The Great Mystery: Watermelon, Vitrail & Heliotrope by Katerina Musetti

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Most collectors of costume jewelry are mesmerized by the spellbinding brilliance and varying shades of colors dancing within Vitrail stones, also known as “watermelon” stones by collectors. The defining characteristics alluding to the term watermelon are the unique contrasting color combinations of pinks and greens some of these stones contain. Typically the colors are layered with green forming the outer rim while the center core harbors a juicy pink, peach or fuchsia palette that can sometimes be laden with hues of golds and violets.

The green and pink man made Vitrail stone most likely garnered its nickname from the natural gemstone known as watermelon tourmaline. When a natural watermelon tourmaline crystal is sliced, the resulting slab of stone looks remarkably like a piece of watermelon with a green outer “rind” and bright pink center. Like the faux watermelon crystal and glass stones gracing vintage costume jewelry, the natural gemstones they simulate come in a variety of shades and hues with green and bright pink being the dominant layers of color.

VITRAIL OR HELIOTROPE?

Though the term “watermelon” is used by collectors to describe this type of stone in varying colors, the actual names used by Swarovski and the Czech and German manufacturers that made them are quite different. These range from the lightest color to the darkest within the palette.

Vitrail I Light, which is the palest, is filled with flashes of pale violet, lilac, pink, warm zircon and icy blues throughout. Vitrail II Medium, the color most commonly found in costume jewelry and the one we most associate with the term “watermelon,” is deeper in color with intense hues of greens and pinks. Vitrail III Dark holds the deepest hues with Montana blue, hyacinth, purple, olivine and Madeira topaz throughout.

Another color many times referenced as “watermelon” or “Vitrail” is Heliotrope, which is filled with a vibrant imperial purple with underlying flashes of deep teal and a penetrating midnight blue throughout. Heliotrope stones are unique not only because of the vivid purple/blue hues that saturate the stones, but also in the way that they do not display other colors associated with the Vitrail color spectrum. Heliotropes are strictly Heliotropes not to be confused with Vitrails as viewed in the accompanying photos of vintage stones with original factory packaging.

VARIATIONS IN VITRAIL STONES

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The range of colors within the Vitrail spectrum varies depending on the year in which it was manufactured and where it was manufactured. Those working with fabrics or yarns understand that each bolt of fabric or skein of yarn is labeled with a “dye lot” number. This number is referenced to maintain color consistency. It appears this holds true for the range of colors displayed throughout vintage Vitrail stones as well.

Whether the stones are Czech, German or Swarovski, there are color variations from envelope to envelope. An envelope of Western German Vitrail II from 1956 will have different hues than an envelope of the same stones from 1958. Sometimes the centers will display more of a blue rim surrounding the pink as well as a citrine yellow rim with deep teal highlights. This rim can emit a plethora of colors that add to the intensity of the stones depending on how they are mounted in a setting and how the light hits them.

VITRAILS AND HELIOTROPES IN JEWELRY

Many companies used Vitrail II Medium stones including Schiaparelli, Judy Lee and DeLizza & Elster (D&E) also known as Juliana. In the photo of the D&E autumn color bib necklace and brooch (see photo gallery linked below), we get a better understanding of the Vitrail stone’s diversity. This particular D&E design is described by many collectors as “The Everything Set” because of the multiple variations of Vitrail stones incorporated. These include Vitrail III Dark ovals, Vitrail II Medium rivolis and Vitrail II Medium marguerites (round with scalloped edges). Therefore, the particular Vitrail name reflects the color of the stone even though the shape and size may differ. The original factory envelopes containing these vintage stones are all marked thusly whether they are ovals, octagons, rivolis, pears or marguerites.

Referencing the photo of the five D&E turtle brooches (see photo gallery linked below), each harbors an original Vitrail stone with the example shown at the top displaying Heliotrope. The variations within each stone are unique and display the full color spectrum of Vitrail I Light, Vitrail II Medium, Vitrail III Dark and Heliotrope. When these stones are mounted against contrasting rhinestones, the completed jewelry becomes a magical piece of art as the stones intermingle with one another creating a kaleidoscopic spectra of brilliant colors continually endearing us to these ever-mesmerizing bi-color stones.

Katerina Musetti is the author of The Art of Juliana Jewelry (Schiffer Books), and she is also known for her bold and colorful jewelry designs incorporating vintage stones she has collected for literally decades (see CJCI Magazine – Fall 2010). She may be contacted through her website at www.katerinamusetti.com

To view more photos from this article click here.