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Reflecting on rhinestones’ flash from the past

NEW YORK – Rhinestones are named for Rhine stones, sparkly, highly coveted rock crystals found along Europe’s Rhine River. They date from the early 1700s, when Georg Friedrich Strass devised a method of backing faceted glass crystals with metal powder. As a result, light, instead of passing through their facets directly, refracted into brilliant rainbow spectrums.

His individually cut, hand-finished pieces, also known as Strass and diamantes, were marketed as “poor men’s diamonds.” Nonetheless, many well-to-dos, fearing that their precious jewels would be lost or stolen, often commissioned rhinestone replicas to wear while traveling or attending public events. Since hand faceting and molding rhinestones was laborious, these faux ornaments were often as costly as their originals.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Aurora-Borealis set of bracelet and earrings, marked ‘Schiaparelli’ with patent number ‘2383,’ France, 1956, realized €1,100 in 2015. Image courtesy Auctionata Paddle 8 AG and LiveAuctioneers

As jewelry became simpler, smaller and more elegant, colored rhinestones, created by backing clear stones with metallic foil in a variety of shades, became the height of fashion. Their shimmering, transparent shades, known as turquoise, sapphire or ruby-rhinestones, for example, reflect the gems they simulate. Colorful chokers, bracelets and brooches, featuring romantic floral motifs, were also charmers.

Elsa Schiaparelli suite of ear clips and brooch, aurora rhinestone brooch and matching ear clips, the brooch with prong-set marquis Swarovski crystals and three marbleized prong-set cabochons, marked ‘Schiaparelli,’ 3.25 in. From the Collections of Carole Tanenbaum, Toronto, Canada, realized $225 in 2012. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the late 1890s, as pieces became more extravagant, Daniel Swarovski, son of a Bohemian gem cutter, invented a water-powered machine that mechanically cut and faceted lead crystal faster, more precisely and affordably than before. Since each facet breaks reflected light into a striking rainbowed fragment, the more facets, the more flash. When their lead percentage was increased, Swarovski’s multifaceted creations grew flashier still. Indeed, due to their multiple, consistent facets and exceptional brilliance, many consider vintage Swarovski rhinestone pieces to be top of the line. Marked or signed ones in prime condition are doubly desirable.

Costume jewelry bracelet with rhinestones and simulated emeralds, 6¾in. long, realized $60 in 2017. Image courtesy Auction Gallery of Boca Raton and LiveAuctioneers.

At the turn of the century, when garnet or pearl petit point edgings adorned delicate diamonds, scores wore versions with less costly rhinestones. Some, instead, preferred romantic winged, whirled, or feathered bow hearts, bow knots, or floral spray brooches. Others flaunted showy, multihued, rhinestone frogs, dragonflies, swans, snails, peacocks or tortoises.

French rhinestone shoe clips, circa 1800s, marked ‘Holfast Pat. App. For.’ Few rhinestones missing from each, realized $20 in 2017. Image courtesy of Cordier Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers

Rhinestones came into their own, however, in the 1920s, when white-on-whites, say diamonds or white topaz on platinum, were the cat’s meow. Coco Chanel, parting from tradition, championed rhinestones not as diamond wannabes, but as glamourous, cutting-edge glories worn day or night. In time, glittery, mass-produced rhinestone earrings, hat pins, shoe clips and evening bags were available not only in exclusive shops, but also at five-and-dimes.

During the Great Depression, whimsical, brightly hued rhinestone flower, bird and butterfly brooches brightened the gloom. In addition, dazzling dress clips, hair clips and necklaces, inspired by Hollywood glitz and glam, made simple outfits look like a million.

Vintage Eisenberg brooch, with colored stones and rhinestones in shape of a dragonfly, 4in. x 3.5in., realized $300 in 2011. Image courtesy of Jay Kielstock Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Through the following years, American manufacturers such as Coro, Haskell and Trifari, produced fine, detailed pieces of rhinestone costume jewelry, many with imported Swarovski stones. Exquisite, highly detailed Eisenberg & Sons dress clips, snowflakes and swirling bows were also popular. After World War II, when jewelry styles grew big and bold, many earrings, chokers and brooches bloomed with large-stone, razzle-dazzle rhinestone floral clusters. Others depicted birds, bows, snakes, scrolls or ribbons.

Black floral lace dress worn by Sharon Tate to the London premiere of Roman Polanski’s film ‘Cul-de-Sac’ in 1966, featuring raised waist with satin bow, rhinestone and simulated pearl brooch, Boutique Christian Dior London label, realized $15,000 in 2018. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the mid-1950s, the Swarovski company introduced a new type of stone featuring clear glass crystals coated with micro-thin layers of vaporized blue metal. These extraordinary jewels, illuminated by bursts of colorful, otherworldly lights against pale-blue grounds, are known as Aurora Borealis (AB). Since they also reflect hues of nearby fabrics, they caused a sensation. Christian Dior, in fact, embellished scores of his signature evening gowns with them. Furthermore, when his exclusive rights expired, other famed designers, like Elsa Schiaparelli, quickly secured them.

