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#ThrowbackThursday: Winter Tears Conjure Spring Green

It snowed most of yesterday — only repeated dustings, the real danger not from accumulations but from the horizontal winds driving it. By evening, the sun had broken through the clouds, lighting up the evergreen lower slopes to the east. So much for the breathless declarations of network meteorologists that this could be a “historic storm” for the state.

By dark, the snow had returned, this time to stick, but only to the tune of two or three inches.

We awakened this morning to mostly gray skies and a white earth, but now, the fierce light of the sun has burned off all but the ring of clouds settled around the horizon. The overhead sky is a perfect clear turquoise, the light is brilliant and very warm. The snow is melting already.

This will hardly be winter’s last gasp, but it still holds the feel of a touch of melancholy, a small sadness of the season itself as it makes ready to relinquish its place here for another year. But this level of elemental emotion is hardly destructive; far from it. Winter tears conjure spring green, after all.

Speaking of tears, and of green, brings to mind one in an old series of Wings’s works from some twelve or thirteen years ago. It was very much an informal series, this particular subset comprising necklaces, and one he visited intermittently as inspiration struck. If memory serves, all of the pieces in it had sold by the end of 2008, although creation dated back to 2006 or so (which was, coincidentally, when he acquired his first digital camera and we began creating a photographic record of his work in any kind of consistent way). These involved layered bezels in a variety of geometric shapes — circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, teardrops — built around a variety of turquoise cabochons, often paired with other accenting gemstones.

And ones of my favorites was always the one that appears as today’s featured throwback work.

It was a mix of teardrops and squares, the latter turned at angles to become diamonds — in other words, Eyes of Spirit suspended in single tear, and with a single tear suspended from them. It was built around three cabochons, blues and greens in a cascading spectrum of color, with layers that added a sense of depth and critical mass.

As nearly always, of course, the execution began with the silver, but in this case, I believe the design began with the stones.

If you look closely, you’ll see why: These bezels, this entire setting, all were built, quite literally, around the three cabochons that trace down its center. The shapes are a match, and the sizes proportionate, and that’s not accidental. And in this case, Wings chose three stones ostensibly of the same family, so to speak, but very, very different in appearance. All were sold to him as turquoise, but they are unusual, to say the least.

The colors in the photo are true; the first, largest stone was indeed that striking shade of olive green. That’s not at all unheard-of in turquoise: In Nevada, the faustite-infused turquoise found at the old Damele Mine (and, to a lesser extent, at Carico Lake), often appear in shades of olive green. The difference is that in those deposits, the specimens are heavily veined and mottled — spiderwebbed with black and gray and brown and white. This stone was opaque, with a rougher texture on the surface. That latter quality could have been simply a product of the lapidary process of the stone’s cutter . . . but it could also have been because the stone might not have been turquoise at all, but something like serpentine, which often manifests in olive shades and does often present with a tightly spiderwebbed matrix. Gaspeite, too, frequently appears in such colors, but its matrix tends to be a mix of browns and off-whites.

So what was it, really?

Well, after much study, we concluded that it was indeed turquoise. The question then became: From where? It was sold to him, long, long ago, without such provenance — a very common occurrence, much more common, in fact, than with mine sourcing indicated. But there were clues.

Despite what New Mexico and Arizona would have you believe (and, to a lesser extent, Colorado), Nevada is indeed, as I wrote here nearly five years ago, “the turquoise state.” Home to a historically now-untold number of turquoise mines, the state has produced the widest array of turquoise in terms of quality, color, and appearance, and is also home to the stone’s most valuable forms. In Nevada, it’s possible to find a full spectrum of blues and greens in the same deposit; it’s also used to be possible to find greens that appear, as far as anyone knows, nowhere else on the planet. And three of those old mines, now long since tapped out, produced an array of greens that included just such an olive shade, underlit with hints of chartreuse and some of it faintly spiderwebbed with an inky blue-black: Orvil Jack, Pixie, and Stennich. You can read at greater length about all three types, as well as other Nevada greens, here.

