The Magpie's Jewel Box

A treasure trove of sparkly bits and pieces

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The magpie resurfaces

Magpie perched on stone email small

Hello everyone, sorry for the long silence but life has been eventful.

In April I had an operation to remove a cataract from my right eye. The op went fine but I avoided working on my laptop for a while to ensure everything healed quickly, which I’m glad to say it has.

Then, last month I lost my job so a lot of my time since then has been spent on looking for a new role. It’s a full time job in itself!

And now I’m in the middle of selling my house so, with what’s left of my spare time, I’ve been dealing with estate agents, legal people and sorting out an awful lot of belongings. One thing that I really, really hope I’ll find during the sort out is an old diamond ring. It was given to me as a gift from an ex-boyfriend several years ago. One year, when I was going on holiday, I hid the ring somewhere so that it would be ‘safe’. However, I’ve never been able to remember where I put it so I’m very much hoping I discover it again as I’d be really sad to lose it. Watch this space ….

In the meantime, I’m off to my silver jewellery course tonight which I mentioned in an earlier posting. It’s a 5-week course being held in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. I’m having great fun and so far have made a silver ring and am about to complete a pair of silver earrings, with a bangle to follow. Photos and write-up to follow.

Never having worked with metal before, I had no idea what I would be capable of. I have quite surprised myself and have had great fun learning techniques and experimenting with various tools. Best of all, Victoria Delany, our tutor is very talented and a really patient teacher!

More later …

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Historical jewellery finds: The Esrick Ring

I’m fascinated by the treasures that metal detectorists  (if that’s a proper word) have found in recent years around the UK (see my previous post about the Staffordshire Hoard). So, I was interested to read the latest post on my sister-in-law’s blog about the Escrick Ring, a gold and sapphire ring found in a field near the Yorkshire village of Escrick in 2009. Experts now believe that the ring is older than first thought, dating it to the 5th or 6th century, and they also think it may have been belonged to royalty.

Read the full article by Saesferd.

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Getting creative for Spring!

Well, it’s been way too long since my last post due to two main factors: first I’ve recently started a new job so I’ve been quite braindead during weekday evenings; secondly, I’m in the final stages of editing a book which is due to be submitted to the publishers on 25 March so all my spare time has been spent on that.

I am missing the Jewel Box so thought I would quickly share news of a couple of jewellery projects that I have coming up after the Easter holidays when, hopefully, life will have quietened down a bit.  I’m quite excited about them and will share news of my progress in future posts.

Silver Jewellery Beginners Evening class

All of the jewellery I have made over the last couple of years has been bead-based and while I love working with beads, I’m also keen to start learning about metalwork, specifically silver. At this stage, I’m just looking for an introduction to the subject. As I live close to Birmingham and its wonderful Jewellery Quarter, this seemed a good place to start looking for evening courses.  I came across this 5-week Silver Jewellery Beginners Evening class which is taking place in a workshop right in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter.

It’s being run by designer Victoria Delany who I haven’t come across before but she looks to be very well qualified and I like the fact that she doesn’t just design jewellery (check out her cutlery!).

Jewellery Photography

As I’ve been researching various articles for this blog, I have come across some fantastic jewellery photography. I love the detail and craftmanship that can be seen in even the tiniest piece of jewellery and I would love to be able to capture this in my own photography.

Most of the images I use for The Jewel Box have been bought and paid for, the others are my own. The difference in quality is a little embarrassing! I quickly realised that there’s a limit to how well you can photograph jewellery in close up (especially small items) with a point and shoot and I reached it a while ago.

As I didn’t have the budget to invest in a new camera, I have been making do as best I can. However, I was lucky enough to receive a new camera as a gift recently. It’s a FujiFilm Finepix HS30 EXR which I’m told has a great macro lens and should enable me to take good close ups.

My workload being what it is, I haven’t had a proper play with the camera yet. It’s sitting in its box, powered up and ready to go. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with it and will post up some images once I’ve got myself up and running. Watch this space …

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Perfectly purple: February’s birthstone – Amethyst

Purple is one of my favourite colours so it’s fitting that beautiful amethyst, February’s birthstone, happens to be my birthstone and the stone for my star sign, Pisces. I own quite a few pieces of amethyst jewellery, from necklaces to rings, in every shade from deep purple to soft lilac. I love the darker hue – there’s something rather mysterious and exotic about it.

Amethyst is a variety of the mineral quartz and gets its purple colour from iron. It is dichroic i.e. it displays two colours – a bluish or reddish purple tinge – when viewed from different angles. Large quantities of the stone are produced in Brazil and it is also found in Africa (Madagascar) the United States, Canada, Australia and Siberia, in alluvial deposits or in geodes (hollow stone often lined with crystals). The quality of amethyst varies according to its source. Deep purple gemstones with red flashes are the best quality and can be found in Siberia and Uruguay. Since Amethyst is widely available, it is one of the more affordable gem stones.

