Ravishing Rubies

Although the word ‘ruby’ simply means ‘red’ in Latin, this precious stone can be found in a range of shades from pale pink to a deep red known as ‘pigeon’s blood’. Pigeons might be surprised to hear it, but pigeon’s blood rubies are in fact the most valuable!

Rubies have been mined in Southeast Asia, particularly Myanmar, for thousands of years, and were traded to Europe along the Silk Road. They were highly desired wherever they went. In ancient India, rubies were known as the “king of gems,” and often paired with sapphires in local jewelry. Rubies were so precious in the ancient world that the writers of the Old Testament often compare its value to that of wisdom itself.

Two of the world’s most valuable rubies are shrouded in mystery. The Liberty Bell Ruby was the largest ruby ever to be mined. Discovered in Africa in the 1950s, it was carved into the shape of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to honor the Bicentennial of the American Revolution in 1976. Sadly, the jewel was stolen in 2011.

No less mysterious is the Sunrise Ruby, the most expensive ruby in the world, named for a poem written in the thirteenth century by the Sufi poet Rumi. This gem fetched over thirty million dollars at auction. It was purchased by an anonymous bidder. At this time the whereabouts of the Liberty Bell and Sunrise Rubies are unknown.

But at least lovers of rubies can always turn to the poet Rumi whose verse gave the Sunrise Ruby its name. In a poem of love and devotion, Rumi compares the purity of his feelings for his beloved to the intense, all-encompassing red of a ruby:

He says, There is nothing left of me.

I am like a ruby held up to the sunrise.

Is it still a stone, or a world

made of redness? It has no resistance

to sunlight. The ruby and the sunrise are one.

It has been over eight hundred years since Rumi wrote this poem yet rubies continue to inspire us with their ravishing beauty!

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Angelababy’s Fabulous Wedding Jewelry

Angelababy wed Huang Xiaoming in May 2015, in one of the world’s most lavish wedding ceremonies ever. The wedding banquet cost a whopping $31 million US, pushing the Kardashians into the pauper category. Angelababy wore some exceptional jewelry at the wedding, along with her lavish Dior gown, featuring yards and yards of organza and tulle.

Angelababy is a highly successful Chinese model, actress, and singer. She’s most recently known for her voice in the Cantonese version of the Disney movie Tangled, and Independence Day: Resurgence, Kill Time and The Ferryman are being released in 2016.

With all this movie star activity comes an income to match. The beautiful jewelry at her wedding was lent to her by the prestigious jewelry house Chaumet, that has been around since 1780. It was originally founded by Marie Etienne Nitot and is now owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton).

Prior to the wedding, the couple visited the Chaumet headquarters at Place Vendome in France to select the exquisite pieces. It’s not known whether Angelababy got to see her fabulous wedding band in advance though.

The Chaumet jewelry made the wedding truly majestic. From their collection was a diamond and pearl brooch, a necklace, and an antique tiara called the Chaumet Curvilinear, made with white gold, diamonds, and natural baroque pearls. These items are usually housed in their Paris museum. They were designed and crafted during the 1930s and complemented Angelababy’s youthfulness and elegance.

The Chaumet bow brooch is fit for royalty and features large oval shaped pearls and pave set diamonds. It was commissioned in the 11th century by the French noble family La Rochefoucauld. It was a perfect and auspicious choice for the wedding gown, as the bow-knot is a symbol of happiness in China.

During the ceremony she received an elaborate wedding band from the groom, with a design echoing that of the tiara. It was crafted out of platinum and features an exceptional five carat, pear shaped, diamond center stone. It has been aptly named the Josephone Aigrette Imperiale ring and proudly bears the Chaumet trademark.

Angelababy had the distinction of wearing jewelry fit for royalty at her magical wedding. Even though she had to return most of the pieces to Chaumet, she did get to take home her stunning wedding band, and the groom too!


