Ammolite: Flash from the past

Seventy million years ago, a mollusc lived at the bottom of the  warm, shallow Bearpaw Sea, in the area that is now southwestern Alberta, near Lethbridge. That mollusc, the ammonite, is prized as a fossil, but today its shell is grabbing the spotlight.

Bearpaw Sea molluscs did not produce pearls, but the shell was somehow preserved down in the mud, and developed into an organic gemstone, called ammolite. (Ammolite received gemstone status in 1981.)

Gem ammolite looks like mother-of-pearl had a wild night on magic mushrooms. The most-desirable show a wild play of rainbow colour that flashes and shifts. The Alberta mine, which recently expanded, is owned by Korite. Here is the fabulousness possible:

Source: Pinterest, Rosenkrantz Opal

There is a lot of material below that, but if you are going for Colour Heaven, why buy so-so?  Hold out for ammolite with three or four intense colours that shifting with flashes like those of fine opals—and then some.

I would also look for for superior design; much of it is in standard, manufactured settings. DavidMorGems sets matched bar-shaped ammolite in silver, as a tailored bracelet; price, $CDN 1913 on Etsy. (As a point of pride, prices today are in $CDN.)

The DavidMorGems site features contemporary, clean designs and a range of ammolite colours, so if you like this ultra-colourful gem, take a look.
Photo: DavidMorGems

One of my girlfriends always says, "With gold and diamonds!", so Dianne, these earrings are for you:

Photo: DavidMorGems

What makes ammolite so ethereally alive? The same mineral found in the nacre of the pearl-forming mollusc, other molluscs, and corals argonite. Argonite has a crystal structure, which is why genuine pearls seem to glow from within. (Pearls also contain another organic compound, conchiolin.) Mother of pearl and ammolites are cousins, but what a difference in looks!

You have to baby it; at only 4.5-5 on the Mohs scale, ammolite is too soft to wear unprotected in most settings. It is usually sold as a triplet, with a sturdy applied back (ammolite can flake, like shale, the stone from which it is mined) and a clear protective overlay, much like the film you put over your phone. If you buy ammolite, remember your gem lived at the bottom of the sea for literally ages; sunlight can fade its colour.

I am interested in what other stones (besides diamond, the ultimate neutral) play nicely with ammolite, and liked this combination of matrixed ammolite set in sterling with a chrome diopside (which you may recall is the lushly green stone Miriam chose when she reno'd her heirloom ring). This pendant is from British Columbia's Graceanchor; price, $CDN 185.

Photo: Graceanchor

I will not be elbowing you out of the way; ammolite reminds me of black light posters in head shops. (Tells you what I was doing in university.) But that is exactly like colours I can't wear: I have seen spectacular pieces on other women, their personal Northern Lights.

And if this is for you, shop for your ammolite piece soon; it is quite rare, and because demand has built, there is concern about depletion of the mines.

This Wikipedia article describes what makes prized ammolite; in short, the more colours it shows, and the brighter, the better.

Wisdom: Ursula K. Le Guin on 'spare time'

One of our most elegantly imaginative writers, Ursula Le Guin, died at the end of January at eighty-eight. I sat quietly with the news, once again in appreciation of her brilliance, somehow simultaneously warm and sharp, and with the generous gifts of her work. "I wish we could all live in a big house with unlocked doors", she said, and when I read her, I dwell there.

Brain Pickings published an excerpt of an essay from her last nonfiction collection, "No Time to Spare", essential to anyone wondering"what I will do with my time, when I don't work?", especially my friends in jobs that rule every waking minute, and even invade dreams.

Le Guin pokes fun at a Harvard survey she receives that relegates art to something the respondent might do in her "spare time"—a legitimate beef for any artist— but she is most broadly relevant when she catalogs the opposite, "occupied time". With her particular sensibility, she describes in poetic yet concrete terms the difference between being busy with doing and being occupied by living.

I am not merely recommending it, I'm yearning for you to read it.

Should you crave more, another BrainPickings link will provide Le Guin on aging and beauty (by way of an inquisition into the nature of dogs versus cats, a little dividend). She segues to humans, and writes,

"Perfection is 'lean' and 'taut' and 'hard', like a boy athlete of twenty or a girl gymnast of twelve. What kind of body is that for a man of fifty or a woman of any age? 'Perfect'? What's perfect? A black cat on a white cushion, a white cat on a black one...A soft brown woman in a flowery dress...There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment."

