Friday, January 19, 2018

Music Friday: Shirley Bassey Nearly Passed Out Holding the Climactic Final Note of 'Goldfinger'

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you classic songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today, we tell the story of how Dame Shirley Bassey nearly passed out while holding the climactic final note to "Goldfinger," the title song of the 1964 James Bond thriller.

Often cited as the best film of the Bond franchise, Goldfinger borrows its name from Auric Goldfinger, a movie villain with a penchant for gilding his victims. In the theme song, which was used for the opening and closing credits, Bassey describes the man with the Midas touch.

She sings, "Golden words he will pour in your ear / But his lies can't disguise what you fear / For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her / It's the kiss of death from / Mister Goldfinger / Pretty girl beware of this heart of gold / This heart is cold."

Written by John Barry, Leslie Bricuss and Anthony Newley, "Goldfinger" presented a challenging recording session for the then-27-year-old Bassey. Repeated takes due to musicians' or technical issues forced the session to extend throughout the night. Bassey remembered how composer Barry demanded that the dramatic final note of the song be held for an extended count — seven seconds to be exact.

"I was holding it and holding it," Bassey said. "I was looking at John Barry and I was going blue in the face, and he's going, 'Hold it just one more second.' When it finished, I nearly passed out."

"Goldfinger" was an instant global phenomenon — at the record stores and on the big screen. The single netted Bassey her only Top-10 hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song peaked at #8 and charted in seven countries. The movie had a production budget of $3 million and grossed $125 million at the box office.

Bassey's remarkable rendition of "Goldfinger" has stood the test of time. In 2008, the single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2013, a 76-year-old Bassey was asked to perform the song during the 2013 Academy Awards as part of a tribute to the James Bond franchise's 50th anniversary.

A native of Cardiff, Wales, Bassey went on to record the theme songs for two other James Bond films, including Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979). In 2000, she become a Dame in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She was honored for her services to the performing arts.

Please check out the video of Bassey's live performance of "Goldfinger" at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974. The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Goldfinger"
Written by John Barry, Leslie Bricuss and Anthony Newley. Performed by Shirley Bassey.

Goldfinger
He's the man, the man with the Midas touch
A spider's touch
Such a cold finger
Beckons you to enter his web of sin
But don't go in

Golden words he will pour in your ear
But his lies can't disguise what you fear
For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her
It's the kiss of death from

Mister Goldfinger
Pretty girl beware of this heart of gold
This heart is cold

Golden words he will pour in your ear
But his lies can't disguise what you fear
For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her
It's the kiss of death from

Mister Goldfinger
Pretty girl beware of this heart of gold
This heart is cold

He loves only gold
Only gold
He loves gold
He loves only gold
Only gold
He loves gold

Credit: Screen capture via YouTube.com.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tiny African Kingdom of Lesotho Yields 910-Carat, Gem-Quality Diamond; Ranks as 5th Largest Ever

The prolific Letšeng mine in the tiny southern Africa kingdom of Lesotho has produced another mammoth gem-quality diamond. Weighing 910 carats, the D-color, Type IIa stone is the largest ever mined at Letšeng and the fifth-largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered in world history.

The yet-to-be-named gem is probably worth more than $50 million based on recent sales of colossal diamonds exhibiting nearly identical characteristics.

For example, the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona (#2 on the all-time list) was sold in September of 2017 for $53 million. In May of 2016, the 812-carat Constellation (#7 on the all-time list) fetched $63 million. Sourced at Lucara's Karowe mine in Botswana, both D-color diamonds were rated Type IIa, which means they are chemically pure with no traces of nitrogen or boron impurities.

Despite having a land mass slightly smaller than Maryland, Lesotho is an international powerhouse when it comes to turning out huge, top-quality stones.

“Since Gem Diamonds acquired Letšeng in 2006, the mine has produced some of the world’s most remarkable diamonds, including the 603-carat Lesotho Promise," noted Gem Diamonds CEO Clifford Elphick. "However, this exceptional top-quality diamond is the largest to be mined to date and highlights the unsurpassed quality of the Letšeng mine."

