Glow Up

When Andy and I were looking at diamonds for my engagement ring years ago, I fell in love with my current stone because it is sparkly, crisply white, and a well-proportioned oval. I remember our consultant mentioning in passing that the diamond had some fluorescence. When I pressed her on the implications of that, she explained that fluorescent diamonds can sometimes look “oily” in bright light (whatever that means). I didn’t think much of it at the time. But for years thereafter, when I would glance at my ring in full sun, I had a nagging feeling that its fluorescence was somehow a flaw–even though, had I not known, I never would have thought a thing of it.

Fast forward to this year. I was recently scrolling through Instagram and saw an ad for Luminous Diamonds, which are marketed as being extra fancy because they are fluorescent! Somewhere along the way, this unusual property has been elevated from a less-than-desirable characteristic to an actual selling point:


So what exactly is fluorescence? According to the Luminous Diamonds website:

When conditions are just right, the nitrogen atoms in natural diamonds form patterns of perfect triangles, or ‘N3 centers,’ which reflects light in a truly unique way. Rather than being transparent in UV light, diamonds with sufficiently high quantities of these ‘N3 centers’ absorb and transform invisible UV ‘black light’ into a beautiful blue glow.

The way to test fluorescence is to shine a black light on a diamond and see if it glows (side note: it’s interesting that so many things that are invisible to the naked eye magically appear under black light–I’m looking at you, gross hotel rooms!). Simple as that.

Here is a demonstration with my very own engagement ring that shows its medium fluorescence:

Naturally, I was curious to test my other diamond pieces, as well. I discovered that, of the 17 individual diamonds on my eternity band, 3 are fluorescent–one extremely so (see below)–and 14 are not at all:

The center stones in my diamond studs, featured in this post, are not fluorescent at all, but some of the supporting diamonds in the halo are:

If you’d like to test your own jewelry at home, you can purchase an inexpensive black light here (and when you’re done investigating your diamonds, you can look for bed bugs and dog urine around your home. How exciting!).

Photo showing the intensity of diamond fluorescence described as: None, Faint, Medium, Strong and Very Strong under UV lighting (top) and under normal lighting (bottom).

So, does fluorescence affect the value of a diamond? According to this source, it depends on the underlying color of the stone and the strength of the fluorescence. For diamonds with a hint of yellow, blue fluorescence can actually make the diamond appear white or colorless. So very strong fluorescence in a diamond with color I through M (where D is colorless and the closer you move to Z the stone becomes yellower) can increase the value of the stone up to 2%, whereas the same fluorescence in a colorless diamond can decrease the value by 3-15%. Read more here and here.


Who knows whether Luminous Diamonds will have real sticking power or be a (glowing) flash in the pan. In any case, I’ve come to appreciate my fluorescent diamonds as exemplars of a pretty cool and unique scientific phenomenon.

Confessions

The final post of 2020!!!

Now that this craptastic year is almost dunzo (don’t let the door hit you on the way out!), I feel compelled to lay bare my jewelry sins of the past twelve months so I can start the new year with a fresh, clean conscience. In no particular order of egregiousness, I confess that:

1. I created a second Gmail account so I could receive the “first-time subscriber” discounts from my favorite brands a second time (it’s not my fault they don’t cross check their lists for duplicate names and addresses!).

2. After binging Selling Sunset on Netflix, I bought a super sparkly, somewhat tacky heart pendant just like the diamond one villainess Christine Quinn wore in almost every episode and still haven’t worn it out of the house once (PS: Christine was my favorite!).

3. I purchased an antique sapphire and diamond ring from an Etsy shop in the U.K., paid extra to have it resized, and paid even more for expedited shipping, only to discover I didn’t really like it when it arrived. So I sold it, at a small loss, through Facebook Marketplace (note: this is the ring at the heart of my earlier diamond detector story):

Image may contain: ring

4. Speaking of Etsy, the company froze my account at the beginning of the year for unknown reasons, though I suppose it was because they suspected fraudulent activity due to heavy traffic (it was all me!). So, I used my new Gmail account to create a secondary profile, and we’re back in business.

5. When a women located in another state was struggling to place an order for one of my rings on Facebook Marketplace and couldn’t figure out how to process her payment, I blocked her so I could sell the ring to a different woman in Chicago who offered a higher price.

