Don't Miss This: The Sun Will Morph Into a Diamond Ring on August 21

On Monday, August 21, skygazers from Salem, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., will see a rare total solar eclipse and — for just a brief moment — a fantastical celestial display that looks remarkably like a diamond ring.

The "Diamond Ring Effect," which was first explained by Francis Baily in 1836, occurs when the moon completely masks out the sun during a total solar eclipse. Due to the rugged lunar landscape, the black outline of the moon is not smooth. Tiny beads of sunlight can still shine through in some places and not in others as the moon slowly grazes past the sun.

These are called Baily’s Beads. When only one dazzling “bead” remains, momentarily, the view of the eclipse resembles a diamond ring. The ring’s glow is produced by the sun’s corona remaining dimly visible around the lunar silhouette.

The Diamond Ring Effect will actually happen twice on August 21. The first time will occur in the moment just before the total eclipse, and the second will occur just after the total eclipse. The so-called Great American Solar Eclipse will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and effectively turn day into night.

NASA warned that skywatchers should NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. Only during totality, when the sun's disk is completely covered by the moon, is it safe to view the eclipse with the naked eye, says NASA. Learn more about solar eclipse eye protection at

During the solar eclipse, the moon's shadow will pass over all of North America. The path of the umbra, where the eclipse is total, will stretch on a bent path from Salem on the West Coast to Charleston on the East Coast. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States in 38 years. The next total solar eclipse will take place in North America on April 8, 2024.

Credits: Image by Lutfar Rahman Nirjhar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Found in Only One Location on Earth, Tanzanite Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

It was exactly 50 years ago when a prospector named Manuel d’Souza got his first look at a cluster of intense blue crystals that had been discovered by a Maasai tribesman in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

At first glance, the crystals appeared to be sapphires. But a hardness test quickly ruled that out.

According to one published account, the somewhat perplexed prospector checked the characteristics of his samples against a resource guide and narrowed down the possibilities. Might they be olivine, or dumortierite, or cordierite or zoisite? The prospector took his best guess and registered an "olivine" claim with the Tanzanian government in the summer of 1967.

Later, the Gemological Institute of America revealed that the stones were, in fact, a never-before-seen variation of zoisite. To this day, a 2km by 4km area in Tanzania is the only place on the earth where this type of zoisite can be found.

The gorgeous blue mineral quickly caught the attention of Tiffany & Co., which wanted to feature the gemstone in a broad-based advertising campaign. The only problem was that the name "zoisite" sounded very much like "suicide," and that wouldn't do. So, the marketing team at Tiffany decided to promote the gems as “tanzanite,” a name that would honor its country of origin.

Tiffany’s marketing campaign earned tanzanite the noble title of “gem of the 20th century” and, in 2002, the American Gem Trade Association added tanzanite to the jewelry industry’s official birthstone list. Tanzanite joined turquoise and zircon as the official birthstones for December.

The most valuable tanzanite gemstones display a deep sapphire blue color with highlights of intense violet. The Smithsonian's website explains that tanzanite exhibits the optical phenomenon of pleochroism, appearing intense blue, violet or red, depending on the direction through which the crystal is viewed.

Tanzanite rates a 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. By comparison, diamond rates a 10 and sapphire rates a 9.

A Maasai folktale recounts how tanzanite came to be. Once upon a time, the story goes, lightning struck the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, scorching the land. In the aftermath, a spectacular blue crystal was left shimmering in the ashes.

Tanzanite continues to shimmer in jewelry stores around the world as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Credits: Photo of tanzanite crystals by Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of tanzanite jewelry by Mark Schneider (Award collection from Mark Schneider) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

MIT's 'Living Jewelry' Is the High-Tech Version of Mexico's Maquech Beetle

With a nod to the Maquech Brooch — a live beetle jewelry accessory famous on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula — students at MIT have invented tiny robot crawlers that can move across garments as “shape-changing and pattern-changing jewelry."

Developed by the MIT Media Lab, "Project Kino" employs palm-sized robots that affix to clothing using magnets. The robots ride on wheels and are cloaked with colorful shields that can serve aesthetic and practical functions. The phrase "kino" is shorthand for "kinetic wearables."

In one scenario, bots placed on the front of a dress can alter their positions in an odd bot ballet that give the garment an ever-changing look. In a second scenario, a bot fit with a microphone senses a phone call and quickly migrates to the top of the garment so the user can use it to chat with a caller. In a third scenario, the bots' temperature sensors trigger a response to pull down a hood's drawstrings.

Currently, MIT engineers are working through some technical challenges, such as extending the bots' battery life, which now stands at about 45 minutes, and making them less clunky.

“We’re thinking of wearables as a personal assistant,” team member Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao told TechCrunch. “We think in the future, when they can have a brain of their own, they can learn your habits, learn your professional style, and when they get smaller, they can blend into the things you wear.”

