The three cornerstones of our workshop are… The Stones, the Metal, and the Design.
Collected over many years, both finished gemstones and uncut rough, from many locations around the world, our love for the many and various exotic stones remains undiminished. To be regarded as a gemstone a mineral (or organic material such a Amber, Coral, Pearls or Jet) must be beautiful, it must be hard, durable enough to withstand constant handling and wear, and it must be rare, the essential fact which endows it with its market value. Most of the stones we use have been cut in the cabochon form (from the old French word, caboche, meaning head) which is basically cut with a simple flat bottom and a convex top, whether the overall shape is a circle, oval, rectangle, square, triangle or free-form.
Many of the stones we use have been cut and polished by ourselves. Others have been acquired whenever the opportunity has presented itself- a surprise discovery in a exotic location or from enormous displays of stones, as in a Trade Fair, like the famous Tucson Gem Show held annually in Arizona in February. We are currently learning how to facet stones which essentially, is to cut the surface of the stone into a number of flat faces known as facets. Most, though not all, stones considered to be “precious” are cut in this fashion.
For a few centuries the distinction between precious and semi-precious stones has never been entirely clear and the lines are often blurred. Indeed, it was only with the arrival of forensic analysis of gem properties that this distinction could be made at all. In ancient times, whether a gemstone was real or merely a man made bead of a similar colour, was not even an issue… It was the “colour” of the item that was considered desirable rather than its physical properties. The first gemstones of Lapis Lazuli (literally meaning “blue stone”) Turquoise and mother of pearl were often mixed with other beads of natural and man made substances merely because the colour was liked, and often ceramics of a bright hue happily substituted. With the advent of glass making, often brilliantly coloured glass was held in as much esteem as gems themselves (especially the Murano glass of the14th and 15th centuries from Venice), as anyone gazing at the gem encrusted throne in the Cathedral of St Marks in Venice can testify!… A more recent example was the purchase of the entire Island of Manhattan from the Mohawk Indians by the early European settlers for no more than a handful of brightly coloured glass beads!!
These days however even the microscopic chemical and physical composition can be analysed to distinguish one stone from another and, with the advent of man-made, synthetic gemstones almost impossible to tell from the genuine article, this is probably no bad thing…Whenever possible, we have tried to maintain the provenance of our stones (ie. where they originally came from) and when this has not been possible we can only guess, or admit to “provenance unknown.”
Silver has been prized and used to make jewellery for thousands of years, not only for its malleability, but also for its beautiful, bright, silver white colour and metallic lustre. To the ancient Inca of Peru, gold was the sweat of the sun, but silver was formed by the tears of the moon! Most of the worlds silver that has been mined, was and is still, produced in Mexico (other main producers being South America, USA, Australia and the former USSR), where silver has been mined from about AD 1500 to the present day. The form of silver we use, (there are other variations, such as Electrum, 25% silver, Britannia, 95% silver or more, and Indian, around 90% silver, with different levels of pure silver content mixed with other metals to make it harder and therefore more durable), is called Sterling silver or 925, denoting 925 in a thousand parts pure silver to 75 parts of another metal, usually copper. In the United Kingdom, it is a legal requirement that any artefact over a certain weight (around 9 grams) and alleging to be 925 or Sterling Silver, carries a mark (a Hallmark) from one of the 4 Assay Offices (London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield) where it will have been sent to be tested. As Gibraltar falls outside of this jurisdiction there is therefore, no legal requirement for us to do the same. However, some of our pieces have been sent to the London Assay Office and carry their hallmark, the rest of this weight (and some of lesser weight), are 925 stamped with a Courtesy Mark.
The recent fluctuations in the silver price, not seen since the heady days of the mid seventies when the famous (or infamous, if you like), Hunt brothers tried to corner the entire worlds silver market, has been caused in part, by both the recent economic crisis with investors looking for a safe haven for their money, and, with a shortage of gold for such purposes, have been turning to silver, and also in part, to the general demand for the use of the metal (like many other metals the world over) for its many and varied industrial uses in the new economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. From a relatively stable price of around £9.00 per ounce for about 20 years the price has recently rocketed to as much as £30 to £35 per ounce. This has now stabilised to, as I write, around £20.00. It may fall further and it may rise again, but it will inevitably have an effect on the price of any piece of silver jewellery you purchase. Beautiful hand crafted jewellery will always be an investment.
From the earliest times, a pleasing sense of natures patterns- the spiral in the whorls of a seashell, the curve of a leaf, the “S” shaped bend of a river in a distant valley- have inspired in man, a delight in shape and form. Perhaps even before the spoken or written word, maybe 200,000 years ago humans were recognising, re-working and repeating textures, images and symbols. Whether because of an inherent beauty or because of a supposed ability to ward off, or contain malign forces this perceived power in pattern and shape has sparked the creative impulse for jewellery design in particular. Natural Design is all around us and within us. The ancients recognized that there was a close association in mathematics between beauty and truth and that this truth was represented by the golden mean or the divine proportion…..the mystical figure of Phi or 1.61803399. Take a measurement of the length of your hand, and then the length of your forearm. Divide the figure of the first into the figure of the second and you will get 1.618. This ratio has been used by mankind for centuries in all forms of design, back to the Egyptian pyramids and perhaps before. It also appears in the physical proportions of the human and animal bodies, insects, plant life (even movements of the stock markets, and the shape of the humble credit card), and many other aspects of life and the universe. The ancient Greeks believed that the 3 ingredients of beauty were, symmetry, proportion and harmony. The forces of nature that create the spiral in a seashell are the same that create the spiral in a distant galaxy. The point being, the building blocks of design are all around and indeed inside of us. We are part of the grand design.
Early man attempted to control and understand his environment by using and combining the shapes in nature he saw around him, the fundamental building blocks being, circles, squares, triangles, ovals or egg shapes, spirals and the long “S” shape now known as Hogarth’s “Curve of Beauty”, which are the basic starting point of any pleasing design. There is nothing really left to be discovered, just different ways of rearranging what we already have. As a great artist recently said, “Good artists borrow ideas, but great artists steal them and make them their own.” From stone age art on cave walls. Ethnic and Aboriginal. Celtic, North American, African and Asian. From Leonardo Da Vinci to Picasso, we are all talking the same language, and we all have a desire to touch the Divine…
“To see the world in a grain of sand,
A heaven in a wild flower.
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity for an hour.”