6. I bought this custom necklace from BaubleBar and waited over a month for it to ship. The day I received it, I accidentally dropped it in the washing machine before running an extra hot, extra soapy cycle. The clasp is now completely tarnished, but everything else seems to have survived (the “E” sort of looked like a “B” even before the washing):

7. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know I unwittingly sold a woman a fake gold ring.

8. A few weeks into the pandemic, I started showering and getting dressed for the next day at night, because my kids always wake up first and, once they’re up, there’s no time or ability to do anything for myself. So, I now regularly sleep in my outfit–and full jewelry–for the next day. Don’t knock it until you try it!

9. More than a few times, I blogged during work conference calls. (SM, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)

10. I purchased a ring from a woman on Facebook (yes, I do occasionally buy as well as sell on the Marketplace). She eagerly shipped it to me that same day, but failed to put the ring in any sort of protective box or padding. Instead, she just dropped it in an envelope and sent it off. Who could have guessed it (!), but the ring arrived severely misshapen. Using two sets of pliers and my countertop for leverage, I carefully bent the ring back into shape. I must say, it looked pretty good! But I didn’t feel the same about it, knowing the trauma it had endured. So, I sold it on Facebook Marketplace to someone else:

No description available.

11. Throughout this pandemic, shopping for and buying jewelry has become therapeutic for me, probably to an unhealthy degree. I spend a lot of time mindlessly browsing jewelry websites, adding things to my cart to get that momentary shopping high, then forget about them as I quickly move on to the next thrilling find. I suspect many of us have developed coping mechanisms to get through this year. It’ll be interesting to see what habits stick once this craziness is over. I, for one, seriously need to work on reducing my screen time in 2021…


To end on an uplifting note, I wish everyone health, happiness, prosperity, and love in the new year. May your 2021 be exponentially better than 2020! We’re so close to being through this nightmare – don’t give up now!

Ring Redesign Part III: The Final Reveal

(If you missed the earlier parts of this series, catch up here: Part I, Part II.)

I eagerly awaited the CAD renderings of my new rings. When the email with the drawings from Andre finally arrived, I could not contain my excitement. As I clicked open the files and laid eyes on the images for the first time, my immediate thought was: “Oh no, I don’t love them!”

The bands were too chunky and wholly disproportionate to the width of the diamond. I disliked that both bands were about the same width. The bezel setting was flat and uninteresting. All told, the virtual appearance of the rings did not at all match my vision of them:

(As an aside, how amazing are these renderings?!)

After relaying my concerns to Andre, he called so we could chat over the phone about how to improve things. Both Andre and the CAD drawer independently concluded that the proportions we initially mapped out were way off. Andre made further suggestions about altering where the band met the crown on the engagement ring, and adjusting the bezel setting to have angular instead of flat side walls, which would expose more of the diamond face. I felt relieved and hopeful that the next iteration of renderings would show more promise.

The revised drawings arrived a few days letter, and they were much improved! The rings looked balanced, harmonious with each other and the diamond, and elegant:

I gave the green light to move forward. Andre explained that the CAD drawings would be used to create wax molds with a 3D printer, and that the molds would then be used for pouring the gold into the shape of the rings. This process–called the “lost wax process“–has been used to make jewelry for thousands of years.


About two weeks later, I received a text from Andre with this image:

The rings were ready!

I visited Andre’s studio again the morning of Halloween to pick up my new beauties. They were gorgeous in person, and everything I’d hoped and dreamed!

The one thing I hadn’t considered was that my diamond eternity band would look too white and pristine next to the blackened crown of my new engagement ring. I asked Andre if he could blacken the eternity band, too, and much to my delight, he performed the rhodium plating process while I watched! It involved “painting” the platinum of my band with a charged electrode dipped in black rhodium solution. Andre politely humored my 700 or so questions as he worked:

The final stack is absolutely stunning:


I truly cannot say enough positive things about how easy and wonderful it was to work with Andre on this project. He understood my vision, included me at every step of the process, and was able to provide exactly what I wanted at a super reasonable price.

In addition to working with clients to redesign their existing jewelry, he also designs original jewelry. Here are some of his latest beautiful creations:

You can reach Andre directly at andrelukawski@gmail.com.


Thanks for joining me on this exciting journey!

