Besides unique designs and fascinating stories, antique and vintage jewelry sometimes showcases colored gemstones that we don’t often (if ever) see in contemporary jewelry. These fabulous rocks add additional cachet to a jewel due to their rarity and lovely hues. Here’s a look at three gems that you hardly ever see today, but are sometimes found in vintage jewelry.
With a green color evocative of emerald and the fire of a diamond, demantoid garnets are a very rare gemstone that is sometimes found in antique and vintage jewelry made during the Belle Epoque, (approximately 1890 -1910).
Demantoid garnets were first found in Russia in the Ural Mountains sometime between 1852 and 1854. These stones are the green variety of the garnet family. Initially, when demantoid garnet was discovered, it was thought to be peridot, because of its color. However, in 1864, a Finnish mineralogist identified the gems as a new stone.
It wasn’t long before the gems found their way into the Russian Royal court where demantoid garnets quickly became a favorite stone. Slowly the gems made their way into the rest of Europe where they caught the eye of Britain’s King Edward VII. Green was one of his favorite colors and he took a liking to demantoid garnet, which in turn made it a popular choice for Edwardian era jewelry.
Topaz, in its myriad colors, has been in and out of fashion since the days of the ancient Egyptians, who believed that it got its yellow color from the sun God Ra. The gem was particularly popular in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. The most prized colors of this gem were pink and peach, yellow, orange, or golden brown. While topaz comes in many other colors, since these are the colors found in vintage jewelry we’ll focus on those hues.
It was during the Georgian era (1714-1837) that topaz really came into favor. During the 1700s, there was a big discovery of topaz in Brazil, where there were many Portuguese settlers and explorers. The rough topaz was sent to Portugal to be cut into gemstones that were used in jewelry throughout Europe.
It’s rare to find a natural color pink topaz today, in nature pink topaz gets its color from the presence of the element chromium. Natural color pink topaz are very rare and can be quite pale, so jewelry makers often used red foil backings to amp up the color of the stones. During the Georgian and Victorian eras, gems were generally set in closed back mountings, which protected the foiling and allowed the color to reflect through the stone making it more vibrant. Another reason pink topaz was popular in the 1700s and 1800s was because they looked particularly beautiful in candlelight, which was the main source of light at that time. Topaz tend to be clear with few to no eye visible inclusions so between the clarity of the gem and the way it refracts light the stone looks really good in low light situations.
Imperial topaz, which ranges from pink to peach and orange to golden brown may be found in antique or vintage jewelry and is prized for its rich, warm tones. Imperial Topaz is also quite rare. It got its name from a find made in the Ural Mountains of Russia during the 1800s. The czars owned the mines and so the stone became known as imperial topaz because the gems were reserved for the royal family’s exclusive use.
You’ll find many types of gemstones in antique and vintage jewelry, but if you run into pink topaz, imperial topaz or demantoid garnet, you’ve also discovered a special gem that adds to the rarity of your jewel.
Featured image (top of page): Victorian frog brooch/pendant highlights a central stripe of demantoid garnet with diamonds and ruby set in silver on gold, circa 1890.
First: Pin by Carl Fabergé showcases three demantoid garnets with a total weight of approximately 6.60-carats and rose cut diamonds set in silver and yellow gold. Second: Rare antique silver on gold pendant showcases a 106.82-carat imperial topaz with diamond accents. Third: Victorian silver on gold brooch features three pink topaz with old mine diamonds. Fourth: Georgian ring features imperial topaz with foil back center stone, closed setting, rose cut diamonds and rose gold.
Authored by Amber Michelle