“As a jeweler I’m interested in the animation, the living legacy of objects. When my pieces are worn, they’re activated – that is, their story and felt sense of meaning are brought to life.”
Artisan and educator Sewit Sium has been crafting historically referenced jewelry for over a decade. She is driven by the idea that adornment is not solely a marker of trend or wealth, but also a valuable educational tool, reflective of history, culture, tradition, and indigenous technologies. In many instances, what we choose to wear and how we choose to wear it reflects our ancestral memory, relations, and ongoing story as people.
Sewit Sium jewelry was born to uphold this idea that fashion is language and a powerful form of storytelling. Each hand crafted piece takes us on a journey through history, while embodying a story that is relevant to our lives today. The line includes powerful amulets and talismans that anchor us in the present moment, only to say “Im here but my history walks with me.”
With an emphasis on visual political statement, Sewit’s mission is to reconnect cultural image and iconography with original context. She draws from a rich diversity of African iconographies and artistic movements from both the continent and its diaspora; each offering unique insights and stories of the world and our place within it. Therefore all designs seek to beautifully honor and celebrate the original peoples that lay claim to them.
“I’ve always been captivated by the intersection of jewelry, education, and grassroots activism. Prior to starting my business, I taught Fashion Politics and Design at various High Schools in NYC, using jewelry as an educational tool, as primary source material (like a text) to teach predominantly Black and Brown youth about their history, about the world. We had powerful conversations about where we came from, where we are now and where we are going.”
“We literally know about the world because of what was engraved and memorialized in jewelry and stone. Jewelry is the oldest form of decorative arts, a phenomenon that was born on the African continent. Without it, we wouldn’t know about ourselves. This is why I’m continuing the legacy of hand-making statement jewelry encoded with this history, culture, sentiment, and love. My hope is that people adorn and become activated and inspired by my work.”
Axum Gold Coin Ring
A large part of what we know of the Ancient Kingdom of Axum, aka Aksum (modern day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia) is engraved in gold and intricate and opulent jewelry. This ancestral knowledge is literally imbued in Axum Gold Coin Ring – in the minting and movement of indigenous currency, which has since been found as far as India.
Coral Scarab Amulet Ring
The Scarab, a beetle indigenous to Egypt, signifies life, rebirth and regeneration. The ancient god Khepri, Ra as the rising sun, was often portrayed as a scarab beetle or as a scarab beetle-headed man. Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.
All quotes and information are from Sewit Sium’s website, and Shoppe Black’s feature on the artist written by Tony O. Lawson. Images are from Sewit Sium’s website, as well as picuki.
No doubt about it, we all love jewelry! But where did it all begin?
As far as we know, the first jewelry we are aware of wasn’t even created by ‘human’ (homo sapien). Rather, by Neanderthal living in Europe. Recently, archaeologists excavated 100,000 year-old beads, made from Nassarius shells, are considered to be the oldest known jewelry.
At approximately 100,000-year-old, these shells were discovered in Israel and Algeria. This discovery suggests that modern human forms of behavior, such as language, developed earlier than previously thought. The thought process involved in making jewelry involves communication, perhaps trade, perhaps a sense of status, recognition of beauty, and so on.
There is no way to know for sure why these beads were made, who wore them and why, but if these shells could talk, I would have a lot to ask them!
Interestingly enough, June has three gemstones associated with this month. There is an odd story associated with the birthstones that is not well known among the general public. While there have always been stones associated with seasons, zodiac signs, birth totems, religious figures etc… The “traditional” birthstones we see today are actually a 1912 marketing invention. Prior to 1912, birthstones varied depending on culture and religion. There was also the issue of some stones being represented in multiple months. Pearl, for example, is a birthstone of February and November. June’s birthstones were actually cat’s eye, turquoise and agate, mainly in relation to the zodiac signs of Gemini and Cancer within the month of June. In order to “standardize” the birthstones, the National Association of Jewelers, now called Jewelers of America met in Kansas, and officially adopted the list you see today. Over the years, other gemstones were added to raise sales of that particular stone.
That’s right, there is no true reason for the monthly gemstones you see today other than to try and increase sales of that stone. Yes there is some relation to traditional stones mentioned in religious/spiritual text but that was not the focus. I find it interesting that some of the most expensive gems are birthstones over their less expensive counterparts or how some months have multiple stones if the previous birthstones were of lesser value, like June.
