Monday, December 19, 2011

December Blues - Topaz and Turquoise

December's birthstones, turquoise and blue topaz, each possess their own shade of light blue to honor either the northern hemisphere's deep winter ice, or the southern hemisphere's bright summer skies.

Topaz is mined from locations that span the globe.  Naturally occurring blue topaz is very rare.  While topaz can exists in a wide variety of colors, it is mostly found in a range of browns, oranges, reds, and yellows.  Most blue topaz gems on the market are formed by irradiating topaz in a laboratory to create the desired blue color.  However, some natural topaz of a very light blue hue is cut and drilled for beaded jewelry.  It's hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale means it is a durable stone, and so suitable for a variety of jewelry designs.  The stone is symbolic of creativity, individuality, and self confidence.

The characteristic blue shades of turquoise are formed by the presence of copper in the mineral.  While the turquoise mineral can be found in hues that include greens and yellows, it is the blue-aqua shade that has the most value.  Gem quality turquoise is found in a few specific locations on Earth, and such material commands a good price.  Imitation turquoise is becoming very common, but does not usually have the same richness as the original.  This mineral can range in hardness from 5-7 on the Mohs scale, which means some of the softer varieties need special care.  Pieces can shatter if dropped or mishandled.  Turquoise is said to bring the wearer protection, friendship, and peace.  There are those who believe that pairing the stone with copper metal helps to increase the beneficial effects.  Certainly both copper and silver match beautifully with turquoise in beaded jewelry.

Choose your own preferred shade of light blue for your jewelry expressions this month, and feel in tune with the season!

Image Credit:  Turquoise Beads by cobalt123 on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0
Blue Topaz Mineral, Smithsonian Institute, The Dynamic Earth

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Beauty of Carved Stone

There is so much natural beauty in stone - I enjoy seeing it used to the full extent of its potential.  Going through a museum like the Orsay in Paris provides the opportunity to see stone used a variety of ways.  The floor of the museum is populated with neo-classical sculpture, most of which is pure, opaque, featureless white stone.  The emphasis is on the form of the sculptures, not the color or the material.  But apparently the idea that classical sculpture was colorless is an accident of history.

There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that most ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were painted, gilt, or inlaid with colored stone.  Color was important in the art of that era in a way that is no longer obvious to us.  By the time these ancient sculptures were unearthed in Italy during the Renaissance, much of the color of the statues had been worn away, and any embellishing gemstones had been removed.

Barrias 1899 sculpture "Nature Unveiling Herself to Science" is an example of a "neo-classical" form with polychromy - colors.  This statue is composed largely of marble and onyx.  The onyx forms the off-white folds of Nature's veil, and sweeping red and cream marble forms the drapes of her gown.  The sculpted stone of the gown is skillfully completed to allow the color and pattern of the red marble to look very much like fabric.  The clasp of the gown is a scarab of malachite mounted on a blue belt of lapis lazuli.  The original also apparently had red coral lips and lapis eyes as well.

It can be so easy to take the idea of stone sculpture for granted, given how often such pieces are of a single color.  Using colored stone, and playing on those colors to enhance the piece, makes the art seem so much more real, accessible, and very hard to ignore.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October's Birthstone: Opal

Radiant, colorful opal is the birthstone for October. There are several theories about the origin of the word “opal,” but the most probable is that it is derived from the Sanskrit word upala, which means “valuable stone.”

The aborigines of Australia have an ancient story about how opal was created. The Creator descends to earth, bringing a message of peace to humanity. The Creator’s foot touches the earth, and the rocks in that spot suddenly come to life and begin to glitter in a variety of brilliant colors. Those sparkling rocks became opal.

Most of the world’s opal, 95-97%, is mined in Australia--hence the creation story--with a small amount produced in the Americas. Opal is related to quartz; but unlike quartz, it is not a mineral. It is instead a kind of silica, and is found in various types of rocks. The most commonly found colors of opal are greens and whites, and the red/black combination is the most rare.

Opal’s most notable characteristic--its glittery, colorful radiance--is know as “play of color.” In the 1960’s, scientists discovered that within opal, tiny spheres of silica interrupted the passage of light through the gemstone, causing the light to refract. This answered a question that until then no one could answer--why opal produces the lovely play of color that makes it so popular.

If you’re looking for an alternative for an October birthstone, pink tourmaline is a beautiful choice. Because it is classified as a semi-precious stone, it is more expensive than opal. Tourmaline comes in a variety of colors, including one called “watermelon” which is green on the outside and pink on the inside.

Photographs of Opal by Opals-On-Black
Photograph of Tourmaline Ring by Liverpool Design Festival

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gemstones as Minerals

I am fascinated by minerals.  We so often see gemstones in a final form as faceted stones or polished beads that it can be easy to forget what these substances look like in their native state.  The Lyman Museum in Hilo, Hawaii has a small but excellent collection of minerals.  Each specimen is notable either for size, rarity, or beauty.  Here are a few that particularly caught my eye ...

I spotted a huge, beautiful brown zircon, cubic, almost two inches on a side.  Never seen one that shade or that size.  There was a pyrite sample with the characteristic cubic box shape.  This one had several "boxes" stuck together at the corners, the largest appeared to be about 2.5 inches on a side.  The pattern isn't unusual for pyrite, but this one was smooth and perfect.  The surface of the crystals was shiny and almost mirror-like.

