Tag Archives: wire work

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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Royal Purple

Amethyst from Erte’s Precious Gems Suite

Amethyst is the traditional birthstone for the month of February.

 

(I remember being jealous as a kid, since there were purple stones for February but October always got something pink instead of opal or even fake opal!)

 

Iron impurities in quartz give amethyst its wonderful purples-from pale lilac to royal.

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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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Last Minute February Show and Tell

Penny BangleI kept meaning to post these guys this month and kept not doing it. (Can I blame the lack of good lighting for photos? I had to use an old one for my bangle.)

 

The first is a President’s Day bangle bracelet I made awhile back when I was taking a jewelry making class and learning how to solder.

 

Being queen of trying to practice with cheap materials that might look interesting nevertheless, I decided to use pennies! Not the best idea, since solder stands out terribly against copper, and the little lines in the Lincoln Memorial I swear were designed to funnel solder out from where it was needed. Overall I think it turned out well, and it certainly gave me the soldering practice I needed. Darwin Pendant II

 

The other big February holiday (well, to me, since google never seems fit to do anything for it when they celebrate waaay more esoteric figures and their birthdays…) is Darwin Day. Charles Darwin was born the same day (February 12, 1809) as Abraham Lincoln. Darwin Pendant I

 

There’s this famous image from one of Darwin’s notebooks (B), a little scribble that has become somewhat iconic. It’s a quick doodle of the idea of a tree of life with “I think” written in the corner. I tried to work that image into miniature collages of vaguely contemporary patterns (William Morris designs, an English compass rose, etc.) that I’d saved from museum catalogs and the such. Then I sealed the collages behind glass and turned them into pendants.

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Artisan Haiku

You guys all know I’m guilty of the occasional haiku.

 

Another wire worker on etsy found me, and I found out that they’d done a haiku that sums up wire wrapping brilliantly:

 

Tedious wirewrap
Painstakingly intense task
Lowers blood pressure

D. Kanester

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Fossil Monochrome

orthoceras

 

straight horned fusillade,

storm of black and white bullets

shot through ancient seas

racing head and foot into

eternity’s sediments

 

Orthoceras are ancient mollusks. They first emerged nearly 500 million years ago and went extinct nearly 200 million years ago. (They existed from the Ordovician through the Triassic. They had a 200 million year overlap with their younger cephalopod cousins, the ammonites.)

 

Imagining orthoceras alive.

 

Their name is descriptive, it means straight horn. They were soft bodied creatures that lived in the newest segment of the shell. Periodically they would grow a separating wall called a septa and close off the too small part of the shell. The different composition of septa and the external shell allowed them to fossilize differently, so we can still see their shapes today. (The curved lines running perpendicular to the outline of the fossil.)

 

The long channel you can see running along the center of the fossil-two parallel thin dark lines-was a hole that housed a strand of tissue called the siphuncle. It was (and is in nautiluses today) a way for them to filter water in and out of closed chambers, controlling buoyancy.

 

They probably worked in a similar fashion to those of creatures living today. It’s a pretty interesting method of control. It isn’t a muscular thing like you’d imagine. Instead it works by osmosis. Basically the change was controlled by blood salinity. Water would move from areas of lower salinity to higher in an attempt to achieve an equilibrium. Gases dissolved in the blood would slowly fill the chambers as the water moved elsewhere.

 

Despite the likelihood of this passive method of control, some propose that this might also have aided in propulsion.

 

Since all of orthoceras relatives were/are predators, it is fair to guess that they were as well.

 

Their fossils are often found in assemblages-like sheets of them mostly parallel-the only species present. It looks like an Edward Gorey inspired repeating wallpaper pattern! You see beautiful displays of them in museums or at fossil shows. (I’ve also seen really cool things made out of them, including the best bathroom sink ever!) Interestingly these groupings are found mostly amongst the older of the fossils.

 

Scientists aren’t sure why this is. Some believe it is evidence of post mating mass deaths, others that they simply traveled in schools. It’s been suggested that they are aligned so nicely because they shifted after death due to currents over the ocean floor.

 Minimalist Monochrome Orthoceras Pendant

I’m fascinated by the elegant simplicity of orthoceras fossils. They’re often black and gray and the smooth bullet like shape is a lot of fun to work with. It suits a lot of different styles. In my most recent turn with them I used three different colors of wire to try to mimic the tones and striped effect of the chambers in a simple woven frame.

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Turkish Blue

Tree of turquoise chips with sterling silver and copper.

Tree of turquoise chips with sterling silver and copper.

Turquoise is one of December’s traditional birthstones. (As designated by the American Gem Society. The other two are zircon and tanzanite.)

 

To me it’s such a summery color. I guess on the right winter day you can have a turquoise sky brilliant against the snow and bare trees.

 

Turquoise supposedly gets its name from the middle French for Turkey, since the trade routes that first brought turquoise to Europe came through that country.

 

It’s an opaque stone with a texture somewhere between waxy and glassy. It takes polishing well but is relatively soft. (Mohs 5-6) The color can change with exposure to cosmetics, oil, sweat and detergents as well as bright light. Turquoise seems to be another of those stones that is popular for rings but probably shouldn’t be used for them! At least take them off before washing your hands.

 

Turquoise is a secondary mineral; it forms when acid solutions leech elements from other minerals. It doesn’t have a crystal shape, so tends to form clusters or nodules in veins and often grows with other copper related minerals. (For example, chrysocolla or malachite. Great color combinations.) The blue in turquoise comes from the copper, and the green hints from iron and chromium.

 

Turquoise is one of the most ancient gemstones; it has been mined for at least 5000 years. The mines in the Sinai were already worked out by 2000 BCE! (And people have been making imitations almost as long. The Egyptians had faience, a type of pottery glazed in a turquoise color.)

 

In the states we tend to associate turquoise with the Southwest. In a lot of places it’s a lucrative secondary to copper mining. Apparently the classic Southwestern silver and turquoise jewelry is a fairly modern phenomenon. Supposedly the concept was pushed by traders in the 1880s. Before then Native Americans used turquoise in solid beads, mosaics and carving rather than settings.

 

Some of the turquoise minded in the southwest is still gem quality (especially the Sleeping Beauty and Kingman mines), but a lot of it is treated to get it stable enough to use.

 

It’s kind of frustrating, because it is hard to tell if material sold has been dyed or stabilized with plastics or epoxy. On the plus side, it has also led more recently to a type of stabilizing/reconstituting that adds brass or copper veining through the stone. It doesn’t make any pretense at being natural and is a lot of fun to work with!

 

The best imitation is called Gilson turquoise. It has both uniform color and veined variants. The most common way to fake turquoise is to dye naturally white stones that possess similar textures (and veining patterns).

 

Value for turquoise seems to be very much in the eye of the beholder. Some hold out for the most turquoise of the turquoises with very uniform color-the best quality of this type comes from Iran and is the most desirable in the middle east and much western jewelry.

 

Others prefer the stone to have a cob webbing of matrix when the pattern and color is complimentary, emphasizing the richness of the color. This is the type generally preferred by artists in the Far East as well as by many Southwestern artists.

 

Oh, and apparently there’s a Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque, NM. Who Knew?

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