The Jewelry Judge  - Ben Gordon's Blog

Articles in December 2019

December 2nd, 2019
It was in the late 1960s when the marketing team at Tiffany & Co. got its first peek at a stunning new gemstone. The intense blue-violet gem had been discovered in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania by a Maasai tribesman named Jumanne Ngoma. At first glance, the specimens appeared to be sapphires, but the Gemological Institute of America revealed that the crystals were a never-before-seen variety of zoisite.



Tiffany wanted to feature the gemstone in a broad-based advertising campaign, but the marketing team had to overcome a huge hurdle. The name “blue zoisite” sounded very much like “blue suicide” — and that alone could have tanked the campaign. So, the team at Tiffany decided to promote the gems as “tanzanite,” a name that would honor their country of origin.

Tiffany’s marketing campaign succeeded in making tanzanite a household name and earned it the title of “Gem of the 20th Century.”

In 2002, the American Gem Trade Association added tanzanite to the jewelry industry’s official birthstone list. Tanzanite joined turquoise and zircon as the official birthstones for December.

Tanzanite is said to be 1,000 times more rare than diamonds due the fact that tanzanite is mined in only one location on earth. The area measures 2km wide by 4km long and the remaining lifespan of the mine is less than 30 years.

Despite tanzanite’s commercial success, Ngoma had never reaped any financial gains from his discovery.

In 2018, Asha Ngoma made a desperate plea to Tanzanian President John Magufuli on behalf of her nearly 80-year-old dad, who was ill and partially paralyzed. The President responded with a reward and well deserved words of praise.

“Mr. Ngoma is a veritable Tanzanian hero,” Magufuli told The Citizen. “But what did he get after discovering tanzanite about 50 years ago? Nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, it is people from other countries who have benefited more from this unique gemstone.”

Magufuli announced that Ngoma would be receiving 100 million shillings (about $44,000) from the Tanzanian government. That amount is nearly twice the average annual salary for a Tanzanian.

Tanzanite’s color is an intoxicating mix of blue and purple, unlike any other gemstone. The mineral comes in a wide range of hues, from light blues or lilacs, to deep indigos and violets. The most valuable tanzanite gemstones display a deep sapphire blue color with highlights of intense violet. The Smithsonian’s website explains that tanzanite exhibits the optical phenomenon of pleochroism, appearing intense blue, violet or red, depending on the direction through which the crystal is viewed.

A Maasai folktale recounts how tanzanite came to be. Once upon a time, the story goes, lightning struck the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, scorching the land. In the aftermath, a spectacular blue crystal was left shimmering in the ashes.

Tanzanite rates a 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. By comparison, diamond rates a 10 and sapphire rates a 9.

Illustrating this story is a beautiful 12.11-carat, trillion-cut tanzanite set in an award-winning platinum ring by Mark Schneider. The designer and his wife, Nancy, gifted the piece to the Smithsonian in 2001, making it the first tanzanite jewelry accessioned into the National Gem Collection.

Credit: Photo by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.
December 3rd, 2019
"The Indian Blue," a 7.55-carat fancy deep grayish-blue diamond, will be the top lot at Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels sale in New York City on December 10.



Described as the "property of a distinguished lady," the cushion-cut center stone has a SI2 clarity and is flanked by two shield-shaped diamonds in a ring that carries a pre-sale estimate of $6 million to $8 million.

Trace amounts of the chemical element boron are responsible for causing the coloration of natural blue diamonds. According to the Museum of Natural History, “less than one boron atom per million carbon atoms is sufficient to produce the blue coloration.”



Another highlight of the New York auction is "The Majestic Pink," a highly flexible bracelet comprised of 204 radiant and marquise-shaped diamonds of various fancy pink and red hues bordered by similar-cut, near-colorless diamonds. The total weight of the colored diamonds, which range in size from 0.10 carats to 0.47 carats, is 43.34 carats. The bracelet bears the maker's mark, Carvin French, and is expected to sell for about $3 million.



Also scheduled to hit the auction block at Sotheby's on December 10 is a ring featuring an ultra-rare 1.38-carat fancy red diamond. Fancy reds so rare that a typical Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender releases only four, or so, per year. Rio Tinto's Argyle Mine in Western Australia — the primary source of red and pink diamonds — is scheduled to cease operations in 2020, so supplies of these beautiful stones are expected to become even more scarce.

