January’s Birthstone -Garnet

January’s Birthstone: Garnet
Zodiac stone
Capricorn December 22-January 20: Garnet
Aquarius January 21- February 19: Amethyst
The 2nd Anniversary Stone

Almadine garnet beads

Almadine garnet beads

January is the only month with no alternate birthstone, but Garnet more than makes up for this with a wide color spectrum of stones. There are 7 main types of Garnet, almandine (deep red to purple), andradite (red, yellow, brown, green or black), demantoid (green to yellowish green or blue green), grossularite (green, brown, red, yellow), pyrope (deep red to black), spessarite (orange yellow), uvarovite (bright green). Garnets posses nearly identical physical properties despite all the differences in color, garnets are neosilicates, with a differing mineral producing each color. Relatively high on the Mohs scale, 6.5-7.5 garnets are well suited to faceting and setting in jewelry. The harder stones are also used as commercial abrasives, from sandpaper to use in highly compressed air that cuts steel. Widely mined around the world many locations are known for particular colors or types. Australia, India, Madagascar, Namibia, Italy, Iran, United States, are all current commercial producers. Russia, once a strong producer of demantoid garnets, a favorite of the designer Faberge now only produces a very small amount. Eastern Europe was an early source, with much of the cutting and shaping done in Bohemia. Garnets cut for gemstones are not usually treated, although it is common to see dyed garnet material used for beads.

Green grossularite garnets

Green grossularite garnets

Garnet gets its name from ‘granataum’ meaning seed, refers to the similarity to a pomegrante seed. Ancient Romans used garnet in inlay work. Garnets are reputed to be the stones of truth, friendship, faithfulness, commitment, and insight. Given as a friendship gift and worn into battle by soldiers, garnets are especially good for problems with the blood, lungs, preventing and curing infection. The red color garnet is a symbol of love and enhances sensuality.

Spessarite or Hessanite garnets in an orange yellow color.

Spessarite or Hessonite garnets in an orange yellow color.

Use these garnets in your designs-
Depending on the color chosen, garnets can be used in many different designs. Red garnets mixed with gold are an especially rich mixture, adding black garnets, spinel or onyx would increase the dramatic flare. Green garnets are also attractive mixed with gold or add a sparkly quality to other earthy green stones. Rich orange or yellow garnets would be accented with silver, or mixed with warm tones of pearls, amber or natural mother of pearl.

December’s Birthstone -Turquoise

December’s Birthstone: Turquoise
Alternate Stones: Tanzanite & Zircon
Zodiac stones
Sagittarius November 23- December 2: Turquoise
Capricorn December 22-January 20: Garnet
The 11th Anniversary stone


Turquoise Beads

Like many gemstones, turquoise comes in a variety of colors, from nearly white, through light blues, to deep sky or robin’s egg blue to earthy greens and yellow. Native Americans described it as ‘fallen sky stone’ and many domed roofs in Iran are sheathed in turquoise symbolizing ‘heaven on earth’. Bright sky blue with no inclusions, and consistent color is highly prized. Turquoise gets its name from a French translation of Pierre tourques meaning stone from Turkey.  Turquoise is a cryptocrystalline mineral that very rarely forms in a crystal shape. It is formed over time by the percolating of acidic solutions of weathered minerals and metals like copper, aluminum, and phosphorus. It measures a 6 on the Mohs’ scale, therefore turquoise is a softer stone so is often shaped into cabochons, beads and extensively used in inlay.

Turquoise was one of the first stones to be mined, Turkey and Persia (now Iran) were traditional sources of European turquoise. These sources are now depleted and only mined seasonally by small family ventures. The larger deposits of commercial turquoise are found in the southwest of the US, primarily, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Different colors and qualities are produced in each area, leading to distinct types of turquoise names, Kingman, Sleeping Beauty, or Bisbee. Arid regions are associated with turquoise deposits; mines exist in China, Afghanistan, Australia, Chile, and northern India.

Turquoise beads.

Turquoise beads.