Some of the minerals had colors that surprised me.  There was a flourite sample with colors ranging from orange and burgundy to teal and lime.  A stunning chrysocolla from Arizona was a vibrant, glowing, light blue green.  An azurite sample was a deep, dark midnight blue, and sparkled like stars from reflections off of the facets of hundreds of tiny crystals.  Even the rose quartz was notable.  It was a perfectly uniform gorgeous pink, studded over with crystals.

The collection contained a sample of carved minerals.  This included ones I'd seen before, such as jade, carnelian, and malachite.  But there were other carved items from minerals I haven't seen used this way very often, such as lapis lazuli carved into a statue of a horse, and a head carved from aquamarine.

The petrified wood samples were excellent.  There were not simply small chunks, but full circular cross sections from trees, with rings preserved now as stone.  The process of turning something like a tree into a stone is amazing, and in this case left behind small crystal filled geodes right in the "wood."

Such a wonderful visit is always inspiring.  The next time I pick up a smooth bead of azurite, I will remember the spectacular mineral of midnight blue, with stars flashing. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Ancient Lure of Shells

What to blog about today, ten years after 9/11/01?  I remember feeling that life would never be the same, and feeling totally ungrounded and out of touch.  So since then, I have tried to use this day for reflection and connection.  Wondering how I might bring that sensibility here to the blog, I chose to focus on a material that has a strong connection with life, and that has been a part of human culture for millennia - shells.

Shells have been used as jewelry and body adornment since before recorded times.  Shells are numerous, have a vast array of colors and textures, and often can be made suitable for wearing with little effort.  Mother of pearl, the inner lining of certain shells, remains ubiquitous in fashion, both in jewelry and in items like buttons.

My appreciation for shells has expanded very recently after visiting the Lyman Museum in Hilo, Hawaii.  I went primarily to see the mineral collection (more on that in a later post) and found myself enthralled by the amazing collection of shells from pacific marine life.  For some reason, I have always found it easy to forget that shells are a product of living processes.  Living organisms create shells.  They are an incredibly clever answer to a diverse set of evolutionary constraints found by many forms of ocean life.  And the diversity of the constraints and environments has led to an amazing diversity in the shells themselves.

The colors included orange, black, brown, pink, green, ivory, yellow, teal, rose, purple, and burgundy.  Textures were anywhere from smooth, nubbed, and rippled, to rough, sharp and spiked.  Some lovely fluted and scalloped shells were cephalopods, a group that includes squid and octopus.  Another group of shells, gastropods, shared a similar amazing coiled and spiral shape.  Many kinds of shells sport patterns that look like that of leopards and tigers, both in the patterns themselves and in the colors.

One of the more interesting animals was the Xenophora Pallidula.  In Latin this apparently means "bearer of foreigners."  This creature has an initial shell, and then finds other shells and attaches them to itself.  I couldn't help thinking that this was a kind of flattery - a shell using shells for adornment.  Of course, this behavior serves many purposes, and jewelry probably isn't one of them.  But some of the shells-with-shells were very symmetrical, with the additional shells 'glued' on in spiky ridges like a comb.  The beauty of it seemed almost purposeful.

There were thousands and thousands of different shells. It helps to underscore the vastness of the ocean, and the mass of life on Earth.  To me it is an appealing idea, and touching these shells - wearing them - seems like a small but real way to connect with the history of all living creatures on the planet.

Image Credit: wildxplorer, Le Grande CC 2.0, on flikr via Creative Commons

Monday, September 5, 2011

Adding to Autumn's Color Palette

As I mentioned in my previous post on color trends, people do get bored with the same thing year after year.  Yet in spite of that, they are cautious of change.  They are even more cautious of change in a tough economy.  So color leaders have their hands full creating new palettes.  They have to consider moods, current events, technology, lifestyles, culture, and more.  For the palette to be of use in fashion, it must contain a fraction of colors from previous years (so we can still wear some of what is in the closet), something new (so things feel fresh), and yet stay true to the season (so we remain grounded.)

There are more new palettes each season than you can shake a paintbrush at, so part of the fun is simply finding one that you like.  Pantone, being a leader in color, produces seasonal palettes for fashion and decor.  Naturally, their palettes, and all the other fall palettes, have to be out for the industry to use far in advance of the actual season.  Pantone had the Fall 2011 palette available in February of this year.  For women, it looks like this:

I enjoyed going through the Lunar Blue collection and producing our own version of the Autumn jewelry color palette.

One of the phenomena I noticed was that (of course) gemstones are often composed of many colors, or swirls of related colors.  Unakite, for example has both the 'emberglow' and 'cedar' hues in a single stone.  Wood jasper has a nice combination of both "coffee" and "nougat."  "Phlox" and "orchid" can be found in both shaded amethyst and flourite.  So with cleverly designed gemstone jewelry, you can accent any aspect of the color palette you desire.


Monday, August 29, 2011

So Why Color Trends, Anyway?

Olive pearls and citrine are a perfect
late summer combination, and they
serve to welcome Fall, too!

Seasonal colors can seem quite predictable.  We have all been through enough seasons to have an idea what colors generate what associations for the time of year (BTW, I happen to be in the northern hemisphere).  Autumn, for example, is usually characterized by rust, umber, brown, gold, amber, forest, and other colors you might find in falling leaves (even if you don't have any leaves in your neighborhood.)  These are the go-to colors that appeal to most people during Autumn, and people will wear them and place them in their environment more often during Fall than any other time of year.  So if each season has its typical colors for us to use, why do we still have "new" colors in fashion and decor all the time?

I will admit - before I began to study color more closely, I thought the idea of "trending" colors was not terribly important.  Fashion can seem frivolous in the face of tough economic times and hard scientific facts.  And certainly part of the fashion industry exists simply to promote its own existence.  But the other side of this picture is the one where "trends" keep people interested, focused, active, and even happy.

