Inside the Industry: Engagement Rings

I originally was thinking of the “Real Housewives of _____” series when I had this idea for the blog. I’ve never actually watched even an episode of any of the shows, but their jewelry seems to have a prominent presence in the show, as I will occasionally hear about various huge diamond engagement rings from news outlets.

Engagement rings are deeply personal items, sometimes they have hidden messages, birthstones, special secrets that just the couple knows about. Every engagement ring is a promise and a symbol of a union, and are often the most important piece of jewelry a couple will share.

So I decided to reach out to some gem cutters and dealers to see what people wear who are surrounded by stunning gems and jewelry all of the time.

All photography within this post is the property of person whose ring it is, and their images and stories are being used with permission.


Dan and Cynthia Stair of Custom Gemstones met when Cynthia started collecting the gemstones that Dan was cutting.

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What is Cindi’s engagement ring?
About a four carat pink sapphire in a platinum and diamond halo. The funny thing is, I bought the ring to take the stone out and recut it, but was told “no”. I figure if it ever gets a little scuffed, I’ll “fix” it.


Roger and Ginger Dery of Spectral Gems

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Roger Dery

What is Ginger’s engagement ring?
Blue sapphire, Sri Lankan, a piece I reconditioned with a final weight of 6.33ct. It is heated, and has an AGL report, of course.


Geoffrey and Alexandra Watt of Mayer & Watt

Geoffrey Watt
Geoffrey Watt2

What is Alexandra’s engagement ring?
3.50cts 8.5mm square cushion peach no heat Padparadscha Ceylon sapphire with white gold shank … Rose gold head … Platinum filigree down the side with 3mm round Alex’s. Her anniversary band is rose gold with diamonds, and the ring was designed so the band would fit inside it.

Why Alexandrites?
Well I love Alexandrites and so my wife by default likes them too, and wanted a big one but we can’t afford it! So I promised she would eventually get one…and I put them secretly in her ring. She designed it but I snuck them in. Plus her name is Alexandra, so it has double meaning behind it being in her ring.

Jaimeen and Nattalie Shah of Prima Gems

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What is Nattalie’s engagement ring?
A 1.5ct round tsavorite and diamond ring. The center measures 6.6mm.

Nattalie and Jaimeen’s engagement ring story is so wonderful, I just had to let her share it in her own words:
Almost six years ago, my husband (who was obviously my boyfriend at the time) called his mother in India and asked her to design and make a ring for me. He asked her to make a ring with a Tsavorite because this stone holds a lot of significance to him. He knew that I had teased him that I would love any engagement ring as long as it wouldn’t turn my finger green (haha). I love my engagement ring and I really feel that it’s so special to know that this ring was made just for me.


If you’re in the business and would like me to share a photo of your/your partner’s engagement ring please reach out to me!

Thank you so much to all of you for sharing such a special piece of your history together!

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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!

Lapidaries

I have a few favorite lapidaries, but I’m always on the lookout for new ones. I do tend to go for precision cut stones over non-precision cut stones, but so long as a gem is cut well, and sparkly, that’s the most important part. But, if all else is equal, I’ll chose a perfectly cut stone over a non-perfectly stone. Which is where those lapidaries who slave over their laps come in!

For a little bit about some lapidaries I have had experience with….

Barry Bridgestock of Artistic Colored Stones
Barry is fantastic. Barry watches a lot of baseball while he’s cutting stones. He is one of the most personable cutters I have had the pleasure of working with, and an amazing lapidary on top of that. I would tell you to run, don’t walk over to ACS to see what he has in stock – if he cut it, it’s sure to be beautiful. His website is a bit…old fashioned, but his cutting is worth it!
Artistic Colored Stones

Dan Stair of Custom Gemstones
Dan and Cindi are a great pair. Dan used to be a graphic designer, and his photographs are typically more on the artistic side. However, he recently started using videos on his site, and I cannot commend him enough for doing something that so few vendors do. Video is really the best way to see how a gemstone performs. I adore Dan’s step cuts, and he does not cut highly treated material.
Custom Gemstones

Gene Flanigan of Precision Gem
Gene is an engineer by trade, and can be a bit gruff at times. However, his cutting is wonderful, and some people absolutely flock to him and won’t purchase from anyone else. I think his cutting is top-notch and can absolutely see why people are drawn to his stones.
Precision Gem

John Burleyson of GemRite
John has recently been upping his game on the rough, and has been producing some larger rare stones. His cutting is wonderful, he posts videos for some of his stones and he is incredibly nice.
GemRite

Peter Torraca of Torraca Gemcutting
I love Peter. He’s exceptionally kind and posts great blogs himself, plus has an excellent Facebook presence. I loved watching his gradual heating of a red zircon, and always point people to his post about how to open gem boxes. Not to mention his skill at the lap, which is awesome!
Torraca Gemcutting

