A Month of Diamonds

I am an April baby. And…I don’t like diamonds.

But, because it’s my birthstone and because of the social importance imparted on us and the significance of diamonds, they have still managed to play a influential part in my life.

When I was thirteen, my mom gifted me with the tiniest diamond ring imaginable. If you’ve been following me on instagram, you might have seen it. I know nothing about the diamond besides the fact that it’s so small I have to check with magnification to see it and make sure it hasn’t popped out, and from what I can tell, it’s likely a single cut melee. I think it’s about 1mm in diameter, so when I say it’s small, I mean it! I wore that ring all of the time, in fact, I don’t remember when I stopped wearing it, but it was probably sometime when I was in high school when boys started giving me rings.

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Diamond birthstone ring from my mother for my 13th birthday.birthstone bling2

My second diamond ring was a gift from an old boyfriend. That ring also had tiny diamonds in it and was terribly 1980s-1990s and yellow gold. My third taste of diamonds came from another ex, another tiny diamond that had a huge carbon chunk in it from a mall jewelry store. They are both long gone now, but it’s probably a good thing – what do you even do with jewelry from exes?

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An antique diamond band from the 1930s. 

My mother had always had a couple diamond rings that belonged in her family, and I expected to inherit them someday. It wasn’t long after she was rediagnosed with breast cancer that she came to me and explained that she was sending them to who she felt was the rightful heir, since they couldn’t be evenly split among her many siblings (youngest of ten). So I found out that I wouldn’t be receiving those heirlooms a bit abruptly.

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Carre and single cut band inspired by Tiffany & Co.

And then, for my parent’s 27th wedding anniversary, I finally talked my dad into buying my mom a diamond, her first real diamond that would be hers, as my parents didn’t have the traditional engagement with a ring involved and my dad is not the jewelry buying type. We spent a series of a few days at a few different jewelers, looking at diamonds and really getting an idea of what she would like and what my dad wanted to get her. Marketing terminology won him over with a “princess”. He said as soon as he heard that it was called a “princess”, he had to have one for her. Unfortunately I totally failed when it came to the setting department, and put it in a boring stock solitaire.

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My mother’s princess cut diamond.

Now, if there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I like to sleep. I’m a night owl, and the later I can sleep in, the better. I pestered my dad to tell me how he was going to give the ring to my mom, and he, while brilliant, is not terribly creative. He got up before her, and put the store bag next to her coffee pot. My parents got up at incredibly, stupidly early hours, so the sun wasn’t even close to coming up. I, a person who loves sleep, set my alarm to wake up BEFORE my parents so I could witness my mom receiving this gift we had put so much time into. And around 5am, I was greatly rewarded, skulking in the dark living room while my mom stumbled into the kitchen to start her coffee without even putting her glasses on. I remember the conversation as clear as if it were yesterday:

“David, what is this?”
“Why don’t you open it up and find out?”
…opens the bag, finds the box, opens it and…
“Holy shit…is that real?!”

Yes, it was. And I can probably count on one hand the times I heard my mom use a curse word.

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My mother’s anniversary present, reset into platinum. 

These few instances signify some of the more emotional ties I have had to diamonds specifically, even though I’ve never really had the love affair that most women seem to have with diamonds. I’ve always admired diamonds because they are sparkly, and goodness knows I love sparkly things, but diamonds never really felt like something I had to have.

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Antique Old Mine Cut diamond with a badly chipped girdle.

Until I found antique diamonds. And then I found fancy colored diamonds. Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with the fact that I did like diamonds – I just had to find the right flavor! I’m planning on spending most of April talking about diamonds, but as per usual with me, just not your every day Modern Round Brilliants!

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Old European Cut diamonds set in my platinum Prive band.

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Feature: Jewels by Grace

I promised you a feature with Grace Lavarro of Jewels by Grace, and today is the day! So if you’ve ever wanted to know what her real engagement ring looks like, or what her favorite item of jewelry is, read on!

So, to start off easy, what is your favorite cocktail?
​My current poison of choice is Ginger Gimlets.

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When did you first fall in love with jewelry?
​I’ve always been very curious about jewelry but my “real” interest started when I started the hunt for the my 1st (hah!) engagement ring. We were young, with limited funds, so we scrimped and saved for this ring – a 1ct princess cut diamond ring 🙂 I loved everything about it then, and I designed the setting as well.​

What do you think every woman should have in her jewelry box? I’m going to limit it to 5 things, because I know you!
​I always advocate that women should have a versatile jewelry suite – several pieces that would easily take them from day to night, from casual to glam. I will pretend that I did not read the “limit to 5” restriction 🙂 But in all seriousness, if we had to limit this to 5, then the last 2 items listed may be left off.