Turquoise has long been associated with treatments applied to enhance the color and durability of the stone. In Egypt the desire for a more durable blue colored material lead to the development of faience, a glaze for pottery and a precursor to glass. Turquoise may be stabilized to enhance lower grade more fractured material and dyed to improve the color.  Simple oiled or waxed treatments are considered acceptable since it has a very low impact on the stone. Reconstituted material, ground fine then added to resin and re-cut after hardening is the lowest grade. Synthetic Gilson turquoise from the 1970’s is even collectible!

Reputed to take on the persona of the person who wears it, turquoise is often associated with truth and wisdom, in many cultures it is also a stone of success.Turquoise may help with symptoms of rheumatism gout, stomach issues, and viruses. Increases growth, anti-inflammatory and a detoxifier. Especially noted as a protection against falls.  It is a stone of protection, worn by warriors, kings and shamans.

Using Turquoise in your jewelry designs-

Depending on the color of turquoise chosen there are many stones that work well with the blue-green color stones. Native Americans mix turquoise with other opaque stones, like coral, malachite, onyx, sugilite, and lapis. The most common metal for mixing with turquoise is silver, both bright and oxidized. Bright blue stones would be striking wire wrapped on gold wire, or mixed with pyrite, golden pearls or amber. Olive green or heavily veined beads would lovely added to a darker brown stone like tiger’s eye.

October Birthstone: Opal and Tourmaline

October Birthstone: Tourmaline and Opal
Zodiac Stones
Libra September 23rd-October 23rd: Chrysolite
Scorpio October 24th-November 21st: Beryl

Opal Specimens

Opal Specimens

Opals are famous for their colors, which cover the entire rainbow spectrum in brilliant flashes. Opals have a unique non-crystalline structure of submicroscopic silica spheres that are held together with silica and water. The ‘play of colors’ develops in volcanic cavities and openings as the silica hardens into an opal. Colors are added with the presence of different materials, yellow and red opals have inclusions of iron oxides, black, green, blue and red opals contain carbon and magnesium. Opals measure low to medium on the Moh’s hardness scale, coming in between 5-6, and are best cut into cabochons or carved into beads. Opals have a reputation for drying out, or becoming dehydrated, but only some of the lower gem quality has this problem. To make the most of opal materials, thin slices are cut and mounted onto a black onyx backing making a doublet. Additionally, a magnifying glass layer can be added to the top making a triplet. These layers help stabilize and improve the look of the stone as well as extending the raw material. Other types of opal are Mexican fire opal and Peruvian blue and pink opal, these rarely display the ‘play of color’, instead they have a milky soft color play with inclusions of clear watery opal.

Opal rough, ready to be made into cabochons.

Rough opals, ready to be made into cabochons.

The brightest and largest amounts of gem quality opals are primarily mined in Australia.  Other sources of opal include Nevada and Idaho, the Czech Republic, South America, and Ethiopia.  In late 2008, NASA announced that it had discovered opal deposits on Mars. In 1974, Pierre Gilson created the first synthetic opals that rivaled the natural, with a very regular ‘play of color’. These synthetic opals are not opal imitations but material containing some of the silica as an opal would with the addition of resins to harden.

Mexican Fire Opal beads

Mexican Fire Opal beads

Opals have a long history of being in and out of fashion; sometimes they are associated with good fortune and considered lucky. Other eras see opals much in disfavor, discoloring if the wearer is in bad health, opals worn by sufferers of the Black Death would discolor as the wearer had extremely high fevers, and dull as they passed away. The origin of the name ‘opal’ is even up for debate, some point to a Roman connection to the word ‘opalus’ while others choose the link to the Sanskrit ‘upala’ or the Latin ‘opalis’ meaning lucky stone. Opals are the talisman of thieves and spies as opals may confirm invisibly on the wearer. Opals are regarded as the stone that symbolizes hope.


Pink Peruvian Opal beads.