Ring Redesign Part II: The Consultation

(If you missed the first installment of this series, catch up here: Part I.)

I met with Andre Lukawski on a beautiful, warm day in September to discuss my ring redesign. Andre’s workshop is located on the lower level of a three flat where he lives upstairs, on the northwest side of Chicago. He was waiting for me on his front porch when I arrived. I was so excited, it felt like I sprinted from my car to greet him.

I didn’t know what to expect as we made our way downstairs to Andre’s lair. I’ve never seen a jewelry workshop before—only jewelry store showrooms and the front counter of a jewelry repair shop. 

Upon seeing his workshop, my mind was blown by the scale of his operation. The wood-paneled room featured four separate workstations equipped with grinders, and buffers, and vices, and magnifying glasses, and all kinds of hand tools. In a smaller room off the main space (an erstwhile kitchen) sat an assortment of glass jars and vats of chemicals with tubing and wires coming out of them. It had the look of fully stocked high school science lab, and stirred within me giddiness at the prospect of all the jewelry alchemy that must happen within its walls:

Andre and I stationed ourselves at his large work table and, while maintaining proper distance with masks on, began to chat about my project. I had a clear vision of what I wanted my rings to look like, but didn’t appreciate beforehand just how many decisions were required to shape the design. Did I want the band to taper toward the stone or stay uniform in width? Did I want 14k or 18k yellow gold? How tall and wide should the bands be? What design did I want for the basket where the diamond would sit? As I contemplated the various options for each design element, Andre pulled out picture catalogs and sample rings from his behemoth safe to provide greater clarity for my choices. He made rough sketches and measurements as we talked, and paused throughout our conversation to pensively consider the design as it came to fruition in his mind. 

One of my concerns was whether I could save my original engagement ring setting, perhaps to gift to my kids someday. Andre had the wonderful idea that we could set a gemstone where the diamond had been. I’m planning to do that as a special gift for Sloane, maybe on her 16th birthday or as a high school graduation present.

Once we had worked through all the minutiae, Andre explained that he would convey the design to a CAD drawer, who would prepare renderings of my rings for my approval before making them. 


More to come about the renderings and the final product in Part III, the last installment in this series: The Final Reveal.

Toi et Moi

“Toi et moi”–meaning “you and me” in French–describes a style of ring with two gemstones sitting near each other, symbolizing the union of two souls. Traditionally the stones were identical or at least of a similar size and shape, but more modern designs feature greater variation among the stones.

Napoleon Bonaparte proposed to his future wife Josephine in 1796 with the diamond and sapphire toi-et-moi ring shown below, which sold for almost $1 million at auction in Paris in 2013:

According to this source, the toi-et-moi style was very popular for engagement rings during the Belle Epoque and Edwardian periods in the late 19th / early 20th centuries. Beyond just the romantic symbolism of the side-by-side design, the stones themselves had special meaning: diamonds, which represented love and prosperity, were often paired with rubies, which symbolized passion and devotion.


I recently purchased my very own toi-et-moi ring featuring two pearls mounted in a bypass setting, flanked by fans of delicate blue topaz, on a yellow gold band:

There isn’t much romantic symbolism to this ring vis-a-vis my husband, Andy. Instead, I bought this ring as a gift to myself to commemorate the special bond I share with my daughter, Sloane (a.k.a. my angel baby from heaven), who–at 19 months old–is well on her way to becoming an independent child, though she still relies on me for most of her needs for the time being. It is quite bittersweet knowing that my second (and last) child won’t be my baby for much longer. I hope that the tight bond Sloane and I have now will translate into a lifelong relationship of trust and closeness. In the meantime, it warms my heart to look down at my toi-et-moi ring and think of the pearls as me and my best little gal :).


