Episode 212 Part 2: Inside Appraiser Jo Ellen Cole’s Extensive Jewelry Library

Episode 212

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Which essential jewelry books you should have in your library
  • Why books are so much more reliable than internet research when it comes to gemstones and jewelry
  • Why the Renaissance opened up a new world of adornment
  • An overview of the periods of jewelry and how they overlapped and influenced one another
  • How cultural turning points, like World War II and the South African diamond rush, influenced what materials were used during different time periods

About Jo Ellen Cole

Jo Ellen Cole is the owner of Cole Appraisal Services and the director of fine jewelry at Abell Auctions. She earned her Graduate Gemologist Diploma at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica and successfully passed the prestigious Gemological Association of Great Britain’s FGA examinations.

Additional resources:

Gemological and Jewelry Books for a Professional Library:


Gemstones: Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification, Webster, Robert

Gem Testing, Anderson, Basil

Handbook of Gemstone Identification, Liddicoat Jr., Richard T.

Gem and Ornamental Materials of Organic Origin, Pedersen, Maggie Campbell

Gemstones of the World, Schumann, Walter

Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, Vols. 1, 2 and 3, Gubelin, Edward and Koivula, John

Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones, Arem, Joel

The Spectroscope and Gemmology, Anderson, Basil and Payne, James, edited by Mitchell, R. Keith


Gemology, An Annotated Bibliography, Sinkankas, John

The Complete Handbook for Gemstone Weight Estimation, Carmona, Charles

Dictionary of Gems and Gemology, Shipley, Robert

The Jewelers Manual, Liddicoat Jr., Richard T. and Copeland, Lawrence L.

Gemstone and Mineral Data Book, Sinkankas, John


Diamonds, Bruton, Eric

Diamond Cutting: Complete Guide to Cutting Diamonds, Watermeyer, Basil

Famous Diamonds, Balfour, Ian

Hardness 10, Vleeschdrager, Eddy

Diamond Handbook, Newman, Renee

Laboratory Grown Diamonds, Simic, Dusan and Deljanin, Branko

Fluorescence as a Tool for Diamond Origin Identification – A Guide, Chapman, John, Deljanin, Branko and Spyromilios, George


Book of the Pearl, Kunz, George F. and Stevenson, Charles Hugh

Pearls, Strack, Elizabeth

Beyond Price, Donkin, R.A.


Jade, A Gemmologist’s Guide, Hughes, Richard

Jade For You, Ng, John Y. and Root, Edmund


Ruby and Sapphire, Hughes, Richard

Emerald and Other Beryls, Sinkankas, John

Opal Identification and Value, Downing, Paul


Brilliant Effects, Pointon, Marcia

Understanding Jewelry, Bennett, David, and Mascetti, Daniella

Jewelry in America, Fales, Margha Gandy

Victorian Jewellery, Flowers, Margaret


In appraiser Jo Ellen Cole’s opinion, the best thing a jewelry lover can have is a well-stocked library. Information on gems and jewelry abounds online today, but much of that information is incorrect. For that reason, Jo Ellen—a Graduate Gemologist who also passed Gem-A’s FGA examination—turns to books when she has a question about a specific piece, hallmark or stone. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to share which books she recommends for every jewelry interest; how jewelry trends shifted over the years due to cultural forces; and how to quickly identify the characteristics of different jewelry periods.


Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. If you haven’t heard part one, please head to TheJewelryJourney.com.

I met Jo Ellen about six or seven years ago when I was studying for the GG, or the Graduate Gemology degree. She knows a lot about jewelry, and not just jewelry, but I find her extremely knowledgeable about vintage and antique pieces. Welcome back.

As things come across your desk to be appraised or somebody wants to sell them, do you ever find copies?

Jo Ellen: Oh, yeah. That’s why you want to be able to refer back to these books to look at the pictures and the workmanship and see if it matches. Also, a lot of times, especially Fabergé, he had a whole workshop of masters. Generally, they would sign their work. It’s really nice to be able to go back to these books, look at the hallmarks and see who made those pieces. That’s another reason to have the book. A lot of times, they won’t have that information online to be easily found.

