Located in the historic Pike Place Market, Isadora’s has specialized in exquisite antique jewelry for 38 years. Our discriminating collection includes pieces from the early 1800’s through the 1950’s, without a reproduction to be found. Our precious pieces are sent to North American Gem Lab for independent appraisals. We invite you to call our toll free number for applicable discounts. On many of our pieces, we are able to offer between 10-25% off of appraisal value.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

California’s Tourmaline Rush

In my monthly search to uncover the secrets of October’s birthstones I learned a little nugget of information that surprised and intrigued me.  Apparently the Gold Rush was not the only precious metal/gemstone to create a craze in the hills of California.  Between 1898 and 1914, San Diego County California outdid Brazil, Burma and Ceylon when it came to the production of Tourmalines as the world; particularly China became crazy for California Pink Tourmalines.

Pink Tourmaline 
It began when Gemologist J.L. Tannenbaum, having seen a beautiful piece of pink  tourmaline from California, decided he needed to have more of this fantastic stone.  So posing as a consumptive looking to buy a mountain cabin among the healing air of California he scouted and purchased the Himalayan Mine.  He proceeded to mine a prodigious amount of these beautiful stones.

The Dowager Empress of China, Tzu Hsi
His chief purchaser was the dowager empress of China, Tzu Hsi, who could not get enough of California’s pink tourmaline, making it the de jour stone for the wealthy of China, where it was used not only in jewelry but in fantastic ornately carved snuff bottles, some of which can be seen in museums today.

Carved Pink Tourmaline Snuff Bottle
The empress loved tourmaline so much that on her death and burial she decided her eternal rest would be on a tourmaline pillow.

Isadora's Art Deco Pink Tourmaline Ring
Brazil today, is the leading producer of tourmaline but the California mines continue to mine beautiful tourmalines and they are still most famous for pink tourmalines in all different shades and hues.  And if you buy a vintage or antique pink tourmaline piece there is a good chance it came from the Himalayan Mine.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


All I want for Fall is a little bit Retro... or lets be real a lot.

Why not be fabulous while watching the falling leaves.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Tourmaline – A Stone of Incredibly Dynamic Color

An Egyptian legend holds that on the tourmaline’s journey from the center of the earth it passed across a rainbow and the stone was therefore gifted with all the rainbow's beautiful colors.

A rainbow arching over the pyramids
And yes, a tourmaline stone can represent each color of the rainbow, but that does not even come close to describing the multitude of colors that tourmalines can come in.  The range of colors represented by tourmalines makes the jumbo pack of crayons look monochromatic it is so varied and dynamic.  

Beautiful Cabochon Cut Tourmalines
Tourmalines fuel my interest in color because they, more than anything I’ve ever encountered, surprise me with colors unexpected and new.  Every time I think I have a color figured out and find myself making a blanket statement like, “I don’t’ like pink”, a tourmaline will come into our store to refute my statement. 

A Stunning Pink Tourmaline Ring 
For instance there were two rings that changed my views on pink.  One was a Victorian ring centered by a tourmaline, pink with undertones of coral giving it an idiosyncratic, exotic and stunning beauty.  Another was an Art Deco pink tourmaline ring that I loved for its depth of color.  One client called it a smoky pink because the pink had almost a charcoal color layered underneath the pink, which sounds odd but was exquisite.  It was as if pink had become a liquid like the ocean with all the depth and nuance of the sea’s color.  Which is all to say, I now no longer say I don’t like pink because the tourmaline sure makes pink look sexy.  It makes pink looks sexy as it does red, orange, yellow, green, blue and all the colors you thought you knew until the tourmaline made you take a closer look.

I tried to learn more about how the tourmaline creates such dynamic color and I learned a little but there was a lot of technical language, which I’ll admit I zoned out on.  But what I did absorb had to do with the fact that the crystals that actually make up the stone, unlike most stones crystals, can be multi colored themselves so the very building blocks of the stone lend itself to dynamic colors.  And also tourmalines are unusual in that many of them change color depending on the light and angle.

Regardless of the why or wherefore, tourmalines are one of natures greatest beauties and it is not surprising that the tourmalines root words “tura mali” is the Singhalese words for ‘stone with mixed colors’.  It is also not surprising that the tourmaline in addition to being one of October’s birthstones is also the stone of artists, authors, actors and those in creative fields because that much variety can be nothing but inspiring.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Extreme Fragility of Opals: A Myth Debunked

Being an October baby, opals have always fascinated me and I was very fortunate to receive several at a young age.  The most special being a three stone opal ring that belonged to my great grandmother Lucille.

Art Deco Opal Filigree Ring
When I received it my grandmother gave me a talk about the fragility of opals and how I must care for this ring not only as a piece that was once my great grandmother's and therefore warranted extra attention but also as a piece of jewelry that was extremely delicate and could not be banged around or even immersed in water.  And as a conscientious child and a rule follower, I did as she said, wearing it only on special occasions and taking it off when I washed my hands.  But now I work in a jewelry store and I realize I owe it not only to myself but I also owe it to my clients to look closer into what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the fragility of the opal.

Opal rates a 5.5 to 6.5 on the Moh's scale.  The Moh's scale was a scale created in 1812 to characterize the hardness of various stones.  It ranges from 1 to 10 with 1 being the softest, the softness of talc and 10 being the hardest, the hardness of a diamond.