A vintage rhinestone creation is not only an unabashed fashion statement. It’s also a flash from the past.

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Double-terminated tourmaline crystal, obtained in Pech Valley, Afghanistan. Minerals Paradise image

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Crystals and natural specimens are some of the most stunning and scientifically fascinating non-living objects in the universe. There is often remarkable symmetry within the way their atoms responded to time, pressure, and heat during the “growth” process of these beautiful objects of nature.

Crystals are comprised of a pattern of ions, atoms, and molecules that evolve within various states. Jeffrey Post, Ph.D., is curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He states in an article about the Smithsonian Gem and Mineral Collection, for the Gemological Institute of America, one of the goals in maintaining such a collection is to provide a way in which people can “…think about the earth in a different way.”

A matrix of opaque and soft translucent gray quartz crystals, offset by rod-like inclusions of rich black manganese, with a spray of aquamarine crystal rods three inches long, 6 x 5 x 3½ inches overall. Sold for $45,000 during a 2014 auction. I.M. Chait Gallery and Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

At this current time in history, when information about nearly anything can be gathered quickly and easily, the discovery of crystals and other non-living mineral specimens in the field requires time, focus and dedication. There’s a lot of ground to cover, as it were, when it comes to “rockhounding.” People who “rockround,” or dig for, discover and collect crystals, rocks and mineral specimens, are part of a lineage that dates back centuries. Rockhounds have varied goals. For some it’s about creating a collection; for others, it’s to study the scientific aspects of specimens. Still others incorporate geological specimens into lapidary art, or turn to crystals and other natural specimens for their reputed healing properties. Thanks to rock, gem and mineral shows; as well as various retail outlets, collectors don’t necessarily have to dig to acquire the objects they desire.

To gain a better understanding of this collecting interest, we turned to self-confessed rockhound and dealer Muhammad Majid, of Minerals Paradise (http://www.mineralsparadise.com), to share some insight. Majid’s father, a pioneer of the gem and mineral market, started the family business in Namak Mandi Peshawar, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It is one of the world’s largest markets for mineral specimens. The Majid family specializes in tourmalines, morganites, aquamarine, topaz, and many lesser-known stones including tantalite, microlites and herderites.

An etched Heliodore crystal specimen from Wolodarski-Wolynski, in the Ukraine, a gem beryl “floater” crystal of saturated, slightly greenish yellow hue and excellent transparency, natural surface etching with complex crystal faces, 12.70 x 5.10 x 3.80 cm, sold for $19,000 during a 2014 auction. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image

How would you describe today’s collecting market for crystals and geological specimens? How has it changed in the past few years?

Majid: The market has changed drastically. We had buyers who were buying rare minerals in the past, but now most collectors prefer the common minerals such as tourmalines, morganites, and aquamarines, among others. Prices have also gone sky high in recent years.

What advice would you give someone who is just discovering an interest in collecting crystals and specimens?

Majid: In my opinion, one should not just start collecting crystals and minerals; they should study them, their characteristics, and also their pricing, because minerals have no fixed value.

Physical properties minerals to consider:

    Color

    Luster (assists with determining if a mineral has a metallic or non-metallic luster and is light-reflective or dull)

    Translucence

    Hardness (for comparison of density from one mineral to another)

    Size

Rose quartz, “La Madona Rosa” specimen, discovered in the Lavra Berilo Branco mine in Brazil in the late 1950s, given the name for its resemblance to the artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary, measuring 15½ x 8 inches. Sold for $662,500 during a June 2013 auction. Heritage Auctions image.

What are some of the most helpful tools for collectors of crystals and natural specimens?

Majid: Having an idea about the pricing of a mineral is the most important thing. As I said, minerals and crystals have no fixed value. For this purpose, I think the Internet is the best available source.

In recent years, which two crystals or specimens that you’ve sold were most memorable and why?

Majid: I sold one 4 kilogram double-terminated and undamaged aquamarine specimen to one of my regular buyers. It was a significant deal and I had to go to the Nagar mines twice in one week to acquire the specimen. It’s a 22-hour drive from our city to the Nagar mine.

Also, in February of this year, I sold a morganite specimen. I made a deal with my buyer, but then the miner refused to give the specimen to me, even though I had paid half in advance. I wanted to get that specimen for my buyer at any cost because it would destroy my reputation if I were unable to do so. The buyer had paid $15,000 for that specimen, and I had to pay $17,000 to the miner to get it for the buyer.

___________

Tourmaline with albite crystal specimen. Minerals Paradise image

Crystals and geological specimens may be enjoyed in public exhibitions around the world. Among the places within the United States where sizable collections of crystals, minerals, and other geological specimens are displayed include:

• Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.: https://naturalhistory.si.edu
• Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, Hillsboro, Ore.: https://ricenorthwestmuseum.org
• Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, Calif.: https://nhm.org
• American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.: https://www.amnh.org (Renovation is currently under way at the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. The halls will open in the fall of 2019.
• Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, Calif.: http://www.sbnature.org