Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Aussie Opal Miners Protect Digs.

Recently out at a place called Mundubbera approx. 390 kms north west of Brisbane, Queensland, there's been a discovery of an outbreak of a very vicious plant - The Hudson Pear. A cactus, bought to Australia from Mexico as a garden plant, is so vicious that it's spikes have been known to cause serious injury and even death when a fella fell into a patch at Lightning Ridge (one of Australia's Opal Mining communities) and had a heart attack. It's spines or spikes are so tough they can penetrate boots and car tyres and need to be removed with a pair pliers.

The Cactus was first reported in New South Wales in the 1960's. According to various sources, it spread from a Cactus nursery but was further assisted by Opal Miners deliberately planting it around their diggings to keep thieves away.

In New South Wales reports estimate that this pest now covers up to 100,000 hectares of land, rendering the land useless. It is capable of spreading easily as new plants can grow from segments of any size. It is also found in Southern and Western Australia and has naturalised in South Africa. Two herbicides are however currently available for treating the Cactus.

Pic courtesy of NSW DPI

Gemstones - Myths and Legends

Many tales surround gemstones. From the earliest times, people have and in some cases still believe that gemstones have mysterious qualities. They were used to ward off drunkiness, cure toothache and headache, blindness and so on.

Apparently in the middle ages, Alchemists assigned curative properties to gemstones, somewhat similar to what we have today in the form of homeopathic medicine. It seems that diseases of the time were given classifications according to four qualities,
ie hot, cold, moist and dry. Stones were then assigned within the classification.

Here are some properties supposedly associated with Gemstones.

Diamond - Thought to bring victory to the wearer, along with superior strength and courage. Associated with thunder and lightning. Also believed to indicate quilt or innocence. The stone of Kings.

Amethyst - Said to prevent drunkeness and have the power to induce dreams or visions.

Aquamarine - Remedy for eye trouble, toothache, sore throat, feelings of weakness. Thought to promote a happy marriage.

Emerald - Reputed to cure blindness and believed to preserve the chasitity of women, also supposed to blind poisonous snakes (lol....better remember that one for next time I'm out bushwalking and a "King Brown" pokes its ugly face out at me - It's long story)

Opal - Cupids stone of hope and love. Supposed to bring good luck, but not in the western world.

Ruby - An antidote for poison. Believed by Hindus to ensure health, wealth and joy.

Sapphire - A symbol of truth, sincerity and faithfulness... Supposed to keep one safe from illness and protect again poisoning.

Turquoise - Used against falling or tripping, also worn as a protection again the "evil eye"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Opal - Australia's National Treasure

Whilst I was visiting the north coast last weekend, I came across a stall at one of the local markets selling opals from Yowah, a small remote opal mining town which is approximately 165 km's from Cunnamulla or just over 1000 km's from Brisbane on the east coast of Australia.

There isn't much at Yowah. It's a popular destination for opal fossickers, they come to fossick and then stay. It's no treechange or seachange, can reach 50 degrees C in the summer and go below zero in winter. They do hold an opal festival and jewellery design competition each year, only stipulation is that designers use Yowah opals in their creation.

If you go to Yowah, you need to bring your own beer, cause there's no pub and no beer, (well at least they warn you) as well, no church if that's were you like to go on Sundays and apparently no law enforcement officers in the town. There is however a caravan park and a nine hole golf course with sand greens and earth fairways, along with numerous opal cutters and retail outlets selling opals.... thought I'd save the best part till last!

Yowah is primarily famous for what are known as "Yowah Nuts".
These nuts are small ironstone boulders which are spherical to ellipsoidal (sort of like a squashed egg shape ) and up to five centimetres across. They might have hollowed centres, be filled with powdery clay or a kernel of opal. Those with a kernel of opal were what I had the opportunity to view. The nuts are found in layers of 150 to 600mm in thickness at depths up to 20m in a ferruginous sandstone.

The stall owner, a gentleman, went to great lengths to explain the attraction of his opals, along with colours, how they're cut and so on.

I had been planning to write a post for a while on Australian opals, but as I've never owned one myself and not being that attracted to them as most that I've seen have been white with hints of fire, ocean and forest and smaller than a shirt button, so they didn't really appeal to me colour wise or size wise. I've always thought of those stones as wishy washy and rather boring.

I was really taken with these Yowah opals though. Yes they appeared to be just polished stones with tiny effervescent spots of colour, that glistened and sparkled like tiny pieces of glitter set into milk chocolate.... but some of these stones where large, and really suited as pendants or an embellishment for a fancy wired cuff. Only problem was I was a little short at the time of the hundreds of dollars of cash I would have needed to purchase the one I really liked.

As you can see by this little specimen, not all Yowah Nut Kernels are actually solid opal. All the same I think this is a very nice specimen would indeed make a great feature as part of a piece of wired jewellery.

to be continued.....