Color is a critical part of our environment.  We take in more information from visual input than any other sense.  Color is one of the most prominent visual factors.  For humans to be mentally engaged and interested, color needs to be present in the environment, and used in ways that get our minds working.

Color can dramatically effect our mood and outlook.  When times are tough, people look for ways to feel more up, and color is a big part of that.  Colors in clothes, jewelry, decor, and even cars is a critical tool for keeping us consumers upbeat and interested enough in new products to want to spend our hard earned money on them.  This in turn keeps our economy chugging along so we can keep our jobs that generate said money.  Ideally, anyway ...

Even with the cycle of colors from season to season, people get bored wearing the same colors in the same combinations year after year.  Our need for interesting visual input always keeps us looking for something new.  Consumers put demand on the fashion industry for variation, and the fashion industry does the same in reverse, creating demand by making old combinations outdated.  Thus we have the preferred fashionable color trends that come to us each season of each year.

So where do these colors come from?  They generally resemble or pair with the canonical colors for the season, but add a new spin or twist to keep things interesting.  I spotted a line on the Fidelis Art Prints site that puts it succinctly, "Colour trends are based on observations of the world around us, taking into consideration social issues, technology, lifestyles and the moods and aspirations of consumers. It is from this information that colour experts such as Pantone and Benjamin Moore, forecast colours palettes that will most appeal to the consumers during a time period."


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Color of Stones: Meanings, Uses, Psychology and Fashion

Color is powerful.  Colors are fraught with symbolism, tradition, and psychological influences, much of which we internalize only subconsciously.  Everyone has personal preferences, but none of us can escape the context of our own culture.  This context shapes how we perceive color, and how it fits in as an integral part of our lives.

Gemstones and glass have been chosen and created specifically for their colors for thousands of years.  All forms of personal adornment have included colorful stones, shells, and wood since prehistoric times.  Colors were chosen to convey status, mood, wealth, and other information.  Some stones were only to be used by the ruling class, or in places of worship, because their color was considered sacred.

Today the psychology of color is a major area of research, since it has direct applications in industry, politics, marketing, medicine, sports, education, and just about every other sector of society.  Color can change how we make purchases.  It can change how we cast our vote in elections.  It can make us feel energized, peaceful, or tired.  It can change how we perform in sports and on exams.

One of the primary aspects of gemstone jewelry creation is the use of color, in harmony, unity, or contrast.  Similarly, the buyer of gemstone jewelry makes their choice largely influenced by the color of the piece.  Again, we all have personal preferences, but are likely to move towards pieces that have appeal for a variety of reasons.  For example, white might not be one's favorite color in jewelry, but in western culture most brides choose white pearls for weddings, and sport white diamonds on their fingers.  The context and symbolism of a wedding greatly influences our choice of color.  And the reverse remains true - white gemstones bring up thoughts of weddings, new starts, cleanliness and purity.

So to delve deeper into color, I've been doing a bit of research, and will be posting a series on "The Color of Stones."  I'll be posting about some of the symbolism, studies into color, the nature of chakra points, and some of their interrelationships.  This will give consumers of gemstone jewelry some insight into their own minds - why they choose the colors they do, and conversely, how they can choose colors to enhance their own moods and possibly change the perceptions of those around them.

So stay tuned here for information on color you can use to improve your gemstone jewelry buying awareness!  Not to mention interest and fun ...


Monday, August 15, 2011

Peridot - Part Four: The Universe Makes Stained Glass Windows

Some of the most beautiful meteorites in the world (and out of the world) belong to the pallasite class of meteorites.  Many pallasites can be recognized immediately by their characteristic crystals of greenish olivine embedded in an iron/nickel matrix.  When these meteorites are cut into thin slices, light can shine through the translucent olivine, creating stunning lattices of metal and gemstone.

The example at left is the meteorite Esquel.  Gorgeous gem quality olvine, known as peridot of course, is liberally strewn through a shiny metal frame.  It seems so perfect, one might think it was manufactured.  But these incredible rocks formed naturally, far away from Earth.

The meteorite Imalac is also a pallasite, with a higher density of olivine to metal, although the olivine is of a more golden hue, and seems less gem-quality.  Some pallasites are almost all metal, while others are predominently olivine.  Each is unique, its own version of a glittering mineral 'window.'  It once was thought that pallasites must come from the interior of an asteroid-like body - the place where the olivine mantle met the iron/nickel core.  But recent studies have indicated that things are not so straightforward.  Pallasites are a glorious mystery.

This gemstone gives us an immediate connection to the heavens.  Something as simply beautiful as peridot is found in abundance in the mantle of the Earth, and is one of the most basic minerals in space rocks, too.  Of course, the Earth is really just a big space rock, itself.

Image Credits: Slice of Esquel meteorite, from flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0, Bistrosavage. Closeup of Imilac meteorite, original image from flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0, aakova.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Glories of Amber - Part Three: Types

Amber material as used in jewelry is separated into several types based on processing and genuine amber content. Only the first four categories are recognized by the International Amber Society, but a market exists for all seven categories. And since you’ll encounter all of them when you are looking for amber beads, I list them all here.

1. Natural Baltic Amber is 100% Baltic Amber that has had no treatment that changes natural properties. Allowable changes are mechanical only, such as cutting and polishing. Beads will generally be irregular in shape, from translucent to opaque, come in a variety of colors, and have inclusions and marks. Amber does not naturally weather into round shapes, so round beads are rarely cut from Natural Baltic Amber, since it wastes material. Natural Baltic Amber is very expensive, and while highly desired by some, others are not attracted to the look of amber in this closer to raw state. Must be treated with care.

