Feature: Dan and Cindi Stair

Daniel and Cynthia Stair are the owners and gem cutters at Custom Gemstones and I have known them for many years, after first striking up a conversation when I was looking for my engagement ring stone. I recently reached out to Dan with a whole bunch of questions and he answered every single one! Something that I really love about their website is that they take before and after pictures and it’s fascinating to see how the rough turns out, and recently started posting video of every single stone that goes up on their website.

How much of the cutting do you each do?
I cut full-time and do one or two per day. Cindi works at the local hospital, so she only has time to cut a few stones each month.

What are your favorite stones to cut?
That’s a tough question.  If I had to pick one, it would probably be natural sapphires.  However, I really like tourmalines, spinels and garnets too.  I tend to favor higher RI or more dispersive gemstones, regardless of the hardness of the stone or the fact that harder stones take a little longer to cut.  They also last longer in jewelry, so that’s something I feel good about.  I don’t like to hear that people have rings made and then the stones get all scuffed up.

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Do you have a favorite shape you like to cut? Or a favorite cut design?
No.  I don’t like cutting pears, but other than that, don’t really have a favorite.  Variety is a good thing when it comes to cutting stones.

Do you typically cut more from diagrams or more by instinct?
Actually, I only use diagrams less than 10% of the time.  I usually cut using a “style” such as step cutting as with emeralds or Asscher cuts, or brilliant cutting as with Portuguese, standard round brilliants, etc.  I also do a lot of radiant or princess type cuts if the stone is shallowish, and scissors cuts if it’s deeper in shape.  While I work, I figure it out as I go and make notes about the angles, index gear (rotational) settings, etc. as needed so I can remember what I did when I go back to prepolish, then polish the stone.

How did you get started cutting gems? What did each of you do before?
I was a photographer, writer and graphic designer for a large fishing lure manufacturer, and also did a lot of work for other area business and print shops when they needed full color printing done.  Back in the early 1990’s, I was probably one of the very first people to successfully use a desktop color computer for production of things like catalogs, magazine ads, etc.  Cindi was a housewife for many years and a gem collector.  She started cutting stones about ten years ago.  I started in 1998 if I remember correctly.

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What’s your favorite type of customer? 
I don’t really have a favorite type of customer other than maybe people working on engagement ring projects because it’s fun to be a part of that, or gemologists because it’s nice to work with someone who knows a lot about gemstones.

What’s the percentage split between commissions vs what you choose?
It’s gotten to be about 50/50.  Right now, we’re backlogged about a month with other peoples stones to cut, but also have to keep the ebay store and regular website interesting.  I try to cut one of my own, one for someone else, one of my own, etc.

I noticed that you added videos of your stones to each listing. What brought that on?
I was getting a lot of request for “more photos”, particularly from pricescope.com members.  What they don’t realize is how much time that takes and often, they were more looking for reasons to not buy a stone than anything else.  So, I decided to try videos because that shows so much more about how a stone looks in person that still photos alone.  Since I started doing that, I have noticed a huge reduction in requests for additional pictures as well as a major decrease in how many people get stones in the mail then decide to return them because they aren’t exactly as expected.  Neither the photos nor the videos are perfect, but between those and the written description, a person should be able to get a pretty thorough idea of what a stone will be like in person.

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You seem to have gained quite the reputation in recent years for recutting less than perfect stones, or damaged stones. How did that come about?
I used to send all those projects to other cutters, but started getting complaints that stones were being held for six months or more and the cutters were not returning emails.  So, I finally decided to do the work myself rather than referring people to others that did not provide a good service.  Since I have cut thousands of stones, and have that experience, I was able to develop some cutting concepts to fix a lot of the commercially cut stones without losing a ton of weight or having to do total recuts.  The tops are usually not too badly cut.  The pavilions are almost always 90% of the problem so learning to fix those has been the real key to improving the stones.  As far as reputation goes, I really can’t say much about that other than I always try to do a good job and keep the overall value of the stone in mind so people don’t lose money on their gemstone investments.

