Thursday, May 12, 2011

Real Stones

It's hard to believe sometimes that I've been making jewelry for 15 years.  Trends have come and gone over the years, but stones have been my one constant. 

Stones connect us to the earth.  I'm looking at my watch band right now which is composed of Picture Jasper rectangles, rounds and rondells.  No other stone evokes the brown, sandy earth like this stone with it's spots, lines and coloring that look like mountain scenes and natural landscapes.  Last fall on a rockhounding trip, I found a creek bed filled with fist-sized Picture Jasper stones.  I loaded my collecting bags with more rocks than I could lift on my own.  Stashed in boxes in my porch, they wait patiently for the rock saw and grinding/polishing wheels to reveal the depths of their beauty.  In time, they will be cut down to free-form pendants, wire-wrapped as focal pieces or links. 

How can you tell if a stone is real? 

Short of gathering rocks in the middle of stream beds and fields, you have to know your rocks and your suppliers.  For example, when I first started making jewelry, I quickly discovered that a white rock called "Howlite" that has gray lines throughout can be died to resemble Turquoise and Lapis.  "Turquoise Howlite" is still on the market today.  It can be a cheap alternative to Turquoise for those that only want the turquoise color and don't care that it is not truly Turquoise.  Howlite is a real stone.  I've used it in the white variety.  If you doubt the quality of the beads, check the label or ask the supplier.  Joann's and Michael's carry Turquoise Howlite.  I don't use it because it confuses people and diminishes the real stone.

Another stone I learned about early on is African Turquoise.  This stone has mottled markings and a more earthy look.  It is a dyed jasper.  I used it early on because it is pretty and has a pretty name, but it is not Turquoise.  Again, I stopped using it over years ago.

Fire Mountain Gems is a huge presence in the beading/jewelry-making industry.  Their website has great pictures of stone beads of all kinds and descriptions.  The best thing about Fire Mountain Gems is their "Enhancement Code Guide."  For example, IMIT means the stone is an imitation; ASBL means the stone was reconstituted and stabilized with a clear resin which helps prevent color change.  "N" means the stone is natural.  It's worth knowing what each symbol represents.  Here's the link:

Mother-of-Pearl is naturally tan; the white version has been bleached.  Pink, green, purple, blue, orange Mother-of-Pearl has obviously been dyed, as have a large portion of colored Freshwater Pearls.

Rose Quartz fades in the sunlight.  Much of the Rose Quartz on the market today has been dyed to enhance the color. 

Goldstone, Blue Goldstone and Green Goldstone are manmade materials:  Glass with copper inclusions.  There is no "real" goldstone stone.

Most enhanced or manmade stones are reasonably priced.  Can you tell a stone is real based on it's price?  Not always.  I have a friend who goes to Tuscon every year and buys her stone beads from reliable sources.  You can find many premium stones in Tuscon for much lower prices than almost anywhere else.  My friend passes on her savings to her customers:  real stone jewelry for reasonable prices.

If you're ever in doubt as to the quality of your stones, ask the seller:  they are required to know about enhancements to their stones and pass that information on to the buyer.

The latest "Faux" Turquoise on the market includes two stones:  Chalk Turquoise and Magnesite.  Neither one is real Turquoise.  I do not use them.  And if I ever do use them, I will explicitly indicate that they are not natural.

Thanks for asking!!

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