Sharon: Do you have to go back to people and tell them what they have is not what they really thought they had, or do you just pass it onto management?

Jo Ellen: At Abell, I have not seen a lot of Fabergé jewelry. It’s a regional auction gallery, so it deals with things that are very low in value up to very high-value things. It really takes everything. You’ll find Fabergé more at Heritage Auctions or Sotheby’s or Christie’s or Bonhams. I’ve only found one instance, when I was working at Heritage Auctions, where we had to inform the person that we thought they jewelry was not actually made by Carl Fabergé workshops. Of course, they were disappointed, but I would rather be open with someone than just try to meet their expectations of what something should be.

Sharon: You were telling us about some books that were about Arts and Crafts. I want to say Elyse Zorn Karlin is the head of ASJRA.

Jo Ellen: Yes, the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, I think is what it is. It’s a wonderful newsletter she puts out every Monday online. It’s a fount of information. She just never stops. She’s constantly writing or accruing or organizing. She’s a little powerhouse. She’s a really nice lady, too. I’ve met her.

Sharon: So, she wrote this book on Arts and Crafts jewelry. You were mentioned in that book. Was there another one?

Jo Ellen: Yeah, there’s another book on Arts and Crafts—well, there are a couple. There’s one called “Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts Jewelry” by Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey Munn. That’s a very good book on artists’ jewelry. It goes through the whole Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts period. I should have looked into it further before talking with you because there’s a whole group of people, in England particularly, who fostered this kind of art. It was all tied in with William Morris and John Ruskin.

Sharon: Did they make jewelry, Ruskin?

Jo Ellen: He didn’t make jewelry, but he would design jewelry and give talks on jewelry styles.

Sharon: Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.

Jo Ellen: The same with William Morris. He didn’t make jewelry, but he would comment on jewelry styles and ornamentation. A lot of his ornamentation found its way into jewelry.

Sharon: I didn’t know that. That’s interesting. After that would be Art Deco?

Jo Ellen: Art Nouveau.

Sharon: Art Nouveau. I’ve always had trouble. I thought Arts and Crafts was Aesthetic. I never understood the timeline.

Jo Ellen: Art Nouveau jewelry was around—it’s broad. Some people say different years, but generally speaking, to cover it all would be around 1895 through 1915. It was this explosion of curved lines and focus on nature. Lalique was a big proponent. There’s a museum in Lisbon, Portugal, called the Gulbenkian Museum. It fosters a lot of his work because Gulbenkian was a banker who was a supporter of Lalique in the early days. Lalique later went on to focus more on glass, but in the early years, he was a jeweler. A lot of his pieces still show up in beautiful, artistic scenes of things. Glass was first used as a precious stone in jewelry with his work.

Sharon: Oh, that’s interesting. So, he was Art Nouveau.

Jo Ellen: Art Nouveau. You think of those whiplash lines. That’s all Art Nouveau, very naturalistic. A lot of times, they would focus on dying flowers and things, especially in natural scenes. For some reason, it was a very maudlin time period. You would see things like dying poppies and things like that, but it was a beautifully crafted time period for jewelry.

Sharon: What came after that? What books for art did you mention?

Jo Ellen: For Art Nouveau, there’s a great book by Vivienne Becker. It’s just called “Art Nouveau Jewelry.” There’s another book by some well-known names, Yvonne Markowitz, who was the former curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Elyse Zorn Karlin again, and Susan Ward. It’s called “Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry.” That’s a lovely book as well. Just going through the pages and looking at the illustrations and photographs, it’s a delight.

Sharon: What period came after that?

Jo Ellen: Then you start getting into Art Deco jewelry. The funny thing about Art Deco jewelry is that it started earlier than most people think. What happened was you had this time period during World War I, 1914 to 1918. In 1915, the Art Deco style was supposed to be promoted at a French festival, but it was put off because of the war. They didn’t do that festival until 1925. That’s when Art Deco started to be well-known, but it was starting to show up even in the Art Nouveau time. You would see more geometric figures. They were kind of a rounded shape. Then you started having artists like John Dupré in France, who started making machine-like pieces of jewelry with things like hexagonal screws being used as a decoration. So, it started with that and then worked its way up into high jewelry.

