Keno Brothers Blog

Articles in September 2015

September 1st, 2015
Billed as the most important single strand of grey natural pearls ever to appear at auction, the famed Cowdray Pearls could fetch $7 million or more when they're offered for sale at Sotheby's Hong Kong on October 7.

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Comprising 42 natural pearls — ranging from brown to grey with varying rosé, purple and green overtones — the necklace was formerly in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson (1860‑1932). The extraordinary piece was strung and mounted by Cartier London, and the seller has included a matching pair of grey natural pearl earrings, also designed by Cartier.

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This is the second time the pearls have headlined a Sotheby's auction. In 1937, when the Cowdray Pearls appeared at Sotheby’s London, the catalog noted, “There is probably no finer collection of such pearls in existence.”

Sotheby's believes that claim is still true today. The auction house conservatively estimated the selling price of the Cowdray Pearls in the range of $4.5 million to $7 million, but noted it could be well higher.

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That assumption is partly based on the fact that, in 2012, Sotheby's New York set a world record when it sold a single natural grey pearl for $1.9 million. "What could 42 of these marvels achieve?" Sotheby's wondered in its online preview of the auction.

“Natural saltwater gray pearls are rarely seen at auction and the present necklace, strung with 42 superb gray pearls and of aristocratic provenance, is arguably the greatest of its kind in existence," noted Chin Yeow Quek, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and chairman of international jewelry, Asia. "This is an extraordinary collecting opportunity for pearl and jewelry connoisseurs around the world.”

Natural pearls are some of the most coveted of all gemstones because of their rarity. Natural pearls are organic, created by a mollusk totally by chance and without human intervention. Finding a single natural saltwater pearl of the size, color and quality of the Cowdray Pearls would be an extraordinary occurrence today. Finding 42 would be virtually impossible.

Before appearing at Sotheby's Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Autumn Sale, the Cowdray Pearls will be taking a promotional tour through London, Geneva, the Middle East, Singapore and Taipei.

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The Cowdray Pearls are not the only notable natural pearls to come to auction in 2015. This past April, we reported on the sale of an exceptionally rare four-strand necklace featuring 289 natural pearls. Christie's New York had estimated the selling price to range from $3.8 million to $4.5 million. The hammer price was $5.093 million.

.Photos: Courtesy of Sotheby's; Courtesy of Christie's.
September 2nd, 2015
As a tribute to all of our readers lucky enough to be born in September and have sapphire as their official birthstone, we'd like to share the amazing rags-to-riches story behind the world's largest gem-quality star sapphire — the 733-carat Black Star of Queensland.

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It was 1938 when a 12-year-old Aussie boy named Roy Spencer plucked an unusual grey stone from a nearby hillside and bolted home to show his dad. Harry Spencer, a struggling miner who lived in a dusty shack with his family in Queensland, identified his son's half-pound stone as a large black crystal and relegated it to the back door, where it served as a doorstop for nine years.

But this would turn out to be no ordinary crystal.

Nine years later, the famed Los Angeles-based Kazanjian brothers were traveling around the world sourcing gemstones for their thriving jewelry business when they visited the Spencer family. Harry Kazanjian spied a pile of black stones that he suspected might be star sapphires. When Harry Spencer saw the Kazanjians' interest in the black stones, he told his son, now 21, to fetch the doorstop.

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Kazanjian noticed that the 1,156-carat, fist-sized stone glimmered with a hint of copper color, a sign of the impurity that creates the appearance of a star in a star sapphire. In the gemological world, the optical effect is known as asterism. Kazanjian reportedly purchased the stone for $18,000 (about $196,000 in today's dollars).

Kazanjian took the stone back to his studio in Los Angeles and studied it for months before embarking on the risky cutting and polishing process. One false calculation could ruin the star effect and much of the stone's value.

"I could have ruined it a hundred times during the cutting," Kazanjian had told a Los Angeles Times reporter at the time.

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The jeweler meticulously carved a dome in the oval stone to reveal a distinct six-pronged star. More than 400 carats were sacrificed in the cutting process. When completed, the Black Star of Queensland weighed 733 carats and was about the size of a hen's egg. The Kazanjians emphatically announced that the stone — despite a valuation of $1 million ($9.7 million today) — was not for sale.

Even though it had earned the undisputed title of the "world's largest gem-quality star sapphire," the Black Star of Queensland spent most of the 1950s in relative obscurity. That all changed in the 1960s, when it joined the Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian.

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In 1971, Cher wore the sapphire during a sketch for the popular Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. In the skit, she's dripping with precious gems while being protected by security guards. The running joke is that the guards won't let Sonny near Cher while he sings The Carpenters' 1970 hit, "Close to You."

For the taping, the sapphire had been affixed to a diamond necklace with a flimsy wire. Michael Kazanjian, the nephew of Harry, started to panic as Cher went through many takes of her dance number. Fearing the stone would fall off and shatter, he jumped up on the stage rescued the stone. Apparently, CBS got the take that they wanted because a still from the show clearly shows Cher wearing the Black Star of Queensland.

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The Black Star of Queensland's most recent public appearance was in 2007, when it enjoyed a six-month run at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The gem, which is currently set with a halo of 35 white diamonds, is owned by an anonymous private party. The extraordinary example of September's birthstone is reportedly worth upwards of $80 million.

Photos: Getty Images; Greyloch, via Wikimedia Commons; CBS.
September 3rd, 2015
Matthew Pica had waited six years for that special moment when he would pop the question to the love of his life, Kayla Harrity. He had the perfect girl, the perfect ring and the perfect vacation spot in picturesque Southport, N.C.

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Not as perfect was Pica's decision to propose on a restaurant deck above the Atlantic Ocean. You can guess what happened next...

Pica and Harrity were enjoying a beautiful Saturday at Old American Fish, a waterfront restaurant, when the 25-year-old asked his girlfriend to join him for a walk on the deck. Once there, he got down on one knee and opened the ring box. Before he could utter the first words of his proposal, the ring was gone.

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"I turned around and he was getting down on one knee," Kayla, 24, told WECT. "As he opened the ring box, the ring fell out. I heard it hit the deck, and then I heard a plop and it went into the ocean. I didn't even get to see it before it dropped."

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Pica described what went wrong in a Skype interview with WJZY: "When I opened the box the ring wasn't seated correctly and fell out."

The ring had shaken loose from the slot in the ring box. When Pica opened the box, the ring shot out, took one bounce on the deck and then slipped its way between the decking boards.

Harrity and Pica were stunned. "I covered my face and began to cry because I knew my boyfriend was devastated," Harrity said.

All was not lost, however, because the water level under the deck was only thigh-deep at the time.

