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Light in the Darkness

While we are busy filling holiday orders and getting things ready to shine in forever homes, I wanted to thank each one of you for making my year full of light. I’ve been doing this now for 24 years and it just gets better with time because of you.

So many redesigned heirlooms, hammered pieces in silver and gold, pearls, pendants… all made with special attention and consideration of your needs and the stories you tell me.

Sending best wishes for a light-filled year to each of you, near and far.

Hugs from the studio…

DGrnSapPenNT web 22KRings web




Big Blue Marble Part 2: Down on the Farm

The life of a Tahitian pearl farmer demands persistence and patience during the 2 years of an oyster’s development into a pearl-bearing mollusk. Although the process is gradual and the farmers diligent, there is still risk involved. In general, after three years of growing, only 60% of a farm’s oysters will produce a pearl and out of that, only 10% will be round.

An oyster starts life as a tiny organism called “spat.” The spat babies take 1.5 – 2 years to become anything close to a potential pearl-bearing mollusk but once they reach that stage, they are strung on lines attached to protective grids and lowered into the water to begin their evolution. Pearl farmers lose many oysters to marine nibblers.

Baby oysters need about 1.5-2 years to mature enough to begin the pearl-creating process.


Pearl farmers wash their oysters. When the oysters are pulled up from the ocean, they carry attached barnacles and other marine organisms. This muck is rinsed off and then they are lowered back to their watery nests.


One farm told us they check 5,000 oysters a day to make sure they are healthy enough to produce. Sometimes, when shells are slightly opened, tiny crustaceans crawl out. These tiny beings have taken refuge inside the oyster to avoid predators. They are returned to the ocean to await their fates.


Tahiti and its neighboring chain of islands is blessed with pristine ocean water allowing farmers to produce the world’s most beautiful pearls. I’ve never seen such clean water and air. As you can see from the photos, the pearl colors reflect the vibrant hues of their above-ground native habitats.

One cool thing I learned was the pearl’s color comes from the inside of the oyster shell. That’s in the next installment.

Warm regards from the studio.


The Big Blue Marble and Ocean Gems

Earth has many nicknames… Mother Earth, Gaia, Pacha Mama, and “Big Blue Marble,” my personal favorite. Big Blue Marble celebrates the view from space (which sounds fun to me) while
toasting the crystalline blue ocean which covers 71% of our planet.

The Big Blue Marble creates some big (and small) blue, green, silver, black, rose, white, and golden pearls which often overlap in color. This creates never ending variety which was evident this week in my first trip to Tahiti to buy them. Choices are hard.

Although most if not all pearls used in jewelry are cultured, each one is a fine balance between human ability to help Nature along and the ocean’s blessings of mineral content for color, oysters, and tides.

When you shop at a pearl farm, you feel the contrast between the labor of farming and the resultant beauty of the harvest. A pearl farmer must be patient. A pearl farmer washes his oysters. A pearl farmer uses simple tools and nimble fingers. A pearl farmer knows the value of their harvest. A pearl farmer is happy to tell an appreciative audience.

When you first see a pearl, you turn it slowly, and savor its main hue and subtle overtones. The nuance of color draws you in and tells a story. Even if a pearl is one color, its movement through light allows subtle tones to emerge. Pearls are entrancing and enticing.

Please call or text me at 312-346-2363 for a first viewing. There are some delicious, singular treasures.



Your Questions Answered

Happy summer! I hope you are all capturing the great weather in between smoke, heat, and torrential rains. We just did a show in Glencoe, Illinois where we saw old friends and clients and met lots of new ones. Many of you ask similar questions so here are some answers, which will likely stimulate more questions. I love questions.

But first, I want to give a special welcome to the new members of this list. It was such fun to meet you and I look forward to our new and upcoming jewelry journey. It is an honor to create something that clients wear all the time and I want you to know that each piece is made with love and consideration for comfort, durability, and beauty.

Q: Where do you find your stones? Do you cut them yourself?

Twenty-five years into the jewelry business, I have a global network of trusted dealers who are the sources for all the rocks you see in my booth or studio.  I’ve met dealers at the Tucson gem show and spread out from there via internet and personal connections.  The primary issue for me is trust and ethics. (Take a look at my newsletter/blog about trust entitled “On a Handshake.”) I have built long-term relationships with gem dealers and selectively add new ones. They know what quality levels I prefer and offer some beneficial buying opportunities.

What’s most important to me is that I’ve got the gemological education to assess and buy gems that suit my clients’ preferences or my own.  I love to bring you unusual examples of a species such as multi-colored sapphires, Montana sapphires, cat’s eye topaz, multi-color sunstone, and so much else.  I can focus on value for price, quality, and wearability. At this point, I buy from dealers who are transparent in their sourcing and give back to their client communities.

