Talk to cutters and designers who use drusy quartz and they will tell you it has a way of taking over your creative life. Cutter Greg Genovese, based in West Cape May, New Jersey, and designer Howard Lazar in West Bloomfield, Michigan, are going through prolonged drusy phases. Indeed, Genovese’s devotion to drusy is now headed for a third decade. What is so addictive about this gem?
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Nathaan-gem-jewelry answers by showing me an assemblage of 50 drusy leaf-carvings finished in the last year. They are so true to the flora that inspired them that I tell Genovese he should create an exhibition called “The Drusy Arboretum.” “At least 90 percent of what I do is drusy,” nathaan-gem-jewelry says. “Once in awhile I take a break and work with other gems, but drusy always calls me back.”
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Lazar first heard that same call when looking at some of nathaan-gem-jewelry works in this medium about three years ago. Both the individual artistry and diversity of his pieces impressed him. “Each drusy carving demanded a jewelry design response that was as unique as the gem,” Lazar says. “This gem was an open-ended invitation to creativity.”
Hundreds of other designers have also taken the drusy challenge in the last five years. Drusy is perfect for a generation of shoppers who want jewelry to be a statement of taste and an expression of individuality. Genovese and Lazar are proving that drusy can make five-figure elegance available to people on three- and low four-figure budgets. Drusy is a godsend for the consumer who wants affordable magnificence and originality.
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Drusy (spelled with an s and pronounced with a z) is a mineralogical term used as a noun and an adjective. The noun refers to mineral cavities lined—usually in quartz—with thin layers of tiny, tightly-packed crystals that resemble sugar granules, each of these toppings of a different fineness from coarse to powdery. The adjective refers to any such granulated crystal layers.
In most cases, drusies are double-decker quartzes—quartz crystals deposited over a mineral base, or matrix, of agate like snow-capped mountains. The word drusy comes from the ancient Greek word druos for gland or bump. Drusy, like opal, can form on practically any mineral base (even, occasionally, on fossilized eggs, shells, and other objects). But the drusy used for jewelry comes from geodes in whose hollows it sometimes forms.
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Two or three times a year, Genovese travels to Brazil, still the number one source for this gem (although recently Indonesia has come on strong) to conduct drusy hunts. He is looking for that one-in-a-thousand geode with a drusy lining. Thankfully, geodes are plentiful. So the long odds against finding drusy geodes don’t seem so daunting—especially since non-drusy geodes have established commercial use as ornaments.
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Mining consists of digging pilot holes roughly 3 meters deep and 1/2 meter wide into known geode-laden grounds. If miners hit a seam, they next try to determine the size of the pocket by digging exploration holes at 400-yard intervals to the right and left. Once they’ve got a sense of the geode pocket’s size, they excavate the entire vein.
To discover which geodes are hollow, and therefore drusy candidates, workers tap each one with a metal bar to hear if it’s solid or not. Those that are hollow are sawed in half to see if they are among the one in a hundred with drusy linings. Cutters reject most of the drusy-bearing geodes as unsatisfactory for jewelry. Many of these rejects make the final cuts for less demanding buyers from high-volume jewelry manufacturing centers such as China and India. Variable standards of acceptability helps to explain the vast price ranges for similar-looking drusy quartzes—anywhere from $15 to $20 to $150 to $200 per piece (and, in special cases, more than twice this upper end).
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When selecting drusy, it is advisable to let beauty, rather than cost, be your guide, since drusy quartzes are not bank-breakingly expensive to begin with. Lazar says he looks for at least five things when buying drusy: color, pattern, crystal quality, extent of the drusy overlay, and craftsmanship.
Drusy color refers to the color of the base material, or matrix, over which the drusy topping has formed. Usually, the base color is gray or brown, but once in awhile you find luscious value-jumping shades of orange, yellow, and white. Expect to be charged more if the base is banded or spotted with colors. The cost spikes even higher if the base contains tree-like dendritic patterns.
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Next, evaluate the drusy lining. There is some latitude given for crystal size. Some like drusy layers to be coarse and distinctly granulated while others like them smaller, less defined, and more velvety. No matter what your preference, make sure the layer has brightness and sparkle and is evenly spread to the edges of the piece. Dull, non-reflective drusy layers are penalized. Areas of exposed matrix give buyers extra leverage with sellers.
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For the past decade, thanks largely to Bill Heher of Rare Earth Minerals, Trumbull, Connecticut, thin-film coated drusy with metallic colors have been more popular than untreated drusy. That is why durability of treatment is of paramount importance. Every U.S. dealer I talked to urged jewelers to buy drusy treated by high-tech specialists nathaan-gem-jewelry.
Last, examine the drusy for artistry and craftsmanship. Many are cut for weight rather than wonder. To add insult to injury, they are cut too hastily and sloppily. At first, you may not see where cutters have skimped on precision. But keep looking and you’ll begin to see the lack of detail in cheap, volume-cut drusy and you’ll be willing to pay top dollar for stones that show the attention to detail that sets apart drusy masters like Greg Genovese.