How long does each stone take to cut? Do certain shapes take longer to cut?
Most smaller stones that cut to be 2 carats or less take 2-3 hours to cut.  Bigger stones take longer, but not proportionally so.  For example, a two carat finished garnet might take three hours, and a 10 carat more like 5 hours.  simple shapes like rounds, squares and emerald cuts are fastest.  Shapes with long curved sides take a bit longer.  Examples would be ovals, pears, marquise cuts, etc.

What’s each of your favorite colors? Do you tend to try to cut those more often?
After all the years of graphic arts and now colorful gemstones, I have no favorite color.  I don’t, however, like olive green or brownish pink colors.  Cindi’s favorite colors are pink and green.  She tends to like all colors, even some of the “ugly” ones, except red.

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How often do you cut stones and keep them?
Me, less than one per year.  Cindi, every few months. I very rarely keep a stone.  I have a nearly flawless emerald, some opals and a blue to pink color change garnet that I’ve kept.  After 17 or so years, I only have about 10 stones total…if that.  Cindi, on the other hand has hundreds.

Does Dan have any jewelry made with the stones he has (Or Cindi) cut?
Yes.  I have a silver ring Cindi made for me using a welo opal and a Tripps setting.  I also have a small blue Australian sapphire that I cut in my simple, comfort fit wedding band.

How do you manage working together as a couple? How did Cindi get started and involved?
We both love gemstones in general and met when she start collecting stones I was cutting.  Oddly, we work together very well and almost never fight or argue about anything.  Cindi got started cutting gemstones as a hobby, which is how I got started also.

What is your favorite stone that you ever cut? Did you sell it or keep it?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but the first one I ever kept for myself was an almost flawless, untreated Colombian emerald that even shows dispersion or spectral color flashes in sunlight.  I am fond of this one because of the clarity.  The somewhat odd step cut pear shape isn’t necessarily what I like about it.  Under magnification, I could only spot three little specks of “jardin”.

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What’s the weirdest stone you’ve ever cut?
Cindi has a really unusual gray tourmaline that is almost a charcoal color and super dispersive that I cut about 13 years ago.  The thing has big spectral flashes coming out of a completely gray colored stone.

Whatever happened to those corpse colored tourmalines you had listed? Weird as it may sound, I’m sorry I missed out on them…
The first of the two “corpse” colored tourmalines was purchased by a nurse (funny huh?).  I can’t remember who bought the second one.

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A huge thank you to Dan for taking so much time to answer all of my questions and being so frank with his answers. Most of the images in this post were taken from the website, of some gemstones that are currently for sale (minus the pear emerald and the “Ugly Tourmaline”!) I have a particular weakness for Dan’s step cuts!

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Miscellaneous Updates

Just a quick update this week, New Years is coming up soon (where did this year go?), and getting my new office/studio together is taking up way more time than I planned on.

  • My wonderful Angie Crabtree “Elle” print was finally framed, and it’s waiting for it’s new spot to be hung in my new office. I went simple on this one, and hopefully, since she is working on some antique diamond cuts, I can give “Elle” a companion sooner rather than later!
  • I haven’t been able to sketch and design as much as I normally do, snow shoveling has taken way too much of my time, as well as driving in the snow. It turns out that driving slow is key for avoiding wrecks! Right now I have three (plus) projects going on – two ring projects that I have very clear ideas on, and another more fluid project that I got a whole parcel of stones for, and have too many ideas on, so that will need to be worked on, hopefully in the coming week or so.
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  • Not much going on with stock settings, I decided against rolling out the Dignité for now, and will probably reconsider in the future. I am working on a three stone idea that has been formulating in my head that lends itself well to pairing with the Vivant necklace.
  • Instead of the Dignité being released, I posted the Intrepide – a wonderful interesting halo that’s just a slight tweak on a simple halo, that really comes with big impact!  This setting is available for any size and shape of stone, please contact us for details.
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  • I have a Voeu ring that just came out of production, and is available to view in person at David Klass Jewelry in Los Angeles. This one was made with a peachy-brown imperial garnet with both yellow gold and rose gold. This setting really lends itself well to smaller stones, giving them a good dose of presence, even for a smaller stone.
  • I got a few new jewelry tools for the holidays, so I’m excited to use those, both for pictures and just in general.
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  • I am considering sending several sapphires to AGL for certification, but the negative side of doing that (for the customer) is that the prices will inevitably go up.
  • Speaking of pricing, I think I might do a sale on my items on etsy for January. I will decide in the next week or so.
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A bit short today, I have been completely overloaded, but will hopefully get back into the groove again soon!

