Over the course of human history, many famous and illustrious minds have been drawn in by the hypnotic allure of diamonds. Something in the sparkle of this April birthstone just casts an irreversible spell over the imagination, regardless of social station or place in time…But before Kim and Kanye ever showed off their 15 carats of commitment, before Elizabeth Taylor decided “big girls need big diamonds,” and before they were Marilyn’s best friend, there was Pliny the Elder.
Though perhaps not as flashy as some of today’s divas this ancient Roman scholar was not shy when it came to demanding some diamonds. A man of stunning intellect, his nephew, Pliny the Younger, wrote of him:
“The only time he took from his work was for his bath, and by bath I mean his actual immersion, for while he was being rubbed down and dried he had a book read to him or dictated notes.”
In fact, during his lifetime, the elder Pliny set about the task of describing no less than the entire known natural universe. His writings, known as the “Naturalis Historia,” were the first model for the modern encyclopedia.
Fortunately for us, is not necessary to leaf through all 37 volumes of his epically-proportioned tome to see that, just like the fashionistas of today, the diamond’s mischievous sparkle was just as potent to the mind of this erudite scholar. In his 37th and final volume, he introduced diamonds as the Jupiter of all gemstones:
“Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones, but of all things in this world.”
In a glowing, and even overexaggerated account, Pliny goes on to proclaim that:
“All these stones can be tested upon the anvil and they repel blows so that an iron hammer head may be split into two and even the anvil unseated. Indeed the hardness of the diamond is not able to be described.”
Following all this praise of diamond, it comes as almost a surprise that he went on to heap disdain on those who dared to dress themselves in what he considered too many gems. Whether intentional or not, his contempt for the Roman “excess” in fashion can even border on the humorous, in such accounts as that of his description of the affect pearls had on the ladies of the empire:
“Our ladies quite glory in having these suspended from their fingers, or two or three of them dangling from their ears. For the purpose of ministering to these luxurious tastes, there are various names and wearisome refinements which have been devised by profuseness and prodigality; for after inventing these ear-rings, they have given them the name of ‘crotalia,’ or castanet pendants, as though quite delighted even with the rattling of the pearls as they knock against each other!”
Unfortunately, in the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius of Pompeii, this great mind met his untimely end. There the younger Pliny took up the torch of historian, and is the only remaining source today of the great tragedy which struck Pompeii. He described the characteristic virtue and boldness of his uncle in this final description, in which Pliny decided to rush into danger’s way to respond to the plea of a friend:
“He changed his plans, and what he had begun in a spirit of inquiry he completed as a hero…Happy are they, in my opinion, to whom it is given either to do something worth writing about, or to write something worth reading; most happy, of course, those who do both. With his own books and yours, my uncle will be counted among the latter.” (Pliny, to Tacitus)
The Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio and The Pearl Society cordially invite you to join us on a private, guided tour of the Driehaus Museum, a Gilded Age museum and historic mansion in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The tour will feature an array of unique pearls and other gems in the new exhibit: Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. The tour will be followed by a brief Q&A.
When: Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 10:30 am
Where: The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 40 East Erie Street, Chicago
Reserve your place now as space is limited to only 15 lucky attendees! Call 847-869-7920 to pay by credit card, or stop by the Gallery to pay in person. Private tour cost is $21/person (non-refundable) which is required at the time you reserve your place.
Please make checks payable to Eve J. Alfillé Gallery.
Please note: We will meet at the museum at 10:30am. Parking is available for $14.00/car with museum validation at ROW Self-Park, 50 East Ohio, Chicago.
Thursday, March 6, from 6pm to 8pm at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio, 623 Grove St., Evanston
The Pearl Society salutes the Chinese Year of the Horse at its upcoming March 6th meeting, Thursday evening from 6 to 8 pm. The Chinese Dragon is depicted in pursuit of both pearls and jade, stepping stones to eternal life and wealth. At this March meeting our guest speaker, Scottie Perry, will discuss the many aspects of Jade. According to artist & Pearl Society founder, Eve Alfillé, Ms. Perry’s many years living in Asia have made her highly cognizant of jade’s major role in these cultures. Scottie served as docent in Asian museums, and has traveled extensively and amassed knowledge that is not otherwise familiar to westerners. This lively session is interactive, fun & not to be missed!
Please join us for this unusual presentation and become familiar with Jade’s multiple aspects. Be sure to bring your Jade jewelry for perusal & discussion.
