Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A (very) short and concise history of gemstones

The Selkie's Haunt website is fully transactional again. Please visit to see the latest creations in bronze and copper.


I wrote this piece for www.handmadeinwesterross.co.uk and hope you will enjoy reading it. Thank you to Handmade in Wester Ross for including the wonderful photographs with this piece.


Over 100,000 years ago, a young woman or man living in the area of Mount Carmel is what is now Israel, pierced small holes int seashells and created the first known necklace or bracelet. Jewellery - the adornment of one's body with jewels or shells - was born. It had no value beyond that of beauty. What captured the eyes of that person when they saw the shells? Did they like the pattern? The colour? The size and shape? Jewellery is completely subjective. We love what we love and sometimes we are at a loss of words to explain why we love a particular piece of jewellery. Over the millennia, our love affair with the process of adorning our bodies with stones and shells has not abated. It anything, we have fallen in love more and more with the beautiful gifts of the Earth. And while early man and woman often believed their jewellery have significance relating to their gods or powers, and while specific pieces were worn on specific festival days, modern jewellery is more about the desire to own something beautiful and, often, expensive. Yet, we still follow traditions, like wearing birthstones, pearls for a bride, an engagement ring set with a stone that has some significance. And at the heart of the jewellery is the gemstone.

Ancient archeological shell beads of Nassarius kraussianus from Blombos Cave, along with a hypothetical reconstruction of the shell necklace that they were strung on. 
Photo credit: Blombos Cave
Some gemstones, like lapis lazuli, have been around forever. Other gemstones, like tanzanite or larimar, are relative newcomers. Some of our favourite stones of the past are no longer favourited due to over-mining or a decrease in popularity. Diamonds used to captivate us with their crystal clear sparkling facets, for their reputation as the hardest, naturally occurring substance on Earth, and valued for their relative rarity. But today, diamonds are no longer our gemstones darlings. The socio-economic implications involved in procuring diamonds have tarnished their reputation. But, in their descent from on high, diamonds have made room for other stones that are now as adored a diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires - those stones classified as precious stones.
 Lapis lazuli gemstones dangle beneath a spiral and accented by more lapis lazuli and vesuvianite.  
Lapis was the favoured gemstone of Cleopatra.

Gemstones come from geological "families" or species. There are over 130 distinct species of gemstones. Some stones stand alone, such as andalusite, peridot, and tourmaline, while others belong to a family that contains many known gemstones. For example, rubies and sapphires are both of the corundum family. Emerals, aquamarine, and morganite are members of the beryl family. For some common semi-precious stones, you have feldspar (amazonite, labradorite, moonstone, and sunstone - some of which have a chatoyant, or "tiger's eye" effect) and quartz (amethyst, citrine, smoky quartz, chalcedony), amongst many others. Some "gemstones" aren't even listed as gemstones, as they are considered minerals or organic substances such as amber, jet, lapis lazuli, or pearl.
  Inspired by the artwork of French Illustrator George Barbier,
olive quartz topped with a trio of London blue topaz - Deco Divine pendant.  
Pendant: Ailleas Designs  Photo credit:  Mark Appleton Photography

In fact, it was the mineral lapis lazuli that was one of the first favourites. It was mined for use in adornments as early as the Neolithic period. Not only was this mineral carved and faceted, like a gemstone, for use in jewellery, it was crushed into a powder that was used in cosmetics and in creating the pigment ultramarine - the most desired and expensive of the blue pigments. There is even a reference to lapis in the book of Exodus. And we know that ground lapis was a favourite eye shadow of the famous Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. Lapis remains a very desirable and treasured "gemstone." An organic "gemstone", amber, is petrified sap and often contains bits of insect and plants, and is another non-gemstone that has great value and is highly desirable for everything from teething necklaces to gold jewellery (but sadly not for extracting dinosaur DNA). Jet isn't even considered a mineral, but a mineraloid and a precursor to coal, but that doesn't detract from its beauty when used in jewellery.
Lapis lazuli with pyrite. Afghanistan. Photo credit: Dr H Grobe
Perhaps the most well-known and most highly desirable organic "gemstone" is the pearl. Pearls are the result of an oyster (or other living mollusk) coating an irritant with nacre; the more coats of nacre, the higher the lustre of the pearl. Pearls come from living organisms, giving them a singular place on the hierarchy of "gemstones." Even the word "pearl" has come to mean something extremely rare, beautiful, and desired. This is because a natural pearl that occurs spontaneously in nature is so rare. The value of a highly graded pearl can go head to head with the value of the most precious gemstone. A black Tahitian pearl of the highest quality can command a price equal to that of a rare diamond.