Gem Blast: Emeralds

Emeralds are considered one of the four “precious gemstones” along with ruby, diamond and sapphire (blue, specifically, since, you know, red and pinkish sapphire is typically considered ruby. But whatever.) So that means that they are highly prized, highly synthesized and highly treated.

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But it’s the birthstone for May so I’ll do a post on it, especially because I am lucky enough to have had two fantastic specimens in my hot little hands for the moment and of course have photographed the heck out of both.

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I have a special place in my heart for green. It was my favorite color from roughly age fourteen until about seventeen. And no other gem does green quite the way emerald does. Here is an gorgeous Afghan tourmaline to illustrate this point:

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And a green beryl/Aquamarine:

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One of the things that makes emerald so special is the glow that seems to light it up from the inside, almost like a green light on a stop light. Fittingly part of what gives it this look is “jardin” the name for the inclusions within emerald, French for “garden”. The only time emerald really seems to “sparkle” is when it’s incredibly clean and without jardin, but this variety of emerald has an entirely different look and feel to it, more like a bright green aquamarine than the soft, but intense glow of a stone with jardin.

Close up with the smaller of the two. Both are Colombian in origin.

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This particular emerald doesn’t have a ton of inclusions, making it pretty rare for an emerald. Just enough jardin to give it that glow factor, which is so highly sought after in these green beauties.

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The larger of these two beauties is for sale, and I keep restraining myself from thinking about setting ideas for it.

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But I still have the little one to play with. I was thinking something Art Deco would be awesome…and emeralds always look amazing with diamonds!

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Maybe I need to hit up the sketchbook…

Oscar Jewelry

It’s that time! Oscar fever!

I don’t really pay much attention to Hollywood award ceremonies. Except for the red carpet. I swear, it’s the only reason these ceremonies exist in the public eye. Evening gown designers, shoe designers, makeup artists, stylists, hair stylists, I get tired just thinking about how much work goes into creating one person’s “look” for a few hours. Regardless, I still enjoy seeing it all put together, and it’s a good way to stay on top of the trends.

I wanted to do a bit of a post about some of the jewelry and fashion that has stuck out the most to me from over the years, since we’re in the middle of awards season and approaching the Oscars. It turns out that I pay more attention to the Oscars than I do the other red carpets, but that might have to do with it being the creme de la creme, or at least that’s what Hollywood wants us to think.

Without further ado, here are some of the jewelry pieces (and complete looks!) that have stood out to me over the past several years.

In 2013, at the Oscars, Robin Roberts was recovering from cancer treatment, but you would never guess it, seeing her in a stunning Marc Bouwer blue velvet gown and gorgeous blue sapphire (I think?) and diamond earrings, bracelet and a ring. Does anyone know who made them? I searched and sadly couldn’t find a name attached to them or details! So if you’re the designer of these pieces, or know who made them, I’d love to be able to associate a name to them! I love that she really embraced blue, covering herself in it, and instead of looking dated (hello 1980s!) her blue eyeshadow just made her look positively radiant and pulled the whole look together.

