David Gross: Jewelry is in His DNA

With a watchmaker for a grandfather on his mother’s side of the family and a grandfather who was a diamond cutter on his father’s side, you could say that jewelry is in the DNA of David Gross. He started his firm, David Gross Group, 12 years ago after spending a number of years in the family business, MJ Gross a diamond manufacturing firm in New York City. While there, David made sales, purchased diamonds and designed diamond jewelry. After marketing and selling a 7-carat fancy intense orangey-pink diamond for MJ Gross, David found himself very intrigued by color. Colored diamond prices were soaring at the time, so David turned his attention to colored gemstones. He learned about colored gems on the job and says that the world of colored stones is so vast that he continues to learn something new every day. David found that most colored gemstone dealers focused on color saturation, brilliance, hue and origin of the stone. He noticed that none of them really put the emphasis on cut and clarity. David quickly discovered that when you put the emphasis on color and then focus on cut and clarity, the end result is something breathtakingly beautiful.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

A stone has to talk to me. If it doesn’t talk to me, then it doesn’t come on to the table. Every stone has to have something compelling. Regardless of its color saturation it has to exude brilliance or we have to be able to bring it out of a stone. Traditionally the gemstone industry has focused on color saturation and brilliance of the stone, very little attention was being given to cut and clarity. When you do take that into account you end up with a superior product. I have to think about how a stone will look when it is set. And how does it look, will I be providing something of value to my customer? 

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

In my world the setting is there to enhance the stone. The center stone is the focal point and the side stones and design are there to enhance it. The side stones have to enhance not detract from the center stone or it’s not as attractive. The faceting of the side stones have to either match or contrast the center stone. A well-made piece of jewelry is one where the design flows throughout the piece. Components that are stiff will never have a good feel. The finish has to be very  good. A truly well-made piece of jewelry is a sum total of hundreds of minute details.

What inspires your designs?

My biggest inspiration actually comes from customers. We do a lot of custom work. I ask customers to send me images of what inspires them, what intrigues them and then try to fulfill their dreams while enhancing the piece as well. I work with the concepts from the pictures they sent. I’m always looking for new ways to make a piece unique, or a bit different. I play with different diamond cuts for side stones and I’ve found that mixed cuts really pop the center stone. Since classic designs are most in demand we take our stock product and try to find ways to make each piece unique. Most of my bench jewelers say that it is more difficult to create a classic piece than something with a more intricate design because there is no forgiveness if something is off. I spend a lot of time arguing with bench jewelers about the angle and height of the side stones and I’m always pushing my cutters to get better brilliance out of a colored stone.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I would like them to feel that their piece of jewelry is an extension of themselves. Jewelry is an expression of who you are. I like the idea of a person buying something that will be worn and enjoyed. What do you like? What feels special to you? A piece of jewelry is meant to be cherished and enjoyed.

Featured image (top of page): Blue sapphire, 7.43-carats framed with 4.10-carats of old mine diamonds, all set in platinum.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Retro Years: Jewelry of the 1940s

WWII, Pearl Harbor, Rosie the Riveter, USO, Rationing, Women’s Army Corps, Great Depression Ends, Housing Boom, Baby Boom, Jackie Robinson, Color Television, Big Band Music, Swing Era, Zoot Suits, Bikinis all defined the 1940s.

When: 1940-1949, the first half of the decade was all about the war effort, which ended the Great Depression. The second half of the decade was about recovering from the war, a time when the economy began to boom, with houses and babies, top priorities of this newly prosperous time.

Famous Makers: Boucheron, Boivin, Cartier, Marchak, Mellirio, Sterle, Tiffany & Co., Traebert and Hoeffer Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels

Motifs: Red, White and Blue, Patriotic Themes, Flags, Airplanes, Eagles, Bows, Tank Tire Treads, Flowers, Animals, Birds, Hearts, V for Victory, Ballerinas

The Look: Oversized jewelry, large colored gemstones set in gold, small stones used to create big pieces, scrolling forms, fan shapes

Materials: Topaz, Citrine, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Rubies, Sapphires, Diamonds, Rose Gold

World War II officially started in 1939, ringing in an era of austerity and gloom that lasted until 1945 when the war ended. When the war was in full swing, women were once again called upon to fill jobs in factories and offices while men were overseas. “Rosie the Riverter” epitomized the new working woman and her image was in posters everywhere encouraging patriotism. Everything was in short supply and rationing was common. There was a somberness that filtered into every aspect of life including apparel, which was much more subdued than in the previous two decades. These more restrained clothes provided the perfect backdrop for the oversized jewelry that was so in vogue. The scale of the jewelry also prompted a change in the way it was worn, unlike the previous years when layering multiple pieces of jewelry was de rigeur, it was now stylish to wear just one or two jewels — a brooch and earrings, necklace and earrings, or bracelet and brooch. Sets with two matching pieces were on trend in keeping with the “rule of two”. Rings with one large colored gemstone — often a square or rectangular shape — were featured heavily in movies, providing a touch of glamour.

Needless to say, the war had a huge impact on jewelry making and what was considered fashionable. The war made precious gems and metals difficult if not impossible to come by. Compounding the issue, many jewelry manufacturing firms were recruited to make military equipment such as components for compasses and other small items.

Platinum, gold and silver were declared strategic metals and were reserved for military use for the war effort. It was also very difficult to source diamonds and gemstones during that time as import/export rules were in flux. Jewelers had to be creative to find workarounds for these challenges. Often times, clients brought in an older piece and the gems and metal were used to create something new. Gold was in short supply so it was alloyed even more with other metals to make it go further, especially copper which gives gold the lovely rosy hue that is prominent in 1940s era jewelry.

Large colored gemstones were stylish, with one gem, or sometimes paired with other colored gems creating jewelry with an optimistic spirit that countered the glum mood brought on by the war. Patriotic themed jewelry, such as flags, or pieces made in red, white and blue stones were popular. It was difficult to find larger sizes of diamonds, rubies and sapphires, so to compensate jewelry was made using those gems as pavé to create substantial pieces.