Pic 1. Yowah Nut Kernel
Pic 2. A piece of Yowah Matrix
Pic 3. A Yowah Nut showing that all kernels are not always solid opal

A Colour Wheel of Gem Stones

Here's my list - if you've got some ideas of your own, send me a comment and I'll add them here

Black - Jet, Onyx, Obsidian,
Grey - Labradorite
Brown - Agate, Jasper, Smokey Quartz, Tigereye
Voilet - Amethyst, Jadeite, Tanzanite, Tourmaline,
Blue - Amber, Aquamarine, Fluorspar, Iolite, Jadeite,
Lapis Lazuli, Sapphire, Sodalite, Spinel, Tanzanite, Topaz, Turquoise,
Green - Adventrine, Amber, Beryl, Chrysocolia, Emerald,
Ernite, Hemimorphite, Jadeite, Malachite, Nephrite, Peridot, Sapphire,
Yellow - Amber, Citrine, Butter Jade, Jadeite, Topaz,
Orange - Amber, Carnelian, Fire Opal, Sapphire
Red/Pink - Amber, Garnet, Coral, Fire Opal, Kunzite,
Morganite, Rose Quartz, Ruby, Sapphire, Spinel, Tigereye, Topaz,
White - Moonstone, Opal, Pearl,
Clear - Quartz

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Art of Amber....Part 3

Lets talk about fake Amber.
So how do you tell a good fake from the real thing?

Copal resin which is very young compared to real Amber is an aromatic tree resin mainly used as an incense, is often passed off as Amber, it is almost identical and is the most popular fake. However, Glass, Bakelite, Perspex and Celluloid are others.

As we know it is possible to find insects trapped in Amber, this is what makes it fairly valuable. An insect trapped in a drop of Amber resin as it drips down the tree, usually has time to wriggle about before the Amber sets. One would find swirl marks around the moving parts of the trapped creature. This is one way to tell if the Amber is real. In fake Amber there'll be no swirl marks as the dead insect is planted into the resin.

A way to tell Copal and Amber apart is by using a spot of Ether, which will have no effect on the real Amber, but will leave a sticky residue on the Copal.

If you don't have access to Ether as many of us don't and as true Amber floats, just mix a solution of saline two or three teaspoons in a glass of water pop the piece in. If it floats its real, this will only work if the Amber is not set or mounted.

The pic gives an indication of what Copal Resin can look like.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Be my Valentine... no chance

Just checking out the latest Gadgets this morning in the local newspaper and I guess this one is for all those Valentine Day shoppers who are also Computer Nerds.

Frankly, I couldn't imagine receiving a worse gift. What ever happened to Flowers, Chocolate and/or real Gems on Valentines Day?

Apparently, Philips and Swarovski have got together and come up with, or so they think, the ultimate Valentine USB gift. Its a heart shaped pendant combining a fully faceted crystal in silver shade, whilst the other half of the heart which is polished silver metal, is a 1GB USB stick that reveals itself when the crystal and silver halves are split. The USB is capable of storing around 1000 photographs or 250songs, features USB 2.0 transfer speeds of 8Mbps for reading and 3Mbps for writing info. It also comes with the usual password protection software. Cost $300.00

check out

Photograph courtesy of Philips.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Don't you just hate it when.....

You decide to paint and it starts to rain.
You want to try some new interactive acrylic paint, that stays "open" longer and it starts to rain. You have to watch paint dry!

You find your paint bush loosing hair on your wet painting.
You find your paint bush hair as dried on your painting... (it hasn't yet, cause I found it before it got the chance, little sucker!)
Note to self, relegate that brush to the bin!

You get out the box of silver and gold leaf and suddenly an almighty breeze whips up. Oh well I figure it'll add to the fx's. Ever tried playing with gold leaf in a breeze?
Dog is now covered in bits of gold and silver leaf, as is the floor and table.
Everying I touch has turned to Gold. Watch out Midas! As if, I wish!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Jet aka Black Amber

Last year my eight year old Border Collie had to be put to sleep, it was discovered that he had a tumour on his spine after not being able to get up one morning. This post is in memory of my beautiful boy, Jet.

So what is Jet exactly? It measures 2.5-4 on the Mohs scale and is one of the softest semi-precious stones, most other minerals can scratch it. It is way too soft to be facet cut, so the most common form of cut is either 'en cabochon' or made into beads. It was used in Britain long before the Romans arrived and is said to have been found in 4500 year old Bronze Age Barrows in Yorkshire and Scotland.

There's an example in the pic below. These were sold to me as Jet beads and are featured with Ernite. Question is now, are they really Jet? Possibly, but certainly not Victorian Jet.

The interesting thing about Jet is that is was once alive, in the form of a tree.
Originally it come from a weird species of Conifer that had a banded spiked trunk, and cones the size of a football. Today the tree's formal name is "Araucaria".

In Australia, the Hoop and Bunya Pines are of that species. For those of us who have seen the Bunya Pine which mainly grows in South East Queensland, we are in awe of the size of its cones which can grow to the size of a football. However I digress.

