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Birthstone: June - Pearl, Moonstone, Alexandrite

Summer is here, thank goodness! Finally we can enjoy the outdoors, relish in our summer frocks and attend a variety of evening soiree’s and barbecues under the apricot sun. Not to mention, can you believe that the year is halfway through already?

If our description of summer is getting you all hot under the collar, then you can cool down with the June Birthstones, Pearl, Moonstone and Alexandrite. Paired together for their similar luminescence and shine, both Pearl and Moonstone are believed to be in tune with the moon and have been equated with the ancient moon goddesses Diana and Selene - how magical. 

Diana the Huntress, Guillame Siegnac, c.19th Century, Source - Wikimedia Commons

Alexandrite is a vibrant bluish-green gemstone by day and a purplish red by night and is part of the Chrsyoberyl family. A distinctive gemstone that is just perfect for a loved one who loves unusual gemstones!

So, without further ado, lets find out more about these ethereal gems!

What Makes a Pearl? 

Pearls are made from calcium carbonate and are formed within the soft tissue of a living shell mollusk. Pearls are created when an irritating microscopic object becomes trapped within the mantle folds of the mollusk, like a grain of sand or a parasite. The Pearl itself is a defence mechanism created by the mollusk, essentially akin to the human body's immune response. To protect itself, the mollusk forms a nucleus over the foreign element and continues to coat it with layers of nacre for several years. 

Source - Pinterest

Pearl’s unique lustre depends upon the refraction, reflection and diffraction of light from the translucent layers of calcium carbonate. 

The most well-known hue of Pearls is, of course, white and ivory. However, Pearls can naturally occur in blush, blue, green, champagne and peacock, with the more saturated colours fetching a higher price tag. 

Scientists and jewellery historians have recorded 8 different standard shapes of Pearl including round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque, circled and double-bouldered. In history, the ideal Pearl was mostly round and smooth, however in the past few years, baroque pearls have surged as a fashionable and coveted item. The factors that determine the size, shape and colour of the pearl is due to the size and shape of the nucleus and where the mollusk resides. 


Freshwater Keshi Pearls, Source - Wikimedia Commons

Natural pearls, ones that form naturally in mollusks are exceptionally rare. This meant that understandably throughout history Pearls have accrued a variety of saintly and divine connotations and symbols, and they were incredibly expensive. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the business of cultured and farmed Pearls began, which dropped the price of Pearls exponentially. Not to mention, as technologies sophisticated, imitation Pearls made from Mother of Pearl, Coral, conch shell or glass also became popular amongst the mass market and costume jewellery fanatics. 

There are variety of Pearls that are acclaimed in jewellery today, these are Tahitian, Akoya, Freshwater and South Sea. 

Tahitian Pearls are primarily cultivated around Tahiti in the French Polynesia, they can come in a variety of colours, but the most notable is black. A true black Tahitian Pearl is very rare and is considered one of the most beautiful kinds of Pearls in the world. 


Different Tahitian Pearl Colours, Source - Dawn Rose Pearls

Akoya Pearls are a prestigious form of cultured Pearls and are the speciality of Japanese Pearl farms. Cultured since the 1920’s these Pearls are known for their white colour with rose overtones and are considered to be large, smooth, and deep in lustre. 


Double strand Akoya Pearl necklace, Source - Rocks & Clocks

Freshwater Pearls are considered to be the more affordable kind of Pearl jewellery. In shape, they are very similar to Akoya Pearls, however Akoya Pearls are known for being larger in size and having a more saturated glistening tone that makes them more expensive. Most freshwater Pearls come from Chinese farms and can occur in a variety of colours. Freshwater Pearls are more affordable as it is difficult to find them of the exact same dimensions unlike Akoya pearls. 

South Sea Pearls are also an expensive type of Pearl due to being large, smooth and possessing a signature silvery tone. South Sea Pearls come from the white-lipped variety of the pinctada maxima oyster, which is a much larger oyster than others. 

South Sea Pearl Colours, Source - Dawn Rose Pearls

Where are Pearls Sourced?

Unlike other gemstones, Pearls are not mined in the same way as they grow within oysters. The large majority of Pearls on the market today are cultured farmed pearls as natural pearls are exceptionally rare. In fact, it is believed that only one in 10,000 oysters not in farms will yield a pearl. And it is an even smaller percentage for the mollusk to produce a pearl that is of the desirable shape and size. 

