The A-Z of Jewelry: Q is for...Quartz

By Carol Elkins
Continuing Sotheby's series exploring the history of jewelry trends, Carol Elkins one of the most versatile minerals, quartz.

O ne of the most common and versatile of all minerals, quartz may be found in everything from chandeliers to paperweights, Fabergé snuffboxes to 10-dollar wristwatches, and, of course, jewelry. The ancient Greeks believed its purple variety, amethyst, possessed the power to ward off drunkenness and its colorless form, rock crystal, to be eternally frozen ice. Rutilated quartz, with its distinctive golden strands, has been ascribed healing qualities, including the ability to slow down the aging process. Magical or not, quartz provides ample inspiration for the jeweler.

Amethyst, Opal, Sapphire and Green Hardstone Pendant-Necklace, Tiffany & Co. Sold for $52,500.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, for example, saw quartz’s potential in the creation of his one-of-a-kind, handwrought jewels. While his early 20th century contemporaries were showcasing pearl and diamonds jewels in the “garland style,” Tiffany explored a more fulsome color palette, employing “semi-precious” stones such as amethyst and citrine to transform light in very much the same way as his legendary stained-glass windows.

Pair of White Gold, Chalcedony, Sapphire and Diamond 'Couronne' Cuff-Bracelets, Suzanne Belperron, Paris. Sold for $526,000.

Chalcedony, the translucent form of quartz, has been favored by modernist jewelers such as Boivin and Suzanne Belperron, its high luster and hardness making it ideal for carving into bold, volumetric designs. The Duchess of Windsor owned a particularly spectacular pair of Belperron cuffs fashioned from a shade of soft blue chalcedony, sometimes referred to as “Wallis blue.” Contemporary jeweler JAR has also been inspired by chalcedony, taking advantage of its endless variations in color, translucency and texture.

Chalcedony, Kunzite and Diamond Ring, JAR. Sold for $52,500.

More than just a pretty face, quartz has practical applications as well. Its chemical composition gives it the quality of being piezoelectric. When voltage is applied, the crystal vibrates at a precise frequency, allowing it to drive mechanisms such as the gears and hands of a watch.

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