It was probably due to something as dramatic as climate change, that these ancient trees died by the forest full. Massive logs and debris built up in swampy areas as these giants crashed to the ground, they were then covered with mud, causing them to fossilise without air, shrinking to a black layer of Jet, probably just a few centimetres thick. Directly above this a layer of limestone formed, which then became covered with silt, shale and clay.

Jet was made famous initially by Queen Victoria. Her Jet came from the Whitby mines in Yorkshire. Whitby Jet is considered the finest in the world although very good quality genuine Jet is found all over Europe and North America, especially Spain, Germany and Pennsylvania.

Now back to Queen Victoria, she chose to wear Jet as her grieving adornment when her prince consort passed away. Black signifies the "absence of light" and known to be the colour of death in the Western world. Due to Queen Victoria, Jet became the height of fashion, everyone wore it, its beads were easy to wear with woman's clothing styles of the day. However, Jets popularity diminished around the 1880's when Victoria took to wearing white stones, such as pearls and diamonds.

I've read recently that you should never loan out your Jet jewellery, as it is said to be so absorptive that its owner can be vulnerable to negative magic if it falls into the wrong hands.

Some interesting facts about Jet

When warmed it attracts lint, it can support innate heat, and this can cause it to spontaneously combust.

Testing for real Jet

You can try the scratch test. Use a porcelain tile and scratch the Jet against the rough back of the tile, it should leave a chocolate brown mark. Coal which is softer will leave a black mark, Glass a white mark and Vulcanite (a primitive form of plastic) a trail of grey. It is said that when manufacturers of fake jet realised this they started to add a brown dye to the surface plastic.

Some facts about Vulcanite from the Plastics Historical Society

Combining natural rubber with sulphur in a furnace, Vulcanite was discovered in the USA in 1839 by Charles Goodyear, patented by Hancock in England in May 1843 and Goodyear in USA in June of the same year.

Various mouldings in Vulcanite were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The material, most commonly black in colour was used to make combs, buttons, jewellery, fountain pens, pipe stems (both plain and decorative), musical instruments, etc. It was also widely used as an electrical insulator and for chemically resistant linings. A reddish colour was used for denture plates until superseded by celluloid and acrylic. Then in 1930 a reddish material rippled with black was popular for fountain pen and pencil barrels. Since the 1930s however Vulcanite has been based wholly or partly on various synthetic rubbers rather than natural rubber.

An example of Vulcanite

So today the best test for Jet is to heat a needle and hold it to the back of the piece. If its real nothing will happen, plastic will bubble and smell. A more dramatic and of course destructive test is to hold the Jet in a flame where it will give off a greenish flame with sooty smoke, plastic will just melt. Make sure you wear safety glasses and use tongs, because if the Jet you're testing is Glass it will certainly explode.

Ok so now I'm off to test one of my Jet Beads, so which test will I use...humm. I'll let you know the outcome.

Ed.. ok it could be Jet I used the porcelain scratch test and it left a choc brown line, but is might also be dyed plastic. So will try the heat test next.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Noosa style themes

Just finished this painted canvas with a few little bits and pieces I picked up at Noosa on the weekend. The starfish, shells and flowers were a bargain, from the local hardware store. I was a bit annoyed that the two market stalls I really wanted to visit weren't even there. I figured the stallholders stayed away because of the rain, pity cause it had fined up by 8.00am, but then again, by noon it was steaming hot. The temperature was reported as 26 degrees C, I have to dispute that, it was more likely over 30 degrees.

Not sure where I'll hang this one yet, it really wasn't mean't to match the bedroom, but I decided to use up the paint I had left over from the other seaside themed canvas paintings I completed a few days back.

Here's a pic of the newly renovated bedroom, apologies if some of the photos are a little dull, but its been raining cats and dogs here in Brisbane for the last few days, so no sun to help with the lighting.

and another angle

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lets talk about Butter Jade "Butterstone"

This is the next stone in my series on interesting yellow toned semi previous stones. So far I've looked at Amber and Citrine, both extrememly interesting in their own right, but hey, aren't all gemstones interesting?

Butter Jade is not actually Jade, but is another of those stones not unlike Amber in that it is known to contain evidence of the first life on earth in the form of micro fossils - Stromatolites of Blue Green Algae. These fossils predate dinosaurs by 2500 million years and signify the development of life as we know it.

Apparently it is a great stone for carving and there is much evidence of this found in South Africa where it is mainly found. It is a stone that is often Cabbed to, so a great material for those jewellery makers who adore working with seed beads.

Other names for Butter Jade are Butterstone and African Jade.
It is supposed to to bring good luck and is also good for helping accept one’s life path as well as being excellent for self-realization and acceptance. It promotes clear thinking and aids in decision making.

Recently I incorporated some Butter Jade in a piece of Jewellery I made. At the time I wasn't really familiar with the stone, but thought it looked like such a wonderful soft colour. Since doing some research on the stone I have become interested as to why my Jade has white inclusions, surely this can't be blue green algae. If anyone can answer my question I've love to hear from you. I guess its possible that my beads came from a different area to the orignal location.

The pic is of the stones that were sold to me as Butter Jade.