Back in the Yucatan, the wingless Maquech beetle has been a favorite of tourists for decades. The bejeweled bug crawls on the wearer’s shirt within range of its three-inch-long chain “leash” that’s attached with a decorative safety pin.

The bugs don’t seem to mind having baubles glued to their backs, and they generally live for up to three years on a diet of apples and wet, rotted wood.

The Maquech beetles have played a romantic role in Yucatan foklore. According to legend, a Mayan princess fell in love with a prince from a rival clan. This was not permitted, so when they were discovered, the lover was sentenced to death. Recognizing their plight, a shaman changed the man into a shining beetle that could be decorated and worn over the princess’s heart as a reminder of their eternal bond.

Tourist shops in the Yucatan have been selling Maquech jewelry since the 1980s. The glittery crawlers cost about $10, but tourists are prohibited from bringing them into the U.S.

The video below offers a quick overview of "Project Kino."

Credits: Screen captures via

Music Friday: Emmylou Harris Would 'Proudly Wear Your Wedding Ring' If She Could Only Win Your Love

Welcome to Music Friday when we often bring you throwback tunes with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, country legend Emmylou Harris pledges eternal devotion to a noncommittal beau in her 1975 hit, "If I Could Only Win Your Love."

In the song, Harris focuses on a very significant piece of jewelry while making the case for why her love interest should take the plunge.

In the very first verse, she sings, "If I could only win your love / I'd make the most of everything / I'd proudly wear your wedding ring / My heart would never stray one dream away."

Originally written and performed by The Louvin Brothers in 1958, "If I Could Only Win Your Love" became a country hit 17 years later when Harris included it on her highly praised Pieces of the Sky album. The song shot to #4 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and earned the #1 spot on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.

Throughout a stellar career, which has spanned six decades, Harris has maintained a soft spot in her heart for The Louvin Brothers' tune. While introducing the song in the video, below, Harris calls it her "first single." This is significant because Harris would go on to release 70 singles, 26 studio albums, three live albums and 11 compilation albums. She has won 13 Grammys and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Now 70 years old and still touring internationally, Harris was born in Birmingham, Ala., to a Marine Corps officer dad and wartime military mom. Her dad endured 10 months as a prisoner of war in Korea when Emmylou was just five years old. She spent her childhood in North Carolina and was the class valedictorian of her high school. Later, she dropped out of college to pursue a music career in New York City. She worked as a waitress during the day and performed in Greenwich Village coffeehouses in the evening. She recorded her first album, Gliding Bird, in 1969.

Please check out the video of Harris' performance of "If I Could Only Win Your Love." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"If I Could Only Win Your Love"
Written by Charlie and Ira Louvin. Performed by Emmylou Harris.

If I could only win your love
I'd make the most of everything
I'd proudly wear your wedding ring
My heart would never stray one dream away

If I could only win your love
I'd give my all to make it live
You'll never know how much I give
If I could only win your love

Oh how can I ever say
How I crave your love when your gone away
Oh how can I ever show
How I burn inside when you hold me tight

If I could only win your love
I'd give my all to make it live
You'll never know how much I give
If I could only win your love

Oh how (oh how)
can I ever say (can I ever say)
How I crave your love when your gone away
Oh how
can I ever show
How I burn inside when you hold me tight

If I could only win your love
I'd give my all to make it live
You'll never know how much I give
If I could only win your love

Credit: Screen capture via

Russian Mining Giant Trumpets Its Big-Diamond Cutting Prowess With the Unveiling of the 51-Carat 'Dynasty'

Russian mining giant Alrosa trumpeted its big-diamond cutting prowess with the unveiling of The Dynasty, a 51.38-carat round brilliant-cut sparkler.

The 57-facet, D-color, VVS1 gem is the largest of five polished diamonds all culled from The Romanovs, a 179-carat rough stone recovered from the Nyurbinskaya kimberlite pipe in the Russian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in 2015. The cutting and polishing process took 18 months. All five stones will be offered for sale during an online auction in November.

The polished diamond collection, which is also called The Dynasty, represents a new initiative for the mining company, which produces more diamonds (in carats) than any other mining company in the world. Alrosa's cutting division is stepping up its game in the arena of extra-large and colored diamonds.

“The creation of The Dynasty was of great importance," noted Pavel Vinikhin, Director of Diamonds for Alrosa. "This stone gives a start to a new stage in the development of Alrosa’s cutting division. The Dynasty demonstrated that we can do it at the highest level. We work a lot on the technique, combining modern technologies with the secrets of jewelers of the Russian Imperial Court."

Alrosa named the collection The Dynasty to revive the traditions and memory of renowned Russian jewelers, who were famous for their craftsmanship and filigree. Russia’s first cutting and polishing factory was founded by Peter the Great early in the 18th century.

