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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chinese Dragon Tortoise

Dragons and tortoises are two of the most powerful symbols in Chinese mythology. The Dragon itself stands for many things. Wealth, fertility, positive energy and immortality are but a few of the symbolic meanings. The Dragon is a positive influence, most often a benevolent creature in Chinese mythology, unlike the fire-breathing evil dragons as portrayed in Western mythology.

The tortoise represents longevity, of steadfast effort, of deliberate action that inevitably leads to success. The combination of the Dragon and Tortoise combines the qualities of both animals into a potent symbol of success and longevity.

The Dragon tortoise is portrayed with the head of a dragon and the body of a tortoise. There is usually a small turtle on the back of the tortoise shell, and the dragon tortoise is standing on a pile of coins and precious metal ingots. There is very often a coin in the dragon's mouth.

This symbol is used in Feng Shui for decorating homes and offices. Because of the incredible energy this symbol represents, it is recommended that it not be placed in any room of rest, such as a bedroom. Have the painting or figurine of the dragon tortoise hanging on or near the east wall of the room it is used in. Any area that is used as an office is a good place for a dragon tortoise. Also any area that creative work or research is done is a good place for one.

Whether represented in a painting, or a figurine of wood, metal, crystal or stone, the Dragon Tortoise symbolizes good fortune and longevity.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Birthstones - The Modern List

There have been many different lists of stones that correspond with the months or signs of the zodiac. The most recent one is a list that was adopted by the American National Association of Jewelers in 1912. This is the official list of birthstones used in the United States. Not only are certain stones associated with a given month, but each month has a color associated with it. These colors have been derived from the natural color of the individual birthstones. Following is the modern list of gemstones and corresponding colors:
  • January - Garnet gemstone, deep red color. Although garnet is most often thought of as being a red stone, garnet occurs in every color except blue. Each color of garnet technically has its own name.
  • February - Amethyst gemstone, purple color. Amethyst is one of the most popular gemstones and is worn by many regardless of their birth month. Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz.
  • March - Aquamarine gemstone, pale blue color. Aquamarine is a member of the beryl family of gems, along with emerald.
  • April - Diamond gemstone, white or clear color. There is nothing else like the sparkle and fire of a good quality diamond in the world of gems.
  • May - Emerald gemstone, green color. Emeralds are found in many countries, with Columbia and Brazil producing some of the finest stones.
  • June - Pearl or Moonstone, white color. Pearls are the only gems that come from living creatures.
  • July - Ruby gemstone, red color. Ruby and Sapphire are types of the mineral corundum. The only gemstone harder than a ruby or sapphire is a diamond.
  • August - Peridot gemstone, pale green color. Peridot occurs in many areas of the world, and is also occasionally found in meteorites.
  • September - Sapphire gemstone, deep blue color. Sapphire occurs in nature in many different colors besides blue, but the blue stone is associated with September.
  • October - Opal gemstone, multi-colors or pink. There are two types of opals, precious and common. Precious opals are the stones that display the 'fire' or play of colors the stone is famous for.
  • November - Yellow topaz or Citrine gemstones, yellow color. Yellow topaz of good quality is relatively rare and expensive. Citrine is often substituted.
  • December - Blue topaz or turquoise gemstones, blue color. Blue topaz is sometimes irradiated to improve and deepen the blue color. Tanzanite was added to the December birthstone selections by the American Gem Trade Association in 2002.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Buttons - History and Facts

When did buttons begin to be used? What was used to secure clothing before them? Some history and facts about the button:

Button-like objects have been found in the Indus Valley of ancient Pakistan and date back to around 2000 B.C.E. These were not used for fasteners, but for ornaments. Before they were used for fastening, pins, leather lacing and belts were used to secure clothing.

Before buttons could be used as fasteners, the button hole had to be devised.

Evidence dates the first button and button hole closure systems to the 13th century in Germany. This may have been a solution to the problem of how to secure clothing that was becoming more and more form-fitting, without having to resort to sharp pins.

As with most anything that is new, they became a fad. Buttons and button holes covered the clothing of the well to do. The number of them and what they were made out of became a status symbol. It has been rumored that King Louis XIV of France spent over $5 million on them in his lifetime.