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Tantalizing Topaz

Topaz, the primary birthstone of November, is a mineral made of hard silicate. Pure topaz is colorless and transparent but gets tinted by impurities. This often valuable and popular gem has regularly been misidentified and is sometimes confused with, the other birthstone of the month, citrine.

Topaz has been found around the Mediterranean since ancient times. It comes in several different colors such as yellow, gold, orange, blue, violet, green, pink and red. Natural pink hues are the rarest. Imperial topaz, also known as precious topaz, is the most sought after. It gets its names from the 17th century Tsars, who claimed exlusive rights to the pink topaz gemstones mined in Russia.

Blue topaz can rarely be found in nature. However, today, thanks to advancements in technology, blue topaz has become regularly available and highly fashionable. Blue topaz is usually colorless at first, and later treated with radiation to get its stable ‘sky blue’ or ‘London blue’ color.

Topaz is one of the hardest gemstones found in nature. Its stunning colors and brilliance make it understandably a very attractive and fairly afforable choice for jewelry. Fine topaz pieces can easily be washed by using warm water and mild soap.

It is believed that topaz has certain healing characteristics. It has a reputation for being a cold prevenative, encourages relaxation, restores energy and boosts creativity. It is often associated with virtues such as wisdom and courage. The ancient Greeks used it to give them strength before battle, to restore sanity and to cool down a temper.

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Precious Peridot

Peridot, famous for its stunning green hues is, along with sardonyx, the birthstone for August and associated with the Zodiac sign Libra.

Formally known as olivine, it is considered a semi-precious gemstone and mined worldwide. It is usually found in wonderful translucent green hues. In fact it is one of the few gems that basically comes in one color, green. It ranges in shades of yellowish green through to brownish green. The finest being a lime green color, originating from the Island of St. John in the Red Sea. 

The stone has been set in jewelry since the time of the Ancient Romans, although practically almost all material found on the market today is either Victorian or later. The name Peridot is thought to be derived from the Arabic word, faridat, which means gem.

The mystics believe that peridot has healing powers and is associated with the heart chakra. They are thought to strengthen breathing and promote prosperity. 

The largest cut peridot known weighs 310 carats and was found on the island of Zabargad in Egypt. It is on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, where it keeps company with many incredible treasures, including the Hope Diamond!

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Gold Is Valuable Jade Is Priceless

Over  thousands of years jade has become completely ingrained in Chinese culture, art and history and denotes status, symbolizes love, virtue, beauty, grace and purity. It is not only used to create fine objects but was also crafted into grave goods for the imperial family. 

Jade mines in China have long been depleted, but the association and love for this stone endures with the Chinese till this day. Though prized by other civilizations throughout history, no other culture can rival China for the richness and intricacy of the jade carvings found there.

The term jade is actually used to encompass two distinct stones nephrite and jadeite. Both these stones share many qualities, but jadeite has a wider range of colors. The hardness and brittleness of jade requires great skill to craft, however great intricacy can be accomplished with it. Coupled with its high luster and translucency, gemstone grade jade has always been highly sought after.

The Chinese have been working jade since the Neolithic period. Discs and tubes made of jade found in Neolithic graves are the earliest indication of this stone’s association with the otherworldly. By 200 B.C. the stone was established as an aid to immortality. In the Han dynasty, emperors were buried in jade gowns and jade cicadas were placed on dead kings’ tongues to prevent decomposition and safeguard chi or energy. During the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. to 1050 B.C), jade was used for personal adornment by kings, as well as for utilitarian and ceremonial objects. Jade knives, daggers and objects imbued with symbolic meaning like scepters have been found in tombs. Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty however, funerary practices changed and by the time the Ming and Qing dynasties rolled around, in the 16th century, the stone had became primarily used to craft objects d’art.

