Stephanie Swanson sees art when she looks at jewelry.

The owner of Stephanie Swanson Jewelry Design custom-makes each piece, creating it around the stone in an effort to ensure that the uniqueness of each piece reflects the originality of the gem itself.

"The stone is so unique. That's usually what inspires me," Swanson says. "The jewelry making process—making something out of nothing—I love it."

Although diamonds are often thought of as a girl's best friend, there are many other unique gems that can find their way to a loved one's heart this holiday season.

Alternate Choices

A popular gem, zircon has diamond-like brilliance, says Michael Moriarty, a goldsmith at Moriarty's Gem Art in Crown Point. It also comes in a variety of colors, including blue and a peach tone. It's also a historical gemstone, used for thousands of years.

In smaller pieces, zircon is also very affordable, says Brad Belush, owner of Brad's Designs & Jewelry in Crown Point.

Tanzanite, a blue gemstone, can resemble sapphire, and blue topaz, December's birthstone, works nicely in rings and pendants, Belush adds. Tanzanite occurs in only one place in the world—the East African state of Tanzania.

While blue topaz is the birthstone of the month of Christmas, the gem comes in several other colors as well, from brown to red and honey-yellow. Topaz has been known for 2,000 years and has religious significance. According to the International Colored Gemstone Association, it is one of the gemstones that was used to form the foundations of the 12 gates to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The stones used were intended to serve as protection against enemies and as a symbol of beauty and splendor.

A hot new product on the market, Ethiopian opal was discovered in the last decade, and is of great quality, Moriarty says. Opal has a classic look and at one time from the 1950s to 1980s, Australian opal reigned supreme. However, productions slowed and opal fell out of the top three selling colored gemstones in the United States.

Known as the stone of regeneration and energizing, garnet is thought to be stabilizing—bringing order to chaos. Though most think of garnet as red, it actually comes in a variety of colors, from violet-red to green, brown, yellow and orange, Moriarty says.

Set in pendants, bracelets or rings, beach glass is a favorite among Swanson's customers. Located in Chesterton and Valparaiso, Swanson sells her product out of the Flower Cart locations in each city. "People will bring in their own collectibles and I set them," she says. "That's really popular—people love it, especially when it's their own pieces."

Beach glass starts out as normal glass, such as from a broken bottle or other glass item. However, as it tumbles around in the water over several years, sharp edges become polished, smooth edges, and the piece takes on a frosty appearance.

Unique Settings

What surrounds the gem can be just as unique as the gem itself, Swanson says.

Using sticks, Swanson casts them into solid silver to create unique shapes. She then sets gemstones on the casted twigs, creating earrings, pins and other pieces.

Taking one gem and pairing it with another can also create a stunning combination. "Turquoise, for example, paired with something sparkly is fun," Swanson says.

While gold is always a favorite among jewelry buyers, because the price of the material is high currently, more are turning to stainless steel. "They're made well and don't discolor," Belush says. "They're lightweight and comfortable to wear, and are inexpensive."

Ordering Custom-Made

Though jewelry can be purchased by visiting the showcases at the stores, custom-made jewelry is a popular gift each holiday season.

"We've even done a combination of colors," Moriarty says. "Anything you think of we can do."

It's recommended to order custom-made jewelry at least three weeks prior to Christmas, but check with the jeweler for a holiday timetable to ensure a gift is ready in time for the holidays, he says.

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