Ever wonder why men's suit coats have non-functioning buttons sewn on the sleeves? Some say they are just for decoration, but there is also the story that King Frederick The Great of Prussia started the practice in the 18th century. The rumor goes that after an inspection of his troops, he ordered that buttons be sewn on the sleeves of their coats to discourage them from wiping their noses on them!

The Scovill Manufacturing Company in America made a set of gold buttons with the profile of George Washington on them that were presented to Marquis de Lafayette during his U.S. visit in 1824.

With the increased cost of ivory in the 19th century, button manufacturers began to make them out of a nut from a specific kind of palm tree in South America. This is called vegetable ivory, or corozo. When the nut is dried, it is a very reasonable facsimile for genuine ivory, and is still used today.

The first buttons made from celluloid, one of the first types of plastics, were made in the 1860's.

Before World War One, most button manufacturing was done in Europe, specifically England. After the war, the United States became the center of button making until modern times.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wind Chimes - Music of the Air

Wind chimes are probably older than knowable history. But it is in Asia where they had their recorded development. Buddhist attached many wind chimes to their temple structures. They were also hung in private homes and were thought to attract good spirits and bring good luck. The ancients understood that the sound of them can help reconnect mind and spirit and lead to a sense of well being.

The use of wind chimes in the past was not only for decoration and spiritual well being of mind and body. Wind chimes were used to detect the direction of the wind. Chimes would be hung on all sides of a house or structure to aid in weather forecasting. People that lived in a certain region began to equate wind direction and speed with the upcoming weather. The sound of the chimes could also help approximate the speed of the wind, thus giving sailors, farmers and other people a guide to weather forecasting.

They can be made in many different sizes and shapes, and of many materials. Wood, bamboo, different metals, plastic, glass, sea shells, gourds, ceramics, and stones have all been used. Each material gives a different sound, the size of the material determines pitch. Most are not tuned, thus the tones produced are random pitches. Pitch can be controlled by length and size of materials. Some of the more expensive wind chimes are tuned.

Wind chimes are not only enjoyed for their sound, but they also have visual appeal. They can be hung outside the house or inside. Feng Shui uses them in many ways to restore balance and harmony in the home and garden. There are guidelines within Feng Shui as to placement, size, number of hanging items on the chime, and material the chime is made from. But it is not necessary to follow any guidelines to enjoy wind chimes. Put them where they will please you the most, in the size you like, made out the materials you like.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Pearl - Cultured and Beautiful

The pearl, birthstone for June, is the only gemstone that is created by an animal. They are formed within mollusks, usually oysters or mussels, when a piece of foreign matter enters and irritates the soft body of the mollusk. As a defense against this irritation, the mollusk secretes a crystalline structure around the irritant to encapsulate it. As long as the irritant remains, the mollusk will continue to put layer upon layer on it.

The pearl is also the only gem that needs no working to bring out its beauty. As soon as it is removed from the oyster it shows off the qualities that have made it so desirable and valuable since their discovery by humans.

Finding a naturally formed pearl in a mollusk is very rare and it was for this reason that their value and price was so high for centuries. Until the early 20th century wild pearls were the only kind known. Most today are cultured. The beginning of a cultured pearl is when a human implants or nucleates an irritant into the mollusk. While this method has produced many of the gems in the nearly one hundred years it has been done, this type of production is a risky business. Millions of salt water oysters are nucleated each year, but very few produce. The seeding itself kills some, disease, weather, predators, parasites all take their toll. Fifty percent or less of all nucleated oysters survive to yield a pearl. Of these, only twenty percent are marketable. Only five percent of nucleated oysters give forth pearls that are of gemstone quality.

Cultured pearls are grown in saltwater and freshwater. Saltwater pearls come from oysters, while freshwater pearls come from mussels. This culture is done in various areas of the world, but mostly in China, Japan, and the United States.

They can come in many different shapes besides round. Oval, half round, pear shaped, circle, button, and irregular which is called baroque. The most common color is the familiar iridescent white, but they can range in color from white to black, with tones of pink, cream, gold, purple, blue and green.