In the minds of many Chinese the gem of both Heaven and Earth has always been empowered with magical properties. It was considered a guardian against illness and evil spirits, which is why even babies in China are given a tiny jade bangle to wear to ward off bad luck. The gem is often referred to as a live stone due to its propensity to change color. Many believe that if the stone likes the wearer, it will grow a deeper, darker shade of green. A lot of jade pieces do indeed change color over time, and believers who wear it for protection and good luck attribute this to the absorption of bad chi that would otherwise have affected the wearer. Jade is also supposed to improve blood circulation and calm the mind. 

The lush milky stone is  seen as a metaphor for human virtues because of its hardness, durability and beauty. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, famously said “the wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth, when one strikes it, represents music. Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: “When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade.”‘

Today jade is still worn due to its auspiciousness but it is speedily finding its place in the fashion and jewelry industries. Modern pieces of jade combine both cutting edge design and cultural references to its ancient heritage.The popularity of the gem speaks for itself with a single strand, imperial green jadeite, bead necklace fetching over $9 million at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong.

Thus saying jade is merely special in Chinese culture would be a massive understatement, as the Chinese proverb goes “gold has a value; jade is invaluable.”

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest 

International Shipping – What I Have Learnt

Shipping anywhere, even locally is arguably the most ‘dangerous’ part of our trade. International shipping however is in its own league. It is cause for such anxiety and fear among some dealers that many I know, in the continental USA, will not ship abroad, period. I have found though that most of the stress, pain and suffering can indeed be minimized and this blog will try to explain how.

Though I have never been offended by my American colleagues who had fixed policies that they would only ship within the USA or Canada (alright I was once, I emailed a gentleman on Ebay all excited to bid on an item I had been looking for and asked if he could ship internationally, offering to pay a large amount to do so, the reply a single NO!) I myself have not had the luxury of being able to shrink my business world so small. I am a bit of a globe trotter and currently reside in Jerusalem, Israel, so for me to try and concentrate my buying and selling in a place with 7 million people would be rather limiting. The trial and error process of working with different shipping companies was painful but thankfully, these days the anxiety I used to have when sending or receiving parcels (especially expensive ones) has all but gone away.

In short, if you are going to be sending all over the world use a private company, be it FedEx, UPS or DHL (The Big Three). Here are the main reasons in my opinion why:

First, delivery speed all of The Big Three pretty much keep to their promised delivery time (give or take a day). This for me is very important, because when it comes to my clientele many of them are buying gifts and should items not arrive when they are supposed to, well that wonderful birthday present will just never get there (let’s not even discuss late anniversary gifts). In addition, as a seller I need my stock ASAP! Wasted days in transit mean wasted potential days for selling. Just to put things into perspective a box sent to me recently with USPS (their highest priority service with tracking and signed for) that was running late arrived after 27 working days (it on average takes 12-15 working days), a similar box sent with UPS arrived after 3 and when running late due to a storm arrived after 5. Similarly, I received a parcel recently from Royal Mail (United Kingdoms USPS equivalent). It arrived at the high end of its average time i.e. after 10 days (I happened to return the item and did so with UPS, the item arrived there within 23 hours). My all time favorite situation was a book sent with USPS that arrived here after a week and then sat in their depot for six days (after clearing customs) before they delivered it to me (they weren’t short of any information apparently there was just some “priority delay”, whatever that means).

Secondly we have the issue of tracking. when you send with USPS or Royal Mail internationally, (please understand that though I fully recommend you send with tracking and sign for, it does make the box more important to them) the tracking will not be updated regularly, especially since both of those companies (just like EMS the Israeli equivalent) outsource to a local carrier, and so the relay of information is a lot slower. It has happened a few times where I only find out two days late that they tried to deliver the parcel because I was not home or the cell phone was not provided (it should not come as a surprise that items get lost completely or for a couple of weeks often enough to matter).