Brooches remained a favorite jewelry item and as in earlier decades they were worn on dresses, hats, belts and shoes, while dress clips were fastened on a V-neck or square neck.

One of the most iconic jewelry trends of the 1940s is the tank bracelet, sometimes referred to as tire tread bracelets. These oversized, wide, architectural bracelets were inspired by the patterns left in the dirt by tank tires. Bracelets were a favorite adornment of the era and charm bracelets were wildly popular. They were link chains with small charms fastened to them that told the story of one’s life. And when it came to collecting charms, the more the merrier. ID bracelets were another important style with a thin gold plate flanked by a link chain.

Wide 18-karat gold tank bracelet, circa 1940s, courtesy Keyamour

Necklaces were not forgotten and were mostly collar length, sitting just below the throat. Beads were a favorite necklace style. Necklaces often did double duty converting to bracelets, clips or even earrings. Lockets were a favored style, especially in heart shapes, with a photo inside, it was a way of keeping a loved one who was away at war close.

When World War II ended in 1945, change was once again in the air. The mood lightened and along with that shift came a move into jewelry that was more naturalistic – flowers, bows, ribbons, scrolls, wild cats, domesticated cats, dogs, horses and especially birds were in the spotlight. Gems became more readily available as did precious metals. And in the latter half of the 1940s diamond engagement rings became a cultural imperative as mining giant De Beers created a marketing campaign geared to jump starting diamond sales that had declined during the war years.

The new found freedom and prosperity that came after the end of the war set the stage for the boom years of the 1950s.

Featured image (top of page): Retro 18-karat gold, ruby and diamond orchid clip with makers marks for Auguste Paillette, circa 1945, courtesy Friman & Stein Inc.

Authored by Amber Michelle

All jewelry featured in this blog is available on The Jewelers Circle.

7 Tips for Taking Great Jewelry Photos With Your Phone

Instagram, Facebook, websites, the list of places to post photos of your jewelry is growing. You want people to see how beautiful your pieces are, so you need great photography but you’re also not a professional photographer. So what do you do? Take it yourself, which is not as terrifying as it sounds. There are two aspects to taking a great photo — the technical aspect and the compositional aspect. Technical is working the equipment (it sounds more daunting than it is) and compositional, which  is how you want the finished photo to look.

Jewelers Circle has compiled a list of tips to help you take the best possible pictures. We’re using the iPhone as an example in this blog, but these tips can be applied to any photos that you may want to take with your phone. While these tips will help you to improve your photography, it is still not a substitute for a professional image taken in a photo studio with optimal lighting conditions, which really capture the sparkle of diamonds and the nuances of colored gemstones.

1. Get to Know Your Phone Camera

Before you even take the first photo, play with the camera on your phone. Check out the different features that you use to change lighting or format. To really learn to use the camera in your iPhone optimally, spend a bit of time experimenting with the different features on your phone camera. The best way to learn about all the features on your phone is to go to a website that will give you detailed instructions such as support.apple.com, or macpaw.com. A quick Google search on how to take photos with your phone will turn up other helpful information as well.

2. Set Aside Some Time

Taking photos with your phone will take time. Set aside an hour or more of uninterrupted time when you can really focus on what you’re doing. Keep in mind that a good part of taking a fabulous photo is in the set up so it’s worth taking the time to make sure all is in place before you start clicking the camera.

3. Clean the Jewelry

When you feel comfortable using the camera on your phone, choose the pieces of jewelry that you want to photograph. Clean the jewelry — metal and stones — before you photograph it. The camera is very sensitive and may pick up dust or fingerprints. Also, be sure to clean the lens on your phone camera before you start clicking away.

4. Styling Your Photos

When you are ready to start photographing your jewelry, find a place where you can set up a “mini photo studio”. It can be anywhere, but preferably next to, or near, a natural source of light.

A white background will give you a minimalist gallery-like background. This is a good choice for images on a website. A black background adds drama to an image.

Decide how you want the jewelry to look. This is a multipart process. Determine if you want to stick with a basic white background, or black background. You can create a gallery feeling on your Instagram or website by using all white backgrounds. The jewelry will pop and you will have a very clean, minimalist feeling to your photos. This is a good option for jewelry with intricate design or lots of detail and color. Using a black background will create a sense of drama and will also have a gallery feeling to it. Make sure that whatever you use for a background is clean and dust free. If you use a black velvet jewelry tray, use a lint roller to pick up the dust, which will for sure show up in your photo if you don’t remove it.

Alternatively, you may want to add some backgrounds for a customized look, or to set a mood for a piece. These types of images tend to be especially nice for use on social media. The background possibilities are endless. You can use a crystal geode and drape a piece across it, make a pile of mulch and moss and rest a brooch on it, or find a nice fabric and photograph on top of that, use leaves, flowers or feathers. It’s best to experiment and test backgrounds and props to make sure that they work well with the piece. The jewel should be the focus, the background should be just that — a background that supports the beauty of your jewelry. Sometimes you may find something that you think will be a fabulous background, but then it doesn’t look right. It can also work the other way, something that seems like a “maybe it will work and maybe it won’t” can end up looking fantastic. The only way to really know is to try it.

Photograph pieces on a person, it shows scale of the piece and lets people see how the piece sits when it is on,  jewelry courtesy Paul Fisher.

It’s also very helpful to see a piece of jewelry being worn. So if you can get some selfies of you wearing the piece, fabulous, or get someone to model the jewelry while you take the images. When you do a model shot, stay focused on the jewelry, you do not need to show faces – an ear with an earring, the neck with a necklace, the wrist with a bracelet and the hand with a ring is all you really need. Brooches placed on a piece of clothing that is being worn in the photo is also a great way to show off a piece.

