“Pools of light” – isn’t that a marvelous description of a piece of jewelry? The first time I heard the term I had absolutely no idea what in the world it could be, but it sounded absolutely magical. Having a weakness for gems that interact in special ways with light (hence my blog series about Jewels That Play With Light) it was a given that I’d immediately investigate.
This type of jewelry dates from the Art Deco era (1920s–1930s) and was an offshoot of the Chinoiserie craze of the time. The vintage photo below shows a stylish young lady of the day wearing a pools of light necklace in the popular “flapper” length.
But what exactly are these pools of light?
They are round orbs of clear rock crystal. This is the defining characteristic; although they look like large clear marbles, a genuine orb must be rock crystal – not glass or any other material. Rock crystal is the clear transparent variety of quartz (silicon dioxide) and has a MOHS hardness rating of 7. This makes them harder than, say, opal but softer than emerald (7.5) and topaz (8).
When you look at something through a crystal sphere, what you see will be upside down. This is because a spherical shape acts like a convex lens and “flips” the light coming from, and thus the image of, what you are looking at. Some people claim that only rock crystal orbs will show things upside down and glass ones will not, but that’s not necessarily true although crystal will do the job better simply because of its internal structure.
When you place a crystal orb on top of something, instead of looking through it, the light going into the orb from its surroundings still experiences that same lens-based refractive effect and so the light that comes out is diffused but it is also somewhat focused. Thus, a “pool of light” appears on whatever surface is immediately adjacent to the orb. (The orb in the first photo is about ½” in diameter; the dimensions of the second orb are unknown)
Because so much depends on the action of light within the orb, it logically follows that there should be nothing inside it that might interfere with this. Normally when creating a necklace of beads, pearls, etc., a hole is drilled through them to accommodate a chain or string. But that’s not a nice thing to do to a clear crystal orb that likes to play with light; it mucks up the works and the resulting “pool” effect will be altered and/or reduced. That is why undrilled pools of light necklaces are much preferred and are more expensive.
There’s also a mythical component to having undrilled spheres. In Chinese tradition, each crystal orb contains a bit of chi (good energy) within it, which would escape and be lost if the orb were to be drilled or otherwise damaged. Naturally it’s best to be wearing as much good chi as one possibly can!
Thus the alternative becomes wrapping instead of drilling, in order to keep the orbs intact. The simplest method is to wrap a circlet of wire around each sphere and then add connectors as necessary, as seen in this pair of classic earrings. The typical material used for this method is sterling silver.
Spheres can be easily connected via this method. This necklace is 36” long and weighs 300 grams – almost 11 ounces!
Silver also lends itself to creating ‘wraps’ with more intricate designs. This one could be interpreted as a double-sided crown, or perhaps even teeth? This necklace/bracelet set sold for about £1200 in 2013. The eighteen necklace orbs graduate from about 11mm to 24 mm (0.43” to 0.94”) in diameter, and the bracelet ones range from 9mm–17mm (0.35”–0.67”). The special clasps permitted the two pieces to be joined together if desired. Although the detail photo makes it appear as if some of the orbs are dark, the effect is just a reflection from the surroundings.
Wraps were often even more ornate, as shown in this pair of pierced earrings featuring two sphere sizes. The simple earwire eliminates the need to drill the upper sphere, which would have been needed for a screwback version.
This necklace was offered in its original Deco era box! The inside of the lid reads: “Specially Made For WING HING & CO. “New China” Panama Colon. Genuine Crystal Guaranteed”. It sold at auction for $900 in 2014.
Here’s a striking and very modernist-looking necklace that is also hallmarked Germany. If you want to channel your “inner flapper”, this surely must be the one to wear because it’s 40” long! Each orb is 12mm (almost ½”) in diameter.
This pools of light ring could be aptly named “moon and stars”, don’t you think?
Sometimes the clear orbs were combined with spheres of other materials for a bicolor effect. This double-strand necklace has an upper strand of traditional rock crystal orbs wrapped in silver wire, and a lower strand of rose quartz orbs which appear to be wrapped in gold (or perhaps gold-plated silver.) Cited as being 17.5” long, it sold at auction for $300 in 2010.
The wild-rose motif floral band across this smoky quartz orb is especially pretty!