The pearl still catches the eye like it has for countless centuries, whether it's freshwater or saltwater, cultured or wild, white or colored. While it is the intervention of human hands that accounts for the beginnings of most modern pearls, it is still nature that works the miracle of their forming.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Maitreya - The Laughing Buddha

Buddhism is most often associated with Japan, China, and other countries of that area of the world. But Buddhism had its beginning in India, roughly in the 5th century B.C. Buddhism was the result of challenges to traditional Hinduism, and these challenges culminated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a wealthy tribal chieftain. He renounced his wealth and became the Buddha, or the awakened one. Buddhism came to China circa 60 A.D., but it did not become well known and popular until the third century A.D.

Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a bodhisattva, which is a Sanskrit word that roughly means wise, enlightened being. A bodhisattva is dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment. Some sects of Buddhism believe that Maitreya will appear when the teachings of Gautama Buddha are no longer taught and are forgotten. But the meanings and beliefs about Matireya are many and varied within Buddhist beliefs.

The laughing Buddha was a Ch'an Buddhist Monk that lived in China over 1000 years ago. The Ch'an sect of Buddhism is called Zen in Japan. Tradition says that this monk's name was Hotei, or Pu Tai (which means cloth sack). Tradition also says that he was a man of good and loving character, and as such he was linked with the traditions of Maitreya the future Buddha. Because of his large belly and smile he was also called The Laughing Buddha.

The Laughing Buddha is often times portrayed as carrying a cloth sack which is filled with various things. Money, candy for children, food, even the woes of the world. Sometimes he is portrayed as sitting, fanning himself with a type of fan called a 'wish giving' fan. He is sometimes portrayed with a begging bowl. But whether sitting or standing, he is always bald with a big pot belly and a smile on his face.

Belief in The Laughing Buddha is mostly based on legend. It is said that rubbing his protruding belly brings good luck Statues of Maitreya are displayed in Buddhist temples, Chinese and Japanese homes, and other places around the world. The many schools of Feng Shui, the art of arranging spaces to fit the environment to achieve balance and harmony, utilize statues of Maitreya in many ways. In the office or in the home, a statue of this wandering monk can bring wealth, peace and joy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Checkers - Facts and History

The game of checkers is older than most people think. Some facts and history about the ancient game of checkers:
  • Scholars believe the modern game evolved from a similar game played as far back as 1400 B.C.E. called Alquerque or Quirkat. It was played in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and India. The game used two sets of round flat pieces in different colors. It was played on a 5 x 5 grid. There were ten pieces per side, and the object was to capture all the opposing pieces.
  • The next development towards modern checkers is thought to have come from 13th century southern France. The rules and pieces of Alquerque were expanded to be played on an 8 x 8 chess board. The game was called Fierges, the pieces called ferses, the identical name given to the queen in chess.
  • By the 15th century, the earlier association with the queen in chess saw the name of the game changed to Jeu De Dames, most often shortened to Dames.
  • By the 16th century, Dames was very popular in France. Variants of the game were many, and one of these was the 'forced capture' variant, where a player had to capture an opponents piece instead of making a different move. This variant became known as Jeu Force.
  • The game of Jeu Force was taken to England where it was called draughts, and finally to North America where it was called checkers.
  • In France the game of Dames without the forced capture rule was still popular and called Le Jeu Plaisant De Dames, shortened to Plaisant. In the 18th century, the game in France changed to a 10 x 10 grid and 20 pieces on each side. This game is still played and is known as International or Continental Draughts.
  • There are international tournaments for both Checkers/Draughts and International Draughts. The first tournament for English Draughts occurred in 1847.
  • There are many variants of the game around the world today, but Chinese Checkers is not one of them. The game has nothing to do with China, but originated in Germany. The game was put on the market in the early 1900's and was called Chinese Checkers to capitalize on people' familiarity with checkers and to give the game an oriental flavor, as marketing ploys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marcasite - Pyrite in Disguise

Marcasite as the word is used in jewelry refers to small faceted stones that are inlaid in sterling silver. But the actual mineral marcasite cannot be used in jewelry as it tends to crumble into powder. Marcasite jewelry is actually jewelry using the mineral pyrite, sometimes referred to as iron pyrite.

Pyrite as it occurs in nature has a metallic luster, and can range from a very pale to a brassy yellow color according to the sulfur content. The yellow colored pyrite was mistaken for gold by inexperienced miners and earned the name fool's gold. These miners of years ago didn't realize it at the time, but pyrite can actually have very small amounts of gold in it. The sulfur content of the mineral has led pyrite to be used commercially for the production of sulfur dioxide used in the paper industry, and sulfuric acid for many industrial applications. Pyrite is found in many areas around the world

Pyrite used in jewelry is called marcasite. The name is derived from the Arabic word for pyrite, 'markaschatsa'. Evidence of this type of jewelry has been found in areas of ancient Greece and the burial grounds of the ancient Inca people of South America. It became very popular in the 18th century, reaching its zenith in the Victorian Era.

