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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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!

Viva Las Vegas! JCK 2015 Part 1!

I don’t even know where to start because I did so much while I was in Las Vegas, so I guess I’ll just go in chronological order and give an abbreviated look into three of the most intense days of my life.

Thursday

So, I’m lucky enough to live relatively close to Las Vegas. As a result, I decided to drive across the Mojave (which is not a decision to be taken lightly!) and save a bit on airfare. Well, just as I had pulled off the freeway to stop at an ATM, and was stopped at a stoplight, I picked up my phone to check the map, and a cop pulled me over for using my phone while driving. Apparently I need to start using paper maps rather than my phone as a map. That did not start my trip off well. In addition to that rough start, my lovely bling friend who was rooming with me, her flight was not only delayed, but she was moved to another flight, that would have her arrive ten hours after she had originally been scheduled.

Not a good start to what was supposed to be a fun weekend.

So, at that point, alone and grouchy, I checked in, got some free drink vouchers (bless the woman at the check in counter!) I unpacked everything, and decided to check my messages, where my delayed roommate had mentioned a potential dinner date with Roger Dery. Seeing as how I hadn’t eaten anything all day, I figured I should probably put something in my stomach. So I text Roger and arranged to meet him at a restaurant a block from his hotel.

Dinner with Roger Dery

Let me start out by saying that Roger is wonderful. I’m not just saying that because I know he’ll read this either! I don’t want to talk too much about dinner because we talked about a lot of gemstone stuff, my plans for the future, his history with gemstones, posting on Pricescope (we both typically refrain unless we think very carefully about what we’re going to say before we say it), the increase in interest in gray spinel, mining, etc. You get the picture, I basically got as much information out of him as I possibly could over a couple of hours.

Gemstone showing with Roger

After we finished dinner, Roger invited me to view the gemstones he had with him, and of course I jumped at the opportunity! Who wouldn’t?! Here are some of the pictures I took of some of his gems.

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Orange sapphire. Just a tiny bit more brown than a fine orange garnet. This picture does not do it justice.
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A large blue sapphire
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My favorite stone of the night, a 2.03ct blue sapphire
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Iolite cabochon. A wonderful violet color. 
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One of many kiwi garnets.
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Another kiwi garnet.
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A fine spessartite, as usual, this picture does it no justice. 
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The amazing crown on a red garnet.
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A gorgeous burnt orange garnet that has a tinge of pink to it; another favorite of the night.
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Admiring the chrysoberyl.
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I took pictures of every single gem he brought with him, but some of them came out terribly, so I won’t post those! Roger gave me some helpful hints about the business and made some great suggestions as to next steps I should take. Not long afterward I finished looking at the gems, Jason Brim, Ryan Quantz and some other gemstone afflicted came by to go through Roger’s gems, and talk about gems. We also talked at length about Sharing the Rough, which I was able to see at the Newport Beach Film Festival. But more on the film later!

Back to the Bling Room

At this point, it was midnight and my roommate had finally made it to our hotel, so I decided it was time to head back….and look at more bling.

Colombian emerald cut by Lisa Elser.
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6+ct violet sapphire from Gene Flanigan at Precision Gems.
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Electric blue zircon from Roger Dery, customized Gabriel & Co setting.
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A red flame spinel in a custom Bez Ambar setting with Blaze diamonds
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A special transitional diamond from Love Affair Diamonds. This diamond comes with a story! 
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Violet sapphire from Natural Sapphire Company, setting from Jeff Davies.
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Shoulder views of Gabriel & Co setting and Julia B Jewelry setting with a Prima Gems red Mahenge spinel. 
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I finally passed out around 3am, already feeling a bit overwhelmed. This is what a colored stone lover’s nightstand looks like when we have a bling weekend.

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Part 2 with the lowdown on Friday’s insanity coming tomorrow!

Hint: it involved a lot of time with Prima Gems, and a limo ride. Not related to each other!

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!