoming a silversmith. The villagers have perfected these techniques. Each piece is hand made and unique. Even when a mould is used, the silver is still poured or hammered by hand. And, being between 96% and 99.9% pure silver, Karen silver has a higher silver content than sterling silver (92.5%). Karen Hill Tribe silver can be considered fair trade –bought at a fair price it helps the villagers earn a legitimate livelihood whilst also improving their living standards.
While several different types of opal are present in nature, there are four main varieties - precious opal, fire opal, Peruvian opal and common opal, or potch.
Precious opal exhibits colour-play and is comparatively rare. In fact, weight for weight, fine examples are more expensive than diamond, especially the black and dark-bodied varieties.
Over 95% of the world’s precious opal comes from Australia, so it may come as no surprise that opal is actually Australia’s national gemstone. Aboriginal legend states that the creator came down to Earth on a rainbow in order to bring the message of peace to man. When his foot touched ground, the stones seemed to come alive and started to sparkle with the colours of the rainbow. This was the birth of Opals.
Major mining fields in Australia that produce precious opal include, Lightning Ridge, Andamooka, Coober Pedy, Mintabie and White Cliffs. About 95% of all opal mined from the opal fields is common or potch, that is opal that is basically one coloured, i.e. white, grey, black, and is only suitable for backings for doublets or triplets. We only use solid natural opals in our designer jewellery; we do not use composite, doublet or triplet stones (a thin layer of precious opal placed on top of a layer of glass or common opal/other semi- precious gemstone).
Fire opals are transparent to translucent opals with mainly warm body colors of yellow, orange, orange-yellow or red. Generally they do not show any play-of-color. The most famous source of fire opals is Mexico, however, a new source of good fire opal and orange/yellow based crystal opal is the Welo Province in Ethiopia, which is producing some very fine grade precious opal.
Peruvian opal is mainly a semi-opaque to opaque blue-green stone found in Peru. Other varities are a lovely soft ‘baby’ pink. The stone if often cut to include the matrix of the host rock. Peruvian opal does not display pleochroism (colour-play).
Opal that exhibits no colour play is called common opal and when common opal is found in combination with precious opal it is known as potch. Common opal is relatively valueless when compared with precious opal and can be found all over the world. An exception to this is Owyhee opal.
Indeed, Owyhee opal is an example of a ‘common’ opal that is currently extremely hard to come by. The opal was only discovered recently (2003) in the opal rich area of eastern Oregon near the sacred Indian springs of Owyhee.
The opal is a lovely translucent denim blue colour and is unique in appearance to all other opal stones found to date. Although classed as a common opal there are actually examples of this opal that do display pleochroism; we know this as we are in fact in possession of a small cabochon that exhibits a gorgeous red and green fire across its entire face. Due to its rarity, Owyhee opal is actually quite expensive and pleochroic owyhee opal is as expensive as some of its Australian counterparts.
For centuries people have believed in the healing power of opal. The stone is reported to be able to cure depression and to help its wearer find their one true love. Opal is the birthstone for people born in October; it is also supposed to further enhance the positive characteristics of people born under the zodiac sign of Cancer.
Opal has a hardness of 5.5 – 6.5 on the Mohs scale.
When describing pearls there is often some confusion over the terms real, natural and cultured. Natural pearls are created by the mollusc alone, with no intervention from man. Not surprisingly, they are extremely rare and very expensive. Nowadays the vast majority of the world’s pearls are cultured – where something has been implanted into the mollusc stimulating it to produce nacre – and thus, a pearl. Whether seawater or freshwater, cultured pearls are the pearls most readily available today. Natural and cultured pearls are both real in the sense that they grow inside a mollusc – imitation pearls do not.
A real pearl is made up of Calcium Carbonate (91.5%), water, and organic substances. More specifically there is Conchiolin - a protein, Calcite crystals and Aragonite platelets, and traces of minerals - e.g. strontium, magnesium, barium, copper, zinc, manganese, etc. These trace elements are an indication of the water where the pearl was grown. The substance found on the shell that we call 'Mother of Pearl' is called Nacre when it is on the pearl itself. There are thousands of layers of 'nacre' within a pearl and it is this build up of layers that give the pearl a good lustre - its unique and characteristic deep glow. Fake, simulated, or 'semi-cultured' pearl could be made of anything and will never have seen the inside of a mollusc. Indeed, fake pearls have been around since the Roman times and have been made of shells, teeth, fish eyes, alabaster and glass.