Tahitian pearls in bulk.  Photo credit: RĂ©mi Jouan
Mother Nature has provided us with a huge jewellery box of sparkling stones with which to adorn ourselves. Not to be outdone by the Earth, mankind has taken some of those stones and copied them in laboratories and factories. Some synthetic stones are very lovely – cubic zirconia and some of the lab-created diamonds are fabulous – but the buyer has to decide whether they want natural or manmade. It is a veritable minefield when buying loose gemstones or gemstone jewellery. It’s important for buyers to do their homework. There is nothing worse than discovering that that gorgeous emerald ring Great-Aunt Agnes left you is actually green-coloured glass or dyed quartz!

Our millennia-long love affair with sparkling stones is unlikely ever to end. But, unfortunately, the Earth's supply is limited. Buying a piece of gemstone jewellery or a loose gemstone should be seen as an investment. But an investment made with the heart.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

October and the colours of Autumn...

I was always aware of opal being the birthstone for October, but when I started designing and making jewellery, I discovered that tourmaline is also an October birthstone. What a terrific stone and what a terrific combination of birthstones. Boths stones provide so many different colours. And tourmaline, especially, presents itself, particularly in the lower graded stones, in autumnal shades. Indeed, the yellows, greens, and rose hues are stunning together or separately. I find I used a lot of tourmaline in my copper and bronze designs. And during the month of October, they are particularly relevant and popular.

This design, called Ovals and Scrolls, is a bronze necklace featuring ovals of A-grade tourmaline.
"Ovals & Scrolls"
These stones are nicer than the lower graded stones, but as A grade, they offer a wider range of colours and a more opaque appearance. I've combined the stones in all the beautiful colours of the falling leaves of the season. If this necklace tickles your fancy, just drop me an email at sales@selkieshaunt.com and use the subject line "Ovals and Scrolls". If you wish, I can create earrings to match. The necklace is priced at £66 and matching earrings would retail for £24. If you wish to buy both, the earrings will sell at half price, making your total £78.

I recently spent the good part of week - 20 hours in all - creating a new and really detailed necklace and earrings set. Called "Make a Wish," this set comprises a necklace 56 inches in length, so that it can be doubled or worn very long. With beautifully marked hand-wrapped beads of Red Creek jasper and tourmaline, hand-forged copper jump rings, and "coins" of copper cut from copper sheet, then drilled and polished, it most definitely a labour of love. I adore the way it looks and I've included photographs of the set here in a more formal photograph and also on the display bust. When you consider the time it took to make this necklace, it's cheap at £100. The earrings are £24, but the set retails for £110.  Again, if you are interested in this set, email me at the address given above and use "Make a Wish" as your subject line. 

"Make a Wish" copper necklace with Red Creek jasper and tourmaline.


"Make a Wish" earrings.
"Make a Wish" set on display.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Branding and packaging

Over the last month, not only have I been creating new pieces to add to the collection, albeit briefly, as they have sold the first time they have been on offer, but I have been working to perfect and polish my brand. It was in the last month, while realising it was time I reordered my business cards that I had my "Eureka" moment. While I was moving the graphic around on the business card layout, I came upon the idea of placing the graphic to the side and using only half of the image. I loved it. I had finally cracked the way I wanted the branding to appear. Rather than floating my text on top or beneath a perfectly round example of Celtic knotwork, the knotwork would now provide an off-centre image. And with this final piece of the puzzle in place, I have added this graphic to my other business stationery. What customers will receive from this point on with be a consistent and unmistakable The Selkie's Haunt package - from the business card to the copy of the Terms & Conditions. I am very pleased.

