Engagement: Alli & Doug

I’m still not really sure how Alli and Doug found me, but they did and I’m absolutely delighted that they did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had a part in this gorgeous ring, which would have been terrible.

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Back in the Fall of 2016, Alli and Doug reached out and asked if I would be interested in making their engagement ring. They had bought a gray spinel, and had several items of family jewelry that they wanted to use the stones from. If you’ve followed me at all, you already know how into an idea I am if it has a gray spinel attached to it. But I was intrigued both by the couple and their design ideas, as well as the center stone!

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They expressed later to me how difficult it had been to find a jeweler to execute their vision for their ring, and I can sort of understand why because it’s not conventional, and there really aren’t that many jewelers who are willing or want to take on an unusual request. Especially for a gemstone. I am honored to be asked to create this beauty for such a special sentimental ring!

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So they sent along some guides as to what they wanted their ring to look like, with some examples of each one, and we went back and forth on lots of the details for a long time, trying to iron out each element.

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They wanted the gray spinel to take main stage from top down, and not have any of the accent stones visible from the top down. They wanted double prongs (which is always a stability concern for me with cushion cut gems! Double prongs are always best for cushions!) and an antique feel.

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They wanted engraving, pretty much all over. They wanted Alexandrite accent stones in various places on the profile. They wanted diamond accents in other places. They wanted to use diamonds from an antique family ring. They wanted it to have the feel of an antique.

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Luckily their requests came with a stone that was large enough that we could add a lot of detail and still manage to hide everything under the stone.

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I had to play with proportions of everything, but at one point, everything just flowed together with all of the inspiration photos they had given me, every element that they had asked for, and my own little flourishes.

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They had me add their birthstones, an amethyst and a garnet plus an alexandrite into the shank, against her skin.

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A view of the tucked under family diamond, detailed with accents inspired by a 1950s birthstone ring that belonged to my mother. This shows it alongside a gray gold Accolade band.

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A bit of an idea of what it looks like on the hand with a quick handshot from yours truly!

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One of my flourishes, and Alli and Doug still don’t know this, is that when I was thinking about the project, I was strongly inspired by Alli and felt that she had a certain kinship with Wonder Woman. As a result, I mimicked Wonder Woman’s tiara shape in the profile of Alli’s ring, which you can see best when it’s upside down.  Alli is an athlete and a dentist (technically a prosthedontist) and those are just the tips of the iceberg when it comes to describing how gifted this woman is!

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I love how this ring looks slightly different from every angle.

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A closer look at the family diamond we bezel set on the shoulders of the ring.

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You know I cannot resist a gray spinel, especially a giant one like this! Once Alli saw that I had started to offer gray gold as an alternative to the traditional white, she jumped on the bandwagon immediately, and I think it came out incredibly well, and suits the stone perfectly.

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And to finish off, a couple macro photos on an antique beaded purse. When Doug surprised Alli with the ring, he turned off all of the lights because I had sent it in a ring box with a light in it, and she was really confused why he was turning the lights off, until he opened the box!

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When the ring was completed, I emailed Doug, and I told him that if he trusted me, he should just let me send the ring, and forgo seeing pictures of it beforehand. He did, and this blog entry would be the first time he would see the photos I had taken!

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Doug & Alli, it was my utmost pleasure to work with you and I hope that we can work together again in the future! Enjoy that stunner of a ring and congratulations again on sharing your life with each other!
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Engaged: 3 Stone Spinel

Sometimes the best projects are the most terrifying. Warning – this post is picture heavy!

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A while back I had a new client come to me and she said, “I don’t know what I want, but really like the Accolade band, and a few other settings. Can you design my engagement ring?” To which I said yes.

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Looking back on it, I think it’s kind of funny because being given full creative control is so so scary, but her engagement ring turned out wonderfully and I couldn’t be happier.

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We had a lot of debate over stones, but once the actual setting idea came into fruition, it all seemed to fall into place.

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It was made using three precision cut spinels – the center is a lavender spinel, and the two side stones are gray spinels.

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Platinum ended up being the metal of choice due to it’s lack of maintenance.  The random polish to smooth out scratches, and it looks as good as new again!

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The angled shoulder view is often my favorite on any ring, but on this ring, it’s extra special – I love how the prongs and the curves just flow together!

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Last rays of summer sun…

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Once you see the profile, you can clearly see how it was inspired by the Accolade band!

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E, I am absolutely delighted for you and D, and I hope that this ring follows you through many great adventures on your life together!

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One of a Kind

I spent the last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico – the place where I was born and raised. Taking almost an entire week completely off from jewelry and getting back to my roots, spending time with family and friends was one of the most refreshing things I could have done at this point and it gave me some new perspective on things that I’d been dwelling on and feeling stagnant on for too long. I guess that standing in the middle of a thunderstorm in the mountains will help do that to you.