5. Compose Your Shot

Use props to add visual interest and to create a story with your jewelry, gold dance card, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Compose your shot so that it looks interesting. If you have a long necklace for example, show just a part of the chain and showcase the focal point of a pendant or front of the necklace. If the chain is an important design element to the piece, you can also swirl the chain, or put it in a zig-zag pattern to add visual interest. With earrings consider putting them at slightly different heights rather than lined up next to each other. A ring can stand up on its shank, or lay down, bracelets can be clasped and shown in a circle, or if it has a detailed pattern you may want to unclasp the bracelet and lay it flat and show an up close look at the design. Play around and see what works best.

When using props, make sure they don’t distract from the piece of jewelry. In this photo the cup is too much in the forefront and the metal in the necklace picked up the pink from the cup. Both should be avoided.

A couple of hints: When you take the picture, make sure that there are no stray objects in the photo that you don’t want to be there. Clear the space where you are taking the image so that there is nothing that can get into the shot that shouldn’t be there. For example, you don’t want your feet in the shot, your hair, or that ugly chair you’ve been meaning to throw out. Make sure that the entire piece is in the image. Do not cut off the sides, top or bottom of the piece. Be creative and go close on one section of a piece to show details and use that as a second image for a post.

6. Lighting

If the image is too light, the jewelry looks washed out, if the image is too dark, there won’t be enough contrast in the piece to show it well. The right lighting will showcase the piece optimally.

Get your phone as close as possible to the jewelry without getting so close that you go out of focus and the shot gets blurry. Lock in the piece of jewelry that you are photographing by tapping the screen in the place where you want to focus on the jewelry. When you tap the screen the camera will automatically focus on that area and it will now have a yellow box outline around the area where you want to focus. The iPhone camera will automatically lock in on that area. Now you can adjust the lighting. Next to the yellow box is a sun icon. Move the sun icon up or down and it will lighten (slide up)  or darken (slide down) the image. It’s a good idea to spend some time on getting the lighting right as that is what can make or break a photo.

Also, check your images to make sure they are not blurry. Sometimes the blur comes when you are trying to get a close-up of the piece and you get too close. That will blur the shot, pull back a bit to get refocused for a sharper image.

7. Take Several Shots

You’ve cleaned the jewelry and camera lens, you’ve created your set, preferably near a natural light source and you know how you want to style the jewelry. Now that you’ve done the prep work, it’s time to take the actual photo. Take a bunch of photos of each piece from different angles and with different lighting. Change the height of your phone when you’re taking pictures. Most of the time we shoot from chest height, lower the phone to get a different angle. For a close-up move as close as possible to the piece of jewelry rather than using the zoom feature, which may distort the image. You can take the picture with the on-screen button that you tap, or click the volume up button on your phone, which will help to avoid camera shake that may cause the image to blur.

You’ll need to take a few shots to get what you want. Then decide which one you like best and use that one. Remember, even the pros have to take multiple images to get the desired result.

Now that you have a few basic pointers to get you started with your jewelry photography, experiment with different ideas, backgrounds and lighting. It takes practice to get comfortable taking pictures and it takes even more practice to hone your skills so that you can take a great picture. Play around and try different things, if it doesn’t work, no big deal, just delete the image and move on to the next shot. A final hint: Be creative and have fun.

Featured image (top of page): Use props to add visual interest and to create a story with your jewelry, gold dance card, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Suna Bros: Masters of the Classics

The story of Suna Bros started with Kenneth Suna in 1925 in Poland. After apprenticing in a jewelry factory in Warsaw, Kenneth came to the United States. Several years after arriving in the U.S., Kenneth launched Suna, specializing in channel set wedding bands. He stopped the business when World War II started and relaunched it with his brother Joel, after the war ended. In 1974 Aron Suna, president Suna Bros Inc. in New York City and Kenneth’s son joined the business. Aron never planned to come into the jewelry business instead he attended law school and was a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General Corps) for four years. Just before Aron left the navy, Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer. Aron went to visit his dad in the hospital and that’s when his father asked him to join the family business. After two days of soul searching, Aron agreed to come into the business. He then spent 3 months in Antwerp, Belgium where he learned to polish and sort diamonds. Today, Aron, with his brother Jonathan,  continues taking the business, which makes all of its jewelry in its in-house New York City workshop,  in new directions adapting to changing times and shifting customer desires, which in recent years has meant a foray into colored gemstones.

What inspires your designs?

We are very, very classic. We like new and different concepts, we do an updated classic with a slightly different twist. We go through cycles. In the early 1990s I went to Vicenza, Italy. That was when gold was inexpensive and before Italian gold had really entered the U.S. market. We bought Italian gold and made 18-karat gold necklaces and bracelets with no stones. That was very different for us. We were always creating diamond pieces with rubies, sapphires and the occasional aquamarine. In the past ten years we started to work with more exotic color — spinel, moonstone, Paraiba tourmaline. We have a new gemologist who opened our eyes to the breadth of color.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

We’re fussy about our color. We want the finest colored gemstones that we can find. It has to be high quality. We’re not a price point house, but we do want something that is well priced, has depth of color and brilliance, that is well cut and has no windows.

What is the most unusual gemstone that you have ever used in a design?

The nicest was a padparadscha sapphire layout that I found in Geneva. It was really special. The stones were all 2 to 3-carat ovals and there were about 30 of them. Each stone had  a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) report. I didn’t know what to do with them, but when I got the stones back to New York, we came up with the idea for a floral bib necklace. It has different size flowers with padparadscha sapphires at the center of each one. We used Argyle pink diamonds and yellow diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold. It took hundreds of hours to make, it’s truly a work of art.

