Friday, April 19, 2019

Music Friday Flashback: Silver Locket 'Bears the Name of the Man That Brandy Loved'

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you throwback songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, Elliot Lurie and the Looking Glass perform their 1972 chart-topper, "Brandy," a song about a barmaid in a harbor town who wears a very sentimental piece of neckwear as a constant reminder of the sailor who won her heart.

Lurie sings, "Brandy wears a braided chain / Made of finest silver from the North of Spain / A locket that bears the name / Of the man that Brandy loved."

Brandy fell in love with the sailor on a summer day when he arrived with gifts from far away. But, he also made it clear that he couldn't stay because no harbor could be his home. He tells Brandy that his life, his lover, his lady is the sea.

Since its release in the early 1970s, "Brandy" has been the subject of a spirited debate. Some music historians speculated that the hapless heroine, Brandy, is based on the legend of Mary Ellis, a New Jersey spinster who fell in love with a sea captain in the late 18th century.

She was promised marriage, and Ellis waited for her captain until her death, but he never returned. This story may have caught the ears of four students of Rutgers University, which is just two miles from Mary Ellis’s final resting place. These students ultimately became the founding members of the Looking Glass in 1969.

The story sounds compelling, but Lurie, who penned the tune, has refuted any link to Mary Ellis. The song, he said, is based on the name of his high school sweetheart, "Randy."

"Brandy" soared straight to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and has been used in the soundtracks of numerous films, including Charlie's Angels (2000).

Interestingly, "Brandy" was originally buried on the "B" side of the Looking Glass song, "Don't It Make You Feel Good." The group has to thank Washington, D.C., program director Harv Moore for giving the "B" side heavy airplay and creating a phenomenon that would spread nationwide.

Moore noted that when the Top 40 station WPGC AM/FM started playing "Brandy" in one-hour rotations for two days, "the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree."

Please check out the video of the Looking Glass performing "Brandy." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)"
Written by Elliot Lurie. Performed by The Looking Glass.

There's a port on a western bay
And it serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes

And there's a girl in this harbor town
And she works layin' whiskey down
They say, Brandy, fetch another round
She serves them whiskey and wine

The sailors say: "Brandy, you're a fine girl" (you're a fine girl)
"What a good wife you would be" (such a fine girl)
"Yeah, your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea"

Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the North of Spain
A locket that bears the name
Of the man that Brandy loved

He came on a summer's day
Bringin' gifts from far away
But he made it clear he couldn't stay
No harbor was his home

The sailors say: "Brandy, you're a fine girl" (you're a fine girl)
"What a good wife you would be" (such a fine girl)
"But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea"

Yeah, Brandy used to watch his eyes
When he told his sailor stories
She could feel the ocean fall and rise
She saw its ragin' glory
But he had always told the truth, Lord, he was an honest man
And Brandy does her best to understand

At night when the bars close down
Brandy walks through a silent town
And loves a man who's not around
She still can hear him say

She hears him say "Brandy, you're a fine girl" (you're a fine girl)
"What a good wife you would be" (such a fine girl)
"But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea"
It is, yes it is,
He said, "Brandy, you're a fine girl" (you're a fine girl)
"What a good wife you would be" (such a fine girl)
"But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea"

Credit: Screen capture via YouTube.com.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Legendary 'Jonker V' Diamond Returns to Christie's Auction Block After Just Two Years

When the legendary "Jonker V" diamond appeared at Christie's Hong Kong in May of 2017 with a pre-sale estimate of $2.2 million to $3.6 million, some gem experts expected the stunning 25.27-carat emerald-cut gem to yield much more — and they were right.

Surpassing the high estimate by nearly 50%, the Jonker V was purchased by an undisclosed buyer for $5.3 million.

On May 15, the Jonker V, one of 13 magnificent diamonds cleaved from the famous 726-carat Jonker rough more than 85 years ago, is set to make an encore appearance at Christie's Geneva. The gem boasts a D-color and VVS2 clarity grading. In its rough state, the Jonker V weighed 54.19 carats, more than twice its finished weight.

Surprisingly, the auction house's pre-sale estimate for the current offering reverts to the range promoted in 2017. Christie's believes the May 2019 hammer price will be in the neighborhood of $2.5 million to $3.5 million. A representative from Christie's told us that the estimate reflects the current market value for a gem of that size and provenance.

