Who doesn’t love diamonds? We are biologically programmed to be drawn to shiny things, and you don’t get much more dazzling than diamonds. In fact, these stones are held in such high societal esteem that they tend to be the ones we invest in or receive for a major milestone – perhaps for graduation, a first paycheck or an engagement ring. Once we have a stylish capsule of diamond jewelry, however, it can be tricky to know which of the more exotic, colorful gemstones to add to your collection.
“Diamonds are undeniably fascinating and powerful – they are, after all, pure carbon, which is found in all living beings – and the story of their creation lies deep in the earth,” says Pippa Small, perhaps the most gemstone-savvy designer in the fine-jewelry world. “Semi-precious stones are filled with equal myth and meaning, though; their rainbow of colors brings myriad emotional and very personal responses,” she explains. The British designer’s latest endeavor is her ‘Together Forever’ collection, which aims to highlight the heritage of the Afro Colombian goldsmiths of Narino, who were first brought to the region as slaves in the 16th century. Aware of the negative impacts of large-scale mining, Small has used historic gold-panning techniques for the collection.
Working with Afro Colombian women gold panners in the Choco Region of Colombia, Small has created a capsule collection of jewels made entirely of locally certified, hand-panned gold and emeralds. The gold panners extract the gold using a wooden pan to lift gravel from the river, then swirl the bowl in a skilful way to separate the gold from the rock – negating the need for chemicals and machines. Gold panning has continued to be a central part of life for these local communities. “Women pan gold as part of a subsistence economy,” says Small. “Between farming and running small businesses, girls learn the techniques at a young age by watching their mother work. The sale of the gold provides money for health and education for their families, and they are adamant that they would like to continue to have this opportunity to supplement their incomes in the future,” she explains.
Colombian emeralds have long been celebrated as the finest examples in the world, and Small has skilfully set stones from the mountain rivers of Chivor and Muzo into pared-back pendants, chandelier earrings, studs and rings that celebrate their unique, potent glow.
“For me, it’s all about mixing unusual combinations together,” she explains. “The more unexpected, the better – what some people call imperfections are usually what I think are the most beautiful details on a stone. It’s amazing to see how certain colors come to life on different people, too,” she adds. From her ‘Gumball’ designs, which are defined by their spherical gemstones, and ‘Tropical Flowers’ creations, where oversized blooms are carved from vivid amazonite, opal and aquamarine, to her ‘Gemmy Gem’ pieces, which serve as a stage for her most unusual gemstone finds, Neuwirth celebrates colorful stones with contemporary panache.
“We have grown to love diamonds,” muses Liza Urla, digital creator and founder of Gemologue, referring to the way diamonds garnered their ubiquitous reputation as a status symbol as recently as the 1950s; meanwhile, our fascination with colorful gemstones has existed since around the 4th century BC. “From Cleopatra’s emerald mines to our love of lapis lazuli throughout ancient civilizations, colorful gems have always been revered because of their energy and rarity,” she explains. A trained gemologist, Urla says she will always choose a colored jewel over a white diamond, explaining that her own yellow-diamond engagement ring was selected so that she could always wake up to rays of sunshine. Those on a tighter budget should seek out citrines instead, which are available in every shade of yellow, from dawn’s pale hues to the honey-toned horizon at sunset.
Urla’s advice for those struggling to select a colorful companion? Take a moment to connect to your emotions and let the stone reveal itself to you. “I’ll often stop to admire a colorful gem and find myself transported to a sunset beach in Brazil, or the incredible tourmaline blues of the Maldives,” she explains. “Green gems make me feel in tune with nature, like being in the mountains without ever leaving London,” she adds. “Colored stones can transport you to a magical place and evoke lasting memories – that’s the power of gemstones.”
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