Saturday, January 31, 2009

Count Down to G-Day: Valentines Day Gift Give-away

With our first Valentines Day Gift Give-Away only two weeks away, I thought a little reminder wouldn't hurt anyone. So for anyone who missed it, on Saturday the 14th of February, we will be hosting a draw for a pair of 18K studs, (a choice of white, yellow, or pearl studs.. see January 16 post.) Only our loyal subscribers or followers will be eligible, so get cracking and stay tuned for the winner to be announced).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gold Series: Home on the Range

The rumor of gold has forever raised pulses. The allure it holds over us, the ability within a lucky strike in the earth to create an overnight success has driven men to unimaginable lengths.

In the 16th century the Spanish plundered South and Central America for the gold of the ancient Inca and Aztec civilizations, melting down elaborate statues into easily transported blocks – thus erasing priceless cultural artifacts and slaughtering thousands. (Pictured right: Hernan Cortez, who destroyed the Aztec civilization with only a few hundred men with firearms and horses.)

But it is the gold rushes in the U.S. that we are most familiar with, after all it is because of this thirst for gold that many major cities came into being. The first important discovery of gold in the U.S. was in North Carolina in 1799. More gold was found later in Georgia in 1827. These discoveries produced so much gold, that the U.S. mint had to open additional branches to accommodate this gold influx.

The greatest gold rush of all brought 40,000 miners to California and Nevada in 1849 alone. Diggers came from all corners of the globe, from China, to Australia, to Europe.

In 9 years, over 820 tonnes was extracted from the Sacramento Valley alone. Almost half a million people moved to the area during the Gold Rush, all headed for a state which had still been a part of Mexico when it had begun. Settlers carved into the wilderness to create infrastructure in a place that had little development. To this day, some of the deepest gold shafts exist in North America, due to the famed "Mother Lode of California' - an extensive network of gold veins borne over 100million years ago.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gold Series: Pocket Change

For thousands of years, gold was reserved for temples, tombs, and jewellery – hommage paid to the wealthy and powerful.

That was until 560B.C. when King Croesus of Lydia struck his first gold coin while trying to create a recognized and respected medium of exchange. When he ordered his heraldic device hammered on oblong bars of gold, he created a coin whose value was guaranteed by the King himself – thus inventing money. Made from an alloy of gold and silver, these coins represented a significant sum, (Pictured to the left: The Lydian Coin).

Before coinage, commodities were traded for other goods based on a barter system. Cattle for cocoa beans, shells for skins. The guarantee of gold coins gained popularity and the first formalized economy was born.

Today, gold no longer provides the same guarantee is once did in Lydia, however gold coins are certainly not obsolete. Gold coins are now separated into two categories: Numismatic and Bullion.

Bullion coins are typically used as a small investment, often fetching a modest sum above their weight in gold. Usually restrikes of formally minted coins from all over the world or commemorative pieces. As gold increases in value, the popularity of these coins also rise.

Numismatic coins are a cut above - coins created to be artistic masterpieces. They are valued for their rarity and condition by collectors who enjoy their golden design. As such, their value far exceeds their actual gold weight. The most valuable gold coin ever sold at auction was the Agustus St. Gaudens designed US Gold Double Eagle, or $20 gold coin (pictured to the right). Not just a beautifully crafted coin, but also one with a history so vivid as to form the basis of any good spy novel.

Minted in 1933, the same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Americans could no longer own gold bullion. Suddenly, the minting of gold coins came to an abrupt halt and all of the 11,000 Gold Double Eagle coins were destined to be destroyed. Workers at the U.S. mint were quick to see how valuable these coins would be however, and as a result several were stolen.

While thousands were eventually accounted for, 20-30 remained outside of the grasp of the Secret Service. A Philadelphian jeweller, Israel Switt came into possession of 9 of these coins and soon sold one to King Farouk of Egypt before the authorities were even aware that they were missing.

In 1952, the coin briefly resurfaced, only to quickly disappear once it became clear that the Secret Service interest in it had not faded. In 1992, these two worlds finally collided when the coin was confiscated from Steven Fenton. Fenton filed a lawsuit against these government bodies, and was eventually awarded the coin - which he promptly sold for $7.6million.

In 2004, Joan Langboard, daughter of Israel Switt, found 10 of these coins in her fathers safe after his death. In an attempt to get these coins authenticated, they were also confiscated by the Secret Service. Her lawsuit is pending.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gold Series: The Golden Sun

For many ancient civilizations, the sun was worshiped as only a god could be – praised and revered as the bringer of life. No civilization placed the sun in higher esteem than the Ancient Egyptians. It is then no surprise that the Egyptians, above all others, are associated with gold – the closest representative of the sun on Earth.

For the Egyptians, gold was considered the very flesh of the gods and only the Kings could adorn themselves in its sheen. Never tarnishing or degrading, gold was used extensively in statues and funerary masks - the most famous being the solid gold mask of Tutankhamen (seen to the right).

Linked to the concept of eternity, gold took center stage in the funeral chambers of the royal family and other wealthy Egyptians.

