The Unique Beauty Of Handcrafted Moonstone Jewelry

Posted by Mark Nielsen on

Multi-hued and translucent, moonstones seem to glow as they reflect and diffuse light from within. Though the stones come in many colors, they are all luminous like moonlight on water, and jewelers have prized them for centuries. Since ancient times, people have worn these lovely gems set in earrings, bracelets, rings, and pendants. If you are drawn to these beautiful gems, read on to learn more about them.

Moonstones Defined

Moonstones are a type of feldspar, a mineral that accounts for about 40% of the earth's crust. The gemstones also contain orthoclase and albite, which separate into thin crystalline layers. These layers reflect and scatter light so that the light seems to move across the surface of the stone. This phenomenon is known as adularescence, named for the Adula Mountains in Switzerland, the site of a historic mine. It is also a feature of a few other gemstones like opals and labradorite. Moonstones can be milky white, gray, green, pink, or brown, but their moonlight glow tends to be blue or white. If you see rainbow moonstones, be aware that they are not true moonstones but rather a variety of labradorite.

Where Moonstones Are Found

The iridescent stones are found in countries all over the world, including Brazil, the United States, Madagascar, Australia, India, and Myanmar. Though the first commercial mines were in Switzerland, today the most sought-after gems come from Sri Lanka. Moonstones from that part of the world shine with a clear blue light, and they are becoming increasingly rare and valuable. 

Moonstones In Ancient Times

The earliest archaeological evidence of moonstones in human culture dates back to the first century A.D. in ancient Rome. Pliny, a Roman naturalist, gave the stone its name, believing that its luminous quality changed according to the phases of the moon. Both Greeks and Romans associated the gem with the goddess of the moon, and Romans believed that moonstones held moonlight within their layers. Ancient Hindus had a similar belief and associated the stone with Ganesh, the moon god. In other parts of Asia, people believed that the light inside the stones were spirits of the dead.

Moonstones In Modern History

Moonstones became popular in jewelry in the early 1900s. First used only as accents, they became more prominent with the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. Rene Lalique, in particular, helped to popularize the stone by featuring it in many of his handcrafted designs. Around the same time, Louis Comfort Tiffany was also designing jewelry to showcase the gem for his father's famous jewelry store. More recently, the flower children of the 1960s and 1970s made moonstone jewelry part of their aesthetic, and the stones surged in popularity again with the New Age movement due to their perceived mystical properties.  

Beliefs About Moonstones

Throughout history, people have associated moonstones with psychic power, protection, and healing. For example, people have reported seeing visions of the future while touching a moonstone or holding it in their mouths. Long ago, sailors would wear the stones around their necks while at sea to protect them from storms and ensure a safe journey home. Many people also believe that the stones have healing properties. Some say that moonstones ease digestive problems, slow the aging process, and relieve anxiety. Some say the stones can even help to heal a broken heart.

Grading The Quality Of A Stone

When jewelers grade the quality of moonstones, they look at several different aspects of the gem. Size is one feature they take into consideration, and others include color, depth, and clarity. The cut of a stone is important as well since the right cut can enhance a stone's natural glow. Most jewelry features gems in the range of 1 to 5 carats, the ideal size for earrings, beads, and small cabochons. In general, though, the bigger, the bluer, and the more transparent a stone is, the more valuable it is considered to be. 

How Moonstones Are Crafted Into Jewelry

Polished oval cabochons are the most popular shape for moonstones, but due to their crystal structure, they can also be cut into facets, like a diamond. Because they are relatively soft, they are easy to carve and shape. However, they are also easily broken, so they need the support of setting or surrounding gemstones that are more resistant. Jewelers typically set moonstones into a gold or silver setting. Another popular material for crafting jewelry is gold vermeil, a form of gold plating that has a backing of silver.

Selecting The Perfect Pieces Of Jewelry 

Artisans have used moonstones in many types of jewelry, from whimsical man-in-the-moon pendants to polished cabochons in elegant filigree settings. If you're choosing jewelry to wear casually and often, consider pieces that have a bezel or prong setting. A strong metal setting helps to protect the delicate stone. Also, polished stones are a better choice for casual wear than faceted ones since faceted stones are much harder to repair if damaged. If you're choosing jewelry to wear on special occasions, a necklace of beads is perfect against the skin or any fabric, especially black or blue velvet.

Caring For Your Jewelry

Two of the most popular methods of cleaning jewelry are ultrasonic and steam cleaning. Unfortunately, these methods are not suitable for moonstones and other types of feldspar because the mineral can be damaged by heat. Instead, wash your jewelry in warm water with a few drops of dish detergent added. You can also use a jewelry cleaner if it is non-acidic. After washing, let the piece of jewelry dry and then buff it lightly with a cloth. Make sure that the stone is secure in its setting before wearing it again.

About The Museum of Jewelry

At the Museum of Jewelry, our mission is to keep alive the traditions of handcrafted jewelry and to showcase the history of jewelry around the world. In 2020, the Museum of Jewelry features an extensive range of artisan jewelry crafted from ethically sourced gemstones using time-honored techniques. We have thousands of designs to share, and we are always adding new finds to our collection.

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