Wondering about metal allergies?

Let's talk about jewelry, skin, and metal allergies. We frequently hear these concerns!

Skin discoloration

To begin with, not all skin reactions are actually allergies. Some metals, particularly copper or metals that contain copper, such as bronze, may cause skin that is in contact with the metal to turn green or greenish. The residual copper chloride is due to a chemical reaction between the metal and natural acids in our skin or cosmetics. Tarnish on silver may also rub off and leave a blackish residue on the skin but neither of these indicate an allergic reaction, and the color will easily wipe or wash off.

This person was wearing a lot of lotion and a lot of bronze jewelry at all once.

This person was wearing a lot of lotion and a lot of bronze jewelry at all once.

We've all been there! We tend not to carry copper or bronze jewelry at Grimball Jewelers but once in a blue moon we do get small collections in -- and antique pieces, especially Victorian items, may sometimes be made with a larger amount of copper.

To prevent skin discoloration, try to be careful about wiping your jewelry clean with a soft lint-free cloth and avoid exposing items to water or lotion. Most designer copper jewelry is gold or rhodium plated and a lot of our silver jewelry is, too. But reactions may occur if the plating starts to wear. We can re-plate those pieces for you if that happens -- it tends to be more a problem with favorite pieces that are worn very frequently. Not an ideal solution, but you can also periodically coat earring posts and the inside of rings with clear nail polish.


Hypoallergenic is an unregulated term that simply means that something is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or may cause a ‘slight’ reaction. It is applied to many items including fabrics and cosmetics, and within the jewelry industry, it is most often associated with surgical stainless steel.

Both stainless and surgical stainless steel have small or trace amounts of nickel and may cause reactions on rare occasions. Stainless steel is required in commercial food preparation, and surgical stainless steel is used in biomedical applications (such as temporary implants). Very low nickel or items with nickel free plating may also be designated hypoallergenic.

Here is just a tiny selection of the surgical stainless steel pieces that we can special order for you with about a one week turnaround.

Nickel free

Nickel free items are those made of metals that have no nickel in them such as platinum, titanium, tungsten, or cobalt. Specially produced alloys and palladium are also nickel free, as are non-metal items such as ceramic, which can be a satisfying solution for people who can’t tolerate metal at all.

Here are some interesting and varied examples of items that we can special order that have no nickel at all.  Just ask!

On jewelry worn by the Vikings

Ever find yourself wondering about Viking jewelry?
Me too!!

The Viking were the seafaring peoples of Scandinavia in the early medieval period. They were skilled metalworkers and attached a high importance to precious metals. Gold jewelry showed status and success as a trader and a raider -- and was worn by both men and women. They often used their jewelry as currency.

Twisted metal

The twisted shape of the rings shown here is frequently seen in Viking designs not only for finger rings but also in arm or neck rings. There could either be a simple gold twist or a more complicated form made of plaited gold wires.

These examples are from London's Victoria and Albert Museum and Les Enluminures.

Valkyrie pendant

Next up is a little Valkyrie pendant that was found in Denmark just a couple of years ago by an amateur archaeologist using a metal detector. It is the only known three-dimensional Viking-age valkyrie.


Literally "choosers of the slain," valkyries were imagined as terrifying spirits of war and companions of the god Odin. They ushered dead warriors from the battlefield to Valhöll, the hall of the slain (called Valhalla by the Victorians).

The thumb-sized figurine is made of gilded silver, with some black niello inlay decoration. The pretty little valkyrie is sturdily dressed, armed with a double-sided Viking sword and a round shield, her hair neatly twisted into a long ponytail forming a loop, suggesting it may have been worn as a pendant.

Her survival is something of a miracle: the lower legs and feet are missing, and it was found among fragments of scrap metal, so somebody may have started to chop it up to be melted down to extract its silver content.