The color range of Nivitihigala sapphires

I do not cut my own gemstones. That is a fine art all by itself and I’d rather support the many lapidarists who bring out the magic in a rock by cutting it into a gem. Their new cutting technologies and exploration of gorgeous facet patterns make my work fun and give you a treasure that no one else has.

Next time, The Anatomy of Custom Jewelry Projects.

See you at Port Clinton in Highland Park IL the weekend of Aug 26-27 if not before.


NB: I am leaving for a pearl trip to Tahiti on September 1.  Call or email me now to discuss possible buying opportunities. I’m going to be seeing hundreds of pearls and strands and I’d love to get some for you that are unusual here at a better price than normal.

Orstadiusuntreated Nivitihigala mined and cut sapphire web

Colorful World Series: Part 1

Color is everywhere. Color affects us whether we know it or not. While outside of us, color subtly influences our mood. For instance, who doesn’t feel better when the sky is blue? How about when the “newness of spring,” (to quote my granddaughter) first flowers pop up? What happens when you travel? Are you moved by the colors of a particular ocean, rock, bird or a certain city at dawn or dusk? Our senses really wake up when we are relaxed.

This blog series shares my exploration into all aspects of color. Of course, I’ll focus on colored stones (and diamonds) and hopefully, give you information to help you enjoy what you own and pay attention to your reactions to color. 

BlogColorWheelMoses Harris The Natural System of Colours

As a starting place, I ask you to consider the color palette and later, the color wheel. Cave painters from 40,000 years ago had a simple palette of local pigments including black from charcoal, brownish-red from clay, and yellows from flowers and rock. Of course, we don’t know whether they had words identifying colors.

Blog ColorLascaux

Scrolling forward in history, linguistic evidence suggests that among ancient Egyptians, Akkadians, and Greeks, the word denoting red was closer to the concept of “colorful” than an actual identification of red as a separate unit. (from the article Ancient Color Categories by David Alan Warburton.) The ancients tended to reference color through gemstones. Purple was “amethyst,” Blue was “lapis lazuli,” etc. In his paper, Burton lays out the historical concept of color by tracing the languages of the ancient Akkadians, Egyptians, Sumerians, and Greeks.

Blog ColorEgypt

Blue became a beloved color in ancient times when Afghani lapis lazuli was brought to the Middle East, ground into pigment and mixed with oil and resins. This particular blue, later known as ultramarine, was prized by painters in the Italian Renaissance who used it frequently to illustrate clothing and the heavens.

BlogColorlapisacs pigment lapis lazuli 1 2017

Another interesting factoid about blue—the ancient Hebrews left Egypt around 1124 BCE. According to a chapter in Exodus, they were commanded to build a huge tent (meeting place) and dye the wall fabric a special shade of blue, along with a rose red and gold. The blue, called tekhelet, was said to be the color of sky and water. It may have had a purple cast due to its source: murex trunculus snails, although experiments have shown that if exposed to ultraviolet rays, the purple becomes a lighter sky blue.   We might call it cerulean or azure, today.

Tekhelet blue

Best wishes from my studio until next time.


Lion of Merelani: Green Garnet Sublime

lion of merlani bright vivid green gemstone on black background

History’s largest green garnet has taken up residence in the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection. Worth a pilgrimage for this gem lover, I want to share a condensed version of the story with you.

The gemstone name honors Campbell Bridges, a Scottish-born Kenyan gemologist whose entire life circled around geology and ultimately, gemstones. Bridges was in Kenya during the discovery of zoisite, which, when heated to a brilliant blue color, later became known as Tanzanite. He consulted for Tiffany when they bought the rights to mine tanzanite, and later, tsavorite garnet.

The story goes that Campbell was hiking around near Tsavo National Park on land that he and the family still own. This land straddles the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Being a geologist, he loved to look for changes in the earth’s formation that might signal something important lying beneath. In 1967, he dug around and found bright, glassy green rough stone hidden in the hills of Tanzania. He sent it off to the Smithsonian for tests and, just like that, Tsavorite garnet joined its garnet siblings!

Tsavortie blog rough

When cut, Tsavorite ranges in color from bright spring-green to rich bluish green. Tougher and much more brilliant than emerald, tsavorite is often used by jewelers (yours truly) when a client wants green but needs something with a good chance of withstanding daily wear.

The Bridges established the Scorpion Mine in Kenya and began what was likely the world’s first responsible mining program to bring tsavorite to the jewelry world. The mining camp is regularly visited by leopards who reside in the Bridges’ house (on stilts) when they are out of camp.

Campbell Bridges was brutally murdered in front of his son, Bruce, when the two were walking with some staff on a secluded dirt road at the mining camp. The murderers were a government gang hired to kill the Bridges so that the government could steal their mining operation. Some members of the gang were convicted but several went free because of high connections.

Bruce carries on the family business today and does so with grace, intelligence, and ethics.