Beautiful earrings. Not many people know this about me, but earrings are MY favorite piece of jewelry. With my earrings on, I feel complete. These can be studs, or dangles. I am partial to dangles because I do like seeing the sparkle and glimmer of gems when one’s head moves. Earrings frame a beautiful face beautifully – everyone SHOULD have a killer pair of earrings!

A nice solitaire – and by nice, I don’t necessarily mean huge! I am talking about a ring that is classically styled and elegant. A half carat diamond in a beautiful setting is more beautiful in my eyes than a poorly-cut diamond in an unattractive, “look-at-me” setting.

​A blingy right hand ring,​ ​preferably vintage, for that certain je ne sais quoi​​. Because right hand rings REALLY need to be bold, and big, and be present on the finger!

A long chain necklace is a must as well. It can be a diamonds-by-the-yard style, or a chain with some intricate design details. I like them long enough to wear doubled and I am very partial to French chains – they have the prettiest patterns and styles and work very well for layering. Even if only in a t-shirt, an elegant long necklace finishes any ensemble very, very nicely.

Wrist bling! Wrists are the last frontier for me (no, I don’t think I will ever advocate for belly button jewelry)! I like seeing pieces on wrists with some depth – different colored metal perhaps, or a mix of the old and the new. I like wearing all my bracelets and cuffs on the right wrist, stacked with my watch. I call it “organized chaos.”

And, if budget allows, these two other pieces:
A band that can be worn stacked, yet be bold enough to be worn on its own. This could be a 5 or 7 stone band, or an eternity band.

A nice watch. Again, it does not need to a designer watch, but a watch that is styled nicely (diamonds optional) and could work with one’s jewelry (and lifestyle). A fave of mine is a yellow gold boyfriend watch by Coach (all of $265!).

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What do you look for in jewelry when you’re buying for your shop?
​I like pieces which are different, interesting, and unique. I like pieces with beautiful craftsmanship and those which clearly evoke the different eras – Deco, Victorian, Edwardian.

I love Art Deco, but there are just so many great antique looks that came out at different time periods that I know I can’t ever pick just one! Do you have a favorite era?
​See above! Art Deco has always been a big fave but Victorian pieces are creeping up to be a close second as I am wearing almost only yellow gold jewels lately.​

I have noticed a ton of rose cuts coming out of Jewels by Grace lately, and I know that they are pretty rare, as most people have never seen them in real life. Are they becoming more plentiful or are you just buying all of them?
​They have always been around but the recent surge in popularity, I would say, is due to jewelry designers using more and more of them in their designs. I have always loved rose cuts and buy them for my shop every chance I get!​

What was your original engagement ring?
A 1ct princess cut diamond in a half-bezel ring (hey, this was the early 90’s, ok?)​

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You are a female small business owner in a male-dominated industry, has that been difficult?
​Yes, in so many ways, this is still very much a male-dominated field! It has not always been easy to navigate the industry.

How did you get into the business? And what did you do before you opened JbG?
​I was in the professional services industry, a pencil pusher 🙂

The decision to get into the industry was not a conscious one. Many years ago, I decided to pare down my collection and started selling off pieces here and there. I met my previous business partner Erica when she bought her first diamond from me. We became fast friends via email, and after seeing an episode of Oprah one afternoon where she declared that we must all follow our bliss, I felt it was time! My friendship with Erica started at the perfect time, and after pooling our resources, Jewels by Erica Grace was born.

Was there a pivotal moment of transitioning into the industry full time?
​After we hit a certain sales milestone, we knew the business needed our full time attention. I would say that this really depends on the business owner – that sales target could vary wildly from one person to the next.​

How have your tastes have changed over the course of your job?
​I do not think that my tastes have changed much over the years, to be honest. More than anything, I rely on my aesthetics and instinct in picking and selecting jewels. A very prominent antique jeweler once told me that I had the eye for this job and I have never let myself forget that. In moments where I need clarity, I let my eyes guide me! It sounds pretty simple and that’s because it really, really is.

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What is your favorite piece that you currently have in your shop?
​I am very partial to twin stone rings so its only natural that I am totally in love with the 4.10tcw Victorian bypass ring! I love it so!​

Do you have any pieces that you wouldn’t ever sell?
I get very attached to personal pieces so once I declare them mine, its highly unlikely that I would ever want to part with them. Most of the pieces that you see on the Jewels by Grace home page (the slider pics) are personal pieces of mine – those would remain in my jewelry box, thank you very much!

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(Can I just take a minute to gawk over the beauty in the above photograph?! The ring and the photography are stellar!)