Here's a list of the most newsworthy stones to come from Letšeng, which is billed as the highest dollar-per-carat kimberlite mine in the world.

2006 – Lesotho Promise (603 carats)
2011 – Letšeng Star (550 carats)
2007 – Lesotho Legacy (493 carats)
2008 – Leseli La Letšeng (478 carats)
2015 – Letšeng Dynasty (357 carats)
2015 – Letšeng Destiny (314 carats)
2014 – Unnamed Yellow (299 carats)

The newly unveiled 910-carat rough diamond has an equivalent weight of 182 grams, or 6.41 ounces. A baseball, by comparison, weighs 5.25 ounces.

The fifth-largest gem-quality diamond ever mined is less than one-third the weight of the granddaddy of them all — the 3,106-carat Cullinan Diamond, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905. Finished gems cut from the Cullinan Diamond include the Cullinan I (530.20 carats) and the Cullinan II (317.4 carats).

The United Kingdom-based Gem Diamonds holds a 70% stake in the Letšeng mine with the government of Lesotho owning the remaining 30%.

Credit: Image via Twitter.com/GemDiamondsLtd.

Monday, January 15, 2018

British Crown Jewels Were Hidden From Nazis in a Biscuit Tin, BBC Documentary Reveals

Priceless gems from the British Crown Jewels were hidden from the Nazis in a biscuit tin and buried underground at Windsor Castle during World War II, a BBC documentary revealed last night.

Fearing an invasion, King George VI ordered that the most precious jewels — including the Black Prince’s ruby and Saint Edward’s sapphire — be removed from the royal crowns, stashed in a Bath Oliver biscuit tin and buried under a sally port, which is a secret exit from the castle used in times of emergency.

The treasures were placed deep in the ground at the royal family's country residence in Berkshire and secured with steel doors. The limestone excavation was filled in with soil and covered with turf. Queen Elizabeth II, who was only 14 at the time, first learned of her father's ploy during her BBC interview with Alastair Bruce.

"What was so lovely was that the Queen had no knowledge of it," Bruce noted. "Telling her seemed strangely odd."

Some historians speculated that the royal gems had been whisked away during the war to a vault in Canada or a cave in Wales. But, confidential correspondence from Sir Owen Morshead, the royal librarian, to Queen Mary, the mother of George VI, finally uncovered the secret of the biscuit tin. The British Crown Jewels — 23,578 in all — are currently under armed guard in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.

During the interview, the 91-year-old monarch got to take a close look at the Imperial State Crown, the stone's from which were remounted for her father's coronation in 1937. The crown is set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, hundreds of pearls and a famous ruby that's not actually a ruby.

The Queen pointed out that the 2lb 13oz crown has been reduced in height since her father wore it. She also joked that it's important not to look down when wearing the crown as your "neck would break."

She told Bruce that her favorite gem in the crown is the Black Prince's ruby, which is, in fact, an irregular cabochon red spinel weighing 170 carats. The stone is set in the cross above the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond at the front of the Imperial State Crown and its history dates back to the middle of the 14th century.

The Queen seemed to be saddened by the plight of the pearls mounted in the crown. She said they are “not very happy now” and had been “hanging out for years.”

“I mean, the trouble is that pearls are sort of live things and they need... warming,” she said.

Princess Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952 at the age of 25 after her father died unexpectedly.

The BBC documentary was broadcast by the Smithsonian Channel on Sunday night.

Credits: Queen Elizabeth II screen capture via Smithsonianchannel.com; British Crown Jewels, including Saint Edward's Crown, by United Kingdom Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Imperial State Crown showing Black Prince's ruby by Cyril Davenport (1848 – 1941) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Music Friday: Diamond Rio's Marty Roe Puts a 'Big Down Payment on That Itty Bitty Diamond Ring'

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you fun songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, Diamond Rio frontman Marty Roe puts a "big down payment on that itty bitty diamond ring” in the memorable 1998 singalong, “Unbelievable.”

