Design Thoughts & Questions

Just a sample of some of the questions I ask myself while working on a project.

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Does it have purpose?

What does it make you feel?

Is it risky?

Is it beautiful?

Does it flow with the other elements?

Is it functional?

Is this element both beautiful and functional?

Does it look like something I’ve seen somewhere else?

Is there a structural entity that could be more attractive?

Does this need to be here?

Does it need more structure to withstand time and wear?

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Is the wearable/comfortable?

Could someone wear this every day? Or is it an occasional wear item?

Where would the wearer wear this?

How does this interact with the wearer?

Does it move?

Could it move?

Should it move?

How should/could it move?

What are the stones? Are they especially fragile?

What kind of hazards would this likely come into contact with? Is there anything to be done design wise that would better protect it?

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What color metal looks best with the stone?

What color metal looks best with the design?

Would this design work for other stones?

Would this design work for other shapes? How?

Does this stone have any special issues I should try to compensate for or enhance?

Is this idea too fantastical?

Is this idea too boring?

Is this idea classic?

Will it stand the test of time? Or is it trendy?

What kind of surprise elements can I add that the average observer wouldn’t notice, but would make the piece special, and still keep with the feeling of the piece as a whole?

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My Office

If you have been following me for a while, you will have noted that I dropped the ball for a while and didn’t blog or have many jewelry updates. Well, that was due to the fact that I was moving offices. For some time we were about 30 minutes outside of town, and this spring, we finally finished renovations. I don’t know that my office will ever be actually finished, per se, but I feel like it’s a good start and definitely functional! I consider my office to be a very personal space and I’ve been a bit reluctant to share a space that I’ve spent so much time creating and creating in. But people ask, so I thought I’d share a bit about it, with pictures of some of the details.

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Catching rainbow inclusions in my amethyst paperweight, macro.

Furniture

I have no fewer than 5 parts to my desk. There is no way that I could manage with a traditional desk, because I really like to have everything in plain sight when I work. I also have multiple jobs that I have to fulfill, and my desk set up has to reflect that. Each desk has a primary function, and other secondary and tertiary functions. I have an antique desk for photography and storage, a drafting table, a shelving unit, an antique table for miscellaneous items (typically items being shipped out or notebooks and paperwork), and a desk for my laptop and photography. This doesn’t include another shelf that stores books and items that aren’t necessarily used every day or a small silver table that is home to a cobalt blue lamp.

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Color

Of course I had to choose the color of my walls carefully. Since most of the surfaces of my office area are dark wood, I had to keep it light and airy. The walls are two different shades of a light cornflower blue, one color is so light that it almost appears white depending on the sun’s position, while the other is a couple shades darker. The curtains are a medium silvery gray – reminiscent of brushed white metal. Silver accents abound! Two silver tables, a chrome and black leather chair, silver frames for almost every picture, and a eclectic mix of modernity and antiquity.

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Lighting

My office has one large window that looks out to roses, flowers and fruit trees. It is also, most importantly, south facing. So no matter what, unless it’s rainy and cloudy, my office is completely flooded with natural light. When picking the space, this was absolutely crucial considering how many photos I can take on an average day. However, I also have several lamps – a couple decorative lamps with incandescent lightbulbs, an Anker Lumos LED lamp (which is awesome because it has several different colors of lights that it displays), as well as a magnifying fluorescent lamp, and thats not even counting the actual ceiling lights!

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Details

Of course I wanted to surround myself with items that are not only beautiful but also calming, inspiring, functional and of things I love – family, friends, and deeply sentimental items.  I have a Pricescope “diamond” paperweight that I got from a JCK event, an amethyst crystal paperweight that was a gift from my husband, and a paperweight that was a gift from my dad when I got my first job out of college. I have a “Diamond Terrarium” in copper from Lonesome Hobo, that sits on my antique desk that is beautiful and functional – I use it to store rings for short periods, as a photography backdrop, and as a object to stare at sometimes.

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Picture frames with loved ones are all over, as well as two Angie Crabtree prints – the “Dominique” and “Elle” and the centerpiece of the decor is an antique mirror that my mother once designed an entire luxe bathroom around (it had this incredible beeswax Venetian plaster on the walls, among other things.) I have a “wall of women” – it holds both of my diplomas, a stunning photograph of my grandmother with her hair grazing her derriere sitting at a dressing table and a picture of my mother’s family – she was the youngest of ten. I also store pens, pencils and markers in a piñon wood bowl that has inlaid turquoise – a gift from an old boss, that represents so much and is a good reminder of home, New Mexico.

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I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the details that I look at every day!

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A Day in the Life

Have you ever wondered what a day looks like in my life? Today is the day to find out!

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7:00-7:15am Do a preliminary check of my email and social media to see what might be coming my way for the day.

7:15am Get my daughter dressed, fed and ready for the day.  I’ve recently weaned myself off coffee, and it’s been absolutely brutal.

8:00am See my husband and daughter off to work and school/camp.

8:15am A thorough check of emails, start planning the day.  If it’s a Monday, I write a bit on Facebook for the blog post, mentioning any big things that have been going on, designs I’m working on, sales etc.

9:00am Take photographs of gems and jewelry, depending on what the sun is doing. During the winter months, it’s almost always overcast, so sun is a precious commodity!

10:00am Respond to email.  Post to social media, usually instagram.

10:30am Post new items to etsy, edit photography, write descriptions for items while eating lunch – often yogurt, unless I’m feeding my daughter too, which means I will eat something more substantial.

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12:00pm Shipments usually arrive around this time. If I’m not expecting anything, I will probably ship items.

1:00pm Work on new designs, or incomplete designs that need to be revised and finished.

4:45pm Stop working on designs, start thinking about family time and dinner.

6:00pm Dinner time! I often recruit my daughter to help me cook, which for a 4 year old means stirring. She is an excellent stirrer!

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7:00pm Play time. Sometimes I will try to post to social media here and there, but I usually reserve this time to spend with my family.  Often we will go for a walk if it’s light out, or watch something on the Food Network (my daughter’s favorite shows are Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen because she likes eliminating people), or just play with toys.

8:00pm Get my daughter’s bath time and bedtime routine started.

9:00pm Do a final email check for the day, post to instagram. Tuesday is usually my blog writing night.

9:30pm Watch tv shows or a movie with my husband, I tend to continue checking social media throughout (while he is checking his email!), and might post to SnapChat. Some favorite shows range from Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul (and Breaking Bad!), Homeland, UnREAL,  Arrow, Once Upon A Time, among others.

11:30pm Hit the sack. I’m usually lucky to make it to 11:30 without falling asleep. Every once in a while I manage to stay up past midnight, but it has become more rare lately.

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I mentioned that I will post to FB about my sales – I am running a sale for the month of August, and you have to check my Facebook posts for the coupon code!

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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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Gem Blast: Vivant Earrings

If you follow me on social media, you’ve seen these earrings before. They have been all over Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.

Inspired by the Vivant necklace, I got the idea when I found these incredible step cut cushion Mahenge spinels, and had to put them together. I then paired them with a pair of Mahenge round brilliant spinels that I had purchased years ago, tweaked a few details to make the combination of stones work together and elongate the shape to flatter the wearer, and added a post back.

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Showing off a bit of their red fluorescence in the sun.

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Looking a bit blue, reflecting the sky in the stones.

Some of the finer details:

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Mahenge spinel, diamonds and 18kt white gold.
2.40ctw spinels, .30ctw diamonds, 2.70ctw total stone weight.

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Finding a pair of spinels is exceedingly difficult because the stones in general are so rare, but to find some that are the same color, size, shape and cut magnifies to difficulty level thousandfold. Finding two pairs that go together and match on color isn’t exactly easy either, and often is a matter of waiting until the right stone or stones comes around.

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Now, the next time you see them, they will be a bit different. A client took a liking to them, but wanted them changed just a touch, and asked me to make the alterations.  I can’t wait to see them when they are done!
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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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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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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

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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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Custom Red Burmese Spinel Halo Ring

I’ve been incredibly busy, to say the least!

I actually took my first day off in three weeks renovating/decorating/etc the other day to exclusively work on jewelry stuff. I had been sorely missing it and really had a stack of things to get back on – gemstone photography, rough jewelry ideas, blog ideas, sketches (which I’m still behind on!), as well as giving my back a rest, as I had pulled it over a week ago.  So I’m feeling as though I’m in a much better place than I was last weekend, with getting some items that were way overdue taken off my list.

I have a few fancy shaped antique diamonds in queue to design custom rings around, and I’m really excited about those. And of course I have some colored stone custom designs in the works as well!

In the meantime, I wanted to share some images of the most recent design to come out of production, something reaching quite a ways outside of my comfort zone, which I often struggle with, but always comes out better than I could imagine.

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Sketch, slightly underdeveloped.

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Jeweler’s photographs. 

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Client’s photographs.

I always love when clients come up with something that’s out of the ordinary, and this certainly fits the bill in that regard! An unconventional diamond and platinum halo surrounds a 1.69 ct Burmese Red Spinel.

I will be sending a parcel of sapphires and an emerald to AGL for certification this week. I had been intending to send them to AGL and kept putting it off for various reasons. But they are going to go now, and typically they are at about a 2.5 week wait, so hopefully I will have them back relatively soon.

I have been working on some stock items, and as per usual, the CADs came out perfectly the first time for both items. Both share elements with the Vivant and as such, I decided to use Mahenge spinels as them as well. I can’t wait to see them completed!

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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!

Miscellaneous Announcements & Gems

As per usual, things have been a bit crazy around here. I’ve been able to spend some time working on some custom projects, which has been a nice change of pace from non-stop painting and renovation. Luckily, I think that’s coming to a close (FINALLY!) and things should be wrapping up this week.

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Sidenote: I never realized just how much design work goes into creating beautiful faucets, light fixtures and door knobs, of all things. I tend to find designing larger items very difficult, and even something that small can have so many curves and edges that change the look dramatically.

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Second sidenote: I decided that it’d be a great idea to put a relatively simple mural (paint treatment?) on our bedroom wall. This was far more difficult than anticipated, and will never be the level of perfection that I’d like. Also, Ralph Lauren metallic paints are way cool.

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As a result of things being crazy, I haven’t really had much time to think about blog topics, or at least blog topics I can put together quickly. I have had some really fun ideas for future blog topics this past week, but they will take a fair amount of work to prepare!

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I am still thinking about a spring cleaning sale for my etsy shop – I’m considering posting it here for two weeks, and giving everyone else only one week. I figure my blog readers deserve an extra thank you for visiting my website.

I’m seeing lots of requests for moonstone, red and pink spinels, while garnets seem to have gone a bit out of favor right now, except for the purple Mozambiques. I have a good connection for moonstones, so if you’re interested in them, please reach out!

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Also, I totally missed when I hit 5,000 followers on Instagram because I’ve been so distracted with silly renovations! I randomly checked the other day and I was already at 5,200! Posting a “Yay I hit 5,200!” just seems a bit odd… Anyway, I would like to do a giveaway for hitting 6,000 followers. It seems like a better number for that than 5,500. I haven’t decided what to give away just yet either, but seeing as how I’m (at this writing) at 5,430 I have a little time to think about it.

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I’ve been considering my next stock project, and I’m thinking of pursuing a three stone as the next up, inspired in part by the Vivant necklace and a custom ring project. They also have an earring project to go along with them that I’m really excited about too!

I also have a really amazing custom project that is in production right now and I cannot wait to see it completed and share it here! Soon I will be posting another custom project that was recently completed – a sapphire halo necklace. Exciting stuff!