Tourmaline is also a stone of many colors: pink, green, yellow, brown, and black are all within the color spectrum of tourmaline. Its makeup is a complex aluminous borosilicate material with other metals mixed in to create colors. Tourmaline is trigonal, meaning its crystals form in a triangle, unique among common minerals. High on the Moh’s hardness scale, 7-7.5, it is a stone well suited to faceting as well as carving into beads. Tourmaline is a name thought to come from Sri Lanka, ‘”tourmali” meaning something out of the earth, and is used to describe yellow, green or brown tourmaline. Bi-color or watermelon tourmaline is highly prized, green with a transition to pink, resembling the cross-section of a watermelon. Tourmaline is piezoelectric, meaning will build and hold static charge if rubbed firmly against fabric or heated. Irradiation is often applied to enhance pink and red stones.


Tourmaline bead strands.

Tourmalines are mined around the world, Africa, South America and the US, in Maine and southern California.

Tourmalines are separated into their color groups when used to promote metaphysical qualities. Green and watermelon are used to promote peace and harmony, green is especially helpful for restful sleep. Pink is associated with grieving or loss of love, eases pain and promotes compassion. Yellow is for the academic, and helpful in business. Blue tourmaline is used for inner peace and self-expression.

Using Opal and Tourmaline in your designs

Opal beads of true gem quality can be very pricy.  Fire opal, pink, blue opals are much less expensive and widely available. The rich red-orange-brown of fire opal is a natural mix with gold.  As opals are quite lightweight (compared to some gemstones) make multiple strands to really push the color and texture forward.

Tourmalines offer so many colors! Many strands come with the colors graduated from one color to the next, try to keep them in order for the most sleek use of all the colors. Or break up the colors into separate piles so each group is more monochromatic. Tourmaline looks especially good with oxidized silver.

September Birthstone: Sapphire

Alternate Birthstone: Lapis Lazuli
Ancient Birthstone: Carnelian
Zodiac sign for Virgo August 23-September 22: Sapphire
Libra September 23- October 22: Opal


Dark blue sapphire beads

Those born in September claim sapphire as their birthstone. Blue sapphire is a variant of corundum, ranging in color from a pure blue, light blue or darker shades and can have a dark greenish to violet-blue undertone. Medium blues with a violet tint are the most valuable and sought after. Multiple colors of sapphire are common, known as pink, orange, green, or purple sapphire and all are corundum with differing minerals or metals accounting for the variation in color.  Colorless or white sapphires have no minerals influencing their color. Blue sapphires are colored with a combination of titanium and iron, producing a blue hue. Sapphires like other corundum are very hard, a 9 on the Moh’s scale, and so are also used in industrial applications. Lab grown sapphire is used for bulletproof windows for armored cars and glass covers of instrument gauges in very high heat and pressure situations. Most sapphires are heat-treated to intensify the color and remove internal flaws, improving color and clarity. Natural gem quality stones are rare, and should have certification that they have had no treatment.


Rich multicolor sapphire beads.multisapphires

Gem quality sapphires are mined around the world. Australia, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar are primary suppliers. In the US, Montana has several locations where sapphires are mined from deposits and the most recently opened mine, the Yogo, produces fine blue sapphires.

Sapphires get their name from several ancient roots, Latin, sapphirus meaning blue, and the Arabic saphir. It is known as the ‘”Celestial stone” and used in many religions from a  sign of the heavenly realm, to gods like Apollo, and the Virgin Mary. Sapphires are believed to offer protection from harm and envy, ensure fidelity and guard one from snakes and serpents.

An alternate to sapphire for a September birthstone is another blue stone, Lapis Lazuli. Its deep blue color has been an attraction for generations. The blue color varies from true dark blue to violet and greenish blue. Its color can be improved with heat and dyeing treatments. The mineral composition of lapis is lazuirte, a feldspothoid silicate mineral. It may contain, white bands of calcite, blue sodalite, and pyrite. Lapis is a soft stone 5-6 on the Moh’s scale which means it is easy to cut into cabochons and beads.

Lapis lazuli has been associated with truth, friendship and harmonious relationships. When worn next to the body lapis is said to help with headaches, sore throats and varicose veins.


Natural lapis rough from Afghanistan


Faceted and smooth lapis beads

Suggestions for using sapphire and lapis lazuli in your jewelry

Try mixing blue sapphires with black, onyx or faceted spinel, the darker color with enhance the blue color. Just a few beads? Use precious stone beads to their best advantage, an illusion knotted necklace shows off just a few lovely beads. Colorful mixed sapphire beads have warm tones, adding gold will make for a ‘rich’ design.

