Gem Blast: Holiday Edition

It has been a crazy week, with a family birthday plus Thanksgiving and then ten completed projects when I was expecting 5, plus a bunch of gems.  I have more on the way, and with the holidays gearing up, things are just bound to get crazier!

So this week, I’m just going to post a handful of my favorite pictures that I’ve been taking in the past couple of weeks! Some of this will be a preview for new items to come – some will probably hit etsy before they get to the website, due to holiday shopping demands

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Be on the lookout for new things to come! For additional pictures of some of these pieces, check out my Repertoire page.  And don’t forget to check out Facebook for all of my etsy promo codes.(Hint: there is one for today! After all, it’s Cyber Monday!)

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TGP: Year Two

A lot has happened over the last year, and certainly in the last two!

On a more personal note, I have moved from just outside of the Mojave desert where water is scarce to a 1800s farmhouse in the middle of thousands of acres of the incredible rolling hills of the Palouse, and finally to a fixer upper in Pullman with an actual dedicated space for a studio with southern exposure.

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Professionally I have created some incredible new designs, some of my favorite being the most challenging – a double haloed Paraiba Tourmaline, a haloed Burmese red spinel, a scalloped halo for an antique pear diamond, a violet spinel three stone ring, and a stunner of a 6 carat violet sapphire ring and so many more!

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I have created some really amazing engagement rings – a marquise in the Papillon setting, and a three stone spinel ring, not to mention stones found for engagement rings. I am always so excited and feel so blessed to play a small part of someone’s engagement!

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I have added to and built up the retail portion of my website, adding a boutique, and adding multiple designs to the Elle Collection. I have also made new contacts and been able to see some incredible gems!

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As far as gemstones go, I got an untreated Colombian Emerald back from AGL – I always knew this stone was special, and now I know how special and rare it really is. I received a glowy red spinel cut by Jeff White, and while I considered keeping it for a while, I ended up letting it go. Very reluctantly! I have gotten a ton of gray spinels, and continue being on the lookout for more. I am always on the hunt for gray spinels, especially now that their prices have skyrocketed.

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One thing that also happened this year is that AGTA and JA declared spinel to be a birthstone for August. If you’ve followed my blog, etsy, website or Instagram for any period of time, you know how much I love spinels. So while I think this is wonderful that spinel can finally get some recognition it deserves, it’s really terrible because that means that the prices of spinels are going to go crazy for a while, and probably will never come down again.

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So many things are in the works for the next year, especially the next couple of months. I have a bunch of goals, including entering a design or two into competition, and working towards more earrings and necklace designs. At some point I would like to have a trunk show event at a local jewelry store because I think that would be a lot of fun!

Here is to my third year! I only hope that it is as wonderful as the past two years!

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TGP Updates

It has been far too long since I managed to get a post up! In the last few weeks, I’ve had a family emergency, found myself terribly sick and even had a birthday.

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Bright Yellow Sapphire

In more jewelry related news, I managed to get some new gems up on etsy, got a few custom projects underway, and am anxiously waiting for a few items in production.

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Pastel Green Aquamarine

I’m really sad that I haven’t been able to get more jewelry into production so far this year, but things have been distracting me, and I am hoping that as soon as I get moved into the new studio, things will take a turn for the better. I have a bunch of custom projects in the works, including a step cut halo, some cluster type rings, another halo, and some others including a fancy colored diamond ring.

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Medium Gray Spinel Pair

Speaking of the studio, I have a new drafting table, and I’m so excited to be able to draw without getting instant neck strain! I also have a big south facing window with incredible natural light (except during those pesky storms that make it over the Cascades from Seattle) that has been working quite well for photographing stones and jewelry. I didn’t realize when I started planning this new space just how many functions I need it for – drawing, photography, computer, writing, storage, shipping, etc. And all of those tasks need different lighting (say, for instance, color shifting stones!) and suddenly office planning is incredibly complicated.

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Lavender Spinel

Now, as for decorating the studio, I already have one print up from Angie Crabtree – the Elle modern asscher, and my wonderful husband surprised me with a new print for my birthday – the Dominique antique pear! This complicates things though – I had just figured out my wall configuration with the decor, so I will have to redo it once it is framed.