2. Modified (Heated) Baltic Amber is 100% Baltic Amber that has been subjected to heat, high pressure, or both. This treatment will change the color and clarity of most amber, making it more translucent, and the color more uniform. Beads will still often be irregular, but fewer inclusions and marks will be present. Many larger, quality cabochons are made of Modified Amber. Since these processes greatly improve the look of amber, there is much Modified Amber on the market. It is the alternative to Natural Amber for some, but remains very expensive. Heat treating makes the material somewhat harder and resistant to scratching, but it still must be handled with care.

3. Pressed Amber is 100% Baltic Amber that started out as small pieces. These pieces are then pressed together under high pressure and temperature into a single larger piece. No additional components can be added in this category and have the material still considered 100% Baltic Amber. The pressing process allows for much more uniformity in size, shape, and color. Most round amber beads on the market have been pressed, and are still a pricey choice for their 100% Baltic Amber content. This material is usually a little harder than Modified Amber.

4. Bonded Amber is almost entirely amber, but has a tiny amount of glue or bonding agent added in the process of heating and pressing small pieces together into a larger whole. Usually indistinguishable from Pressed Amber to the naked eye. It can be somewhat less expensive than Pressed Amber, which uses no glues. Similar hardness to Pressed Amber.

5. Ambroid (Amberoid) contains some percentage of genuine Amber or amber chips with another percentage of modern resins. Generally, the higher the percentage of real amber in the material, the higher the quality and cost will be. Quality ambroid, made of a high percentage of genuine Baltic Amber with some added natural modern resins, offers the look of Pressed Amber at a moderate price. However, there is low quality ambroid, made of a small amount of genuine amber and a large amount of synthetic resins, to watch out for. Ambroid is the material that is most often passed of as 100% natural amber in an attempt to get buyers to pay more. Quality Ambroid is a durable material that resists pitting and scratches reasonably well.

6. Copal is not actually amber by any definition, but can resemble amber at a fraction of the price. Copal is much, much younger tree resin that have dried sufficiently that jewelry can be fashioned from it. Price is highly variable, depending on if it is being passed off as “amber.” Untreated copal is still soluble in liquids such as acetone, and so can deteriorate quickly if it comes in contact with certain hair sprays, makeup, and lotions. Must be handled gently.

7. Imitation Amber is also not amber by any definition other than superficial look. This material can be anything, from glass to plastic, that attempts to mimic amber. Usually very inexpensive. If your amber is priced very low, it probably isn’t amber at all. Durability depends entirely on the material.

With all these choices, it can be a little confusing to ensure you are getting exactly what you want at a proper price, but the first step is staying informed! Image Credit:  Amber cabochons,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Most Overused Word in Etsy Descriptions

Anyone who works on Etsy knows how important writing is. Think of all the copy we write, just by listing our inventory! That doesn't include our blogs, FB pages, portfolios, and all the other social media outlets we manage.

Like many shop owners on Etsy, I have training in areas besides crafting and business. One of these is writing. I have an M.A. in Writing and Literature, I'm a published poet, and I've written
fiction, freelance articles, resumes, and textbook content. I'm so grateful for this skill, because the written word, whether it's an in-depth article about the nature of amethyst or a 140-character Twitter update, is a powerful tool for communicating with each other and with our clients. We, as artists and craftspeople, believe in community; the power of writing can help bind a community together. This includes making a connection between you, your item, and your client.

I'm beginning a series of articles about copywriting for the craftsperson. We all need need a little help in this area sometimes, regardless of our experience. Let me begin with a word that I'd like to see virtually eliminated from Etsy.

The Most Overused Word in Etsy Descriptions


This word means "like nothing else," implying it's the only one of its kind. It's also appropriate to use it to mean "distinctive" or "unusual." The problem is that it's everywhere on Etsy. It is so often used that I'm not sure it makes much of an impact to a potential buyer.

Of course we think our items our unique. We make them with our own hands, or we work hard to find that special vintage dress or unusual cabachon. To make our copy distinctive, we must think of what actually is distinctive about our item rather than relying on a word so many shop owners use.

Here's an example of a common Etsy-type description based on the photo above:

This gorgeous one-of-a-kind necklace is made with howlite, white mountain jade, Swarovski crystal, and a beautiful, unusual pendant. This unique pendant features a sterling silver dragon on a purple jade background...

Not bad, right? I made this necklace, so naturally I think it's unique and fabulous. Everything I wrote is true in my mind. And there probably isn't another necklace exactly like it.

Consider, however, what happens when I think about what I really love about this necklace. The word "unique" isn't what comes to mind--that just seems to come out when we write copy. What I really love about it is the colors, the feel of the howlite next to the white jade (which is actually marble), the way the amethyst-colored crystal blends the purple jade of the pendant into the white of the beads; and the dragon. The dragon is what inspired this necklace in the first place!

This is what I wrote when I connected to this original inspiration:

In Asian cultures, the dragon is regarded as a strong, benevolent creature. The dragon symbolizes luck, strength, determination, and protection. This pendant is a nice blend of yin/yang: the powerful dragon (yang) is backed by soft purple jade (yin)...

In only three sentences I've provided a little history, cultural relevance, strong, positive nouns ("determination"), SEO ("dragon" three times), and color. Now the potential customer can connect, through the written word, to this piece of jewelry in a way the word "unique" cannot provide.