Today, natural Pearls are mainly found in the Australian Indian ocean. It is believed that hundreds and thousands of years ago natural Pearls could be found in a variety of places, even off the coast of England! However, over zealous farming has led to these natural beds being depleted, which has led to a range of laws in place prohibiting natural Pearl diving. Not to mention, the mollusk is essentially killed in order to find the pearl. 

Image of Jewelmer Pearl Farm, Source - Jewelmer

Cultured Pearls are essentially where a native species of mollusk are cultivated by individual farms, these mollusks are kept within plastic baskets or nets to prevent them being eaten by predators like sea turtles and eagle rays and are suspended into the ocean with a concrete block allowing them to grow. 

When the mollusks are large enough, a worker carefully pries open the shell and inserts a small nucleus to help the oyster start laying down the nacre. This could be in the form of a small bead, to make a smooth circular Pearl. After this the mollusk is essentially “sacrificed” and can be sold for its meat for food. 

History and Significance of Pearls

For centuries Pearls have captivated the attention of cultures across the globe. From the Ancient Egyptians to the Ancient Chinese, many have fallen in love with this prestigious gemstone. The Persian Gulf was the main source for Pearls from 2300 BC

Intertwined in a multiplicity of ancient legends, Pearls were sacred gems that were reserved for royalty and the upper classes in society. In ancient religions Pearls were symbolic of the moon possessing magical properties. It is believed that Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC. In fact, an ancient Chinese legend believed that black Pearls grew within the head of the dragon. What’s more, the ancient Japanese allegedly believed that Pearls were the tears of mythical creatures like nymphs, mermaids and angels. These mystical associations and beliefs were also shared by the ancient Persians who believed that Pearls were the product of a frightening storm, where both thunder and lightening had collided. 

In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra wasn’t just captivated by Emeralds, she was in love with Pearls too. Allegedly, Egpytian royals had mother-of-pearl decorated buildings and jewellery and even had cosmetics made from ground up Pearls giving them an undeniable sheen and shimmer. 

Gold Pearl and Sapphire Earrings, 6th-7th Century, Source - Metropolitan Museum of Art

In ancient Greece and Rome, oysters were seen as symbols of love with the belief that both Aphrodite and Venus emerged from an oyster shell. 

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, c.1485, Source - Wikimedia Commons

What’s more, in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting Pearls to ruling classes. Caesar himself was believed to be a great connoisseur of Pearls, and he could guess their value just by weighing the Pearls within his palms. Caeser allegedly gave a large black single Pearl to his favourite mistress Servilia, which historians believe would have cost around 1.5 billion dollars. 

In the Byzantine and Medieval period, Pearls were favoured amongst royalty and ecclesiastical members. Pearls were widely incorporated into jewellery, like these Byzantine earrings below at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What’s more, Mother of Pearl was widely used for liturgical and devotional saint intaglios. 

Mother of Pearl St Veronica Relief, c.1480-1500, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Byzantine Gold Filigree Cross with Pearl Centre, c.1200-1400, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Their luminescence and natural origins have contributed to the main belief that Pearls represented purity and fertility. A stone that was appreciated and used in excess in Queen Elizabeth I’s portraits and it was the earring of choice for Johanne Vermeer’s most famous piece Girl with A Pearl Earring. 


Portrait of Elizabeth I (The Armada Portrait), George Gower, c.1588, Source - Wikimedia Commons

 

Girl with A Pearl Earrings, Johannes Vermeer, c.1665, Source - Wikimedia Commons

In the 16th and 17th centuries South Sea Pearls were discovered by western explorers and in the 19th century the demand for Pearls was so high that oysters began dying out. No longer exclusive to royalty, Pearls were the gem du jour of the Victorian period, and the rise of the middle classes with extra disposable income meant they quickly became a status symbol for any with money to burn. 

John Brogden Brooch Pendant Illustriation, c.1860, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

Pearls ethereal appearance made them a favoured gemstone for Art Nouveau creations. The natural curvature and provenance of Pearls resonated perfectly with the whimsical feminine designs. This is also where Baroque Pearls came into fashion, especially amongst the Liberty of London arts and crafts movement. 

Art Nouveau Gold Pearl Diamond and Demantoid Garnet Brooch, c.1900, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

The fussy feminine style of the Edwardian period embraced Pearls in all of their frippery and excess. From layered Pearl necklaces to rings, brooches, hat pins and pendants, Pearls were essentially everywhere. Not to mention the rise of cultured Pearls meant they were accessible from a variety of price points. 

