In the jewelry trade there is an ugly expression, "semi-precious gemstone". The dismissive adjective "semi-precious" is used to denote gemstone varieties perceived to be of lesser value or prestige, much like the term "B list" denotes celebrities of lower calibre or lesser status. In the past any gemstone other than the traditional "Big 4" - diamonds, sapphires rubies and emeralds - could be mislabeled as semi-precious.
While diamonds, rubies and sapphires glitter and sparkle, the so-called "semi-precious gems" offer virtues all their own. Not the least of which is a nearly limitless variety of beautiful hues and rich color patterns. These underappreciated gemstones found enthusiastic supporters among the cufflink makers and wearers of the late Victorian era and early 20th century. Here are a few colorful examples from the Antique Cufflink Gallery.
Charles Keller & Company was a prolific maker of fine cufflinks from about 1890 to 1930. This pair of Keller cufflinks is set with dark blue sodalites accented with cloud-like wisps of white calcite. The gemstones bring to mind a night sky with a few wispy clouds illuminated by moonlight. Sodalite, along with lapis lazuli, was favored during the Art Deco period for its rich blue color. Charles Keller & Company also created the sultry red Carnelian cufflinks pictured at the top of this post.
If sodalite can be likened to a moonlit midnight sky, the fine bloodstones set in these late Victorian cufflinks are aptly described as glowing, hot embers flowing amid dark, cooling lava. Bloodstone is a captivating variety of the mineral quartz with a dark green, sometimes almost black, background and red flecks of iron oxide. These beautiful bloodstones are set in oval gold frames and secured by fleur-de-lys prongs. Created by George O. Street & Sons in 14kt gold, circa 1900.
Many decorative varieties of quartz were favored in gentlemen's jewelry. This pair of curved spool cufflinks by Sansbury & Nellis are set with dark brown and honey colored tiger eye's. The dramatic, rich tones of the gemstones are heightened by the rose gold setting. Tiger eye, like the bloodstones illustrated above, is a variety of quartz. A few more examples of quartz set cufflinks are illustrated below.
Sansbury & Nellis also created these dazzling white cufflinks from the Art Deco era. The gemstones are chalcedonies (pronounced "cal-said-knees"), a fine grained variety of quartz. Fine chalcedony appears to glow with an otherworldly light. The white chalcedonies set in these cufflinks have a billowy luminance reminiscent of a white fog bank just before it burns off in the morning sun. Sansbury & Nellis was one of the premier makers of fine gem-set cufflinks in the decades around 1920.
Carrington cufflinks with carved abalone dishes set with glistening white pearls. Although abalone shell is technically not a gemstone, the iridescent beauty of this "semi-precious" material didn't escape cufflink makers and connoisseurs. In this pair the dark abalone creates a striking contrast with the platinum borders and center pearls. A beautiful example of the elegant, stark designs favored in the later Art Deco period. Once again confirming that Carrington & Company was the master of understated elegance.
This pair of Victorian cuff buttons with cameo portraits (one shown) was created by Tiffany & Co. around 1875. The cameos are carved in sardonyx, a lovely banded variety of quartz with alternating layers of dark red carnelian and white or colored onyx. The cameos are set in a border of alternating rose gold and platinum dots. These cuff buttons were likely custom created for a well-healed gentleman wishing to always have a portrait of his wife and/or daughters near at hand.
in the Antique Cufflink Gallery.