Earrings and loves: Felicitous mismatches

On the eve of Valentine's Day, I am thinking of odd matches: They shouldn't work, but they do.

Maybe that's been you life; it is so in mine. My Valentine is more introverted, less frugal (well, not frugal at all), and reads things I don't touch: science fiction, paleo-archaeology. He will not eat corn and is iffy about the other vegetables; I could live on them.

Some couples are neatly matched as bookends, others, a human odd-sock collection. You might know some of each.

The art of jewellery is similar, and if there is one item that will enliven a jewellery box, it's a pair of deliberately and insouciantly mismatched earrings.

Mismatched compositions

Look closely at mismatches; unlike buying a standard pair, you have to evaluate both. Sometimes I'll see that that one earring works, and the other is only along for the ride. Ideally, each sparks ithe other.

Janis Kerman is the queen of such designs; she told a funny story about a woman who attended a cocktail party in a pair of her signature asymmetrical, unmatched earrings. A man to whom she was speaking stared at her intently, and finally said, "Uh, your earrings don't match." (He was an engineer.)

Janis Kerman earrings, Galerie Noël Guyomarc'h  

Shown: Crysophrase, emerald, 18k gold and silver earrings; price, $CDN 750 at Galerie Noël Guyomarc'h. This is the standard to which I hold mismatched compositions: balanced, harmonious but not predicable. (I would also like that for my relationship.)

Janis makes some of her most striking designs by commission, when clients bring bits and pieces. She shared these commission images. I'm always trying to spot the original elements.

Photos courtesy of Janis Kerman

Left: In my imagination, someone owned a pair of small ruby studs, and wanted more drama—good drama, not the I'm-leaving kind.
Right: Perhaps the pearls, and the small round diamonds were the starting point. If you have 'outgrown' small earrings, here's a route to an exciting new life.

Mismatches can be marriages of found bits and pieces, like Edinburgh-based Grainne Morton's repurposed vintage elements, which she combines in quirky new designs. These jacket and post earrings (the jackets are detachable) are made of coral, moonstone, and turquoise; price $US 450 at TwistOnline.

Grainne Morton earrings, TwistOnline

Pearls' organic shapes suit mismatches; these glowing pink and ivory keshis are mated to jade sticks, an elegant pairing much like two remarkable persons who found one another, perhaps while hiking in Japan.
Temple jade earrings, Kojima Company
Temple jade and pearl earrings; price, $US 360, from Kojima Company.

High jewellery has long favoured the mismatch; meet a couple of swells. No one does haute like Hemmerle, whose signature is unconventional materials presented with audacious mastery.
Hemmerle earrings, FD Gallery

Hemmerle earrings of beaded amethyst and garnet, and rubellite and amethyst oval faceted drops; price, $US 85, 000 at FD Gallery.

Eye-catching mismatches don't have to be big and fabulous, but I am convinced they look best in real materials. Los Angles jeweller Leigh Miller makes these sterling Doodad earrings set with lapis and onyx; price, $US 240.

Doodad earrings, Leigh Miller Jewelry

Mismatched separates

You could also wear two separate earrings that relate, which is a mismatch too, but differs from a composed pair. The look works when one earring is current, even edgy.  The benefit is that you can wear a pair, and sometimes un-pair it by choosing a different, separate earring.

Let's say you have 8mm 18k gold studs, and they sit by your side like that sweetheart who was really nice, but already middle-aged when you were twenty-six.
Send one on a separate vacation. Either buy an unusual single or have something made, maybe redesigning a single earring whose mate wandered off at a party, fourteen years ago.

Three examples, three completely different moods, to zhuzh that gold ball:

Single earrings from TwistOnline

Left:  Maria Tash diamond chain hoop; $US 895
Top right: Sophia Zakia Celestial rose and diamond earring, $US 420
Bottom right: Alison Lou single basil post earring; $US 245

Geez Louise, you may think, I'm spending more on a single than I would on a pair—but trust me, you want something a little offbeat to liberate the gold ball. If you aren't sure, try living together first: borrow a friend's (earring, not sweetie!) for a weekend. Your jeweller may also permit a test-wear.

Don't ask your most conventional girlfriend what she thinks or abandon the idea if she asks if you got dressed in the dark. Some persons just never get who we want to be with.

