The Magpie's Jewel Box

A treasure trove of sparkly bits and pieces

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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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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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Cartier Winter Tale

Here is a great Christmas film called Winter Tale from the French jeweller and watchmaker, Cartier.  I like the fact that you can click on each item featured to stop the film and find out more. This will particularly appeal to all you (big) cat lovers. Enjoy!

Photo: Derk Stenvers

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I promise you pictures

As a writer, I love words but I do realise that a blog without pictures, especially when it concerns something as visual as jewellery, won’t do at all.

I like taking photographs but it doesn’t seem particularly easy getting decent close-ups with my point and shoot so a little bit of experimentation is required before I post up  my own shots.

Meanwhile, I will see what I can do to find other images to drop into the Jewel Box.

Watch this space.

Magpie x

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Jump into the jewel box!

Hello and welcome to the Magpie’s Jewel Box, a collection of all things bright and sparkly.

For a long time I’ve been looking for a website or blog that does more than sell jewellery or the bits and pieces for making it. I’ve been looking for something that can tell me about gem stones, famous collections, jewellery history, design trends, interesting books, where to attend workshops and where to go shopping. I couldn’t find anything so I decided to create this blog.

As I pick up pieces of treasure or write little pearls of wisdom,  I’ll drop them into the jewel box. Please feel free to rummage about and take away whatever catches your eye.