So, when are we going to go sing karaoke?
​Girl. These pipes were born ready. 🙂

I suggest you click on the following links, enjoy the amazing photos, and see if anything in particular catches your interest! And keep a watch on this woman – she is a force to be reckoned with, and has an eye for spectacular detail!

Jewels by Grace
Jewels by Grace SmugMug
Jewels by Grace Instagram
Jewels by Grace Facebook

Oh yeah, and go look at her brand spanking new Holiday Look Book!

Grace is in the middle of holding some giveaways over the holiday season. If you are her follower on Instagram, like her on Facebook or subscribe to her newsletters, you are entered to win one of her fantastic bracelets! They are similar to the ones below, but have colorless rose cut sapphires in them. If you haven’t already, please take a minute and go find her on social media for a chance to win a gorgeous piece of jewelry!

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Please note: All of the pictures used in this post have been used with permission of their owner, Grace Lavarro of Jewels by Grace, and are her property.

Design: Red Spinel

I had been trying to figure out how to set this red spinel from Peter Torraca for years when I gave up and sold it.

I still worked on sketch ideas. I figure that sketches are never wastes of time, they might come in handy for other projects, which is why I have entirely too many sketchbooks lying around. I really had no idea and just went random places with it.

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This was a fairly awful sketch because the outline of the stone is so way off, but it was more to get a feel for the general idea. Drawing is so hard for me to do well, and I have to spend a lot of time working on it. Drawing abnormal shapes are hard. Circles and squares are great, but throw in cushions or any cut corners and I’m screwed.

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This one is actually much better but because of the angle the picture was taken, it looks a bit off. I was really running with the baguette idea at this point, but wanted to stick with the repeated patterns of the art deco period.

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So I sort of switched gears from the halo and round melee and went to strict Art Deco. It was at this point where I bought the stone back from the person I sold it to, and I started to really think about how I’d really want to set it. I was playing with proportions here. The stone is smaller, so it felt like the baguettes would need to be impossible proportions to go with the look I like. I love the skinny look of the one on the bottom, and the top one is too wide, which is ridiculous because the stones are 2mm.

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This is what I decided on. Fully anticipating a hefty custom setting bill, I figured I’d maybe put it at the bottom of the list to set, or end up selling it.

Red

And then I found a ring that was basically perfect, and for a ridiculously awesome secondhand price, set the red spinel in a super nice turn-of-the-century setting that was very similar to what I was wanting for it – a bunch of step cuts.

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October: Opal and Tourmaline Estate Rings

My mother was an October baby. So as a result, I grew up enjoying a couple rings in particular, and I had to share them, even though I don’t really know much of the history behind them or any of the details about the stones or the pieces themselves.

First up is a beautiful opal and onyx ring that was gifted to my mother from my grandmother – my father’s mother. The timeline of their relationship makes me think that it was given to her in the 1970s, but I feel like the ring looks like it was made in the 1950s or 1960s.

It’s a very small ring size, and only fits our pinkies, so I would guess that it’s around a size 3.

O1 O3

I’ve never been a huge opal fan, despite growing up with this ring, because I tend to like gems that sparkle more, but there is something to be said for the colorplay in opals.

O4 O5

I love how the circles are repeated everywhere in the ring, with the round doughnut at the base of the head, and the semicircles under the onyx.

O6 O7

It is 14kt gold, but as you may have noticed, it is not quite yellow and it is not quite rose gold, but something between.

Unfortunately, there is a chip in the onyx:

O8

This ring is a pink tourmaline, and it was given to my mother by her mother, as a birthstone ring, when my mother was about 13 years old. I’m sure that she wore it a lot, as the prongs are paper thin, the milgrain on the side engraving detail is almost worn away, and the shoulder detail is not as fine as it probably once was. This ring is especially important to me because my mother’s family was very poor, and this ring would have been a major stretch for them financially.

PT1

The stone seems to be scissor cut, and has a nice big window in the middle, but I don’t particularly care about the cut quality of the stone for this one.  The color is beautiful and the complete piece is enchanting, so I can overlook the flaws, especially considering it’s sentimentality.

PT2

I really wish I could have seen it when it was new before the details were blurred.

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I think that part of the draw for sentimental jewelry items is knowing that your loved one wore it and loved it too. But also, for most people, heirlooms might be the only taste they ever get of antique jewelry. That is terrible in my opinion, because I think there is a lot of great beauty to be found in antique jewelry and it’s horrible to think about how much of it has been melted down and destroyed.

So, I suggest keeping an eye out for beautiful antique pieces! Jewelry stores often have “estate” sections with used items, or if you ask, sometimes they might have things that other people have sold for scrap. It’s always worth asking about!

