The Names of Things

We all love gemstone jewelry! And radiant Austrian crystal? Adore it! But, for those of us who are jewelry designers without a degree in geology, physics, or optics, we might wonder: how can I describe this glorious object properly to a potential customer?

image via Hasan Albari

“Getting red carpet jewellery right, to me, is a matter of physics.”
The Telegraph

Nadja Swarovski

Granted, most of us who design jewelry and advertise it on instagram aren’t designing for red carpet customers. Still, we want to know what materials we’re working with, and we need to sell it authentically. Lately, in writing up product descriptions of jewelry for my website—and wanting to be as informative as possible—I have had to look up various words and terminology to make sure of what I was writing.  Or how to pronounce it. Or describe it so it sounds pretty. Or, is this a “natural” stone? And then to wonder how much information is too much.

Is this quartz tourmalinated or rutilated?

Brecciated? Irradiated? Cabochon? Chatoyancy? Electroplated druzy? What is a Herkhimer?

Is this a true color?”, your client wants to know. 

Surely this last question (one would think) is a safe one?

‘In a sense, humans alter all gem materials after they are found in the earth in order to prepare them for use in jewelry. Natural gem crystals are transformed from their rough crystallographic form into the shapes, outlines, and degrees of polish in the gemstones that we appreciate and wear in jewelry.’

Gems International

When it comes to “natural” color of a gemstone, putting aside the typical scientific answers such as mineral impurities, atomic structure, chemical composition and light spectrum, and various other “natural” occurrences that can mean the difference between a ruby and a sapphire, you could also find yourself in a discussion of particle accelerators and radioactive isotopes and begin to feel like you’ve wandered on to the set of a Dr. Who movie.

“What color would you like that stone, madam?”

Yes, with the handy assistance of a nuclear reactor, you can actually turn a colorless diamond green. Does that render it radioactive? I’m afraid so. But keep reading!

‘Irradiation has enabled the creation of gemstone colors that do not exist
or are extremely rare in nature.’


Needless to say, we’ve strayed far from customer questions such as:

“Can this be worn with jeans”?

this would be such a fun customer to design for!

The truth is, beyond the driving force of fashion, the world of gemstones is actually a world of science, technique and process. The process can come from natural earth resources—such as the terms suggested by brecciated or metamorphic, or it can come from the scary strange and manmade application of zaps, blasts, beams, and radiation.

But say rondelle, rivoli, or briolette, and at last we’re on familiar ground. Even though, technically, we aren’t speaking English. These are terms that come to us via old French or nouveau Italian. The problem is, our customers may still not understand what we’re talking about.

A beautiful way to showcase the difference in shape between a rondelle (on the right) and a briolette (on the left). Jewelry by @madrinasofiajewelry

A Wee Bit of a Glossary

Here are just a few descriptions of what we encounter in the gemstone world. Depending on the style of jewelry you create you’ll find some of these more interesting than others. I’ve also added crystals, because between bicones, rivolis, aurora borealis finish, and more, they certainly come in for their fair share of the glittering spotlight.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but if you’re interested in expanding your knowledge on the subject, I’ve provided links.

Did you know that Marilyn Monroe’s “diamonds” in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend were actually Swarovski crystals? Read more here.

Gemstone Irradiation:
Wikipedia has a lengthy article devoted to this subject.

‘The gemstone irradiation is a process in which a gemstone is artificially irradiated in order to enhance its optical properties. High levels of ionizing radiation can change the atomic structure of the gemstone’s crystal lattice, which in turn alters the optical properties within it. As a result, the gemstone’s color may be significantly altered or the visibility of its inclusions may be lessened. The process, widely practised in jewelry industry, is done in either a nuclear reactor for neutron bombardment, a particle accelerator for electron bombardment, or a gamma ray facility using the radioactive isotope cobalt-60. Irradiation has enabled the creation of gemstone colors that do not exist or are extremely rare in nature.’

IRRADIATION: ‘Exposure of a gem to an artificial source of radiation to change its color. This is sometimes followed by a heat treatment to further modify the color. This second step also known as a “combination treatment”.’ For more read the Gems Internation article here.

‘Irradiation, particularly when done in a nuclear reactor, can make gemstones slightly radioactive, so they are typically set aside for a couple of months to allow any residual radioactivity to decay.’