Amethyst scores 7 on the Mohs Hardness scale, below topaz (8), rubies and sapphires (9) and diamonds (the hardest stones at 10). It is sometimes heat treated to change the colour to yellow when it becomes citrine. Crystals that are part amethyst and part citrine are called ametrine and I have seen some stunning examples of ametrine jewellery.

Myths and legends

The word amethyst is derived from the Greek word ‘amethustos’ meaning ‘not intoxicated’ and the Ancient Greeks and Romans made drinking goblets of the gemstone, believing that it would prevent drunkenness. Over time, the amethyst also came to symbolise piety.  In the Middle Ages Catholic churches were often decorated with amethysts; Bishops today wear amethyst rings.

According to one legend, Dionysus, the god of intoxication, grapes and winemaking was pursuing the beautiful maiden, Amethystos, who rejected his attentions. She prayed to the gods to help her remain chaste and her prayer was answered by the goddess Artemis who turned her into a white stone. The remorseful Dionysus poured wine over the stone as an offering, causing it to turn purple.

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NEWS: Brussels airport $50m diamond haul was ‘one of biggest ever’

A huge haul of diamonds, valued at around $50m, was stolen during a daring and well-planned raid at Brussels airport on Monday night.

Disguised as police, armed robbers broke through part of the airport fencing, drove up to a Zurich-bound plane and removed around 120 packages of rough and polished diamonds that had been loaded onto the aircraft.

It was all over in minutes and the robbers escaped back through the fence. No-one was injured.

The diamonds were being transported from Antwerp, the world’s diamond trading hub, to Zurich in Switzerland. According to a spokesperson at the Antwerp World Diamond Centre Monday’s robbery was ‘one of the biggest ever’.

Over 100m euros’ of diamonds move in and out of Antwerp daily and the city has developed a reputation as a secure and discreet diamond centre over many years.

Watch the BBC video report.

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Popping the question: how do men buy engagement rings?

It’s probably one of the most nerve-wracking occasions in a man’s life – the day he proposes to his dearly beloved. I’ve often wondered how men go about choosing an engagement ring for their wife-to-be so I’ve conducted some rather unscientific research amongst a few male colleagues, family and friends to find out how they bought this most symbolic of all jewellery items.

Here’s what I found out … (and, yes, it would seem that diamonds are still a girl’s best friend!).

Gentleman #1: Mr T

Where and when did you pop the question?  The magical Charles Bridge in Prague 2003 – 2 years almost to the minute from the day we met

Did you choose the ring or did your fiancée? She did – I had it in mind that she might like to choose the ring while we were having a romantic weekend in Prague and I was right!

Describe the ring: Blue topaz set in gold

How much did you spend?  Below my budget of £500 but it was the ring she wanted so I was happy!

Gentleman #2: Mr G

Where and when did you pop the question? I proposed whilst walking around Virginia Waters between Christmas and New Year. It is a place we visit fairly often, so I chose this particular location as not to rouse suspicion as I wanted it to be a surprise but at the same time scenic.

Did you choose the ring or did your fiancée? It was a joint decision, made after the proposal. The ring of choice for my initial proposal was a haribo friendship ring (a type of chewy sweet for all you non-Brits!) as I was not willing to spend a significant amount on jewellery a). I knew nothing about b). She might not like. A few hours after the proposal we chose and bought the ring. That’s when it felt official.

Describe the ring. Brilliant cut 0.33 carat solitaire diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds and set in platinum.

Where did you buy the ring? Mappin & Webb

How much did you spend? £2500, which was within budget

Was your fiancée pleased with the ring? Yes, definitely …  She gets to marry me, so of course she was (I hope)!

Gentleman #3: Mr A

Where and when did you pop the question? I proposed on Christmas morning, when I had a 2 minute window due to an excitable 2 year old and a 9 month baby. I advised my fiancée, N, that I had one small surprise left and made her close her eyes. When she opened them I was down on one knee, amidst wrapping paper and toys galore, both in our dressing gowns at approx 5.30am.

Did you choose the ring or did your fiancee? A female friend of mine, K, is really good friends with my fiancée. Therefore she was able to give me a very specific idea of what was required. I researched lots of different options and quickly realised I could take significant cost out by going direct to the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. I managed the whole process online via pictures, briefed the jewellery designer and they did the rest.

Describe the ring: A single diamond set in yellow gold. I purchased the diamond and had it set in the Jewellery Quarter. I was very impressed with the service and savings I was able to make by buying the diamond separately and having it made up.