I found these other toi-et-moi rings that I absolutely adore–some quite traditional, others more edgy, but all beautiful:

Pearl and Blue Topaz Toi et Moi Ring, available on Etsy ($180)

Messika, My Twin Toi & Moi Ring ($4,870)

Swarovski, Attract Soul Ring ($89); similar here

Victorian Pearl & Sapphire Paste Toi et Moi Ring, available on Etsy ($300)

Danhov, Abbraccio Infinity Single Shank Engagement Ring ($4,560+)

Edwardian Style Emerald Toi et Moi Engagement Ring, available on Etsy ($2,000+)

MDC Diamonds, Toi et Moi Emerald Cut Diamond & Sapphire Engagement Ring ($2,150 excl. center diamond)

Antique Pearl and Diamond Toi et Moi Ring, available on Etsy ($695); similar here

Ruby and Moissanite Toi et Moi Statement Ring, available on Etsy ($2,700+)

Vintage Victorian Bypass Diamond Ring, available here ($30,000)

Two Heart Toi et Moi Ring,
available on Etsy ($145)

Vintage Black & White Pearl Toi et Moi Ring,
available on Etsy ($315)

Forevermark, Two-Stone Bypass Halo Ring ($7,620+)

Et toi? Do you like this style?

High Low

There is so much beautiful jewelry in the world that has a ton of sparkle without costing a fortune. Gone are the days when your only choices for bling were either expensive diamonds or lackluster rhinestones. Today, you can find gorgeous pieces featuring diamond-like substitutes that quite convincingly replicate the real deal at a wide range of price points.

This post explores the multitude of options and the differences among them. Along the way, I’ll present you with quizzes to test how well you can identify which pieces are made of diamonds vs. a less-expensive substitute. Answers appear at the end (don’t cheat!).

Lab-Created Diamonds

Naturally mined diamonds come from within the earth and were formed billions of years ago under conditions of intense heat and pressure. (Read more here.) Lab-created diamonds, on the other hand, have all the same physical and chemical properties of naturally mined diamonds, but are grown in a lab under conditions that replicate the natural diamond growing process.

The biggest advantage of lab-created diamonds is that they cost less than natural diamonds while looking indistinguishable to the naked eye. Don’t be mistaken, though, they are not cheap. According to this site, the capital costs for lab-grown and mined diamonds are similar, but lab-grown diamonds have a shorter supply chain than mined diamonds, which makes them somewhat cheaper.

Another big advantage of lab-created diamonds is that they don’t pose the same ethical concerns as mined diamonds. And because they don’t require mining, they are also kinder on the environment.

Interestingly, lab-created diamonds are graded and certified using the same standards as naturally mined diamonds (i.e., the 4 Cs–cut, clarity, color, and carat). So you can easily compare a lab-created gem with an equivalent naturally mined gem to really see the price differential.

Not everyone is a proponent of lab-created diamonds. According to this article, which was published by the National Diamond Council (so take it for what it’s worth), diamond experts caution that lab-created diamonds will not hold their value over time as they become easier to produce and more widely available. These diamond loyalists also bemoan that lab-created diamonds have “something soulful missing” because unlike mined diamonds, which are “miracles of nature,” they are mass-produced in a lab and lack the deep “historical significance, symbolism, and yes, love.” So if you care about that stuff more than getting sparkly bling at a lower price, lab-created diamonds aren’t for you.

Here are two nearly identical pieces, except one features naturally mined diamonds and costs $36,000, while the other one features lab-created diamonds and costs $1,400:

Moissanite

Moissanite is a mineral that was discovered by Henri Moissan in 1893 when he was analyzing rock samples taken from a meteor crater in Arizona. Moissan initially thought the crystals were diamonds, but later identified them as silicon carbide.

Because natural moissanite is super rare, the moissanite used in jewelry today is lab-created. According to this helpful guide, there are some key differences between diamonds and moissanite, even though they superficially appear quite similar.

Diamonds are the hardest known mineral (with a score of 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness), but moissanite is not far behind at 9.25. That makes this mineral suitable for use in engagement rings, which take a lot of knocks through everyday wearing.

Moissannite is actually more brilliant than diamond and emits a “fiery, rainbow flash” in bright light. Some people prefer the more subtle sparkle of diamonds.

Like lab-created diamonds, moissanites are ethically less controversial than naturally mined diamonds and are more eco-conscious. They are also much less expensive than diamonds.

Finally, unlike diamonds, which are graded on the “4 Cs,” moissanites are graded solely based on color. The most expensive moissanites are colorless.

So, think you can tell the difference between moissanite and diamond? Below are two similar pendants, one made with moissanite that costs $600, and the other made from diamonds that costs $6,300:

Cubic Zirconia

If we’re getting technical, cubic zirconia (“CZ”) is the “cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2).” It is exclusively manufactured in labs and does not occur in nature. Commercial production of this diamond alternative began in 1976.

