Friday, February 25, 2011

Apache Tears is the gemstone of the week

It was over 30 years ago when I saw my first Apache Tears stone and heard the legend of how it came to be called that. This stone has had a fascination for me ever since then.

Apache Tears is a type of obsidian which is a natural glass that forms from volcanic activity. It was first discovered in Ethiopia. Apache Tears are only one of eight types of obsidian. Obsidian is made from the same material as granite, but cools so quickly when exposed to air that the minerals don't have time to crystalize. It was highly prized during the Stone Age like flint, it could be fractured to make sharp arrowheads or blades. It has been used in surgical tools also. Well crafted surgical blades have a cutting edge many times sharper than high quality surgical steel scalpels.

Apache Tears are a deep, rich translucent brown color. The have a Moh scale rating of 5-5.5. Obsidian can be found in many places across the world, but Apache Tears comes only from Arizona. It is sometimes confused with Smokey Quartz because of the similarity of the color.

Obsidian is not a true mineral, although it is mineral-like. It is not crystalline and does not have a well defined chemical composition. It is usually at least 70% silicon dioxide.
The name, Apache Tears comes from an Apache legend. On what is now called Apache Leap Mountain, near Superior, Az., a small band of about 75 Apaches fought a large group of U.S. Calvary, in the 1870's. Rather than face defeat, the Apache warriors rode their horses off the mountain to their deaths. Their families cried when they heard the news and as their tears hit the ground, they turned into the gemstone, Apache Tears. The photo has some of the stones from my collection. 

On the metaphysical side, it is believed that Apache Tears can help alleviate grief. It is also believed to help with muscle spasms and twitches.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Amethyst is the gemstone of the week

Since Amethyst is the birthstone for February, I thought I would feature it as the stone of the week. In addition, it is also accepted as the gemstone for the sixth year of marriage. It is the most valuable variety of quartz. If it were not so widely found, it would be much more expensive. Amethyst is also seen in what are called Amethyst Cathedrals. These are huge geodes that have been cut in half to reveal Amethyst crystals. The pictures I found for them are copyrighted, so if you want to see some, just google them.

Amethyst comes in a wide range of shades from pale lavender to deep, almost black purple. Brazil is the largest producer of this gem. Amethyst from Uraguay produces a stone with a deep purplish blue color as does Amethyst found in Arizona. Siberian Amethyst which is still on the market, but no longer mined, has tints of red and blue. This type is hard to find and when you do find it, is very expensive. African Amethyst is a deep, rich purple. It is found all over Africa, but most commonly in Zambia. Smaller, deep purple Amethysts are also mined in Australia. On the Moh scale, it has a hardness of 7, so it is suitable for all types of jewelry. Some varities can fade is exposed to strong sunlight over a long period of time. This can be remedied by exposing it to X-ray radiation.

The name Amethyst comes from the Greek word “amethystos” which means “not drunken”. In this belief, many ancient wine goblets were carved from this gemstone. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and graves in Anglo-Saxon England.

The most common enhancement for Amethyst is heat treating to deepen the color of the stone. If heated enough, it can produce Citrine and Prasiolite.

As far as the metaphysical properties are concerned, Amethyst is said to magnify right brain and psychic abilities, as well as strengthen immunities while energizing and purifying the blood. It is also believed that it can relieve headaches and improve blood sugar balance. Another belief is that if you place it under your pillow at night, it will give you a calm, peaceful sleep. It is considered a sacred stone in Tibet and rosaries are often made from it.
There are several legends surrounding Amethyst, but this is my favorite.

Dionysus was angered by an insult from a mere mortal, so he created fierce tigers to attack the next mortal who crossed his path. Along came a beautiful, unsuspecting maiden, Amethyst, who was on her way to pay tribute to the goddess Diana. To protect her, Diana turned her into a statue of beautiful crystalline quartz. When he saw this beautiful statue, Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse, staining the statue purple and into the gemstone we know today.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lovely, Luscious Labradorite

This week's gemstone feature is Labradorite.