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Pica, Harrity and a team of sympathetic Old American Fish patrons waded into the water — many full clothed — to find the ring.

"They must have felt bad for us and did not want to see our engagement end like this," Harrity said. "They jumped in the water and helped look for the ring."

The treasure hunters learned quickly that finding a ring in the murky water was not going to be easy.

According to WECT, Harrity frantically ran through the local neighborhood trying to collect goggles and underwater flashlights. Within a short time, she had amassed 10 flashlights and five pairs of goggles.

Exactly two hours after the ring had plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, it was rescued by a volunteer named Kyle Blusher.

Undaunted and still soaked from the search, the couple got to hit the reset button on the original proposal. This time — with the restaurant patrons watching from the deck above — it went off without a hitch.

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"Everyone at the bar was cheering," Harrity told the Daily Mail. "All of a sudden, everyone was chanting 'Propose again! Do it again!'"

"It was the best feeling in the world," she continued. "My fiancé, soaking wet, smelling like salty, fishing water, proceeded to get down on one knee and put the beautiful ring on my finger!"

It was important for the couple to acknowledge the bar patrons for their kindness. They bought a round of shots for the men who assisted.

"They were amazing, and we are so grateful to have their help that night," said Harrity.

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They mingled at the bar for about an hour and then took a romantic carriage ride around Southport. When they returned to the bar, they were greeted like celebrities.

"When we got back, people were still coming up asking to see the ring," Harrity said. "They said everyone in Southport was talking about it. It was definitely a night to remember!"

The couple's story became a sensation on the internet, as well, with media outlets from around the world picking up the story.

The couple plans to wed in Southport sometime next year.

Photos courtesy of Kayla Harrity. Screen captures via WJZY.
September 4th, 2015
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you wonderful songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today, we feature a little-known treasure from Carly Simon's extensive catalog called "Like a River." It's a heartfelt, deeply personal and hauntingly beautiful love letter to her mother, Andrea Simon, written just after her passing in 1994.

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In the song, Simon describes how she and her older siblings, Joanna and Lucy, competed for her deceased mom's precious possessions, including a very special piece of jewelry. She sings, "We divided your railway watches / Between the four of us / I fought over the pearls / With the other girls / But it was all a metaphor / For what was wrong with us."

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The tone of the song transitions from mourning to celebration, as Simon injects a bit of levity to emphasize her mother's spirit. She asks her mom if she can now clear up the mystery of the Sphinx and if she's dancing with Benjamin Franklin on the face of the moon.

She also holds the promise that she and her mom will be united in the afterlife. She writes, "I'll wait no more for you like a daughter / That part of our life together is over / But I will wait for you, forever / Like a river..."

Today's featured song is the fourth track from Simon's biographical album, Letters Never Sent. Simon said the songs on the album were inspired by the discovery of an old box of letters she'd written, but had never mailed. In its review, Entertainment Weekly called the album "funky, fascinating and sumptuous."

It's hard to believe that Simon, one of the quintessential singer/songwriters of the 1970s and former wife of James Taylor, celebrated her 70th birthday in June. The Bronx-born, two-time Grammy winner has amassed 24 Billboard Hot 100 singles over her stellar career.

A few items of Simon trivia...
• She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
• She is the daughter of Richard Simon, co-founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster.
• She submitted a demo tape to Clive Davis at Columbia Records, who turned her down. She she ended up signing with Elektra.
• She earned a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1971.
• She lived with James Taylor in the house later owned and made infamous by O.J. Simpson. Simon and Taylor were married from 1972 to 1983.

Please enjoy the official video of Carly Simon singing "Like a River." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Like a River"
Written and performed by Carly Simon.

Dear mother the struggle is over now
And your house is up for sale
We divided your railway watches
Between the four of us
I fought over the pearls
With the other girls
But it was all a metaphor
For what was wrong with us
As the room is emptying out
Your face so young comes into view
And on the back porch is a well-worn step
And a pool of light you can walk into

I'll wait no more for you like a daughter,
That part of our life together is over
But I will wait for you, forever
Like a river...

Can you clear up the mystery of the Sphinx?
Do you know any more about God?
Are you dancing with Benjamin Franklin
On the face of the moon?
Have you reconciled with Dad?
Does the rain still make you sad?
Last night I swear I could feel you
Moving through my room
And I thought you touched my feet
I so wanted it to be true
In my theater there is a stage
And a footlight you can step into...

I'll wait no more for you like a daughter,
That part of our life together is over
But I will wait for you, forever
Like a river...

In the river I know I will find the key
And your voice will rise like the spray
In the moment of knowing
The tide will wash away my doubt
'Cause you're already home
Making it nice for when I come home
Like the way I find my bed turned down
Coming in from a late night out.
Please keep reminding me
Of what in my soul I know is true

Come in my boat, there's a seat beside me
And two or three stars we can gaze into...

I'll wait no more for you like a daughter,
That part of our life together is over
But I will wait for you forever
Like a river...

I'll never leave, always just a dream away
A star that's always watching
Never turn away
We'll never leave, always just a thought away
A candle always burning
Never turn away
The moon will hide, the tree will bend
I'm right beside you
I'll never turn away


Images: Screen captures via YouTube.
September 7th, 2015
Hong Kong luxury jeweler Chow Tai Fook unveiled last week an incredible necklace designed from the twinkling progeny of the 507.55-carat Cullinan Heritage rough diamond.

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The massive diamond, which was purchased by the jeweler in 2010 for $35.3 million, yielded 24 D-flawless gems, including the necklace's focal point, a perfect 104-carat round brilliant. The museum-quality piece is appropriately dubbed "A Heritage in Bloom."

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Chow Tai Fook enlisted the legendary talents of jewelry artist Wallace Chan to assemble the family of "Heritage" diamonds — and a supporting cast of 11,500 addition precious gemstones — into an unforgettable work of art that is estimated to be worth at least $200 million. The diamond total weight of the piece is a staggering 383.4 carats.

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Chan's vision was finally realized after 47,000 man hours spanning 11 months. Chan led a team of 22 artisans though an extraordinary design challenge that utilized every one of the Heritage diamonds in a necklace that can be worn 27 different ways. Surprising variations are achieved by removing certain sections and replacing them elsewhere, or removing them completely.

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In one configuration, an 11.94-carat round diamond and a 20.02-carat marquise-shaped diamond — both culled from the Heritage — reside above and below the 104-carat stone.

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“Today we complete a journey we began five years ago, and we could not be more proud of the exceptional and historic creation that has emerged. Continuing the Cullinan legend, the world-renowned master jewelry artist Wallace Chan has brought the Cullinan diamonds to life,” said Dr. Henry Cheng, chairman of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Limited.