Like the other substitutes discussed above, CZ is significantly cheaper than diamonds and, because it is not mined, it is ethically and environmentally more favorable than diamonds. It is also inherently flawless, which can’t be said for most naturally occurring diamonds.

CZ is not a perfect substitute, however. It has a lower hardness than diamond and moissanite (8.5 on the Mohs Scale), meaning it scratches more easily and will show more wear. It also has a lower refractive index and is thus less sparkly than diamonds. CZ will also become cloudy over time and requires regular cleaning to keep its shine. Read more here and here.

All that said, CZ may not be the best choice for an engagement ring (if the other options above are feasible), but it is a fine choice for convincing costume jewelry.

Below are two similar flower bracelets, one made with diamond that costs $20,000, and the other made from CZ that costs $150:

Other Choices

Lab-created diamonds, moissanite, and CZ are certainly the most well-known diamond alternatives, but there are others worth considering:

  • White Sapphire: Sapphire, one of the four precious gemstones (along with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds), comes in several colors, including white. It ranks a 9 on the Mohs Scale, but has a lower refractive index and less sparkle than diamond. It appears more transparent than diamond and requires regular cleaning or else it can look dull. It is much more affordable than diamond. Read more here and here.
  • White Topaz: Topaz is a commonly found, naturally occurring semi-precious gemstone. It ranks at an 8 on the Mohs Scale, which–because the scale is non-linear–means it is roughly 6-8 times less hard than a diamond. That said, it is more prone to being damaged through regular wear than diamond. Topaz also has a lower refractive index than diamond, making it less sparkly and bright. As you probably predicted by now, topaz is much, much cheaper than diamond–1 carat of high-quality white topaz likely costs around $100, whereas a 1 carat flawless, colorless diamond runs around $15,000. Read more here and here.
  • Herkimer Diamonds: I only recently learned about Herkimer diamonds and find them very intriguing. These stones aren’t actually diamonds, but rather are a type of quartz crystals that were discovered in and around Herkimer County, New York and the Mohawk River Valley. (Read more here.) They don’t look nearly as convincingly diamond-like as the other substitutes discussed above, and at only 7.5 on the Mohs Scale, they are not durable enough for daily wear. While Herkimer diamonds may contain flaws like air bubbles and black carbon deposits, it is possible to find high-quality, completely clear stones. (Personally, I think the flawed stones are pretty neat–see here and here.) These stones can resemble glass because they lack the brilliance of diamonds. But–you guessed it–they are more affordable than diamonds! Read more here, here, and here.

Long story short, nothing is as hard, perfectly brilliant, or expensive as diamonds. But most of these details are quite technical unless you’re looking specifically for a piece that will last forever with minimal wear and hold its value (e.g., an engagement ring). If, instead, you’re just looking for some pretty bling, any of the above are excellent choices!

For your last quiz, I challenge you to rank the following pieces in order of least expensive to most expensive:


Here are some great online stores I’ve found for beautiful diamond-alternative jewelry:


Answers

Don’t peak until you’ve completed all the quizzes!

.

.

.

.

.

Quiz #1: Lab-Created vs. Naturally Mined Diamond:

  • Answer: The ring on the RIGHT is more expensive.
  • Left: Lab-Created Emerald Cut Five-Stone Engagement Ring ($1,400)
  • Right:Flawless 2 ct. Three-Stone Emerald Diamond Engagement Ring ($36,000)

Quiz #2: Moissanite v. Diamond

  • Answer: The pendant on the LEFT is more expensive.
  • Left: Diamond Halo Pendant Necklace Round Solitaire ($6,300)
  • Right: Round Moissanite Halo Necklace ($600)

Quiz #3: Cubic Zirconia v. Diamond

  • Answer: The bracelet on the LEFT is more expensive.
  • Left: 12.41ct Fancy Floral Cluster Diamond Bracelet ($20,500)
  • Right: 15.50 ct. Multi-Cut CZ Floral Bracelet in Sterling Silver ($146)

Quiz #4: Least to Most Expensive

  • Answer: 2, 1, 3
  • No. 1: Starburst Drop Earrings ($295)
  • No. 2: Lab-Created White Sapphire Chandelier Drop Earrings ($279)
  • No. 3: Reflection de Cartier Earrings ($30,800)