In addition to the new business card and the other ancillary business materials, I have put together new packaging for The Selkie's Haunt. In the past, I have used organza bags for my jewellery, but I felt that I needed to do more. The main reason is that sending jewellery in an organza bag is just about the norm in this business - from cheap tat to  higher quality work. I wanted and needed to do something that was different and more polished. I found a great source for very small ivory pillow boxes. So my jewellery will now be placed in an organza bag, but that bag will be placed in an ivory pillow box of the correct size and then finished with beautiful pale copper organza ribbon. I am so very pleased with the outcome. This also means that if you have purchased some jewellery as a gift, it comes ready to be presented to the recipient. No gift wrapping required on your end! I am working on incorporating the Celtic knotwork design into the packaging as well, so stay tuned.

I have made the decision that I must up the price of my postage costs, however. Because I feel it is important that my packages be insured and trackable, I've always, and will continue to, send my jewellery by Special Delivery. This costs me just over £6. But, for me, it is worth the extra money because I have the peace of mind in knowing that the package can be traced, and, most important, I've never had a package go missing. I am simply not willing to compromise on that. I've only charged £2.50 for shipping, but I hope you will understand the reasoning behind my increasing this to £3. I am still covering over half of the cost of the postage, but I think this is a more equitable split.

I continue to create new pieces that will be showcased at events and in the new e-catalogue available by making a request by emailing catalogue@selkieshaunt.com. I am doing more work with mixed metals and will be transferring that skill to new designs for my sterling silver, gold, and gemstone designs. It's all moving forward for my businesses and I couldn't be more pleased with the progress I am making.

Thank you for your continued support of The Selkie's Haunt.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

New designs . . .

I've been working busily on some new designs for The Selkie's Haunt. As the website is now informational only, it is important that I share some of these designs here on the blog and also on the site itself. Sales are steady and I'm very pleased with the reception my designs have had, both at events and through my stockists.

So, without any further ado, here are some of my new designs. I can't list all of them here, so if you are interested, drop me a line and I will send you the e-catalogue!

NEW BRACELETS


This bracelet is called "Red Creek Coins" and features beautifully marked Red Creek jasper, carnelian, and hand-forged "coins" of soft golden bronze. The bracelet measures 8.5 inches and sells for £42.





"Lavender Smoke" is the name of this lovely copper bracelet that features A-grade smoky quartz and A-grade amethyst, with beads of pure, bright copper and a copper toggle clasp. This bracelet 7.5 inches and is priced at £50.





NEW EARRINGS



These lovely copper earrings are called "Morocco" and feature focal beads of bayong wood, accented by rings of copper and bright blue stabilised turquoise beads. The drop on these earrings measures 1.5 inches and they are priced at £22.






These beautiful bronze earrings are named "Jewels Beneath a Full Moon" and feature hand-forged and planished disks of bronze. A dangle of AA-grade pink topaz and A-grade chrome diopside complete the design. The drop on these earrings is 1.5 inches and they sell for £24.






NEW NECKLACES


This lovely necklaces features round beads of Robles wook, with fluted beads of copper and faceted beads of A-grade rhodalite garnet as accents. This necklace measures 18 inches and sells for £64.









This necklace, also featuring wooden beads, is called "White Sands." The wood here is natural, untreated white wood. The beads that separate the wood are pure copper beads and A-grade amethyst and carnelian. This necklace measures 18 inches and is selling for £68.







These are just a handful of new designs currently available. To see all current offerings, please drop me a line at catalogue@selkieshaunt.com and I will forward the e-catalogue to you within 24 hours. The catalogue will arrive as a PDF, so you will need Adobe reader on your computer in order to access the files.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A new blog for a new way of doing things...

As of yesterday, June 1, the website for The Selkie's Haunt has changed from a transactional website to a catalogue request/information website. And because the brand's presence on the web is going to change, the necessity to blog more frequently is obvious. I have become pretty good about blogging for Ailleas Designs. I must put that same resolve to work for The Selkie's Haunt.