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

When I’m showing a piece of jewelry, I always like it when someone turns it over and looks at the back first. It shows that a person knows that a piece of jewelry has to be constructed properly. When we use rose gold, we use 20-karat because it has less porosity than lower karat gold and we want no porosity. You should hear a clasp click when it closes and there should be nothing that catches on clothes. You should be able to run a piece of jewelry over a silk blouse without snagging anything. It has to look right and flow well. Depending upon the design, an item can be delicate or chunky, but it needs to be proportional. When we make a necklace we use a neck form, this way we know it flows correctly, it has to flow with the body. Each piece has a unique serial number stamped inside of it. We keep meticulous records so that we know where the stones are from and who the jeweler was that made the piece in our shop. That way if a piece comes back to us to be refurbished we can give it back to the same setter. Each setter has a slightly different hand. A lot of little details go into making a fine piece of jewelry.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I always say buy quality – 18-karat gold or platinum. How is the piece made? Does the ring fit right? Make sure that a necklace sits right on the collarbone and doesn’t flip.  The quality of the stones is important, cut affects the appearance of diamonds and colored gemstones.  The most important thing is that the jewel has to appeal to you.

All of the jewelry showcased in this blog can be found on the Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Padparadascha sapphires, yellow diamonds, Argyle pink diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold, necklace, all images courtesy Suna Bros.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Platinum: The Mysterious Metal

Through much of its history platinum has intrigued, baffled, flummoxed and fascinated scientists and alchemists until this noble metal was finally tamed at the turn of the 20th century. Since that time it has become a favored precious metal used in some of the finest jewelry.

The first platinum discoveries were found 3,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Traces of platinum were found in gold that was used in caskets in Thebes, which archeologists believe was a natural element in the gold that came from Nubia at that time. Meanwhile, half way around the world, the South Americans were creating ceremonial jewelry and objects for ritual use out of platinum (probably mixed with an alloy) that can be dated back to 100 B.C.

Platinum and the Conquistadors

Platinum didn’t really get much play until the 1500’s when the Spanish conquistadors landed in South America searching for gold. Instead they found platinum, but they thought it was silver and tossed it aside. The conquistadors named this new metal “platina del Pinto” — little silver of Pinto river, which is the name of the river in Colombia where the platinum was found.

In 1557, Julius Caesar Scaliger, an Italian-French scientist analyzed a bit of the mystery metal from South America and found that it was not silver and that it wouldn’t melt.  According to some scientists, Scaliger was the first to make any written mention of platinum.  Not too much happened with platinum until the 1700s  because no one really knew what to do with it. The high melting point of 3,214 degrees Fahrenheit (for comparison, gold has a melting point of 1,947 degrees Fahrenheit) made it difficult if not impossible to work with the metal.

A Platinum Expedition

In the 1740s, Antonio de Ulloa, a Spanish scientist went on an expedition to South America. When he returned to Spain, de Ulloa described platinum and the challenges that the metal presents. During the same decade, Charles Wood, a Jamaican metallurgist studied platinum even smuggling some of the metal into England. He continued his experiments with platinum and came to the conclusion that it was a new metal. In 1750, Wood presented his evidence to the Royal Society of England.  

Wood’s findings were supported by a Swedish scientist Henrik Teofilus Scheffer, who in 1751 presented a paper to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, once more describing the difficulty of working with platinum, but more Importantly identifying it as a precious metal.

Platinum was making news and getting all kinds of attention including from France’s King Louis XV, who announced that it was the only metal fit for a king. This of course, sparked more interest in this intriguing metal. Scientists, alchemists and metallurgists were all focused on one thing: How to make platinum melt. Finally, in the latter half of the 1700’s some scientists figured out how to make very small amounts of the metal liquify. While not a definitive answer at the time, it was a step in the right direction.

The Platinum Age of Spain

Meanwhile, King Charles III of Spain, created a lab for French chemist Pierre-Françoise Chabaneau, who is widely credited as being the first person to figure out how to make platinum malleable enough to use. Chabaneau managed to remove trace elements from platinum and by 1786 he had figured out how to make platinum malleable. King Charles III, however, made sure that the information stayed in Spain, by issuing a royal order that the process was to remain secret. This event debuted the Platinum Age of Spain, during which time malleable platinum was produced in some quantity and sold. This went on until the Napoleonic Wars in 1808, which shut down the industry in Spain.

However, some big steps forward had occurred for platinum. King Charles III commissioned a platinum chalice for Pope Pius VI, which was presented to him in 1789. At the same time the jeweler for King Louis XVI, Marc-Ettienne Janety acquired some malleable platinum from Chabaneau and used it to make buttons, watch chains and other small items.

In 1804, two British chemists, Smithson Tennant and William Hyde Wollaston, figured out how to make larger quantities of platinum malleable. This allowed jewelers to create small, simple pieces of jewelry such as cufflinks. By the end of the 1890’s, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier Paris were both creating jewelry using platinum as was Fabergé.

High heat blow torches became available in the early 20th century that gave jewelers the ability to create lacy, lightweight intricate jewelry from this most precious metal. The white metal was the perfect complement to the white on white look of diamonds and pearls that was the height of fashion in the Edwardian era. Platinum retained its popularity throughout the Art Deco era, but its use in jewelry came to a halt when it was declared a strategic metal and reserved for military use during World War II.

Platinum had a resurgence of popularity in the 1950s when formal jewelry was the style. It fell out of favor during the next three decades and then in the 1990s platinum made a comeback, mainly in bridal and continues to be on trend today, especially in high jewelry.

All jewelry featured in this blog can be found on The Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Aquamarine, diamond and platinum brooch, circa 1935, courtesy L’Epoque D’Or.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Allure of Asscher Cut Diamonds

There are a number of very enchanting antique and vintage cut diamonds that we all know and love – old miners, old Europeans, rose cuts and cushion cuts to name a few. But the most coveted and hardest to find is the Asscher cut diamond – mostly because a limited number were cut in the early 20th century before production ceased. The story of the famed Asscher cut can be traced back to the Asscher family in Amsterdam in the mid 1800s.

The company was founded by Joseph Isaac Asscher in 1854 as IJ Asscher Diamond Company. As the years progressed, Joseph Isaac’s sons – Joseph and Abraham – came into the business and changed the name of the firm to the Asscher Diamond Company. The firm became one of the most prominent diamond cutting businesses in the world. By the turn of the century and early 1900s, Amsterdam was the preeminent global diamond cutting center teeming with cutters and business. And the Asscher family was at the center of it all.