Silver and Gold Blister Pearl Brooch, c.1900, Charles Ashbee, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum 

Synthetic Pearls and costume Pearls were embraced in the 1920’s to accord with the new futuristic way of thinking. Famous photographs of fashionistas wearing long pearl necklaces with their short bobbed hair. After the economic depression, many wanted cheap alternatives which led to the rise of imitation Pearls created from glass and plastic. What’s more, this is was a time when Hollywood stars started to change and shape fashion trends, with many actresses wearing a short pearl collar necklace. 

This period of favour for Pearls fell in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The hippie counter culture of the 70’s abhorred Pearls for their harm of oysters and the synthetic imitation pieces. On the other hand, in the 80s and 90s, Pearls became synonymous with conservative upper class femininity and the numerous subcultures and their images just didn’t fit with Pearls. What’s more, costume pearls started to be seen as cheap. 

The rise of the millennial generation in the 2010’s led to Pearls being heavily desired once again. Yet, this generation rejected the smooth symmetrical pearl and opted for the allusive baroque shapes. Dubbed the “cool girl pearl” by American Vogue, you can easily find imitation and cultured Pearls on necklaces, hair clips, rings and other accessories. 

Contemporary Freshwater Pearl Earrings, Source - Pinterest

What Makes a Moonstone?

Moonstone’s are a sodium potassium aluminium silicate of the feldspar family, with a distinct pearly and opalescent schiller that contributes to its name. 

Found within the Earth’s rocky crust, Moonstones are formed when the orthoclase and albite separate into different layers. When the light falls into these layers, a bright blue or white adularescence is revealed. This awe-inspiring effect has greatly contributed to its significance and magical associations with the moon.


Where are Moonstones mined?

Moonstones are found all over the world, which makes them a relatively inexpensive stone for jewellery. Generally, they are mined in Armenia, Australia, Austrian Alps, Mexico, Madagascar, Myanmar, Norway, Poland, India, Sri Lanka and the United States. 

One of the most famous and expensive Moonstone types is the Ceylon Moonstone. These are no longer mined as it is believed that they are vastly depleted, however, they are known for their incredible and powerful schiller where gemology phenomena known as asterism and cats eye can occur. 

Victorian Moonstone Diamond Ring, Source - Lillicoco Sold

History and Significance of Moonstones 

Moonstones magical lore originated in the ancient world, where both the ancient Romans and ancient Greeks associated the stone with their moon goddesses Diana and Artemis. In fact, when the Ancient Greeks found the stone, its beauty inspired them to combine the name of their goddess of love “Aphrodite” and goddess of the moon “Selene” to name it “Aphroselene”. 

This idea that Moonstones are also connected love meant that it accrued further associations and beliefs. Notably, it was believed to be an aphrodisiac, and when worn by two people, it will help them fall in love or repair any relationship issues. 

7th Century Frankish Moonstone Brooch, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What’s more, the Moonstone is the sacred stone of India, believed to have been embedded within the forehead of Ganesh. 

Moonstones also had a powerful connection with pagan cultures, especially in clairvoyancy and shamanism. 

Moonstone Diamond Brooch, c.1888, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

Femininity and Moonstones have also been equated with one another. There is a popular spiritual belief that the Moon and its tidal powers are linked to women’s emotions and menstrual cycles.

With this in mind, it was believed that Moonstones could help aid and balance a women’s hormones and emotions during this time. Further to this, it was believed that Moonstones could help enhance a women’s intuitive feminine energy, helping to relieve stress and strengthen their innate creative and maternal feelings. This is why today Moonstones are still incredibly popular in women’s jewellery and is also widely used in Feng Shui and Meditation. 

Gold Moonstone Brooch, c.1975, Malcolm Appleby, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum 

Moonstones have been used in a variety of antique creations, yet it was favoured during the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau. Simply because creators were amazed that nature could produce something so beautiful! Moonstones featured heavily in the work of Rene Lalique, complementing his divine figures and pristine enamel. 

Glass and Moonstone Pendant, c.1906, Rene Lalique, Source - R.Lalique

What Makes an Alexandrite?

Alexandrite is part of the Chrysoberyl family, an aluminate of beryllium. There are two other gemstones that are in the Chrysoberyl family, including ordinary yellow-green Chrysoberyl and Cymophane. 

