Ruby Rule! 7 Reasons to Love July’s Birthstone

1. Ruby Slippers: A mash-up of two of our favorite things here—gemstones and shoes. Calling a jewel-encrusted shoe a slipper is so very Cinderella-at-the-ball, the addition of magic powers seems like an afterthought. Fashion tip: wear these sans ankle socks.


2. Ruby in song: Steely Dan ; The Rolling Stones ; and Mel Tillis . Enough said.

3. Ruby Dee: Acclaimed actress and civil rights activist. She gave sparkle to roles in hero bio-pics (The Jackie Robinson Story), electrified us on Broadway (A Raisin in the Sun), and lent elder-statesmen credibility to the next generation of artists like Spike Lee (Jungle Fever).

rubydee peopledotcom

4. Burmese Ruby Tiara – Queen Elizabeth commissioned this tiara from Garrard & Co in 1973 using the rubies and diamonds in her private collection. A total of 96 rubies are set into the tiara. The rubies were a wedding present from the Burmese people, after whom the tiara was named.


5. Ruby Giuliani:  OK, we made up that one, but wouldn’t it make a fantastic name for a drag queen?

6. Ruby’s Inn:   Their web site says they’re the finest accommodations in the Bryce Canyon region. We can’t vouch for that statement but, with views like this outside your window, it’s hard to complain about a scratchy bath towel or less-than-premium cable package.


7. Ruby Bridges: The bravest six-year-old in history, and that includes the little kid in Les Miserables. Ruby was the first child to integrate white public schools in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. Following this harrowing early start, she went on to lead an ordinary life as a travel agent, wife, mother, and school volunteer. Oh, and she also started the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences. “Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it,” says our sparkling heroine. Preach, sisterfriend. Preach.

Ruby Bridges

Stay cool, everyone. July’s not over and August is still before us.

Wearin’ of the Blue: Aquamarine

Happy Birthday, March Hares! You may be tempted to drape yourself in green emeralds this month. But emeralds belong to the month of May. March’s birthstone is another form of the mineral beryl.

Pure Beryl

Pure beryl is colorless. Add some iron ions under the right geological circumstances, and you get beautiful six-sided crystals with color ranging from the light blue of the sky to the deep blue of the sea. We’re talking about March’s birthstone, Aquamarine.


Blue Aquamarine; photo credit:

March is, to be sure, a month for the wearin’ of the green . But we can think of more than a few situations that merit a flash of blue. When should you wear your Aquamarine?

  • At Weddings and Wakes: This gem’s color range covers both sea and sky, and so is symbolic of eternal life. And when hitching your wagon to a life partner, an Aquamarine is thought to inspire peaceful relations between husband and wife. The Romans even believed a frog carved into Aquamarine had the power to reconcile enemies into friends.

Can’t we all get along? Tanzanian Aquamarine-Carved Frog

  • Embarking on a crossing: Sacred to Neptune, the god of the sea, Aquamarines were believed to have originated from the jewel caskets of sirens. So when packing your trunks for the steamship across the Atlantic, a few sea-colored gems may be just the travel insurance you need to assure a safe trip.

Ship on the sea

  • At the marketplace: Aquamarines, also called “mirror stones,” were used in ancient times by soothsayers and fortune-tellers. Hold one up to a smiling vendor and ask him if that kumquat really is fresh!
marketplace in zanzibar

Marketplace in Zanzibar

  • On your wrist, setting off a seaworthy string of blue coral. On land or sea, Aquamarine is supreme!
blue coral bracelet

Sea-worthy bracelet by Ellen Hoffman Designs


The Color Purple: Amethyst

February’s birthstone is Amethyst, a quartz mineral prized for centuries because of the scarcity of the color purple in nature, and of the gemstones themselves until the 20th century.

Purple Mountain's Majesty (

Purple Mountain’s Majesty (

Before the discovery of Amethysts in the New World, collectors headed to the Ural Mountains and Siberia for their violet gem fix. Ancient formulas for purple dye called for 12,000 shellfish to extract pigment to color one garment. Not surprising then, that the color – and the gem – was reserved for royalty and the clergy.

Today, purple dye is plentiful (and 12,000 clams breathe a sigh of relief) and so are Amethysts. It’s a durable, available, democratic gem, worthy of wear on many occasions:

On a drinking vessel: Amethyst was named by ancient Greeks: amethystos means “not drunk.” The lore is that it protected wearers from the effects of alcohol. If your pewter chalice is already encrusted with too many gems, how about an amethyst wine charm? Or a key chain ornament, to reward the evening’s Designated Driver?