The bottom line is to write something that is uniquely connected to the item you're selling. Yes, I used it on purpose! If you're using copy that sounds like what so many others write, how can you truly identify what is distinctive about your item?

Write from your own connection to the item you love and you'll already be on the right track.

Good luck, and good writing!

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Sale, A New Logo, Tweeting, and Other News from Lunar Blue

Hello readers! It has been busy in the Lunar Blue Studio and I want to fill you in on all the activity.

First, you can now follow us on Twitter!

I was reluctant to start "tweeting," but I'm surprised how relevant and fun it can be. I've already found one great article about why press releases don't work anymore as a way of promoting your business, and what does. (Hint: it all comes down to that niche marketing/figure out your angle way of thinking.)

Second, we are releasing our first monthly newsletter in a matter of hours! I'm very excited about this new way of connecting with our clients and providing some great information: an in-depth column about gemstones written by our own Ph.D planetary scientist/jewelry designer, advance notice of sales in our online boutique, news about Lunar Blue events and workshops, and a special discount every month created especially for our newsletter subscribers. Click here to receive this free newsletter.

Finally, you may notice that we are transitioning to a new logo. It's a little sad to see the old one go, but it's truly fun to make the change to something brighter and rather nifty.

One final mention as a courtesy to our readers--all of our charms will be 50% for the entire month of August! That's $6 for a spiffy adornment to your purse or handbag, cell phone, zipper, belt or jeans loop, or just about anywhere you want to add some classy individual style. Add just $1 for First Class shipping and a free small organza bag and you have yourself a great gift or treat for yourself.

All of our charms are handmade with sterling silver and gemstones, crystals, and designer glass. Just because it's little doesn't mean it shouldn't be high-quality, beautiful, and made to last!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Glories of Amber - Part Two: Finding and Using

Raw Amber
Gemstones are (for the most part) hidden treasures.  If they are not buried deep underground, then they are in hard to find, off-the-beaten-track places.  This isn't a surprise, since any easy to reach gemstones were found by humans long ago and carted off.  Amber is no exception.

Given that amber is a product of ancient trees, it is now found in the areas where large forests of those trees once existed.  While small amounts might be encountered globally, the largest deposits of amber, possibly 90% of the Earth's retrievable storehouse, can be found on the Baltic Sea.  Baltic amber has long held the position as the most dependable and desirable amber for gemstones (although this market is quite competitive).  Baltic amber is mined, but some amber can actually be found by "fishing."  Since amber is one of the very lightest stones, it will float in saltwater.  Storms in the Baltic Sea stir up the seafloor, and allow nodules of amber to float to the surface.

Cloisonne Necklace Highlighted With
Orange Amber (Ambroid) Beads
Amber burns when heated and gives off a scent like pine.  Because of this, it wasn't only used for jewelry, but for incense and in religious rituals.  Combined with other materials, it was also historically used in perfumes.  Its soft nature allows it to be carved easily, and so it was, and is, used to create pipes, urns, parts of musical instruments, pieces of light fixtures, and much more.  Today the most common use for the best pieces of amber is in high quality jewelry.  Lower quality amber or small pieces are pressed together to create stones that rival the best for beauty, but are considered lesser because they have been through a manufacturing process.  The very lowest quality amber is generally processed into oils and resins.

Finding and using amber is also a trick for the gemstone artist, since this material is expensive, exclusive, and easily imitated.  But more on that later!

Image Credit:
Raw Amber from
Cloisonne Necklace from our site,, one of our unique designs!  This one includes vermeil gold (gold plated over sterling silver) accents, along with Swarovski crystal, amber (ambroid), and fresh water pearl.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Art Friday - Here We Come

As a child, I loved going to craft fairs.  I was enthralled by the colors, textures, sounds, and reflected lights from fabric, paper, glass, and metal.  There could be nothing better, I thought, than being the person selling wonderful treasures at a craft fair.  It must be a great feeling, making something beautiful, something unique, and then having someone take it home to enrich their life.  Wow.

So it's a little dream come true - Lunar Blue Designs will be a vendor at Downtown Boston's Art Friday this very Friday, June 3, from 11am to 6pm.  It is located right smack in the middle of all the action in Downtown Crossing, right next to the orange line stop, and only a block from the Park Street green line stop.  Amy and I have gone to browse several times.  There are all kinds of vendors selling jewelry, sculptures, paintings, purses, scarves, belts, and even organic honey.  Not to mention that the area always has great street carts with yummy food, and local music talent plying their trade.

And it is supposed to be a gorgeous day!  I just checked the weather - high of 74 degrees, sunny, and no chance of rain.

If you are looking for a Father's Day gift, we'll have gemstone key rings available for both men and women, as well as bolo ties for people who like a little southwestern flair in their fashion.  Our malas make great gifts for meditators of any gender.  And of course we'll have a selection of earrings, bracelets and necklaces.  Amy will be taking custom orders for malas, both 108 bead malas and smaller wrist malas.  So if you don't see what you like, or if you want to create something special, you can work directly with her.

Looking forward to Friday!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Glories of Amber - Part One: Origins

Amber is a lovely and highly desirable gemstone with a fascinating past.  Each piece has been witness to a metamorphosis from liquid plant matter to prized hardened natural plastic.  Then comes the creation of a chip, bead, or faceted stone, which is then included in a design with its own context and story.

Given the complex history of each nugget of amber, it is no surprise that trying to navigate through the use of amber and amber imitations in jewelry is equally complicated.  Especially since the amber "gemstone" isn't really a stone at all.

