Ageless Beauty

Since the dawn of time crystals, gemstones and minerals have been precious commodities. Used for trade, to bestow or to express wealth and prosperity; the allure of these gifts from the Earth is as ageless as the pieces themselves.

Recently, I was privileged to travel to Istanbul. This exotic city is rich in culture, rife with art and artifacts and with a history that is mesmerizing. Of course, one can’t go to Istanbul and not spend some time at the Grand Bazaar. Despite being home to thousands of vendors offerings everything from hand knotted rugs to leather goods to spices to stunning textiles; one of the stellar standouts is the amazing assortment of gems, minerals and crystals to be found there.

A display at the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – Photo by Gina Samarotto

A display at the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – Photo by Gina Samarotto

What I found amazing was how these pieces were shown. Simply stacked in piles without the benefit of velvet trays or dramatic lighting, the pieces were simply offered in their most natural state of beauty.

Chatting with one of the sellers, I asked him what did his customers do with the treasures they purchased. “These are pieces of the Earth,” he answered matter of factly. “They were here before the people and they will be here when there are no more cities, when the people are gone. When you have a piece of the Earth, you have eternity”.

What an incredibly thought provoking statement that was.

While I have a very deep-rooted love of all things beautiful, I have an equally deep fascination for things that come out of the Earth – things that are simply ageless. I can’t help but marvel when I think about how many hands have touched a gem, or what was happening above while minerals and crystals were forming below the Earth’s surface. When you begin to think about mined pieces in that way, as many Rockhounds do, it becomes easier to understand why they are so passionate about their hobby. Collecting rocks, stones and minerals isn’t merely an acquisition of materials – it’s an exploration into the history of the world.

Throughout Istanbul, Iznik ceramics are prominently featured. A much loved and revered art form for centuries, Iznik ceramics played an important role during the Ottoman Empire. The vibrantly painted pieces are still made today, using many of the same techniques that have been handed down through generations. What sets Iznik ceramics apart in the myriad Turkish offerings is the sheer weight. Surprisingly heavy, the heft of the tiles and objects is due to its main component – Quartz.

The process begins with the pulverization of Quartz into powder. The powder is then the main ingredient in the “paste”. Similar in texture to clay, the paste may be formed and molded as the artist desires. In the case of tiles, the paste is rolled into square sheets, formed into tile molds and left to air dry. After the initial forming the tiles are removed from the molds, under-glazed and again left to dry naturally – a process taking approximately two to three weeks. Only then are the tiles ready for their first firing.

That firing process is one of the few aspects of the making of Iznik that has changed dramatically since Ottoman times. No longer fueled by fire kept alive by hand, the kilns are electrically operated. After the underglazing, intricate patterns are applied onto the tiles by pressing charcoal through a perforated sheet of waxed paper, leaving a temporary outline on the piece. Those outlines are then hand painted with impossibly fine brushes and ink and then finally the shapes are filled with brilliant color – all done by hand in a painstaking process. The painted tile is then given a finish glaze and again put into the kiln to seal the art.

The finished pieces are art and mineral, new and old, wrought by man as well as by nature. For the Rockhound, it would seem there is a new way to expand ones collection – and a beautiful one at that.

A retailer specializing in Iznik ceramics shows a piece of the Quartz used to create the “paste”. Photo by Gina Samarotto

A retailer specializing in Iznik ceramics shows a piece of the Quartz used to create the “paste”. Photo by Gina Samarotto

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