Marcasite is most often used with sterling silver. The darkness of it makes a good contrast to the brightness of silver. Gemstones are also used with it to good effect. Even when new, it has an antique look to it, and is used in Victorian Era jewelry reproductions. It is also used in many other kinds of jewelry. It can range in color from slightly brassy to pale green, but is mostly a dark metallic gray color.

From a simple marcasite and sterling silver ring, to ornate pendants with brightly colored gemstones, it is a very versatile material. This type of jewelry is found in very affordable jewelry right on up to very expensive. It has its own charm and beauty, this pyrite in disguise.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Basic Tomato Sauce For Pasta

A basic recipe that is good just as is, or add an endless variety of ingredients to suit your taste!
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 of 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry or 1/2 cup red wine
  • small pinch red pepper flakes or powder
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
Cook onions, carrot and celery in olive oil over low heat for a minute or two. Add garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes or so. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Garlic is usually added after the onions and celery cook for a few minutes because garlic will burn faster. Burnt garlic turns bitter!
Add parsley, basil, oregano and pepper. Increase heat to medium and add tomatoes, tomato paste and sherry. Cook for a few minutes while stirring. Add pepper flakes, cover and reduce heat to low simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

And that's all there is to it! You can make the sauce thinner by adding a little tomato juice or water to it, but I like it thick! This sauce is an excellent base that you can add many things to. Add meat, sliced mushrooms, zucchini, artichoke hearts, green peppers, you name it! If you're going to add meat, cook the meat first, and add before the tomatoes. Any vegetables can be cut up and added just before the tomatoes.

2 pounds of fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes may be used instead of canned. If fresh tomatoes are used, more salt may be needed and the sauce may need to cook a little longer.

The flavors in this sauce get even better if it is frozen or kept in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Monday, February 11, 2013

History of the Chinese Hand Held Fan

The first Chinese fans were nothing more than bird feathers or large leaves. Tradition holds that King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty in the 11th century B.C. invented the Chinese hand-held fan, and the oldest known Chinese hand held fan was found in China in 1982 and is approximately 2,300 years old. The earliest half-moon fans were constructed of silk wrapped around bamboo spokes that were arranged in a semi-circle. Fans were used only by the members of the royal court for many centuries, only becoming available to the general public during the Han Dynasty, 206 B.C. - 220 A.D. By the time of the Jin Dynasty, 317-420 A.D., so many fans were being made that the emperor halted the use of silk in their manufacture because silk producers could not keep up.

While the Chinese are credited with the invention of the half-moon hand held fan, these first fans did not fold like modern ones do. The folding half-moon fan was brought to China in the 11th century A.D. from Japan. Today Chinese fans are still made from the traditional bamboo and silk materials, and also of paper, wood, bone, palm tree leaves and other materials.

During the 5th century A.D. the moon fan, or round fan became very popular. Young ladies, especially those inside the imperial palace were very fond of these. These round fans later took on other shapes also, such as oval. The ancient Chinese were a very artistic culture. Everyday items such as fans were valued not only for their functionality, but by their beauty. Fan painting and decoration are but one example of this. There has been a revival of the ancient art form of the Chinese Hand Held Fan. Thy are things of beauty that can add to the decor of any home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dogs - Members of the American Family