Wire-wrapped amethyst key-chain for your Designated Driver (

Wire-wrapped amethyst key-chain for your Designated Driver (

To services at Pentecost: Most of the people in the church pew wear red on the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit, a nod to the tongues of fire that appeared over the heads of the Apostles. But the fashion-savvy Christian dons purple for this occasion, alluding to a quote from St. Peter further down in the Bible passage about the elect being “not drunk.” Pentecost doesn’t show up on the calendar until May or June, but that’s no reason to bench it during fall, winter and spring. After all, bishop’s rings are typically set with an Amethyst. If a bishop decrees amethyst appropriate for everyday wear, who are we to argue?

Bishop's Ring

Bishop’s ring (

On your sixth anniversary: Who knew there were gemstones associated with wedding anniversaries? The traditional gift medium for this year-before-it-gets-itchy is iron. A practical and durable cast-iron skillet would of course ring the bell of any sentimental wife. But a pair of Herkimer diamond and amethyst earrings might swing her to the modern side in a hurry.

A sixth anniversary treasure from Ellen Hoffman Designs

A sixth anniversary treasure from Ellen Hoffman Designs

When presiding over your kingdom: Purple is the color of royalty, making it appropriate for occasions when one is feeling majestic or regal. Amethyst is the gem of choice for Mardi Gras parade regalia, a game of chess with the King, or a hand of Old Maid with the dauphin – just to remind the little darling who’s still Regent.


Mardi Gras Bling (Mardigras

Here’s to you, Amethyst.


Layers Make Sense

This week, we are laying it on thick. Our Mom’s advice to “dress in layers” makes good sense as the temperatures in this unseasonably warm winter begin to behave more seasonably. Spending an afternoon with a collection of Jackson Pollock’s paintings from his “drip period” proved to me (and mom!) that layering is also a good idea in creative design. More than just warmth, layers add complexity, depth and energy by appealing to all the senses.

Jackson Pollock’s work, now on view in a spectacular show at the Dallas Museum of Art, illustrates the powerful pull of layering in visual art. His pieces are non-objective, so there’s very little recognizable form to distract you from imagining the complicated process necessary to achieve the seemingly random beauty of Cathedral, below.

Credit: Dallas Museum of Art

Credit: Dallas Museum of Art

Pollock was certainly bound by the laws of physics and gravity when dripping and flinging paint onto canvas. But he did control which colors to apply and in what order. He decided when to allow them to run and when to allow them to collect in pools. Pollock’s thoughtful layering of paint and ink transform a visual splash of two-dimensional art into an exploration of time, space, and gravity.

Outside the gallery, suddenly layers appear everywhere:

In the competing textures of cotton, cashmere, and silk piled on a well-dressed bed ;

Well dressed bed


In flower beds at the arboretum ;

Dallas arboretum layers

Supporting and supplanting the melody in an oratorio ;

Squiring your nose and mouth through California’s Sonoma County from the inside of a stem of red wine.

red wine

And finally, circling the necks and wrists of the best-dressed in town.


Bracelets and necklaces by Ellen Hoffman Designs

deck the neck EHD

What are you layering this week? Lay it on us at Ellen Hoffman Designs.

EarRing in the New Year!

Whether you’re toasting on a terrace, dancing in a nightclub, or playing charades in the family room, New Year’s celebrations require a bit of bling. The most efficient place to start – and finish – occasion accessorizing is with a pair of earrings.

The Logic: Earrings are versatile. They dangle like a participle or punctuate like a period. They’ll balance an updo or wink from behind curtain of curls. Like gabardine slacks and leather brogues, simple hoops and studs are worn appropriately for daily work and play. Precious gems suspended like orchid blossoms on a vine or crystals on a chandelier complete a formal get-up without interfering with celebratory activities from toasting to tangoing.

The Lore: We humans have been wearing earrings for about as long as we have been wearing clothes. Elaborate gold hoops have been excavated in 3,000-year-old tombs in Iraq. Persian kings and soldiers wore them in battle, pirates wore them as burial insurance (a big gold hoop would pay for a nice funeral on shore or at sea) and ancient Roman women wore them to signify status – both as “working girls” and wives of nobility. Gems and amulets have a long history of use as tools to ward off evil; since the ear is a handy entrance and exit for evil spirits, a serpent-shaped hoop guarding the gate is both functional and stylish.

Earrings on the battlefield

Syrian King Ashurbanipal

Credit: Fleet Air Arm Museum

Credit: Fleet Air Arm Museum



The high collars and elaborate hairstyles popular during Europe’s Renaissance rendered earrings redundant. Lace bonnets with wide ribbons didn’t do our trinkets any favors either. But the fashion for hair worn away from the face among burghers in the late 15th century, and then the bonnetless heads and upswept hairdos of the 17th and 18th centuries birthed an Ear Renaissance. Girl with a Pearl Pendant just doesn’t have the same cachet, does it?

