Marvelous Moonstones

January 1999

From The Vault

Marvelous Moonstones

These mystical blue gems weave a magical spell for your customers

What is it about the elusive blue light moving around in the heart of the moonstone that captivates us? Mystical and fascinating, this light doesn't dazzle, yet its magic spell works on us like the moonlight it resembles.

Gemologically speaking, moonstone is two feldspars, orthoclase and albite, intermingled in a single crystal. The alternating thin layers of feldspar scatter light, producing adularescence, the blue moonlight effect that gives this gem its name. Usually cut in cabochon to accentuate this effect, the finest quality moonstones are semitransparent and flawless with a strong blue adularescence.

Sri Lanka is the source for the finest moonstones, while fine to commercial grades also come from Myanmar and India. Though moonstone has been used in jewelry since antiquity, it doesn't have the same high profile as diamond or pearl. Nevertheless, there have been periods when moonstone was highly admired and sought after.

Pretty Pastels
Moonstones became very popular in Europe and the U.S. around the turn of the last century, appreciated by every echelon of society. Pastels were in fashion then, and the delicate blue moonstone perfectly suited this taste.

The upper class, intrigued by novelty and rarity, wore carved moonstone faces, cameos, cupids or doves set in delicate gold or platinum brooches further enhanced with diamonds and pearls. Highly fashionable crescent brooches were often set with moonstones to emphasize the natural simile. Worn in the hair, these crescents became an allusion to the classical goddess Diana, whose symbol was the moon.

Among the artful Aesthetics, cabochon gems set in handcrafted silver jewels were preferred ornaments. This Arts and Crafts style frequently made use of the soft, gentle moonstone.

The changeable nature of moonstone also made it a perfect accent for the sensual and mysterious jewelry of the Art Nouveau movement. Prominent jewelers of the time, including Tiffany, Carlo Giuliano, René Lalique and Georg Jensen, incorporated exquisite moonstones into some of their most beautiful jewels.

In & Out of the Spotlight
Moonstones waned in popularity after 1920 when the staccato Art Deco style overcame the dreamy illusions of earlier decades. Primary colors blazed and strong contrasts ruled for the next few decades as moonstone retired to the shadows. Explosive World War II blasted the Deco days away in 1939, and fashion in the '40s was for gold jewelry, ending the reign of white metal that had held the spotlight since 1900.

The postwar mood was optimistic. Jewelry reflected this in stylized natural forms; flowers bloomed, exotic birds spread their wings and cornucopias poured out their bounty, symbolizing a return of hope and prosperity. Moonstones made a comeback in these graceful jewels as flower petals, leaves or berries. They were often combined with small diamonds and rubies or with blue sapphires in even sweeter harmony.

Like the orb it is named for, moonstone waxes and wanes in popularity. We see the blue sheen glowing in jewelry for a time, then it slips away, only to reappear again in the next generation. Today, moonstone is in full favor, though its subtle charm will always make it a gemstone for the discriminating few rather than the overwhelming majority.

Their soft adularescence makes these moonstone petals come alive in a wildflower brooch of 14 karat gold set with small sapphires. Circa 1950. Courtesy of Sandy De Maio Antique & Estate Jewelry, Bryn Mawr and Manayunk, PA.

– By Elise B. Misiorowski

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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