Other diamonds in the collection are named after the dynasties that played a crucial role in the development of Russian jewelry. A 16.67-carat round brilliant-cut diamond, the second by weight, was named The Sheremetevs. The Orlovs is a 5.05-carat oval diamond. The Vorontsovs is a 1.73-carat pear-shaped diamond and The Yusupovs is a 1.39-carat oval diamond.

Credits: Images courtesy of Alrosa.

Spinel — the New August Birthstone — Has Been Fooling Royalty for Centuries

Fourteen months ago, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and Jewelers of America (JA) announced that spinel — the great imposter — would be joining peridot as an official birthstone for the month of August. It was only the third time in the past 105 years that the modern birthstone list had been amended.

The industry associations noted at the time that they were responding to a strong call from gem enthusiasts to expand the list of official birthstones. The spinel was designated for August because of its historical significance and its rich, red color.

Spinel has been called “the great impostor of gemstone history” because some of the most famous “rubies” seen in crown jewels around the world are actually spinels. According to the Smithsonian, it wasn't until 1783 that spinel was recognized as a mineral distinct from corundum (ruby and sapphire). Ruby is composed of aluminum oxide, while spinel is made of magnesium aluminum oxide. Both get their reddish color from impurities of chromium in their chemical structure.

For centuries, royal jewelry "experts" could not tell the difference between a ruby and a spinel.

For instance, the 398-carat ruby-red gem that tops the Imperial Crown of Russia commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1763 was thought to be a ruby, but turned out to be a spinel. The 361-carat Timur Ruby, which was presented by the East India Company to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1851, was also later identified as a spinel. And the 170-carat Black Prince Ruby, which is prominently displayed on the Imperial State Crown of England, was, in fact, an uncut spinel.

While spinel is best known for its ability to imitate the color of ruby, the gem comes in a variety of vibrant colors, including soft pastel shades of pink and purple, fiery oranges, and cool hues ranging from powdery gray to intense blue. It is a durable gem with a hardness of 8.0 on the Mohs scale. By comparison, diamond rates a 10 and ruby rates a 9.

Shown in the image, above, are three spinels from the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The first and third gem were sourced in Sri Lanka and weigh 22.2 and 29.7 carats, respectively. The spinel in the center is from Myanmar and weighs 36.1 carats.

The bracelet shown here contains 98 natural spinel crystals set in a double row in yellow gold. The stones were sourced in the Mogok region of Myanmar and the piece is currently part of the National Gem and Mineral Collection.

Myanmar is known to produce some of the most beautiful spinels — especially the pink, red and orange-red varieties. Spinels are also mined in Afghanistan, Brazil, Cambodia, Kenya, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam.

Credits: Gem photo by D. Penland/Smithsonian. Bracelet photo by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.

Hawaii’s Amazing Green Beach Is Blanketed With Olivine Crystals Eroded From an Ancient Volcanic Formation

Imagine walking barefoot on a blanket of sparkling green sand that owes its astounding color to olivine crystals eroded from an ancient volcanic formation and delivered to the shore by ocean waves.

Mahana Beach on Hawaii’s Papakolea coast is one of only three green sand beaches in the world. The beach sand on the Big Island’s undeveloped southern tip is rich in the mineral olivine (Gem-quality olivine is known as peridot, the August birthstone). Olivine is a common mineral component of Hawaiian lavas and one of the first crystals to form as magma cools.

Locals refer to peridot as the “Hawaiian Diamond,” and small peridot stones are sold as “Pele’s tears” in honor of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. In ancient Hawaiian chants, Pele was described as “She-who-shapes-the-sacred-land,” and her temper was known to be both as abundant and dangerous as the lava.

Those daring enough to take the three-mile hike through lava fields to the remote beach at the crescent-shaped bay of Pu’u Mahana, will be treated to a display of one of nature’s crowning achievements — a green beach that appears surreal against the backdrop of steely grey cliffs, turquoise blue ocean and bright blue sky. The hike will take about an hour, but locals offer rides to the beach in the back of a pickup truck for $15 in each direction.

The abundance of olivine crystals filling the beach comes from the eroded cutaway interior of Pu’u Mahana, a volcanic cone produced more than 49,000 years ago by the explosive combination of lava and groundwater. Once you've enjoyed the wonders of Mahana Beach, you can complete the green-beach trifecta by visiting the world's other two olivine-covered destinations — Talafofo Beach on Guam and The Green Beach on Floreana Island in The Galápagos.

The official birthstone for August, peridot is one of the few gemstones that occur in only one color: generally an olive green. The amount of iron in the crystal structures determines the intensity and tint of the green color. Specimens can range from yellow-green through olive green to brownish green. The dark-olive color is the most valuable.

Credits: Papakolea beach by jonny-mt (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Faceted peridot by DonGuennie (G-Empire The World of Gems - Die Welt der Edelsteine) (Own work [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Sand closeup by Siim Sepp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Handfuls of sand by Tomintx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.