So, the change. The reason I have changed the site from transactional to information is very simple. My jewellery sells best from events and stockists and it makes no sense whatsoever to tie up my stock in hopes of web-based sales. I sell a great deal of the copper and bronze jewellery over the course of the year. But I sell where people can see the jewellery for themselves. I have long held that jewellery is best marketed where and when it can be seen, held, even tried on. Of course, for those who do buy from the web, they have always had my assurance that if they change their minds, a return and refund are without question. I am so sure of my work that I am happy to offer a return period not of the required 14 days, but a full 30 days.

The website will be updated from time to time with new pieces, but the main source for finding the newest designs will be on the brand's Facebook page, through this blog, and through the brand's newsletter. I've included a link to the newsletter registration at the bottom of this blog. I highly recommend you subscribe. New designs will show there first and you will be able to purchase pieces once they have been unveiled. It is my hope that my loyal customers, and any new customers, will find this a better and more personable way to purchase my handcrafted bronze and copper jewellery.

Over the past three months, I have been working hard on new designs - drawings at first - that will be made into reality during the months of June and July. I am very excited about these new designs; they will be far more complex than designs I have made thus far. I am very excited the new direction my work will go. I am hoping that I may be able to secure a gallery for an exhibition once these pieces, and similar pieces for Ailleas Designs, are available.

As with any art, we evolve as time passes. I look back on early designs and find that I have strayed from the original sculptural aspect of my work. This is something I wish to revisit, but with the added skills that come with six years of creating unique and bold designs.

Please do visit the website, sign up for the newsletter, and subscribe to this blog. You won't miss a moment of what is happening with this brand of beautiful bronze and copper jewellery. As an added bonus, I will be making a bespoke piece of jewellery for a subscriber chosen at random when the number of newsletter subscribers reaches 150. So, subscribe to not only be kept abreast of what is happening, but to have a chance at owning a piece of jewellery made with your choices of metal and stone and your input on the final design. Now that is an awesome prize!





Saturday, January 3, 2015

Catching up!

It has been a very long time since my last post here. It has been a very hectic six months and I have been spending far too much time on Ailleas Designs. Poor Selkie's Haunt had become the red-haired stepchild. But, no more. It is time for The Selkie's Haunt to receive the same amount of attention and so it shall.

'Wisp of Smoke' - A bronze necklace featuring a
phantom quartz focal and AA-graded smoky quartz
 and garnet, along with crystal quartz.
I have recently started using some wonderfully unusual stones for focals in necklaces. I found a source in the States - a woman who prepares the stones and is able to drill them for me. So far, I've had some lovely stones of phantom quartz, super seven stone, charoite and moss agate, amongst others. I'm really thrilled with these stones and they inspire me to create beautiful pieces. In addition, I've recently started buying some stones from a gem merchant in Jaipur, India. So now some of my designs are including A-AA graded stones. These are usually just small stones that I use for accents, but they give the pieces lots of sparkle.

In addition to new stones and new designs, I've added two new stockists. Lael Crafts Gallery is about 40 miles away on the road to Ullapool and the Aultbea Hotel has very kindly given me two shelves of the display cabinet next to their checkout area.  Both places have sold pieces successfully and I look forward to a new year of more sales with both of them.

Today, I made some major changes to the website. If you wish to see these changes, please go there by clicking the link here. I will be making some more pieces in this next week to bring the numbers of available items up in order to provide more variety.  Prices are extremely good for the quality of the materials used. (A recent blog I wrote for Ailleas Designs about pricing went down a treat and was reblogged by other artists. You can find it here.)

I am very proud of the business I have built with both my brands. While I have limited advertising funds just to Ailleas Designs, I am thinking about trying to get some exposure for The Selkie's Haunt as well. I do love the designs and the stones and the fun I have working with unlimited amounts of metal since there is no hallmarking law for the use of copper or bronze. And my designs are going to become more sculptural, more fine art inspired, as time goes on.

Please check out the site and the lovely pieces currently available. And know that more will be added shortly.

(I should also add that I am limiting my events in the first part of the year. My husband was diagnosed with coronary blockage and bowel cancer in early October, so things have been a bit tense and my business, to say the least, has had to take a back seat to getting him well. Surgery was in November and he starts chemo next week. Any and all supportive thoughts, prayers or vibes are most welcome.)