Technology is wonderful. Especially when bright but otherwise bored people say ‘Hey, these zirconium ceramic ball bearings and whetstones are nearly as tough as sapphire. I bet we could make jewelry out of this stuff!’
Jewelry wonks are already familiar with Cubic Zirconium, the relatively cheap and readily available diamond-substitute gem, usually faceted and sold either clear or colored to mimic other gemstones.*
Zirconium powder can also be purified and melted with binding agents into a tough, hard, opaque ceramic (the aforementioned ball bearings). I’ve seen the jewelry results in pieces from David Yurman ($1500) or Jona ($5000).
Recently, Fire Mountain Gems got some black and white zirconium ceramic jewelry components in stock. When they had a deep sale on the 29x16mm and 13x10mm oval links, I bought. That yielded 12 of the big links and 2 of the smaller ones. For less than I’d pay for a good cheesesteak sandwich at my local deli.
Combined with matte-finished black #11 seed beads in ladder-stitched links, fire-polished Czech faceted ovals, and black nylon thread, the zirconium ceramic links made this minimal 20-inch necklace with toggle clasp. I like how the polished ceramic links have the black glitter of hematite, but much less weight. (It’s as light as a fiber art piece, honestly, with more weight from the glass.)
*About 30 years ago, when Cubic Zirconium gems (CZ) really came onto the hobbyist market, there was a mail order scam trade run by several ‘jewelers’ who would convince people they’d ‘won’ a free CZ faceted gem, for a minimal shipping fee. They even had soap opera celebrity spokespeople, which should have been an instant warning.
Sometime between 1985 and 1987 I got a mailing from one of the companies. (I’ve taken it off web links because the owner’s apparently just got out of prison on racketeering charges, with a side of witness tampering. Typical GOP businessman, alas.)
Back then if you accepted the stone and the ‘cash winning opportunity’, you’d get hounded to buy their other products. I had a pretty good idea what was really going on, so I said ‘Sure, Redacted Jewelry Company, send me my genuine fine diamond simulant!’
What I got was a pretty nice 1 carat white faceted stone for the shipping cost (not much), and a massive sales pitch for their crappy gold or silver plated jewelry settings. Because most people even then weren’t silversmiths, or knew that real silver and vermeil (gold plated silver) findings were easy to come by and easy to set with a few basic tools. Redacted Jewelry Company and I had some more go-arounds while I talked them out of a few more CZ gems (Hey, cheap CZ!) before they finally gave up on me.
What to take from this? I love technology, and I really like this necklace. Also, every new product or service has scam potential…but if you know what’s happening, you can have a hell of a lot of fun with the scammers.