From Hummingbird Heads to Poison Rings Indulging Our Antique Jewelry Obsession

This memento mori ring (shown in four views), circa 1700, features a death’s-head skull, an hourglass, and a flower. The interior is engraved with “I am gone follow after” and the initials "AWI." (The Hairpin, via

Estate jewelry might sound like a stuffy topic, but not in the hands of jewelry historian Monica McLaughlin. Every so often, she unearths the most breathtaking, bizarre, and unbelievably intricate works of antique fine jewelry that are up for sale for her column at The Hairpin. The images alone will make you do a double-take. As in, “Is that ring really set with a glass eye?” or “Are those actually taxidermied hummingbird heads on those earrings?”

“I’m terrified I’m going to break everything. A dealer let me wear a beautiful diamond necklace, and my brain screamed ‘Get it off me!’”

The stories behind the jewelry are just as intriguing, as McLaughlin delves into the history of subjects like falconry and masquerade balls, as well as the coded messages in Masonic, suffragette, and so-called “sentimental” jewelry. She also gives would-be jewelry connoisseurs insights into the geology of the rarest stones, and lets them in on how such intricate

Diamond Laboratory Process- Basic Functions and Procedures

Sarin HD non-contact measuring device

*The following article was written in collaboration with the American Gem Society Laboratories. Special thanks to Dennis Mette, Operations Director of AGSL, for his invaluable cooperation.


Many consumers are curious about the journey that a diamond takes in acquiring laboratory certification. We place great value on the report that specifies the diamond’s identity and grading of the 4Cs, but we seldom stop to think about what it takes to make it happen. When you actually break down the process you begin to understand the full value added by a grading report from a high quality lab.

In this article we will discuss take-in procedures and the preliminary tests to validate receipt of a diamond before it enters the grading environment, the ethical need for and process of “anonymizing” the diamond before grading, and the various aspects of grading that will be conducted before a report is issued. Different labs have different practices and we will be focusing specifically on those conducted at the American Gem Society Laboratories. In later installments in the series we will delve more deeply into individual grading practices at the lab.


Diamond Receiving Process

Before a diamond makes its way

Scientists confirm Ancient Egyptians wore jewelry made of materials from outer space

The University College London (UCL) Petrie Museum in London is home to ancient Egyptian iron beads that were once thought to be hammered out of traditional iron ore. Researchers from UCL have dispelled this notion, revealing that the earliest jewelry artifacts were actually made from materials from outer space.

UCL Archaeologist and Professor Thilo Rehren is uncovering fascinating new evidence on the ancient Egyptian beads. He says, “The shape of the beads was obtained by smithing and rolling, most likely involving multiple cycles of hammering, and not by the traditional stone-working techniques such as carving or drilling which were used for the other beads found in the same tomb.”

Finding out where the beads came from

“Even 100 years ago, [the beads] attracted attention as being something strange,” Rehren said.
Rehren and a team of researchers are proving that the beads are actually cosmic jewelry, hammered from pieces of meteorites. Their evidence suggests that the ore used to make the beads originates from an era existing two millenniums before communities learned how to smelt and tamper traditional iron ore into iron.

The beads from the UCL Petrie Museum were discovered in 1911 near the village of el-Gerzeh in Lower Egypt. Dug up in a

‘Lead-free’ jewelry for children found to be loaded with lead

Last week, 16 jewelry retailers and suppliers were sued by the state of California for selling jewelry with more than 1,000 times the allowable lead, as lead-free. Many of the defendants are repeat offenders, and include manufacturers, shippers, sellers, distributors, and traders that do business in California.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has publicized this issue a great deal, and despite the public’s concern, they have traced hundreds of styles of jewelry that violate the lead standards to these defendants over the last three years. All of the jewelry was labeled as lead-free, or in compliance with lead standards. Some of the jewelry was intended for small children, who are especially susceptible to adverse health effects from exposure to lead.

Without regard to public safety

California’s attorney general is concerned that the unlawful practices of the defendants can result in acute and chronic health effects for adults and children. Toxic metal exposure can cause headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, anemia, loss of appetite, constipation, muscle soreness, and neurological impairments such as loss of balance, loss of ability to concentrate, seizures, encephalopathy, coma, even death.