The Lion of Merelani weighed over 283 carats as a rough gem. Generally, “large” tsavorites weigh at most 8-10 carats and those are rare. Bruce Bridges hired a video team to record all the stages of cutting this natural marvel and set up a cutting studio for one of the world’s best cutters to work his magic.

The Lion of Merelani tops out at 116 carats.


Blue-Glow Sapphires: One of a Kind

Hi everyone!  Sometimes, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. You all know I love sapphires and, apparently, so do you.  Here, a new pair of earrings comprised of sapphires from Burma and Sri Lanka. They are locally mined and cut, so the community makes its fair share. This is crucial to me.  As individual stones, they spoke to one another and here they are living happily ever after.

These earrings are set in 18KT yellow gold and weigh 6.5 carats total. They are approximately 1.75 inches long and are priced at $5000.   Easily wearable every day, these surprisingly neutral earrings will slip quietly into your collection of diamonds, pearls, and sapphires. 

Stay well.

Diana Widman sapphire earrings

On a Handshake

I hope this finds you well. My recent trip to the Tucson gem shows after three years away was exhilarating for many reasons. Of course, the gems…. Rows and rows of sparkling colors from all over the globe calling my name. Fanta orange, hot pink, grassy green, plum, turquoise… so many gems and so many possibilities. At one point, I was standing in the middle of a tent looking at all the countries represented at the show… Sri Lanka, Italy, France, Africa, (Kenya, Tanzania,) India, Australia, Germany, China, Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, New Zealand, Madagascar, United States) The tent was humming with commerce, and I just wished the world at large could run this smoothly.

Then there were the seminars: in-depth presentations by industry experts from mining to color trends, gem treatments, metals markets, and gem cutters… It’s a field day for gem geeks like me. And the dinners and the laughter… The jewelry industry is a big, generally warm-hearted place full of people doing each other all kinds of favors based on trust.


This industry still runs on handshakes. One chooses some stones, gets a memo (a record of what you took with prices), takes the stones, and is trusted to send the payment upon return home. The first thing I do after I unpack is write checks.

My diamond dealer and his partner routinely take diamonds out of their shared vault without writing anything down. A text is sent but that’s it.

If I need to show a client a range of stones, the dealer will send me a big box full to show. I return what isn’t chosen along with a check for what was selected.

It’s a code of honor and, of course, one’s conduct and professionalism go a long way towards making this happen but, after thousands of years, a handshake is still the norm. I marvel at this phenomenon, especially since there is such a high dollar value attached to gemstones. To be sure, there are bad payers and dishonorable people who pay late without explanation or disappear altogether. They lose their reputation (if they ever had a good one) and are unwelcome. Dealers share that information so no one else gets stiffed.


Blasts from the Past: Ancient Designs Still Relevant Today

Roman Torq Cable Necklace
Rioman Torque

You know I love ancient finds, whether buildings, mosaic floors, pottery or jewelry. In this photo we see an ancient Roman “torq” necklace found in Newark, Britain. The neck collar, which is a combination of gold and silver dates to 250 BC and is now on display in the British Museum.

An amateur sleuth found it with his metal detector in 2006 and the local District Council purchased it in 2006 for 350,000 British pounds.

Certain well-known designers use the cable as a signature element, the most famous being David Yurman. I’ve written before about timeless design vocabulary and how certain shapes, fabricating techniques, and symmetrical forms are still common because they are so inherently satisfying. Twisted cable is one of those designs. I’ve used it myself in small stacking rings and bracelets and pendants.

The Harpole Treasure

Hargrove Treasure

And, in case you missed it…. Another ancient treasure excavated in Northamptonshire, Britain. The Romans occupied Britain from 43 AD to 410 AD, giving them time to bury their dead along with elaborate treasure troves. This explains the find at Sutton Hoo, which I’ve written about before. This coin and bead necklace was found in the grave of an important Roman woman.

The BBC tells us “The grave site is thought to be the most significant burial from a unique sliver of English history when pagan and Christian beliefs intermingled, and women held powerful positions in the early church.

The discovery's importance, the archaeologists said, was of a similar magnitude to that of other monumental Anglo-Saxon treasures unearthed in England, such as Basil Brown's famed find in 1939 at Sutton Hoo, where a warrior king was buried in a ship, and the Staffordshire Hoard of gold and silver artifacts, discovered in 2009 by an amateur metal detectorist in a field in Staffordshire, England.

About a dozen other high-status female burials, known as bed burials, have been discovered elsewhere in England. In some cases, the grave sites included similar necklaces.”

This necklace is another example of a classic design that still appears today. It mixes various gold textures and techniques with pictorial coins and gemstones. The long beads were likely made individually as there are no repeat patterns, however, they may have had several models cast and used individually. The gemstones are encrusted in what appears to be a rough bezel setting which is a technique still used today by some designers. The center element uses enamel and the coil design, which is one of the earliest designs in gold.

I love the “now” and being part of an ancient continuum.

Warm regards,