In the 1930s, you started seeing all-white jewelry, all-diamond and platinum jewelry. The jewelry periods also developed according to the technology at the time. I think it was in 1895 Cartier learned how to start working with platinum jewelry. Then you started to see these very fine, filagree-type pieces that are known as Edwardian or Belle Epoch jewelry. Because of that technology, they were able to make those pieces, whereas before they couldn’t. Once they discovered how to work with platinum, that really came into being and was used a lot in Art Deco jewelry. You’d see a lot of diamond-set platinum jewelry, a lot of bracelets and earrings and things all in diamonds. That was after 1930. From like 1930 to 1938, you would see a lot of that all-white jewelry, a very dressy time.

Sharon: I thought the jewelry with big stones, citrines, aquamarines or things like that, I always think of that as Art Deco.

Jo Ellen: That’s more Retro. That’s more 40s with yellow gold. When World War II started, all the platinum was being melted down to be used for warfare, so they used gold rather than platinum. That’s when you started seeing these big stones, aquamarines that were accented with little, tiny rubies, and these flutes and scrolls that were very voluptuous and big. That was more the Retro era, which was around 1940 to 1950.

Sharon: Is Retro a period like the other periods you’ve described?

Jo Ellen: It is. I don’t have a lot of books on Retro, but you see it a lot in the books that encompass everything. The “Understanding Jewelry” book has pieces of Retro jewelry in it, but I haven’t seen a book specifically on Retro jewelry yet.

Sharon: I always thought Retro and Art Deco were the same.

Jo Ellen: They kind of bleed into each other. Again, you get some of these rounded, geometric shapes, but they’re a lot more voluptuous, and it’s in yellow gold rather than platinum.

Sharon: That’s interesting. Would you say that Art Deco is the end of history, and then you come into contemporary jewelry?

Jo Ellen: Then you come into more of the artists’ jewelry that started in the late 30s through the 70s, and people like Sam Kramer and Art Smith. It’s very organic and fluid jewelry. It was not necessarily balanced jewelry. It’s a lot of unusual forms, a lot of lesser metals being used. It wasn’t so much the quality of the jewels; it was more the statement the piece would make. You start seeing brutalist jewelry, which has a very chunky, scrappy-looking finish to the jewelry, usually very heavy. But a lot of the artists’ jewelry was between the 40s and late 70s, I would say. A lot of the periods occurred at the same time or bled into each other.

Sharon: When you say artists’ jewelry, do you mean studio jewelry?

Jo Ellen: Yeah, studio jewelry, absolutely.

Sharon: What if somebody wants to know about the big jewelry houses?

Jo Ellen: If you want a couple of books on modernist jewelry, I’ve got this.

Sharon: Sure, yes. Please.

Jo Ellen: I know that’s the stuff that you love. There’s a book by Marbeth Schon that’s called “Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960: The Wearable Art Movement,” and it’s wonderful. It goes through all the people that would make this stuff and promote it and what the time period was like. It was a very free-flowing, full-of-ideas time. Post-war, everybody was so relieved that the war was over, it came out in their jewelry. It was a very joyous time for a lot of people.

There’s also a book that’s slightly later called “Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s” edited by Cynthia Amnéus. It was actually an exhibit. I believe it was at the Cleveland Museum of Art; I’m not sure though. It showcases all of the studio and artists’ jewelry, great stuff. Those are two books I would recommend for that time period.

Then if you go into the individual artists and houses, there are some classics. There’s a book on Van Cleef and Arpels by Sylvie Raulet. It goes through the history of that particular house and how it formed, and the types of technological advances they made that are still influencing the jewelry industry today. There are a lot of books on the same artists or houses, but these are classics that are the basis for a good library. Another one would be “Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary,” by Hans Nadelhoffer, who was another Sotheby’s person. He wrote this wonderful tome right before he passed away that describes Cartier and its history. Just about any jewelry house, there’s going to be a book on it. There are books on David Webb, on Seaman Schepps, on the Lacloche lavalier, Fabergé, Chaumet, Boucheron. There are separate books for all these great houses that focus on their jewelry. It’ll be on the list I give you that you can post.