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One of the things that I enjoy the most about gemstones is that they are all unique and one of a kind. Sure, you can get some that look similar to others, but they will always have unique characteristics, whether it’s in the form of color, inclusions, cut, whatever. No two are identical.

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Working with various colored stone vendors has shown me that I’m not alone in loving gems for this very reason – colored stones are always so different, and sometimes they can totally surprise you with what you fall in love with.

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So this, my most recent blog, and the first blog in a long time is an ode of sorts to the one of a kind, and an indication on where I am heading creatively. I’m going to take a step back from feeling like I’m treading water coming up with stock designs, and taking a flying leap into the water and swim like my life depends on it – making pieces as unique as the stones they hold.

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More to come.

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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!

Custom Three Stone

One of the many reasons I love spinels so much is that they have so much personality. One minute they may look one color, the next minute, they could look another color. So of course when I had a client reach out and ask if I would set her violet-blue cushion spinel, I jumped at the chance.

Now the ring is currently in transit to the client, but she has already seen most of these pictures.

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She wanted a three stone with diamond half moons, and we had a lot of discussion about the design elements of it, and where to go with inspiration.

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She suggested that she wanted it to be very traditional from top down, and something unexpected from the side. Her thought was “A professional woman in a business suit, but with blue fingernails.”

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The working title for the ring became the “mullet ring”, with business from the top, and party from the side. We went through a variety of diamonds for the surprise stones, and ended up using irradiated yellow diamonds.

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I really wanted it to have a minimalist feel from the top down, but wanted a bit of detail on the shank, adding a ridge – inspired by pinstripes so popular in business suits!

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The profile was inspired in part by Maleficent. Yes, Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The small detail on the center stone’s basket emulates her staff, while the shape of the center stone’s basket echos the curve of her jawline, and the lines of the metal holding the half moons mirror Maleficent’s robes.

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The cool colors are so perfect for winter, and I cannot wait for her to see it in person!

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Lots of things in the works over here.

I’m planning on adding a page with a portfolio for work that may not make it to the website via the blog or some other means. Some of my items are on Pinterest, but not in a consolidated area.

I am considering adding some jewelry items to my etsy shop. I have gradually been letting the listings expire, but will soon be addressing those.

Custom projects are always in the works and I currently have a few exciting ones in the pipeline.

I’m also reconsidering the setting I had planned as a solitaire, the Dignité. I may take it into a different direction than I had been previously, I will have to put some thought into it.

Lastly, everyone keeps asking me if I’m going to be in Tucson this year – I will not be in attendance, but will have a representative there acting as my eyes and ears. Perhaps 2017 will be my year!

Color

When I was young, I really wanted to be an interior decorator. Every wall in my house was painted white, except for my room, which was a soft buttery yellow. When I was about 7 my mom decided to hire an interior decorator for this one room in our house, and I still don’t know why that room was picked, as it was the least formal communal room, containing our tv and my father’s desk. The decorator ended up wall papering one wall, and took about 6 months to coax my mom into painting the rest of the walls a light peach color. I never understood the color scheme in there, and still don’t, but I loved the idea of giving a room some personality through color, shape, texture and furniture arrangement.

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I have mentioned on social media that I’ve been in the midst of home renovations. My family and I recently purchased a home that was built in the 1970s, and as a result, requires a bit of work to update the place. I’ve been getting a lot of grief about the colors I’ve chosen for the house. I really decided to go all out for this house and I’m not holding back in the color department, with deep emerald, pale periwinkles, vibrant teal, violet and a vivid green, to name some of the more exciting colors.

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But I’ve come to realize that color is one of those things that’s highly subjective, and everyone’s opinion is going to vary based on a lot of factors. The most controversial color is surprising to me – a pale green. The reasons I chose it aren’t important, but the strong reactions to it have been startling – it’s a pale minty bluish green, reminiscent of Baskin Robbins’ Mint Chocolate Chip, but lighter (kind of like the above garnet). In my opinion, a pretty innocuous color.

But that’s the thing, color can have unexpected visceral reactions and people are going to love and hate the same colors, and sometimes won’t even be able to explain why they are having the reactions to the color that they are.

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So here is a little bit about color terminology for gemstones. I’ve gone over some of these terms before, but it’s always good to have a refresher.

Hue: the color of the stone. “Purple” “blue” “red” “teal” are all hues.

Tone: lightness to darkness of the stone. “Deep in tone” connotes that a stone may have a darker color. “Light in tone” connotes a pale or pastel shade.

Saturation: how much color/pigmentation a stone has, the intensity or vividness of a color. “light” “medium” “intense” “vivid” are all terms that can be associated with saturation.