Like relationships, you at some point make the How Long assessment. If you think it's for the long run, buying a pair of composed mismatches is a lovely leap, but because they don't blend into the scenery, you'll want to be sure.

They are harder to find, but I am seeing more "odd couples" now than I have for the last twenty years. Look for harmony, wit, and expert craftsmanship. In love or jewellery, who wants to settle?

The Private Museum of Loved Ones' Clothes

Our friend Beth came over for dinner the other evening and wore a Scandinavian ski sweater knit by her mother, Martha, in her twenties. The pattern presented leaping stags, geometric foliage and tiny ecru snowflakes; it was finished with mother of pearl buttons thick as poker chips.

Ski sweater, ca. 1942

It is more than a magnificent example of the craft; its stitches carry her memory. I could almost see the petite, slim young student; though Beth pointed to a few tiny signs of wear, the wool had held up for over seventy-five years. 

There is a particular sweetness in life in a loved one's garment; it is no longer "just clothes", but an echo of that person's essence. 

Sometimes, simply preserving the object is enough. When my sister died in the early '80s, I took several items from her closet. My favourite was a burnt-orange terry robe infused with her fragrance, L'Air du Temps. I still have (but no longer fit into) my mother's sating wedding-suit blouse, an appiquéd cashmere bolero, and her pigskin driving gloves. 

Wedding blouse, 1931

Beth has a blue sweater-jacket that her mother wore often at the family's cottage, and a finely-woven woollen shirt, which, she says, "...was my paternal grandfather's—my mother gave it to me when they cleaned his things out, forty years ago, and it became my studio shirt when I'm painting or in cool weather. I love it and it seems to be indestructible." She has had to replace only the odd button.  

Plaid woollen shirt, ca. 1965

I would give anything to still have my mother's skeet-shooting jacket. The back and arms were knit of a wool so thin and strong it was like chain mail; the front was caramel leather with bellows pockets to hold shells. I wore it for years, complete with the objects tucked in its pockets when she gave it to me, a linen hanky and a golf tee. I lost it during a move decades ago; a whole box vanished between two houses. 

We love those things; they cannot be bought, any more than that beloved person can be duplicated. Even the most generic or modest piece—an apron, a little hat—reflects the personality, the style, the voice. We mend moth holes, ignore stains, and when it's absolutely past wearing, we save the buttons, or a label. 

May we have a tour of your museum? What do you have, and whose was it?

Pearls: To great lengths

materfamilias inspired todays' windows, when she posted a WIW of herself dressed in her characteristically stylish way, out to the opera on a winter evening: a richly-patterned skirt, plush black cashmere turtleneck, and a necklace of pearls and lapis beads. Though it echoes the blue of her skirt, she was not entirely happy with the necklace's scale with her outfit. Ma went to the opera, but in matinée length.

Materfamilias goes to the opera

I commented that her necklace would be perfect with a blouse, among other necklines. Because she is petite, she could shorten it by an inch or two so that it "peeks out" at the right place—an idea she liked.

Few necklaces work with everything, so when choosing, you have to think. PurePearls provide a useful diagram of standard lengths, which illustrate where they sit on the body—a good start.

Lengths on the average body

But the diagram can't convey the most important factor: what suits your body, and its proportions. You can figure this out! It's just like skirt length: ask yourself, where do I want the eye to go?

Chokers: At the neck
If you have a slender and average-to-long neck, a choker is chic: below, Keira Knightly in Tahitians. I'm going to gloss over them here, because many women past fifty find them short and uncomfortable.

Keira Knightly in baroque Tahitian choker

(If you have "outgrown" a choker, a jeweller can add length at the clasp, or a new clasp to extend them, up to an inch or so.)

Princess: Just under the collarbone
I dislike this jeune-fille name for this length, though it's the best-seller for a reason.  It draws the eye to the collarbone area, a grace note for every woman, and it's easy to wear inside a collar or with round and v-necked tops.

Tilda Swinton in a princess double-strand 
Another plus: eighteen-inch pieces are less pricey than the longer lengths, partly because of quantity of pearls, but also because matching is easier.