In the song written by Jeffrey Steele and Al Anderson, an infatuated Roe is crazy in love with his “unbelievable” new girlfriend. His life had been lonely and boring, but now a magnificent beauty has turned his world upside-down — so much so that he stutters when he tries to speak to her.

Peppered with perfect harmonies, the hard-driving, crossover hit features the unforgettable refrain: “kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable.”

The song's jewelry reference includes this line, "Elegant, intelligent, heaven sent, all my money spent / I put a big down payment on that itty bitty diamond ring."

Released as the title track of the group's fifth studio album, "Unbelievable” vaulted to #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country chart and #1 on Canada's RPM Country Tracks chart. The song also had crossover appeal, as it settled in at #36 on the broader-based U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Unbelievable” was originally written for country star George Jones, according to Songfacts.com. When Jones passed on the song, Diamond Rio scooped it up. Recalled writer Anderson, "I know all of a sudden they liked it and cut it and put it out, and it was the most played Arista record that year."

Founded in Nashville in 1982, Diamond Rio has featured the same six members for the past 33 years. They include Gene Johnson, Jimmy Olander, Brian Prout, Dan Truman, Dana Williams and Roe.

The group was originally named the Grizzly River Boys (a river rafting ride at Opryland USA). Few band members liked the name so it was changed to the Tennessee River Boys. Their moniker would change one final time in 1990 after the group signed a record deal with Arista.

Band member Prout suggested the name Diamond Rio not because he wanted the band to be associated with precious stones or an exotic city in Brazil. The name was, in fact, a nod to the Diamond Reo truck company, which ceased operations in 2013.

The group is a 13-time Grammy nominee and was named the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year four times in the 1990s.

The band is actively touring with performances scheduled in the U.S. and Canada from February through August 2018.

Please check out the audio track at the end of this post. The lyrics are below because we know you’ll want to sing along…

“Unbelievable”
Written by Jeffrey Steele and Al Anderson. Performed by Diamond Rio.

She’s so kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable
She’s a mouthful of anything and everything a man could want
She ain’t typical, she’s unpredictable, she’s available, it’s a miracle
How my heart stumbled into someone so kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable

Up ’til now my life has been so lonely and boring
I never thought I would find someone so

Elegant, intelligent, heaven sent, all my money spent
I put a big down payment on that itty bitty diamond ring
She’s so beautiful, it’s indisputable, it’s undeniable, she’s got-to-havable
She’s music to my ears, and makes my heart sing, so kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable

There’s so many things
I want to tell her
Like I love her
But every time I talk
I start to stutter

She’s so elegant, intelligent, heaven sent, all my money spent
I put a big down payment on that itty bitty diamond ring
She’s so beautiful, it’s indisputable, it’s undeniable, she’s got-to-havable
She’s music to my ears, and makes my heart sing, kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable

Kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable
Kissable, huggable, lovable, unbelievable

Credit: Screen capture via YouTube.com.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

U.S. Mint Introduces a Trio of Stunning Platinum Coins Depicting Life, Liberty and Happiness

The United States Mint is about to launch a three-year platinum proof coin series depicting the unalienable rights cited in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Created by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) designer Justin Kunz, obverse designs in this series are not only stunning, but tell a story brimming with symbolism.

For example, the 2018 coin, which has an official release date of January 25, features “Life” personified by Lady Liberty teaching a small child to sow seeds in a field. According to the U.S. Mint's narrative, the sword she carries symbolizes the power to defend life. The furrowed earth represents the forethought and labor required to sustain life. The tree and stream represent nature, suggesting the need to be good stewards of the environment.

The inscriptions "Life" in 2018, "Liberty" in 2019, and "Happiness" in 2020 are likenesses of the actual handwritten words from the Declaration of Independence.