Amber begins as a liquid secretion from some trees.  It is not derived from the sap of the tree, but instead comes from the outer layers.  This is a natural hydrocarbon resin, and depending on the source, it can be used in creating lacquers, adhesives, and varnishes.  The use of this substance to the tree is not clear; it might be a way for the tree to rid itself of material it does not need.  Although in some cases it seems that this secretion may either repulse creatures that might eat the tree or attract beneficial insects. 

After secretion, the resin begins to harden, and becomes copal.  Copal can be as little as 1000 years old, and might even be collected right from the surface.  But true amber is an ancient material, tens of millions of years old.  In order to create amber naturally the resin must be buried, perhaps by sediment, and transformed by the high pressures and temperatures underground.  Eventually, enough of the volatile material is driven off that amber is finally formed.  Humans might then find it by searching areas cut into by water and erosion, or mining for it directly.

Depending on the part of the world the amber originates, it is probably 40-50 million years old.  The very oldest amber found *might* be as old as 130-140 million years.  Part of the appeal of this lovely "stone" is the knowledge that it comes from a close genetic relative - trees - and is the product of living processes.

Image Credit:  Insects in Baltic Amber, Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0
Sterling Post Earrings with Green Amber (Ambroid), Swarovski Crystal, and Malachite - Lunar Blue Designs

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Crystal in Handmade Jewlery - Part Four: The Shape of Things

Structure and composition aren't the only characteristics that help define the word "crystal" in common use.  For some people, the internal order and composition are not important, and what they mean when they say "crystal" is "has a regular geometric shape ending in a point."  In other words, the shape of the stone is the key factor.

This is a meaning often encountered in sites that deal with gemstones and their symbolic properties, such as healing.  This meaning might also be encountered on sites interested in selling materials for use in wicca, like wands for altars or pendulums for divination.  As noted in previous posts, this use of the word "crystal" is not incorrect - it is a reflection of history and culture.  There are many people who would be disappointed to purchase a "crystal" and find it isn't "crystal shaped."

Crystal points do make lovely jewelry, either drilled through as beads or wire wrapped as pendants.  The shape evokes a sense of mystery and magic.  Depending on the nature of the stone, they might range from delicate to sharp, and so might need to be treated with some care.  No two points are ever exactly the same unless they are mechanically cut or lab grown - gemstones all have natural variation.  Because of this pairing them for earrings or to use in sets takes some patience and design skill.

So to wrap up this four part series on crystal, the "point" again is know what you are using in your designs, and purchasing from your favorite sites.  One simple word like "crystal" does not mean the same thing to everyone, and so be sure to get specific details before you buy.  That way you can be certain you will love your jewelry when it arrives, and treasure it for years to come.

Image Credit: Quartz Crystal, Rob Lavinsky, CC 3.0,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Little Artist

Etsy is fun for so many reasons, but mainly for the community of artists and crafters you meet. There are people from all over the world putting a little of themselves into the internet ethos, selling their art, making a little beer money, making ends meet, or making a good living. It's both enjoyable and inspiring to be a part of such and energetic and creative community.

In case you think we're all grownups here, let me add that there are also youngsters on Etsy who take their work quite seriously. One such little artist owns the shop "AnArtistNamedKatie," which features her paintings. Why sell her work on Etsy? According to her profile, it's to raise money for a new school building (and perhaps for that new horse she has always dreamed about)!

Check out her shop and you'll see why I've featured her. This is a kid's work, but there is a hint of her future artistic eye in it. Look at those faces in "Girl," "Mouse," and "A Pig in Theory." There's a poignancy in their expressions. This, coupled with genuinely interesting shading and color choices, makes her work rather captivating. Katie adds her own unique expression to the diverse, complicated, and fascinating world of arts and crafts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wrist Malas: Convenient, Affordable, and Spiritually Handy

Although I love my beautiful carnelian 108 bead mala--and I love making 108 bead malas--I also own and frequently wear a wrist mala. Mine is aquamarine and crackle quartz with a small sterling buddha charm serving as the guru bead. It's pretty and wearable, it's pleasing to look at, and it is entirely functional.

Case in point: during a recent and particularly turbulent airplane ride which ended with an unpleasantly bumpy landing, you can bet I was using my wrist mala to close my eyes, focus, breathe, and not allow myself to freak out. Or throw up.

A stretch mala doesn't replace a hand-knotted 108 bead mala, but it is ideal when your regular mala is not available or convenient. I like to use mine when traveling, when out for a busy day working or running errands, or anytime I can't or don't wish to bring along my full mala. My wrist beads are always right with me, next to my skin, ready for use or just a quick reminder to be in the moment and to stay calm. They're also pretty.

I'm excited to say that we have just listed several new wrist malas in our shop. I have been designing and making these for some time, and I'm excited to have them available at last. Nothing makes me happier than sharing an item that brings peace, acceptance, and awareness.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lampwork Glass and Some New Charms

As our designer has mentioned before, glass is a wonderful material and especially nice for making jewelry. Gemstones are so popular right now--and for good reason, they're gorgeous--that it's easy to forget how beautiful and versatile glass can be.

Our chief designer loves to work with a variety of beads called lampwork glass. The artisans who make this kind of layered, colorful bead start with solid rods of glass, then use a gas torch to melt the rods. Once the glass is melted, the artisan can use tools or simply blowing on the glass or through a tube to shape the material and add layers of design in any color or shape she chooses.

Not surprisingly, this practice of lampworking glass was perfected in Murano, Italy, a location reknowned for making many kinds of beautiful, high-quality artisan glass. I'm wondering if I can write off a business trip to Murano. You know, to check out the glass. :-) (Find more information on lampworking here.)