With cultured seawater pearls two elements are implanted into an oyster in order to produce a pearl – a minute section of oyster tissue and a shell bead. With freshwater cultured pearls there is only one element implanted into an oyster – a tiny piece of mantle tissue. A freshwater pearl is nearer to a natural pearl, as there is no shell bead involved, and therefore, the nacre is much thicker. Advances in pearl cultivation have made it increasingly difficult to determine whether a pearl is natural, however an X-ray of the pearl will normally show the structure of the pearl fairly clearly.
There are several factors that determine the value of a pearl: lustre, orient, surface, colour, shape and size.
This means the 'deep glow' that comes from the centre of a pearl. Compare the 'shine' on a gold bead to the depth of the glow in a pearl. A good lustre implies many layers of nacre, and therefore a pearl that will last a long time. A chalky area on a pearl implies that there is very thin nacre.
This means the play of colours and light across the surface of the pearl.
A pearl may have flaws and still be very beautiful, or the flaws may ruin the look. The longer a pearl remains in the mollusc, the more likely it is that it will develop flaws.
This is really a matter of choice but be careful of dyed pearls that are sold as natural – a lot of dyed black pearls are sold off as ‘Tahitian pearls’ (the only naturally black pearls), especially on ebay.
Pearls come in all shapes and sizes. The most expensive shape is the perfect round but there are a huge variety of other beautiful shapes and these are becoming more fashionable. A ‘baroque’ or misshapen pearl can, indeed, be very beautiful and often produce very special and unique pieces of jewellery.
The larger the pearl, the more expensive it is likely to be. Saying that a large dull pearl with many surface blemishes will always be cheaper than a perfectly round, lustrous and naturally grown pearl.
Out of interest, some of the most expensive and unusual types of pearls available are the melo, melo pearls. Grown inside a marine snail (as opposed to a mussel or oyster) and found in the waters of the South China Sea, the melo melo gem is not actually a nacreous pearl at all, for it contains no nacre. This is similar to conch pearls, which are also non-nacreous. Attempts at cultivation have so far failed, which means that, at present, all melo, melo pearls are natural and thus incredibly hard to come by. The pearls are usually very large and very round, and thecolours vary from tan to dark brown, with orange being the most desirable colour.
Pearls are the official birthstone for the month of June and are also the birthstone for the sun signs of Gemini and Cancer. Freshwater Pearls are traditionally given on the first, third, twelfth and thirtieth wedding anniversaries.
Pearls have a hardness of 2.5 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale, meaning they are quite fragile and should always be protected from sharp blows and chemicals.
Phosphosiderite is a rare mineral that is composed of phosphorous and iron oxide. A lovely orchid colour, phosphosiderite is a fairly recent discovery, mainly found in Chile, Venezuela and Argentina. Related to turquoise and variscite, it is common for the mineral to be stabilised to help the stone become more durable/retain its colour.
Phosphosiderite has a hardness of 3.5 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale.
There is a lot of controversy over whether rainbow calsilica is really a natural gemstone or not and gemologists are currently divided in opinion. The stone is meant to come from a mine in Chihuahua, Mexico where it is found in the form of seams (veins) of color in the host rock (volcanic rhyolite) in the mine. Our supplier claims to have seen photographs of the mine and several letters from top minerologists who claim that the stone is indeed natural. The multi-colored layers in rainbow calsilica are meant to consist of microcrystalline calcite bonded with the amorphous clay mineral allophane. Found in wonderful color combinations, no two stoness will ever look exactly the same. The material is often used in Native American jewellery (like Turquoise) and in Zuni Fetish carvings. Although we have not seen pictures of the mine first hand we have seen a rough slab of the product (before it was cut into bead form). Sugarpuss London has a commitment to only using natural gemstones and we have chosen to use it in our designs because we believe, as the argument stands, that it is in fact a natural product (partly because we like the mystery)... If we're wrong then that would be a shame but the stone will in fact remain a piece of history
Sapphires are one of the four most valued stones, along with rubies (a red form of sapphire), diamonds and emeralds. Sapphire is the birthstone associated with September. Blue sapphires are associated with Saturn and yellow sapphires are associated with Jupiter. Sapphire is the stone traditionally associated with the 45th wedding anniversary.