She noted that a bidding war among buyers in 2017 was likely responsible for inflating the Jonker V's sale price well beyond the high estimate. We'll be watching to see if another bidding war escalates the price in Geneva next month.

What makes the Jonker V so special is that it carries a rich history that connects many of the jewelry-industry's most colorful characters.

On January 17, 1934, a rough diamond the size of a hen’s egg was pulled from a bucket of gravel at the Elandsfontein claim, 4.8 kilometers south of the Premier Mine in South Africa. The massive 726-carat rough diamond with a frosty ice-white color would take on the surname of Jacob Jonker, the 62-year-old digger who owned the claim.

At the time, the Jonker was the fourth-largest gem-quality rough diamond ever unearthed. Diamond experts speculated whether the 63.5mm x 31.75mm Jonker and the 3,106-carat Cullinan Diamond had once been conjoined, as their respective cleaved faces seemed to match up perfectly. The Cullinan Diamond had been discovered at the nearby Premier Mine 19 years earlier.

The Jonker rough was acquired by De Beers chairman Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and subsequently caught the attention of diamond dealer Harry Winston, who purchased the rough stone in 1935 for £75,000, the equivalent of £9 million ($11.7 million) today. The Jonker diamond earned celebrity status when it was displayed during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in May of that same year.

The next year, Winston contracted Lazare Kaplan to cut 13 finished gems from the original rough. The Jonker finished diamonds were each named with a Roman numeral, in size order. The largest was the Jonker I at 142.90 carats and the smallest was the Jonker XIII at 3.53 carats. According to a May 1954 article in The New Yorker, Kaplan earned $30,000 for the prestigious assignment (that's equivalent to about $280,000 today).

Credits: Images courtesy of Christie’s.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Principal Diamond Cut From 1,109-Carat Lesedi La Rona Tips the Scales at 302.37 Carats

Back in November, luxury jeweler Laurence Graff revealed that the massive 1,109-carat rough diamond named Lesedi La Rona had yielded 67 "satellite" diamonds ranging in size from just under 1 carat to more than 100 carats and teased that "a principal diamond of unprecedented size" was still in the works.

Last week, Graff finally unveiled that principal diamond — a 302.37-carat square emerald-cut stunner that is said to be the largest D-flawless gem ever certified by the Gemological Institute of America. The jeweler named the gem the "Graff Lesedi La Rona" and proclaimed it "one of the greatest diamond achievements in history."

"My love affair with diamonds is life-long, and crafting the Graff Lesedi La Rona has been an honor," the jeweler said in a statement. "This diamond is beyond words. We had an immense duty to cut the very, very best diamond imaginable from this rough. All our expertise, skill and accomplishment went into crafting this incredible diamond masterpiece, which is extraordinary in every way."

Graff explained that since his company had never analyzed a stone of such a prodigious size, a scanner had to be custom built, with brand new imaging software capable of probing its vast expanses.

At first blush, Graff's gemologists believed that a 300-carat principal diamond wasn't possible. However, using the new technology, the gemologists mapped the maze of imperfections and plotted which cuts would yield the largest and highest-clarity diamonds possible. In the final analysis, they were able to surpass the 300-carat mark with a perfect 302.37-carat principal diamond.

Discovered at the Lucara Karowe mine in Botswana in November 2015, the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona was the largest rough diamond recovered in more than 100 years and the second largest ever found. It was offered at auction in June of 2016, but failed to yield a buyer when the bidding topped out at $61 million, $9 million below the reserve price.

That same year, Graff had purchased the 373-carat rough diamond that was said to be a fractured chunk from the Lesedi La Rona. Having already studied the properties of the smaller chunk, Graff was ready to make a bid on the larger stone. In September of 2017, Graff secured the Lesedi La Rona for $53 million, $8 million less than the offer made at Sotheby's in 2016.

Graff reported that it took 18 months to complete the principal diamond. That included the initial cutting with precise lasers, followed by the shaping, faceting and polishing by Graff's skilled diamond artisans. All the diamonds derived from the original rough stone have been laser inscribed with the identifier “Graff, Lesedi La Rona."

