(Starting with “A”)
This is the first installment of a multi part series on the etymology of some of the more esoteric, unconventional and ancient phrases in the wondrous world of precious metal and gemstone-based jewelry.
À jour – much like ‘soup du jour,’ this term is extra fancy, and extra French; it means “to the day,” and is as delicious as a lobster bisque. À jour is a type of jewelry setting that became intensely popular in the 1800’s (just like the sexy steam locomotive and the scintillating stereoscope) where the back of the piece is left open. This is so the sun can hit it with luscious light and BAM: instant solar style, as the jewel shimmers with glowing glee and bright alacrity.
À la mercure – Ok, this one can be mercurial (and lethal). Like the name suggests, we’re dealing with actual mercury here. It’s a type of ‘gilding’ where you meld gold and mercury into a deadly stew and then gently apply it to a jewelry piece (like you would with White-Out to a sensitive document). Then you burn the heck out of it with a torch or, in a pinch, a lighter with a saucy burlesque dancer etched on to it. The heat from the fire sizzles the mercury away, leaving behind a smooth golden finish (just don’t breathe while doing this, kids!)
Aiguilettes – now commonly known as the name given to Christina Aguilera’s children, aiguilettes originally referred to thin little strips of material that held ribbons in place on women’s dresses in the 1400’s. These stylishly ‘sharp’ items (derived from the French word for needle, “aguille”), became more and more fashionable and were eventually constructed from gold and featured various glittering gems. They usually appeared in pairs, forming a small “v” or “bird in the distance in a painting” shapes.
Allochromatic – just like the Allosaur that gets eaten in Jurassic World, this term has epic connotations. The phrase “allochromatic” is applied to gems that exhibit a certain color…that is not what their chemical components dictate it should actually look like, but rather a hue which is purely visible due to the impurities therein. Confused? Good. Here’s a nice example of allochroma in action: the highly valuable gemstone Sapphire. Now, sapphire is blue, right? Dead wrong! (as if you’ve been huffing mercury) Sapphire is naturally a clear gem in it’s unadulterated state. However, typically when it forms, iron and titanium particles get in there, alloying the true chemical composition. These dirty little elements are what give sapphire that azure allure we know and heart.
Alluvial – this one is a little slippery: literally. The phrase is really just an adjective meaning “deposited by water,” and in the jewelry universe this refers to precious metals (gold, silver, the Lord of the Rings ring) left behind in riverbed rocks.
Amorphous – Honey Boo-Boo and Momma June jokes aside, amorphous things have no form at all. What this means in gem terms, is that they are devoid of a “crystal structure.” Popular gemstones such as amber and opal are amorphous, making them both great gifts for someone whom you want to express the message “Our love has no…form.”
Arabesque – those who frequent hookah lounges will be familiar with the ornate and intricate style that is Arabesque. Jewelry with extensive filigreed is often in the Arabesque category, which was definitely #trending during the 1500’s with the Renaissance art crowd. Arabesque designs feature a lot of flowing flowers, hearts and in some rare cases, shawarma samples.
Archaeological Revival – this term is sort of self explanatory, but cool nonetheless. When art loving Europeans of the 1700’s began digging stuff up from the Roman and Egyptian Empires, they fell in love with the style and started replicating it like mad. Wearing a Cleopatra inspired golden asp headpiece became totally en vogue with the bourgeoisie crew.
Argentan – if you receive a shiny silver gift with an intaglio on it proclaiming this word, then you have a right to be miffed. It means that the metal is masquerading as actual silver, but, sadly, is not. This information can be extremely useful when deciding whether or not to melt jewelry pieces down into bullets to combat attacking werewolves.
Armilla – is just a super fancy word for an ‘armlet’ – a bracelet for the upper arm. These have been around since the times when people fought lions with their bare hands for the entertainment of the masses (usually on the TNT network). Roman soldiers wore these to signify rank, as well as for an excuse to show off their biceps. Today, hordes of inebriated girls wear them at Coachella.
Assay – is not that thing you had to write to get into college. Assay is the procedure that jewelry items undergo to analyze the precise content of the precious metal they contain. The results are often stamped right on the little guys (ie – “24 kt gold” or, in some less than fortunate cases, “100% tin foil”).
Asterism – akin to the mighty asteroid, soaring through the cosmos, the concept of asterism is equally ephemeral and can scorch you if you attempt to grasp it. …Well, not really. It just signifies a star-like shape that forms when light hits certain, inclusion laden gems and then reflects out in said stellar fashion. Basically, it’s like looking at a jewel-born asterisk*
Aventurescence – if you are a gem and you possess this quality, it means you are ready for adventure! …Or something to that effect. When stones have aventurescence, they have an entirely unique brand of sparkle to them. Gems that exhibit this property are chocked full of various mineral inclusions that are too hard to spell or pronounce (and in some cases, sound completely inappropriate). Not a believer? Just try to say “fuchsite” in polite society and see what happens.