Although blue is the most usual colour of sapphire, it can be found in pink, yellow, orange, and green. Any colour other than blue is considered to be a fancy colour sapphire.
Sapphires have a hardness of 9 on Moh's hardness scale, second only to diamond.
Topaz is one of the best-known gemstones and is classically found in shades of yellow or orange. Topaz can also be colourless, pink, blue (the most usual shades being; 'London Blue Topaz', 'Swiss Blue Topaz' and 'Sky Blue Topaz', with London blue being the deepest shade and sky blue being the palest tone), green or brown.
The name topaz is derived from the Greek 'Topazios' meaning 'to seek', which was the ancient name of St John’s Island in the Red Sea that was difficult to find and from which a yellow stone (now believed to be chrysolite: yellowish olivine) was mined. In the Middle Ages the name topaz was used to refer to any yellow gemstone, but now the name only refers to a particular silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F,OH).
Yellow topaz is the traditional birthstone of November and the state gemstone for Utah.
Topaz has a hardness of 8 on the Moh's scale.
Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. Indeed, turquoise is one of the oldest gemstones known to man, having been used for ornamentation for at least 7000 years. Lovers of turquoise should be aware that there is a lot of fake turquoise about on the market - if the price seems to good to be true, it is probably a poor grade turquoise (often reconstituted and/or enhanced); 'chalk turquoise'; magnesite; or dyed howlite. All of these stones can still be pretty, so there is nothing wrong with buying them, so long as they aren't sold as natural turquoise - which sadly they often are. All of our turquoise is genuine and sourced from specific mines and/or locations, we also specialise in hard to find varieties - some of these are listed below.
The Bisbee mine, near Bisbee, Arizona, is one of the most famous of the American mines because Bisbee turquoise was one of the first put onto the market. Since then the turquoise has developed a reputation as a hard, finely webbed, strikingly brilliant blue stone of high quality. Bisbee is one of the most expensive turquoises because of its rarity, high density and extremely good character. The mine was recently declared depleted and buried under 50 feet of dirt.
The Candelaria turquoise mine is a small depleted mine in Nevada that produced a good quality turquoise of high blue colour with an intermittent black or brown non-webbed matrix. Candelaria turquoise is highly collectable and known for its luminous radiant quality. The Candelaria mine also produced some turquoise with green tones.
Carico Lake Turquoise
Carico Lake turquoise is named after the location of its mine on a dried up lake bed in a high, cool area of Lander County, Nevada. Its clear, iridescent, spring green color is due to its zinc content and is highly unique and collectible. Carico Lake turquoise is also found in a dark blue-green color with a black, spider web matrix. The Carico Lake mine is primarily a gold producing mine. However, from time to time, the mining company leases the turquoise producing part of the mine to individual miners who are permitted to work that part. The limited amount of Carico Lake turquoise and the limited amount of time allowed to mine it combine to make Carico Lake turquoise a valuable addition to one's collection.
Sleeping Beauty Turquoise
The Sleeping Beauty mine is seven miles outside of Globe, Arizona. It is noted for its solid, light blue color with no matrix. The mine is oneof the largest in North America and the host rock is usually granite. Monty Nichols, owner of the Sleeping Beauty mine, says that the mine is producing about 1600 pounds a month. Of that, only 4% is natural. Most of the turquoise from the mine, 80-90%, is altered in some way. Most of that percentage is enhanced, which is more expensive than stabilization, and sold to large distributors in this country and Europe. Now, most of the turquoise that comes out of that mine comes from the tons of tailings piles that have been accumulating all these years.
Turquoise has a hardness of 5 – 6 on the Mohs scale.