Sharon: I’m probably old-fashioned in this way, but I like pearls. How can I tell the difference between different pearls?

Jo Ellen: That’s an interesting question because there are so many new types of pearls that are coming out these days. It’s hard to keep up with them. However, a really good book on pearls that will help explain those different types of pearls, including natural and cultured, would be a book called “Pearls” by Elisabeth Strack. It came out maybe 10 years ago, but it’s an all-encompassing book by this woman who has spent her life studying pearls. It talks about how pearls were first used in jewelry, their position in jewelry during the Middle Ages because they were easy to find, and then up through cultivating pearls in the late 19th century into the early 20th century and the marketing of pearls. It’s a very encompassing book.

There’s an older book called “The Book of the Pearl” by George F. Kunz and Charles Hugh Stevenson, which is really a classic. It’s very expensive if you get the original edition, but they have reprinted it in a paperback edition just so you can have the information. It was so thoroughly written by Kunz in particular, who was the gemologist for Tiffany Company from around the turn of the 20th century up until, I think, the 20s. It’s a wonderful book for the overall story of how pearls came to be so much of a favorite in fashion and jewelry. That’s another good book, but they’re both excellent books.

There’s a more academic book that’s written by a guy named R. A. Donkin—he’s a monk—and it’s called “Beyond Price.” It talks about pearls from early times up until the early 1900s. That also is an interesting book. It’s a lot more academic. It’s much drier.

Sharon: That’s interesting.

Jo Ellen: Yeah, but that’s a very good book to have as well. There’s a lot on pearls, though some of it is misinformation. Online, there’s a lot of misinformation about pearls. Again, that’s why I would refer you to a book versus online.

Sharon: What if you want a reference book? If you don’t have a book for each period, but you want one overall or two good reference books?

Jo Ellen: It depends on the subject. If you want a reference book just on gemstones, there’s an excellent book called “Gems: Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification,” by Robert Webster. I think it’s up to the fifth edition or something. That book, along with a book called “Gem Testing” by Basil Anderson, if you essentially memorize those books, you can pass the coveted FGA course that’s taught by the Gem-A people in Great Britain. That’s what I did; I memorized those two books to pass that course. It’s so detailed. It goes through every single type of jewelry material and all the properties that pertain to each. It’s a very good reference book just for gemstones.

For jewelry in general, I go back to the “Understanding Jewelry” book just because it’s such a classic. It really encompasses a lot of information in a very enjoyable way.

Sharon: What if you want emeralds or rubies?

Jo Ellen: With emeralds, there’s a great book, “Emeralds and Other Beryls,” by John Sinkankas. John Sinkankas was truly a Renaissance man in our industry. He cut stones. He actually has a faceted egg of topaz that’s in the Smithsonian. He also painted gemstones. He wrote about gemstones. He had a book business specifically for rare and used books pertaining to gemstones and jewelry. He was a wonderful powerhouse of a guy who did a lot for the industry. He wrote a book called “Emeralds and Other Beryls” back in 1980. I think it has another edition now, but it’s still a very practical book to use for emeralds.

In terms of ruby and sapphire, there’s a man named Richard Hughes. He wrote an absolute encyclopedia, “Ruby & Sapphire.” It talks about every aspect of that particular mineral.

For opals, there’s a book on opal identification and value by a guy named Paul Downing that came out, I think, around the turn of this century. It’s very good in terms of classifying different types, which is really difficult because no two opals are alike. So, it’s really helpful in classifying and helping to see the value parameters of opal.

In terms of jade, again, Richard Hughes just finished a wonderful book on jade. It’s a gemologist’s guide that encompasses everything about jade. For the western mind, it’s a wonderful resource to have because we don’t understand jade in the same way as Asian countries understand jade. It’s just a different mindset towards that stone. He really helps bring to the fore the different parameters where you would judge for value and beauty. Another jade book is the classic “Jade for You” by John Ng and Edmond Root. It’s a book that has this one particular photograph that people always look for. It’s a circular assemblage of jades of different colors, translucencies and textures. It’s a good, classic book to have as an introduction to jade.