Lapis lazuli is often set in silver for rings, pendants and bracelets, blended with turquoise, coral, spiny oyster and sugilite in the Native American jewelry palette. Lapis is a natural mate for pyrite, in a gold-ish metallic color.

March’s Birthstone -Aquamarine


Aquamarine beads are so pretty!

Aquamarine gets its name from the Latin aqua marina, meaning water of the sea. Its watery, transparent blue-green color distinguishes it from the other colors of the gemstone beryl: emerald, golden beryl, heliodor, Morganite (named after financier JP Morgan), and the most rare red beryl. Aquamarine is mined in many locations around the world, including Russia, Pakistan, Brazil, Colombia, in the US, central Colorado, and several sites in Wyoming. The largest cut aquamarine gem is the Dom Pedro aquamarine. It is housed in the Smithsonian Institute of Natural History and is 14 inches tall by 4 inches wide. It was mined in Brazil in the1980’s. Master gem cutter, Bernd Munsteiner, spent nearly one year to study, cut, and polish the stone into an obelisk shape.

The Dom Pedro Aquamarine.

The Dom Pedro Aquamarine

Aquamarine is relatively high on the Mohs scale (7.5). It takes a fine polish and is a durable stone not prone to breaking. Beads made of aquamarine can be smooth, faceted, or tumbled for a pebble shape; matte surfaces are uncommon, but lovely. Inclusions in aquamarine cloud the clarity of the stone, but produce moss aquamarine, a greenish blue gray color.

Aquamarines are sacred to the god Neptune, Roman god of the sea; it was the protective stone for sailors, promising smooth sailing and profitable voyages. The Greeks wore amulets carved with Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, riding a chariot. Many years later aquamarine was also used for making glasses to correct shortsightedness.

Aquamarine can also be found in many of the royal jewels of Great Britain. We found a great sampling of the collection and an excellent blog posting from The Royal Universe about all things royal, including the jewels!

Crown Jewels

Crown Jewels from The Royal Collection

Aquamarine is said to cool the temper, soothing and promoting calm decision-making. It is reputed to calm the stomach, cure illnesses of the liver, jaw, and throat.

Using aquamarine in your jewelry-

Aquamarine’s cool blue works well with silver, for a dash of contrast try using oxidized silver or gunmetal findings.

Aquamarine mixes well with other ‘ocean’ gems, pearls, shell, and abalone; keeping the theme of water in the design.

Looking for good color matches with Aquamarine? Try other cool watery colors, aventurine, kyanite, green amethyst, quartz crystal even other beryls like Morganite and light colored emerald.

Czech Glass Bead Production & Finishes

If you have a lot beads at home you are sure to have some Czech glass in your collection. But owning them isn’t enough for me; I also want to know how they came to be. Read on to discover how these beads are made and how exactly they get those fabulous finishes!

What Are Pressed Glass Beads?

Hurricane glass is made of multiple colored glass swirled together. Each batch is unique.

HurriCane glass is made of multiple colored glass swirled together.

Pressed glass beads are popular because of their versatility and limitless possibilities.  This category of beads not only includes the basic necessity bead shapes such as druks (round beads), daggers, rondelles, and drops; but also unique, abstract, and novelty shapes as well.  Plus there are over 800 commonly used glass colors to combine with the hundreds of coatings, lusters, and metallic finishes available.  Literally millions of combinations are possible!  New technology in glass making has made it possible to combine glass colors in new and innovative ways.  HurriCane glass, for example, is the combination of multiple glass colors that change appearance and swirl patterns based on the conditions at the time of pressing.  Each batch is unique and very difficult to reproduce.


The Pressed Glass Bead Making Process

It takes years of practice to form intricately detailed shapes full of vibrant swirls of color with clarity and shine.  The quality of the product relies mostly on the skill level of the master bead pressers.  The difference in overall quality is strikingly apparent from one craftsman to another.