This necklace, which appears to mix rock crystal and onyx(?) spheres, also has a floral motif on the bands. It sold in 2015 for $475; its length is unknown.
Here is a similar necklace but with a large orb “pendant” as well. It is 16 ½”long overall; the alternating orbs are about 14mm (1/2”) and the large drop is 20mm (slightly more than ¾”) in diameter. This sold for $1000 in 2010.
This bracelet is a close match to the previous necklaces. It is 8” long and the orbs are 14mm (1/2”) just like the ones used on the necklace.
This festoon-style necklace appears from the photograph to be made of smoky quartz orbs but on closer inspection they all seem to be reflecting the same general pattern – no doubt from the surroundings or ceiling. It looks to be a pretty necklace that surely deserved better photography than this. 🙂 Eighteen inches long, it sold for $800 in 2010.
Pools of Light That Aren’t, Quite
Because vintage/antique pools of light jewelry is so unique (and pricey), the term is often applied to pieces that don’t fit the precise definition. This usually happens when the orbs are made of colored glass rather than clear rock crystal. Reputable sellers will, however, make the difference crystal clear (sorry!) in their description and that’s perfectly fine because the prospective buyer is then fully informed about what they are getting. It’s rather like the semantics of Vauxhall glass jewelry; the original authentic items date from the Victorian period but the later Art Deco era Czech pieces are typically also called ‘Vauxhall glass’ rather than ‘Vauxhall style glass’….which is also perfectly fine as long as the seller also specifies the era.
The colored glass “pools of light” pieces are often quite lovely in their own right.
These topaz glass orbs wrapped in goldtone wire and sporting dainty floral “caps” seem to emit a warm glow from the refracted light. The necklace is 31” long and was sold for $295; if the orbs had been actual rock crystal the same necklace would likely have commanded three times that amount.
This collar/bib necklace with rich intense blue glass spheres offers a completely different look; this example sold for $450.
The important thing to remember is that all colored “pools of light” items are always made of glass rather than of rock crystal which by definition is clear. But what if the orbs are clear? Does that automatically mean that the piece is genuine rock crystal from the Art Deco era? Of course it’s possible that it could be a modern fake with orbs made from clear glass, which is why it’s wise to look a bit deeper – literally. Examination of an orb under high magnification will show very minute bubbles if it is made of glass; these bubbles do not exist in quartz. If buying online, be sure to get a guarantee that the item can be returned if a professional examination determines that the orbs are not in fact crystal.
The phrase “pools of light” is also often misapplied to items made of materials that aren’t even within hailing distance of either quartz or glass! For example, in 2015 an auction house described this as being a “pools of light” necklace even though it is made of cabochon (flat back) aquamarines. Although not being in any respect whatsoever a true pools of light item, this impressive piece nevertheless sold for $5000 not including the buyers’ premium.
A quick search of two popular vintage jewelry venues typically brings up numerous items titled as being “pools of light”; for example, on Etsy at the moment there are items made of glass beads, foil glass, art glass, agate, amethyst beads, and lucite (lots of these, both round and faceted.) On Ruby Lane one finds much of the same, with the addition of some signed costume jewelry items (Coro, Schreiner, etc.) nevertheless using the “pools of light” description. Such items are obviously unrelated to the real thing but are destined to forever clutter up internet search results!
I am a glutton for shiny things and this is rather wonderful.
Very beautiful. I would love to add one of those necklaces to my collection. 🙂
I have one of these pendants in my possession, this article is very informative. I am thrilled and will now have to consider what I will do with it.
Hi, actually the article ‘Pools of Light’ was written by a fellow blogger, ChatsworthLady here on WordPress. I highly recommend her informative vintage jewelry blogs as she would know more about these particular pendants and necklaces than I would. I simply love her in depth research on these fascinating vintage pendants and necklaces. Thanks for commenting. Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year! 🙂 – AntiqueMystique1
I have a pool of light pendant globe if interested
I would be hard pushed to chose a favourite, they are all so spectacularly beautiful! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Wow these are beautiful!
Fantastic article about the different “pools of light”…spectacular pieces no matter the glass version or the rock crystal! Well done!
So I have a brooch that I believed was a Pool of Lights style but now I’m not so sure… My “pools” are half spheres that feel domed on the backside. Is this a possible style for pools of light, or are they always complete spheres.