We have several lampwork glass items in our shop, the newest being our lampwork glass phone and zipper pull charms. You can find them here.

Do you work with or purchase lampwork glass items? Do you specialize or find them a nice occasional alternative to gemstones and other materials?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Treasury and a Little Bit About Malas

There's a neat treasury on Etsy of items made by New England artists and crafters. One of my malas is featured (the one I have pictured here). It's made of nephrite jade, Czech glass, sterling silver, cotton thread, and a Tibetan white turquoise guru bead.

Every mala I make is designed with a distinct meaning and purpose. It's important to feel a connection with the mala you're choosing--that instinctual, visceral "ah" feeling that lets you know it was meant for you. If you're in the market for some prayer beads and/or malas, take some time, look around, and follow your intuition. The most important thing is to feel connected to your mala.

Here are a few more examples to check out:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crystal in Handmade Jewelry - Part Three: Crystal Versus Glass - Composition

All Swarovski crystal (in
other words, lead glass)
and sterling silver suncatcher
Having taken a look at Crystal Versus Glass - Structure in my most recent post in the series, let's talk here about chemical composition.

First things first - how is it that a 'wine glass' can be 'crystal'?  Didn't I say previously that crystal had an ordered structure and glass did not?  Yes.  Crystal wine glasses aren't crystal.  They are made of glass.  They are made of a specific kind of glass that has had lead added to it to make it more reflective and prismatic.  The use of 'crystal' to describe this substance is historic, coming from Murano glass manufacturing in Venice.  In those days the manufacturers were trying to imitate some of the properties of natural quartz crystal.  This idiom, or convention, has remained.  'Lead glass' is the same as 'lead crystal' is the same as 'the stuff my crystal wine glass is made of.'

This confusion of terms has translated to the bead market, where both glass, lead glass, and synthetic and natural crystal are all used side by side.

So what is it about high quality, expensive 'crystal', like say Waterford, that makes it so desirable?  Regular water glasses, even if nicely etched and cut, do not have the flash and brilliance of, say, Waterford crystal faceted wine glasses.  As I said before, lead has been added to regular 'glass' to make it 'lead crystal'.  Lead increases the index of refraction of regular glass, which means that light going through the material is reflected around more, and also split like a prism.  'Fine cut lead crystal' is a phrase that means a sparkling, fiery wine glass that will look impressive on the dinner table.

Gorgeous trio of designer glass
earrings.  Even the Swarovski crystal
accents are of course glass.
The same is true for beads.  Beads made of standard glass will not have the same flash and brilliance as lead crystal, even if they are the exact same color and cut in the same way.  This does not mean that 'glass' is bad.  Not at all.  Remember, these kinds of 'crystal' beads are in fact glass.  This is simply glass with lead added to it make it sparkly.  Glass is a fantastic substance that makes highly desirable and sought after jewelry.  I adore glass, and am a huge fan of Murano beads, designer lampwork, and glittering dichroic creations.  The point is to know what you are using in your work as a designer, and what you are buying as a consumer.

I'll talk more about why I choose to use various glass and crystal materials in a later post!

Images:  Suncatcher and earrings are our designs, and available in our Etsy store.  Stop by to see these and similar items!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Haiku and Jewelry - A Poetic Fit

To start this post - a quick reminder that everything green ships for free from our Etsy store through St. Patrick's Day!

Over on RioGrande's blog, The Studio, they are running a little contest that combines haiku and jewelry.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to try my hand - the act of designing and creating jewelry seems rather poetic as it is.  And you already know how I feel about the stories in the stones - there are tales to be told by the gemstones and jewels in our lives.

So here are my two little haiku offerings ...

gemstone bead demands
the company of sterling
wisdom bows and nods

these stones are silent
yet there are stories inside
design is language

That last line "design is language" really resonates for me.  Design is how we interpret the stories in the gemstones, and give those stories voice.  Might be corny, I know, and yet I still believe it.  :)

Image:  Gorgeous triple strands of peridot, crystal, and glass mingle with sterling silver in a celtic celebration. Available on our Etsy site.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crystal In Handmade Jewelry - Part Two: Crystal versus Glass Structure

Our 11" Suncatcher Talisman showing
off a variety of crystalline solids, such
as a smoky quartz faceted crystal
In Part One of my series of posts on 'crystal' I talked about many of the different definitions and uses for this common word in handmade jewelry business.  As this series continues, I am going to focus on each of the various views of 'crystal' and hopefully dispel some of the ambiguity.

A common place to find confusion is in the use of 'crystal' versus 'glass' in the materials listed for a handmade piece.  To a geologist, these terms have a specific difference based on structure.  To a bead artist, these terms are more likely to be differentiated based on chemical content.  Let's talk about structure first ...

'Glass' is a solid substance where the structure of the atoms is irregular and amorphous (and which will turn into a liquid when enough heat is applied).  There is no large scale order to be found in 'glass'.  Conversely, the structure of a 'crystalline' solid is very regular.  The internal matrix of a crystal is repetitive and highly ordered.

It is possible to have a 'glassy' form of a material that has the exact chemical composition as a 'crystalline' form.  The most most well known crystal is quartz, made of silicon and oxygen, SiO2, in a nice repeating pattern.  But SiO2 is also the major constituent of 90% of the glass in our everyday lives.  A crystalline substance can be formed by cooling a liquid slowly, allowing the atoms to line up into a nice, repeating pattern as the stuff becomes solid.  A glassy substance can be formed by cooling a liquid very quickly.  The stuff becomes a solid before the atoms have time to line up.