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In addition to the white diamonds, Chan utilized 72 pieces of mutton fat white jade, 114 pieces of icy green jadeite and nearly 600 pink diamonds. Around the 104-carat diamond is a circle of white jade to symbolize the confluence of east and west cultures. Diamonds have long been coveted in the west while jade has been revered in the east.

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Chan's design also included two diamond-studded bats (for good fortune) and two colorful diamond butterflies (for eternal love).

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Chow Tai Fook has no immediate plans to sell the necklace. A company representative explained that the piece symbolizes the heritage of the Chow Tai Fook family and the Chinese people as a whole.

“The key thing is it’s authentic and original, something crafted by an artisan from China,” Adrian Cheng, the chairman's son, told Barrons.com. “All the elements, all the creativity, all these ingredients in this piece are part of Chinese history.”

The Cullinan Heritage diamond was discovered at the Cullinan Diamond Mine in Gauteng Province, South Africa. The rough diamond boasted a Type IIa clarity, the purest of all diamonds because they are composed solely of carbon with virtually no trace elements in the crystal lattice.

Images via chowtaifook.com.
September 9th, 2015
A rare and flawless gemstone from the fabled Hope Collection is set to hit the auction block at Bonhams London for the first time in 98 years. The 50.13-carat Hope Spinel is the lesser-known cousin of the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond, arguably the most famous gem of all time.

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Both the Hope Spinel and the Hope Diamond were part of a fabulous collection amassed by London banker Henry Philip Hope, who died in 1839.

When the Hope Spinel was offered for sale nearly 100 years ago, it sold for about $1,600, the equivalent of $32,000 in today's dollars. Bonhams expects the gem to fetch between $230,000 and $308,000 when it goes under the hammer on September 24 at the auction house's London Fine Jewelry sale. By contrast, the Hope Diamond, which resides in the Smithsonian, is said to be worth at least $250 million.

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About the size of a small plum and displaying a pretty rose hue, the octagonal-cut Hope Spinel is set in a 19th century silver and gold brooch.

"You just don't see pieces of this quality and provenance on the open market very often. It's very exciting," said Emily Barber, UK Jewelry Department Director at Bonhams.

The auction house revealed in its sale preview notes that the Hope Spinel was such an important part of Hope's gem collection that it shared a space in the very special 16th drawer of his bespoke mahogany cabinet, right next to the Hope Diamond, the Hope Pearl (then the largest baroque natural pearl known) and an emerald from the turban of Tipu Sultan.

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Throughout history, spinel has been widely mistaken for ruby because the gemstones present in similar colors and are found in similar rock formations. The confusion is confirmed in a hand-written note affixed to the Hope Spinel's well-worn jewelry box. It contains the phrase, "Spinnel Ruby from Hope Collection."

Henry Philip Hope was from a dynasty of incredibly rich and powerful merchant bankers. By the end of the 18th century, the Amsterdam-based Hope family ran one of the most powerful banks in the world.

Hope moved to the UK at the end of the 18th century to escape political upheaval and settled in London with his elder brother. Together, they invested in valuable art and rare gems, establishing one of the most impressive collections ever known.

Henry Philip Hope decided to leave his works of art and gemstones out of his will and secretly gifted the 700 pieces — including both the Hope Diamond and the Hope Spinel — to one of his three nephews in order to avoid death duties.

That strategy backfired when, after Hope's death in 1839, the Hope Collection became the center of a decade-long inheritance battle. In the end, the Hope Spinel and a number of the most valuable gems were separated from the collection to help resolve the conflict.

In the end, the younger nephew Alexander Beresford-Hope inherited most of the collection, but his elder brother, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight valuable stones, including the Hope Blue Diamond and the Hope Spinel.

Photos courtesy of Bonhams.
September 10th, 2015
For a musical artist, being selected to sing a James Bond theme song is like a pro football player being named Super Bowl MVP. For months, 007 fans speculated about who would be chosen to perform "Writing’s On The Wall," the theme of the 24th Bond movie, SPECTRE. Among the names bandied about were Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, Lorde and Adele.

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But then on Monday, Sam Smith's Instagram and Twitter featured an uncaptioned black-and-white close-up of a hand bearing a simple brushed-metal band. Engraved on its face was the infamous SPECTRE octopus logo.

The tantalizing clue pointing to Smith as the choice was affirmed by the four-time Grammy winner on Tuesday.

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"This is one of the highlights of my career. I am honored to finally announce that I will be singing the next Bond theme song," Smith, 23, tweeted. "I am so excited to be part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible lineup of some of my biggest musical inspirations. I hope you all enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed making it."

Smith wrote the SPECTRE theme song with fellow Grammy winner Jimmy Napes.

Commenting on the announcement, SPECTRE producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said, “Sam and Jimmy have written the most inspirational song for SPECTRE and with Sam’s extraordinary vocal performance, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ will surely be considered one of the greatest Bond songs of all time.”

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The singer will be joining a pantheon of Bond music alums, which include Shirley Bassey ("Gold Finger"), Carly Simon ("Nobody Does It Better"), Paul McCartney ("Live and Let Die"), Tom Jones ("Thunderball") and Adele ("Sky Fall").

Many James Bond aficionados will tell you that their favorite part of each film is the gun-barrel title sequence, which is backed by a rousing — and often memorable — piece of original music. In 2012, Adele won an Oscar and a Golden Globe award for her performance of "Skyfall."

The official 007 site noted that "Writing’s On The Wall" will release on September 25, about six weeks ahead of the movie's U.S. release on November 6.

Actor Daniel Craig, as James Bond, will battle the evil forces of SPECTRE, which is an acronym for "SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion," a fictional global crime syndicate and terrorist organization.

Credits: Instagram.com/SamSmithWorld; www.007.com
September 11th, 2015
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you breakout hits with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today we hop on the "Uptown Funk" juggernaut. This song is so popular that its official video has claimed nearly 1 billion views on YouTube.

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Heavily inspired by the Prince-pioneered Minneapolis groove of the early 1980s, "Uptown Funk" gives a shout out to an A-list '80s actress and defines her beauty using a precious metal metaphor.

In the very first line, Bruno Mars sings, "This hit, that ice cold / Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold."

Movie buffs will remember Pfeiffer in her role as Elvira, the stunning — and feisty — young wife of Al Pacino's Tony Montana in the 1983 movie blockbuster, Scarface.

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It must have been startling for the now-56-year-old actress to be name-dropped in two hit songs from the past year. The other was "Riptide" by Vance Joy with the line, “I swear she's destined for the screen / Closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you've ever seen.”

Conspiracy theorists contend that Pfeiffer actually paid both artists to include her name in their songs so she could maintain her Q Rating — the measurement of a celebrity's familiarity and appeal. As silly as that sounds, Pfeiffer's representative was compelled to set the record straight during a February 2015 press conference.

