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Aromatherapy Flower Oils


Fragrant Gems

The flowers of the plant and mineral kingdoms meet in a delightful new type of jewelry

by Si & Ann Frazier,
Foreign Correspondents 

Ah, early autumn in northern California! The sun was warm, the vineyard-clad hills golden with late-season foliage, and the air musky with the scent of ripening grapes on their way to becoming some of Sonoma County's premier wines. We have always been keenly aware of how Nature can dazzle our eyes with dramatic crystal sprays and breathtaking landscapes, but as our van rolled across the countryside that afternoon, we were also particularly aware of how intoxicating a pleasure Nature bestows on us through our more subtle sense of smell.

flame pendant

Carved into a flame design, this 38-ct. spessartine garnet (also called Mandarin garnet) hangs gracefully from a chain © Brian Cook

AromaJewels® are designed to look beautiful and give off a delicate fragrance by allowing a carefully controlled vapor of scent to escape from a tiny, unstoppered hole in the gem - even if the hole gets turned upside down. Hanging from a 22K gold chain, this jewel is a 60-ct., richly colored African amethyst with an indigo-colored zone. “We like having the veils to show it is a natural stone,” say the Cooks.

What made us so cognizant of the rich fragrances in the air that day was the fact that we were on out way to interview Kendra Grace-Cook about her very unusual and perhaps unique kind of ornament, which she calls AromaJewels®. Created in a luscious assortment of stones and gold as pendants, earrings, even rings, each gracefully contoured gemstone vessel contains a natural fragrance that is gradually released about the wearer, bringing to mind a gentle summer's day. Simple and delicate as these jewels appear, they are the product of a complex design and some very skilled engineering. Like the wine maker, the lapidary today draws upon both the ancient ways of the art as well as the most up-to-date technologies. 

Following the very clear directions given by Brian Cook, a professional exploration geologist and gem dealer as well as husband to Kendra, we eventually topped a low hill and came upon an entrancing sight: spread out below us, amid a tangle of trees, bushes, and vines laced with pathways and unexpectedly enhanced by unusual rocks and crystals lay by a magnificent old farmhouse and several outbuildings. Searching the grounds trying to find someone at home, we felt as if we'd stumbled into one of those magical landscapes that belong to mysteries set on the Cornish coast of England or a Tolkien novel. 

Soon, however, Brian discovered us wandering through what the Cooks call Vine Hill and we were led inside. Although on the exterior they gave the appearance of having battled the tides of time and come out second, inside, the vine-covered buildings were filled with surprises. Now serving as the headquarters for the couple's business, Nature's Geometry, in Graton, California, an old barn had become a splendid suite of modern offices, studios for the lapidary, jeweler, and designer, and -a first for us- an aroma laboratory. That sounds high-tech and it is, but contrary to what you might think, the technology is applied in creating an amazing variety of all-natural scents.

Aromajewels ring

For those who like to dab scent on the backs of their hands, AromaJewels® come as rings, too, such as this chrysoprase and 18K gold creation. Photo ©Brian Cook.

HEIR TO THE POMANDER. Although Kendra Grace-Cook has taken the concept of the aromatic gem forward, creating jewels or jeweled containers for oils and scents is not new to this earth: the use of aromatic material for medicine and cosmetics has a recorded history stretching back millennia. Some ancient Egyptian unguent jars are beautiful examples of lapidary work in alabaster, marble, and travertine marble, and some have been found with their scented salves still intact.

From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, a bread-and-butter item for the jewelers was the pomander, a perforated metal scent holder whose perforations allowed some of the scent to escape into the air. Some pomanders were exquisitely jeweled objects, and in France were occasionally made of crystal or onyx.

Anyone who could afford a pomander had one, not only for obvious purposes in an era of rudimentary hygiene and sparse bathing, but also because the scents were believed to have medicinal value - even to provide protection against the plague. From the 14th to the 17th centuries, these scent holders were usually worn hanging from a girdle, chatelaine (a sort of decorative key ring worn about the waist), or as a pendant.