Matinée: Top of the bust
Matinée length needs some attention to scale to pull off. A marvellous length for layering; if worn alone, it needs generous-sized pearls or it will look lost and awkward: 

Rather lonely matinée length
With a bigger pearl, 10mm and waaay up, it steals the show worn on the outside, under a collar or with a top (round or v-neck), as shown below by, left to right, Nancy Pelosi (gold South Seas), Jennifer Saunders (a longer strand doubled to matinée) and Leslie Caron (Tahitians):

Marvellous matinées

If Caron's pearls pique your interest, look at these multicoloured 20.5-inch 8.6-11.3mm baroque drop Tahitians in luscious rainbow hues (price, $US 1, 170 at Kojima Company):

If you have smaller pearls, layer your matinée strand with any other lengths:

Opera: Over the bust
Tilda Swinton's exquisite mixed-colour opera-length Tahitians, worn in many scenes in the film "This is Love", inspired pearl lust even in women who had never thought of wearing them. "Opera" is a dated label; they can be worn as casually as Swinton did.

Three screen shots from the film, showing her necklace worn both inside and outside a neckline:

Tilda Swinton's coveted Tahitian strand

Swinton is small-busted; voluptuous women can wear opera strands too, but try the longest end (37-40 inches) to avoid the "garland off the prow" look. That length will double nicely, too.

I still get e-mails asking "Where can I get these?" The good news is that they are not hard to find; knowledgeable pearl dealers and jewellers can make up a similar strand. The bad news is the price for those glowing, intense colours in the already-costly Tahitian. If you can bide your time, wait for well-stocked vendors such as Pearl Paradise, who periodically offer serious Tahitian sales, and then ask for a quote on opera length if none are listed in the sale.

(Don't buy two princess strands and restring, because strands are usually graduated and you'd end up with too many smaller pearls—which are usually at the back—but in that case you would have more of them, so they'd creep toward the sides.)

Or you might dive for your own in Tahiti, as Chantal did!

Turtlenecks suit a chunky choker, layered multiples or opera length (and a pendant is a good idea). Examples: left, layered multiple lengths from princess to opera, various sources; top right: opera-length baroque South Seas with a custom-made Tahitian pendant, from Kojima Company; bottom right: choker of stick pearls on filament; Basia Design.

Have your necklace made the right size for the tops you wear most. If you're not sure, experiment with a cheapie string in plastic or glass—whatever you can pick up at a thrift or dollar store—with beads the same as the pearl size.

Try that with your tops, till you get that "this!" sense, and then, buy or have yours restrung to that length.

You might also enjoy Imogen Lamport of InsideOutStyle's article "Where to End Your Necklaces" and her illustration of necklines and necklaces that work with them.


Jane Birkin: "My's gone"

A friend recently asked me to explain this thing I have about Jane Birkin; this is not about her early, willowy, gamine beauty. It is Jane from mid-life on.

A list includes: survival, artistic expression, humanitarian contribution, forthrightness, a realistic level of modesty. She refused the Légion d'honneur, saying the honour should not be given to mere entertainers, but to "real heros", such as her father, David, who received it in 1985 for his wartime work with the French Resistance.

A friend who met her in Paris calls her "sane, very warm, and grateful to others."

She refuses to be, in terms of her appearance, hyper-supported, a term my friend Dorothy uses to describe the strenuously-preserved facade of not only celebrities, but those determined to cling to their past, or a facsimile. When Birkin turned 70, just over a year ago, The Daily Mail ran a comparison between her and Cher, who inhabits some surreal planet beyond hyper-supported.

You can see her age in Birkin's face and body. She wears a uniform—jeans or trousers and cashmere jerseys or tees—except for evening and the occasional photo shoot. No one says "Jane Birkin is wearing that again", though not all women would want to borrow it.

Photo: Smythson "Traveling with..." series

She keeps her chestnut hair colour, loves fragrance (made for her, by Miller Harris), takes calcium supplements. I see any number of women who have chosen that simple, grounded approach, regardless of the exact pieces; they have found what provides ease and pleasure.

Jane Birkin, 2017

Reader Susan D. kindly contacted me to say that while at the hairdressers, she had read a piece about Jane in the February Harper's Bazaar. Within a half-hour, I beetled to the newsstand to buy a copy, but instead stood on the spot and read it. It was not worth buying the issue; it cost nearly $15, with the first thirty-some pages filled by ads and less editorial content than on a cereal box. (Shouldn't they be paying us?)

I found the interview online (a two-minute read) so am pleased to share the link.

I shop with WWJD? as my mantra: What Would Jane Do? Speaking of mourning the loss of her beauty, she notes, "I've adjusted my thinking a bit since then...the essential thing I think, now, is a sense of humour."

