goldsmiths • jewelers • gemologists

The Making Of A Masterpiece, Part II

by Richard W. Wise, G.G.

From our workshops:

Its been a long cold winter in the Berkshires. The tourists are gone and the snowbirds have flown south. During the winter months we have the peace and quiet required to think about converting some of the gem treasures we have acquired on various buying trips into beautiful hand-made originals.



The Gem:

One of our newer acquisitions is this exceptional gem from the opal fields of Queensland, Australia. The area that produces these impressive gems is deep in the Australian outback about 125 km. along a dirt track west of the town of Winton, a sleepy agricultural community about 500 miles into the arid Queensland interior. This entire region was once part of a huge inland sea. The only source of water is from artesian wells dug 2,000 feet down into the iron rich clay--and it comes to the surface hot and stinking of sulfur. During my last visit, daytime temperatures reached as high as 120 degrees.

Boulder Opal:

Boulder opal is a distinct type of opal that occurs in seams found in the native ironstone. This particular stone, like many boulder gems, has an uneven hilly surface and sports a confetti like pattern of predominantly deep green and blue play-of-color along with accents of red and orange. The dominant green is reminiscent of the color of emerald and imperial jade but is more vivid and the blue hue is deep and as velvety as the finest sapphire.

Tsavorite, The Colors of Africa:

As luck would have it I had recently purchased a parcel of lovely Kelly green 2.5 mm round


tsavorite garnets. When working with opal, It is very difficult to find accent gems that work with the rich opal hues but with this parcel of tsavorites the simpatico was immediate.

Tsavorite Garnet was discovered in the 1960s in East Africa in an area near the Kenya-Tanzania border. One of the hard garnets, tsavorite is colored green by minute trace elements of chromium and Vanadium the same rare combination that is responsible for the color of fine emerald.

Tsavorite, however, has a higher refractive index and much greater dispersion giving the stone a crisp pyrotechnic brilliance quite different from the velvety sparkle of emerald. (image right, 8806: 1.41 carat oval tsavorite garnet custom cut oval from our collection.)

The Design:

I showed the opal to Spectrum Award winning artist Laurie Donovan. Laurie has an affinity for opal and when she saw the stone the light in her eyes told me that she was the right artist to work with this gem. She immediately set to work on a design.


Laurie's naturalistic design plays off the uneven surface and opal's random color pattern. (sketch pictured above, Dark circles indicate placement of round 2.5 mm tsavorite garnets) Her sensitive design emphasized the opal's free-form shape---surrounding the gem with an undulating frame of reticulated 18k gold to emphasize the contours of the center stone. The accent stones, tsavorites and small ideal cut diamonds, would be bezel set and placed in a seemingly random fashion to frame and reinforce the opal's predominate green play-of-color.

The image (below) shows the constructed setting with the center stone in place prior to mounting the accent stones. The accent stones have been placed on the sketch. All components hand fabricated in 18k yellow gold excepting the D-E color diamonds that are set in 18k palladium-white gold tubes.










The Finished Piece:



Pictured (above) is the finished brooch. The piece is built in a series of layers. The reticulated (textured) metal forms a frame from the peak and along the left and right sides of the center stone. (click image to enlarge) At the bottom is a long narrow section of highly polished gold that overlaps the reticulation. On the reverse is a double pin (pictured below right). In this view the complexity of the construction can be seen and appreciated.


Looking at the back or obverse of the jewel (pictured right) it can be seen that the piece was constructed with the utmost versatility in mind. It may also be worn as a pendant or over a pearl necklace. The double pin stem acts as a safety by locking down the bail when the piece is worn on a chain or over a pearl stand.