Color is much more complicated than I thought! We need something pretty to look at after that revelation. How about Audrey Hepburn?

Audrey Hepburn,
in Breakfast At Tiffany’s,
wearing a Swarovski crystal tiara.

Rivolis are a fascinating cut of glass crystal, designed to reflect the most amount of light and sparkle. And nothing delivers more of that than the Swarovski rivolis. The most beautiful and light reflecting crystal come from Swarovski, the famous Austrian producer of lead glass crystal.

But it is lead oxide in the crystal that reflects the most amount of light. In fact, crystal isn’t crystal if there is no lead oxide. By today’s industry standards, the glass crystal must contain at least at least 24% lead oxide to be called crystal; otherwise the term is crystal glass or fancy glass.

“Lead content makes crystal dense, providing a much lighter index of light refraction (refractive index) than normal glass, and consequently much greater “sparkle”, exceptional colour and brilliance.”

Gurasu Fine Crystal

Here’s the good news: companies like Swarovski have been producing lead free crystal glass since 2012. The bad news is: vintage swarovski crystals, or anything pre-2012, will contain small amounts of lead. If you’re a jewelry designer like me–who delights in sourcing authentic vintage materials, such as pre-WWII German glass crystals, or vintage Swarovski rivolis from the ’50’s–this is a concern.

Is this a potential health problem? Not likely, the experts tell us, for the main way that lead comes into the body is through inhalation or ingestion. Still, it is recommended by all producers of crystal glass components that children should not be allowed to play with them!

Okay, back to the pretty part! We’ve been talking about rivolis, but what ARE they? From comes this description: 

‘A shape of bead that consists of two short wide cones stuck together at their bases (like a flying saucer). In other words, they are round and come to a point in front and back. They do not have holes, so to incorporate one in jewelry you need to have a setting for it, like a cabochon.’

Cabochons are explained below; but one thing to remember about rivolis is that the curious shape is designed to reflect the most light from the faceting. As well, they are often foiled at the back (notice in the picture below) to enhance that effect. If you shop for vintage rivolis keep in mind that any scratches on the back foiling will be evident from the front, and will mar the sparkle of the piece.

the curious shape of a rivoli: image via Rings n Things

‘The shape cabochon (KAB-oh-shon) refers to a piece of gemstone (or other material) which has been shaped and polished, instead of faceted. Such stones have a domed front surface and a flat back. (This information is courtesy of Fire Mountain Gems.)

The key term here is “flat back”, which means it can be glued securely to a surface–usually a special stitching medium, leather or fabric–and then embellished with a bezel of other beads, such as shown here.

A gorgeous example of a turquoise cabochon that has been surrounded by a stitched bezel of beads; from Jennifer of StonenWire Studio

‘”Brecciated” comes from “breccia“–a geology term [derived from Italian] used to identify rock composed of broken fragments cemented together into a fine-grained matrix. Brecciated jasper is made when the earth melds sharp-angled fragments of stone together, just like a hearty stew includes carrots, potatoes, onions and other chunks in a lentils base.’ Fire Mountain Gems

I love descriptions that incorporate food. And now here is a deliciously beautiful example, from Pati of Vida Jewelry Designs, of a bracelet stack incorporating brecciated jasper beads!

Brecciated jasper, along with hematite, silver, and a focal pearl in a stunning combination!

‘In gemology, chatoyancy (/ʃəˈtɔɪ.ənsi/ shə-TOY-ən-see), or chatoyance or cat’s eye effect, is an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones. Coined from the French “œil de chat“, meaning “cat’s eye”, chatoyancy arises either from the fibrous structure of a material, as in tiger’s eye quartz, or from fibrous inclusions or cavities within the stone, as in cat’s eye chrysoberyl.’ From wikipedia.

Well, that sounds beautiful! And it is–here’s an example of a Tiger’s Eye gemstone necklace from Lucy Handmade Jewelry:

see all that “chatoyancy” there? Photo courtesy of Lucy Handmade Jewelry.

‘Simply put, an inclusion is any material that is trapped inside of another mineral while that mineral forms. For example, crystals, liquid or gas bubbles, or even fractures caused by radioactive material in the host material may comprise gemstone inclusions. Since researchers constantly discover new inclusions and varieties, a listing of inclusions can never be complete.’ Thanks to the Gem Society for this explanation.

