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.

to1507

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.

sa1680

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.

NewRockBig

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.

sp1662

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”.

33b2cccb-45bf-4f0d-90d0-1219fed77260

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.

uglytourmaline_what

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!

Advertisements

Guest Post: The Evolution of Collecting

I have a special treat today, a guest post from someone who has become a close friend through gemstones, and whose services I sometimes utilize as a gemstone personal shopper due to her connections within the industry.  So if you have ever asked me for help finding a gem, rest assured I have likely consulted her on your stone.
Please welcome Aimée!
I have been collecting gemstones for my personal collection for almost five years now. It has been quite a journey. My financial situation has fluctuated during that time, and my connections in the industry have strengthened. I never used to consider myself picky, but have discovered that when it comes to gems…I’m a princess. I want it all – colour, cut, and price. So…how does one do that?
44
I started by buying everything that caught my fancy. I should specify at this point that my purchases happen almost exclusively online. This means a pretty large learning curve in terms of how to read pictures, specifically around colour, tone, and saturation ( a word I’ve only learned in the last four years). Also, some vendors have what I would call “frenzied drops”, where you have about 3 seconds or less to decide if you want something, regardless of price. I’ve returned many stones, and sold the ones I felt guilty about returning or that I realized ultimately weren’t for me. I’ve sold some beautiful stones, many that I’ve forgotten about, until I came across a picture on my computer. I’ve also developed realistic expectations. “A good price” is very relative. I’ve known people to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a diamond, then want a trade ideal coloured stone that is exponentially rarer than a diamond, with a maximum budget of a few hundred dollars. This type of search will usually lead to frustration and disappointment, and is quite simply a waste of time.
11
I try not to develop emotional attachments to my stones. Oddly enough, that can be difficult. I have stones and/or rings that I have a really hard time parting with, even though I will probably never set them, or rarely wear them, but they are pretty, and the memory of how they came to be in my possession is too sweet to extinguish. Selling to a fellow enthusiast helps. If it’s someone I like, who really loves the gem, I have an easier time passing it on. At this point, I only sell to fund new projects.
15
So, I’ve built my collection. What was once “the ultimate” moves on, once I find a “holy grail”. (Like stepping stones, except in a few instances, where…I hoard. I have several Mahenge spinels. My excuse is that they are all uniquely beautiful – pinkish red, reddish pink – I’m pretty sure I have every shade in between. Now, I’m aiming for cuprian tourmalines. Unfortunately, I came into the game too late for certain gems. But I digress…) I TRY to no longer buy impulsively (which can burn me in the case of, say…a holy grail that I try to think about for more than 3 seconds, and it’s grabbed by someone else in that time, during a frenzied drop). I try to accept what actually looks good with my skin tone – honestly, I have some stones which just aren’t flattered by my pasty hand…but are too pretty to sell!
13 1
I have scored some wonderful gems, at reasonable prices. This is usually because a fellow enthusiast has either pointed me in the right direction, or sold me something they bought several years ago at a good price, and they’re passing on the deal. Sometimes, it’s because I’ve bugged a vendor somewhat incessantly about a certain colour, and they finally got something in that might shut me up. Sometimes, I’ve really lucked out when a stone has sat around for quite some time for whatever reason, and the price can be negotiated somewhat.
20
If I was to have some advice for a “newbie” about collecting, it’s to have patience. “The One” WILL come along, at some point. You are better off socking away the money until it does. In the meantime, educate yourself, look at what’s around and at what price point, see as many gems in real life as you can, and when you see The One, pounce!
-Aimée

Original Find Mahenge Spinel

I mentioned in last week’s blog post that I had wanted to post an evaluation of this stone in it’s place, and had to scramble to post something else instead. Which ended up being great because it kind of leads into this post, because it also has to do with the gemstone personal shopping that being in this business entails.

Again, a huge thank you to Mayer & Watt for their ever gracious nature and massive amount of patience. Which was very much appreciated, since the package got delayed for three extra days and we were all a bit freaked out. To say the least.

I don’t want to talk much in this blog, because the pictures really are the ones that need to do the talking, and I can’t say anything more than they can.