For children, who are especially sensitive to lead poisoning since their bodies and brains are still developing, even

Eco-friendly jewelry The new “green” trend

Archeological digs dating back many thousands of years prove the fact that jewelry has always been a desired part of human existence, from the rich and powerful to the average worker on the street. Man or woman, old or young, people like to adorn themselves with beautiful accessories. Unfortunately however, these days, most jewelry comes from a very sad and scary unconscious place. Many pieces of jewelry begin with precious metals and gems that are a part of warfare and bloodshed, and others are cultivated from fragile ecosystems, thus damaging the environment. Wouldn’t you like to know where your jewelry is coming from and to take comfort in knowing that there has been no violence, bloodshed or environmental destruction from the beautiful piece that hangs around you neck?

For many people, living “environmentally conscious” has become a part of life. For those that are making an effort to be aware of sustainable resources, fashionable jewelry that is repurposed and “green” is a growing trend. Eco-friendly jewelry is made from materials which are from both recycled and renewable resources. Materials can come from old jewelry, from nature, such as recycled coconut and seashells, or recycled materials from any piece of junk that

Trend-frenzied youth now having platinum jewelry surgically implanted into their eyeballs

Having a twinkle in your eye no longer just implies that you might be in love. Early adopters of a new surgical procedure currently sweeping youth culture quite literally have sparkling metal in their eyes, according to, and this is due to the deliberate injection of tiny platinum jewelry pieces into their scleras, or the outer white layer of their eyeballs.

Think tattoos, except that objects are literally being injected into the eyes rather than ink into the skin. The procedure has taken place hundreds of times in Europe and Los Angeles but is only just now hitting the New York scene. And one young woman says it will completely change the way she interacts with her friends and family.

“It’s going to be a conversation maker,” says Lucy Luckayanko, who recently had multiple platinum hearts surgically implanted onto her eyeballs. “I will be able to tell people. It will be unique. It will be sort of my unique factor.”

How does it work? An ophthalmologist first injects lidocaine into the eyeball in order to numb it and proceeds to make a small incision where the jewelry is to be placed. The incision, which divides a small pocket between the sclera and

Christie Romero on Differences Between Fine and Costume Jewelry Over the Decades

Christie Romero was the founder of the Center for Jewelry Studies and appeared on Antiques Roadshow as a jewelry appraiser. In this interview, published in March of 2009, she talked about collecting fine and costume jewelry, specifically focusing on the various styles, eras, materials, designers, and manufacturers. Christie wrote three books on jewelry. Her last was Warman’s Jewelry, 3rd Edition.

Earrings with glass and rhinestones, c.1990 by Givenchy. “Fruit salad” motif.

I started out with general antiques and collectibles… I was a dealer for a while and bought and sold all kinds of things. Gradually jewelry became my focus. In the mid-1980s I started getting serious, and in 1988 I started teaching small classes, workshops, and seminars, primarily on costume jewelry but also some fine jewelry.

Vintage costume jewelry was just beginning to take off as a collectible. Up until that time, most people thought it was junk. They didn’t understand what it was about. I liked the history and the look of it, and when I was buying and selling, it was a lot easier to carry jewelry and set it up than furniture or pottery or porcelain.

When I started, I didn’t collect. I just bought and

Treasures of the Incomparable Pforzheim Jewelry Museum

Two years ago, when Agram.m posted a Croix à la Jeannette on Show & Tell, we knew a discerning collector had just joined our growing community. Based in Europe, Agram.m quickly became our site’s most vocal champion of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian jewelry. She was especially fond of micro mosaics from the 19th century. With each of her hundreds of posts and comments, Agram.m has increased the knowledge base of those who appreciate the history, workmanship, and beauty of fine jewelry. Here is her report from a recent visit to the Schmuckmuseum in Germany.