He said that Pfeiffer was "shocked, saddened and appalled" that the media would assume she influenced the song writers to use her name.

“Ms. Pfeiffer’s career is doing just fine, thank you very much,” her rep said. “How many people who are accusing her of giving money or Super Bowl tickets or free DVDs of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ to musicians just to get mentioned in songs, how many of them go home every night to a Golden Globe award for best actress or a BAFTA award? That’s what I’d like to know. Maybe these folks should look themselves in the mirror before they go around saying Ms. Pfeiffer has any reason to send Vance Joy a shoebox full of autographed head shots. It’s ludicrous.”

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"Uptown Funk," which was produced by Brit Mark Ronson and appears on Ronson's fourth studio album, Uptown Special, set a record when it spent 14 consecutive weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. To date, "Uptown Funk" has sold 6.4 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Check out the official video of "Uptown Funk," YouTube's ninth-most-watched video of all time. The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Uptown Funk"
Written by Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Nicholas Williams, Devon Gallaspy, Lonnie Simmons, Ronnie Wilson, Charles Wilson, Robert Wilson and Rudolph Taylor. Performed by Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson and The Hooligans.

This hit, that ice cold
Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold
This one for them hood girls
Them good girls straight masterpieces
Stylin', whilen, livin' it up in the city
Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent
Got kiss myself, I'm so pretty

I'm too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire man
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Say my name you know who I am
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Am I bad 'bout that money, break it down

Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
Saturday night and we in the spot
Don't believe me just watch (come on)

Don't believe me just watch uh

Don't believe me just watch
Don't believe me just watch
Don't believe me just watch
Don't believe me just watch
Hey, hey, hey, oh

Stop, wait a minute
Fill my cup, put some liquor in it
Take a sip, sign a check
Julio, get the stretch
Ride to Harlem, Hollywood
Jackson, Mississippi
If we show up, we gon' show out
Smoother than a fresh jar Skippy

I'm too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire man
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Bitch say my name you know who I am
I'm too hot (hot damn)
Am I bad 'bout that money
Break it down

Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you
Saturday night and we in the spot
Don't believe me just watch (come on)

Don't believe me just watch uh

Don't believe me just watch uh
Don't believe me just watch uh
Don't believe me just watch
Don't believe me just watch
Hey, hey, hey, oh

Before we leave
Lemmi tell y'all a lil' something
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up uh
I said uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up

Come on, dance, jump on it
If you sexy then flaunt it
If you freaky then own it
Don't brag about it, come show me

Come on, dance
Jump on it
If you sexy then flaunt it
Well it's Saturday night and we in the spot
Don't believe me just watch come on!

Don't believe me just watch uh

Don't believe me just watch uh
Don't believe me just watch uh
Don't believe me just watch
Don't believe me just watch
Hey, hey, hey, oh

Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up (say what?)
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up (say what?)
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up (say what?)
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up (say what?)
Uptown funk you up


Credits: Screen captures via YouTube. Michelle Pfeiffer via Universal Pictures.
September 14th, 2015
Netherlands-based designer Daan Roosegaarde is on a mission to install "Smog Free Towers" in pollution-challenged cities, such as Beijing, Mexico City, Mumbai, Paris and Los Angeles — and finance the project with jewelry made from compressed smog particles.

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Roosegaarde's 23-foot tower promises an oasis of pure air in cities facing air-quality issues. The Smog Free Tower works like a giant air purifier, capable of processing 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour and capturing the ultra-fine polluting particles in the process. The prototype was unveiled in Roosegaard's hometown of Rotterdam last week.

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Roosegaarde is using compressed smog particles to create fun jewelry that will help fund the projects. The designer explained that the pollution is mostly carbon, the same element that makes up a diamond.

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Roosegaarde uses high pressure to form the carbon into a square black "gemstone" and encases the material in an 8.4 mm resin cube. The cube is then set onto a fashionable ring or cufflink. The Smog Free Cube jewelry is made of stainless steel and costs about $270.

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Roosegaarde is betting that consumers will be proud to purchase the jewelry, which is a very literal emblem of their commitment to cleaning up the environment. The smog particles for one ring represents the purification of 1,000 cubic meters of air. One Smog Free Tower will be capable of producing 3,500 Smog Free Cubes per day.

“It’s a beautiful way of carrying the message of this project with you and perceiving the tangible environmental impact you’ve made by supporting this project,” explained the designer.

Roosegaarde's vision is to create smog-free "bubbles" of public space where city dwellers could experience clean air for free.

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His project directly addresses growing health concerns in cities around the world. The American Lung Association, for example, claims that four in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. In China, the situation is even more dire, as smog kills about 4,000 people per day, according to a recent study published by UC Berkeley.

The Smog Free Tower basically sucks polluted material from the top and then distributes the filtered air through the vents on its sides. Here's Roosegaarde's technical explanation of how the Smog Free Tower accomplishes its task...

“By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles," he wrote. "A negatively charged surface — the counter electrode — will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust that would normally harm us is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower. This technology manages to capture ultra-fine smog particles which regular filter systems fail to do.”

To fund demonstrations of the Smog Free Tower in cities outside of Rotterdam, Roosegaarde turned to the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter.com. The site successfully raised $105,500, nearly double his target goal of $54,000. More than 1,300 backers have pledged support for the campaign that ends on Wednesday, September 16.

Credits: All images via Studio Roosegaarde.
September 15th, 2015
This exceptional 357-carat rough diamond, which could easily be mistaken for a chunk of glacial ice, netted $19.3 million at Gem Diamonds' tender in Antwerp last week.

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Unearthed in July at the famous Letšeng mine in Lesotho, the lucky find came on the heels of another sensational discovery —  a 314-carat diamond in May.

The Letšeng mine, which sits at an altitude of 10,000 feet in the tiny kingdom near the southern tip of Africa, has a long history of producing top-quality diamonds in huge sizes.

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In fact, it's the highest-dollar-per-carat kimberlite diamond mine in the world. On the list of the 20 largest gem-quality white diamonds recorded since 2006, four were unearthed at Letšeng.

While there are always great risks associated with cutting huge rough diamonds, the world's top diamond traders bid aggressively to get their hands on these rare finds in the hope of creating the next museum-quality masterpiece. Due to the size of the rough diamond, it's very possible that it will be divided into a number of smaller stones.

In the case of the 507-carat Cullinan Heritage, for example, the rough diamond was expertly segmented into 24 D-flawless gems that were incorporated into head-turning necklace called "A Heritage in Bloom." The centerpiece of the necklace is a perfect 104-carat round brilliant.