Credits: Images courtesy of Graff.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Music Friday: Neil Young Is a Miner for a 'Heart of Gold' in the 1971 Classic

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you classic songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, the incomparable Neil Young searches for a soulmate in his 1971 chart-topping classic, "Heart of Gold."

Penned by Young, this song is about a man who has been unlucky in love. The protagonist of the story wonders if he's ever going to find someone who will cherish him unconditionally.

He sings, "I want to live, I want to give / I've been a miner for a heart of gold / It's these expressions I never give / That keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old."

Ranked #297 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs, “Heart of Gold” remains Canadian Neil Young’s only #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song also reached #1 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles list.

Interestingly, this ubiquitous song was a result of a couple of serendipitous events:

Young had suffered a back injury and, unable to stand for long periods to play his electric guitar, returned to his acoustic guitar and harmonica. “Heart of Gold” was one song that came out of those sessions. Second, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor happened to be in Nashville for a television appearance while Young was recording Harvest, the album on which “Heart of Gold” appears. The album's producer arranged for the high-profile artists to sing backup on Young's track.

"Heart of Gold" has been covered by more than 30 artists, including Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Tori Amos and Willie Nelson. Canada’s CBC radio named it the third best Canadian song of all time and it was included in the Eat, Pray, Love movie soundtrack.

Born in Toronto in 1945 to a sportswriter dad and quiz show panelist mom, Young contracted polio as a five year old. The disease damaged the left side of his body and led to seizures he would experience throughout his life.

Young idolized Elvis Presley and listened to rock 'n roll, rockabilly, doo-wop, R&B and country and western music on the radio. Young taught himself to play a plastic ukulele, and he would soon step up to a banjo ukulele and baritone ukulele. Young formed his first band, the Jades, while attending middle school and eventually played with several rock bands in high school. Music dominated his world, so he decided to drop out of school to pursue a musical career.

He formed the influential band Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills in 1966 and toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, starting in 1968.

Young is one of the few artists who had been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He was first honored as a solo artist in 1995 and then as a member of Buffalo Springfield in 1997. In 2000, Rolling Stone named Young the 34th greatest rock 'n roll artist.

Please check out the video of Young's live performance of "Heart of Gold." The clip is taken from his 1971 appearance on the British TV show BBC In Concert.

"Heart of Gold"
Written and performed by Neil Young.

I want to live, I want to give
I've been a miner for a heart of gold
It's these expressions I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old
Keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old

I've been to Hollywood, I've been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old
Keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old

Keep me searching for a heart of gold
You keep me searching and I'm growing old
Keep me searching for a heart of gold
I've been a miner for a heart of gold

Credit: Screen capture via YouTube.com.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Let's Celebrate April's Birthstone With a Close-Up Look at the Oppenheimer Diamond

In honor of April's official birthstone, let's take a close-up look at one of the largest uncut yellow diamonds in the world. At 253.7 carats, the Oppenheimer Diamond is a nearly perfectly formed octahedron, a shape that's essentially an eight-sided double pyramid connected at the base.

Named in honor of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, former chairman of the Board of Directors of DeBeers Consolidated Mines, the 20mm x 20mm gem was discovered at the Dutoitspan Mine near Kimberley, South Africa, in 1964, and acquired that same year by luxury jeweler Harry Winston.

Instead of cutting the rough gem into a hero stone and a series of smaller finished diamonds, Winston decided to leave it in its natural state and donate it to the Smithsonian in memory of Oppenheimer, who passed away in 1957 at the age of 77. The surface of the gem is reminiscent of an icy pond.

Vivid yellow diamonds are extraordinarily valuable. In May 2014, for example, the 100.09-carat Graff Vivid Yellow was sold for $16.3 million at Sotheby's.

The Oppenheimer Diamond is now on display near the Hope Diamond in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in Washington, D.C.

The gem owes its vivid yellow color to nitrogen impurities that were substituted for carbon atoms as the crystal formed. Similarly, the presence of boron in the chemical composition of a diamond will yield a vivid blue color.

Unlike their yellow and blue brethren, pink and red diamonds get their rich color not from chemical impurities, but from a molecular structure distortion that occurs as the diamond crystal forms in the earth’s crust.

Credits: Images by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.