This is a stone that has as much flash and sparkle as an opal and won't ding as easily if it gets knocked against something. Labradorite has a deep, mossy green or a dark gray base color with flashes of gold, violet, green, orange, red and a deep sky blue. It looks different from every angle depending on the light. These flashes of color come from internal fractures in the mineral reflecting the light. The technical term for this is schiller or labradorescence. This is where the fascination with the stone comes in. No matter how you look at it, it's always different. It comes from the Canadian province of Labrador and it is also found in Madagascar, the Ukraine, Australia, Mexico, Norway and the US. It is a sodium rich variety of the feldspar family. There is a variety from Finland that is called Spectrolite. It has a redder base color and labradorescence.

On the Moh hardness scale it is a 6-6.5. This makes it suitable for all types of jewelry as it will be fairly sturdy. Labradorite is one of the stones that is seldom enhanced.
There is an Eskimo legend that it's the Northern Lights trapped inside that give this stone it's wonderful color.

On the metaphysical side, it is said that Labradorite will detoxify the body and slow the aging process. It is also believed to promote strength of will. Another belief is that Labraodrite will heal mental confusion and indecision.

I have included some photos of a piece of Labradorite that I have. As you can see, it looks different from every angle. The 1st and 5th pictures are the front. Pictures 2, 3, and 4 are the back. The 5th picture is me holding it under my photography light. It shows the translucence of the stone and also, the fractures where the light reflects.

I have also included a link to Lovely, Luscious Labradorite, a Collection I have created on Artfire .

Some gemstone basics

I am going to be highlighting a different gemstone a week in my blog for the next several months, so I thought that before I make the first post, I would do kind of a breakdown on the basics of gemstones and some of the terms used. I know that not everybody who reads and follows my blog creates jewelry. To me, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so what may appear to be a mediocre looking stone to one person, is absolutely beautiful to another. I think it's all about the color and the pattern in each stone. As with all things created by Mother Nature, no two will ever look alike.

Stones are measured on the Moh scale of hardness. This is a scale that was developed in 1812 by mineralogist, Frederich Moh. In researching this series, I have seen his nationality listed as German, French and Austrian. It compares the hardness of one substance against another. It is the most commonly used measure today. Later, the sclerometer was invented and it measures absolute hardness. In the majority of stone listings, though, you will see the hardness as the Moh scale. In this scale, talc is a 1, and a diamond a 10.  The hardness of a stone is an important consideration when designing or purchasing stones. 
You need to be aware that the beautiful piece of coral in that ring is a 3-4 on the Moh scale, and to take care not to bang your hand up against something that could scratch or nick it.

Some of the most common mineral families of stones are beryl, feldspar, and quartz. There are a variety of colors among these families. These variations are caused by the different minerals that happen to be in the stone. For instance, the blue in turquoise is from copper.

Stones are treated in many different ways to enhance or stabilize them. For example, most turquoise on the market today is stabilized to give it more durability and improve the appearance. This is most commonly done with a resin of some sort and is often done with stones that are considered to be somewhat porous. Often stones are heat treated. There are many different way of doing this. It is done to bring out the depth of color. Some stones are irradiated, then heated to further deepen the color. Irradiation of gemstones in the US, is governed by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to be sure the stones contain no residual radiation. A lot of gemstones are dyed to bring out or change the color, or to enhance the veining. Dyeing is usually followed by some sort of heat treatment to bond the dye with the stone so it won't wear off on the person wearing it. Black onyx is a prime example of dyeing because it does not exist in nature. More on that in another post. There's nothing wrong at all with stones that have been treated. Most sellers of stones or finished jewelry will state in their description that the stone is treated and how. Sometimes they don't know if a stone has been treated, so it's best to proceed on the assumption that it has, in some way, been enhanced.

There is a lot of glass being passed off as gemstones today. Among the most common of these are “opalite”. It's an opal looking glass. Fruity quartzes are another glass stone being passed off as a gemstone. Among these are blueberry and strawberry quartz. They all make lovely jewelry, but they aren't gemstones. If you see a stone or piece of finished jewelry you like, but aren't sure about the 
stone, google it to be sure. The vast majority of handcrafted jewelry makers, including myself, want you to be knowledgeable about your purchase and we want to be knowledgeable about what we sell.