Recently, I visited the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim, Germany (see slideshow below), which is the world’s only museum devoted entirely to jewelry (the translation of Schmuckmuseum from German to English is ‘jewelry museum’). The jewelry tradition in Pforzheim goes back to 1767, when Karl Friedrich, the Grand Duke of Baden, gave his blessing to the jewelry and watchmaking trades. The core of the Schmuckmuseum’s collection was amassed in the late 19th century by the Groβherzoglich-Badische Kuntstgewerbeschule (School for the Applied Arts), which acquired original examples of old pieces for study by its students, as well as the Revival Style designers employed by Pforzheim’s numerous jewelry factories.

Pieces in the Pforzheim

Survival guide – Buy and sell scrap gold jewelry for investment and quick cash Learn more:

Gold has historically been a safe haven when financial times are tough, and these days are no different. Some people prefer buying gold coins or for investment, storing it in a safe or burying it for safety’s sake. There’s another way to own gold and use it for easy commerce – in jewelry. Not only is gold jewelry easy to buy and sell, it’s also fun to wear. The uninitiated may get intimidated trying to buy and sell gold jewelry in ways other than at a jewelry store – where buyers pay top dollar. For the adventurous, trading gold jewelry is an excellent method of holding hard assets, protecting your investments and accessing easy cash.

Know the Spot Price

Before starting to buy or sell gold jewelry, learn the spot price. Gold markets around the world set the gold spot price daily, which is easy to find on websites like The spot price is the cost of one troy ounce of pure, 24K gold.

Calculate the Value

Whether buying or selling gold jewelry, you need to ascertain the value in grams, which is calculated by its weight and the spot price. Use a gram scale to weigh the jewelry. Remove stones first. Check

Antique Chinese Sterling Silver

Silver is a plentiful raw material in China, so it’s been widely used in decorative objects, from boxes to bowls, since the 7th century. Beginning in the Tang Dynasty, silver alloys of lead or tin were cast and hammered into countless shapes. Floral patterns, engraved or chased on plain surfaces, were common throughout the Yuan Dynasty, but silver was less prevalent during the Ming Dynasty, when paintings, lacquerware, jade, and porcelain dominated.

Beginning in the 18th century, the exports of Chinese silver to the West started to rival those of Chinese porcelain. By the early 1800s, Chinese silversmiths were producing silver jewelry and flatware, as well as teapots, trays, vases, and other examples of traditionally Western tableware. Indeed, some Chinese pieces from this era were so faithful to their sources even the English hallmarks were copied.

‘Roadshow’ Appraiser Shares How She Assesses Turn-of-the-Century Jewelry

In this interview, “Antiques Roadshow” jewelry appraiser Joyce Jonas offers a survey of turn-of-the-century jewelry styles. Looking at the defining aspects of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Edwardian jewelry, Jonas explains the influence of Queen Alexandra and other prominent figures, as well as the impact of such materials as diamonds and platinum.

I bought my first piece of jewelry—a gold ring with a big lapis stone propped on prongs—when I was about 12 with money my grandfather gave me. Then, as a teenager, I worked in my aunt’s jewelry store in New Jersey during the Christmas season. I actually wanted to be a professional opera singer, but I realized I wasn’t going to become Renata Tebaldi. So I went back to school for three years, to the New York School of Interior Design. It was great fun, but I didn’t want to be a decorator.

At that point, a friend and I decided to share our love of jewelry by going into the personalized jewelry business. The idea was to buy jewelry for busy executives who didn’t have time to shop for their wives or girlfriends. We’d write up a profile, go to their offices, and scout jewelry shows. I

Elyse Karlin on the Beautifully Unrefined Origins of Arts & Crafts Jewelry

As the publisher and editor-in-chief of “Adornment, The Magazine of Jewelry and Related Arts” Elyse Karlin gets to spend most of her time looking at, researching, and thinking about jewelry. In this wide-ranging interview, Karlin places the U.S. branch of Arts and Crafts in context with contemporary jewelry of the time in Europe, discussing the prominent role of women in the movement, the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the stylistic differences between British and American Arts and Crafts jewelers.


I started collecting jewelry when I was about 13 years old. I was very close to an interior designer who took me to antiques shops. While she looked for paintings and objects for her clients, I gravitated toward the jewelry counter. I started asking questions and buying little pieces for $10, $12, and it turned out I had a good eye. I was pretty much self-taught because up until the last 20 years or so in this country, you had to talk to dealers to learn about jewelry.