It is believed that red diamonds get their rich color from a molecular structure distortion that occurs as the jewel forms in the earth’s crust. By contrast, other colored diamonds get their color from trace elements, such as boron (yielding a blue diamond) or nitrogen (yielding yellow).

The cushion-cut red diamond is framed by round pink-hued diamonds and square-cut colorless diamonds. The estimated selling price is $1.8 million to $2.8 million.



Highlighted by a 14.37-carat fancy vivid yellow diamond, this brooch by Verdura is expected to fetch $1.6 million to $2.4 million. Resembling a delicate iris, the brooch is centered by the round-cornered, square-cut yellow center stone and accented with petals formed by cabochon sapphires and round colorless diamonds.

Credits: Images courtesy of Sotheby's.
December 4th, 2019
Adorned with three million Swarovski crystals, the 900-pound star atop the 77-foot-tall Norway spruce at New York's Rockefeller Center will come to life tonight during the tree-lighting ceremony that will be broadcast on NBC.



The mammoth star, which has a diameter of 9 feet 4 inches, was lifted to the top of the tree by crane operators on November 13, just three days after the tree arrived from Orange County, N.Y. Each of the 70 rays of the Swarovski Star is designed to glow from within, with the light refracted by the crystal surface, creating a sparkling effect.

The tree was a donated by Carol Schultz, who said it originally lived in a pot on her coffee table before it was big enough to be planted in her garden in 1959.

Holiday season 2019 marks the second time the current star has ascended to the top of the Rockefeller Center tree. The new star made its debut exactly one year ago, replacing a Swarovski Star that had been in service since 2004. That star weighed 550 pounds and was studded with 25,000 crystals, barely 8% of the tally of the current star.



The new star was designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, who created the master plan for the reconstruction of New York’s World Trade Center site. Libeskind said that his Swarovski Star is inspired by the beauty of starlight — something that radiates meaning and mystery into the world.

“The Star is a symbol that represents our greatest ambitions for hope, unity and peace,” he said in 2018. “I am tremendously honored to collaborate with Swarovski on the Star, and with the entire design team, to bring cutting-edge innovation and design to crystal technology.”



The tree will remain lit and on display on the plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues through Friday, January 17, 2020. More than half a million people will pass by the tree every day, making Rockefeller Center the epicenter of New York City’s holiday celebrations.

Rockefeller Center officially began its tree-lighting tradition in 1933, when a Christmas tree was erected in front of the then-RCA Building and covered with 700 lights. The lighting ceremony has been broadcast live since 1951.

Tonight's two-hour show starts at 8 p.m. EST and will feature performances by Idina Menzel, Gwen Stefani, John Legend and Lea Michele. The event will be hosted by TODAY show anchors Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker and Craig Melvin.

Credits: Photo of Daniel Libeskind and the Swarovski Star via Twitter.com/Swarovski. Rockefeller Center celebration 2018 by MBurch [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
December 5th, 2019
An extraordinary ruby and emerald once owned by philanthropist Jessie Ball du Pont, the wife of American industrialist Alfred Irénée du Pont, highlight two high-profile lots at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in New York on December 11.



"The Du Pont Ruby" is set in an elaborate platinum and 18-karat gold brooch that's expected to sell in the range of $3.5 million and $5.5 million. The cushion mixed-cut Burmese ruby weighing 11.20 carats is mounted in the center of a heart formed by rectangular and trapezoid-shaped emeralds, as well as French, old and marquise-cut diamonds. Dangling at the sides and bottom of the brooch are five natural saltwater pearls.



"The Du Pont Emerald" weighs 9.11 carats and is adorned with old-cut diamonds in a platinum ring designed by Tiffany & Co. circa 1920. The rectangular step-cut emerald was sourced in Colombia and the ring is expected to fetch $500,000 to $700,000.

Both pieces had been donated to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts by Mrs. du Pont's estate after her death in 1970. The proceeds from the sale of these items will be used by the museum to facilitate future acquisitions.