There is also a variant of olive green turquoise found halfway around the world: old Persian turquoise, now seen mostly in ancient beads. Such specimens would be spectacularly valuable, should they appear on the open market today. I suppose it’s just barely possible that Wings acquired such a cabochon, but it’s vanishingly unlikely. This stone, although not modern in the sense of having just been cut and cabbed, was clearly a product of more recent decades — probably sometime in the latter decades of the Twentieth Century, given its more textured appearance. We concluded that it likely came from one of the three Nevada mines highlighted above — most likely the Pixie Mine, given its color and matrix.

The second cabochon, a bit smaller, was one of the reasons this piece was a particular favorite of mine: aswirl in emerald greens and inky blues, with a bit of patchy gold color here and there. It was a stunningly beautiful specimen, albeit most likely not nearly as valuable as the one above it. It, too, likely hailed from Nevada — perhaps the Royston District, long known for such a variety of colors, or perhaps from what is now called the Fox Mine, formerly the old Cortez Mine. Both Royston and Cortez are also known for producing stone with matrix that appears to float across the surface of the stone, nearly translucent. Not nearly as expensive as old Pixie would be, but to my eyes, much more aesthetically appealing.

The final stone was more straightforward, if likely as old: a clear, high-domed turquoise teardrop, just a shade off a perfect robin’s-egg blue, only the subtlest hint of extra green beneath it and more intensity in the overall shade. Plenty of mines in multiple jurisdictions can claim such color, but the matrix of this one told the tale: tiny flecks of white throughout, bits of host rock infused with the turquoise, and the faintest webbing behind it all in the striking brick-red color that is siltstone’s hallmark. Bisbee turquoise, and old stone, at that. It was the perfect complement to the other two, and indeed, the perfect punctuation mark, with the shades cascading through the yellowest of greens to pure greens and dark blues to a clear classic sky-blue turquoise.

And so, stones selected, Wings arrayed them on his workbench in descending order of size, two Eyes of Spirit of differing size and a tiny teardrop summoning, together, a bigger, bolder teardrop shape.

Now, it was time for the silver.

The pendant, ultimately, would be a setting consisting of three layers of silver, plus silver bezeling to hold the fourth gemstone layer. He arranged the stones on sheet silver in descending order, as shown, then carefully cut the silver in a single piece an eighth of an inch or so out from around them. It produced a stylized, geometric teardrop: two connected diamonds in descending size, followed by a teardrop, all in one gracefully connected piece. Once cut, he then used that piece as a template and cut a second piece from out around it, identical save for size; this second layer, again, would extend about an eighth of an inch beyond the first. Finally, he used the second layer to create a third, final tier to the setting, but this one would not be identical. Instead, while the teardrop shape at the bottom would track the other two layers, again, extending about an eighth of an inch beyond the middle layer’s edges, the center of it would be less pointed, rounding out around the side corners of the center stone. Around the top stone, he changed direction fairly significantly, sloping it gently up to a rounded top, allowing the side corners of the middle layer beneath the upper stone to extend outward slightly beyond it. It made for a spectacular sense of depth, and also provided a slight feeling of motion, of animation by spirit.

Once the three layers were cut out, Wings carefully soldered three plain, low-profile bezels into the top (i.e., smallest) layer: first a largish square, turned at a diamond-shaped angle; then the smaller square, similarly angled; and finally, the teardrop, perfectly centered. Each of the three cabochons was relatively highly domed, but not so steeply that a saw-toothed or scalloped bezel would be required to hold any of them in place. The plain, spare bezels permitted the stones and the layered setting to take center stage in the finished piece.

Once the bezels were securely in place, Wings centered the layers and soldered them together one by one, until, from the side, the pendant took on a vaguely pyramidal quality. He soldered a single sterling silver jump ring onto the back at the very top, then attached a tiny sterling silver bail, hand-cut, hand-formed, and soldered into a link-like loop. He then oxidized all of the joins between the layers and the bezels and buffed the entire piece, pendant, jump ring, bail, and all, to a shade only a hint off Florentine — slightly more polished, but still with a very softly aged appearance to it. All that remained were the setting of the stones in the proper order, and the stringing of the pendant on, in this case, an aged sterling silver rope chain.

Of the five, I believe, that constituted this particular collection in miniature, I believe this was the second to sell, although the identity of the purchase is long since lost to memory and time. It seemed a perfect progression of earth to sky, of water to life, an iconic manifestation of the way in which winter tears conjure spring green.

It was, in other words, a layered bit of silver and Skystone magic to rival that of the seasons themselves.

~ Aji








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