Feature: Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry Inside

The Lang interior consists of about 3 larger cases of diamond rings. When we finally got inside, they were full of customers, so we waited our turn while chatting with the salesperson assigned to us. She told us that they will be moving just down the street to a new larger location, but that they don’t know when construction will be finished. She also told us that lately they haven’t been able to keep any blue zircons in the cases. We hypothesized that it may be due to the popularity of Paraiba tourmaline and teal colors in general being very popular right now. I wonder if buyers are educating themselves more and discovering that zircon is not the same thing as cubic zirconia.

Anyway, we tried on some diamonds, and my friend particularly fell in love with this cushion. I think her boyfriend might be getting a link or two in his email…

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We were on the side with the larger diamonds, but nothing quite like the honkers in the store windows.

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This was only part of one case.

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Beautiful profile view of a ring. The dark stones are actually bright blue sapphires. My white balance got screwed up when I was snapping the picture, but the other pictures were blurry.

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A beautifully patterned OEC ring.

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A massive ball of step cuts. even though I love step cuts, this one didn’t really do anything for me. I think the proportions of the sidestones bothered me. I like to have more of an extreme taper. I think the trapezoids compete with the center stone.

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A large marquise cut stone, the profile was gorgeous, and looked a bit like a boat.

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Both my friend and the salesperson really liked this ring on me, but I always see an eyeball when I see rings like this.  I can’t help it!

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I don’t particularly like fishtail prongs, but between the beautiful center stone and the french cut sides, this ring really wanted to come home with me.

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I have to say though, I was disappointed to hear that they will not sell any stones loose. Nor do they sell settings separately. Also, the prices are astronomical, compared to other retailers of fine antique jewelry.

That about sums it up for the visit to Lang. I’m so glad I got to go! I saw so many beautiful jewels, and had a fantastic time with a very good friend! I wish we had been able to spend more time looking around and trying things on, but their little store was completely packed and neither of us was going to be buying that day. It was really fun to see what different size diamonds look like, and to judge the cut quality on so many different stones at once. I would highly recommend it if you’re going to be visiting San Francisco and want to get a good antique jewelry fix!

Jewelry Design

While I have taken many art classes, some centered around edible mediums, I would never consider myself to be a trained artist. I have a dear friend who is an artist, and she makes amazing pieces, typically paintings, that I only wish I could do. I am not a natural 2D artist, and I am constantly working on improving on that aspect of my work. Now, having said that, I have other strengths that play in my favor.

Once upon a time I took an IQ test, and when given the results, I was informed that I had a very high proficiency in spatial reasoning. Typically this manifests in how to best arrange the freezer to manage to fit all of the frozen food from the grocery store into it, but sometimes I use my powers for more fun stuff.

Which is where jewelry design comes in. I tend to thrive on fitting pieces together, arranging different sizes/shapes of stones together to creating something visually interesting, something that flows and catches the eye. When I design for someone else, I try to keep that same aesthetic theory, while incorporating what the person wants and needs in a design. I often exercise a fair amount of restraint; I don’t want to produce an item that is covered in detail to the extent that the design obscures the beauty of the materials used.

Some “in progress” sketch ideas for a dear friend of mine, who obviously has a fondness for halos, playing with proportions and seeing if anything moves me. Mostly playing with proportions and stone layouts. Interesting ideas, but nothing has come to fruition yet.

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A more in depth sketch I was considering, this one is actually to scale. This is for a red cushion cut spinel with baguettes, rounds and a knife edge shank.

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Messing around with a sketch for a larger blue spinel, based on an antique setting from a zircon ring I saw – very difficult to try to get on paper, as the shapes are not easily replicated from one side of the stone to another. These are pretty typical for a sketch I’ll throw together on a whim just to get a visual on how it looks and proportions. The antique version was beautiful, while this sketch looks vaguely like a Sesame Street character.

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This sketch was an idea I was working on with a mint garnet for the center. The stone is small, and the owner wanted plenty of impact from the piece as a whole, even though it is a smaller center. The layout of the larger halo stones is inspired by antique cluster rings.

mint sketch

The sketch below was a jumping point for the red spinel above. The side stones would be baguette cut diamonds, inspired by the Art Deco period, an era I’m particularly influenced by.

 

Red

 

All of the above sketches are pretty old, and are far from being my best work, but I like some of these projects and ideas that stemmed from them quite a bit. It always helps when I like a stone that I’m designing for!

I am currently in the process of honing my drawing skills, and getting to a point where an item has the appearance of 3D on the paper. Unfortunately that takes a lot of time when you are learning, especially wen you are teaching yourself, and I don’t ever seem to have enough time at the moment. I am hoping that soon things will calm down enough so that I can actually sit down with a sketch book instead of a laptop!