Rough Riders - Raw Gems and Geode Slices Set in Precious Metals
The trend to be eco-conscious will continue with gusto in 2011 with a bigger spotlight on natural, organic products. In fine jewelry, this direction has manifested itself in a greater use of raw gems and geode slices set in precious metals. Roughing it is the way to go in an economic environment inspiring us all to be less ostentatious, more unique, and introspective. What better way to feel closer to the earth than to sport the less-processed aesthetic of raw crystals?
Historically, gem crystals have been revered as talisman for a range of well wishes, including good fortune and health. During her time as a Feng Shui consultant, Dara Dubinet fell in love with natural stones and crystals. The Venice, California-based jewelry designer believes the stones in her pieces—gems like red spinel, greenish-blue apatite, pink sugilite, and aqua-colored hemimorphite—have absorbed energy from the earth that she awakens to beautify the body. “I want people to feel empowered when they wear my designs,” she shares. Who wouldn’t want that kind of aura surrounding them?
In the same vein, artist Andrea Rosenfeld of Wickatunk, New Jersey designs around empowering gems. She promotes stones that will be important to the well being of her clients. Garnet, for instance, is the stone of health, jasper the supreme nurturer, and chalcedony balances yin-yang energy.
Internal Character
What’s especially exciting for designers working in this medium is the fact that no two gems are exactly alike, which fuels desire for pieces that express individuality. From fashion-forward edgy and futuristic to tribal and primitive, looks glinting uncut gems are as diverse as the designers using them.
Gems in the buff typically lack enhancement and often show their “birthmarks.” Designers like Kara Ross of New York, prefer to exult them rather than hide or alter these inclusions. She showcases a gem’s natural flaws, which she believes add to the beauty and character of a piece. Among the raw gems on her palette are emerald, kunzite, aquamarine, amethyst, citrine, and tourmaline.
The same can be said for New York City-based designer Kimberly McDonald who recently garnered some noteworthy press when First Lady Michelle Obama wore one of her creations to the State Dinner honoring visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao. Obama selected geode and ruby earrings that also utilized reclaimed gold in their design.
It’s combinations like this that have made McDonald’s fine jewelry line stand out – the use of natural and organic materials, like agates and the geodes in Obama’s earrings, paired with natural, untreated fine materials, like diamonds, raw emeralds and baroque pearls. In addition to the reclaimed gold, McDonald also turns to wood, as well as recycled diamonds and other precious stones, when designing her unique pieces.
The designer’s belief is that “there is such an abundance of material out there, we need not continue to harvest many of the materials needed to create.”
Designer Coomi also shuns more standard cut stones in favor of cuts that highlight a stone’s greatest, most unique qualities and energy for her collections, turning to options like rose-cut diamonds as they are “inherently more organic in cut and their natural beauty and character compliments rather than overwhelms the design or the wearer.” For example, her Luminosity collection is built around flat rose cut diamonds in varying sizes and natural shapes.
Coomi’s collections take their cues from the perfection of nature and the divine. Designs are inspired by the pebbles smoothed by the holy Ganges River, the naturalistic silhouettes of vines drawn to sunlight and the miracle of life in the desert. The resultant jewelry not only honors the natural world but strives to present and preserve it in its best light as well.
Another designer to watch in this genre is Melissa Joy Manning of Oakland, California. Mixing a variety of metals, gems (cut and uncut), and found objects, Manning pushes people's perceptions of what is precious. Among the raw gems in her designs are spessartite, ocean jasper, cactus quartz, azurite, and ammonite. In her latest collection, she features dreamy, ethereal labradorite with moonstone, kyanite and cat’s eye opal in dramatic silver and 14k gold settings. Manning describes the look as organic and bold in its use of different gem cuts with rough crystals in wire-wrapped designs.
Leading the Revolution 
Interest in the use of raw gems in fine jewelry design has grown tremendously in the past 15 years, since designer Todd Reed started working with rough diamonds. In just the past five years, the Boulder, Colorado-based artist reports, his business has increased by 500%.
“I’ve always felt this was a great alternative to the traditional diamond industry and something women of style and discernment could easily relate to,” describes Reed, who notes that men, too, appreciate the raw beauty of natural, uncut diamonds. “When I started this, the rough crystals were regarded as material with no value, but since we treat them as precious art, our customers have responded in kind." 
Whether you’re attracted to the texture raw gems bring to a design, the healing powers, or the eco-friendly attributes—gems in the rough have natural charm.
Palmiero Italy
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