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Why is coral so controversial?

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As today is World Oceans Day, it’s time to have a conversation about coral jewellery.  What is coral and why is coral so controversial?

Like the bones in our body and pearls, coral is made of calcium carbonate.  The coral we see in jewellery is formed from the external skeletons of plant-like underwater organisms called coral polyps.  Colonies of these tiny polyps grow, die and repeat this cycle over generations, building up huge structures over time.  Once harvested, coral is polished to produce beads, cabochons and irregular-shaped branches for use in jewellery. 

There are many different types of coral, but we refer to the coral used in jewellery as ‘precious’ coral.  Historically, precious coral referred to the genus Corallium, a deep red to pink variety that commands the highest prices.  Nowadays, the term ‘precious’ is used to refer to any coral made into jewellery, including Antipatharia (black), Heliopora Coerulea (blue) or Gerardia (gold), among others. 

Traditionally, Corallium was harvested in the Mediterranean.  Unfortunately, this type of coral grows only a millimetre per year and decades of over harvesting has decimated natural coral reefs—not only in the Mediterranean, but also the world over.  This is disastrous for marine life, as coral reefs provide the planet with some of its richest and most biologically diverse ecosystems.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has attempted to address this but getting countries to agree to protective legislation has proven to be extremely difficult.   Farming coral for reef restoration and for aquariums is possible, but precious coral grows too slowly and in conditions that are too difficult to make commercial farming viable. 

Much of the coral on sale in markets and fairs is bamboo coral, a porous, white variety of deep-sea coral that has been filled, dyed red and polished to imitate the more expensive Corallium.  Unfortunately bamboo coral is not a more sustainable choice, as continued demand for coral is creating the same problems for reefs of bamboo coral as it has done for the more sought-after types.

Because of the environmental and ethical issues surrounding coral jewellery, many jewellers no longer use it in their collections, from big names like Tiffany and Co, who stopped selling coral jewellery in 2004, to independent artisan jewellers and craftspeople.  

Ultimately, the only way to wear coral jewellery sustainably is to look for antique or vintage pieces—our oceans are far more precious than strings of coral beads!

Kim Rix GG GIA

Author of Gemstone Detective

Be sure | Be smart | Buy with confidence

September’s birthstone: Sapphire

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September’s birthstone is sapphire.  If you’re a September baby, then lucky you – regal and stylish, there’s a variety of this gorgeous gemstone to suit everyone.

September's birthstone sapphire | www.gemstonedetective.com

The word sapphire comes from the ancient Greek sappheiros meaning ‘blue’, which itself comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘precious gem’ and possibly from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘dark coloured’. 

It’s probably the case that when someone says ‘sapphire’, you think of a deep blue gemstone, but did you know that sapphires occur in many different colours?   With blue, pink, green, yellow, orange, purple, black and even colourless to choose from, you won’t be stuck for a sapphire to match your favourite outfit.

September’s birthstone doesn’t come in red, though, and that’s because red sapphires are actually…rubies!  Both sapphire and ruby are varieties of the mineral corundum and all corundum’s various colours are caused by different chemical elements within it.  For example, titanium and iron in the corundum give rise to an intense blue sapphire, and trace amounts of vanadium produce sapphires of a purple hue.

September's birthstone sapphire | www.gemstonedetective.com

After blue sapphires, the padparadscha is the most prized ‘fancy’ sapphire.  Padparadscha means ‘lotus flower’ in Sinhalese, one of the native languages of Sri Lanka and was named because the gem has the same gorgeous salmon-pink colour of the blossom. 

Corundum is the second hardest mineral after diamond—9 on the Mohs scale of hardness—which makes it a great choice of gemstone to wear in rings that are prone to knocks and scratches

If you’ve chosen sapphire for an engagement ring, you’re in famous company.  The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, wears the engagement ring that famously once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales—a 12-carat, cornflower-blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Princess Eugenie’s engagement ring too, is a sapphire – a stunning, peach-coloured padparadscha.

Another reason to slip a sapphire on your beloved’s finger is that sapphire symbolises fidelity and sincerity when used in an engagement ring!

Star sapphire | www.gemstonedetective.com

Sapphire can occur as a phenomenal gemstone—a gemstone that displays certain optical effects. A sapphire with asterism (a so-called ‘star sapphire’) will seem to have a six-rayed star floating across the surface of the stone; a colour-change sapphire will appear to turn another colour in different lighting conditions and a bi-coloured or ‘parti’ sapphire (typically found in Australia) displays two colours within the stone regardless of the light source.   