Thanks for your help and the great article!
Technically speaking, pools of light need to be able to create that “pool”, which would only happen if the light can pass through a complete sphere … thus bending the light rays in the necessary way. A cabochon (flat-backed half-sphere) definitely wouldn’t be able to do that, and while a slightly-convex-shaped back might do that in some measure, it probably wouldn’t be enough to complete the job, so to speak. 🙂 The perfectly circular shape is key for the effect, and also the material needs to be crystal rather than glass. And while a cabochon will magnify (to some extent) something seen through it, it also won’t flip the image upside down the way a Pool of Light crystal sphere will do.
My question is very similar to Brenda Z’s: I have recently seen listings on RubyLane for Pools of Light lockets…But, by definition, is that a true Pool of Light piece? Just want to confirm as I am enchanted with them but really want to buy an original!
Thank you for sharing your knowledge!
Hi Miranda, I took a quick look on R.L. and saw one of the lockets you mention. The seller does say it is “glass” which alone would disqualify it from being a true ‘pools of light’ which is always crystal. Also even if it was made of crystal, cutting it into a heart shape … even if it wasn’t then sliced in half to make it openable .. would also mean it wouldn’t be (operate as) a “pool of light.” It would simply be a “crystal heart locket.”
The locket that is a sphere cut in half is a bit trickier, because when closed (and if nothing was put inside of it) it MIGHT create a pool of light but even if it did, it would probably not have the same effect as a true undrilled sphere would (because of the cutting and the fact that the hinge would make the interior “out of line” a bit. It would magnify something put inside, as the seller says, but then it would not create the pool effect — it would be just a crystal cabochon like any other that is placed atop something else.
Hello Chatsworth Lady, I just purchased my fourth pools of light piece. My newest puchase has a few balls that look to have internal fisures in them. They are not drilled. They are not cracked or show any damage on the outside. The fisures are clear and the balls are still refractive. And they are not glass…no air bubbles. Just curious if they are actually damaged or if this is acceptable. Thanks for any information you have to share!
Don’t worry, it’s not damage. 🙂 Rock crystal is pure quartz and any quartz crystal can sometimes contain natural inclusions which is what you’re seeing inside a few of your “pools.” Actually these inclusions are fairly common in rock crystal; they’re formed by carbon dioxide and water that can be trapped inside as the crystal grows within the surrounding vein. Sometimes the inclusion material is another mineral (the golden ‘spears’ inside rutilated quartz is one example) but from your description it sounds as if what you’re seeing is just an H20/C02 inclusion. Not a problem, and they don’t affect the ‘health’ of the crystal at all. It’s just Nature doing her thing. 🙂 Hope this helps, and thanks for the question!
Oh, that is great to hear! Thank you and I love your blog!
Thank you for all of this information. I have the silver wrap floral pools of light that are like the ones in the Wing Hing & Co. box shown above. The design is a daisy I believe though I have seen poeple refer to this wrap as a chrysanthemum. I had someone ask me if the floral wrap is sterling and I didnt know the answer and I couldn’t find it here. I believe the links are sterling but the wrap silver looks a bit different. I dont think it is plated but I am wondering if you happen to know what grade silver the warps were in this common design?
That is a great question, Brenda! Although the most easily “worked” silver (in terms of bending or shaping) is sterling (925), a 900 or even 800 silver can also be used; the lower the silver purity, the higher the percentage of alloy and the less “bendable” the metal becomes. If the color of the “wraps” is slightly different (especially if it looks a little bit more ‘red’ or ‘less white’) that’s probably the case. The most common alloy for silver is copper, hence the lower the purity of the silver the more noticeable the slight reddish tinge when compared to a sterling item. A local jeweler can also do a quick chemical test on one of the wraps to more accurate pinpoint the silver grade.
I love these pieces sooooooo much! Is it still considered a “pool of light” piece of it is ovoid in shape? I have a clear, ovoid, wrapped stone that is definitely not glass. Could it be…?
As far as I know, the “pool(s) of light” nomenclature has always been restricted to spherical rock crystals; probably because the light would be refracted differently through anything other than the globe shape.
Thank you so much for all the information – I love jewelry from that time period & now I know what I’m looking at when I see it!