Famous Diamonds

In 1903, Abraham Asscher was tapped to cut the Excelsior Diamond, which at 995-carats was the world’s largest diamond at the time. Discovered in 1893, the diamond languished in a vault for ten years due to some legal issues. When it finally came out of the vault, the diamond was cut into 11 stones, three of which were purchased by Tiffany & Co.

A couple of years later in 1905, the Excelsior’s place as the largest diamond was usurped by the Cullinan which weighed in at an astounding 3,106-carats. The Cullinan diamond was given to King Edward VII, in 1907 as a birthday gift from South Africa’s Transvaal Colony government. King Edward sought the advice of Joseph Asscher on how to best cut the diamond. After much studying and the development of some new tools to cut the diamond, Joseph Asscher cut the rock in 1908. Nine of the polished gems were presented to King Edward and remain in the British Crown Jewels today – The Great Star of Africa and the Smaller Star of Africa were the two largest. The remaining 96 smaller stones stayed with the Asscher Diamond Company as payment for services.

The Asscher Cut Debuts

In 1902, Joseph Isaac’s grandson, also named Joseph, cut the first diamonds that would bear the family name. The Asscher cut was very different from other cuts of the era which tended to be more round and curvy. The Asscher broke with tradition and was a square, with cut corners that created an octagonal shape giving it a distinctly different look and feel from other diamond cuts that were already available. The cut was so unique that Joseph Asscher had it patented, making it the world’s first patented diamond cut.

Its square shape is not the only trait that sets the Asscher cut apart from other diamonds. It was also the extraordinary sparkle of the stone that comes from the cut corners that allow more light return in the diamond. The Asscher cut is similar to an emerald cut in that they are both step cuts, however an emerald cut is rectangular. The Asscher is distinguished by 58 facets, with a high, two-step crown and a deep pavilion. When you look straight down into the diamond from the top, you will see an “X” that is formed by equidistant converging facets, earning the cut the nickname “hall of mirrors” for the amazing light reflection in the stone.

Art Deco era jewelers were enthralled by the Asscher cut and it became one of the most important diamond cuts of the day. Its square shape was new and modern at the time and its linear architectural form was the perfect complement to the straight geometric lines of the jewelry that was being made in the 1920s and 1930s. The Asscher Diamond Company was thriving.

The End and a New Beginning

When World War II ravaged Europe, the Nazis invaded Holland, stormed Amsterdam and arrested the Asscher family and most of the few hundred employees at the company, all of whom were sent to concentration camps. At the end of the war, ten surviving members of the Asscher family returned to Amsterdam as did about 15 of their cutters. The city’s diamond industry had been gutted.

The Asscher family resolved to rebuild their business. And they did, but they stopped cutting the original Asscher. In 1980 the firm was given the Dutch Royal Predicate from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The company changed its name to the Royal Asscher Diamond company. A number of years later the firm introduced the Royal Asscher cut, designed by Joseph Asscher’s great grandnephews, Edward and Joop, which was based on the original cut. Sixteen more facets were added to the design for a total of 74 facets that give the diamond extra shimmer.

The firm continues to cut diamonds today with the fifth and sixth generations of the family at the helm, operating at Tolstraat 127, Amsterdam, the same building where the company started in 1854.

Featured image (top of page): Asscher Cut diamond, 1.87-carats, F/VS2, set in platinum with diamonds and natural Burmese rubies, signed Yard, circa 1935, courtesy Berganza Limited.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Glamour of Art Deco Jewelry

The Jazz Age, The Charleston, Flappers, Tutankhamun, Cubism, Graphic Design, Airplanes, Automobiles, Industrialism, Russe Ballet, “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes”, Prohibition, Cocktails and Speakeasies defined the Art Deco era.

When: Art Deco, which encompasses all the decorative arts including jewelry was from 1920 to 1939.  It began to manifest a couple of years before World War I and took off when the war ended, building and evolving until World War II came along. Some jewelry historians refer to 1930s Art Deco as Art Moderne or Modernism. The era is also known as the “style between the wars”. Art Deco was fully launched in 1925 at the Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes” where this new look was on full display.

Famous Makers: Boucheron, Black Starr & Frost, Cartier, Chaumet, Jean Deprès, Georges & Jean Fouquet, Lalique, LaCloche, Mauboussin, Raymond Templier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Raymond Yard

Motifs: Egyptian, Asian, African and Native American Art, Geometric Forms, Flora and Fauna, Architecture, Tassels

The Look: 1920s Art Deco: Flat, Linear, Symmetrical, Geometric, White on White, Black and White, Bold Color, Long Necklaces. 1930s Art Deco: Bigger, Wider Bracelets; Convertible Jewelry, Rounded Scrolling Forms, Bib and Collar Necklaces

Materials: Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Rock Crystal, Onyx, Lapis, Coral, Pearls, Carved Gems, Cabochon Gems, Enamel, Lacquer, Platinum, White Gold, Yellow Gold

The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring 20s” was a time of great prosperity and innovation. World War I had just ended bringing major societal changes along with it. In particular, the role of women in society had dramatically changed by the early 1920s. During the war years women went to work holding down the jobs that men had held before leaving to join the war effort. Wardrobe changes were a necessity. Working women ditched their corsets, raised their hemlines and shortened their hair so they could move more easily. In the U.S. some women were further empowered when they won the right to vote in 1920. After enduring the hardships of a world war and a global flu pandemic during the previous few years, by the early 1920s people were ready to dress-up and party.

Prohibition laws from 1920 until their repeal in 1933 made the sale and consumption of liquor illegal in the U.S. The law didn’t stop people from imbibing and the speakeasy launched – secret rooms where revelers would drink hidden away from the world. Flappers — the “it” girls of the era — danced the Charleston in speakeasies and scandalously wore hemlines raised up to their knees, seamed stockings, sleeveless shift dresses, sleek bobbed hair and most shocking of all they wore lipstick, rouged their cheeks and smoked cigarettes. Cigarette holders, cases and minaudières adorned with gems were all part of the glamourous look of the era. And of course every outfit was accessorized with sparkling jewelry.