In the previous months I didn’t touch on this subject as most months had only one stone, with the exception of March that has bloodstone and aquamarine as its representative birthstones. Since most people are unfamiliar with bloodstone (a silicate relative of agate, onyx, jasper and chalcedony) I chose the latter. However, as June has three stones, moonstone, pearl and alexandrite. I chose my favourite stone of the three, Alexandrite.
Alexandrite is a variety of the mineral species chrysoberyl, with the chemical formula BeAl2O4 and while the name is similar to beryl, it is only the presence of beryllium that connects these two stones. The other variety you might be familiar with is the gemstone “cat’s eye” also known as cymophane. Etymologically, chrysoberyl is derived from the Greek words χρυσός chrysos and βήρυλλος beryllos, meaning “a gold-white spar”. However, the Greeks never knew of this stone.
What is so fun and interesting about this gemstone/mineral is that we have a record of its discovery, and when it became a classified mineral. Chrysoberyl was discovered in 1789 and then described and classified as a new mineral in 1790 by the German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner. This was the golden-yellow variety of chrysoberyl that many may have confused for a light coloured peridot. Alexandrite was discovered later, and originally was thought to be some unique variety of emerald. It was discovered in 1833 along the Tokovaya river of the Ural Mountains. It was described as a greenish crystal, with the strange ability to change color and appear red under candlelight. Then in 1834, the Finnish mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld had the mineral new gemstone officially classified as a variety of chrysoberyl and named the unique variety “alexandrite” in honour of the future Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
Alexandrite is identified as:
1) Orthorhombic Crystal System
2) Oxide Category
3) Simple Oxide Family
4) Mineral = Chrysoberyl – BeAl2O4
5) Variety = Alexandrite.
Now what makes alexandrite so appealing and expensive.
To date, alexandrite is among the most expensive gemstones per carat weight due to its rarity, durability and unparalleled beauty. Current prices of alexandrite place the stone from $30,000 per carat up to $60,000 per carat depending on the 4 C’s. For reference a carat is equal to 0.2g and since it’s exceedingly rare to find a cut alexandrite over 5 cts, the price jumps rapidly. Now an interesting side note, because alexandrite and cat’s eye are the same mineral you can have the two combined, which is extremely rare and pricey. With a Mohs hardness of 8.5, being only surpassed by sapphire, ruby, moissanite and diamond, this stone’s vitreous luster is quite resilient. While the stone is rare and durable, it’s beauty is what sets it apart from the other stones, mainly its ability to change colour.
Alexandrite has an interesting way of playing with physics and light. It possesses a characteristic phenomenon known as metamerism or more simply “colour change”, which is the ability to appear different colours with different light sources. Alexandrite was one of the first gemstones discovered to display this phenomenon so strongly. The stone appears emerald green in daylight and raspberry red in incandescent light. This colour change varies stone to stone and it’s all because of the presence of chromium in the mineral. The alexandrite variety of chrysoberyl results from the small scale replacement of aluminium by chromium ions in the crystal structure, BeAl2O4 as the valence electrons are similar. The presence of chromium results in an intense absorption of light over a narrow range of wavelengths in the yellow region (580 nm) of the visible light spectrum. Human vision is most sensitive to green light as it is perceived brighter and least sensitive to red light as it is perceived dimmer. When you combine the absorption of the yellow light, mixed with the colour sensitivity of the human eye, alexandrite appears greenish in daylight, as the full spectrum of visible light is present. However, in incandescent light it appears reddish as this light emits less of the green and blue spectrum and more red. Science to us, but it was magic and witchcraft to those of the past.
As alexandrite is so wildly desired there are imitation and synthetic stones to watch out for. The main stone gemmologists see imitating alexandrite is a variety of synthetic colour change sapphire with vanadium to produce a colour change. When looking to see if this stone is alexandrite or sapphire, we look for curved striae within the crystal. These are curved lines created from the process of how they make synthetic sapphire (I will go into more detail about this process next month as we discuss rubies). These imitation stones will appear more blue than green in daylight as it is oddly hard for chemists to make emerald green sapphire. When viewed in incandescent light you will see more of a purple hue than red. There is also colour change cubic zirconia that can imitate alexandrite. Again the colour is not the same and you will see that price does not match the clarity and beauty of the stone. It is important to keep the price in mind because even true synthetic alexandrite costs more per carat than the two limitations mentioned above. Interestingly, some other natural colour change stones may be used to pass off as alexandrite. Zultanite, which is a lime-green to pink colour change stone, is such a gemstone. It’s a natural stone but because of the price difference it is sometimes used to pass off as a pale alexandrite.