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Barry Bridgestock Tourmaline

I hope that you have taken the opportunity to take a minute to check out my Repertoire page – I have many of the items I have designed up there, both stock items as well as custom items. I am going to be writing another Inside The Industry blog coming up soon – I just need to be able to spend some time writing, instead of spending it on random non-jewelry related items. And I will be sharing a couple new items to go with the Vivant necklace as well – they should be coming out of production very shortly!

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Peter Torraca Tourmaline

In other updates, I have stones at AGL for certification/testing, and I will have a new small padparadscha sapphire as well as a gorgeous blue sapphire here soon as well!

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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!

Building a Gemstone Collection

Over the past several years I have built a wonderful collection of jewels with a client of mine. She started out pretty slowly, but about 5 years later, through a lot of time, trial and error and wading through a pool of contacts, she has managed to build one of the most beautiful and thorough collections I’ve ever seen (in a collection that’s not in a museum, at least!).

One of the most important factors we learned in building her collection is that sometimes stones will pop out at you at the most unexpected times. You may have been searching for a fantastic blue sapphire, and stumbled on the perfect ruby instead. I would absolutely jump on the ruby rather than keep pursuing the sapphire. Bump the sapphire down a notch on the priority list, but keep an eye out for it. In other words, when opportunity knocks, answer the door.

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Beyond making opportunistic buys, it’s important to have a plan moving forward as you build your collection.

Strategies for building a stunning gemstone and/or jewelry collection:

  1. Make a list of the gems/jewelry you absolutely want. Try your best to order this list according to your personal priorities (see 2-9).
  2. Keep in mind this list is going to grow and change as your expectations and desires change.
  3. Color. What colors do you want? What colors would you wear? Is there any special significance to colors/types of stones?
  4. Hardness. Are you hard on your rings? Do you need to be limited to the very hardest stones? How does that limit you color-wise? Are you willing to wear something sparingly in order to have that color in your collection?
  5. Some of the best overall collections I’ve seen have a full variety, a rainbow of color. But some collections have a concentrated color group – a friend who is a huge fan of blue green for instance, may build a small army of blue-green stones in a variety of shades, while other colors in their collection may appear sorely neglected.
  6. Know yourself. What makes you get butterflies in your stomach? What makes you gasp in delight? Is it a certain variety of stone? Or a certain color?
  7. Keep budget in mind and know where you want to make concessions. Things like cut and clarity can help stretch the budget.
  8. Keep your setting budget and wants in mind. Sometimes people balk at spending more on a setting than on a stone. Know what your priorities are! For some people (myself included!) the setting costs and the stone cost ratio doesn’t matter, it’s the end piece that has to make your heart sing.
  9. Do you want fewer more expensive items or a larger number of cheaper items?
  10. Try to finish some of your pieces. You can go down a rabbit-hole of buying gems or settings and never complete anything (unless, of course, your goal is to collect gemstones and settings!).

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Just keep in mind that beautiful collections don’t necessarily grow overnight. Gemstones are often very hard to track down, especially as you reach for more high end or rare stones. Building a collection takes time and requires patience, but is well worth it in the end.

In the event that building your collection hits a wall, feel free to reach out to me for help with new rocks to overturn or who knows – one of my contacts may have just what you are looking for!

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Gem Blast: A Variety

So, I’ve been super busy. I currently have two ring setting prototypes heading towards production, and a necklace prototype I’m looking towards production on (trying to get the ring setting collection out first!), and about a dozen and a half other designs in my head/in the sketchbook that want to be made sooner rather than later.

Plus I’m attempting to try to come up with some stock product ideas for a jeweler I work with, several other custom projects for various clients, and that’s not touching on my interstate move.

I don’t really have a ton of time for a lot of blogging right now, but I’ve still been taking a lot of gem and jewelry photos. I figured I could post some of my recent favorites as a blog entry.

A vintage blue sapphire and diamond ring.

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A couple of citrines against a blue rhinestone background.

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Some spessartite garnet earrings. I keep considering repurposing these, but I haven’t quite decided yet.

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An ideal cut diamond showing off a little bit of arrow action.

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Some rose and yellow gold rings in my personal collection. I need to flesh this collection out some more!

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Playing with light and a green garnet.