Sharon: Is there a book on hallmarks we should have too?

Jo Ellen: Yeah, there are a couple on hallmarks that are very helpful. Whenever you look for hallmarks, you’re almost always going to fail. But once in a while, you actually hit on the hallmark and you’re like, “Eureka, I found it!” A friend of mine, Danusia Nicklewicz, along with Lindy Matula and Bill Whetstone, wrote a book called “World Hallmarks – Volume 1 – Europe, 19th to 21st Centuries” that goes through every European country describing their hallmarking systems. It sheds so much light on what you see on a piece of jewelry from Europe. Even to this day, it’s very appropriate. Then the same authors came up with “World Hallmarks – Volume II” that encompassed Asia, the Middle East and Africa. They’re very, very helpful.

In terms of finding marks for jewelry manufacturers, I only have one to refer to, but hopefully that will become larger in the future. It’s a book called “American Jewelry Manufacturers” by Dorothy T. Rainwater. It literally gives photographs of the actual marks that were made by American manufacturers generally through the 20th century. There’s another book, “The Glitter & the Gold: Fashioning America’s Jewelry” by Ulysses Grant Dietz, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Kevin J. Smead and Janet Zapata. It describes the manufacturers in the New Jersey jewelry industry from the late 19th century through the 20th century. It’s informative because a lot of jewelry came out of New Jersey, Rhode Island, those East Coast states that focused on making jewelry that would be sold in New York.

Sharon: A lot of people don’t know that New Jersey was the center of jewelry manufacturing.

Jo Ellen: And it’s important because you still see a lot of those pieces to this day.

Sharon: Can you identify the hallmarks by looking at the book and looking at the piece?

Jo Ellen: Sometimes, yes. Not always, but again, when you do find it, it’s so exhilarating.

Sharon: The last question is: is there a newer book that you think is the most compelling one we should have or look at?

Jo Ellen: Let’s see. It’s been around for a while, but a wonderful book to buy if you’re interested in books on jewelry and gemology and you want to be able to find a specific book on a specific subject matter, there is a set of books called “Gemology: An Annotated Bibliography” by John Sinkankas. It literally goes through almost every single book printed on jewelry or gemstones in western civilization. It’s an amazing duet of books. It’s very helpful if you’re looking for a jewelry book on a certain subject.

Sharon: Is it two volumes, one being the stone and another the bibliography?

Jo Ellen: It’s two volumes, but it’s all done alphabetically. It goes alphabetically by the author but also alphabetically by the title. Sometimes you’ll see the title but then it will say, “See the author’s name to get more information.” Then for each title he lists, he’ll give a review of the book itself because he saw all of them. He was a commander in the U.S. Navy, and he traveled all over the world finding these books and intimately became familiar with them. His breadth of knowledge is just astounding; it really is.

Sharon: I’m very impressed by your breadth of knowledge. We learned a lot. It seems like it would be boring, but it’s very interesting because, like I said, things like Art Deco and Retro, I never knew that Retro was a separate period, but now I know how to identify the difference. Jo Ellen, thank you so much. You’re a GG. What is it?

Jo Ellen: I’m a Graduate Gemologist, graduated in 1979. I’m also an FGA from the Gem-A people, which used to be called the Gemological Association of Great Britain. It’s a harder course, believe me, but I was very happy to take it. I learned a lot from it, but you don’t have to have initials after your name to enjoy these things. I would suggest that people read these books to foster their own interest and their own categories of what they’re interested in.

Sharon: I want to remind everybody that the list will be on the website, so you’ll be able to look at the authors and take another look at what books you’d like or what books are on your wish list. Jo Ellen, thank you so much for being here today.

Jo Ellen: Thank you. I’m flattered to have been a subject of one of your podcasts. Thank you so much.

Sharon: Thank you. We will have photos posted on the website. Please head to TheJewelryJourney.com to check them out.

Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.

Sharon Berman