Although, I started out collecting little Victorian pieces, my two main areas of interest today are the Arts and Crafts movement and Modernist jewelry. My first job out of college was as an

Antique Chinese Jewelry

The tradition of jewelry-making in China goes back at least to the Neolithic Period, when pierced jade animal pendants were worn for their talismanic properties. More recently, within the last few thousand years, jewelry-like jade clasps buckled men’s belts, while women held their hair in place with bone or gold-and-jeweled ornamental hairpins.

In fact, hairpins and pendants were the dominant forms of fine jewelry in China up until the last thousand or so years. The prongs of these pins were sometimes gilded in silver, while the space between the prongs was often richly worked with gold and a type of gold beading called granulation. Sometimes bird motifs would decorate their surfaces, with gems and pearls used in patterns and as accents.

Gold garment plaques were worn by members of the court. Rather like square or rectangular brooches, these adornments were crammed with images of dragons and other traditional Chinese iconography. Gemstones would border the plaque and dot its interior, which was usually constructed of openwork and chased gold. Solid gold was also popular, especially in the bands of gold called armlets worn on women’s arms.

Today, much of the jewelry we associate with China was made in the Victorian Era

How to Get Customers to Finance Jewelry

Use the following strategies to close more jewelry sales through customer financing. Getting jewelry customers to finance their purchases can be difficult. Either they don’t fully understand the many advantages of the luxury financing programs or don’t have a clear understanding of their various payment options.

Following these three steps can help you maximize the opportunity of engaging potential or already present customers to finance their jewelry purchases:

Step 1: Increase Awareness

Make sure customers are aware of the financing options available to them. Advertise these options using all viable channels of communication which can include print (newspapers & magazines), television, radio and direct mail.

Step 2: Start Early

Mention financing options early on. Educate sales associates on the importance of mentioning payment options to all customers as soon as possible; this will lead to higher tickets and close more sales.

Step 3: Promote In Store

Promote financing availability and options in your jewelry store. Take advantage of the program benefits by making use of free marketing signage which can include posters, hangtags, tent cards and window clings. To ensure the best results, put signage in high traffic areas, as well as near high-ticket merchandise.

Responses to Customer Objections

It’s easy to overcome customers’ objections to financing confidently and effectively

Reaching the Millennial Consumer

“The way you tell an industry needs disruption is everything looks the same. The truth is: how much difference is there from one jewelry store to the next?” Sobering words from Ben Smithee, a digital marketing expert, during his keynote presentation at the JA New York Show on Monday, July 28.

Ben spoke to a crowded room of retail jewelry professionals and designers about digital disruption and how to reach the millennial consumer — two things he is an expert on as CEO of SPYCH & Digital Strategy Officer at RELEVENTS. While he acknowledged the jewelry industry has a lot of room for improvement in the online marketing and e-commerce space, he had words of encouragement:

“Stop thinking of digital disruption and online marketing as something that breaks or kills your business but rather something to embrace that will grow all jewelry business,” he encouraged.

Ben advised every jeweler to get started with digital marketing, “Just do something. Just stick with it and do it and I promise you that the business model will come about from it.”

To get started doing something, here are some key areas of the future of millennial marketing that Ben advises jewelers to start considering for their marketing strategy:


If You Share It, They Will Come

We share how to tell your brand’s story and reach millennial customers. During the presentation “Understanding the Millennial Culture,” Ben Smithee, a digital marketing expert who specializes in the millennial consumer, kept coming back to the importance of “the story” to younger consumers. “You need a story,” he addressed the packed room of jewelry professionals. “That’s why Pandora won. It’s not a magical product, it lets people tell their story.”

CEO of SPYCH & Digital Strategy Officer at RELEVENTS, Ben was the keynote speaker for Jewelers of America’s Education Program at the JA New York Show, held July 26-28.

“[Jewelers] should own the story telling market. You get to be a part of the most important milestones and celebrations in a person’s life. You just need to empower customers to share these stories and connect others to your brand.”

How do jewelers accomplish this? Ben advises jewelers to embrace online marketing and encourage social sharing at all points of the sales cycle. Jewelers must also give customers an experience so inspiring and unique that they are motivated to become brand ambassadors and tell others about their experience, your products and your store.