Although it is not currently for sale, the necklace's value is estimated at more than $200 million. The original rough diamond had been purchased in 2010 for $35.3 million.

UK-based Gem Diamonds has maintained a controlling stake in the Letšeng mine since 2006. The Kingdom of Lesotho owns 30 percent. The mining company also boasts a 100% stake in the Ghaghoo mine in Botswana.

Images: Courtesy of Gem Diamonds.
September 16th, 2015
After 75 hours at the grinding wheel, master diamond cutter Mike Botha finally put the finishing touches on the "Esperanza" diamond — a gemstone that was plucked from the soil by Bobbie Oskarson at Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds State Park on June 24. Originally 8.52 carats in weight and the shape of an icicle, "Esperanza" has been transformed into a sleek and unique 4.65-carat "triolette."

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The park visitor from Longmont, Colo., had paid $8 to do a bit of amateur mining at the park with her boyfriend and came away with a gemstone that could fetch upwards of $300,000 when it is sold at Heritage Auctions this December. She named the gem "Esperanza," the Spanish word for “hope.”

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The freshly cut gem was recently sent to the labs of the American Gem Society, where it's expected to be graded as internally flawless and colorless. In a preliminary test, the gem was rated Type IIa, the purest of all diamonds because they are composed solely of carbon with virtually no trace elements in the crystal lattice.

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Botha's 147-facet triolette is a shape of his own design. It resembles a teardrop and merges the elements of both emerald and trapezoid shapes. The diamond even has its own Facebook page.

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The public was invited to witness the marathon cutting session on the showroom floor at Stanley Jewelers in North Little Rock, Ark., less than a two-hour drive from where Esperanza was originally found. Visitors to the store were encouraged to view the work in progress and ask questions of the master diamond cutter.

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Also on hand to view Botha's handiwork was Oskarson, officials from Crater of Diamonds State Park and members of the local, national and international media. The multi-day event was also broadcast via live streaming video on YouTube.

Botha, who is the president of Embee Diamonds, had traveled all the way from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, with his heavy gear to participate in the momentous event.

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"I’ve lost count of how many thousands of diamonds I’ve crafted over the last 48 years, and the Esperanza may not even rank among the largest," he said, "but it is an exceptional diamond. And to cut and polish her at home in The Natural State [of Arkansas] is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Before it hits the auction block in Dallas, Esperanza will be mounted in a custom designed platinum pendant created by award-winning U.S. designer Erica Courtney.

Esperanza is the fifth-largest diamond found by a visitor since the Crater of Diamonds State Park was established in Murfreesboro in 1972. The park offers visitors the opportunity to search in the eroded surface of the eighth-largest, diamond-bearing deposit in the world. Any diamonds or semi-precious stones found in the 37 1/2-acre plowed field are theirs to keep.

"While we identify and register hundreds of diamonds every year, we rarely have an opportunity to personally experience the continuing story of our diamonds — to see what happens after they leave the park," park interpreter Waymon Cox told Jewelry News Network. "The Esperanza Diamond is an historic find for our park, state and nation. We are excited to follow this beautiful gem as it enters a new chapter.”

Photo credits: Stanley Jewelers.
September 17th, 2015
One of the most Instagrammed looks of New York Fashion Week had nothing to do with loose silhouettes or the subtle play of sheer and opaque textures. No, the look that set Instagram on fire was the futuristic face contouring jewelry crafted by Sydney-based Sarah & Sebastian.

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Making its debut at Dion Lee's runway show, the karat gold or silver wire jewelry tightly defined each model's profile.

Jewelry designer Sarah Gittoes (the Sarah half of Sarah & Sebastian), told Refiner29 that each piece of rose gold or sterling silver wire was custom-molded to fit each model. Surprisingly, the jewelry is not affixed to the face in any way. It's held in place by facial tension.

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“We liked the idea that each model’s contour was unique,” Gittoes said. “However, there was also the strength of uniformity.”

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Refinery29 said the minimal facial jewelry added an exclusive touch to the already-gorgeous collection. The New York Times said the face jewelry heightened the mood of opulent primitivism. And Fusion.net picked the look as one of the "9 Cool Things We Love From New York Fashion Week (so far)," explaining that the customized minimal metal “face separator” highlighting the bionic aspect inside the everyday woman.

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One critic pointed out a potentially cumbersome design flaw... "While it's stunning, it's not quite meant to be worn in real life... unless you can get through the day without opening your mouth," she wrote.

Others were excited to give the look a thumbs-up on Instagram. "All about the face piece" and "Face contouring on point" were just two examples of the comments being shared from the runway in real time.

Images via Instagram.
September 18th, 2015
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today's nostalgic magic carpet ride down Memory Lane finds Peggy Lee singing "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" — a popular tune from 1954's Tony Award-winning production of Kismet.

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Set in the year 1071, the story tells how a poor, but clever, street poet named Hajj follows his "Kismet" — his "Fate" — and rises to become the Emir of Bagdad, while his beautiful daughter Marsinah falls in love with the handsome, young Caliph. In a final triumph, Hajj goes off at the final curtain with one of the Baghdad's greatest beauties.

The Broadway success of "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" inspired a number of top singers of the day to prospect for Kismet gold — as in gold records. Four artists — including Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra — recorded the song in 1954.

In Lee's version, she sings about how jingly gifts can sometimes lead to an engagement ring: "Some day he may buy me a ring, ringa-linga / I've heard that's where it leads / Wearin' baubles, bangles, and beads."

The Sinatra version is slightly different to accommodate the gender difference. He sings, "Some day I may buy her a ring, ringa-linga."

Lee is credited with the best-selling version of the song, and over the years it has been covered by no fewer than 40 artists. The Who's Who list includes Liza Minnelli, Julie Andrews, Benny Goodman, Johnny Mathis, Mel Torme, Sara Vaughan and Dionne Warwick.

Kismet opened on Broadway in 1953 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1954. It was also successful in London's West End and has earned several revivals. A film version was released by MGM in 1955.

Lee had a successful career that spanned six decades. She was a singer, songwriter, composer and actress. She won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999. She died three years later at the age of 81.

The video of Lee's live performance of "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" was shot in Sweden in 1964 (the video quality is rough, but the audio is excellent). As a bonus, we're also posting Sinatra's version. Enjoy!

"Baubles, Bangles & Beads"
Written by Robert Wright and George Forrest. Performed by Peggy Lee.

Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing, jinga-linga
Baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads
Sparkles, spangles, my heart will sing, singa-linga
Wearin' baubles, bangles and beads

I'm just a glitter and gleam so
Make somebody dream so that

Some day he may buy me a ring, ringa-linga
I've heard that's where it leads
Wearin' baubles, bangles, and beads

Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing, jinga-linga
Baubles, bangles, bright, shiny beads
Sparkles, spangles, my heart will sing, singa-linga
Wearin' baubles, bangles, and beads

I'm just glitter and gleam so
Make somebody dream so that

Some day he may, buy me a ring, ringa-linga
I've heard that that's where it leads
Wearin' baubles and bangles, sparkles, spangles
Loads and loads of baubles, just give me those bangles
I gotta have sparkels, bangles and beads

Peggy Lee's version

Frank Sinatra's version

Credit: Peggy Lee publicity photo.
September 21st, 2015
Watch out, Graff Pink and Zoe! The 12.03-carat Blue Moon is looking to break your pricing records at Sotheby's Geneva on November 11. Sotheby's believes the internally flawless, fancy vivid blue diamond could sell for as much as $55 million, or $4.57 million per carat, when it hits the auction block at the Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale.

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With Sotheby's pre-sale estimate set at $35 million to $55 million, it looks like the cushion-cut Blue Moon has a strong chance to make auction history. If the diamond sells for more than $40 million, it will break a record for the highest price ever paid per carat, which currently stands at $3.3 million.

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If it exceeds the $46 million mark, it will break a second record for the highest price ever paid for any diamond of any color.

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The current price-per-carat record holder is The Zoe Diamond, a 9.75-carat internally flawless vivid blue gem that was once part of the estate of Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. Back in November of 2014, a private collector from Hong Kong outbid seven suitors at Sotheby's New York to snatch the coveted diamond.

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The Graff Pink currently owns the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a diamond. Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds won the 24.68-carat beauty at Sotheby's Geneva in 2010.

Among the largest known fancy vivid blue diamonds, the Blue Moon demonstrates the highest possible color grading for blue diamonds. Its name is a subtle reference to how often these extraordinary diamonds come along, as in “once in a blue moon.”

A GIA Monograph grading report described the hue of the diamond as “likely to have never before been seen within such a large diamond, or any gemstone.”

"The Blue Moon diamond is a simply sensational stone of perfect color and purity," David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewelry Division, said in a statement. “Blue, for me, is the most mysterious and magical of all the colors of diamond, and the Blue Moon will now take its place among the most famous gems in the world.”

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Blue diamonds get their color from trace amounts of boron in their chemical makeup. Colorless diamonds, by comparison, are pure carbon with no trace elements.

Unearthed in January by Petra Diamonds Ltd. at its legendary Cullinan mine in South Africa, the 29.6-carat rough was heralded at the time as “one of the most important blue diamonds ever recovered” by Petra chief executive Johan Dippenaar. In February, luxury jeweler Cora International purchased the rough gem for $25.6 million. Six months later, the company unveiled its 12.03-carat internally flawless cushion-cut blue masterpiece.

Credits: sothebys.com; video captures via corainternational.com; graffdiamonds.com.
September 22nd, 2015
What do a lock, a key, a billiard ball and a $500,000 diamond ring have in common? They were all in and out of the belly of "Professional Regurgitator" Stevie Starr on Episode 17 of America's Got Talent.

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The 52-year-old Scotsman has dedicated his life to swallowing — and regurgitating — a wide variety of items, from coins and lightbulbs to balloons and goldfish.

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During his America's Got Talent appearance, Starr asked to borrow judge Heidi Klum's $500,000 diamond pinky ring. A reluctant Klum reminded the performer that the ring was borrowed from celebrity jeweler Lorraine Schwartz and needed to be returned "without a scratch."

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Starr placed the ring between his lips and sucked it down his throat and presumably into his belly. All we know for sure was that it was gone in an instant.

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Then he produced a small padlock and key, and asked judge Howie Mandel to confirm that the lock was firmly closed. Once again, Starr placed each one into his mouth and sucked them down.

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Starr earned a standing ovations from three of the four judges when — after doing some stomach contortions — he was able to regurgitate the ring now secured in the lock. Starr convinced the audience that he used his stomach to unlock the lock with the key, put the ring in the lock, lock the lock, and regurgitate the lock with Heidi's ring around it.

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Then, if that wasn't amazing enough, Starr dislodged the key that was still "stuck" in his belly by swallowing a yellow billiard ball. Starr said that the ball allowed the key to float up so that Heidi could unlock her ring. He later regurgitated the billiard ball.

The spectacular performance helped propel Starr to the finals, where he finished in fourth place.

Remarkably, the Professional Regurgitator also placed fourth on Britain's Got Talent in 2010. There, too, he performed the ring/padlock routine with the bling reluctantly donated by actress Amanda Holden.

It's hard to believe that the items that Starr swallows actually get into his belly because they are bone dry when they are regurgitated. Critics contend that Starr is an illusionist and nothing is ever swallowed. Still, it is hard to explain how he could put a billiard ball in his mouth, make it disappear and then have it emerge from his mouth on command.

If you didn't see the show when it first aired, here's a second chance to be astonished...


Screen captures via YouTube.com.
September 23rd, 2015
After tricking his girlfriend into believing that she was simply participating in a post-game "Senior of the Week" celebration, middle linebacker Jake Ganus pulled out a ring and proposed to Peyton Thomas on the 50-yard line after Georgia's 52-20 throttling of South Carolina on Saturday.

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Ganus had been planning the proposal for months with the help of his head coach, teammates, family and the University of Georgia Athletic Department. The ruse was that Ganus had been named "Senior of the Week," an honor that allows for photo ops on the enormous "G" logo at midfield of the 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium.

To add extra credibility to the story, the girlfriend of sixth-year offensive tackle Kolton Houston texted Thomas to affirm that she participated with her boyfriend the year before and the experience was a lot of fun. In a press conference after the game, Ganus admitted that there is no such thing as "Senior of the Week."

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Ganus had told his coach and teammates that he would only go through with the proposal if the Bulldogs were victorious. On Saturday, as he came off the field with five minutes to go and his team well ahead, he started to get very, very nervous.

“I’m like, 'Oh man. I’ve really gotta do this,'” Ganus told dawgnation.com. “My stomach started getting in knots, people started coming up to me, nudging me like, ‘Alright man, alright.'”

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When the moment of truth arrived, the 6'2" Ganus was on his game. With the ring box hidden in his left hand, he proudly escorted his girlfriend to the center of the big "G." She said she was a little suspicious when a throng of photographers came along.

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"All of these cameras were following us, and I was kinda freaking out because I didn't know what was going on," Thomas told Bleacher Report. "He grabbed my hand and started telling me how much that he loved me, and I started crying because I knew what was happening and it hit me all at once."

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Then the strapping 230-pound defensive dynamo, still wearing football gear, settled down on one knee and proposed to the girl he's loved since their high school days in Chelsea, Alabama.