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Now, Jennifer Lawrence sort of debuted as America’s newest Sweetheart when she tripped going up the stairs at the 2013 Oscars. But what was really catching people’s attention was the long Chopard necklace with 73cts of diamond beads, that she wore down her back. Her other jewels, while receiving a lot less notice were still just as fabulous, Chopard earrings totaling 23 cts of diamonds, made with round brilliant and rose cut diamonds, Chopard floral diamond ring that’s 8cts and a Chopard diamond band weighing 5cts.

Grand total: 109cts

Not bad Jen!

I’ve been thinking about diamond beads since Carrie’s necklace in the Sex and the City finale, but that trend never seemed to get off the ground. This one makes a much bigger statement than Carrie’s did, and I don’t know that Jennifer will ever be able to top the perfection of this look. The hair, the dress, the makeup, the jewelry, everything was positively spot on.

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In 2004, Angelina Jolie wasn’t yet the object of Brad Pitt’s affections and tabloid fodder. But I still remember admiring her stunning white gown by Marc Bouwer and almost falling over at her necklace – the $10 million, 85-carat Athena necklace, a piece on loan from H. Stern, featuring flawless D colored diamonds. The combination of the dress and the necklace was stunning, and combined with Angelina’s lighter hair, understated makeup and subtle diamond earrings, had Hollywood glamour with a hint of the raciness that put Angelina on the map.

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This is probably the first time I’ve thought that Lady Gaga actually looked demure and lady-like, but I guess the Oscars kind of requires that. She was bedecked in Lorraine Schwartz rose gold and 20ct diamond studs, rose gold and diamond bracelet, and a rose gold and fancy grey diamond ring surrounded by pink diamonds. My favorite part about her jewelry, although I couldn’t find a good picture, was the ring. I love gray gemstones so much! And to be paired with a pale pink and silver beaded Art Deco inspired Versace gown, she looked positively luminous. Why on earth did she make so many worst dressed lists? Sure, it’s not as scandalous as a meat dress, but I think she looks appropriate for the occasion, and shockingly normal.

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Lady Gaga at Oscars (close up)

So I have to confess, I have no idea who Samantha Barks is. But her dress and necklace at the 2013 Oscars are perfect together, really stood out to the jewelry obsessed, and the dress framed it perfectly. The official description of the necklace reads: “House of Waris for Forevermark Light Emanating from the Heart pendant in 18k yellow gold with Oval Forevermark diamond.” This 14.67-carat oval diamond really stood out in the crowd – that’s one thing about ovals – they have a lot of presence!

Samantha Barks diamond necklace

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Last, but certainly not least, is this elegant look from Angelina from almost 6 years ago, Oscars 2009. These earrings have spawned a ton of cheap imitations, but let me tell you, nothing can replicate the glowy green of Colombian Emerald! These are Lorraine Schwartz (of course!) and they are Colombian Emerald 115ctw earrings with a matching 65ct ring. They really stole the show from both Angelina (wearing impeccable subtle makeup yet again! It suits her.) and the black Elie Saab dress.

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So these are some of the jewelry looks that have stood out to me over the past decade, even before I was really paying attention to jewelry as closely as I do now. I really wish that there was more color out on the red carpet, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the award ceremonies that will be on our TV screens soon!

Gemstones: What to look for

So, buying gemstones is a tricky business. I’ve been doing it for many years, but I’m still far from being an expert at it.

Now, having said that, I do have some guidelines that I try to follow when I am after something. There are just too many variables for an easy how-to kind of guide the way diamonds have. There isn’t a lot of set pricing for various colored gemstones, so you have to do a lot of research to know if you’re getting a good deal or at least a fair deal.

Color
Color dictates everything. Red, especially pure red stones will be the most expensive stones you can buy. Pure blues, greens, yellows, and beautiful pinks won’t be far behind. Oranges are also very difficult to find, and are typically best found in garnets, but occasionally a great orange sapphire will come around.

Cut
This is something that’s different for everyone. I can overlook cut flaws for great color, some people are not as lenient as I am.