The Hiddensea Hoard

Several hoards of Viking jewelry and artifacts have been unearthed over time and one of the most incredible is the Hiddensea Hoard. This hoard, found more than a century ago, was recovered on the island of Hiddensee, near Rügen off the northern coast of Germany. The impressive ornaments – a neck-ring, a brooch, 10 pendants and four spacers – were probably made in Denmark in a royal workshop. Seven similar cross pendants, of the same type but made of silver, were found at the Mikhailovsky monastery, in Kiev, as part of a large hoard of jewelry from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Thor's Hammer

Several of these relics have been found and are known as the Mjöllnir amulets. They appear to depict hammers, which historians have linked to the Norse god Thor. However, they could never be completely certain the pieces actually DID represent Thor's Hammer.

Image from the National Museum of Denmark.

Image from the National Museum of Denmark.

But a few years ago one was found in Købelev, on the Danish island of Lolland,. It was the first one to be discovered with an inscription. The runic text reads “Hmar x is”, which translates to “this is a hammer."

This amulet was cast in bronze and probably plated with silver, tin, and gold. It is approximately 1100 years old.

According to the National Museum of Denmark, this is the only hammer-shaped pendant discovered so far with a runic inscription. And it tells us that the Mjöllnir amulets do in fact depict hammers.

According to Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, and the protection of mankind.


  • National Museum of Denmark
  • British Museum
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Ancient Origins
  • The Guardian
  • The History Blog


Trapiche gemstones

Trapiche-like rhodochrosite “flower.”  From GIA.

Trapiche-like rhodochrosite “flower.”  From GIA.

Trapiche is the Spanish word for a spoked wheel used to grind sugar cane. It is also a gemological term for a six-rayed spoke pattern that can occur in different minerals (best known in emeralds). "Trapiche-type" or "trapiche-like" refers to gems with a pattern that doesn't quite meets the standards for identifying a stone as trapiche. True trapiche gemstones are single crystals where the growth sectors are separated by inclusions.

Gems with trapiche patterns haven't been studied for all that long. The first mysterious six-spoked emeralds were sent to the Gemological Institute of America in the 1960s for analysis. (Before that they had been described by the French mineralogist Emile Bertrand in 1879.) But since then the family of trapiche-type gem minerals has grown to include a variety of species and morphologies. In addition to the famous and rare trapiche emeralds, adventurers and geologists have uncovered trapiche ruby, sapphire, garnet, chiastolite and tourmaline. There are also muscovite and rhodochrosite with the six-rayed pattern.  And pezzottaite!

Most of the images of trapiche and trapiche-type gemstones in the slideshow below are from the Gemological Institute of America.

Estate jewelry: The 60s and 70s

The 60s and 70s miniskirts and hot pants signaled the rebellious mood of the time and the use of unconventional materials. Color contrasts and bright opaque materials like turquoise and coral echoed fashion, while jagged contours, such as marquise-cut diamonds and prominent claw settings, challenged the flow of traditional lines. Uncut crystals appeared in jewels in organic sprawling forms.

In the 1970s attention turned East. Designs of the major houses had a distinct Indian flavor. Gold was very popular, particularly in the intricate designs of Buccellati.

Estate jewelry: The Retro era

Much of the jewelry from the Retro era was made of gold or sterling silver. For the first time in the 20th century, yellow (also rose and green) gold overtook production of white gold and platinum in the fine jewelry industry. It wasn’t because society fell out of love with white precious metals. The war effort superseded the public’s craving for them. Platinum and the alloys used to create white gold (nickel, copper, and zinc) were needed to make weapons

Retro jewelry was large and futuristic. In some ways, Retro pieces resembled the geometric jewelry of 1920’s Art Deco era. But Retro pieces were three-dimensional, not flat. Also, due to wartime scarcity, they weren’t adorned from top to bottom with glittering jewels like Deco jewelry. These bold, modern pieces went well with the masculine wartime fashions of famous designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Estate jewelry: Art Deco

This was an era of seduction!