The distinguishing feature of Alexandrite is its strong pleochroic properties. For instance, in polarised light, this gemstone will exhibit emerald green, red and orange yellow hues, yet in artificial light, the colour changes. 

Fine quality Alexandrite is generally a blueish green colour in daylight and is red-purple in incandescent light. This colour change depends on how “yellow” the light source is because of the allowance of more blue and red light wavelengths in the colour spectrum. 

Cushion Cut Alexandrite, Source - The Rare Gem

Alexandrite results from a small amount of chromium ions rather than aluminum ions within the crystal structure which causes an intense absorption of light over a narrow range of wavelengths in the yellow region of the visible light spectrum. As human vision is most sensitive to green light and less sensitive to red light, the gemstone appears greener in daylight as the full visible spectrum of the light is present, whereas in low lighting, the gemstone is redder because there is less green and blue light. 

Source - Wikimedia Commons. 

Where are Alexandrites mined?

Alexandrite was first found and mined within the Ural mountains of Russia in the early 19th century, and was believed to have been named Alexandrite in honour of the future Tsar Alexander II of Russia. 

Photograph of Alexander II c.1878-1881, Source - Wikimedia Commons

Since its initial discovery, Alexandrite has been found in Brazil, India, Madagascar, Tanzania and Sri Lanka. 

Chrysoberyls form as a result of pegmatite processes, which is an igneous rock formed underground with interlocking crystals. Low density molten magma from the Earth's core rises up towards the surface causing it to cool. This cooling process means that the magma becomes rich with water which allows for rare elements (that usually do not fit within the crystallisation of solid minerals) to fit in with the water molecules. 

Today, many labs can create synthetic Alexandrite, and many of these gemstones (known as flux-grown Alexandrite) are hard to distinguish from natural Alexandrite as they have inclusions present. Although some labs that claim to grown synthetic Alexandrite have actually made corundum or colour change spinel due to trace elements of other chemicals like vanadium. These can be more accurately described and properly named as simulated Alexandrite. 

History and Significance of Alexandrite

An incredibly rare gemstone, the history of Alexandrite dates to its discovery in the 19th century. It is believed that the gemstone was first discovered in 1834 in the Emerald mines near the Tokovaya river in the Ural mountains. The legend was that it was discovered on the day that the emperor Alexander II came of age, and because it exhibited the principle colours of Imperial Russia, red and green, it became a national stone of Tsarist Russia. 

The precise geological scenario in which natural Alexandrite needs to occur makes it an incredibly rare gemstone, so it certainly fetched a high price tag amongst the 19th century audience. This also means that the large majority of Alexandrite sold today is synthetic, and the best examples to see fine natural Alexandrite is in period jewellery. 


Russian Alexandrite Soviet Era Ring, Source - 1stdibs

Because of its instant affinity with imperial Russia, this gemstone was favoured by the Russian nobility and amongst high jewellers including the master gemologist George Kunz of Tiffany, who bought such large deposits of the gemstone that it was sold by Tiffanys long after other jewellery brands were struggling to acquire the stone. The Ural mountain mines closed decades ago, so its incredibly hard to find Alexandrite of Russian origin, which means that it is highly valued in the trade. As mentioned before, some natural Alexandrite is found in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Brazil, but the supply is unpredictable. 

Antique Alexandrite Diamond Gold Snake Ring, Source - 1stdibs

In 1987, a new find of Alexandrite was found in Brazil in Hematita. This Alexandrite shows an attractive colour change from bright raspberry to bluish green, although, it is not as verdant as the Russian Alexandrite. Hematite Alexandrite is today the most common natural Alexandrite found on the market, and in some cases, it has shown chatoyancy which has not been found within the Russian Alexandrite. 

As it was discovered within the 19th century, Alexandrite does not share the mythical lores that Pearls and Moonstones possess, however this does not mean that it doesn’t possess powerful significance. 

Tiffany Alexandrite Gold Necklace, c.1914-1915, Source - Pinterest

It is believed that the stone will bring good fortune and luck into your future, and especially within Russia itself, it is considered to be a stone of very good omen, helping to balance your chakras and bringing you intuition, clarity and creative spirit. And, with its colour changing properties, it is a reminder that life may not always be what it seems!

Buying and Looking After Your Pearls, Moonstones and Alexandrites

Moonstones and Pearls are both relatively soft gemstones, so you should treat them with the upmost care. On the other hand, Alexandrite is a relatively hard gemstone, being 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. When buying these beauties, Moonstones and Alexandrites fall into the general gemstones categories of cut, colour, clarity and carat.

