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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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

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Rock, gem and bead fairs – January, February and March 2013

Now that the Christmas holidays are over, it’s time to think ahead and get some dates in your new 2013 calendar for upcoming gem and bead fairs.

The Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Shows are large events where you can find a wide range of traders selling rocks, minerals, fossils (including dinosaur poo!), gemstones, gem-set jewellery and more.  I have been to the Kempton Park Race Course event on several occasions and can promise you it’s a real Aladdin’s cave. I’ve bought some of my favourite silver jewellery there as well as loose sapphires and tanzanite and jewellery making tools.  The quality of the items for sale is very good and it’s a great day out.

Of the West of England events I have only been to the Midlands Bead Fair which takes place in October every year.  Here, you can find traders selling beads, wire, findings, books, lampwork supplies and semi precious stones. It’s very good for beads, especially seed beads.

Here are the dates and links for the first three months of the year. These have been taken from the respective organisers’ websites and I recommend you check that the dates are still correct nearer the time if you intend to visit:


19 and 20 January:  The Hop Farm Rock ‘n’ Gem Show, Paddock Wood, Kent

26 and 27 January: Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, Chepstow Race Course, Monmouthshire


03 February:  London Bead Fair, Kempton Park Racecourse, Sunbury TW16 5AQ

16 and 17 February: York Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, York Race Course


02 and 03 March: Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, Copthorne Hotel, Dudley, West Midlands

09 and 10 March: Rock ‘n’ Gem Show, Kempton Park Race Course, Staines, Middlesex

Sunday 17 March: Kent Bead Fair, Ashford International Hotel, Ashford, Kent

23 and 24 March: Brighton Rock Gem ‘ Bead Show, Brighton Race Course

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Swarovski Christmas Trees

As Christmas seems to have started already, I have retrieved from my cupboard the small but beautifully formed crystal Swarovski Christmas tree ornament that I purchased two years ago in Salzburg. It cost a ridiculous amount (€60) but it’s absolutely beautiful and I love it.

It stands 2cm/5” tall and has a satin ribbon so that you can hang it from a Christmas tree branch (or from anything else, for that matter). It doesn’t seem to be available to buy direct from the Swarovski website but I have seen it advertised on various eBay stores at around £50.

In the meantime,  two 12 foot Swarovski Christmas trees have been unveiled at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 – draped in more than 2,000 sparkling decorations. If, like me, you won’t be passing through Heathrow this Christmas, you might like to check out this video which shows a giant Swarovski Christmas tree that was on display at Zurich train station in December 2010.  This was draped in 7,000 crystal decoratations! That’s serious Christmas sparkle!

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The Autumn Rock n Gem Show rides into town

I’ve been really busy with the day job this week, reviewing and editing some rather long and complex bid response documents. It hasn’t left much brain power for blogging. However, given that it’s Thursday already and I want to tell you about an event that’s taking place this weekend, I thought I’d better recharge the little grey cells and get on with it.

The Rock n Gem Show is the biggest and best of its kind that I’ve come across. It takes place at various locations (usually racecourses) around the country but the one I’ve visited on a regular basis is at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey. The details for the Autumn event at Kempton are:

Saturday 27th October (10am to 5pm) and Sunday 28th October (10am to 4pm)

Entry: Adults £5; Children (8-16 years) £1.00, under 8’s free (tickets on the door)

Address: Staines Road East (A308) Sunbury on Thames, West London, TW16 5AQ.  Only 5 miles from the M25 and 400m from Junction 1 of the M3. Trains from Waterloo now stop at Kempton Park Station. Free parking.

What can you expect?  An absolute Aladdin’s cave of gem stones (precious and semi-precious), jewellery, jewellery-making tools and components, fossils (fossilised dinosaur poo, anyone?), minerals, crystals and much, much more.

Who’ll be there?  Around 60 traders, including several importers, all with something slightly different to tempt you with.  One of my favourites is Ilona Biggins who stocks wonderful semi-precious gem stones.

How to get the best from your visit:  Arrive early as it gets very busy and rather warm and you need a bit of stamina for this event! It’s always handy to have some cash on you as not all traders accept card payments.  Take a good look around and try not to buy from the first stall you come to, tempting though it might be, as there is a great deal of choice and, if you’re anything like me, you could very quickly go way beyond your budget. Finally, take advantage of the upstairs restaurant – you can get a decent light lunch there and you’ll probably need to recover after spending all your money.

Sadly for me, I can’t make it to Kempton this year and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to the next Show in November at Cheltenham Race course, either. Still, I’ve spent my own weight in pound coins at Rocks n Gems over the years so it’s probably not a bad thing that the Magpie is grounded.