In the Age of Speed and Speakeasies, social and political elements blended together to create an air of restlessness and recklessness. Women bobbed their hair, wore dresses up to their knees -- and did not wear corsets! In the Roaring Twenties women wore long gold necklaces, which swung with their every movement. Long multiple strands of pearls were also a must for the new flapper dress.

Clear, bold, symmetrical geometric lines with contrasting stone colors echoed the feeling and lines of the new skyscrapers. And there was also a revival of Egyptian styles.

Luxury was the key word in Deco jewelry. Many fine jewelry houses, Cartier, Boucheron, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus & Co. became famous for their opulent designs. The sleek and sexy jewelry from this period satisfied the needs of a new class, the Nouveau Riche, who desired to display their glamorous and fashionable lifestyle.

The Art Deco style emerged after World War I and dominated the decorative
arts and jewelry from 1920 through the 1930s. Art Deco jewelry suggests post-war practicality through its strong geometric patterns in bold contrasting colors.

Art Deco features include:

• Bold, contrasting colors
• Strong, geometric patterns
• Sleek, streamlined look, emphasizing the vertical line
• Gemstones including diamonds, black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, turquoise, and topaz
• Carved or cabochon-cut colored gemstones
• Primary colors in rich combinations and strong contrast

Estate jewelry: The Edwardian era

King Edward VII and his graceful wife Queen Alexandra led English society to new taste levels during the early 1900s. Edwardian jewels reflected gracious delicacy with ribbons, bows, swags, and tassels. Abundant quantities of diamonds and platinum had recently been discovered in South Africa -- these materials became the hallmark of the Edwardian era.

The strength of platinum made it possible to create pieces that resembled intricate embroidery and diamond-encrusted lace.  Millegraining was a new decorative technique that was born in this era and is a hallmark of Edwardian jewelry.

You might also hear jewelry from this period in time called Belle Epoque, which referred more generally to jewelry movements in the rest of Europe.

Estate jewelry: Art Nouveau

A very important period aesthetically and artistically, this era begins in 1890 and ends with the onset of the first world war. Art Nouveau evokes images of sensuousness, the Gaiety of Paris, Toulouse Lautrec, and silent film star Sarah Bernhardt who had an impressive collection of Art Nouveau jewelry, particularly in enamel by the Art Nouveau master, Rene Lalique.

Jewelry was often three-dimensional and sculptural -- and softened by the use of precious stones, particularly opal and moonstone. Plique-a-jour and other intricate enameling techniques gave the appearance of stained glass windows or softly shimmering waters. Nature was a major theme: trees, flowers of all species, dragonflies, swans, peacocks and snakes were some of the many natural forms reinterpreted and exaggerated. The female figure was exalted and depicted with long, flowing hair -- dreamy and exotic. Art Nouveau's design roots can be traced to a blending of Gothic arts, Celtic linear interlaces and spirals, asymmetrical Rococo curves, and other exotic influences coming from Africa and Japan.

Estate jewelry: The Victorian era

Victorian jewelry encompasses a variety of styles that were popular during the reign of England’s Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901). Here are some common identifying characteristics of jewelry from the Victorian era:

• Ornate matching sets of gemstone jewelry
• Precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise, and tortoise shell
• Sentimental or romantic symbols
• Ornamental locks of human hair
• Mourning jewelry made of jet and other black materials
• Cameos

Some Victorian jewelry idealized past cultures by reviving Greek, Roman, and Egyptian jewelry styles. Other revival themes included Gothic, Renaissance, and Archeological (inspired by ancient
Assyrian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian styles).

Buried treasure: The Cheapside Hoard

The Cheapside Hoard is a collection of jewelry dating from the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras that was discovered by a workman in 1912 while he was excavating a dark antique cellar on Cheapside Street in London. Inside a decayed wooden box a treasure was revealed consisting of more than 400 pieces of jewelry, including rings, brooches, chains, toadstones, cameos, scent bottles, fan holders, crystal tankards, and a salt cellar.

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