May 06, 2014

 

Natural green gemstone, that is more durable and brighter than emerald, makes a beautiful May birthstone.

Jewelry designer and craftsman Stephen Walker has gathered an impressive collection of tsavorite gemstones for use in his Irish themed Celtic design jewelry. New supplies of this rare form of green garnet have Walker and his team of craftsmen inspired for a creative season of new designs.

The Scottish geologist Dr. Campbell Bridges discovered the unique gem in Africa in the 1960s. The garnet family of gems includes some very unique and beautiful colors besides the reds and orange stones that are most familiar. Yellow, purple and green species of garnets are also used for jewelry. The greens are the rarest, especially in sizes over one carat. Tsavorite garnet ranges in color from a rich green, similar to emerald, to lighter mint greens. With many jewelers now using tsavorite as a May birthstone Walker feels it is especially suitable as a green element in modern Celtic jewelry.


Drawing on the Irish and Scottish heritage of his family, many of Walker’s wedding and engagement rings, Celtic crosses, necklaces and earrings are made in a style that is emblematic of Celtic traditions. Ireland is called “The Emerald Isle” because of the lush green landscape. Emeralds are not native to Ireland, but are popular with Irish patrons, especially with Irish-Americans.

Quality, durability and cost are all factors that Walker believes makes Tsavorite a superior choice over emerald for a green gem stone.  Many natural emeralds on the market are cloudy or included.  In fact, emeralds are commonly treated with special oil or resins to improve their look.  But Tsavorite is typically a very clear, evenly colored green right from the mines and need no special treatments.  Tsavorite also has a higher refractive index and a higher dispersion than emerald, giving it the ability to look brighter and sparkle more with the right cut.   Another distinct advantage that Tsavorite enjoys over emerald is that, although they are about the same hardness (7.25 to 7.5 on Moh’s Scale) Tsavorite is tougher, and more durable. This is an advantage to both the jeweler, who has a lower risk of damage while setting the stone and the eventual owner of the finished jewelry who can enjoy their treasure with extended wear.


Although Tsavorite is far rarer than emerald, a similar quality stones generally cost only a fraction of emerald’s price.  A one carat fine gem quality emerald might cost $2000-$4000. While a one carat tsavorite of similar or superior clarity and color might be priced in the range of $1200 to $2400. Smaller stones are much more affordable, with sizes under a quarter carat beginning at $30 for a 2mm stone.

This difference is because emerald have been romanced and entrenched in the culture for thousands of years, while tsavorite is relatively new to the market.  In recent decades as jewelers and collectors have become more aware of the beauty of tsavorite, the price has increased substantially, but still remains more affordable than fine emerald.

Many of the tsavorites used at Walker Metalsmiths are sourced from cutters who work near the mines. The gem gets its name from the Tsavo National Park in Kenya.  A relatively small area in that region of Kenya and neighboring Tanzania is the only commercial source for the material.  For special projects, Walker works with custom gem cutter Peter Torraca, who makes annual trips to Africa to acquire rough material.  Praising the quality of tsavorite, one of his favorite gemstones, Torraca says, “Tsavorite is the green that emerald wishes it could be”.

Walker offers other choices in green gem stones as well.  Emeralds, green tourmaline and green sapphire are frequently used in his creations. Green Connemara marble, which actually is mined in Ireland, is also a specialty at Walker Metalsmiths. 

Walker Metalsmiths is a family owned and operated jewelry business run by master craftsman Stephen Walker with his wife and business manager Susan. The company is celebrating their thirtieth year in business at One Main Street in Andover, NY with a second store at Packets Landing in the Village of Fairport, near Rochester, NY. Both custom work in silver and gold are made as well as a range of designs available from the showcase or shopping website.



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