Did you have the ring ready for when you proposed or did you choose it after the proposal? After applying quite a lot of pressure, the ring arrived at my place of work on the 20th December, my last day at work before the Christmas break.

How much did you spend? I am not a great believer in being told what society tells me I should be paying for a ring, i.e. 3 months salary… I purchased the ring for £1100, the valuation for insurance purposes states £1850. Therefore my fiancee assumes this is what I paid – ha ha ha ….

Gentleman #4:  Mr P

Where and when did you pop the question? Paris, June 2012. My fiancée had worked out that I was going to propose and I knew she would say Yes. She wasn’t expecting me to have the ring with me when I proposed so she was rather taken aback when I produced it and there a few tears from both of us. Fortunately, she liked it.

Did you choose the ring or did your fiancée? I chose it in advance because I thought she would want a ring at the same time I proposed. I did a lot of research online and went and bought it in Reading. After I bought the ring I sent a picture of it to my sister and some of her friends to see what they thought. Luckily, they approved!

Describe the ring – 0.65 carat brilliant cut diamond set in 18 carat white gold.

How much did you spend? Slightly less than a month’s salary.

Gentleman #5: Mr M

Where and when did  you pop the question? London, Christmas 2012

Did you choose the ring or did your fiancée? I chose it. She hinted that she would like a solitaire diamond on a traditional gold band. I did some window shopping in London and looked at 3 or 4 in Fraser Hart. I chose the one I liked (which was different to what my fiancée had hinted at!), negotiated on the price and purchased it all within half an hour.

Describe the ring. 0.5 carat diamond set in a total of 0.5 carat of round cut brilliant diamonds on a platinum band.

How much did you spend?  £3,000

What was your fiancées reaction? She was very happy and preferred my choice to her original choice of a solitaire diamond set on a traditional yellow gold band.

And finally …

Gentleman #6: Mr K (my dear 84-year old dad!)

Where and when did you propose? Birmingham, March 1956?

Did you choose the ring? Yes, probably, I can’t remember! She must have liked it, though, as she’s still wearing it!

Describe the ring: blue sapphire with two diamonds set on a yellow gold band.

How much did you spend? I can’t remember, it was 56 years ago!

My thanks to all the lovely gents who shared their experiences of buying engagement rings with me. Congratulations to the recently betrothed Messrs P, M, G and A and their fiancees. I hope you have fun purchasing your wedding rings.

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The Mohs scale of hardness in relation to gem stones

Diamonds – the hardest gem stone

Hardness (the ability to resist scratching) is one of the key qualities of gem stones and can be measured by the Mohs scale, created in 1822 by the German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs.

Mohs chose 10 commonly available minerals and gave each one a value between 1 and 10. As many of you will know, diamond is the hardest material and therefore sits at the top of the table at number 10.  The softest mineral on the scale is talc which is positioned at number 1. Each mineral on the scale can be scratched by those above it and will scratch those below it. Minerals of the same hardness will not scratch each other.

While Corundum (sapphires and rubies to you and me) appear at number 9, diamonds at number 10 are, in fact, four times harder than these minerals so there is a big difference between the two groups of minerals.

While the Mohs scale is a useful start point, hardness should not be taken as a measure of durability.  For example, even though emeralds have a hardness level of 7.5, they often contain tiny fractures means they can break when knocked. This is worth bearing in mind when purchasing jewellery, especially if you are selecting something like an engagement ring that will be worn regularly and will be subject to a lot of wear and tear. For this reason, I would recommend wearing an emerald ring for special occasions only.

Here is the Moh scale, showing the 10 original minerals that Moh used in descending order of hardness. I have included examples of other common gemstones at each level in brackets.

10 Diamond
9 Corundum – Rubies and Sapphires
8 Topaz (Alexandrite; Chrysoberyl)
7 Quartz (Amethyst; Citrine)
6 Feldspar (Peridot; Onyx; Jasper)
5 Apatite (Opal; Turquoise; Lapis Lazuli)
4 Fluorite
3 Calcite (Coral)
2 Gypsum (Pearl; Amber)
1 Talc

For more information on Mohs scale ratings, check out

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Trollbeads new spring collection banishes winter blues

Here in the Midlands, we’ve just experienced a week of real winter weather: snow, more snow and now wind and rain, so the countryside is looking very drab. All the more reason, then, to check out the lovely new Trollbeads spring collection of nature-inspired glass, silver and gold beads.

The glass beads are in warm pinks, browns and blues, evoking beaches, cliffs, fossils and pebbles. Sea creatures, flowers and butterflies are the themes of the silver beads. All the glass beads are priced at a reasonable £23 while the silver beads start from £23. There are two gold beads in the collection, one based on coral and the other on butterflies but at £300 and £600 respectively, these are a little out of my league!