Please reserve now! 847-869-7920 or e-mail Eve at email@example.com
Refreshments will be served
I was recently given a four strand gold pearl necklace purchased in the Philippine Islands in the 60’s. I am questioning their authenticity.
How do I tell?
You have asked a great question, are they in fact pearls from an oyster, or man-made?
This comes up quite often as people inherit jewelry from family members. And, in fact it is fairly easy to know.
The Pearl Test: The simple test is to rub them one pearl against another (you can rub fairly hard).
Pearls cultured from oysters are gritty in feel even thought they may look smooth. Natural or cultured pearls will have that gritty feel when you rub them together, while faux pearls feel smooth.
You can also rub a pearl against your teeth, if you like, and your real pearls will give the same impression of grittiness.
This is due to the fact that the organic substance deposited by oysters consists of microscopic crystalline plates, whereas man-made pearls are beads of glass (or plastic) coated in one or more layers of varnish. Some are even dipped in a mixture which includes ground-up fish scales to add some luminescence.
“Promise of Spring necklace,” by artist Eve J Alfille, features a collection of natural color pearls, cultured around the world; which Eve has combined to make up this beautiful necklace with her 18k white gold “Acanthus” series clasp.
If you would like to learn more about pearls in general, you might like to become a member of The Pearl Society and receive the quarterly newsletter. Dues are $25 a year, and include bi-monthly meetings held in my Evanston, IL Gallery The Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio (in the Chicago area).
It may seem like your Jewelry takes care of itself. After all, its made from strong metals, and stones as old as time. Truth be told, your jewelry is as fragile as it is pretty, and a little bit of care, will go a long way.
Here are a few crucial tips for cleaning and maintaining your jewelry which help ensure that your precious pieces will last a lifetime.
1. Treat your jewelry with care! All jewelry should be removed before doing housework, gardening, workouts and sports.
Most people go to great lengths to avoid scratching their car, but expect their precious jewelry to survive all their activities unscathed. Cars are made out of steel which has a hardness of 6 on the Moh’s scale. Precious metals have a hardness of 2.5 or 3, which is much softer than steel! Even gripping the handlebars of your bike or elliptical machine will cause your precious metal rings (and sometimes bracelets too,) to bang against a much harder object repeatedly. (Would you ever bang your car against a steel object repeatedly?!)
If you cannot take off your rings to work out or garden, at least wear the proper gloves to offer some level of cushioning and protection of the metal and gemstones!
2. Do not store your jewelry together.
Keep each piece in a soft pouch, separate compartment or cotton lined box. Diamonds, rubies and sapphires will scratch or abrade every other thing they touch. Likewise, metal will scratch other metals. Pearls are also extremely soft and should not be stored with other gems. Store your things carefully, don’t cram all the pouches into a drawer or box, delicate settings can become damaged or bent (even broken by too much pressure) if improperly stored.
3. Clean your jewelry regularly – but be sure the method used is safe for your piece.
For most of your jewelry we actually recommend cleaning it with a common household item you might not expect. . . rubbing alcohol! Yes, really, rubbing alcohol – a simple solution that is readily available at any drugstore or supermarket will remove grease and dirt with a little gentle brushing.
We suggest putting the jewelry in a small dish covered with the rubbing alcohol for a few minutes, then use a soft brush (like an old soft bristle toothbrush) to remove the film left by lotion, soap, dirt and oils (yes, we have seen dried food inside settings too – ugh!) Be sure to use the brush to go in & around and behind all the settings and gems, then rinse again with alcohol (or water) and let air dry on a clean soft towel.
DO NOT use rubbing alcohol on porous gems; like emeralds which contain oil and must only be cleaned with lukewarm water; opals, which have a high water content; or porous gems like turquoise, bone, etc. Porous gems should only be cleaned with lukewarm water and a soft brush, then dried as above. If you own a laser-drilled diamond, fracture-filled ruby or other gem with an unconventional treatment, skip the alcohol and use only warm water & the soft bristle brush, and keep them away from acids like lemon juice!
If in doubt, have it professionally cleaned.
Scratching and other damage can occur from improper cleaning. Do not over clean. Never use bleach or household cleaners. When in doubt, do not use chemicals, but use a soft brush and luke warm water.
Surprisingly, rubbing alcohol will not damage pearls, however, pearls set into jewelry are usually also cemented to a precious metal post with glue or epoxy, so do not leave a piece with a pearl set in it soaking in any liquid for more than a few minutes as it may begin to loosen the cement that is holding it in place.