Some trivia about dogs and their owners, and about people owned by their dogs.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt had a dog named Pete. Pete took a dislike to the Ambassador of France who was at the White House for a visit, and ripped his pants off. So much for diplomacy.
  • The United States has the largest dog population in the world, estimated at over 68 million.
  • 36 percent of homes in the United States have a dog for a pet.
  • There are 157 types of dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club.
  • The favorite breed of dog in the United States is the Labrador Retriever.
  • The Greyhound is the fastest dog breed, and can run up to 45 miles per hour for short stretches.
  • Female dogs are twice as likely to bite as males.
  • The phrase 'Raining Cats And Dogs' is thought to have originated in England. Very heavy rains in the 17th century caused rivers to overflow. Many dogs and cats were drowned, and their bodies floating in the water made it seem like it had rained cats and dogs.
  • A survey by the American Animal Hospital Association revealed that 33 percent of dog owners admitted to talking to their pets on the phone or leaving them messages on answering machines.
  • Dogs are pack animals, and as such will be submissive to any creature (including humans) with higher pack status. If there is no creature with a higher pack status, the dog will naturally become the pack leader. This explains why some people 'own' dogs, and why some dogs 'own' people.
  • To be a good pet, most puppies need to be exposed to humans within the first three months of life.
  • Ancient Chinese carried Pekinese puppies in the sleeves of their robes. Pekinese are also known as the Chinese Lion Dog.
  • At the height of popularity of the sitcom television show Frasier, Eddie The Dog got more fan mail than any of the other characters on the show.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oregano - Herb of the Mediterranean

Oregano is an herb most thought of as an ingredient in many types of Italian food. Oregano has a wonderfully aromatic and warm smell when used in Italian dishes like pizza and it is a great compliment to any tomato-based pasta sauce. But it is actually an herb that is used in all types of Mediterranean cooking, and is an ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Mexican oregano is thought to be the strongest variety. Oregano is sometimes confused with marjoram. The two herbs are somewhat similar, but marjoram (also called sweet marjoram) is milder and has a slight sweet flavor.

Oregano originates from Northern Europe, and grows in many other areas of the world. Ancient Greeks and Romans treasured the herb not only for cooking. They considered it to represent joy and happiness and would present bunches of it to newlywed couples. The name oregano is derived from ancient Greek and means 'Joy of the mountain'. Oregano is also a very healthy herb, and is high in anti-oxidants and is a good anti-bacterial. It is a good source of dietary fiber, iron, manganese, calcium, and vitamins A and C.

Fresh oregano is preferred over dried as the flavor is more intense and complex. Whether it is used fresh or dried, oregano should be added towards the end of the cooking time of a dish, as too much heat can lessen its flavor. A few sprigs of fresh oregano can be put into a bottle of olive oil to flavor it. Like many herbs, oregano is easy to grow. Plant a few seeds in a spot that gets full sun and where the soil is well drained and not too rich. In areas of the U.S that have harsh winters, the plant can be grown as an annual, as a perennial in milder climates. It also does well as a potted plant. Pick fresh oregano from the plant just before flowers appear for the best flavor.

Whether used for Italian, Spanish, Mexican or Greek dishes, oregano is one of the great herbs that not only imparts good flavor and aroma, but also is very healthy.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Amethyst - Named by the Ancient Greeks

The purple gemstone amethyst has been treasured by mankind since its discovery, and has been highly desirable by people in positions of authority throughout the ages. Tradition has it that the stone was worn as part of the official robes of ancient Jewish priests and represented the spirit of God. This type of quartz was used in jewelry and crowns of kings and queens of ancient Egypt, royalty of the Middle Ages of Europe, all the way to the present day.

The color of the stone can range from deep violet to pastel purple. The stone is found in various amounts in many places of the world, with most of the amethyst mined in modern times coming from South America. It is the birthstone for the month of February.

Origins Of The Name

The name amethyst comes from the ancient Greek word amethystos that means 'not intoxicated'. In ancient times it was thought that if a person drank alcohol from a cup made from amethyst they would not get drunk. This also led to the sprinkling of ground amethyst into wine to make the drinker immune from alcohol's effects.

These attributes for amethyst in turn derive from ancient Greek stories. One of these stories tells that the Greek god Dionysus was in love with a Greek maiden named Amethystos. She did not return his love, and prayed to the Greek goddess Artemis to protect her and her chastity from the drunken god. The goddess answered the prayer and turned Amethystos into crystals of white quartz. When Dionysus discovered what had happened, he wept for his lost love and poured his goblet of wine over the crystals, thus they were dyed purple.