Mrs. du Pont had been born into Virginia's respected Ball family, with family roots that extended to Mary Ball, the mother of George Washington. Jessie had met Alfred du Pont in 1898 when she was just 14 years old. Twenty-three years later, she would become his third wife.

Alfred was 20 years her senior and rose to prominence through his work in the Du Pont family's gunpowder manufacturing plant. Later, he would amass a fortune through his investments in land and banking. He passed away in 1935.

In the years that followed, Mrs. du Pont became a founding member and original trustee of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Through her influence and generosity, the museum's largest gallery would be named for her distant relative, Mary Ball.



Another top lot at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale is a 30.14-carat Belle Époque sapphire and diamond ring. Designed circa 1915, the ring features a Kashmir sapphire and a platinum band studded with old-cut diamonds. The piece is expected to sell in the range of $3.5 million to $5.5 million.



Auction bidders will also have their eyes on a 3.07-carat fancy vivid blue diamond ring. It features a round-cornered rectangular modified brilliant-cut center stone boasting a clarity of VVS1. The estimated selling price is $3 million to $4 million.



Rounding out the top lots at the auction is a diamond ring of 24.13 carats. The rectangular-cut center stone is rated D-flawless and is accented with trapezoid-shaped side stones. It is expected to fetch $2 million to $3 million.

An auction preview will be held at Christie’s Galleries at 20 Rockefeller Center in New York City from December 6 to December 10.

Credits: Images courtesy of Christie's.
December 6th, 2019
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you great throwback songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, we kick off the season of giving with this little ditty by Andy Williams called "Christmas Holiday."



In the song, Williams describes a picturesque Yuletide scene: A turkey cooking in the oven, fresh snow on the ground and our hero about to surprise the love of his life with a very special gift of fine jewelry.

He sings, "This year, we shall know a wonderful Christmas / And the glow of candlelight / Let's have a fling! / I'll give you my present, a wedding ring! / Hear me sing."

Written by Craig Vincent Smith, "Christmas Holiday" appeared as the sixth track of Williams' popular Merry Christmas album, which was released in 1965 and charted for six consecutive years on the Billboard Christmas Albums list. The album earned a platinum certification, with more than one million copies sold.

Long before he became a star, Williams and his three older brothers performed in a children's choir at the local Presbyterian church in Cincinnati. They formed the Williams Brothers quartet in 1938 when Andy was just 11 years old and made their mark by doing live performances on local radio stations.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1943, the brothers got their big break when Bing Crosby asked them to sing on his hit record "Swinging on a Star." Soon after, the Williams boys got to perform together in a number of musical films.

The youngest Williams brother began his solo career in 1953 and became a regular guest on the Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen.

From 1962 to 1972, Williams was considered one of the most popular vocalists in the U.S. Some of his biggest hits included "Moon River," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and the holiday song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

During the peak of his career, Williams had recorded more gold albums than any solo performer except for Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. He also hosted his own TV show, which earned three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Variety Series.

Williams, whose voice was described by President Ronald Reagan as a "national treasure," passed away in Branson, Mo., in 2012 at the age of 84.

Please check out the video of Williams' performance of "Christmas Holiday." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Christmas Holiday"
Written by Craig Vincent Smith. Performed by Andy Williams.

Hear the bells ringing
Their ting-a-ling sound.
See the fresh snow,
It's white on the ground.
Hang up the stockings and
Let's have a holiday, today.

Bring out the holly, we mustn't delay!
'Cause all of our friends will be stopping today.
Warm the hot chocolate
And bring out the marshmallow tray.

This year, we shall know a wonderful Christmas
And the glow of candlelight
Let's have a fling!
I'll give you my present, a wedding ring!
Hear me sing.

Turkey's a-cookin' and candy cane sticks,
With reindeer and sleigh bells and good old Saint Nick
Two kids sneakin' kisses beneath all the mistletoe,
As if we didn't know!

This year, we shall know a wonderful Christmas
And the glow of candlelight
Let's have a fling!
I'll give you my present, a wedding ring!
Hear me sing.

Yuletide, good cheer!
Christmas is here.
This one, we'll share,
We haven't a care.

It's Christmas!
Such a very Merry Christmas!
Extraordinary Christmastime is here!


Credits: Screen capture via YouTube.com.