Category Archives: Crafts

Split ammonite fossil earrings in 14K gold fill.

Split ammonite fossil earrings in 14K gold fill.

Since today is National Fossil DayTM, I wanted to do a bit of a show-and-tell. I love working with fossils in my jewelry, and a number of them have ended up on here, so I thought I’d do a brief overview of the ones I use most often

 

Fossils are fascinating. Just think for a minute about the intricacy of ancient life that they preserve. They’re like little time capsules.

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One Last Emerald

It’s a little one! But I almost forgot, a warning about the time devouring dangers of pinterest. I saw a snake cuff bracelet that intrigued me and decided to try to make a ring version. And thus passed the day… So quick show-and-tell. Wire wrapped copper and emerald snake ring. About a size 8. I’d love to scale it down to make it a little less in the way, but haven’t had luck yet.

snake ring

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A Note on Inclusions

Quartz with petroleum inclusions.

 Since I mentioned inclusions a few times last weekend and showed off a lot of rutilated quartz I thought I’d explain it a little bit here.

 

In mineralogy* inclusions are materials trapped in minerals, normally during its formation. They’re often other minerals, but sometimes they are liquids or gases. Technically the insects and plants found in amber are inclusions too.

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Regal Greens

4th century gold Tunisian necklace in emerald, sapphire and pearl.

Emerald is May’s traditional birthstone, but since good quality emerald is getting harder to find (I still say the most beautiful ones I ever saw were at the British museum in ancient jewelry) it seemed a good month to look at two other gorgeous green gems.

 

Especially since outside the spring greens are starting to ripen!

 

Chrome diopside

Chrome diopside really needs a trade name. Despite the fact that it sounds like a polishing agent, it is a beautiful green stone that is sometimes used as an emerald replacement.

 

The word diopside comes from Greek, meaning double shape, after the shape of its crystals. Chromium is the element that gives chrome diopside its name and color. Traces of chromium are also what make emeralds green. Oddly enough, it’s also what makes rubies red!

 

Chrome diopside rough

Chrome diopside can indicate proximity to diamond mines. So some people search for minute crystals as a hint of where to mine. Most chrome diopside come from Siberia, near the diamond mines there. It is also sometimes found near the diamond mines of South Africa.

 

It is a much softer stone than emerald. The hardness of stones is measured on the Mohs scale, and chrome diopside sits around 5.5-6.5. That means it is more easily scratched than emerald. It is best used in earrings and pendants; or in rings with a protective setting.

 

Emerald with jardain

Emeralds are tougher. They are rated at 7.5-8 in the Mohs scale; but it is one of the few gemstones expected to have inclusions. Inclusions break up the crystal structure and make both visible and structural flaws.

 

(One of the things I love about emeralds is that even the best gems are expected to have flaws. Visible flaws in emeralds are called jardain, French for garden, for the foliage effect flaws add to the stone.)

 

Green tourmaline showing some of the color variations to wonderful effect. Faceted by Robert Schock.

Tourmaline sits between these two on the Mohs scale at 7-7.5. The name tourmaline covers a large group of related stone species that come in all different colors: clear, yellow, pink, red, brown, green, violet and black. Multicolored crystals are more common than single colored ones.

 

Tourmaline crystal

Originally a lot of the different stones each had their own name; For instance verdelite was the name given to all shades of green and indicolite for all shades of blue tourmaline. Now they’re mostly just referred to as green tourmaline or blue, etc.

 

One of the classic color combinations for tourmaline is the watermelon tourmaline: a crystal that’s green on the outside and shades to pink on the inside, so that the cross-section looks like a slice of melon. (I don’t actually like watermelon, but I’ll take a slice of watermelon tourmaline any time, thank you.)

 

The floral carving is an interesting twist on the watermelon slice tourmaline.

The intense pink and green are normally the most desired tourmaline variants. The pinks range into the most delicious raspberry colors while the best greens can almost put emeralds to shame.

 

Tourmaline is found in many places all over the world. Brazil is the largest supplier, but mines are found on every continent except Antarctica. In the United States tourmaline is found in Maine and California, and is the former’s state stone.

 

I mixed chrome diopside and green tourmaline for an emerald effect in this summer green tree of life pendant.

I mixed chrome diopside and green tourmaline for an emerald effect in this summer green tree of life pendant.

* Care and feeding of chrome diopside- it’s light stable, so it won’t fade in sunlight like some other gems (yes, even natural ones) however, it is sensitive to heat and hydrofluoric acid, so pieces with chrome diopside shouldn’t be cleaned using a steam or ultrasonic cleaner

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Once more unto the breach

 

DeriDolls William Shakespeare

DeriDolls William Shakespeare

Today is the sort of traditionally celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. We don’t know the exact date. We know he was baptized on the 26th of April 1564, and that he died on the 23rd of April 1616. I’m not sure when it became a tradition to celebrate his birthday on the day of his death.

