The beautiful, rich blue Lapis Lazuli is the birthstone for the month of September.
Of all the gemstones I have worked with over the years, I think Lapis Lazuli is my favourite. All gemstones have a certain something about them – the variations in colour, the surprise of interesting inclusions, the mystery of their origins – but lapis has something else, a sort of inner glow. The name is derived from Arabic, meaning blue stone, but there are lots of naturally blue stones and what is sold as lapis is not always lapis. Lapis is an azure blue (coloured by sulphur) rather than the deeper blue of Sodalite or the mid-powder blue of Azurite; it is lighter in colour than Dumortierite (which veers off towards violet-blue), and it is opaque, not transparent to semi-transparent like Lazulite. The best examples have an even colour distribution and some (but not too much!) well distributed inclusions of pyrite – looking like golden speckles within the stone.
It has been mined for over 6,000 years in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan; in Russia it is found near Lake Baikal; in Chile it is mined north of Santiago. It has been used for jewellery since prehistoric times; in the Middle Ages in Europe it was used, ground up, to produce the pigment Ultramarine, an essential colour in mediaeval religious art; palaces and churches have lapis panels and columns, and are decorated with vases and urns sculpted from lapis. Today we still make rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets out of it.
The beautiful translucent bright green Peridot is the birthstone of the month of August. It is also known by the names Chrysolite and Olivine. The best examples come from Egypt and from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. The intensity of the colour of the stone depends upon the amount of iron it contains. Its chemical composition is magnesium iron silicate.
The origins of the name ‘Peridot’ are obscure; some authorities say that it is derived from the Greek word peridona which means ‘giving plenty’; others that it comes from the Arabic word faridat, meaning gem.
Schumann notes that there are historically important deposits on the Red Sea island of Zabargad, where it has been mined for over 3,500 years; it is also found in Burma (Myanmar), Queensland Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, Tanzania, and Arizona. It has even been found in Norway.
I have been fascinated by beads since I was a child. When I was little, the coolest thing we girls had was a collection of beads each. We would take them outside to show our friends; sometimes we swapped beads if there was a particularly choice one in a friend’s collection, but mostly we just handled and admired them. The fascination has never left me, even if I no longer play swapsies with them!
My Mum used to make jewellery using semi-precious stones and I joined in, loving the smooth surfaces of Tiger’s Eye and Carnelian, and delighting in the rich colours of Lapis Lazuli and Garnet. I still have the remains of her stock of gemstones and love looking through them and handling the cabochons and nuggets. It is fascinating to learn that the same basic material, for instance beryl, altered by the addition of a range of chemicals and minerals, turns into Emeralds (chrome has been added) and Aquamarine (coloured by iron). Of course, the chemical additions were made millions of years ago and under high pressure, and that fact in itself is wonderful! Beryl is also a semi-precious stone in its own right, being available in a lovely range of pastel colours.
A few years ago I decided to learn beading in order to make myself some interesting jewellery – I love earrings and have a huge collection. I made bracelets, earrings and necklaces, learned to wire-wrap and to create drop beads ready for hanging from ear-wires. The skill in wrapping wire and making beads into something that could hang elegantly has stood me in good stead when I decided to start designing knitting stitch markers.
Having been a knitter my whole life (and a crocheter since my teens), I have always been interested in the construction of knitted materials, and when I found out it was possible to knit and crochet with fine wire and add beads just as you do with woollen yarn, well there was no stopping me! It is a bit more fiddly than knitting with yarn, but very satisfying to make a small object, such as ethereal earrings or a delicate bracelet.
Recommended reading: Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann. 5th ed. Sterling NY, 2013.