Other familiar inclusions would include:

Moss agate inclusions: ‘Moss Agate contains sets of mineral inclusions that imitate the looks of trees, plants, and landscapes. Some moss agate inclusions are composed of manganese and iron oxide and are one of the most unique Agates available.’ More here.

Amber Inclusions:

Amber is fossilized tree resin. Therefore inclusions can include such fascinating bits as insects, tree bark or fragments of leaves.

‘The abnormal development of resin in living trees (succinosis) can result in the formation of amber. Impurities are quite often present, especially when the resin dropped onto the ground.’ wikipedia.

Inclusions (Tourmalinated and Rutilated):

‘Tourmalinated Quartz is clear rock crystal (crystal quartz) which has grown together with black tourmaline, and shows strands of the tourmaline running through the quartz, hence “tourmalinated.”‘ Fire Mountain Gems

The “Venus strands” of golden rutile inside the quartz; necklace by Heartwish Designs

‘Rutile inclusions are also responsible for the asterism or chatoyancy effects on some gemstones, such as Star Sapphire. The thin, parallel Rutile fibers that formed within the host mineral provide these unique optical effects.’ From

Herkimer Diamonds:
‘These quartz crystals are called diamonds because they have naturally developed faceting on both ends. This natural formation of the quartz crystal looks more attractive and has a bit of a diamond’s brilliance when it is polished. It is also said the people who originally discovered this quartz specimen thought of it as a diamond and from then it has acquired its name.’

‘[What makes] Herkimer Diamonds different from regular quartz crystals…? Herkimer diamonds stand apart among other quartz crystal because of their double termination trait. Yes, that’s the same characteristics which naturally provide the crystals with facets on both ends. Quartz innately appears elongated because of its hexagonal structure. And in Herkimer Diamond, this elongation becomes more apparent because of the pointed (faceted) two ends of the stone.’

We love what Melrie Jewelry does with Herkimer diamonds! Here is just one example:

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but so are a fierce pair of shoes, wine, and a weekend in Paris. Sparkle in this trio Herkimer diamond necklace without sacrificing other “best friends”.”

Melrie Jewelry

‘The briolette cut is characterised by the teardrop [or pear] shape it takes on after it has been formed. It is one of the oldest cuts in the world, dating back to at least 800 years ago and is usually used to cut white diamonds. With the briolette cut, the stone or gem can be cut into a wide variety of shapes and sizes – from slender and long teardrops to chunky and small teardrops.’

lovely gemstone briolette earrings from MVF Fine Jewelry

Druzie have been discussed earlier on this blog (see here for some beautiful examples of how this unique stone is used in jewelry) but here is an excellent description of the druzy process given to us by our friends at Dakota Stones.

Druzy agate and crystal necklace by Heartwish Designs

‘The term ‘druzy’ refers to natural, glittery crystals found on the surface of a host rock. This geological process occurs as water collects and evaporates on a stone’s surface over a period of millions of years, leaving behind mineral build up that form tiny crystals. You will find druzy mainly near riverbeds and shorelines.

‘Two processes artifically enhance the beauty of druzy stones:

Electroforming – A thin, metallic bezel is formed around the druzy to make the beads and pendants.

Metallic Vapor Deposition – The stone is placed in a vacuum chamber where a metal, or metallic salt, is heated until it vaporizes. The thin vapor deposits on the surface of the gemstone giving it a new color (or dichroic effect) depending on the material vaporized.  Although this coating is considered to be permanent, thin-film surface coatings of any kind are susceptible to scratching, particularly along facet edges and junctions. Care should be taken to not allow any hard or abrasive objects to come in contact with coated gems.’

So there you are! I hope this brief listing helps a bit. If you’re eager to read more, here is a great article entitled An Introduction to Gem Treatments, from Gems International.

But the truth is, even if I now know what a Swarovski rivoli is, and can spell it accurately, it’s still difficult to say with a straight face! One of my favorite scenes and favorite movies is in a clip below. They say that a lot of the material in the classic movie– Monkey Business– was pure improv by great comedians, Marilyn Monroe among them. I hope it gives you a chuckle. Just think …. if Cary Grant had this much fun getting Marilyn to say “terrified tissue”, imagine the fun he could have had getting her to say “Swarovski Rivoli“!