Cut

Unlike other gemstones, Pearls are not “cut” into different shapes due to their natural formation. Although, some cultured Pearl farms will choose specially shaped “irritants” to cultivate a desired Pearl shape. Throughout history, perfectly spherical Pearls are highly sought after, yet today, unique baroque shaped Pearls are in fashion. 

Moonstones are typically found in the cabochon cut because this is the most flatting for its adularesence. 

Due to its softness, throughout history, Moonstones have been carved with the moon’s face peeping through the surface. 

Yet, in some cases and certain jewellery brands you can find faceted Moonstones. 

On the market today, Alexandrites are found within a variety of shapes and cutting styles with oval and cushion cuts being the most common. 

Colour

Pearls are known for their ivory toned sheen and iridescent glimmer, but they can occur in a variety of different colours. Although it’s signature white tone is still the most desired, appreciation has grown for its other hues.

Moonstones are always milky white to clear with either a bright blue or bright white schiller. The deeper and more saturated the schiller - the more expensive the Moonstone will be. Yet, you can find some Moonstones that are green, yellow, brown, grey or black. 


What’s more, the presence of asterism and cat’s eye does affect how expensive a Moonstone gem will be.

Today, peachy Moonstones are popular among the millennial market.

The saturation of Alexandrite and its intense pleochroic properties will fetch a high price on the market today. In fine examples, the change will usually be from a slight bluish green to a purplish red. 

Clarity

Unlike other gemstones, the clarity of the Moonstone doesn’t always affect its price. That being said if a Moonstone is both clear with no inclusions and has a bright schiller then it will fetch a higher price tag. 

Throughout history, Moonstone's desirability has not wavered. Generally, the most favoured Moonstones are ones that are colourless, transparent and with a vivid blue sheen on the top and centre of the Moonstone. If it’s adularescence is only visible at a restricted view, then the Moonstone’s value drops. 

Alexandrite tends to contain few inclusions, the most valuable Alexandrite will be ones that are eye-clean with good colour change and strong colours. When chatoyancy occurs within the Hematita Alexandrite, this also increases the Alexandrites value. 

Carat

Moonstones are available in a variety of carat weights and sizes. However, newer  Moonstones are often found in smaller sizes and its become scarce to find larger ones. 

When choosing Alexandrites, it is likely that you will have to choose between the colour and the carat. For example, Alexandrites found within Sri Lanka are known to be larger than their Russian and Brazilian counterparts, yet their colour changes tend to be less desirable. For example, the greens of Sri Lanka Alexandrite are yellower in tone and the red’s are browner in colour. 

Most Alexandrites are small, weighing less than one carat. 

When looking after your Pearls, Moonstones and Alexandrites it is always important to keep your gemstones and jewellery separate from one another to prevent harder gemstones from scratching softer gemstones. 

Uniquely, Pearls are a gemstone that is suited to everyday wear as your natural oils within your skin help keep the gemstones moisturised and their lustre will not fade. With this in mind, it is important to keep your Pearls hydrated, so store them separately within a silk or leather lined pouch. What’s more, as the case for natural Pearls and cultured Pearls, you can wear them in the sea because the saltwater will naturally hydrate these stones. On the other hand, you should not wear them in chlorinated water like swimming pools as these can damage the gemstones. 

Make sure to clean your Pearls by wiping them with a damp cloth after use, especially if you have worn them with perfumes. Due to their alkaline properties, perfume, hairspray and fake tan all contain chemicals that can damage the Pearls, making them lose their lustre. 

Moonstones are delicate gemstones that should be handled with care. To clean these beautiful gemstones, simply use warm (not hot!) water with a mild soap and a soft bristled brush if necessary. Then, just dry these with a soft cloth. 

Alexandrites are harder gemstones, so it is important to keep them away from scratching softer gemstones. Like other gemstones, Alexandrite jewellery can be cleaned in a bowl of warm water with mild soap and a soft bristled brush. You can also steam clean your Alexandrite jewellery or clean it in an ultrasonic bath. 

We have a stunning array of antique Pearl jewellery and antique Moonstone jewellery! As Alexandrite pieces are harder to find, it is likely that we will have fewer pieces of antique Alexandrite jewellery, yet check back often to see if we do have some as we are listing new pieces of jewellery every day!