The reverse design for all three coins in the series depicts an eagle in flight with an olive branch in its talons. The design was conceived by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) designer Patricia Lucas-Morris.

Each coin in the “Preamble to the Declaration of Independence Platinum Proof Coin Series” weighs one ounce and is struck in 99.95% platinum. The coins have a face value of $100, although the current spot price of platinum is $967 per ounce. Prices for the coins will reflect the prevailing price of the precious metal, plus a modest premium to cover minting, distribution and marketing costs. They measure 32.7mm (1.28 inches) in diameter.

The 2019 obverse design portrays Lady Liberty keeping watch over prairies, lakes and mountains as pioneers head westward. The wild terrain featured in the background evokes the quintessential American spirit to explore new territory and the freedom to pursue new landscapes, new ideas and new ways of life. In the foreground, Lady Liberty’s lips are parted, suggesting freedom of speech. Her torch is an emblem of the guiding light that liberty provides, while the book represents the rule of law.

The 2020 obverse design depicts Lady Liberty harvesting the fruits of her labor with a young girl at play nearby. The overflowing cornucopia she carries is a symbol of the physical, intellectual and spiritual bounty only liberty makes possible. The home, orchard and silo represent American hopes, values and aspirations and bring to a close the narrative told throughout the series.

The U.S. Mint celebrated its 225th anniversary in 2017.

Credits: Images via usmint.gov.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Birthstone of the Month: Extraordinary Jeweled Egg Features World's Largest Polished Garnet

One of the most extraordinary examples of January's official birthstone is this objet d'art featuring what is believed to be the world's largest polished garnet.

Reminiscent of the jeweled eggs designed for the Russian tsars by the House of Fabergé more than 100 years ago, the "Garnet and Diamond Egg Creation" by Idar-Oberstein-based Manfred Wild was carved from an immense rough garnet sourced in Orissa, India. The garnet egg, which possesses the deep red hue of a fine claret wine, weighs 5,696 carats.

The egg opens to reveal a diamond cross mounted in 18-karat yellow gold and platinum, set on both sides with a total of 456 diamonds weighing approximately 8.50 carats. The cross is embellished with a single octahedral brown diamond at its center, weighing approximately 5.74 carats, and five cube-shaped natural yellow diamonds, weighing approximately 10.04 carats.

The cross emerges from a large faceted rock crystal quartz, measuring 125mm in diameter, and beneath the egg is an 18-karat gold "crown of thorns." When turned, the crown opens and closes the egg. The stem beneath features two rows of almandite garnets — 46 in all — with a faceted rock crystal acting as a spacer between.

The entire object is crafted using 403 grams (14.2 ounces) of 18K gold and 30.50 grams (1.07 ounces) of platinum. The egg measures 150 x 120 mm (5.9 inches x 4.7 inches) and the mounted piece has an overall height of 12 inches.

In November of 2014, the "Garnet and Diamond Egg Creation" was one of the top lots in a Bonham's Los Angeles auction titled "Gems, Minerals, Lapidary Works of Art and Natural History." Its pre-sale estimate was set at $300,000 to $400,000, but the piece remained unsold.

Coveted by kings and commoners alike for thousands of years, garnet is a versatile gemstone that comes in a wide variety of natural colors, including pink, purple, orange, yellow, violet, green, black, brown and deep-red.

Garnet varieties commonly seen in jewelry include pyrope, almandine, andradite, demantoid, grossularite, hessonite, rhodolite, tsavorite, spessartine and uvarovite. Garnets achieve their range of color from trace amounts of iron, manganese, calcium or aluminium in their chemical makeup.

Credits: Photos courtesy of Bonhams.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Alexa Ray Joel, Daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, Dishes on Her 'Ridiculously Exquisite Ring'

Singer-songwriter Alexa Ray Joel, the 32-year-old progeny of rock legend Billy Joel and former supermodel Christie Brinkley, rang in the New Year with big news of her engagement to restauranteur Ryan Gleason.