Modifier: if the stone has a strong primary color, the secondary (or even tertiary colors) are called modifiers.

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I would describe the above spinel’s color like this: Blue in hue, with medium-dark tone, medium to strong saturation, with a slight green-gray secondary modifier. This stone also shifts to a purple under fluorescent lighting, the rest of the information stays the same in both colorways.

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The most highly sought after stones in the colored stone universe are going to be pure of hue, medium in tone and with vivid saturation. A little gray goes a long way to making stones be within a more reasonable price range with typically a barely perceptible difference.

So, I’ve been posting less to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc because I’ve been busy painting and painting and painting. Good thing it’s a labor of love but I will be so happy when it’s over! I have some exciting things planned for the coming weeks, including a Q&A feature with someone in the gemstone world, and a couple fantastic custom projects I’ve been working on over the last few months. I have fun stuff coming up for 2016 too, and I can’t wait to share those things with you as the year progresses!

The Gallery

Can we talk about galleries for a minute?

So, what is a gallery?

The gallery is the part of the ring, when the ring is facing down, that is facing back up at you. It’s behind or underneath a stone, depending on how you want to look at it.

Now, when you turn over most of your rings, you might notice a trend – no one does anything with the gallery. Sure, a ring might have a nice basket or a cool shoulder design, but the gallery is often one of the most neglected parts of the ring. It has recently come to my attention that, especially when getting a custom ring, they want it to be special, they want cool little details, and you know what? The gallery is a great place to start with that.

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This is the gallery piece in wax form from my design for the Voeu ring. 

I have had clients say to be before, “well, who cares? You can’t see it when you’re wearing it!” To them I say, “You know how you will sometimes put on your favorite pair of underwear and or bra, and you suddenly feel sexier or more positive – just because of what you’re wearing under your clothes?” No one (well, you know, maybe not no one) sees it but you. But it still elevates your mood. It’s for you. So think of it like it’s your ring’s fancy lingerie.

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I want my rings to have fabulous views from every angle. I don’t want my pieces to be completely one dimensional. So I always give thought to the gallery, even if I don’t end up doing anything with it. You can guarantee that I have still thought about it and decided what is best for the overall ring design.

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Your ring’s sexy knickers.

I want you to pick out a ring I have designed from your jewelry box, and take a look at the secret view that no one else can see just before you slip it on your finger, and cherish that private detail until the next time you take off your ring.

Maybe it will even add some oomph to your step.

The Debut of Voeu

Ok, so I’ve been dropping hints all over the place for months about this project I’ve been working on. I have a good friend who is also a gemstone collector, and she had the good sense to ask me to design some ring settings for her. This is a friend that I’ve known for a very long time, and we talk every day, so I know her taste exceptionally well. I have actually used her as inspiration for designs before (for instance, an upcoming prototype in my ring collection), and probably will again since our tastes are so different, she makes me think outside my normal design box.

One of her stones that she wanted to set ASAP was a gorgeous mostly pink, some peach pad sapphire. But being rather small, she didn’t just want to halo it. She has a love affair with leaf shapes, and loves to have as much sparkle and finger coverage as possible. With a 7.5×5.5 stone, we had a task in front of us, even though her finger size is a relatively small size 5.

The stone was originally purchased through Wink Jones of WinkCZ and High Performance Diamonds at JCK 2014.

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A truly horrible picture of a gorgeous stone. 

This ring was originally supposed to be in yellow gold, and has gone through quite the journey to get us to where we are now, which is a completely different place from where we started. The original intended design for it is an upcoming setting from my collection, and this was intended to be the prototype for it, but for various reasons, the whole project did not work out.

So we started over, basically from scratch, putting the whole thing on hold for a while and regrouping.

Here is the resulting sketch, and as you’ll see, the setting ended up deviating quite a bit from the original, through the CAD process and constant re-evaluation.

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I really need to start drawing facets on all of my sketches. Makes the whole thing look more complete. 

The stone involved is a 7.5×5.5 padparadascha sapphire, leaning more pink than peach, but definitely containing that peach component. The above picture was taken on my brief trip to DTLA to visit with my bench and discuss upcoming projects, and scope out what they have going on (a lot!).

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I also took some pictures of the wax, promptly before destroying it. For the record, it was destined for destruction anyway!

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So once the wax was done, it came down to what metals to use. As I mentioned above, the original intent was to use yellow gold as the primary metal color. As the project wore on, we weighed the options and decided to go with white gold for most of the ring, to really enhance the diamonds and bring out their shapes and the shapes in the metal, and still allowing the stone to stand out.

My client and I also discussed what color to make the prongs. After being torn for a week, I offered to make the decision for her, so she didn’t have to worry about it anymore. This topic was the inspiration for an earlier blog post, Metal Color and Flow. As a result of considering all of the options (really, with this stone, there were no bad options) and decided that I wanted to allow the rose gold to flow in with the stone, and felt that the yellow gold might be too much of a distraction from the stone and the setting itself – both of which were unwanted.

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One thing I really wanted to concentrate on was keeping the look as dainty as possible, and preventing anything from detracting from what was going on with the delicate color of the stone. I chose to make it a knife edge for this reason – and luckily, the shank almost disappears because it’s too busy reflecting skin!

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And as a surprise for my client, I had my bench put in a surprise stone on the gallery of the ring. I absolutely love galleries on stones, they are one of my favorite parts of any ring, and you can guarantee that I have put thought into any ring gallery that I design. I should also mention that it was also a surprise to her that the gallery was done in rose gold. I hadn’t informed her of that until she saw the finished images.

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The end result is a graceful setting that seems to float on the wearer’s finger, lending a flattering elongated silhouette and enhancing the size of the gem.

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She and I chose the name “Voeu” for this particular setting. Voeu in French means “vow” “desire” and “wish”, and was inspired by the slightly star shaped outline. She woke up the morning it was to be delivered and thought “make a wish”. Being a romantic at heart, the term rang true for such a lovely feminine ring.

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Thank you m’dear for allowing me to create this incredible ring for you! I hope that you love it for many years to come! (I can’t wait for the next one!)

David Klass Solitaire Setting Completed

So, back in September, I posted a Gem Blast with a purple sapphire I had picked up at a gem store on a trip back home. It was sold to me as a 2.40ct Untreated Color Shifting Sapphire. It does tend to look more blue in daylight, and more purple under fluorescent.

In November I posted about how I won David Klass’s Solitaire Setting contest, and posted a step by step guide of my drawing process. I mentioned not being able to vocalize my design process in that post, so I’m attempting to do that a little bit here, in this post.

I had a really hard time deciding if I wanted to use a high quality CZ for the setting or if I wanted to use one of my stones. I originally chose this stone to make the sketch and the setting around because there aren’t a lot of oval solitaire settings out there. This could be easily adapted for just about any symmetrical shape – round, cushion, emerald, radiant, asscher. Hearts, pears and trillions would require more intense modifications, of course.

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Colored stones are typically oval cuts, just because of the shape of the rough. But because most diamond solitaires out there are round, there just aren’t a lot of settings made specifically for ovals. The jewelry business has a love affair with diamond solitaires, and because of that, I find setting selection to be really limited for interesting solitaire settings that weren’t necessarily intended to be an engagement ring.

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The shoulder view was actually the original starting point for me. I was inspired by a detail in another setting, but the look and feel is completely different – the original ring had a similar filigree detail, but it was just a detail, not the actual structure of the ring, the way mine turned into. I’ve shown the inspiration and the finished product to people before and they have been like, “Why are you showing me these two rings?!” and not seeing any resemblance at all.

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The top view sort of just turned into what it was from how the shoulder detail worked out. The entire design started out and turned out to be based on that shoulder detail.

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You can see a little bit of uneven metal here – it’s really only noticeable under magnification, and especially here because of the way the lighting hits it.

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Now, typically I don’t like the leave the gallery blank and sort of boring like this – I feel like it’s one of the most neglected parts of a ring, but I didn’t want to overload an already very detailed setting with details that weren’t necessary. Part of the ring needed to be simple and clean, especially since I added the engraving detail on the bottom of the shank.

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I realize now that when I was taking pictures I didn’t really do a good job of capturing the profile view, so the above is probably the best view I got. About 4 hours before the sketch was due, I was still madly sketching and trying to discern a profile view. It couldn’t be too busy and it couldn’t be too simple, otherwise it wouldn’t flow with the rest of the setting.

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This is probably my favorite view of the setting – seeing both the profile and the shoulder view, and how they interact and curve into each other.

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A couple shots of the actual physical ring and the drawings. You can see just how closely David was able to follow my design and how few tweaks were actually made, and they were typically structural things.

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At the very last minute, I changed the setting to add engraving to the bottom of the shank. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t visible from the top down view of the ring, and you can see that it is barely visible at all, just like I planned.

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Overall I’m pretty overwhelmed, yet amazed at how easily it came together, and how well David was able to execute my design into CAD from a simple 2D sketch.

Amazingly, David had the ring back to me exactly 1 week from the day I got the sapphire to him. He made a huge effort to get it to me quickly because I was going on a series of trips and wouldn’t be at home to receive it for a consistent period of more than a couple days.

So, now that you’ve seen the solitaire setting, I have actually made strides towards getting the band from this post made, so I should be able to post an update for that band soon too!