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Of course, she said,"Yes." The couple embraced and were greeted at midfield by friends, family and the rest of the Bulldog football team, a group of guys Ganus calls his "brothers."

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The halo-style engagement ring seems to be designed in white gold or platinum and features a round center stone and a diamond-accented split-shank band.

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The romantic moment has become a sensation on television, the internet and social media.

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“I didn’t really expect it to turn out like it did, go viral and all that,” Ganus told dawgnational.com. “But it’s crazy. I just wanted to do something special for her and it turned into something a lot more.”

"His family was in on it, my family was in on it, coach [Mark] Richt was in on it, the players were in on it," Thomas said. "I had no idea."

The couple is planning a July 2016 wedding.

Screen captures via Vimeo.com; Twitter/JakeGanus; Twitter/PeytonThomas; Twitter/GeorgiaBulldogs; Instagram/JakeGanus_51; Instagram/PeytonThomas.
September 24th, 2015
This past week, Eric Lopez, his girlfriend, Annette Perez, and their baby narrowly escaped a fast-moving wildfire that tore through their Northern California neighborhood and turned their home into a pile of ashes.

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Later, the young couple returned to the rubble to see if any of their possessions could be recovered. Specifically, Lopez was looking for something very special he had hidden behind the television.

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Although the TV was barely recognizable, a ring box and its contents had survived the firestorm. He opened the charred box to reveal a dusty — but otherwise undamaged — diamond engagement ring.

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“The TV was still standing and I see a little box on top of it, so I said, ‘Oh, that’s the ring!’" Lopez told the local ABC affiliate KGO. "I cannot believe it. I can't believe it's in the same spot I left it."

Lopez had been thinking about the ring since the Valley Fire forced him, Perez and Eric Jr. to evacuate with barely the clothes on their back.

“Pretty much all week, that's what was in my mind, 'The ring, the ring, hopefully it's good,'” said Lopez.

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Upon seeing her new ring for the first time, Perez was overjoyed. "It is so beautiful," she said.

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Lopez placed the engagement ring on his girlfriend's finger, but clarified that a proper, formal proposal will be coming at a later time. Lopez said he wants to make it special.

Although the blaze was likely as hot as 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, the metal ring box did an admirable job of protecting the gold and diamond ring. Even without the box, the white gold and diamond ring should have faired well because the ignition temperature of a diamond is 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit and the melting point of the precious metal is about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Valley Fire has been burning since September 12 about 80 miles north of San Francisco. President Barack Obama signed a declaration Tuesday to release federal funding to help battle the blaze that has charred 118 square miles, consumed 1,050 homes in Lake County and forced some 12,000 people to evacuate.

Images: Screen captures via abc7news.com.
September 25th, 2015
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you sensational songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Even though fall officially arrived on Wednesday, we're going to do our best to keep the summer alive with a fun song from Bon Jovi's 2007 chart-topping Lost Highway album.

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It's called "Summertime" and includes this line... "I keep a postcard in the back of my mind / White sand, sunshine / And you shining like a brand new diamond."

Written by lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, lead guitarist Richie Sambora and producer John Shanks, "Summertime" blends the best elements of rock and country music to create a fun, sing-along experience that's sure to have Bon Jovi fans dancing in the aisles.

In the song, Bon Jovi describes how his girlfriend makes him feel like summertime. He reminisces about warm breezes, lazy days, beach blankets, a bottle of wine and his girlfriend shining in the sunshine like a brand new diamond.

"Like a first slow dance and a first long kiss," he concludes, "there ain't nothing, baby, better then this."

Lost Highway was described by Bon Jovi as an "album influenced by Nashville." The group's calculated maneuver into the country genre paid off big time as the album made its debut at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. It was the group's first album to debut at #1 and was so well received that it went on to be nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards and sold more than four million copies worldwide.

John Francis Bongiovi, Jr., was born in New Jersey in 1962. A blood relative of Frank Sinatra, the young Bon Jovi spent much of his youth skipping school to pursue musical activities. By the time he was 16, he was already playing in New Jersey clubs. A year later, while sweeping floors at his cousin Tony Bongiovi's recording studio, Bon Jovi got the opportunity to sing on a Star Wars Christmas album. His first official credit was on a song called "R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas."

By 1983, Bon Jovi had formed the group that bears his name. Over the past 30-plus years, the group has sold more than 100 million records and performed more than 2,700 concerts in 50 countries. Bon Jovi and Sambora were inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.

We hope you enjoy the video of Bon Jovi's live performance of "Summertime." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Summertime"
Written by Richie Sambora, John Shanks and Jon Bon Jovi. Performed by Bon Jovi.

Feels something like summertime
Top down and nothin' but time
Radio's on and your by my side
Feels something like summertime

These days life goes like this
Wake up, check that off of some list
Gotta be a little something more than this
The bottom of my coffee cup

I keep a postcard in the back of my mind
White sand, sunshine
And you shining like a brand new diamond
It's keeping me for giving up
Thinking like I had enough

You make me feel something like summertime
Top down ain't nothing but time
Radio's on and you're by my side
Feels something like summertime

Like a first slow dance and a first long kiss
There ain't nothing, baby, better then this
It's like a beach blanket and a bottle of wine
It feels something like summertime
Summertime

I was a warm breeze with a cool tan
Life mapped out on the back of my hand
When I was laughing I was making plans

But I didn't laugh when I found you
Theres a heaven baby your the proof

You make me feel something like summertime
Top down ain't nothing but time
Radio's on and you're by my side
Feels something like summertime

Like a first slow dance and a first long kiss
There ain't nothing, baby, better then this
It's like a beach blanket and a bottle of wine
It feels something like summertime
(Sum-summer-summertime)

Feel something like summertime
Top down ain't nothing but time
Radio's on for me and my valentine

It's like that first slow dance and that first long kiss
There ain't nothing baby better then this
It's like a beach blanket and a bottle of wine (Yeah)

Feels something like summertime
Top down ain't nothing but time
Radio's on and you're by my side,
Feels something like summertime
Just like summer time
(Sum-sum-summertime)
Something like summertime


Image: Facebook/BonJovi
September 28th, 2015
In May 2014, a mammoth 17.4mm natural pearl stunned the auction world when it sold for $1.37 million, a price nearly seven times the pre-sale estimate. On October 29, Woolley & Wallis gets a chance to break its own record when it puts a 18.6mm natural pearl under the hammer at its Salisbury, England, headquarters.

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The slightly off-round, button-shaped saltwater pearl — which is currently set in a diamond-encrusted chandelier pendant — is one of the largest ever to come up for auction. Although it's only slightly more than 1mm larger than the current record holder, the contender weighs substantially more — 44.30 carats vs. 33.14 carats.