This means that any 'crystal' in a necklace need only be made of a solid with a repeating structure to be referred to as 'crystal'.  A designer that uses quartz crystal in a necklace will call it crystal, and be absolutely correct.  Yet this can be misleading if you imagine all crystal means 'Swarovski.'

I'll post soon about crystal versus glass - composition!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lunar Blue Feature and Free Shipping on Green Items

That's right, free shipping on everything green on our shop! Thank goodness for a party day in the middle of March. Just when you think spring is coming, wham! - another storm hits the east coast. The least we can do is offer a little free shipping in honor of St. Patrick and his great legacy of green beer and shamrocks.

If you haven't yet checked out The Mind Body Spirit Marketplace, do so! Today they're featuring Lunar Blue Designs, including a picture of one of our malas. Check out the excellent blog, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lunar Blue Designs featured on The Mind Body Spirit Marketplace

Sometimes a little thing can really make your day. Diane over at The Mind body Spirit Marketplace on Facebook is featuring our Etsy shop on her page tomorrow. Check it out! It's a lovely amalgam of spiritually-minded jewelry, art, and shops, with a little eastern philosophy binding it all together. She also has a great blog. I'm glad she found us so we could find her!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crystal in Handmade Jewelry - Part One: More Than One Definition

Quartz crystal point in back, propping
up a rhyolite gemstone flecked with
crystal inclusions
Hello Gemstone Fans:

'Crystal' is a common constituent of handmade jewelry, but the word is very often used in ways that are confusing.  Is the designer talking about the composition of the material, its shape, its clarity, or saying it is a single piece of rock, uncut?  When designers describe their jewelry, sometimes they do not provide enough information to let the buyer know exactly what they are getting.  Unscrupulous sellers may even allow misinterpretations to remain unaddressed, hoping the buyer will think they are getting something of higher quality than what is actually included in the piece.

So to start, I simply want to point out how problematic the word 'crystal' can be.  In the first image above, we see a nicely formed quartz crystal.  Some people would call it a crystal because of the regular geometric shape.  Others might think 'crystal' because it is made of solid quartz.   A geologist might call it a crystal because it is a uncut chunk of a mineral in its natural form, or because its atoms are in a nicely regular matrix, instead of scattered about amorphously.  A geologist would also use the word 'crystals' to describe the granules of different minerals found in the rhyolite.

Crystal martini glass displays a pair
of earrings, each with a crystal
bicone bead on top.

More examples of 'crystal' are in the second image.  For some, the only crystal they are familiar with on a daily basis are cut crystal glasses and bowls used for dining or serving.  For others, the word crystal always means bright, sparkly, glassy looking beads, like those found atop the shells in this pair of earrings.  It may be that the chemical content of the beads isn't at all what they are thinking of, simply their common shapes, colors, and flash.

So with all the different ideas for what a 'crystal' is, or what 'crystal' can mean, there is no surprise that confusion exists.  Stay tuned here for more information about how you can be more informed about what is in your jewelry, and how to make sure you are getting exactly what you want!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

February Friendship and Romance in Glass and Stone

Hello Gemstone Fans:

The big event in February for many jewelry fans falls on the 14th, with the arrival of Valentine's Day.  It has become one of the most popular celebrations in the United States.  Everyone seems to be looking for a personal and special way to express affection to friends and loved ones.

We've added a new line of products to our offerings at Lunar Blue Designs - lanyard charms you can use to add personality and sparkle to almost anything, anywhere.  Slip the lanyard through zippers to create zipper pulls, use as charms for cell phones, or jazz up purses, belt loops, key rings, or whatever your imagination suggests. 

This is one of the first lanyard charms I created, celebrating Valentine's Day in my own way.  The charm centerpiece is an elegant, puffy Murano-style glass heart with embedded silver foil, topped with a pink bicone of Swarovski crystal, and highlighted with all sterling silver findings and spacers.  The length is about 3.75 inches.  This is one of those pieces that almost didn't make it out of the house.  Although I am partial to skulls and darker themes and icons, this charm has so much appeal.  It showcases so much of what makes glass an attractive material for beaded jewelry and accessories - shine, smoothness, glow, flash, and lovely color.


Image Credits:  Murano Glass Heart Charm posted in our Etsy store January 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcoming the New Year

One of our pieces sold this winter - my
favorite sterling and lapis necklace!
Thrilled to see it find a home.
Hello Gemstone Fans:

Happy New Year!  We're looking forward to 2011 - we have lots of plans and ideas, including attending international bead and gemstone shows, developing some new products, offering workshops, and as always, creating unique gemstone jewelry, devotional pieces and accessories.  It's what we do :)

The end of 2010 was busy, which was nice both from a sales perspective and because busy winter holidays mean fun, family, and friends.  One perk of having a partner (and sister) who makes devotional malas is the prospect of getting one for a gift - which I did.  I picked out the beads for it; a set of lovely blue lapis 8mm beads, as well as sterling silver markers and a filigree guru bead.  Amy hand knotted these into a traditional 108 bead mala and added a metallic blue handmade tassel which brings out the dark glints of pyrite in the lapis.  I love it.

We now have a presence on deviantArt, under my login name of DesignerMoon.  We've been highlighting the artistic aspect of our work there.  It seems a great place to get inspired by other great art, interact with more of the online beading community, and use the space to provide expanded descriptions and stories for the pieces.  Check out the journal there for updates and features unique to the dA environment.

Keep your eyes on the blog here for more updates, but especially for features about the interesting stories behind gemstones and the unique stuff we make from them!  Hope you have a beautiful New Year.


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