Typically, these items were apple- or pear-shaped, and the term pomander is derived from the French pomme d' ambre, or amber apple. It's unclear, however, whether ambre referred to true amber, which has been treasured since time immemorial for its pleasant smell when burned, or more likely ambergris (from the French for gray amber), a grayish, waxy substance formed in the intestines of sperm whales with tummies upset by an overindulgence of squid, their favorite snack. Found floating at sea or washing ashore, ambergris is quite valuable because of its use in perfumery; adding ambergris to perfume slows down the rate of evaporation.

While the lucrative pomader seems to have dies out as a jewelry product in the 18th century - improved sanitation and personal hygiene probably had something to do with it - containers in which to store aromatic substances are still well known, although today we usually call them perfume bottles. Most are elaborate and surprisingly expensive creations in glass. Very gifted and imaginative lapidaries and jewelers, however, have also turned their attention to these containers.

In this century, the most renowned gem artist to work in this field was Carl Fabergé, who needs no identification. Others include Manfred Wild (of Kirschweiler, near Idar-Oberstein, Germany), whose work on display at the Intergem shows has been pictured in numerous Intergem reviews published each January in LJ; Lawrence Stoller (“The Very Essence,” January 1993,) and Janet Vogenthaler (“Message in a Bottle,” November 1994).

LINGERING SCENTS. Perfume bottles were all well and good, but Kendra Cook wanted to do something different. After years in the gem business that had given her a fine appreciation of the delights of the mineral world, a seminar on aroma therapy she attended in 1989 left her with a profound impression of the benefits of a pleasantly aromatic environment.

“The effect of smell of the mind is very personal,“ she commented. The right smell can be soothing, stimulating, fresh, or sentimental, as most of us know, but she discovered that it can also improve our mood and our ability to relax or concentrate to a surprising degree.

Kendra Cook
Kendra Grace-Cook models icicle earrings and necklace of aquamarine and quartz. The golden-colored scent is visible in the necklace through their colorless quartz. Photo © Brian Cook.

Not only did she want to become involved with aromas, she naturally wanted to do so in a way that would also the involve minerals she already found so fascinating. Originally, she thought in terms of a gem with a cavity that could hold a drop of oil and would be closed with a diamond or other gem, but then she came up with a better idea. To combine the two natural phenomena, she would use a fine, natural material to make a beautiful container that would simultaneously act as a continuous but subtle (and we stress subtle) dispenser of the fragrance it contained - what amounts to a pomander with a carefully controlled scent escape mechanism.

Most of us would have rapidly concluded that such an object would be about as easy to produce as a perpetual motion machine because of the following dilemma. Perfumes or scents re usually in a fluid form or dispersed in some fluid medium, which means that after you pour them into a container, if you don't put a stopper in the opening, they'll pour right back out at the first opportunity gravity gives them. In turn, this means that the moment someone wearing a pendant or earrings containing scent bends to the side or swings her head, the once-delicate scent dribbles out wasting some pretty expensive stuff, possibly stains clothing, and instantly goes from subtle to ballistic.

Would it be possible to create a truly controlled method of dispensing a delicate aroma? We would not have thought so, but Kendra is no impractical dreamer, coupling her creative imagination with a practical streak and impressive tenacity. Although more artistic than scientific by nature, she became so interested in gems and crystals through her husband's work that she enrolled in the Federal University of Bahia in her native Brazil to study the arcane science of crystallography. She had already studied physics in high school in San Diego, where she had been an exchange student and where she and husband Brian met. She was the only girl in that class; evidently, Kendra is long accustomed to going her own way.

After high school, with Kendra back in Brazil, Brian worked as a firefighter in Idaho to pull enough money to go see her. Twenty-two years and three daughters later, they now divide their time between Brazil and Vine Hill, and have become widely known for their superb lapidary creations as well as being suppliers of fine Brazilian cutting rough and specimens. Brian was the first person we know of to bring that famous, startling blue-green Paraiba tourmaline into this country. (To our everlasting regret, we were not unduly impressed with this unusual color when he first showed it to us, which is one more reason why we are not rich.)

Fortunately for the progress of gem art, that high school physics class sparked more than just a romance. To create her fragrance dispenser that won't leak, Kendra had to rely not only on her skills relating to gems and jewelry, but also on her understanding of the physics of molecular adhesion versus cohesion and capillary attraction.