During the Art Deco era, jewelry design was pared down to its most basic elements creating sleek silhouettes that were easy to wear. It was an embracing of machination and the industrialism that was spreading quickly through the world during that time. The white on white look of diamonds and platinum continued from the Edwardian era, but the jewelry became geometric and streamlined and was often punctuated with patterns created from the use of black onyx, black enamel, ruby, sapphire or emerald. Platinum continued its streak of popularity. Diamonds remained a favorite in the 1920s and 1930s, with pavé becoming an important design element. There were also some new advances in diamond cutting and with that came new diamond shapes that complemented the geometry of jewelry designs – including the Asscher cut and the baguette.

Sautoirs — a long necklace comprised of strands of pearls or colored gemstones, often with a tassel of pearls or pearl and colored gemstone beads — swung from the necks of fashionable women. Cultured pearl production ramped up in the early 1920s making the gems more available and their popularity soared. Flappers wore long ropes of pearls — often knotted — sometimes even letting them dangle chicly down the back of a low cut dress.

Shorter hair made statement earrings an important jewel, with long, linear earrings taking centerstage. The style also worked well with the straight, drop waist dresses of the 1920s.

Bracelets were a favorite in the Art Deco era and were often worn over elbow length gloves and stacked together to create maximum high voltage glamour. Diamonds were the base of these flat, linear bracelets which were embellished with colored gemstones that broke up the whiteness of the diamonds while at the same time outlining and amplifying the geometric forms that were a key look of the era. Wider bracelets were often used to tell the stories of exotic places and were embellished with birds, florals and Egyptian motifs, which had become popular with the discovery and opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The Maharajahs of India also influenced jewelry design in the 1920s as they took carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires to European jewelers and had them turned into extravagant jewels. Cartier was the leader in this colorful look dubbed tutti-frutti.

Rings followed a similar pattern of geometric shapes covered in diamonds with a line of colored gemstones that defined the symmetry of the design. Multiple rings were worn at the same time often with a big center stone and like bracelets, rings were worn on top of gloves. Brooches and dress clips were worn primarily during the day and they were attached to everything from hats, collars and coat lapels to shoes.

The Bandeau was an important part of jewelry fashion in the 1920s.  A headband worn on the forehead and generally crafted from diamonds did double duty by converting to a necklace, bracelets, brooch and/or dress clips.

In October 1929, the stock market collapsed causing the world to fall into an economic depression that left the global economy in tatters. While millions were unemployed and standing in line at soup kitchens, there were still plenty of people with money and the glamour of the Art Deco era continued, but the style evolved during the 1930s.

Sleek suits, silk and satin gowns that clung to a woman’s figure, long furs and lots of jewelry defined the decade. Hemlines dropped, hair was longer and worn up and the mood was subdued. Prohibition ended and cocktail parties came out in the open, which continued the trend of a big stone ring that looked so glamorous on a hand holding a champagne glass.

Platinum was still the desired metal, but 18-karat white gold was used as a less expensive alternative. Necklaces changed, they were now collars and bibs with some rounding and scrolling beginning to appear that broke up the flat geometric style that had dominated in previous years. Necklaces in the 1930s were often constructed to come apart as two dress clips that could also be put together to wear as one brooch. While brooches and dress clips were highly coveted in the 1920s, they surged in popularity in the 1930s. Suit lapels were the perfect backdrop for a sophisticated brooch while dress clips on each side of a party dress or gown twinkled flirtatiously at night.

Earrings also changed during the 1930s, shortening from long drops to scrolling forms that framed the face. Some earrings even had detachable components. Bracelets became wider and curves and rounded forms began to appear by the end of the 1930s.

The glamourous parties and free-wheeling lifestyle of the Art Deco era ended in 1939 when World War II exploded.

You can find the Art Deco jewelry featured in this article on The Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Sapphire, diamond and platinum bracelet, circa 1925, from Ernst Faerber.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Emperor Maximillian’s Diamond Buttons

Have you ever wondered about a rare and exquisite antique piece of jewelry and how it came to be for sale today? All pieces of antique and vintage jewelry have a story to tell, but some stories stand the test of time better, either because the jewel is a family heirloom and the story is passed down with the piece, or because the original owner was a famous historical figure. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

This is the story of Emperor Maximillian (1832-1867) and his diamonds buttons that have found their way into today’s jewelry collections. Maximillian was born an Austrian Archduke. He was the second son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. As a second son, his life path was more open than that of a first born, who was destined to become the next ruler. Instead Maximillian had a very successful career as an officer in the Austrian Imperial Navy where he modernized the institution.

Maximillian Goes to Mexico

In 1859 Maximillian was approached to become the Emperor of Mexico. The country was in tatters from the Reform War and had defaulted on many debts owed internationally. It was thought that having a European ruler would help the country stabilize. Maximillian declined the offer. In order to have its debts repaid, France invaded Mexico in 1862 and a year later the French were in charge of the country. Maximillian was once again asked, by the French, to become Emperor of Mexico and this time he said yes.

He arrived in Mexico with his wife, Charlotte of Belgium in 1864. The country was still reeling from the effects of the Reform War and the dueling factions — liberals and conservatives  —continued to disagree. It’s thought that Maximillian genuinely wanted to help the poor people in the country. He made numerous changes including abolishing child labor, restricting working hours and cancelling the debts of peasants. Maximillian also supported religious freedom and voting rights for those who were not land owners.

The French left Mexico and asked Maximillian to leave with them, instead he chose to stay believing that he could actually help the people of the country. The wealthy class opposed the reforms that Maximillian instituted and he was overthrown by Benito Juarez and his followers. In 1867 he was executed.