From ancient Greece to modern times the rich purple hues of amethyst have made it a very popular gemstone. Formerly reserved for the rich and powerful, modern discoveries of large deposits of the stone in South America have made the beautiful stone affordable for more people to own and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pearls - Legend and History

Pearls are one of the oldest types of gems, and continue to be popular today. Some legends and history about pearls:
  • The oldest surviving piece of pearl jewelry is a necklace that was found buried with a Persian Princess. It is estimated to be over 2000 years old.
  • Historians believe pearls were worn in ancient Middle East and Asian societies 3500 years ago.
  • They were highly regarded in ancient Rome and very valuable. A Roman general reportedly sold one pearl earring and financed an entire military campaign with the earnings.
  • Legend has it that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, dissolved a pearl in wine and drank it to prove her love for the Roman Marc Antony.
  • The Bible refers to pearls several times.
  • The ancient Greeks valued them not only for their beauty, but for their associations with love and marriage.
  • The Medieval world valued them and they were worn not only by women but by knights going to battle. These knights believed that pearls could protect them from harm.
  • In Renaissance Europe, several countries passed laws forbidding anyone but the nobility to wear pearls or have them in their possession.
  • The ancient Inca and Aztec cultures valued them for their beauty and magical powers.
  • Native American men and women of the Atlantic coast and Mississippi river region wore freshwater pearl pendants and earrings.
  • The discovery of pearls in the waters off Central America brought great wealth to Europe during the years of expansion. The 'pearl rush ' was so great that practically all of the American pearl oyster population was gone by the end of the 17th century.
  • Famous French jeweler Jacques Cartier traded two pearl necklaces for valuable property on New York's famous Fifth Avenue, and built his famous jewelry store there in 1916.
  • Pearls remained very expensive and only the very wealthy could afford them until the early 20th century when pearl cultivation began.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mother of Pearl - Opal of the Sea

Mother of pearl is the iridescent substance called nacre, found on the inside of some mollusks. The word nacre comes from the Arab word naqqarah which means shell. It has been used for ornament, decoration and jewelry since 3000 B.C.E. Tombs have been discovered on the sites of ancient Mesopotamia in the Middle East that contained items made of mother of pearl. In some ancient cultures it was valued more than pearls. Before the 19th century, Japanese shell divers would discard any pearls found in the oysters they got, and keep the shell.

Ancient China also used mother of pearl for decorative inlay for various objects and jewelry. The Chinese powdered it and used it in medicines and prescribed it to lower blood pressure, as a cure for dizziness and as a heart medication. Native populations of South and North America also used mother of pearl for decoration and medicine.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, the main source of mother of pearl was the Persian Gulf. By the 16th century, this source had been depleted due to the huge demand. New sources were found in the Pacific. Areas in the Pacific such as The Solomon Islands and Tahiti were then plundered of their supply of nacre producing mollusks until the late 1880's when France gained control of Tahiti and restricted it. By the early 20th century the area was no longer a source of nacre.

In America, mother of pearl had been used mostly as an inlay for furniture until the 19th century saw it used for buttons. Muscatine, Iowa became the center of pearl button manufacture, and 'clammers' fished the Mississippi and other rivers for the nacre producing fresh water mussels. The buttons would be formed by punching out round pieces of the mussel shell. Billions of pearl buttons were manufactured, but they were very labor intensive to produce. By the beginning of World War II, the pearl button industry shifted to the production of plastic buttons as they were less expensive to make.

Mother of pearl continues to be used as decoration for many items such as furniture, musical instruments, and jewelry. Modern mother of pearl comes from fresh water and salt water sources in Europe, Asia, The United States, Japan and Asia. Mother of pearl that comes from abalone shell is some of the most valuable. With its iridescence and beauty, this opal of the sea is still in demand and highly valued.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bracelets - Fact and Folklore