Lastly, there is the matter of package TLC (tender loving care). This is a two fold matter, first you have the companies themselves, The Big Three all have their own chartered planes, warehouses, etc. meaning that during the entire process the parcel is handled by a single firm who applies its care policy up and down the entire chain of command where as the other companies such as USPS rely on foreign companies they outsource to, to uphold their standards. That USPS staff are very careful in USA does not mean their ‘ambassadors’ have the same reverence for your beautifully packed parcel marked fragile (everywhere in red!). Then there are the customs who apparently will not open a parcel being delivered by a private shipper unless the scan indicates it has illegal content, where as they will happily open parcels sent by government owned/sponsored postal companies. The logic being that the legal implications can be far worse with private companies. I have not been able to verify the last point as fact, but I will say this I have never received a parcel from The Big Three that has been opened.

But, I am sure many of you are shaking your heads, there is after all a large price difference between the private companies and the postal companies? Here is the exciting bit, if you work regularly with one of The Big Three, they will give you far better pricing. I have used both UPS and DHL often in the past but now use UPS exclusively as their bulk pricing (since I use them so often) is excellent, they pick up at my door for no extra charge and I have a dedicated relationship manager. To put this into perspective it costs me about 10% percent more than I would pay if I was sending with EMS who do not pick up. In addition I give all the vendors I buy from my International UPS number when they ship to me and I pay for shipping when it arrives this has saved me a lot of money as well since a private person sending from e.g.: California might be quoted $100 plus $3 Insurance for every $100 of declared value and I will be charged instead $45 and 1% percent of declared value Insurance for the same parcel.

As a side point, I am still shocked at times by how poorly some people pack goods, to try and save a couple of bucks by sending in a small box when the item is so valuable is beyond me. Most of the shipping companies have very strict rules about paying out insurance. The short of it being if the item can wobble inside the box, does not have at least 2 inches of padding in all directions and isn’t sealed properly you will not be reimbursed. If you hate packing let a professional do it, it is so very much worth it (anyone who has had to try and deal with shipping insurance claims knows how horribly long and bureaucratic it can be). Also if an item is heavy write in big red letters on the box heavy and the same for fragile, it does matter to The Big Three, who will toss to their co-workers seemingly small, light or not easily broke boxes.

It is becoming more and more apparent, that we live in a global village and to limit oneself to a small market is often short sighted and could be financially unwise. Many have had there own little horror stories with different shipping companies but after all has been said and done I am very grateful to have The Big Three for international shipping.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest

Royal Doulton: More Than Just Collectibles? (Part 3)

So what makes some Royal Doulton pieces more valuable than others? Like with most collectibles rarity, scarcity, quality and in some cases the subject matter.

Most of the valuable pieces were produced in very limited quantity which happened for many different reasons ranging from war putting production to a halt (like with the rare WWII pieces), copyright issues (found with productions of famous people such as the Clark Gable jug), marketing concerned an item was to costly to produce (often only after the production was already underway which sometimes meant a remodeling took place like with the iconic Pearly Boy jug or it was discontinued completely), the companies financial problems, causing the restructuring and often the discontinuation of lines, concern an item could break too easily which meant the piece needed to be remodeled (making the earlier version far more valuable) and lastly prototypes or trials that never went into production at all.

Terms are often thrown around (in order to entice the buyer) so let us define the most important ones according to the general industry standards.

Prototype: an item that was commissioned but never put into production. This term includes any piece that was not put into production at all such as John Gilpin Jug or was the item was produced but with remodeling differences from the originally proposed version. These differences could be a remodeled handle or facial changes. Very few prototypes can be taken from the original clay mold and so with early prototypes usually only one or two samples were made and later pieces anywhere between two to four samples could exist.

Design Trial: these pieces are the standard model but have a very clear design difference often with such things as flags. Where as the standard production piece might have a Union Jack flag on the trial their will be a St George Cross flag. Many design trials are unique and at the very most there can be as many as three or four.

Colour Trial: these pieces have the same model as the production piece but were painted in different colors that were never put into production (these differ from colorways that were put into production such as the Jester which was released in multiple colors each with a different production number). As with early prototypes the older pieces in color trials are usually unique where as with later trials there are usually two to three and in some cases a few more. Please note that some items, though rare, are not color trials but are just missing the over glaze (such as with white Santa jug or blue flambe Genie jug).