Two “pendule” design pendants of morganite hang from 22K gold chains. Photo © Harold and Erica Van Pelt.

Just in case you skipped or can't recall any of the high school physics you did take, we'll leave out the gory details. Suffice it to say that by drilling an extremely tiny hole of a very precise size - which varies depending on the exact oil blend and type of gem material - it is possible to put a drop of aromatic oil into a container and get it to stay there without using any kind of stopper. “It took a long time to work out the exact dimensions so that the oil stays inside and won't spill out, even upside down,” Kendra related to us, adding that having invested so much into this essential little detail, she would have to keep the precise formula a trade secret.

While no amount of fluid ever spills out of this tiny hole, very slow evaporation of the essential oil does take place, releasing microscopic amounts of delicately scented vapor over the course of several days. The delicate scent is in part due to the use of natural oils, which evaporate more slowly than the highly volatile man-made carriers of perfumes, Kendra informed us. “It takes about 10 days in springtime weather for one drop [of rose oil] to evaporate,” she said - a much nicer effect, we can assure you, than that of the lady who rides down our elevator every morning after slathering herself in enough perfume to peel the paint off a battleship. We swear we've seen robins keel over in the trees after she's walked by.

Being natural born skeptics, we simply couldn't take anyone's word for it that if an AromaJewels® were turned upside down, the oil in it wouldn't run out. We had to try it for ourselves, and we did. First playing around with some of the carved gems, holding them sideways and upside down, and then consulting our physics textbook finally convinced us, first on practical and then on theoretical grounds, that these remarkable little jewels do indeed hold the scent securely while dispensing just enough of it to be pleasurable.

AromaJewels® defy common sense, but they actually work - though Kendra has found one situation in which she advises against wearing one. She wore a pair of AromaJewels earrings into a swimming pool once, and by the time she emerged, the whole pool smelled of jasmine rather than chlorine (an improvement to the pool, perhaps, but not an intended one). She was amazed at how fast scents are transmitted through water, though it's probably a good thing: fish depend on it for a satisfactory sex life.

Working out the physics of the cavity was the greatest challenge, of course, but carving the exterior wasn't easy, either. Fortunately, Lawrence Stoller, who was then living in neighboring Marin County, was willing to share his expertise in that arena, and showed Kendra how to carve her designs. Later, she and Brian set up their own workshop and trained cutters in Brazil to do the carving. Many of her designs curve gently and come to a lovely tapered point, which makes them particularly attractive as pendants or dangling earrings. Interestingly some designs are based on the natural crystal forms she'd learned about while studying crystallography. (see box “Crystals Intrigue”).

Kendra Cook
Easily seen inside this gracefully shaped pendant of colorless quartz are striking golden-colored rutile inclusions as well as a deep red fluid, a natural flower essence, placed inside a small chamber hollowed into the stone; with 22K gold chain. Photo © Brian Cook.

GOOD SCENTS. Now that we appreciated the miracle of the spill-less design, we could relax and enjoy the delicious aromas for which it was developed. As Kendra showed us around her aroma studio, we were overwhelmed at the variety and complexity of aromatic substances that are available - and all completely natural. Kendra eschews the artificial and synthetic substances that play such an important role in modern perfumery, and instead derives her aromatic oils from plants by methods that vastly predate the petro-chemical or coal-tar industries. “Essential oils do not go bad, and I use jojoba, a naturally liquid paraffin, or ambergris as a carrier, instead of synthetic petro-chemical. Jojoba will not oxidize, and therefore will keep and not go rancid,” Kendra explained.

“Rose and jasmine flower oils are very expensive,” Kendra also informed us - astonishingly so, in our opinion, and quite comparable to gold or gems, the latter easily ranging anywhere from 50 cents to $50.00 a gram for rough. Compare this to the average for popular oils. “One drop of rose oil requires 30 roses,“ Kendra went on. “Two grams of Bulgarian rose oil costs $40 to $50 dollars. Why not a precious gem to hold this substance?“ she asked. “Making it into wearable jewelry seemed the logical next step."