Where did the name 'bracelet' come from? What is the most expensive bracelet worth? Facts and folklore about bracelets:
  • The first known bracelets were worn by Sumerians who lived in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) around 2500 B.C.E. Jewelry of all kinds was a sign of a person's prosperity. Bracelets and other jewelry were found in the royal tombs in the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia. It was customary for jewelry to be buried with their owners, along with their servants. Servants probably prayed to their ancient gods for a long life for their masters because of this.
  • The charm bracelet was thought to have originated in ancient Egypt during the age of the pharaohs. Charms made of precious metals and gemstones would be worn on these bracelets to ward off evil spirits. These were known as Lucky Charms long before the breakfast cereal came into existence.
  • In ancient Greece, men and soldiers wore bands of leather on their forearms for protection. Sometimes these bands were decorated with precious metals and gemstones. They were known as Bracels, derived from the Latin word Brachium, which meant 'arm'. Ladies were not about to be outdone by men, and so they adopted the 'fashion' and wore smaller versions of them, called little bracels, or bracel-ets. At least that's the story I heard.
  • Bracelets made of copper are thought by some to aid in relieving the pain of arthritis. The body absorbs the copper and somehow relieves the pain. This has not been proven but people being people still wear copper bracelets, for fashion if not for pain relief. But don't copper bracelets turn some people's wrists green? Maybe it's all part of the fashion statement.
  • Unlike other forms of jewelry, they have always been in vogue throughout recorded history, and been worn by men and women. The concept of unisex jewelry is older than people think.
  • They are not only worn for decoration. Hospitals use them for positive patient identification, people with medical conditions wear Medical Alert bracelets. There are also bracelets made of silicone rubber that were originally used in sports, but are now also used as 'awareness' bracelets for many different causes.
  • The most expensive bracelet in the world? This is not only a bracelet, but a wrist watch too. A jewelry manufacturer in Switzerland named Chopard wins the most expensive category hands down with a bracelet/wrist watch with over 200 carats of white and colored diamonds. The price tag? A paltry $25 million.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Citrine - The Lemon Gemstone

Citrine, a form of quartz similar to amethyst, was one of the most prized gemstones in antiquity because of its rare occurrence in nature. When intense heat is applied to the gemstone amethyst, it is transformed into citrine. This can happen in nature when deposits of amethyst are near a heat source in the earth's crust, but more often heat is applied industrially to create citrine. It can be transparent to translucent, and range in color from light yellow to golden brown. Naturally occurring citrine is usually a pale yellow, while citrine formed industrially is darker in color, with reddish tints.

Citrine gets its name from the old French word citrin, which means lemon. It is a relatively soft gemstone that is easily scratched. It is used in jewelry by itself, or is quite often combined with amethyst, peridot or garnet for contrast. It also compliments diamonds very well. Most natural citrine mined today comes from Brazil, with other deposits found in Russia, France and Madagascar.

This gemstone can be scratched rather easily, and its color will darken when exposed to too much sunlight. This darkening is permanent, so care is needed to keep the gemstone out of excessive amounts of sunlight. It is the birthstone for the month of November.

As most gemstones, Citrine has been attributed many healing and magical powers. Citrine was thought to stimulate the memory, influenced dreams, be a general talisman of protection, aid digestion, and enhance creativity. Also one of its main attributes was the power the stone had to protect against snake venom.
A stone that is readily available and relatively inexpensive, but as with all gemstones the better quality the stone (no matter what type) the higher the value and price. In the world of gemstones Citrine may have gotten its name from the old French word for lemon, but is far from being a 'lemon'. It is a versatile and beautiful stone.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Peridot - The 'Other' Green Gemstone

The gemstone peridot, the birthstone for August, was known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, with examples of Egyptian jewelry made from peridot that date from the 2nd Millennium B.C.E. Tradition has it that Cleopatra was a great lover of the stone. It was used as ornamentation in medieval churches of Europe, and an example of this can still be seen in the Cathedral of Cologne. It is one of the few gemstones that occur in only one color, although the shade of green can range from yellowish green to olive.

Like most gemstones, peridot had powers attributed to it by the ancients. It was once ground and taken internally for asthma. It can bring the wearer success and bring strength of body and mind. It can create calm and tranquility, bring peace of mind and spirit. Some of these were attributed to the stone because of its green color. The color green is the color of life, renewal, and health.

Much of the modern day peridot comes from mines in Pakistan and China, but there are also mines in South Africa, Australia, Mexico and other areas. In the United States peridot is mined in Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina and Hawaii.

How Is Peridot Pronounced?

Peridot is a very popular gemstone, but how exactly is the name pronounced? Pare-a-doh, or pare-a-dot? The word itself is thought to come from possibly two different origins. The first is the Arabic word faridat which means 'gem'. The second is the French word peritot which means 'unclear'. So which pronunciation is correct? The choice is up to the individual to pronounce the final 't' or not.

The ancient Romans called the stone Evening Emerald because of the way it looked in artificial light. It has also been called the Poor Man's Emerald. No matter what it is called, peridot is the 'other' green gemstone that has its own unique beauty and history.