Chic Antiques: Recognizing Dragon's Breath Stones

What collectors know as the “Dragon’s Breath” stone was first used in jewelry manufacture in the early 1900s. Made of glass, it emulates a cross between the Mexican fire opal and jelly opal. Molten metals were added to the glass during manufacture to provide the fiery coloration of these stones.

When stuck by light at different angles, Dragon’s Breath stones change in color from red to blue with subtle hints of other colors translating to an overall bright blue or purple hue. Vaporous flashes from within the stones are known as the “breath” from which the name is derived. These stones have no foil backing and are transparent. They have rounded tops and flat backs, also known as cabochons, rather than being faceted like a rhinestone. Many are round or oval in shape. But as illustrated here, this captivating glass was molded into other more interesting shapes as well.

Jewelry made using Dragon’s Breath stones is often made of silver and marked “925” and/or “sterling,” and some of these pieces are of Mexican origin. Pieces sometimes incorporate enameled accents and intricate wire work.

Some later pieces of classic costume jewelry made primarily during the 1950s and ‘60s also used decorative glass stones referenced incorrectly by sellers as Dragon’s Breath. These are actually foiled glass cabochons rather than true Dragon’s Breath stones. Without exception, if you detect foil on the back of a stone, it’s not termed Dragon’s Breath.

Additionally, some sellers not familiar with the true name refer to Dragon’s Breath stones as jelly opals or fire opals with or without the word “glass” associated.  Aside from identifying a stone incorrectly when this happens, it can actually be misleading. Opals are natural semi-precious gemstones, and Dragon’s Breath stones were made by man purely of glass. Knowing about these misnomers can be used to the collector’s advantage when doing online searches for Dragon’s Breath pieces. Type in one of the incorrect phrases and see what you find.

On the other hand, jewelry sellers wanting to build a reputation for knowing their business and representing their wares honestly are best served by learning how to recognize true Dragon’s Breath stones. Referring to them as simulated fire or jelly opals made of glass would not be wrong, but augmenting that description with the term Dragon’s Breath is even better.

Pamela Wiggins
Chic Antiques by Pamela Wiggins

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