Synthetic alexandrite is created through a process known as the “flux-melt” process, a method that involves adding fluxes to the melt to help with lower melting temperatures and cleaner crystallization. For alexandrite the process is a bit different, using what is known as the Czochralski pull method (say that 5 times fast). In a nutshell, synthetic alexandrite is grown from a melt by lowering a seed crystal into the melt to start the crystallization process and then slowly pulled up and rotated. As the seed crystal is pulled up the melt cools and crystallizes into a clean mineral cylinder. Since all minerals carry evidence of formation within them, this process will lead to unique liquid filled feather and blebs within the crystal. There may be teardrop shape inclusions or presence of platinum crystals within as platinum is used as a flux in this process. If you have a really good eye, you may be able to see swirls within the crystal as a result from the twisting motion of formation. Natural crystals don’t have any of these features within them, Instead natural alexandrite will feature other mineral inclusions and/or very geometric inclusions and fractures filled with only water and carbon dioxide. Even though this stone has a synthetic counterpart, its colour will still appear off compared to a natural alexandrite, science has yet to discover how to make an exact copy of these beautiful gems.
Regardless, alexandrite is one of most beautiful stones I have seen. It will always be a regal stone to me and many others. Next month I dive into the reddest of the red, ruby.
Simple things can help you deal with this pandemic now that you are working from home. Nothing says more about your business than the way you present yourself. Working from home might mean that you can become lazy about how you dress.
Now that you are in front of your computer for most of the work day, talking with your co-workers and clients, your upper body becomes a very important feature. Appropriate dress is a must and a soft makeup is always a good complement.
A nice pair of earrings can soften your face and emphasize what you are saying.
A necklace is always nice, even more if you are close to the screen. It gives you an elongated neck and helps to complement your face.
Last but not least a brooch is an excellent complement for any occasion at night and day not only at night. Brooches say a lot about a person. Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State in the U.S. from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, has one of the most beautiful collections of brooches. She used them as a diplomatic tool. There were balloons, butterflies and flowers to signify optimism and, when diplomatic talks were going slowly, crabs and turtles to indicate frustration.
All the jewelry at Jewel Envy makes you look amazing.This and more is what we do!
Well, it’s a sunny Saturday. It’s not quite as warm as it has been, but it definitely feels like summer is coming, which lifts my heart! There’s been a lot happening in the world recently, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do, and it’s easy to feel like you need to find some way to contribute. This is a bit about one thing I’ve elected to participate in.
One of my colleagues sent me a link to something called the Hand Medal Project (all photos shown are from the gallery on the Hand Medal Project website).
Finished Medal example
What’s that you say? You can read some nice things about it at the link, but fit’s essentially about community recognising the amazing and vital efforts that health care workers have made to all of us during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The idea is that jewellers around the world volunteer to make little metal medals in the shape of a hand, with a little ribbon, which will then be distributed to health care workers.
There are a lot of things that appeal to me about the project. The hands are a tangible recognition from the community of contribution, as well as a memory of this period of time. I also like the idea that they will be given out to workers by their peers and own community. Of course, my secret hope is that so many people participate, and that we make soooooo many medals, that everyone who “should” get one, can have one. My personal aim is to try and devote a bit of time to them every time I’m in the studio.
It’s a longer term project-it’s not expected to wrap up until October, so still lots of opportunity to participate.
My hope is that you all staying healthy, listening to the government and healthcare experts, and following the guidance that they are recommending in this time, by being mindful of physical distancing from others and wearing face masks. Let’s all do our part to keep each other safe and healthy and keep from spreading infection. The more we do this, the sooner we will all be able to get back.
Enjoy your great Saturday, whatever you are up to!
Currently on the docket for today is finalizing details on our new outside banner. I am happy about the layout and excited to have images from almost all of the goldsmiths that work from Jewel Envy represented.
Keep an eye out for it if you are walking along Roncesvalles and be sure to drop in and say hello (at a safe distance and with a mask of course!)