Credit: Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Credit: Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

The Victorians and Flappers alike eschewed piercing, but didn’t let that stop them from clipping jewels to their lobes. Depression-era ingenuity brought us the screw-back earring, and later magnetic earrings. All three were seen as more hygienic than a pierced ear.

photo credit:

photo credit:

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

The Latest: Today, most of our ears are pierced and cuffed – often more than once – and hygiene seems to have survived. Our resolution for 2016: wear more earrings!

ehd clip on chinese writing stones Ethiopian opals & moonstones + 14k gold green stones Herkimer Diamond with opals

Year-End What to Wear

With a little less than two weeks left of the Holiday Season, Ellen Hoffman Designs is here with some distinctive ideas for What to Wear to the soirees, socials and celebrations on the calendar through New Year’s Day.

Children’s choir/band/snow pageant performance: There’s a season and time for everything, and this one is perfect for that loud, bedazzled Christmas sweater at the bottom of your cedar chest. Worn sincerely and without snarky irony, it’s a fashion choice that says “I’ll sing during the sing-along and applaud for every elf.”

Cocktails with Co-workers: Whether you’re attending as the employee or significant other, likely you’re already in business attire. Keep it professional by limiting your gay apparel to a statement accessory that sparks conversation without monopolizing it: whimsical cufflinks and tie pin, fur-trimmed scarf, or brilliant red pocket square or handkerchief.

Eve(ening) Soiree—that’s Christmas or New Year’s—With Adults: When the sun goes down, and it goes down early this time of year, it’s time to turn up the lights. That means glitter and glam, pretense and Look-At-Me! A beaded handbag, traffic-stopping shoes, layered necklaces, or stacked bracelets take a black dress from unassuming to unforgettable.

Nancy Gonzalez bag at Neiman Marcus

Nancy Gonzalez bag at Neiman Marcus

Thakoon boot

Kill Buckle Bootie from ForwardForward; photo courtesy of Thakoon


New Year’s Day Fun Run and Brunch: Last Night’s Merry-Making is not an excuse for Next-Day-Sloppiness. And joining friends for a healthy brunch after a bracing 5K is where to sport your most inspirational athleisure wear. Title Nine Sports is a favorite for ensembles that shine whether you’re conspiring or perspiring.

Title 9 ski skirt

Wherever these last days of the year take you, we hope they bring you personal joy and creative inspiration.

Pearls Just Wanna Have Fun

Every woman owns at least one strand of pearls. And these nacre beauties spend entirely too much time inside the jewelry box. One reason for this is their stuffy, lunch-with-the-First-Lady reputation. A strand of pearls around the neck or a drop from each ear lends weight and seriousness to any occasion, so we tend to reserve them for Solemn Events, instead of daily or special occasion-wear. Don your diamonds when you want to sparkle but, when the stakes are high, put on the pearls.

For daily wear – or even for those special occasions when you’re feeling flirty and irreverent or glamorous and edgy – why not breathe new life into a neglected strand by reworking the stones into another piece?

Ellen Hoffman Designs Bespoke collection will pair your pearls with our exquisite gems and minerals to fashion a pendant, bracelet or necklace that is at once boldly new and sentimentally reflective of your own unique history. Singled out and set in a bezel or clustered among a bunch of beads of varying size and color, your heirloom pearls have plenty of wisdom to share. And they’re as appropriate for the lunchbox as they are for the luncheon.

silver tahitian south sea pearl earrings

Silver South Sea Tahitian Pearl Earrings, Elleh Hoffman Designs

Pearl Bracelet, Ellen Hoffman Designs

Pearl Bracelet, Ellen Hoffman Designs

Multi Colored Gray, Blue, and Golden Tahitian South Sea Pearls, Ellen Hoffman Designs

Multi Colored Gray, Blue, and Golden Tahitian South Sea Pearls, Ellen Hoffman Designs



Fire Delightful: Ellen Hoffman Design’s Five Favorite Flames

Is there a better, more useful tool of nature than fire? We’ve been cooking, forging, telling stories, and romancing next to an open flame ever since our caveman forefathers created that first spark.

December is when we invite fires from the deck and patio into the heart of the household. To paraphrase Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne: weather frightful, fire delightful. Our favorite flames this month include:

Hanukkah: The Festival of Light centers around fire, with a succession of ceremonial candles lit each night, building to a crescendo of eight tapers commemorating an ancient miracle: when the Temple of Jerusalem was re-dedicated, a single day’s supply of lamp oil lasted for eight days.

12.3 Menorah

St. Lucia: When the Scandinavian winter sees just five hours of sunlight per day, is it any wonder that our Nordic friends go all out to fete this early Christian martyr who wears a wreath of lit candles on her head? Along with the obvious benefits of parade-marching and pastry-eating , it is said that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy’s Day will help one live through the long winter days with enough light.