September's birthstone | www.gemstonedetective.com

Not only September’s birthstone, sapphire is also the traditional gift for a 45th wedding anniversary and a 65th jubilee. 

Some practitioners of alternative therapies use sapphire to promote the immune system and impart clarity and wisdom to their patients.  Whether or not you believe in the healing properties of gemstones, September’s birthstone certainly makes it a wise choice!

Kim Rix, GG (GIA)

Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence

Jewellers’ Networking Event

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Invited by Max Ginsberg, founder of the jewellers’ networking group, Jewellery and Watch Industry Network in London, I will be speaking at his next meet-up event in London. Hosted by The Jewellery Cut Live, this event is being held in the beautiful Pompadour Room at Hotel Café Royal.

Jewellers' Networking Event | www.gemstonedetective.com

You are invited. Join us for an evening of fun on September 16th. Starting with a welcome drink and networking, you can also discover how to be your own gemstone detective.

Jewellers’ Networking Group

If you come, I know you’ll be interested in the gem industry but I don’t know what level you’re at, in which case, this talk might not be for you. Although it might be for you because your experience could be so high level that maybe you’ve forgotten why people like me (before I became a gemmologist) were your customers – and we don’t know everything you know.

So if you are already in the trade, you might learn something new.

If you are new to the industry, just entering the gem trade, this jewellers’ networking evening will be a great opportunity to make new contacts within the jewellery industry, and you are guaranteed to learn something new.

It is a ticketed event, so please don’t forget to book in advance. Buy your ticket to Max’s jewellers’ networking event, during London Fashion Week.

See you there!

Kim Rix, GG (GIA)

Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be Smart. Buy with confidence

Minakari and Kundan Meena Jewellery

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Minakari is the beautiful traditional art of ornamenting the surface of metal with brilliantly coloured enamels in elaborate and exquisitely detailed patterns featuring animals, birds and plant forms. The word minakari (also spelt meenakari) derives from the Persian word ‘mina’ which refers to the azure colour of heaven. 

Minakari earrings by Pallavi Foley www.pallavifoley.com

Invented by Iranian craftsmen, the art of minakari was spread by the Mongols to India, where is quickly became established as a favoured style for jewellery.

The most popular types of minakari art are ‘ek rang khula’ which uses a single enamel colour and ‘panch rangi meena’, which uses light blue, dark blue, white, red and green. 

Traditionally gold is used in minakari jewellery as it is better able to hold the enamel and enhances the brightness and beauty of the its colours. 

Using a metal stylus, the jeweller engraves intricate designs in the surface gold.  These designs are filled with a mixture of metal oxides and powdered glass and the whole piece is then placed in a furnace to harden and fuse the enamel powder.  Its only after the firing process that the colours can be seen properly.  After cooling, the minakari is gently polished with a mixture of lemon and tamarind.

Kundan meena, which flourished in India during the Mughal reign, is a stunning fusion of the minakari style and kundan jewellery. 

Kundan and Polki are both stones. Polki jewellery is made of unfinished natural diamonds. Polki is essentially an uncut diamond that is mined from the earth in a natural way without any enhancement or lab creation.

Kundan work, can refer to setting any stone in pure precious metal i.e. it is a style of jewellery that sets polished but uncut gemstones in 24 karat gold, with gold foils placed around the stones and cold-soldered onto the base to hold them in place.  This style of stone setting is thought to have originated in the Rajasthani and Gujurati royal courts.

In kundan meena jewellery, the front of the piece is decorated in the kundan style and the reverse and sides in the meena kari style.

Kundan Meena jewellery by Pallavi Foley

The best places in India to find this exquisitely stunning jewellery are widely considered to be Jaipur and Delhi. 

Don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter or Facebook to show me your gorgeous kundan meena finds!

Oh, and one more thing.  The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed an unintentional error in Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in India, when the wrong picture was placed above a caption referring to kundan meena jewellery.  Hopefully this blog post will have set the record straight on the beautiful art forms of minakari (meenakari) and kundan meena!

Kim Rix, GG (GIA)

Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence

5 Popular Gem Cuts

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Gem Cuts – what does your favourite gem cut say about you? 

The cut of a gemstone can refer to its shape, its cutting style or a mixture of both.  Many people find that they’re drawn to gems with a particular cut – is this true for you?

Gem Cuts | gemstonedetective.com

Here are five popular gem cuts and what they say about you.