A brand’s story goes beyond the “about page.” Ben explained, “it’s all about good content,” on a company’s

How Jewelers Can Rock Instagram

We got to sit in on a seminar for Etsy sellers presented by designer and social media maven Molly Clarke, of The Ring Liaison and Rock That Gem, and learned some secret — and simple — tricks of Instagram to set your brand apart. As Molly pointed out, Instagram is a positive community focused on creating and sharing with others, so don’t be shy get started building your brand presence. Here are 7 tips for succeeding with Instagram:

1. Photography is #1, obviously.

Molly suggests using natural light wherever possible, and emphasized the importance of quality and focus (see a great example from her Instagram feed below). When using filters, stick to one or two to give your photos a consistent brand look. Think of ways to give your photos a unique or consistent look with interesting backgrounds and settings. It’s as easy as jewelry on wrapping paper with pops of colors; use interesting arrangements of product (rings placed in a circle, a rainbow of gemstone bracelets); don’t be afraid of negative space and place your product off-center. Check out @violettinder for a look at a very consistent and unique brand photo style.

2. Don’t Forget to Hashtag

Hashtags (#) allow you to “tag” your photos within

Why Aren’t Synthetic Diamonds Cheaper?

I get questions about this often and thought I would present something of an answer. Simulants are a different thing, and most of them ARE pretty cheap, but colorless and near-colorless lab-grown diamonds are pretty close to the prices of their natural counterparts. This often comes as a surprise, because people have seen or read things to the contrary, and because the whole synthetic gemstone business has precedents. Synthetic sapphire and ruby have been on the market for over a century and in most cases are very inexpensive. Synthetic emeralds are lovely, reasonably priced, and have been around for decades. Synthetic versions of spinel, amethyst, chrysoberyl and many other gemstones are plentiful and inexpensive. When lab wizards figure out how to make a stone in the lab, it is usually extremely high quality, as large as you want, and a fraction of the cost of the natural equivalent. Why are diamonds so different?

The problem has several components but I’ll address two of them here.

Cutting Synthetic Diamonds

The first has to do with cutting. Converting a diamond from a piece of rough into a finished gem that you can wear is hard. It’s much more difficult than with other gems. Gemstones are

The Modern Quest for Old Cut Diamonds

Over the past few years there has been a marked increase in the purchase of old cut style diamonds. We more and more often deal with questions from consumers who are considering both newly minted old style cuts and authentic old cut diamonds. Of course, the diamond material is hundreds of thousands of years old anyway, but there are those who wish to go “new” or “old” and those who just want the old look. A further layer of unknowns crop up when a client wants to differentiate from an unrestored old cut from an old looking stone that may have been more recently repaired or lightly modified for one of several reasons. Then, there are those people looking for all the best look of an old cut in a newly minted old looking diamond, which has the high light return features available utilizing more recent diamond cutting knowledge and techniques that did not exist a 100 years ago.

How can a consumer master all the knowledge needed to select a modern cut diamond and then add the additional knowledge they know they require aiding them in selecting the best old cut diamond? Since fewer old cut diamonds are in the

8 Tips to Help You Sell Your Branded Jewelry

You bought a well-known branded jewelry item, and now you’re looking to resell it. How does the item fare in the secondary market? Does the brand’s consumer image translate to extra dollars for you? The brand’s equity value comes into play here.


Understand Brand Equity

Brand equity is partially built on the brand’s promise, the somewhat unspoken statement of “Best in Class.” Combining years of delivering their wares with a consistent high level and staying true to their mission statement, whether written or implied, brands build equity. In turn this equity helps command generally higher prices, which feed the aspirational desires of the consumer.

If you’re thinking of making a purchase in the jewelry arena, the brands that rank high with consumers are Tiffany, Cartier, Harry Winston, and the like. As you read the names of these famous retailers, their brand equity pops up without prompting. In the back of your mind you probably have a vision of a robin’s egg blue box or the red box of Cartier…Brand Equity!

Beyond the quality of the product, what these luxury retailers provide is the marketing message to support their image. Here is where packaging is their silent salesman. If you’ve been allured by the history,