When Tutankhamen died in 1350 B.C., everything the boy king might need in the afterlife was buried with him: chariots, chests, a throne, crowns, collars, amulets, charms, and even the walls were worked exquisitely in gold. In order to provide the vast quantity of gold required for such extravagant accommodations, more then 4,000 Egyptian slaves were forced to extract gold from the hills, while hundreds more searched the ancient world looking for more.

January: 18Karat Celebrates the Diamond.

Brilliant, defiant, and the most prestigious of the classic gemstones - the diamond epitomizes unyielding power and invincible strength. It is these unbreakable characteristics that have evolved the diamond into the icon of the marriage covenant. (Below: Renaissance Ring, available for purchase here.)
Before it became the icon of the Christian marriage, the diamond was marveled more for its magical abilities than for its beauty. The hardest substance known to man and the most effective substance to disperse white light into its component spectrum colours (when appropriately cut) - diamonds have captured our imagination for thousands of years.

Found on nearly every continent, many ancient civilizations associated the diamond with fire or lightning, some attributing their creation to the thunderbolt.

Perhaps one of the most famous diamonds is the mysterious Hope Diamond – a gem surrounded in intrigue. From the moment it was allegedly stolen from the eye of a Hindu idol, the stone and all those who have owned it are said to be cursed. The first know precursor to this remarkable stone was the Travernier blue - a blue triangular cut stone of 115 carats.

This stone was sold to King Louis XIV of France who had the stone recut by his court jeweller to a 67 1/8carat stone, renamed the Blue Diamond of the Crown or simply the French Blue. Legend has it that King Louis XIV's wife, Marie Antoinette (to the right) wore the diamond around her neck as she was beheaded upon the guillotine. However, the fate of the stone was far less blood thirsty. While the King and Queen were confined in their palace during the early stages of revolution, the diamond along with many of the other crown jewels were stolen by thieves believed to have been hired by the leaders of the revolution. While many of these gems were recovered, the French Blue was never seen again.

Almost 20 years later, a blue diamond weighing 45.52ct. appeared in a published catalogue of gem collector Henry Phillip Hope. While speculation about the Hope Diamond having been cut from the missing French Blue has always existed, it was only in the earlier part of the 21st century that researchers using CAD technologies were able to confirm this suspicion.

Through bankruptcy and death, the stone was sold from rich families to tycoons, crossing the Atlantic on several occasions. This rocky past combined with a false report in the New York Times, was pounced upon by jeweller Phillip Cartier who embellished these lurid tales to intrigue Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond in 1911. The 20th century saw the birth of the Hope Diamond Curse, with legends abounding about jewellers, owners, and even delivery boys meeting an untimely demise at the hands of the gem.

Since arriving at the Smithonian Museum of Natural History, no unusual accidents have been related to it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Old Lady on Your Neck You Say?

Cameos, perhaps more then any other piece of jewellery are seen as the quintessential heirloom - not something we would purchase for ourselves, but certainly something we would gladly accept as a treasure passed down.

Perhaps because we are trying to distance ourselves from the traditional or the value we place on the innovative and the 'never-before-seen' that cameos have fallen to the wayside. However, it is undeniable that these gems are intriguing - what are these often haunting works of art?

Cameos are believed to date back to the ancient Egyptians, focused largely in Alexandria. Evolving out of the carving practices of the time, record keeping and communication, cameos carried a moral or ethical statement which the wearer intended on conveying to those around them.

Prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, cameos depicted the gods and goddesses as well as other mythological figures. Living heroes and leaders were also popular subject matter.

One of the most famous surviving cameos of the time is the one to the right, a portrait of the Emperor Augustus, which now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Predominantly carved from stone, such as agate and sardonyx, that allowed carvings to have as many as three different tones.

During the Renaissance, the resurgence of Ancient Greek literature and art meant that cameos were again in fashion - often with the same set of themes which dominated that of the ancients. However, shell was now used in a large portion of cameos, especially in European and Mediterranean countries.

While cameos never really fell out of favor, they again entered the limelight in a big way with Queen Victoria adopting them as a favorite accessory. Cameos tied high on the neck with black ribbon back then may explain why cameos are now associated with the uptight and staunch.

However, the pure skill and artistic expression of these little treasures should never be underscored. Whether antique or new, these pieces possess an aura and personality like no other.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hearts, Hugs, and Kisses: Valentines Day Gift Give-Away

After a prolonged absence from our favorite jewellery blog, I am thrilled to report that 18Karat will be hosting our first ever Valentines Day Gift Give-Away.

Starting today, subscribers to our blog will have the chance to win a pair of stud earrings. What do you mean by stud earrings Vanessa? Well reader, what if I said this give-away isn't some junk jewellery toss-up, but that 18Karat is offering our Valentines Day winner the gift of choice! Gifted Gift Gift. The lucky winner will get to choose between 18K White or Yellow gold ball studs, or some simply elegant 6-6.5mm white pearl studs in an 18K setting.

Hopefully these goodies answer the why's, but as for the what, where, and when..:
To get your hands on these gems, simply subscribe to our blog (or 'follow' if you so choose).. using that handy little box in the upper right hand corner of the page.... and that is that.

On Saturday Feb. 14th we will be hosting our draw and all those who subscribed will have their names and email addresses put in a nice fat hat.

A gift from us to everyone who has supported 18Karat in its grand 40 years of business.
Any questions? Just send me an email at