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As Short a Spring

The first of two paintings by William Waterhouse inspired by Herrick’s poem.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was an English poet and vicar. His major work, Hesperides, was published in 1648.

 

His most famous line is from To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/ Old Time is still a-flying;/ And this same flower that smiles today/ Tomorrow will be dying.” I’m guessing that sounds familiar.

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To look at things in bloom

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…”

A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

 

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

 

rhodochrosite-tree

I’m cheating a bit, since his cherry blossoms are white. Right now white on trees is a little too much like snow. The cherry I watch every year (a little nervously the past two-the recent winters have left it very bent and twisted) has pink blooms. Light with darker centers, as if they’d been white but stained with cherry juice!

 

I’ve made pink pearl trees to try to get the feel of cherry blossoms, but I haven’t found any small enough to please me. I’m perpetually on the prowl for deep enough rose quartz, but this fall I stumbled on another option for cherry blossom pink stone chips. It’s called rhodochrosite.

 

In its pure form rhodochrosite is nearly rose red. The name comes from the Greek for rose and coloring. Its more common forms are pink and light brown, sometimes grey. Rhodochrosite gets its color from manganese, and the more calcium replacing the manganese the paler it is.

 

Rhodochrosite is fairly soft; it has a Mohs hardness of 3.5-4. That’s one reason it’s rarely faceted, and when it is it’s normally the purer red form for collectors. This does mean that it can be carved into wonderful figures and turned into decorative boxes. I think I first saw the stone with its banding on boxes rather than jewelry. The downside is that it isn’t a good gemstone for rings, and possibly not for bracelets, depending how tough you are on them.

 

It seems to form near silver mines. First it was found in Romania, then later banded stalactites were found in an old Incan silver mine in Argentina. They’d been forming since the mines were abandoned in the 1300s. Argentina is still the principal source of banded rhodochrosite, which is why rhodochrosite is sometimes called rosinca or Inca Rose.

 

The manganese content makes it difficult to refine silver ore so miners used to just dump the rhodochrosite. (*cringe*) Then collectors realized what was being lost!

 

Now it’s Argentina’s national gemstone, and also the state mineral of Colorado.

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Spectral Spectrum

 

My new hoard.

My new hoard.

Like moonstone, labradorite is a type of feldspar. It’s named after the peninsula of Labrador, where it was first identified.

 

What’s in a name? Some confusion in this case!

 

It’s also called spectrolite. I’ve heard a lot of different distinctions from different collectors and dealers about what should be called labradorite and what should be called spectrolite.

 

labradorite roughSome say spectrolite is just a trade name for high grade labradorite no matter what the source, just recently someone told me that only blue shades are Labradorite and every other color should be called spectrolite, others say any labradorite not actually mined in Labrador is spectrolite.

 

What I hear most is that spectrolite is a trade name for the high quality labradorite from Finland that has a particularly excellent spectral flash. (My usual go to book, Walter Schumann’s Gemstones of the World, says this as well.) Spectral as in referring to the spectrum of colors, not ghostly. Though with some Labradorite samples that works too.

 

 The official term for the metallic play of color (generally known as schiller) across and under the surface in labradorite is labradorescence. Blues and greens are the most common but the whole spectrum is possible. (I’m still hunting for the perfect purple I’ve seen in others but never found…) This effect is caused by layers and distortions on the microscopic scale that bend light.

 

It’s a reasonably hard stone that can be opaque, translucent, or transparent. It’s base color is gray. It is described as vitreous because it can be polished to a smooth, glassy finish.

 

 

I'm jealous of both Dusty's brilliant wrap and elusive purple labradorite!

I’m jealous of both Dusty’s brilliant wrap and elusive purple labradorite!

 When you look it up in serious books and sites they often say that there are no known health risks associated with working with it. I think they’re overlooking its addictive quality!

 

With its gray base labradorite sometimes doesn’t look like much until the light hits it the right way and it flashes a brilliant color, sometimes a whole range of colors at a time, other times one color from one direction and a totally different one when held a different way.

 

Sort of like opals, each piece of labradorite is different. Some look like storms over the desert or rainbows, some have striking stripes like rain or bamboo groves. A lot of people prefer uniformity of color and flash to the stones, but I find the lack of uniformity interesting. It adds an imaginative quality.

 

They can be a slight challenge to work with, since you need to make sure they’ll shimmer at the right angle when worn.

 

 

My first wrap of the recent labradorite hoard.

My first wrap of the recent labradorite hoard.

 

I brought two friends to a gem, mineral and fossil show recently and recruited them to help me pick out labradorite. Besides being terrible enablers (I’m still sort of giggling to myself over how much labradorite I took home…) they got bitten too. Both went home with small stashes, which I though pretty impressive for two fiber artists!