Boston, 1981

Fast forward to Boston in 1981. A young woman starting out in the industry, Janet Levy, went on her daily visit to see her great Uncle Sydney DeYoung, the patriarch of J.&S.S. DeYoung, a company specializing in antique and vintage jewelry. When he was 89, Uncle Sydney had a series of strokes and was unable to come to the office, so he asked that any new purchases be brought to him for inspection at the Ritz-Carlton Boston where he was living after his stroke.

One day Janet went to show Uncle Sydney the company’s latest purchases and she handed him a  beautiful antique rose cut diamond ring. She was having a hard time accurately, estimating the weight of the diamond because it was very different from other diamonds that she had seen. For 70 years Uncle Sydney had kept a series of black notebooks, showing tracings of the perimeter of the diamonds he purchased in the past and also measurements of unusual shaped diamonds.  The books were used as references to help estimate the weight of rare and unusual antique shape diamonds. Janet had gone through the series of little black books and there was really nothing comparable in the books to the rose cut diamond she had.

How Uncle Sydney Got Maximillian’s Buttons  

In the early 1930s, during the great depression, one of Emperor Maximillian’s heirs inherited the collection of 76 antique rose cut diamond buttons, belonging to Emperor Maximillian. The antique diamond button collection was brought to Uncle Sydney by one of his customers from the western part of the United States.

Uncle Sydney bought the entire collection of buttons and sold them to Armand Hammer of Hammer Galleries, located on 57th street in New York.  Hammer was an art and jewelry retailer with a great imagination. He realized that many  American customers wanted to purchase items with a royal provenance.  Hammer converted the entire collection of  76 buttons into rings. He developed an advertising campaign “Own a Royal Ring” and began selling the rings in the early 1930’s and continued to sell them through 1947. A letter, dated 1931, from the Museum and Art Collections of the Late Crown Possession in Bavaria, accompanied the set of diamond buttons, confirming that they can be traced back to 1763.

All of the rose cut diamonds in the buttons are thought to be from the Golconda mine in the Northern region (modern day Hydrabad) of India, where the world’s diamonds came from prior to the mid 1800s. Diamonds from the Golconda region were generally larger and higher quality than those from other mines in the area. Additionally, the style of the diamonds indicate that they were cut in the traditional Indian way and most likely brought to Europe by one of the gem traders who went there in search of jewels for the royal and wealthy. It is most likely that at one point the diamonds in Maximillian’s buttons belonged to an Indian Maharajah. Set in silver-topped gold, each button was slightly different, but they all have rose cut diamonds.

After a long and winding journey, the first of four of Emperor Maximillian’s diamond buttons came back to J.&S.S. DeYoung in 1981. Three others have since resurfaced and each one has its fractional diamond weight inscribed in the shank — it’s not just a ring, it’s a real piece of history that’s very personal and tells the story of bygone eras. And that’s the magic of antique jewelry.

You can find Emperor Maximillian’s diamond button ring on the Jewelers Circle.

Featured video (top of page): Rose Cut diamond ring is made from a diamond button that had previously belonged to Emperor Maximillian of Mexico.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Magic is in the Cut

When it comes to the 4C’s – carat weight, color, clarity and cut — cut is perhaps the most important one. Whether you are aware of it or not, you’re noticing cut, it’s what makes a stone sparkle spectacularly or fall flat. You may look at a diamond and think it looks amazing, or you may look at it and think that something is not quite right —  again it is often cut that you are perceiving. Legendary diamantaire William Goldberg was a strong proponent of cut bringing out the beauty in a diamond and he coined the eponymous firm’s tagline “The Magic is in the Make”. Make is a diamond dealer’s shorthand for cut.

What is Cut?

So what exactly does cut mean? Cut is the arrangement of facets on a stone, while shape is the geometric form – round, pear, marquise, etc. — that is created during the cutting process. Cut is what gives a stone sparkle and brilliance – the return of white light that makes a diamond bright and lively. A skilled diamond cutter can take a rough diamond that is not so great and make it into an amazing gem. So what exactly is a good cut and how does a cutter know what to do?

Master diamond cutter William Lopez, of William Goldberg  talks about what he looks for when he starts to cut a diamond. “When I look at any rough diamond, I decide what will be the biggest, cleanest stone that I can get from the rough,” explains Lopez, who has been cutting diamonds for 52 years. “Then I look at the options, will it be round, emerald or cushion and I give my opinion as to the best way to cut the rough.”

Cut Gives Diamonds Character

According to Saul Goldberg, president of William Goldberg and the second generation in the family business, cut is subjective, each person will have a different opinion about what they like. Cut, he says, is what gives a diamond its character. “A diamond can look great on paper, such as a 10-carat D, flawless, but if it doesn’t have the right cut, it won’t look right when you see it.”

Referencing fancy shape diamonds (anything that is not round) William Goldberg, executive vice president Barry Berg, notes that “the brilliance and life of a diamond is determined by the cut, each cut has to be shaped a certain way to look its best.” That means that not only do the facets on the diamond need to be placed optimally, but the end result has to have the right proportions. Those proportions will vary depending upon the shape of the stone, but generally you want a gem that is not stubby or too elongated.  

“With cut you are trying to get the best brilliance and refraction of light,” agrees Lopez, whose father was a diamond cutter who learned the trade in Puerto Rico and then came to New York City to work. “A cutter is dealing with angles. Top to bottom and bottom to top, certain angles reflect light better. If a stone is too deep on the bottom it will be dark, if it is too shallow it will look glassy. There has to be light bouncing back from the facets to create sparkle.”

Benjamin Goldberg, chief gemologist at William Goldberg is Saul’s son and the third generation to be part of the business, has a slightly different take on the topic. “Cut is a visual aspect of a stone,” he notes. “But clarity can be more important. No one wants to see imperfections.”

Still a well-cut diamond can in some instances minimize the imperfections in a diamond, depending upon where they are in a piece of rough, they can be eliminated altogether or they may land in an area of the finished diamond that is less intrusive.

What Makes a Well Cut Diamond?