What a wonderful and informative article! I’m researching for more information before I purchase my first piece. This may seem a silly question but are the necklaces usually difficult to break along metal rings that connect each orb? I’m so afraid they are fragile that way. Thank you for any advice and input! xx
That’s a good question! Although the “wraps” around the orbs are typically sterling silver, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the inter-orb links are the same material. They could be, but could just as likely be something else. But regardless of the metal, unless the links are soldered closed it’s possible to ‘open’ them if enough force is applied, either deliberately with pliers or by a really powerful yank (unlikely in most scenarios, I’d think.) But even then the link would be unlikely to actually break, meaning that you couldn’t close up the link again with a pair of small needlenose pliers — an easy fix for any jeweler if you don’t have a pair handy.
Thank you so much! That info really helps!
Such excellent information – thank you! I have a fairly large and delicious Pools of Light collection and for so long had trouble finding much info on their history. I love them so much but the cost has become pretty insane; guess I’ll just hold on to what I have!
I was wondering if the pool of lights came in colors, and you have nicely answered my question. I just recently came into possession of a piece, and I did the ” looking at writing through the orb, and yes, the print was inverted.” I was so happy for having read this article, and thank you so much for having this info on the web.
I will have a piece in for repair. This article is very useful in helping the customer decide how to go about repairing his piece. Particularly the issue of silver wrap on the stone and the possibility of non silver findings.
Thanks Chatsworth Lady. I have a pools of light rock crystal necklace that I plan to sell on eBay. Your description is so helpful to know what I have. Many thanks. They have a floral motif wrap, but I’m not sure if it is sterling or some other metal.
You’re very welcome. 🙂 The orbs with the floral motif were usually some grade of silver, by the way; depending on the era and the country, items weren’t always required to be marked as to silver content but of course the sterling (.925) alloy, being the second ‘softest’ (next to pure silver, .999) was the more easily bent into the required shape.
Hi – I have a pools of light necklace, in silver.
Can I just use silver cleaner on the metal?
I want to check to make sure before I do it that it won’t mess up the rock quartz.
Yes, you can definitely use silver cleaner on the metal parts. 🙂
Hi..I have a set with necklace,earrings & bracelet in original box..My problem is one sphere is missing on bracelet,(still has the silver flower wrap) and probably a few more complete orbs..Is there anywhere to buy parts? Thanks 🙂
Ouch, that’s a tricky one. Your best bet would probably be Etsy; do a search under Supplies for “rock crystal orb” or “undrilled rock crystal orb” to see if any of the shops have any in the size you need (which will be the trickiest part.) I did a quick search and found a shop called BetterWorldRocks which has a selection of clear quartz crystal orbs in various sizes. The quartz crystal ones will not be a “match” for your existing rock crystal orbs in appearance, though. It will be a clear orb but it won’t have the clarity and optical effect that the rock crystals do…which is why they are much less expensive. I see that the shop does have the quartz ones in 10mm, 12mm, and 14mm sizes; plus they do have an actual rock crystal 16mm orb for $3.98. Are the orbs all the same size in the three pieces that you have? If so, you would have the option of sacrificing one of the earrings to complete the bracelet (for example).
Thanks for answering so quickly. Yes they are all the same size, and I kind of thought of that. What I might do is just put maybe a sterling chain on the bracelet so it would be like a third chain and then the rest of the rock crystals. I don’t know it’s such a beautiful set I hate to sacrifice an earring
Hello beautiful article I learned much I have a bracelet it was my mother clear orbs I think silver detailing I wore it once but the orbs burned my skin in the light does that mean it’s glass? How can know if it’s the real thing?
Yes, your mother’s bracelet would definitely need to be glass in order to focus sunlight strongly enough for that effect. The remaining question would be whether the orbs are crystal, or are ordinary glass (for example, a magnifying glass can focus light in that way even though it isn’t crystal.) There are two tests that you can do at home. First, look at some text on a magazine or newspaper page (not an electronic screen) through one of the orbs; does the text appear upside down? Next, look at the orbs under a good magnifying glass (at least 10x power) to see if there are any tiny bubbles inside any of them. If not, and if the text also appeared upside down, those are good indications that your mother’s bracelet is crystal.