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#ThrowbackThursday: A Lake Made of Summer Grass

If you’re like me, you’re old enough to remember the original Crayola Big Box of 64 Crayons (yes, it had a title, although a quick Google search tells me that “Big Box” is now used for the 96-count package, which originally came in a long flat board-game-sized tray-like box). And if you spent as much time with your crayons as a child as I did, you probably remember the color names, too.

The variant shades of green (i.e., those other than, simply, Green) were named for the natural world: Spring Green; Forest Green; Pine Green. As part of a generation (and economic class) for whom the original 8-count box was my first set of crayons, I was accustomed to palettes composed of the basic spectrum, primary and some secondary colors plus brown, black, and white. My coloring books were filled with outdoor scenes with grass shaded in brilliant green, something a few shades darker than what used to be called Kelly green (with all its Irish, or perhaps more accurately, Irish-American connotations), yet slightly lighter and brighter than the actual color of a genuine emerald.

By the time I was five or six, I’d already noticed the inaccuracy of it.

Actual grass was closer to the “Spring Green” shade of the larger boxes; so were most of the leaves on the trees. I would eventually learn other names for various shades, including those borrowed from gemstones: emerald, jade, even, once I learned of birthstones, peridot. But it wasn’t until many years, perhaps even decades, later that I learned of another green gemstone, one of remarkable clarity that straddled the threshold between Spring Green and ordinary Green, one whose hue resembled the actual greens of late spring and early summer as they appeared in natural sunlight.

It’s a stone we haven’t covered here in the past (indeed, I’ve mentioned it exactly once, and then only in passing): Chrysoprase.

And today’s featured throwback work, one from some eight or ten years ago, is built around the equally solitary example of the stone that I can ever remember Wings using. It looks very much like rare and outstanding specimens of green aventurine, those that are spectacularly deep in hue and with similarly spectacular clarity. But even the clearest of aventurine typically manifests with visible inclusions: That is, the stone itself may be translucent, but cracks, waves, whorls, or, with the deepest greens, visible bits of shimmering rutile-like glitter are visible throughout the stone’s depths. Chrysoprase, on the other hand, often manifests with relatively few inclusions, or at least with such subtle ones that it requires a close look to notice them. Such was the case with this particular cabochon.

Before we look at the ring itself, though, we should look at what chrysoprase actually is. I’ve seen it mistakenly described as emerald, jade, aventurine, even turquoise, believe it or not. But it is its own unique, and uniquely beautiful, bright green jewel.

Chrysoprase is a variety of chalcedony, which in turn is a cryptocrystalline form of silica. This means that its crystals are so fine that they are only barely visible, if at all, under strong microscopy using polarized light. This is why chalcedony variants like chrysoprase appear, to the naked eye, to be marked by such translucence and clarity. Chalcedony generally manifests in a variety of colors; what makes chrysoprase specifically green is the presence of nickel. The nickel is thought to manifest as inclusions of other nickel-containing silicates, such as kerolite. When . nickel-containing minerals such as serpentinite become weathered, or oxidized, over time (on a geologic scale), what results from the weathering is chrysoprase.

There are more opaque varieties of chrysoprase, which may contain matrix like those found in turquoise and variscite. These tend to be duller in color, more seafoam or dusty green turquoise shades than bright tones. Generally speaking, the gem-grade form of chrysoprase is the translucent variety, deemed valuable in gemological terms for the brilliance of its color and the clarity of its appearance. Shades range from a yellow-infused green that resembles peridot to duskier jade-like hues to the electric, archetypal green of the stone in today’s featured work to darker emerald shades.

This particular specimen was something special: The word I used in the previous sentence, archetypal, suited it perfectly. It was the color green as thing-in-itself, a Platonic ideal of the child of the marriage of yellow and blue. It was also relatively sizeable, a perfect high-domed oval of substance and depth.

Wings knew that such a stone needed no adornment. He crafted a stunningly simple setting and and for it, one perfect to show off its ethereal glow.

In this instance, I feel fairly confident in thinking that the work began with the stone, with the ring built around it. But the execution itself works differently, and as is the case with rings, it began with the band. He chose silver of a fairly substantial gauge, thick enough for the wearer to feel its weight without it being actually heavy. It also needed to be relatively wide to support the sizeable cabochon, not only physically but aesthetically. Once cut to size, he filed the edges smooth, then beveled them slightly; this had the effect not only of making the band more comfortable to wear, but of creating depth by doming the band’s surface ever so slightly. He then shaped it around a small mandrel, and soldered it together at the top.

Band complete, it was time to create the setting for the stone. He kept it perfectly simple, fashioning a plain sterling silver bezel of medium profile. Once filed smooth, he soldered it to the top of the band, horizontally (i.e., so that the long ends of the oval stretched from side to side above the band). Then he buffed the piece to a soft, velvety Florentine finish. Lastly, he set the stone: a perfect green jewel, like a lake made of summer grass, against the subtly arcing shimmer of the light.

The identity of the ring’s purchaser is lost to time and memory, buried now in old files long locked away. Whomever it is, she or he wears something truly one of a kind, a piece of summer itself.

~ Aji








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