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The Swiss Gemmological Institute described the pearl as having "an attractive slightly cream color with rosé and green overtones." It has a very fine pearl luster and smooth surface. The pearl measures exactly 17.45mm x 18.55mm x 18.65mm.

Due to its enormous size, extreme rarity and the price paid for the current record holder, some may think Woolley & Wallis' pre-sale estimate of £500,000 - £700,000 ($760,000 - $1.06 million) is a bit conservative.

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When the 17.4mm natural pearl was offered for sale last year, the auction house badly missed the mark with a pre-sale high estimate of $200,000.

There's a bit of mystery swirling around the upcoming auction headliner. As for its provenance, Woolley & Wallis could only say that the gem was from the early 20th century. No information was released about how long the current owner has possessed the pearl or from whom it was acquired. The current owner was simply identified as a "private international source," according to the Daily Mail.

The reason why a single natural pearl could be worth $1 million or more is because a gem of this type is nearly impossible to find. A natural pearl is created by a mollusk totally by chance, without human intervention.

A natural pearl forms when an irritant, such as a grain of sand, slips in between the mollusk's shell and its mantle tissue. To protect itself from the irritant, the mollusk secretes layer upon layer of nacre, which is the iridescent material that eventually produces a pearl. For a natural pearl to develop to 18mm in size would take 10 years or longer.

Cultured pearls, by comparison, are grown under controlled conditions, where a bead is implanted in the body of the mollusk to stimulate the secretion of nacre.

Images: Woolley & Wallis
September 29th, 2015
When Pope Francis visited New York last week, he was presented with a one-foot-tall Gothic chalice made from small silver items donated by 850 ordinary Americans.

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Back in March, Argentinian silversmith Adrian Pallarols, a long-time friend of the pope, had made a plea in a Time magazine interview for donations of modest silver items that would be melted down and ultimately transformed into a cherished memento of Pope Francis' historic visit to the U.S.

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“Everybody, the whole country, will be in the prayers of Pope Francis here in New York when he lifts the chalice in the consecration,” Pallarols told Time magazine. “Everybody can be in his hands for the prayers.”

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Soon after the story was published, silver donations came pouring in. In total, Pallarols received 850 individual donations for a total of 16.1 pounds. The artist's work required about 3.3 pounds of precious metal. The excess was sold, with the proceeds going to the Pope’s efforts to assist the poor in the U.S.

“We received rings, chains, pendants, earrings, bracelets and broken pieces of silver,” Pallarols told americamedia.org. "This chalice was made in the name of the humblest people, who probably never will have the chance to meet the Holy Father or touch his hands. All this was made in their name.”

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At his workshop in Buenos Aires, Pallarols designed a chalice rich with symbols and elements that made it distinctly American. The chalice features red, white, and blue jewels, a gold-plated map of the United States, and an intricate pillar-motif inspired by the architecture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Red, white and blue precious stones — rubies, crystals and sapphires — were set into the cup of the chalice, representing the colors of the United States flag.

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Pallarols placed a gold-plated map of the United States at the center of the node, so when the pope put his hand around it, he symbolically embraced all the people of the U.S.

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The Gothic-style pillars of New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral provided additional inspiration for the artist. The chalice includes 12 such pillars, which represent the 12 apostles.

On the base of the chalice are the engraved flags of the United States and the Holy See. The flags flying together represent the union between the people of the U.S. and the papacy.

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The hand-crafted chalice comprised 85 pieces that were either soldered or screwed together.

The Pallarols family has been designing extraordinary silver items for dignitaries and heads of state since the mid-1700s.

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The family also has close ties with Pope Francis. When the Pope was still known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he presided over Adrian Pallarols’ wedding. He later baptized Pallarols’ daughter and frequently visited the artisan’s shop to chat about art and music, according to Time magazine.

Images: Screen captures via YouTube/Adrian Pallarols, CBS NewYork; Twitter/Pontifex
September 30th, 2015
A stunning 16.08-carat fancy vivid pink diamond will be touring like a "rock" star before hitting the auction block at Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva on November 10. If the cushion-shaped diamond lives up to its billing, it could bring as much as $28 million, setting an auction record for the highest price ever paid for a pink diamond of that shape.

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If spirited bidding drives the price beyond $34 million, the auction headliner will break the current per-carat auction record for any pink diamond — a record held by The Vivid Pink at $2.1 million.

Christie's emphasized the pure, strong saturation of color present in the pink diamond. While most pink diamonds exhibit a hint of secondary color — such as purple, orange, brown or grey — the stone up for auction shows no trace of another color, making it both attractive and exceptionally rare.

The auction house noted that fewer than 10 percent of pink diamonds weigh more than one-fifth of a carat. In almost 250 years of auction history, only three pure vivid pink diamonds larger than 10 carats have appeared for sale.

"As large and rare colored diamonds of this calibre become increasingly hard to locate, this 16.08 carat fancy vivid pink diamond comes to market at a time when great gems are mirroring prices achieved for masterpieces in the world of fine art," noted Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s International Head of Jewelry. "Collectors are looking to jewels as savvy investments that are both beautiful and can appreciate considerably in value over a relatively short period of time."

The importance of the postage-stamp-size pink diamond is reflected in Christie's efforts to treat this gem like an international rock star. The stone will take off on a multi-city tour starting this weekend. Gem fans in Hong Kong will get a first glimpse of the pink diamond from October 2-4. Then, the tour moves on to New York (Oct. 16-19) and London (Oct. 26-27). The diamond will make its final appearance in Geneva from November 6-10, and it will be sold on the evening of the 10th.

Billed as the largest cushion-shaped fancy pink diamond to ever be offered at auction, the gem is set in a halo-style ring. The pink diamond is surrounded by a double row of pavé white diamonds, highlighting the main stone, with a third row of small pink diamonds underneath. The band is comprised of small white diamonds set in platinum.

The current owner purchased the stone as an investment 10 years ago, according to Christie's. The bidder who walks away with the gem on November 10 will get the naming rights.

Christie's set the pre-sale estimate at $23 million to $28 million. Despite those lofty numbers, the gem is unlikely to threaten The Graff Pink, which currently owns the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a diamond. Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds won the 24.78-carat emerald-cut fancy vivid pink gem at Sotheby’s Geneva for $45.6 million in 2010.

bluemoon4

Amazingly, only one day after the Christie's auction, rival Sotheby's Geneva will be taking a crack at Graff's record when the Blue Moon hits the auction block. Sotheby's has given the 12.03-carat fancy vivid blue diamond a pre-sale estimate of $35 million to $55 million.

Image credits: Christie's, Sotheby's.