Brief background: This is an “original find” Mahenge spinel. That means that it was mined in about 2007, before the appeal of such a stone was really widespread and it’s broadly thought that the best stones were mined at the very beginning of the find.  This particular stone had been on a long term memo, roughly two years. Which means that it sat for sale for 2 years without anyone buying it. Well, as soon as it came back to Mayer & Watt, Geoffrey messaged me excitedly with a “Would any of your clients be interested in this?”

12305615_899154136844463_442050931_n

Uh, YEAH they would! It’s a 3.62ct spinel that measures 10.2×7.8. It has eye visible inclusions, but what really pops out at you is the color, and retail pricing for a clean stone that is this color and size would get up to the lower-mid 5 figures.

Let me stop right here and say that if you’re not already, you should be looking at these images on an Apple device, iPad or iPhone because the colors are accurate for those pieces of technology, not really on the average laptop (trust me on this! I’m writing this blog on a laptop with factory settings and the color is not accurate at all!).

16

Now, as you look at these pictures, please note that I am located in the Pacific Northwest and I have not seen the sun for over a week (fog, snow, and rain however…) so none of these pictures are taken in the sun, and I’m rather disappointed I won’t be able to see it in the sun!

21

2

15

18

19

2

Now that I got that out of my system, here it is with an another “original find” Mahenge (and a small Burmese) that you may recognize:

3

5

Finally, an another “original find” Mahenge spinel, from my personal collection, which has a very nice pink color, and is very well saturated:

23

Looking decidedly desaturated next to this big oval.

24

Realistically, this is the best color Mahenge spinel I have had the pleasure of playing with, and that includes hundreds of carats of them from when I was at JCK Las Vegas this past spring. It’s just that good!

I hope that this post finds you having a wonderful holiday season, and a very merry Christmas week!

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

Pad5
Window illustration

AGL Lab Testing

I have had a lot of questions about untreated gems in my brief stint on etsy. One thing I would really like to discuss is getting gems tested. I prefer to get gems tested by AGL, and I am going to talk about an experience with getting a gem evaluated by them.

I want to start out by saying that I’m willing to get any gem tested, so long as the customer pays for shipping and testing. I typically do not get stones tested myself, because most stones don’t merit it, whether through the stones resiliency against treatment, or the the lab test cost ratio to the cost of the gem. It doesn’t make sense to get an AGL Gem Brief that costs $60 (plus shipping both ways) for a $100 gem, especially in the event that it’s a stone that isn’t routinely treated or has a characteristic that isn’t likely to be desirable to the general public (for example, a golden brown topaz). If the untreated designation brings a sale value that is higher than the cost of the testing, then it makes financial sense to do it. Or if the stone is a high enough price, and the stone variety is routinely treated.

2 (2)

I first contacted AGL about the violet sapphire late in 2014. I wanted to know about the procedures for getting a Gem Brief and then how to upgrade to a Prestige report. Maria emailed me back that I had to indicate it on the submission sheet.

Early in April I filled out the submission form and mailed it off to AGL. After roughly two weeks, I emailed Maria because I hadn’t heard anything from them (it’s a bit weird to mail an item to a location and not get any confirmation that it was received!) and wanted to make sure that it arrived at the destination. I have a deep distrust of USPS after an incident years ago involving Registered and a missing spinel that eventually turned up. Maria emailed me back that the stone had not only been received, but that it was done, untreated, and went through my shipping options. Instead of shipping Registered, she decided it would be a shorter wait to send it via armored vehicle overnight.

5 (2)

So shortly after that conversation, the sapphire was back in my hands. With it’s fancy AGL Prestige Report. I have joked about this since then, but I’m only half joking when I say that I want to get an AGL Prestige Report on all of my gems. There is a cool digital diagram where the stone was mapped out and has all of it’s measurements and facets displayed, descriptions of the treatment, the color, the rarity, etc. It almost made me wish that I had a gem that was important enough to get a JewelFolio, but being that pricing starts at $3,000, I don’t see that happening soon.

AGL Pricelist
AGL Prestige Report
AGL GemBrief

So let me say again, I have no problems sending a stone off to a lab to have them test it. But sometimes it really just don’t make sense! I suggest that sapphires, rubies, and emeralds have some sort of testing, but honestly, most garnets, spinels, topaz, chrysoberyl, and others probably don’t merit it, just due to the price proportions!

6 (2)

This sapphire has since sold, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends up getting set by it’s new owner!