Color In Fine Jewelry - Whence It Came - Part 2
Part 1 of this series may be found here
Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the chemical industry progressively provided the world with dyes and paints brighter and more colorfast than ever before creating a symbiosis between industry and modernism in art and design. Bold colors pervaded society by virtually all manner of consumer items, print, photography and film, but the Tinseltown dream machine had done its job selling the bridal tradition so well that the obvious passed jewelry consumers by. To generations since World War II, the color of fine jewelry extended from that bridal tradition, and came to represent innocence and perfection – colorless, white and sometimes gold. You had to be a jewelry aficionado to understand that really, there were alternatives.
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Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century,
the chemical industry progressively provided the world with dyes and paints brighter and more colorfast than ever before creating a symbiosis between industry and modernism in art and design. Bold colors pervaded society by virtually all manner of consumer items, print, photography and film, but the Tinseltown dream machine had done its job selling the bridal tradition so well that the obvious passed jewelry consumers by.
To generations since World War II, the color of fine jewelry extended from that bridal tradition, and came to represent innocence and perfection – colorless, white and sometimes gold. You had to be a jewelry aficionado to understand that really, there were alternatives.
Right Hand Ring
When the right-hand ring was 'conceived' by the diamond cartel in the 1990s, the idea was to tap into the growing market of successful women who had the means to acquire expensive jewelry for themselves. The right-hand ring was to symbolize the independence of its wearer, and designs follow few, if any, conventions. This is reflected in the variety of right-hand ring designs, which might include colored stones and pearls today.
Photograph courtesy of Frassanito Jewelers, New York
Since the US had been the primary focus of the diamond cartel, neither Europe, the Orient nor India were similarly affected by the bridal tradition.
They each had their own long-standing history in colored stones, gold and natural pearls in a variety of colors, and even enamel--all of which were inclusive of colorless diamonds, platinum, white gold and white (cultured Akoya) pearls.
Eventually, the pendulum swung back. In 1981, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) was created to promote the long term stability and integrity of the natural colored gemstone and cultured pearl industries in the US and Canada.
“There was a renaissance in colored stones and it was a time when they were beginning to grow,” reminisces Doug Hucker, CEO of the AGTA. A member of the Board of Directors since 1984, he recalls, “consumers were familiar with rubies and emeralds, but they had never heard of tanzanite. There was a need for education, ethical standards and consumer protection.”
King Of The Sea
Greg Morin was the winner of first place and Best of Show at the 2001 AGTA Spectrum Awards with his brooch “King of the Sea”. Although he has carefully laid out a color gradation from spessartite garnet through yellow sapphire to fancy colored diamonds, he combines it with such conventional materials like white pearls, black agate, as well as yellow gold.
Photograph by Nino Rakachevich, courtesy of Gregore Joailliers, Santa Barbara, CA.
Mirjam Butz-Brown, the owner of the Adorn Gallery in San Diego, CA, is an award-winning goldsmith and jewelry designer from Stuttgart in Germany.
“I had worked mostly in colored stones and yellow gold when I arrived in the US in 1987. The AGTA was beginning to gain traction with its mission, Tiffany's were introducing the public to some exotic colored stones and European styles became increasingly sought-after. Eventually, I was making alterations that involved replacing white gold parts with yellow gold.”
About the same time, prospectors analyzed drilling samples for the Argyle Diamond mine in Western Australia.
Those analysis indicated the mine would be more about quantity than quality with huge production and variations in the average color and clarity of its diamonds. While the size of Argyle's output turned out to be impressive indeed – 670 million carats to date – it would impress even more with its disproportionate amount of spectacular fancy colored diamonds.
The exceptionally rare and accordingly pricey natural colored pinks and blues are found there. Although diamond color is never as vivid as in gems such as ruby or sapphire, the ethereal appearance of colored diamonds is truly stunning.
National Museum of Natural History Gold Colored Diamonds
Fortunately, not all of the most exquisite specimens are auctioned off discreetly and disappear in private collections. Some draw attention through their celebrity owners and show that the added dimension of color make bling even more breathtaking.
Image by Jorfer
For more than seventy years, pearl culturing underwent little change.
Besides the coastal waters of Japan, the warm waters of the Persian Gulf proved conducive to pearl culturing, however, conflicts associated with the region's increased oil production resulted in a level of pollution that wiped out pearl production. Japanese pearl producers struggled with industrial pollution, although at a slower pace.
That presented an opportunity for pearl fisheries in other regions. In the western Pacific, South Seas pearls are produced in a variety of colors, including white, off the coasts of Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.
Multicolor Freshwater Orient Pearls
In the 1990s, pearling began to establish itself in the lakes and waterways of southeastern China. With their delicate colors (and affordable price tag), freshwater pearls soon came to rival Black Tahitian and South Seas pearls in popularity.
Photograph by Pearl Distrubutors
In the South Pacific, French Polynesia is home to exotic Black Tahitian pearls.
Freshwater pearls of incredibly delicate colors have been produced in southeastern China for more than two decades, while joint ventures with Japanese producers are stepping up the cultivation of Akoya pearls along the seaboard between Shanghai and Hong Kong.
In less than twenty years, those substantial changes have brought the pearl trade full circle and back to its roots, returning color to the pearl world that had faded from memory over the course of the previous century.
The broad palette of colors displayed by Black Tahitian and South Seas pearls made a major case for color. Each pearl being fascinating in its own way, they were introduced commercially to North America the late 1980s and took the hearts of jewelry enthusiasts by storm.
Photo Courtesy of Radiance Pearl
Today, we see how the debt loads weighing down economies of too many developed countries provide wings to the prices of precious metals.
As a turnaround in the foreseeable future is highly unlikely, we are beginning to see the use of alternative materials both in Europe and the US. In the light of that fact alone, jewelers are becoming open to working in stainless steel, tungsten carbide or titanium and similar alternative metals.
Etienne Perret Starlight Ring
As a consequence of high gold prices and technological advances, forward-thinking designers like Etienne Perret are breaking new ground by combining colored stones and yellow gold with black gem ceramic. We are likely to see more unconventional materials that are both durable and stable in the future.
Colored hpht diamonds in 18kyg & black gem ceramic
Photograph courtesy of Etienne Perret
Enameling, an art and science dating back to antiquity where colored glass is fused to metal, is progressively being replaced by colored polymers and ceramics that are hardier and require a fraction of the resources.
Coming up next are colorful and durable nano coatings that continue being developed for various industries. It is as though there were a trickle-down effect of Moore's Law into industries as traditional as fine jewelry— and the pace is ever-increasing. Stay tuned and see how jewelry design studios come to grips with these ever-increasing possibilities.
Although it was moderately popular prior to the Edwardian Era, the diamond solitaire would become elevated to legendary status, and was symbolic for the uniqueness of the wearer. Aside from the typical diamond and platinum, this vintage ring displays all the characteristics of opulent elegance.
Photograph by Thomas Picarella, courtesy of www.langantiques.com
Over the past generation, the use of color in fine commercial jewelry has regained acceptance.
Apart from the introduction of white precious metals, South African diamond discoveries, and the resulting effort to market white and colorless bridal jewelry, globalization and the Internet have broadened the scope of jewelry consumers everywhere. With the middle class under economic duress in both the US and other industrialized nations, it's back to basics.
As form and conventions of the post-war period soften, even bridal jewelry is becoming inclusive of colored stones, exotic-colored pearls, and, of course colored gold again. Never before have jewelry lovers been able to pursue their individuality and their preference, and there will be more, much more to come.