The North Way Studio

I just want to give a huge shout out to my friend and colleague, Maria Bray of The North Way Studio! Her work was featured in a Buzzfeed article and I’m incredibly proud of her and always stunned by her amazing work!

The North Way Studio on Buzzfeed

Congratulations my dear! I’m so delighted that you are getting the recognition you deserve!

Maria from The North Way Studio
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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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Social Media Updates

Ok, I’ve been trying to be more active on social media as of late, so I figured I should update everyone here!

Instagram
username: @thegemstoneproject
I have tried to cultivate a fun Instagram feed and carefully decide what to post every day. I typically try to post 3-5 times every day. I will often alternate between bright colors and more subdued black and white images (or black and white items) because I feel like the colors stand out more if they have black and white to temper the bright color of the images. I post a LOT of macro images. Instagram is probably my social media platform of choice. I love taking photos.

Facebook
Want to know when I update my blog? Or when I want to give a quick update, but don’t have time to do a full blog post? Facebook is that place. I also respond to messages, and I try to keep people up to date on all of my goings on. I usually post every one or two weeks.

Pinterest
I don’t think I’ve shared my Pinterest boards before. Well, if you want to take a look, I am here to share them! I have a multitude of different boards for jewelry, and it should surprise no one (seriously, no one!) that they are organized by the color of the jewelry on the board. Blue, pink, teal, red, black & white, gray, etc! My favorite board is the “Multi Colored Bling” board – Some really amazing use of color in fantastic items of jewelry! Note: the “Delicacies” board is a bit tongue in cheek!

Twitter
username: @gemstoneproject
Typically I tweet whatever I’m thinking when I’m thinking it. I’ve also taken to tweeting out my instagram posts as of late. This is going to give you a more candid look at what I do, and I often rant about cooking related things on Twitter (almost always related to Food Network shows!)

Snapchat:
username: gemstoneproject
Want to know what I’m cooking? Or fun stuff I’m doing? I’ve been enjoying snapchat lately, posting snapshots of life, often a bit more candid than what you might see here, on etsy or on instagram. Random bling shots, cooking, food, a bit more life rather than bling.

Etsy
The bulk of what I offer for sale is available here. I try to be more methodical in my sale listings because etsy takes so long to make a listing, it takes away the fun of adding a flair for the dramatic in my writing.  I seem to do more seasonal updates here, and often post items that people have consigned with me.

And just because I always post a picture….

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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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Update on Social Media

I’ve been spending a bit more time on social media with little updates here and there, so if you haven’t already, you should find me, especially with JCK and related events coming up! Here is how my social media presence typically breaks down:

Instagram – multiple daily photo updates 5-7 days a week. I take an obnoxious amount of pictures (of everything!) and upload gemstone, jewelry, inspiration and other images very often.

Facebook – 2-5 times per week, sometimes multiple daily updates depending on what’s going on.

Twitter – 1-5 weekly updates, blog posts, what I’m up to, retweets of interesting articles or interesting tweets of trade related items

LoupeTroop – I have decided to preview items from inventory to LoupeTroop, since it is a designated jewelry bulletin board. I will add items here first before they go into the Etsy shop. I anticipate adding a couple new items once a week or so.

Etsy – I’m hoping that the Etsy shop will be functional for about a year in total. I would like to concentrate my design efforts elsewhere with settings and away from selling loose gemstones in about a year. I would prefer to add items that have not sold on LoupeTroop to the Etsy store about 2-4 times a month.

Pricescope – My current trade username there is ElleW, my former non-trade username is FrekeChild. I try to post at least once a day, but with the trade regulations, it makes it a bit harder to post frequently.

Pinterest – This is still under construction.

I prefer to not post my email address publicly at this time because there are so many options to contact me privately and in public. My Facebook page, etsy, LoupeTroop and instagram are probably the best places to send me private messages!

Here is a cute little tsavorite since this is a photoless post!

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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!

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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.