We talk to local artists who craft amethyst jewelry

Agnes Kennedy and Ralph Natividad
Agnes Kennedy and her son, Ralph Natividad, in front of their jewelry stand at the Fall Bazaar at Trinity Lutheran Church circa 2008. The mother-son team is a pair of local jewelry artists who to this day use semi-precious stones, including amethyst crystals and beads, to fashion jewelry.

■ Dennis Fletcher / Contributed

Earlier this month, we ran an article about how Valentine’s Day got its name and date in our Gregorian Calendar. A side story within that tale is how the month of February got its name in ancient times from a Roman festival called Lupercalia. This was an important festival to appease the gods in order to bring fertility to crops and their Roman women. It was celebrated every Feb. 15 until almost 500 AD.

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Amethyst crystals naturally occur in geodes most commonly found in Brazil. Pictured here are violet amethysts.

Part of Lupercalia was meant to be an annual purification. The Latin word februare means to purify. The Romans used this word to name the month that took place during the Lupercalia festival – February.
The gemstone amethyst was thought to ward off the corrupting and intoxicating powers of the Greek god of wine and frivolity, Dionysius (later Bacchus under the Romans). You can imagine why it became the favorite gemstone to wear in the month of February, the Roman month of purification.

Staying quick-witted
Ancient Romans also believed that wearing amethyst jewelry would ensure the bearer was quick-witted and clear-headed, and well ahead of his or her competitors.
Down through history, the amethyst as been associated with all kinds of myths and legends and religious ceremonies throughout the world.
Recently, I happened to be at the Hemet Public Library to hear the history and travel lectures that are presented on the first Friday of every month (called First Friday). The two fascinating topics were the discoveries of early man in the Olduvai Gorge in Africa by the Leakey family presented by Penelope Engard, and the origins of Valentine’s Day by Dr. Carol Frances.

Agnes Kennedy and Ralph Natividad
Samples of the stones and jewelry fashioned by Agnes Kennedy and Ralph Natividad.

Agnes Kennedy and Ralph Natividad
Among the group who had come to learn and share their own experiences was Agnes Kennedy and her son Ralph Natividad. They shared with those of us in the room a beautiful example of tanzanite, a rare gemstone only found in Tanzania.
Well known in the community and well-traveled, Agnes and her son Ralph are a wealth of knowledge about gemstones, including one of their favorites … amethyst, the gem best known for calming the nerves and relaxing the muscles. Wearing an amethyst necklace has been used down through the ages to reduce the bad effects of stress and anxiety.
Amethyst, very popular in California, is a semi-precious gemstone and not one of the cardinal gems: ruby, sapphire, emerald, and diamond. Wikipedia defines the color of amethyst as, “… a purple variety of quartz (SiO2) that owes its violet color to irradiation, iron impurities, and the presence of trace elements.”
Its name comes from the Greek words meaning not intoxicate. The ancient Greeks thought that amethyst protected them from drunkenness. They wore amethyst jewelry and drinking vessels made from the purple quartz hoping it would allow them to avoid intoxication. Whether it actually did is a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, the habit started by Greeks and Romans of wearing amethyst jewelry has spread around the world.

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Even in its natural state, amethyst, the gemstone for February, can excite the mind.

Is it real?
How can you tell if your amethyst bracelet is real? Grab a magnifying glass and take a close look for bubbles, specs and other forms of discoloration inside the crystalline structure. The shade of purple, or rarely blue, should be consistent throughout the stone. Also, genuine amethyst will not scratch as easily as glass; it is much harder.
In the world of gemology, the Mohs scale of mineral hardness reigns supreme as a differentiator among gemstone types. It measures the capability of one gem or mineral to visibly scratch another. For example, glass has a hardness of 5 on the Mohs scale and amethyst, which is part of the quartz family, has a hardness of 7.
All forms of quartz (including the most popular ones: amethyst, blue quartz, citrine, milky quartz, pink quartz, rose quartz, smoky quartz, tiger’s eye) will scratch glass but not vice versa. Quartz is the second most common material on the earth (next to iron), so we won’t be running out of those beautiful amethyst crystals anytime soon.
Agnes Kennedy and her son are Hemet residents who collect gemstones and make and sell jewelry throughout the valley.
Back to the beginning, when her son Ralph was in a lapidary class in Glendora High, he told his mother about a gem show at the Masonic Lodge in the San Gabriel Valley. Mom finally agreed to go and a lifelong love affair with gemstones was launched in the eighties.
During their travels throughout Europe and Hawaii, Agnes and Ralph began viewing and researching semi-precious gemstones. They went to the Santa Monica Civic Center for a gem show and discovered a necklace there made from black onyx and ivory. She bought some black onyx beads and bone beads (ivory being illegal by then) and started making variations on that necklace for her family members, then for the ladies at the office where she worked.

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Once cut and polished, amethysts can dazzle even the most sophisticated fashionistas.

Lifelong pursuit
Thus, began her lifelong pursuit to make jewelry. She started buying stones and beads at international gem shows, then got a license to buy and sell beads. She began taking her jewelry to craft shows in West Covina, Monrovia, Glendora, and Yorba Linda, as she saw her business as a jewelry artist expand.
Agnes left Glendora, the big house, and the swimming pool, and downsized when she moved to Hemet in 1985. Lots of retired couples moved here on nice pensions then. The city was very prosperous and had more banks than almost anywhere outside of Wall Street.
She formed a partnership with her son Ralph and her sister Kim making necklaces, earrings, bracelets and matching jewelry sets. The three of them became ARC Enterprises … their three initials. Her sister has passed away, but her son Ralph is still an active part of the enterprise with Agnes.
In their heyday, they sold their jewelry at Kaiser Hospital in Moreno Valley in the nineties, as well as Valley-wide Recreation Center in San Jacinto. There were 36 different jewelers who would travel around to different jewelry shows throughout the valley, and to some of the senior parks and churches. During those busy years, she was also repairing jewelry and restringing pearls for residents in the valley.

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A pendant made from amethyst displays the exotic beauty artists can achieve by mixing semi-precious stones with precious metals.

Limited appearances
Now in her nineties, Agnes is limiting her shows primarily to our valley. In May, she plans to do jewelry shows at Seven Hills, Colonial Country Club Mobile Estates and one of the American Legions in the area. Every third Monday of the month, she volunteers at Valley Restart through the Hemet Church of the Nazarene located in Valle Vista. For almost 15 years, she has been among the more than 600 volunteers at the Ramona Pageant, where she has acted as a greeter where the buses unload.
Agnes and Ralph now network around the valley through organizations she belongs to like the California Congress of Republicans, the San Jacinto Community Builders, and First Friday lectures at the Hemet Public Library.
The Kennedys plan to attend next month’s First Friday lectures that start at 10 a.m. on March 1. They agreed to bring some samples of their amethyst jewelry. Speaker Penelope Engard will present famous natural disasters in the U.S., concluding with the last big flood that hit San Jacinto, and how residents can protect themselves. Come, wear your amethyst jewelry, and enjoy the fun and the learning!
You can reach Agnes Kennedy at aggieken2@gmail.com.

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