Joel turned to Instagram on Monday to share details of the romantic proposal, along with a great shot of her vintage-inspired engagement ring. We're estimating that the emerald-cut center stone is approximately 2 1/2 to 3 carats and is likely set in platinum or 18-karat white gold.

In recounting how Gleason popped the question, Joel wrote, “He said to me: ‘Before I met you, my world was in black and white. You colored it in between the lines.’ It was the most beautiful thing anybody’s ever said to me. How could I possibly say no to that?!?!”

She also revealed her reaction to seeing her engagement ring for the first time...

“So I was completely taken off-guard, dumbstruck, and shell-shocked- and FOR ONCE in my life, I had absolutely no words, and I couldn’t speak," she wrote. "I just kept staring at this ridiculously exquisite ring — and he was just hysterically laughing at me!!!”

Gleason's Instagram page summed up his feelings in five words: "Luckiest guy in the world!!!!"

The surprise proposal took place during a tropical getaway, which coincided with Joel celebrating her 32nd birthday on December 29. One day later, Gleason was on Instagram, posting a photo of his girlfriend, along with the following caption: "Happy Birthday to the strangest girl I know. You make this world such a better place. I love you so much!"

One of his followers, wormadette, wrote this insightful comment, "You’re in Love, You’ve been dating for over 3yrs, you’re both in your 30’s....show her the ring!!"

And he did.

Joel's dad, Billy, and mom, Christie, were married from 1985 to 1994.

Billy Joel's heartwarming "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" was written for Alexa when she was seven years old.

Credits: Images via Instagram/AlexaRayJoel.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Here's a First Look at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games Gold Medal; Can You Guess What It's Worth?

With the new year upon us and the Winter Olympics in South Korea right around the corner, it's time to take a close look at the medals that will be awarded at the Games and noodle out what they're really worth.

Designed by Seoul-based Sukwoo Lee, the gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded from February 9 - 25 at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang will range in weight from 586 grams for a gold medal to 493 grams for a bronze medal. At today's spot price, the gold medals — if they were, in fact, made of pure gold — would be worth $26,974 each.

The truth is that the gold medals contain just 6 grams of pure gold and 580 grams of 99.9% silver, resulting in an actual precious metal value of about $624. The silver medals contain 580 grams of 99.9% silver ($348), and the bronze medals are made of 493 grams of copper ($4.93).

Yes, there was a time when Olympic gold medals were made of solid gold, but the last ones were awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, way back in 1912.

Starting in 1916, the International Olympic Committee mandated that gold medals be made mostly of silver, and gilded with exactly 6 grams (0.211 ounces) of 24-karat gold. The IOC also required the medals to be at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick. The Pyeongchang medals are 92.5mm (about 3.6 inches) wide. The thickness of the coins range from 4.4mm to 9.42mm.

Lee's design was inspired by the texture of tree trunks, with the front bearing the Olympic rings and dynamic diagonal lines that reflect both the history of the Olympics and the determination of the participants. The reverse displays the winner's sports discipline, event and the Pyeongchang 2018 emblem. In total, 259 sets of the medals have been made.

The bark-like ridges on the face of Lee's design are made from extrusions of three-dimensional Hangeul consonants. Hangeul, which dates back to the 15th century, is the Korean alphabet and the foundation of Korean culture. The Hangeul letters extend to the edges of the coins and can be read around the rims.

The ribbons are made from gapsa, a traditional South Korean fabric. They are light teal and light red in color and embroidered with Hangeul patterns and other designs.

The medal comes with a wooden case designed with curves witnessed in Korean traditional architecture. The case will house the medal, medal description, the IOC badge and a medallist note.

The Winter Games in Pyeongchang will be followed by the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Although the medal designs have yet to be revealed, the organizers are imploring environmentally conscious citizens to unload their old cell phones in a recycling effort to amass enough precious metal to create 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals.

Credits: Images via pyeongchang2018.com.