Round Brilliant cut

The round brilliant cut is a bestseller as it combines a classic shape with a cutting style designed to produce maximum sparkle.  People who choose this cut tend to be happy, sociable and content in their own skin. They don’t feel that they need to mark themselves out as being ‘different’ as they’re fine with who they are.

Oval cut

The oval cut has become even more popular after Prince William presented Kate Middleton with his mother’s oval cut sapphire ring.  If you love an oval cut gem, you’re probably refined and classy with a great sense of classic style.

Emerald cut

Not just for emeralds any more, this cut is great to show off a gem’s depth of colour.  The stepped cut became popular in the art deco period. If you find yourself drawn to this cut, you’re a deep thinker – possibly even an introvert – and love chic, stylish accessories.

Marquise cut

The marquise cut is an oval with pointed ends – sometimes described as a boat or eye shape. It’s a vintage cut and less common in engagement rings than it used to be. If the boat shaped gem floats your boat, you’ll probably lean towards an unusual, eclectic style.  You’re sharp witted and don’t suffer fools gladly.

Cabochon cut

The cabochon cut is a rounded shape with no facets.  It’s often seen on stones like moonstone and opal or any gem with striking patterns or variations. If you love a cabochon cut, you’re probably romantic and a dreamer.  You like floaty, feminine styles and may even be a bit of a hippy at heart!

So, how does this fit with you?  Is it bang on or does it get you totally wrong?  Let me know in the comments below!

Kim Rix, GG (GIA)

Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence.

Consumer Rights

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What are my consumer rights when buying gemstones and jewellery?

Consumer rights | gemstonedetective.com

March the 15th, World Consumer Rights Day, is an important date for the Gemstone Detective.  As a woman on a mission to prevent my readers from being ripped off when buying gemstones and jewellery, consumer rights are a topic close to my heart.  So, to mark the day, here’s a quick look at your rights as a shopper, whether you’re buying at home or abroad, online or on the street.

First do your homework

A little caution before you shop will save tears post purchase.  It’s safer to buy from retailers who have signed up to a recognised association and agreed to abide by a strict code of conduct.  In the UK, we have several such associations – the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) is one of the largest.  Wherever in the world you are planning to buy, look up that country’s trade associations.  Each of my country-specific Gemstone Detective books contains the details of the leading gemstone and jewellery associations operating in that country, so you can be sure you have the information you need.  

In the UK, you can buy safe in the knowledge that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 protects you if your purchases are not as described by the retailer, faulty, not fit for purpose or not of satisfactory quality.  You can usually ask for a refund, repair or replacement.  If you are buying gemstones and jewellery abroad, find out what consumer rights laws apply in that country, and make sure you have checked the retailer’s terms and conditions before purchasing. 

Plan to put purchases between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card.  Under Section 75 of the consumer credit act, your credit card company shares liability with the retailer on purchases between these limits.  If there is a problem you are unable to resolve with the retailer, your credit card company will cover your loss.

Changing your mind

If your problem does not come under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you will need to refer to the retailer’s individual returns policy.  Buying online in the UK gives you a 14-day cooling-off period, during which you can cancel or reject your order for a full refund without having to give a reason.  Remember, though, that personalised jewellery or jewellery for piercings cannot be returned or exchanged unless it contravenes the Consumer Rights Act 2015.  Before buying gemstones and jewellery abroad it’s a good idea to find out the shop’s refund and exchange policy in case you change your mind once you get back to the hotel room. 

If things go wrong

Your first step should be to approach the retailer, explain the problem calmly and politely, and outline the action you would like the retailer to take.  If you phone or visit in person, do remember to follow up with an email so that you have a written record of your dealings with each other.  If you need to take your complaint further, you could seek help from the relevant trading association—but only if you’ve taken my advice and purchased from a member retailer! 

After trying both approaches to no avail, it’s time to turn to the law.  In the UK, you could apply to have your case go through Small Claims—a relatively straightforward procedure to deal with claims up to £10,000.  Claims greater than £10,000 are more complicated and you will need proper legal advice.  If you have purchased abroad, you could approach the country’s embassy to find out what steps you might need to take.  I’d advise contacting the International Consumer Protection and Enforcer Network (ICPEN), which can help you understand your consumer rights in cross-border disputes. 

Of course, prevention is better than cure.  Arm yourself with the Gemstone Detective series before you start shopping, and save yourself some damage to heart, soul and wallet!

Kim Rix, GG (GIA)

Gemstone Detective