4. Periodically check for loose gems by gently shaking the piece, or by tapping it with your finger near your ear.
Prongs may be checked by trying to insert a thin piece of paper between the gem and the metal prongs. When in doubt, have it professionally checked. Have all loose gemstones tightened before wearing your jewelry
5. Restring your gemstone and/or pearl bracelets and necklaces regularly.
Pearls are usually strung securely with silk, and are knotted between each pearl to avoid abrasion and prevent loss if the string should break. If your pearls seem to “travel” loosely on the thread or if the thread has discolored, it is time to restring. Have the pearls restrung once a year, if worn frequently. Heavier pearls may need to be restrung more often.
If the pearls seem to become dingy, it is time for a cleaning. Pearls can be cleaned professionally or you can wash them gently with Woolite in warm water, being careful not to stretch the thread. Rinse thoroughly and let air dry on a towel until the thread is completely dry (usually at least 24 hours).
6. Check clasps and fasteners often. If they are not properly adjusted you risk losing your piece, so bring it in and have it professionally checked, adjusted or repaired if needed.
7. Do not store opals & pearls in the vault or a plastic bag, unless you keep a small open container of water in with it, and do not store them in direct sunlight either, or let acids and chemicals come into contact with them.
Pearls and opals will dry out and become discolored or loose their luster, even crack if stored in too dry an environment. Never expose pearls or opals to hair sprays, cosmetics, perfumes, sun lotions or insect repellents – the acids in them will attack the pearls. Often “Grandma’s pearls” are no longer beautiful and lose their value because they were stored in a safety deposit box or vault where the temperature and moisture are adjusted to keep paper documents, stocks, money, etc. in the best condition.
Pearl and opal dealers will keep an open container of water INSIDE their safes (and make sure to keep them filled) to avoid this sort of damage. You should also do this. It is OK to keep your pearls & opals in a sealed plastic bag for a short period of time, but they will dry out and potentially sustain damage if left for too long. This also applies to leaving these jewels in a hot, closed car – we do not recommend this! Pearls should be the last article to go on and first to come off when dressing.
8. Take your jewelry off at night or when doing rigorous activities.
Platinum & palladium jewelry is very durable and strong, and they do not lose metal through wear and contact like other precious metals do, however they can still be scratched. Other precious metals, like gold and silver, will scratch and gradually become worn as they come in contact with other objects and frequent wear. Even your sheets will contribute to this, so we strongly recommend you take off your jewelry at night and store it gently until you put it back on.
9. Avoid wearing any gold or silver, opals, pearls & porous gems) jewelry in chlorinated water, such as swimming pools and hot tubs, because chlorine attacks the alloys in these metals.
Jewelry made of 14 karat gold is 58.5% gold and the other 41.5% is a mix of different metal alloys — depending on the color of the gold and the manufacturer’s formula. 18 karat gold is 75% pure gold and the balance are different metal alloys. Chlorine attacks the molecular structure of the piece, and suspends the alloys in solution, actually carrying away some of the alloys with each exposure, greatly weakening your piece of jewelry. You risk gems falling from their settings or the piece cracking as a result of the effects of chlorine and other damaging chemicals, so do not wear them in swimming pools, hot tubs, or while working with bleach and other harsh chemicals & acids. Platinum and palladium are nearly chemically inert, so they are not affected.
10. Dirt & grime build-up will dull the beauty and sparkle of your gemstone set rings & cause stones to be pushed out of their settings!
This is true for all your jewelry, but rings are the most vulnerable because we wash our hands frequently through out the day. Soap residue, lotion, sunscreen, dirt and grime build-up inside your rings over time and can actually gradually cause your gemstones and diamonds to be pushed out of their settings and be lost. As these substances accumulate inside your ring settings through normal wear, they will dry and harden almost acting like cement behind the gems. Then, as you wash your hands during the day, or while washing dishes or preparing food, this buildup gets moist and expands, creating a pressure that works to loosen your gems. Over time, with repeated wetting, expanding and then drying and contracting, the gems are slowly pushed out of their moorings. So, please remember to clean them regularly to avoid these problems and keep them looking pretty, sparkly and well cared for.
If you’re ever in doubt about the care of your precious pieces, or you have a piece in dire need of care, please drop by or call for a special appointment.