A couple of weeks ago I had written an article, musing on the origin of the term Cornflower to describe fine blue Sapphire. I proudly showed pictures of the beautiful Cornflowers that grow in the fields around our house every summer and had Geoffrey take a great shot of the flower amidst a selection of our Ceylon Sapphires. AGTA published the article in Prism, online.
Much to my amazement I received this e-mail from a jeweler, Wes & Gold, in State College, PA :
“I thought I'd add my 10 cents worth to your comments about the origin
of the description of a certain color of sapphire as Cornflower
Blue. The flower you show in the article is Chicory, Cichorium intybus.
The flower I know as a cornflower from my childhood in England that
is also known as Bachelor's Button is Centaurea cyanus. To me, this
flower is a deeper blue than the Chicory.
I guess it's in the same realm as Pigeon Blood ruby, but what's in a
name? They're both spectacular colors!
Sincerely, Christine Bailey”
She was absolutely right! Much to my embarrassment, since I am an avid gardener, I realized that I had just taken the farmer’s word for it, when I had been told that these flowers were Cornflowers.
After all, they were in corn fields! You can see below on the left a true Cornflower and on the right my “imposter”, the lowly Chicory.
I know realize that mischaracterizations happen all the time and not just in the gem business. What I had for twenty years believed to be a Cornflower and had always irritated me because of its Tanzanite like color, was wrong all this time. This was a salutary lesson to learn about life in general and our business in particular. We often hear about Opal being unlucky and Emerald being soft, whereas in truth neither of these “old wives tales” are correct.
Now as I drive along the country highways of Kentucky I have Christine (another Brit, by the way!) to thank as I gaze admiringly at the fields of beautiful Cornflowers………..I mean Chicory!
The story, however does not end there. The very next day I received an e-mail from a long time friend, Joe Menzie :
“The name came from synthetic union carbide star sapphires whereas all the
Various color where given different names. Cornflower Blue was given to the
Name of the top synthetic blue sapphire they produced -- my grandfather
Gave/ put all the names on each color as he was sole distributor in the U.S.A.”
So much for “cornflower blue” being a term that goes back in to the ages…………..only to the 20th Century it would seem!
Joe might well be right, for when I searched the wonderful “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones” by George Frederick Kunz, which was published in 1913, there was no mention of the term “cornflower”.
Is it possible then, that the most commonly used term to describe a gem blue sapphire was actually coined to describe a synthetic color?
Stranger things have happened………………why on earth did they make Alexandrite the birthstone for June?
Our business is wonderful………………. isn’t it?
For thirty plus years I have been bemused by some of our industry’s most commonly used descriptive terms. Especially at this time of year, I drive past fields of Cornflowers every morning and I wonder……….. how did gem quality blue sapphires start being described as “cornflower blue”?
The cornflowers that I see every day in Kentucky are really more purple than blue and would be best described as a medium Tanzanite color. So this morning I stopped at the side of the road and picked some of these natural beauties and brought them in to the office for some comparative photography. What you see below is a group of Ceylon Sapphires that range in size from 1.5cts to 11cts and from medium light to top gem color (11 cts). What surprised me is that the “color” is right, but the tone and hue is so different.
We have always had a passion for the rare and unusual gemstones and recently we have been working with a Colombian cutter who specializes in Trapiche Emeralds. In Tucson this year we saw a set of three stones that looked like Stars of David (see below). We have been negotiating with him since then and finally have the set in hand.
For the last couple of years there has been so little new gem material of ANY kind coming into the world market that when something new and spectacular appears it is hard not to take notice. The reason many of of us gem dealers have been slow to recognise the significance of this material is that it is:
a). Opal b). Ethiopian.
a). New opal deposits must always be viewed with care, because opal, alone in this characteristic, contains water and IF unstable can dry out and become very ugly! The only way to determine if a new deposit produces stable opal is to wait and observe the rough and cut stones for a significant period of time.
b). For the past ten years or more there have been several parcels of opal from Ethiopia showing up in Tucson and while they have been attractive, they have all proven to be unstable.
The opal rough coming from Ethiopia right now appears to be "bucking that trend". There is a particular personality to this material that is very unusual. It is a hydrophane crystal, which means it absorbs moisture, when it comes into contact with it. It is very important to understand what this means so that you can educate and inform your customers. Never be afraid to disclose information about gem materials, remember that an informed customer is always a better customer! Opals from Australia, Mexico and Brazil, for the most part, may loose liquid, dry out or craze, to use the industry term. Brazilian hydrophane opals tend to become crystal when immersed in water. Ethiopian opal has the opposite reaction to water. It loses its crystal nature and play of color. If the stone is stable it will dry out and return to its earlier play of color. One other major issue is that, if the liquid is colored it will alter the body color of the opal. So if you see a body color that is unusual or "too good to be true", query it's authenticity.