I really like the nature theme of this collection – it’s warm and earthy and I would add any of these beads to my Trollbead bracelet which currently features all blue beads.

I’m looking forward to checking out the spring collection for real when I visit The Jewellery Show (part of the annual Spring Fair), at NEC Birmingham next Sunday. This major jewellery trade event runs from 3rd to 7th February and all the leading designers and retailers will be there. A true magnet for magpies like me! Look out for my review of the event next week.

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Must-see jewellery at the V&A Museum

I first stumbled across the amazing jewellery collection at the V&A a couple of years ago and could not believe my eyes. I had never seen so much fantastic jewellery all in one place. If you love jewellery and are in London go and check out The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery (Rooms 91-93) at the Museum which displays around 3500 items of jewellery from the V&A’s collection.

The collection has a mainly European focus and includes everything from rings to tiaras and features examples from Ancient Greece to the present day, including several pieces with royal connections. You can see the work of famous jewellers such as Cartier, Lalique and Faberge as well as examples by 140 contemporary designers. Personally, I prefer the older pieces for their historical associations and, in many cases, their total over-the-topness!

The Museum is free to visit. Opening times are 10.00 to 17.45 daily and 10.00 to 22.00 Friday. I recommend getting there early because the jewellery gallery is very popular, is not particularly spacious and gets very crowded. Give yourself plenty of time to view the exhibits – they are stunning and deserve a good look! And don’t miss the beautiful gemstone ‘wheel’ near the gallery entrance – it includes examples of just about every gemstone you can think of and it’s worth visiting just to see that.

Finally, before you leave, take a look at the V&A shop where you can buy costume and designer jewellery.  Enjoy!

Photo by: Steve and Sara 

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Getting to like garnet: January’s birthstone

Until fairly recently, I was never very interested in garnets (January’s birthstone and the Zodiac gemstone for Aquarians), thinking of them as rather insignificant and dull – I don’t know why!

I started to change my mind when I visited Prague 12 years ago. The Czech Republic is rich in the familiar blood red variety of garnet known as pyrope (often referred to as Bohemian garnet). In the jewellery and antique shops of Prague I saw so many large, fine examples of these gemstones set into classical and contemporary style jewellery that I was forced to take notice.  I didn’t succumb on that trip but I did come to appreciate the lustre of this fiery red stone.

What really made me change my mind about garnet (by which I really mean pyrope) was seeing the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard at the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum just weeks after it was discovered and brought up out of the ground. Many of the beautiful gold finds such as this sword hilt fitting were inlaid with pyrope which was used by the Anglo Saxons in jewellery, religious artefacts, such as crosses, and to decorate weaponry.

The Staffordshire Hoard examples, which include this beautiful sword pyramid, are work of very high quality and stunning in their detail; I now fully appreciate the beauty and impact of pyrope. The 7th century Anglo Saxon ship burial found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk also contained fine gold and garnet fittings which can be seen at the British Museum in London.

Not just red

Like many people, I had always assumed that all garnets were red and it wasn’t until long after my return from Prague that I learned that garnet can be found in every colour except blue; the grossular variety appears in a wide range of colours, while demantoid, the most valuable variety, is emerald green. The iron and chromium content of pyrope are what give it its deep red hue. Unlike many gemstones, garnets are not artificially treated to enhance their colour.

Garnet myths

The word ‘garnet’ is derived from the Latin ‘granatus’ meaning ‘seed-like’. Garnet has long been associated with pomegranates since the pyrope variety is similar in colour to pomegranate seeds.  Traditionally, Bohemian garnets are set close together in clusters to ressemble the seeds.

The Garnet is also linked to fire and it was once believed that the gem had the power to light up the night sky. Travellers liked to carry a garnet with them as an amulet or talisman on their journeys in the belief that the stone would offer protection against danger. In the Far East garnets were used as missiles because it was thought the stone would cause mortal wounds.

Enduring popularity

Perhaps because of their clarity, durability and availability, garnets have been appreciated for thousands of years. The Eygptians, Romans and Anglo Saxons used garnets in jewellery and the gem’s popularity endured over the centuries, with pyrope jewellery becoming a ‘must-have’ fashion item in the 18th and 19th centuries; when the late Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis’ estate was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1996, a 19th century cabochon garnet flower brooch sold for $145,000 and a heart shaped garnet carbuncle ring sold for $33,350. Garnet jewellery is still popular and is available everywhere from high street jewellers to the jewellery TV channels.

If I were thinking of buying pryope, I’d be very tempted to revisit Prague as there’s probably no better place to find this rich red stone displayed in all its fiery glory.

For more information on garnets, check out the International Colored Gemstone Association.

Next month’s birthstone: Amethyst