And yet, she must carry her history's burden, as well as its joys (in her Birkin?) In a New York Times article, published shortly before her performance tonight at Carnegie Hall, the paper ran but one current photo, and five of the young Jane with Serge Gainsbourg. Disappointing display of ageism from the paper known as "The Gray Lady".

Tracking the elusive dream jeweller

A woman may long, say, for a pair of garnet earrings, but be reduced to trolling mass-market e-shops, and then give up, overwhelmed and underimpressed. So sometimes I'll get an e-mail, asking for help, which I enjoy. Today distills the essence of my advice: you have to look, learn and maybe pay some postage, but the resulting joy of use is worth it.

Today I've linked to sites and sources to find outstanding makers of handmade or artisanal jewellery, beyond Etsy and Instagram, also excellent but already well-known.

1. Professional and Trade Associations
Professional organizations are not just for jewellers; the public has access to photo galleries and contact information. I have listed one each from the US, Canada and UK, but you can also find associations, guilds and groups for regions and other countries.

The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) 
SNAG's site contains a huge directory that displays North American (and some international) artists; see "Maker Profiles". Go to the Member Profile Section; click on the jeweller's Gallery. If you like the style, click through to the web site.

Artisan Canada
A portal for artisans and the public to connect; similar to SNAG site, but dedicated to Canadian makers.

The Goldsmith's Company

This British site's directory lists over three hundred British goldsmiths and silversmiths, and is a selective organization, so they artists do not simply pay a fee to have their work featured.

It's here that I found one of my latest Dream Jewellers, Jinx McGrath, whose command of her talent lifts my heart. (She is also the author of a number of books on jewellery and technique.)

Photo: Jinx McGrath Jewellery

Those garnet earrings? When I clicked Dita Allsopp's gallery, I wanted to see more; on her web site, Dita Allsopp Jewellery, I found these beauties:

Photo: Dita Allsopp Jewellery

2. Galleries
These sites represent a number of jewellers, and some incorporate an e-store; for others, contact the gallery to inquire about prices or order. Again, just a sample; for galleries in your area, search "jewellery gallery"  plus your area.

A few sites I visit for inspiration:
Studio Fusion Gallery, London
Quirk, Richmond,Virginia
Facèré, Seattle
Galerie Noël Guyomarc'hMontréal

3. Jeweller's collectives
Though the website may look like a gallery's, collectives often provide more services, such as jewellery rental, and repairs.

Made You Look, a Toronto jeweller's cooperative, is an example of a collective that offers these comprehensive services. I'm entirely happy with two repairs they did for me.

Made You Look's e-store carries a wide range of pieces, from modestly-priced to serious splurges, and the jewellers can be contacted for custom work.
Photo: Melanie Leblanc at Made You Look

Shown: Bronze, sterling silver and citrine coin earrings by Melanie Leblanc; price, $CDN 105.

4. Craft show sites

Large craft shows' directories list their contributors, and many show photos. You can also check dates for upcoming events, because there really is nothing like seeing work in person.

Photo: Anat Basanta Jewelry Design

Shown, silver Ripple Necklace (price, $CDN 695) by Anat Basanta, who exhibits at the One of a Kind show in Toronto, and has an e-shop on her site. I've bought her pieces as gifts for two friends, who loved them.

5. Who made that?
Ask the woman wearing a piece you love; she will almost always tell you who made it (unless you look like a cat burglar) and you'll have a warm conversation as a dividend!

Here in the Passage, I feature work made by jewellers whom I admire, some of which I've learned about from you. I do not accept commissions or write sponsored posts. The downside of that is you get my opinions and taste, which you know by now: pearls, noble metals, and a crush on vintage and antique.

Once you immerse yourself in new worlds of design, your eye will change, and that may affect your choices.

If you like those minimalist 10mm bar studs, you will not have a hard time finding them. But if you discover a jeweller like Maiko Nagayama, you cross the threshold to high art. It's a dull trek back to generic simplicity once you encounter her rock crystal, opal, fire opal, moonstone, pearl, garnet, ruby, enamel and pink tourmaline Nostalgia Earrings. Oh, baby!

Photo: Maiko Nagayama

Even if you would not see these in your life (I would buy them and then figure out the life), spend at least least 20% of your browsing time looking at wild, thrilling work; it will hone your eye for extraordinary design at any price point.