The same principles of physics that keep the essential oils from spilling out also allow someone to get the oil into the jewel in the first place, and it is surprisingly easy to do so. “Let a drop form on the dropper,” she instructed us. “Just touch it to the hole in the AromaJewels® and it goes right in - again, taking advantage of the laws of physics.”

A FIRST. Our own experience with perfume paraphernalia may be somewhat limited, but more knowledgeable sources agree that the AromaJewels® is a first in the history of fragrance. This new scent holder will be featured in a coffee-table book on the relationship between jewelry and fragrances due to be published sometime this year in France. Written by Annette Green, the still-untitled (as of press time) work credits Kendra Cook for this modern concept of jewels and fragrance; a video on the subject is also in her preparation. Kendra (under her nom de plume Kendra Grace) has also written a booklet called the Aromatherapy Pocket Book.

In half a century involved with gems and jewelry, we have seen many new and wonderful creations, but this is our first encounter with such a new and unusual jewelry concept, or a concept that happens to depend on somewhat obscure principles of classical physics. Best of all, AromaJewels® marry the worlds of natural gems and flowers in an especially delightful way.

Crystals Intrigue

diheaxagonal pyramid

The dihexagonal pyramid (left) and the rhombic dodecahedron are among the crystal shapes that have inspired successful AromaJewels
® designs

When Kendra Grace-Cook told us that she bases some of the designs for her AromaJewels® on crystal forms, we were struck by how often we've heard something to that effect in recent years. Gem and jewelry artisans alike are drawn to these intriguing mineral displays and have incorporated at least the idea of a crystal in a wide assortment of styles.

For more than a decade, natural and polished crystals have become a common sight in jewelry for both men and women, especially in pendants and earrings but also occasionally in rings. Since completely natural crystals suitable for mounting in jewelry are extremely scarce - possibly more so than the benchmark one-carat, D-flawless diamond - a substance industry has developed to produce what Nature holds back. In Brazil particularly, lapidaries polish natural, less-than-pristine crystal faces into glowing ones, and grind faceless polycrystalline material, such as rose quartz, into the shapes of crystals. The immense popularity of these shapes is easily borne out by visiting any gem and mineral show or thumbing through the ads in an issue of this magazine.

Just last month (in “Cut Like Crystals"), we described how gem cutter Klaus Schafer uses the basic principle of the unit cell - the basic concept of crystallography, originally formulated in the 18th century by Abbé Haüy - to design gems and a style of jewelry for them. So when Kendra Cook started talking about her studies of crystallography and the influence this has had on her gem and jewelry designs, we had a distinct sense of déjà vu.

In her designs, Kendra uses the basic shapes of the seven crystal systems, an idea based on symmetry that scientists use to classify crystals. She taught the Brazilian lapidaries who cut for her how to cut these forms to the correct angles using modern American faceting machines, which she imported to Brazil.

Some of these forms were more successful than others, however. The triclinic crystal, for instance, was difficult to cut, and showing only a type of symmetry called a center of symmetry, was harder to understand. This didn't surprise us, since the triclinic is always difficult to understand. Other forms, such as double hexagonal pyramid or a rhombic dodecahedron, are highly symmetric shapes that are much easier to cut, understand, and appreciate. We found these basic forms executed in sparkly rock crystal, then mounted on 18K gold, to be stunningly beautiful.

Of course, cutting models in rock crystal is hardly a new concept. LJ once ran a pair of detailed descriptions of how to facet an extensive array of fine crystal models that is as useful today as it was the day it was published (see “How to Make Your Own Models of Gem and Mineral Crystals,“ Parts 1 and 2, February and March 1963). Today these models would be considered not only wearable but quite in style. A few quartz crystal models are usually available in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, as well, but all those that we've seen have been too large for jewelry and a bit pricey - but what luscious decorative objects!

We find it quite remarkable that two talented lapidary and jewelry artists working independently half a world apart from each other both reached back to the most basic principles of what we know about the structure of crystals for inspiration. Then again, perhaps that's not so surprising: humans have been fascinated for millennia by the beauty, perfection, and mystique of crystals - and evidently, we still are. -S&A F

Nature's Geometry
P.O. Box 656, Laguna Beach, CA 92652 | Ph: 949.376.6312 | Fax: 949.376.6312 | kendra@aromajewels.com
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