So back to our first question, what makes a well cut diamond? “For me, the angles, polish and symmetry all have to be really good. I put a little bit of me into each stone,” says Lopez who learned to cut diamonds from a cutter and friend — Tony Borrero —  who worked in the shop where his dad worked. “Every cutter does something a bit different. It comes from my experience and what I’ve learned over the years. It’s almost a signature. With round stones you pretty much go by the angles, but with fancy shapes you can put more of your artistry into it.”

Ultimately the beauty of cut is, like so many other creative expressions, a highly personal decision based on your own tastes and what your eye perceives as beautiful. At William Goldberg the company principals agree that they prefer to sell a diamond in person, where someone actually looks at the stone rather than selling it based on a gemological laboratory report.

“It comes down to the beauty and character of a diamond,” concludes Saul Goldberg. “You can’t be hung up on the grading report. You have to look at the stone and see how it strikes you. Is it sexy? Does it look good? The stone will talk to you. After all the magic is in the make.”

Featured video (top of page): Diamond cutter William Lopez, from William Goldberg, cutting a diamond.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Colored Diamonds: Rarity and Value

Colored diamonds, also known as fancy colors, are among the rarest and most valuable of all gemstones and they come in an endless kaleidoscope of divine colors. According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), only one in every 10,000 diamonds found has a fancy color. And of those even fewer are the vibrant colors that are most desired and of course the most pricey.

Up until the middle to late 1990s colored diamonds were shunted to the side and pretty much ignored. As the 1990s progressed colored diamonds began to appear at auction and their marketing machines put these superpowered gemstones into the spotlight. People began to take notice and colored diamonds started to gain in popularity as consumers began to understand more about their beauty, value and rarity. Today, colored diamonds at auction command prices that soar to breath-taking heights. To give you an idea of just how high prices can go, the Pink Star, a 59.60-carat  vivid pink diamond sold at Sotheby’s Geneva for $71 million in 2017. The year before that, the Oppenheimer Blue, a 14.62-carat vivid blue diamond sold at Christie’s Geneva for $57.5 million.

How Diamonds Get Color

Very rare .84-carat, kite-shaped, fancy red diamond, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Let’s take a look at how diamonds get their color.  The colors in diamonds come about through trace elements when they are forming in the ground.

  • Yellow diamonds get their color from the presence of nitrogen.
  • Blue diamonds get their color from traces of boron.
  • Green diamonds get their color from natural radiation in the earth.
  • Pink and red diamonds are a bit of a mystery. Gemologists believe that they get their blushing shades from an anomaly in the internal structure of the gem as they are forming.

Many colored diamonds have modifying undertones to the stones, which shift the color and can change the value of the gem. For example, a diamond may be graded as purplish-pink. That means that the main body color of the stone is pink, but it has purple modifiers with pink the dominant color. It will look quite a bit different than an orangey-pink, which has an orange undertone to the pink.  Sometimes the blend of colors in a colored diamond is more balanced and then it will be given a name such as blue-green. Modifying colors may also change the value of a colored diamond. The grade that a colored diamond receives from a gemological laboratory can mean a price difference of many thousands of dollars.

“The modifying undertone colors, such as brown in yellow or pink is usually not good, or gray in blue is not great, for example,” explains Rima Farah, president Swissdiam New York LLC, a firm specializing in colored diamonds with offices in New York and Geneva. “You may get some green in a yellow diamond and people will like that neon color, or you may have some green in a blue. That is attractive and may add value. Some people want that pure color of one tone, but some don’t. Most people also don’t realize that when a color is a ‘pure’ shade it’s not what you necessarily expect. There are times when an undertone can make a color muddy and we don’t want that either. A modifying color may or may not add value, it’s not a hard scientific fact.”

Colored Diamond Grading

There is some important terminology to note when you are looking at colored diamonds. There are three factors for determining color:

  • Hue, which is the dominant color of the stone.
  • Tone is whether the color is light to dark.
  • Saturation of color which can be weak to strong.
Pink and yellow diamond ring features a 1.01-carat oval pink center stone with a 1.01-carat oval intense yellow side stone and a 1.03-carat intense yellow side stone with white diamond surround, courtesy, Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Next based on those three criteria, colored diamonds are once again divided into categories:

  • Fancy and Fancy Light: These stones are paler, softer shades of a color.
  • Fancy Vivid and Fancy Intense: These are the most coveted and desired because the color in the gem is balanced.
  • Fancy Deep: These diamonds are deeper in tone, but not too saturated with color.
  • Fancy Dark: These stones tend to have a dark body color and dark tone.

“These terms only define the color,” comments Farah. “An untrained eye might not see that a light pink diamond is pink, but in a fancy pink, they can see the color. It’s a matter of taste and whether or not someone wants more color, then they will like a vivid or intense color. When the color is too strong, the diamond loses sparkle and the color becomes dull.”

The Cut Factor

Yellow and white diamond ring features a 2-carat round fancy yellow center stone with yellow and white diamond accents, set in 18-karat white gold, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Fancy colored diamonds are often also fancy shapes (any shape other than round) because they are cut to bring out the maximum color in the stone.

“Cut has a lot of impact on a colored diamond,” says Farah. “The cut determines whether or not the color is maximized. You can take a round colored diamond which may not have much color and turn it into a radiant or other fancy shape and that will increase the color.”

Farah makes one last, but very important point about purchasing a colored diamond. She notes that when white diamonds have a particular grade many people believe that they look pretty much the same, which is why they are comfortable buying a white diamond sight unseen based on the gemological report. Colored diamonds are different because everybody perceives color differently and because there is so much variation from stone to stone due to modifying colors.

“You can have three colored diamonds with the same information on each grading report,” concludes Farah. “But the stones are not the same. To the eye they will all look different, the value cannot be described by a piece of paper. You have to see the stone in person to really see it.”

Featured image (top of page): Ring features a 3.02-carat, oval intense yellow-green center stone, with yellow and pink diamond accent stones set in 18-karat white gold, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Authored by Amber Michelle