Gary Braun of Finewater Gems
I have nothing but good things to say about Gary. He’s an absolute doll to work with, and usually has some amazing and rare stones that he found on gem buying trips overseas but refuses to recut for fear of loss of face up size or the risk isn’t worth it. His cutting is absolutely wonderful and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy from him again.
Finewater Gems

Dana Reynolds of Master Cut Gems
I actually have not purchased directly from Dana, but the only reason is because he didn’t have what I wanted at the time, and I always seem to miss out on stuff when I see something I like on his site. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and pleasant to talk to.
Master Cut Gems

Jeff White of White’s Gems
I’ve bought only one stone directly from Jeff, but he is absolutely wonderful and a fantastic cutter. He will bend over backwards to get what you’re looking for, but if he custom cuts for you (and that’s a vast majority of his work) you will have to pay a non-refundable deposit.
White’s Gems

And because I do my best to put photos in every post, some samples of their work. Check out the crown height on this blue spinel from Barry!

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A rubellite tourmaline from Gene.

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Montana sapphire from Dan Stair and a Merelani Mint Garnet from Barry.

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A asscher spinel from Peter

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Special shout out to Stephanie for the idea for this post!

This will be my last post of 2014! See you all in 2015!

Spinels: Scale of Gray

I started this blog talking about gray gemstones. When I started my search, I kept coming up empty with what I wanted, until a gemstone that was pretty under appreciated came to my attention – gray spinel. But there wasn’t really any out there.

It turns out that people are reluctant to cut a gray gemstone, because everyone wants bright highly saturated gemstones.

These are some of the stones that were bought (and some since sold) in my quest for exactly what I wanted. One note about gray spinels is that they are incredibly difficult to photograph. They are very temperamental and reflect everything in their environment, and as a result, they are exceptionally problematic to photograph.

The Scale of Gray (SOG) is a scale of 1-10, with one being colorless and 10 being black. The idea for this was based on the art and graphic design principle of grayscale: Wiki article on Grayscale

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Image taken from google image search)

These two spinels are almost colorless. Spinel is typically not colorless and almost always has a modifier of some other color. To be colorless, spinel cannot have impurities. These spinels are so close to colorless that I cannot discern a modifier in them. I consider these stones a 1 on my Scale of Gray. The round stone looks darker here than it is in real life. I will attempt to get a better picture of it and replace it at some point in time.

Round stone: Artistic Colored Stones
Pear Recut: Gemart Services
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Grey 1b

This spinel is a very slightly silvery gray, so much so that it’s almost imperceptible unless the stone is on a white background. It can appear colorless at times, especially when in a bright lighting situation. I consider it a 2 on the SOG.
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This stone is deep enough in tone so that the gray color is apparent even when the stone is on a colored background, such as skin, as seen in this picture. This stone can appear to look colorless in certain lighting conditions. I consider this stone a 3 on the SOG. Round: Jeffery Davies Gems & Jewelry
Grey 3

This stone is what I consider a 4 on the SOG. It is definitely gray in most lighting situations and never appears colorless. Sometimes it can look lighter gray and sometimes it can appear a darker gray, but only blacks out under bright direct sunlight. Round: Julia B Jewelry
Grey 4 (2)

I consider the following stone a 5 on the SOG. Sometimes it appears to be a lighter gray, and sometimes it appears to be darker, but the body color is a clear medium gray. Round stone: Artistic Colored Stones
Grey 5

This asscher cut from Ryan Quantz is finally being added to the the line up as a 6.  This stone always appears gray, sometimes can appear silvery when the pavilion facets reflect light, and sometimes can appear black in very low lighting situations.
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This stone is what I would consider a 7 on the SOG. It often appears darker gray and never appears colorless. Sometimes the facets reflect light, making it appear medium gray, but overall, this gray color is always going to appear to be darker.
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This spinel is an 8. It’s body color is decidedly dark, and unless it is in very bright lighting situations, it will appear to be very dark or black.
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I consider this stone to be an 8.5 on the SOG. It is a darker gray, often appearing to be black, and when it does not appear black, looks very dark gray, and may have a lighter flash move across the pavilion facets. Cushion: Gemcal
8-5

I consider this stone a 9 on the SOG. The majority of the time, it appears to be black, and only sometimes appears to be gray, typically with sparks of color. Black is considered the absence of light, so I cannot in good faith call this “black” because light travels through it to some extent. Cushion: Custom Gemstones
Grey 9

I feel as though there has been an increase in popularity in gray spinels, which is great and terrible, all at the same time. I think it’s wonderful that people are giving attention to a neglected color, but at the same time, they are driving up demand, and as a result, prices.

I am constantly on the lookout for these underappreciated gemstones. Nothing really makes me quite as happy as an amazing gray spinel!