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This Star 80 cut in a lavender spinel never fails to be interesting.

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A Jeff White asscher spinel. A bevy of step cuts.

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A trio of colorful haloed rings.

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Some spinel rough. Not really facetable, but I like to keep it around because the colors are nice and I love the natural texture. It’s fun to play with.

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A couple of spinels. The top is from Mahenge Tanzania, and the bottom is from Burma. The top is more reddish pink, the bottom is more pinkish red. Both have the neon glow that is considered ideal in the industry.

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And last, but certainly not least, though uploading lost a lot of it’s beauty, the cut of this unheated aquamarine reminded me of the way water ripples.

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Many of these will be available back in my etsy shop as soon as I’m back up and running.

You can likely look forward to another photo-heavy post next week, as I will be completely entrenched in my move (probably driving somewhere in Northern California) when the next blog posts, as I do typically try to plan most blog posts in advance.

Also, I’m hoping to post on August 9th – it’ll be my blog’s first birthday! Kind of amazing to me that I’ve kept it up for almost a year already.

Gemstone Vocabulary and Anatomy

I decided to put together a glossary of sorts of gemstone terms, or terms that I use relatively often and might not be familiar to those who aren’t well versed in gemstone and jewelry terminology. Something I wish I had when I was first learning!

This is an endlessly growing and changing document, and will need continuous updates to keep it useful. Please let me know if any suggestions for terms, or comments you might have!

Adularescence – milky glow that moves as the stone moves, originates from within a gemstone and is caused by inclusions, occurs in the presence of stronger light conditions.

bezel set – a way of setting a stone with solid metal completely surrounding the stone, pushed down over the stone’s girdle

brilliance – amount of light reflected back out of a gemstone, a direct result of a stone’s refractive index

brilliant cut – a facet design radiating from the culet of the stone, on a perpendicular plane from the girdle of the stone

cleavage – tendency for a mineral to break along distinct planes dependant on how the mineral grows

colorless – a stone that is not known for being without color, having zero saturation. Examples: sapphires, spinels, garnet, tourmaline, topaz

crown – the facets from the girdle up to the table, the height from the girdle to the table

culet – the pointed tip of a stone formed by pavilion facets. Antique diamonds may have “small” “medium” or “large”. Modern cut diamonds typically do not have a culet, the pavilion facets meet at a point.

dispersion – the ability for a gem to divide the light into spectral colors

facets – a flat plane cut onto a gemstone

fat belly – when a pavilion is cut to preserve weight, instead of forming a cone, it is more bulbous and round on the bottom

fire – see dispersion

fluorescence – reaction of trace minerals causing the stone to glow a specific color when exposed to UV light, typically blue, yellow and red

girdle – the circumference around the stone where the crown and the pavilion facets meet, it can range from very thin to very thick, and can be faceted or rough.

keel – an edge formed by pavilion facets. typically found in elongated cut stones

kozibe effect – culet reflected around the stone

luster – light reflected from a gem’s surface

meet – the edge in which is made when two facets line up in faceting

monochrome – varying tones of one color, white-gray-black

MRB – modern round brilliant

OEC – Old European Cut

OMC – Old Mine/Miner’s Cut

pavilion – the bottom part of the stone, typically cone shaped

pleochromism – the characteristic of having different colors visible from different angles

RI – refractive index

Rose cut – stone cut into a dome type shape with a flat bottom/no pavilion, and the crown is a hexagon shape with triangular facets, meeting in a low angled point on top, typically cut in a round shape, but may also be cushion, pear, oval or marquise.

saturation – how pure and intense a color appears. Low saturated tends to be gray, highly saturated is vividly colored.

silk – the appearance of a stone looking slightly cloudy, which bounces the  typically caused by inclusions referred to as silk,

spread – the size of a stone when looking top down, measured by the diameter of the girdle. Typically used to compare one stone to another.

step cut – a facet design on a parallel plane from the girdle of the stone, typically angular in shape. Emerald, baguette, carre, asscher are common types.

tilt window – when a stone is viewed at an angle that is not straight down into the stone, and you can see through the pavilion

table – the flat top facet of the stone

window – when a stone is cut at the wrong angles for it’s type, the see through portion in the middle is called a window

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