Clarity
This is something else that’s different for everyone. I don’t mind some inclusions, especially if they are cool looking (bubbles in spinels! Horsetail inclusions in demantoids!) but some people want completely clean and flaw-free. With most colored stones, this just isn’t possible. Not only that, but inclusions can help indicate the treatment level of a stone.

Size/Carat/Dimensions
Always buy by dimensions! Sapphires, for instance, are very dense and heavy, which means that 1ct will face up smaller than stones that are less dense.

Price
What is your budget for the project? How much does the gem in the size and color you desire typically cost? How savvy of a negotiator are you? You aren’t going to find a well cut, ideal blue with violet secondary in the 5ct range for $1k, unless it’s a fakey.

Treatment
Gemstones are constantly being treating in new and interesting ways that would lend to better color and clarity, not to mention making fakes. So the labs out there are having to stay on top if new treatments and innovative ways to, lets face it, scam people (ugh, the jewelry industry has such a bad rap when it comes to this topic!). The gems that are worth the most come out of the ground as you see them. There are different levels of heating, and other type of treatment – so many that I won’t got into all of them here. The GIA and AGL websites have tons of information on treatments.

Helpful hints:
1. If you’re buying a sapphire, ruby or emerald of a larger size, get a lab report.
2. Ask questions and ask for more pictures. If the seller doesn’t know the answers to the questions, and doesn’t seem to care about getting you the information you need, I’d reconsider doing business with them.
3. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of buying the gemstone variety you’re looking at. Blue topaz is almost always irradiated. Emeralds are almost always oil treated. Sapphires are almost always heated. Garnets and spinels typically aren’t treated (although lately there are rumors of heat treatment for color and clarity enhancement.) Look for comparables. I always go to reputable seller’s sites and compare compare compare. I try to find at least 3 other stones of similar size, shape, color.  If you’re after something really rare, this is harder than it sounds.
4. Ask outsiders for help! If you don’t know, ask someone else! Develop relationships with jewelers and utilize their knowledge. Ask for my help!
5. Understand that if someone acts like an expert on everything, they probably aren’t. Most jewelers are not well versed in gemstones because they aren’t as popular as diamonds.
6. Google is your friend. Seriously, I google stuff all of the time!
7. Don’t buy from the TV stations.
8. Buy what you like.
9. Manage your expectations!

Two unheated 5ctish Aquas. Blue is precision cut, green is not. Both are glorious in their own ways!

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Feature: Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry Outside

So, we took a trip to San Francisco, and I specially put aside a Saturday afternoon for going to Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry with a very good friend of mine who is looking for an engagement ring for her friend, and keeping an eye out for her own boyfriend. When we got there, we had to wait outside, because the interior was full and everyone was helping customers. Now, usually I wouldn’t appreciate waiting outside, but the outside display of Lang might be better than the inside.

I probably won’t say much, as the pictures kind of speak for themselves.

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Blue sapphires.

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Emeralds and diamonds.

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Diamonds and gems

 

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Rubies, diamonds and emeralds.

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I was fascinated by the light pink sapphire three stone. The ruby cabochon ring right above it was enchanting as well; it glowed like it had a light inside.

 

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Diamonds and a few rubies. I particularly liked the large emerald ring in front, but it kind of reminded me of Angelina Jolie’s engagement ring to Brad Pitt, and I’m not a big fan of her ring, but the more exaggerated taper on this one was far more appealing.

 

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Multi-colored sapphires.

 

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Rubies, diamonds, huge rose cut diamond ring.

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Closer shot of the ruby cabochon, star sapphire and pale pink sapphire.

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Rubies and diamonds.

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We finally made it inside, but we wanted to wait for the diamond case, so I decided to entertain myself by taking pictures of some of the cases.

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Smaller gemstone jewelry.

 

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Rubies and pink sapphires.

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Amazing brooches.

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To be continued….