The end of a long rod of glass cane is heated in a gas furnace until it is red hot.  It is then inserted into a pressing machine which resembles an old fashioned sewing machine.  The molten glass is quickly pressed into a mold while a needle is simultaneously inserted to form the hole.  Only a few beads can be pressed before the rod must be heated again; therefore, the bead maker alternates between multiple heated glass canes in order to produce continuously.  The pressed glass cools slowly as it makes its way down a slide and into a holding container.   At this point the pressings do not resemble beads at all; they are still connected together by the excess glass surrounding the edges of the beads.  The beads then go through two-stages of tumbling; one which breaks off the large pieces of excess glass and another which smooths out surface imperfections.



Fire polished beads are considered by many to be one of the most essential components for jewelry making.  The Czech bead makers are famous for their exquisitely crafted yet relatively inexpensive faceted beads.

The Czech region of Bohemia has been the center of bead making and has led the glass bead industry for hundreds of years because of its quality fire polished styles.  Faceted rounds are by far the most popular because of their timeless look and sparkle.  Classic, more stylized shapes such as cathedral beads, triangles and octagonal faceted beads are popular for vintage style jewelry and rosaries.  There are many new fire polished shapes being created such as doughnut firepolish and renaissance firepolish.  There are also vintage styles reemerging into the market such as rosebud firepolish and fluted firepolish.

Faceting Firepolish Beads

To make fire polished rounds, the manufacturer starts with round pressed beads (druks).  The beads are sifted onto a pronged board that is then fed into a faceting machine which angles the beads onto a grinding wheel.  After all sides of the beads have been faceted their surface is rough and matte.  The polished finish is attained by laying the beads on a conveyer belt that feeds them into an extremely hot oven.  The beads are heated to the point that their surfaces begins to melt, creating a naturally shiny finish.

Finishes and Coatings for Czech Glass Beads


Finishes Defined

Aurora Borealis (AB)1/2 coat metallic finish that adds a prismatic effect to the surface of the bead.  The beads are placed in an oven where a chemical reaction between metals produces fumes that adhere to the exposed surfaces of the bead.  Usually this coating is only applied to one side of the bead; however there are some shapes that can easily be coated on both sides for a more dramatic effect.

Marea – Same process as AB but results in a primarily orange/yellow reflection.

Vitrail – Same process as AB but results in a primarily pink/green reflection.

MatteTumbled to create a subdued look.  The surface texture of a bead depends on the length of time it is tumbled.  Instead of being tumble polished to a bright shine, the matte finish creates a soft appearance or glow to the bead.  Throughout the tumbling process the surface alternates from being matte to polished and it is up to the manufacturing experts to calculate the perfect tumbling time.  The matte effect can also be created by dipping the beads into an acid solution.  This is the preferred method when creating matte AB finishes or working with delicate beads such as lampwork.

Matte ABA combination of the above coatings.  The beads are first coated with an AB finish and then dipped into an acid solution to take away the shine.  This combination brings out the prismatic color refraction of the AB finish and the rough texture of the matte bead creates a mesmerizing glow and an unbelievable depth to the bead.

Luster –   Durable, transparent, glossy color coating on glass beads that is heat treated like a glaze.  These coatings are usually applied to a crystal or jet based bead, but there are limitless combinations that are becoming increasingly popular.  On light beads a luster coating may add only a subtle hint of color, whereas dark beads may have the complete opposite effect. Hematite colored glass beads are made of a jet based bead with a clear luster coating.

PicassoA luster coating that appears more speckled and spotty; giving the bead a natural, earthy appearance.  The color can vary from light yellow to dark brown with underlying color variations.  Some base bead colors, such as opaque beige, blue or white allow the picasso finish to take on a raku pottery look.

Coated Beads – Also known as dyed beads, these coatings are generally used to create unique shades and dual-tone color combinations that are usually unachievable or expensive to produce within the glass.  Although historically they are not as durable as lusters or other finishes, they are gaining in popularity around the world.  With proper care and when used in the ideal conditions, these beads will stay shiny and brilliant for years to come.  Glass pearls are alabaster white beads coated with a nitro-cellulose lacquer with pearl pigments.

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