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Bats! They’re not just for Halloween.

Geode Roosting Bat Pendant

I’ve been hoarding this bead for years waiting to find a geode slice the right size to try to make a roosting bat pendant. That’s what started the whole ‘wait, there are people that don’t know about WNS’ discussion.

 

WNS is a fungus that grows on the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats. It was first found in New York state in early 2007 and has already spread throughout the Northeastern US, north into Canada, south into Alabama and as far west as Missouri. (It was just confirmed in Arkansas this past week.)

A cluster of little brown bats exhibiting the symptoms of white-nose sydrome. Photo Credit: New York Department of Environmental Conservation

 

 

Two years ago scientists identified the fungus, recently renamed Pseudogymnoascus destructans, but identifying it hasn’t helped in finding a treatment. (Apparently it can respond to topical antifungal treatments but they aren’t sure what to do with that information.) Thus far the mortality rate for some species is up to 95% (Word geek aside-this is not decimation-this is devastation.)

little brown batThey’re trying to track the spread of the fungus, collect information about the numbers of bats infected and trace the movements of cavers that have visited infected caves.

 

Scientists think that the fungus is spread through direct contact. It’s been found in healthy bats in Europe so they suspect it might have been brought to the United States by people who brought spores back in their clothing or caving equipment.

 

The fungus grows only in low temperature climates. It can’t cope with temperatures above 20 C. It causes the bats to wake up too often when they should be hibernating. They end up starving to death because they’re up and flying and using energy in a season with nothing to hunt.

 

It’s been a huge threat to the bat populations. The little brown bats that I loved to watch in the backyard as a child might be extinct in the Northeast within two decades. (I don’t know how to get across just how much that chills me.)

 

Scientists expect if to spread to the rest of the United States and probably Canada as well, driving some of the species to extinction.

 

Nine species of hibernating bats are confirmed as being affected. Some are already on the US Endangered Species List.

The Indiana bat has been listed as endangered since the 1960s and WNS is another emerging threat.

 

 

Why should we care? Besides the whole losing a species is a loss to every other species and biodiversity is important…

Indiana bat

 

 

On an immediate and personal level-the Forest Service has estimated that with the decreased bat population at least 2.4 million pounds of insects will go uneaten a year. 2.4 MILLION, and it’s not like they weigh much. That sort of increase can mean more damage to crops, a burden especially to smaller farmers already battling atypical weather.

 

In Science they estimate the reduced bat populations could cost North American agriculture $3.7 billion a year in lost benefits of insect control and crop pollination.

 

If you’re as tasty to mosquitoes as I apparently am, that’s also a lot more itchy bites. (Plus the whole insects as vectors of disease problem…)

 

More info:

 

US Geological Service Wildlife Health Center

 

Bat Conservation International

 

The National Speleological Society with links to articles about the disease, policies and strategies for cavers.

 

BBC

 

Center for Biological Diversity Map 

 

An entertaining blog article about trying to photograph a bat: An Argument for Double Bagging

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Turritella…Tarantula…Tarantella?

Turritella macroTurritella agate is the youngest fossil I currently use. The shells inside it belong to creatures who emerged millions of years after the ammonites went extinct.

 

I hadn’t realized that Turritella agate was a misnomer. (It took me long enough to catch the name. I was told it once briefly and it sounded to me like tarantula or tarantella…)

 

Apparently it was originally named after a species of saltwater snail that has a similar steeply pitched shell to the ones found in this stone. Sea snails of the genus Turritella had been previously found fossilized in agate in California and Texas. Most stones called turritella agate come from Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, which have freshwater deposits.

 

The fossil deposits range from sandstone to much chalcedony. (Agate is a type of chalcedony, so that part of the name gets partial credit for accuracy…) They bear large quantities of fossilized freshwater snail shells from the genus Elimia. A once flourishing species now extinct, they date from the Eocene. The beds are estimated to have been laid down 51-46 million years ago in what was then a series of shallow lakes.

 

They lived well after the dinosaurs died out, in a warm world where small mammals were establishing a foothold. The overbearing greenhouse gases and hot temperatures in a world almost without ice are thought to have favored small mammals more able to cope with heat, as well as reptiles.

 

 

Part of the reason it took me so long to wrap these was I wasn't sure what metal to use. I ended up hedging and using a blend of bronze, gunmetal and gold coated wires.

Part of the reason it took me so long to wrap these was I wasn’t sure what metal to use. I ended up hedging and using a blend of bronze, gunmetal and gold coated wires.

I confess I keep having to google it in order to remember how to spell it. I really need to remember, especially since every time I do I find more sites ascribing metaphysical properties to it. That always gets me a bit cranky. I just don’t get why it can’t be awesome because it’s a slice of life from a long lost world-one with different continents and weather and creatures. How is that not cool enough?

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