12.3 St. Lucy

The Sun: Or more particularly, Solstice . December 21 marks the Winter Solstice, the time when the northern hemisphere transitions from tilting away from the sun to a tilt toward the sun. This means longer hours of daylight and more direct rays of warm sunlight—gradually, of course. Solstice is variously called the darkest day, longest night, midwinter, extreme winter, even “first day of winter.” Potato, Potahto—humans looking for a reason to celebrate when things are really dark have been donning party hats and lighting torches to mark annual rebirth of the sun for millennia. Happy birthday, you great ball of fire!

Hearth Flames: Wood-burning or gas-fueled, festooned with stockings or the site of Conspiracies and Dreams , we love a cozy fireplace in the den this month. Favorite tip: prepare a pyramid of dry wood and firestarters in the fireplace before turning the thermostat down and heading to bed. Light it up first thing in the morning and enjoy a fireside breakfast.

Opals: It’s no secret that we love this iridescent, luminescent, warm and wonderful stone. A string of fiery opals warms the neck, ears, wrist and heart!

12.3 opal bracelet

Australian Boulder Opals

12.3 opal necklace

Ethiopian Opals

Tantalize with Tanzanite in December

Perhaps as a consolation for sharing the spotlight with so many other celebrations, December babes lay claim to no fewer than three blue gemstones as their birthright. Zircon and Turquoise are the familiar ones, but it’s the young upstart Tanzanite that holds our attention today. Four reasons to consider this gem this month:

Tanzanite is Young!

12.1 Tanz is Young

Discovered in 1967 – that’s right, less than 50 years ago – Tanzanite really is a baby among its geological bretheren. The American Gem Trade Association added it to the roster of December birthstones in 2002, the first change to the birthstone list since 1912.


Tanzanite is Rare!

12.1 Mt. Kilim

And not just because it’s only been around for 2.5 generations. It’s a variety of the mineral zoisite that’s found exclusively in a tiny area of Tanzania at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Extensive geological research has proven that there is only one source of this mineral and its geology is so unique, it is described as a “geological phenomenon.” One retailer estimates that the source will be depleted in a decade or so. Sounds like a marketing ploy. Speaking of marketing …


Tanzanite is at Tiffany’s!

12.1 Tanz at Tiff's

The iconic purveyor of all that glitters for generations got on the train from the very beginning, suggesting a name change from “Blue Zoisite” to the geographically eponymous Tanzanite, for Tanzania. Tiffany’s assured that demand for this new gem would start at high elevation with a campaign slogan advertising that tanzanite could now be found in two places: “in Tanzania and at Tiffany’s”.


Tanzanite is the New Sapphire!

12.1 pleochroic shows the same Tanzanite nugget from three different angles.

No, it’s not. Its sapphire hue may appeal to the more budget-minded collectors of blue gems. But Tanzanite is pleochroic, which is a gemologist’s way of saying it shows three different colors when viewed from different directions. And those colors can be brilliant blue, deep violet, or even burgundy.

12.1 ehd tanzanite

Tanzanite, Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, Pave Diamonds with White Gold Necklace from Ellen Hoffman Designs

This month, as you drink a cup of kindness for Auld Lang Syne, consider something new—like a Tanzanite.


November Birthstone: Topaz, or Not Topaz?

Two gems are appropriate for November birthdays – Topaz and Citrine. We discussed Citrine in August,  so today is all about Topaz.

Golden Topaz. Photo Credit:

Golden Topaz. Photo Credit: All Biz

I invite you to a topaz
To the yellow hive in the stone,
The bees,
And the lump of honey
In a topaz…

That’s the first few lines of Pablo Neruda’s poem Skytones.

Pablo Neruda. Photo credit:

Pablo Neruda. Photo credit: MQLTV

Makes you wish you were born in November, no?

Neruda’s Topaz evokes the warm browns and oranges of late Autumn. Thanks to heat treatments and a process called vapor deposition, blue, red, pink and green varieties are widely available, but nobody wrote a sonnet about these stones.

Natural blue topaz is very rare, and usually pale—if your topaz is deep blue, it’s had a little help from a friend. Blue Topaz is the state gemstone of Texas.

Natural Blue Topaz. Photo credit:

Natural Blue Topaz. Photo credit: Gemstones List

The Ancients loved their Topaz: Egyptians likened it to the golden glow of the sun god. The Greeks gave the stone its name: topazos, which means “green gemstone.” We like the connection to the Sanskrit word tapas, meaning “heat” or “fire.” Romans dedicated Topaz to their god-in-chief, Juno. In 1255, St. Hildegard of Bingen, the famous mystic, offered a simple remedy for failing eyesight: steep a topaz in wine for three days and then lightly rub it over the eyes.

We like Topaz better with our eyes open. Preferably on a necklace or, occasionally, in a poem.

Imperial Topaz and Gold Nugget necklace, Ellen Hoffman Designs

Imperial Topaz and Gold Nugget necklace, Ellen Hoffman Designs