Uncut Opal

So what exactly is a 5.5 to 6.5 on this scale? Well, to give some every day hardness analogies, a penny is a 3, a knife blade is a 5, a glass window is a 5.5 and a steel file is a 6.5.  So while not the hardest thing on earth, an opal is pretty darn sturdy.  Much sturdier than my grandmother lead me to believe.

Still there was that warning about immersing my ring in water?  My grandmother told me never to wash my hands while wearing my opal ring and I diligently did not do so.  Well I have since learned this was over conscientious and unnecessary on my part.  Apparently an opal is non-porous and therefore does not absorb any water.  Water has a neutral effect on opals.  Although they may look extra pretty while immersed.  So where does this rumor about not getting your opals wet come from?  It comes from the fact that many stones sold as opals at one time were actually doublets or triplets, which are composite stones.  A jeweler has glued several layers of opal to a black backing to appear like one single stone.  These composite opals when wet may loose their adhesion and therefore fall apart but a true opal will have no repercussions from water.

Edwardian Opal & Diamond Ring

But what about those people who say the opposite; that you must immerse your stones in water every so often or they will crack?  Again a myth taken belief.  A very low percentage of stones have a very low water content when they are formed and therefore are likely to crack.  But an opal goes through a lot of crackable situations before they are ever set into a piece of jewelry and therefore the fragile ones are weeded out when the stone is mined, transported or cut.  A vintage or antique stone that has been set in jewelry for 50, 75 or 100 years has already proven it is not one of these stones time and time again.

The only danger I discovered is extreme temperature.  So if you were thinking of setting your opal over a flame you might want to reconsider but I doubt that is the case.  And very very low humidity for an extended period of time may hurt your stone but barring that you can feel comfortable wearing your stone.  I plan to wear mine.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Flight of Whimsy: The Gemstone Opal as a Comic Book Heroine

In my other life I am a theatre director.  And recently I have been directing a play where one of the main characters is a D&D playing, rap writing, comic book nerd.  And I have consequently been talking about Superman more than at any other time in my life.  Usually my conversations center on diamonds but my mind is a porous thing so I inevitably find my self-having the silliest super hero thought digressions as I prepare blogs for the coming months.

Early 20th Century Black Ring 
Usually when I research a gemstone for a blog I focus on the quality of the stone, the biography of the stone, its word origin and the legends surrounding famous examples of said stone.  I may read the more outrageous information but I usually do not include it in my blog but today as I was reading about opals in the context of my newfound interest in Superman something shifted.  Her qualities (you see I have already begun to anthropomorphize her) began to jump out at me and I began to formulate this vision of a justice league like cast of characters based on gemstones and their most extreme legendary qualities.

Beautiful Uncut Opals
And so I decided to follow that idea down the rabbit hole as I began to create my first character Queen Opal hailing from Queensland Australia where legend tells of a woman, Isobel Robinson, who traded in opals.  She walked round the town of Eulo wearing a gold belt as thick as an arm studded with opals the size of Victorian Pennies.  She went by the name the Eulo Queen and it was said she glittered when she walked. Shakespeare, after all, called opals "that miracle and queen of gems". 

Painting of the Eulo Queen
Queen Opal is a blond because Nordic and Medieval legend holds that a blond woman should wear opals in her hair or round her neck to retain the luster of her locks and to protect herself from inclement weather.  And of course she is fantastically beautiful because so are opals.

And in her origin story Queen Opal came to earth on a bolt of lightening as it was popularly believed in ancient Arabic culture that this was the origin of opals.

But what are her super powers you ask?  This is where it gets fun.  There are many, almost too many to list.  First of all she would have the power of invisibility.  The Bishop Marbode of Rennes is quoted "It (Opals) gifts the bearer with acutest sight; But clouds all other eyes with thickest night."

What Queen Opal Might Look Like in Super Hero Form
She also has the gift of teleportation.  I'm not sure where that legend hailed from but it was what provoked my fits of fancy as I read a brief sentence telling of this legend and immediately pictured my new gemstone superhero bopping from place to place with the flash of green or pink in her milky white beauty signaling her movement.  And then of course my mind wandered even further. 

We have the occasional young boy come into our store excited by all the jewels before him, not for their intrinsic beauty like their mother, but because he sees that other quality people have seen in jewels for years—magic.  They see the magic of "The Hobbit" and Bilbo Baggin's ring or the ring Harry Potter seeks.  And I thought how much could I make this boy's eyes alight if I could say sure—with this ring you could teleport.

Edwardian Opal & Pearl Ring
And okay I can't really say that but opals are so beautiful you feel like they would have the power to teleport you.

But my digression keeps multiplying so back to the qualities of our superhero Queen Opal.  Like the opal of legend she can clarify, amply and mirror feelings, buried emotions and desires and she lesson inhibitions and promotes spontaneity.  She also enhances psychic ability and promotes good eyesight.  She protects children from predatory animals and she banishes evil and the evil eye.  She is in fact very cool.  She is also a symbol of hope, innocence and purity.

Edwardian Opal Ring
Like any super hero, she does have her evil detractors.  Many have tried to malign her with false legends of bad luck.  Misguided lovers of diamonds afraid that she will outshine their favorite spread rumors that she will bring them doom but Queen Opal retains her beauty and her purity ultimately winning out over her nemesis with her flashes of brilliance and her super powers and her lasting beauty.