Firsts/Samples/Photo Samples: these were the first mock ups of an item to be put into production. They are painted with greater attention to detail and are the pieces from which the catalog photos are taken. These pieces do sell for a premium and are marked sample or photo sample.

Unique: only one is known to exist, this means that no other piece like this has come to auction or been sold to the best of the knowledge of the dealer (who has checked thoroughly with all the known authorities and the specialist auctions). The Charlton and other guides will use the term unique or one known to exist (sometimes the term none known to exist is also used when an item was put into production but is only known due to the Royal Doulton archives listing it). With early pieces it is likely they are unique and with later items as many as three may have been made (whether all have survived is another matter entirely).

Extremely Rare: this is the term generally used to describe items that were put into production but of which very few are known to exist and have not been sold at auction often enough to establish a retail price in the guides.

Rare: this is the term given to items that were put into production and more than a few are known to exist but have not come up for sale often enough at an auction to establish a retail price in the guides.

Scarce: these are items that were created in sizable production numbers but are so beloved that they seldom come up for sale (of course this is also a fairly subjective term). One such example is the Character Jug of Marley’s Ghost that was a limited edition of 2500 pieces in 1999 which is so sought after that I have seen it currently retailing for double or triple the listed book value with known Doulton sellers).

Please note that in part two I mentioned that one of the ways of identifying if an item was made outside of the factory is if the stamp is over the glaze. This is not the case when the special property of Royal Doulton stamp is used (for prototypes and other trials).

Royal Doulton sadly never kept the best records. In fact the first complete list of the HN series was only published in 1978. Prototypes and trials that were never assigned production numbers were often not recorded at all! With the closing of the Royal Doulton offices in Stoke on Trent unique and previously unknown items now need to be authenticated by known dealers and auction houses (of which luckily there are many).

It is with these rarer items that the value gains have been seen. The prices are likely to continue to rise now that the production of character jugs & figurines has been so greatly shrunk or been halted entirely. There could not be a better time to start collecting or dealing!

Many of the Royal Doulton collectors are not keen about buying items produced after 1999, In the year 2000 Royal Doulton came out with a new stamp and soon after moved production of most items to Thailand. Though some of the models are exquisite it is clear that the painting quality has suffered and many of the jugs receive a lot of transfer paint The exception is the prestige series which is still produced in the UK and done, by the very best painters, by custom order. I am personally still purchasing later prototypes and some design trials as these items were also produced in the UK and are completely hand painted.

If you intend to focus on the rarer pieces I recommend keeping in contact with known dealers or purchasing from reputable specialist auctions. Though finding three fakes every few month out of the 58000 items listed on Ebay may not seem like a lot, when those fakes are valuable pieces selling for a couple of thousand or more the experience can be quiet painful so be careful. Those looking to just find the pieces they adore that are fairly common should indeed make use of the online auctions as one can truly find bargain prices.

One opportunity I am seeing at the moment for those wondering where to start is in the earlier pieces. Focus on the rare pieces of the WWII period. Many of the estates of early Doulton collectors have been coming up for sale in the last few years and pieces that were coming up for sale once every few years are now reaching the market at a fair price and with more frequency. These include items that were produced with very special back-stamps to mark special events often in very limited productions. This trend will definitely not last as the collectors that started in the 90’s are grabbing them up. It is important to note that many of the earlier pieces though originally produced in decent quantities have been damaged, lost or destroyed over time and this only makes those still around all the more valuable.

In conclusion, Royal Doulton collectors are indeed alive and well. Those who just want to amass a lovely collection with pieces they enjoy should purchase these pieces at a fair price and understand they will likely not appreciate. As for those wanting to see steady appreciation, the focus should be on the rarer and unique pieces as these will undoubtedly continue to increase in value.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest