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!

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A Year in Review

Happy first birthday to The Gemstone Project!

Lets see, the past year has been chock full of wonderful craziness.

August 2014
The first month started out with a lot of posts about various gemstones, including a colorless garnet, and gray spinel. It included an unheated Umba color shifting sapphire in a Harry Winston inspired halo that I helped put together for a friend. I posted a bit about myself and some about my photography. And I topped off the month with my first Gem Blast.

September 2014
September started out with a visit to Lang Antiques in San Francisco that took up three posts. September included three Gem Blasts, including one about considering gemstone recuts. I concluded September with my handy guide “Scale of Gray” for seeking out gray spinels.

October 2014
October gave way to talk about birthstones, including two antique birthstone rings, tourmaline & opal. I touched on gemstone cutting flaws and what to keep an eye out for. I posted a design I used for my first jewelry design contest with David Klass. I included posts about tsavorites, Mahenge spinels, and an evaluation I did for a friend on a red spinel. Two designs were posted, including a breast cancer awareness ring and a red spinel inspired by the Art Deco period. October only had one Gem Blast – sapphires and moonstones.

November 2014
I created a Facebook page in November! I posted my drawing process for my solitaire setting entry for another of David Klass’ contests, this time winning. I also featured willajunejewelry. A Gem Blast about diamonds, some rough ideas for a NYC ring, plus some random thoughts flowed through November.

December 2014
A feature on Jewels by Grace brought December in with bang! Though the rest of the month I stayed a bit quieter due to the holidays, I still had a range of topics to cover. I wrote about design ideas and inspiration for my pad sapphire ring. A Gem Blast on Merelani Mint Garnets, my thoughts on what the New Year would bring, and a post about lapidaries fleshed out the end of the year.

January 2015
I brought in January with my own type of confetti: red spinel melee. A reader had suggested posting about a guide of what to look for in a gem. I announced that I was starting to design my own line of jewelry, posted a Gem Blast on the many gems at my beloved gem store and another Gem Blast celebrating January’s birthstone, several varieties of garnets. Then January closed with my declaration of opening an etsy store.

February 2015
February started with me changing to trade status on Pricescope and picking up a new username, and a post about fantasy cut gemstones. Pantone had announced their color of the year to be Marsala, and I have a few things to say about that. Sticking with the birthstone idea, I posted a Gem Blast about amethysts. I added a simple diamond pendant design, and a post about my most memorable Oscar jewelry.

March 2015
I brought in March with a post about a green beryl/aquamarine, another birthstone post. Some discussion about current jewelry trends took place, as well as a post about red spinel. I finally posted the finished product from winning David Klass’ contest. A more detailed post about my design aesthetic wrapped up March. But that wasn’t all! I also started a TGP Twitter account, and my 3rd ring prototype was completed, and the 4th one put into production.

April 2015
Since diamond is the birthstone for April, and also my birthstone, I decided to dedicate almost the entire month of posts to diamonds. Until recently I wasn’t a diamond lover, so I blogged about diamonds that really captured my imagination, including rose cut diamonds, a yellow diamond trillion, and a pinkish brown diamond. But I didn’t post entirely about diamonds – I added in a post with the end product of my David Klass contest band. My 4th prototype was completed too, and the 5th prototype was put into production! I also got a gem back from AGL as certified unheated. The event that took place that I was most excited about was a sapphire purchased from my shop being used as an engagement ring!

May 2015
Of course I would have to do an emerald Gem Blast for May, since it is the birthstone for the month and that seems to be the trend I picked up on! May was an incredibly busy month for me with JCK at the end, and preceding where to find me on social media, and a post about how I would be posting to instagram and twitter from JCK. I also finally posted a post I had made on sexism and gender issues within jewelry marketing and the jewelry trade. I also included a Gem Blast of the AGL certified violet sapphire. 5th ring prototype was completed!

June 2015
June did not get a birthstone post! Instead, I did a post about my jewelry line updates, a post on blue-green tourmalines, THREE posts on my experiences at JCK, including meeting lots of colored stone celebrities. I also did a post on metal color and how I prefer color flow to contrast, and how I like colors to work together. I also did a post about imitation and inspiration that had been writing itself on my phone for months prior. I finished the month with a Gem Blast on a stunning tanzanite from Precision Gems.

July 2015
July kicked off with a post about sending a sapphire to AGL and getting it tested. I then had a bit of an artistic funk and found myself writing about art of other mediums – Angie Crabtree and some chefs made some brief appearances and helped lift my spirits and inspired me further. I also got to the final stages of a big custom project, and took a fantastic mini vacation down to San Diego at the Vineyard Hacienda, which also helped get the creative juices flowing. I published a “living document” I had been writing about gemstone terms and vocabulary, and hopefully that will still be added to continuously. I finished off July with a couple of Gem Blasts – moving across state lines does not make for a lot of blogging time!

August 2015
August has only just begun again, but already this one holds a special meaning to me – I have never been good at continuing things – I have started so many blogs and stopped writing after a couple months, or lost interest, or whatever, so to reach and celebrate a year of posts, and all of the incredible things and wonderful people I have met – it truly is a remarkable milestone for me. So far into August, I have posted only one blog, but it has been one of the most important and edited (18 times! Two different highly educated editors!) items I have ever written – Gender Inequality and the Jewelry Trade. Oh, and I also moved across the country, a thousand miles to the north counts, right?

Here is to the future and everything it may bring!

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Fantasy Cut Lapidaries

So,  we’ve talked about gemstone cutting flaws, some stellar gemstone lapidaries and other random topics. Since I’m typically preoccupied with aesthetics I really wanted to hit on more unusual types of cuts that are visually stunning, but are typically less popular, because the stones usually need custom settings built around them, rather than being able to put the stones into cheaper stock settings that hold traditional shaped stones.

Now, these lapidaries are more than capable of cutting rounds, ovals, etc, but the stones that they really cut exceptionally tend to be the fancy fantasy shapes. These gemstones are not something you will see anyone else wearing, every single stone is a one of a kind. Hexagon facets, free form beehives, free form, concave cutting,

Note: I have not bought stones from any of these lapidaries, but in my experience, I would not hesitate buying from them myself if presented with the opportunity!

Without further ado, in no particular order:

Jeffrey Hunt
Jeffrey is an exceptional gemstone photographer, but his gems aren’t anything to sniff at either! So many of his stones make me want to design one of a kind pieces around them, and the deeper shapes are especially challenging to base a design around!
Jeffrey Hunt

Jean-Noel Soni
Let me talk about Jean-Noel for a minute. I’ve been following him on Instagram for over a year now, and I am continually amazed at how he works. He does not use any faceting diagrams, and always cuts based on the shape of the rough.
Top Notch Faceting

Roger Dery
From what I understand, Roger has a lot more in his inventory than what you see on his website. I’ve also been told that the photography is less than perfect, but that just means the stones will knock your socks off in person! He does some fabulous opposed bar cuts
Spectral Gems

John Dyer
I have loved admiring his gemstones for years. He has won stacks of awards, and has done things (not traditional faceting, that’s for sure!) that I’m pretty sure must be magical. I have had the pleasure of having one of his stones in my possession temporarily, and it was absolutely fantastic.
John Dyer

Richard Homer
Richard is the one lapidary on this list that has cut a stone for me. It was not concave cut, it had traditional faceting, and it was intended as an engagement ring stone. I loved the stone, but my boyfriend at the time wasn’t convinced on it. But, from what I know, if you want a concave cut stone, Richard is the first person you talk to.
Concave Gems

Doug Menadue
Doug is probably the most traditional of the cutters listed here, but he does some amazing things with super tall crowned round brilliants, his amazing ying yang cuts, and the towering acorn cut. Be warned, if you are looking at purchasing from him, he is in Australia, so prices are in Australian dollars, and shipping will take a while longer!
Bespoke Gems

Uli Zeisberg
Uli has a couple cuts that are outstanding and always catch my eye, including the Liquid Flower, and the Trinity Hexagone, both are trillion style cuts that are incredibly eye catching and unusual. I am also a big fan of the Neo cut he does, but so many of his gems are eyecatching and would make incredible pieces of jewelry.
Osiris Gems

You can seriously lose hours looking at all of the gems and work that these lapidaries do! Not to mention the directions your imagination can go!

I really wish I had some photos of some of the above cutter’s work, but I don’t (I need to remedy that!), but I still promised that I’d always post at least one picture! So, in honor of reaching a little bit outside the box with these cutters, I’ll post pictures of something that’s NOT sparkly (I know, gasp!), a black opal triplet cabochon.

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The blue rhinestone material it’s resting on is actually the gaudiest cell phone cover ever invented by mankind. My little one picked it out. Hah!

October: Opal and Tourmaline Estate Rings

My mother was an October baby. So as a result, I grew up enjoying a couple rings in particular, and I had to share them, even though I don’t really know much of the history behind them or any of the details about the stones or the pieces themselves.

First up is a beautiful opal and onyx ring that was gifted to my mother from my grandmother – my father’s mother. The timeline of their relationship makes me think that it was given to her in the 1970s, but I feel like the ring looks like it was made in the 1950s or 1960s.

It’s a very small ring size, and only fits our pinkies, so I would guess that it’s around a size 3.

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I’ve never been a huge opal fan, despite growing up with this ring, because I tend to like gems that sparkle more, but there is something to be said for the colorplay in opals.

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I love how the circles are repeated everywhere in the ring, with the round doughnut at the base of the head, and the semicircles under the onyx.

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It is 14kt gold, but as you may have noticed, it is not quite yellow and it is not quite rose gold, but something between.

Unfortunately, there is a chip in the onyx:

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This ring is a pink tourmaline, and it was given to my mother by her mother, as a birthstone ring, when my mother was about 13 years old. I’m sure that she wore it a lot, as the prongs are paper thin, the milgrain on the side engraving detail is almost worn away, and the shoulder detail is not as fine as it probably once was. This ring is especially important to me because my mother’s family was very poor, and this ring would have been a major stretch for them financially.

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The stone seems to be scissor cut, and has a nice big window in the middle, but I don’t particularly care about the cut quality of the stone for this one.  The color is beautiful and the complete piece is enchanting, so I can overlook the flaws, especially considering it’s sentimentality.

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I really wish I could have seen it when it was new before the details were blurred.

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I think that part of the draw for sentimental jewelry items is knowing that your loved one wore it and loved it too. But also, for most people, heirlooms might be the only taste they ever get of antique jewelry. That is terrible in my opinion, because I think there is a lot of great beauty to be found in antique jewelry and it’s horrible to think about how much of it has been melted down and destroyed.

So, I suggest keeping an eye out for beautiful antique pieces! Jewelry stores often have “estate” sections with used items, or if you ask, sometimes they might have things that other people have sold for scrap. It’s always worth asking about!

Feature: Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry Outside

So, we took a trip to San Francisco, and I specially put aside a Saturday afternoon for going to Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry with a very good friend of mine who is looking for an engagement ring for her friend, and keeping an eye out for her own boyfriend. When we got there, we had to wait outside, because the interior was full and everyone was helping customers. Now, usually I wouldn’t appreciate waiting outside, but the outside display of Lang might be better than the inside.

I probably won’t say much, as the pictures kind of speak for themselves.

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Blue sapphires.

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Emeralds and diamonds.

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Diamonds and gems

 

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Rubies, diamonds and emeralds.

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I was fascinated by the light pink sapphire three stone. The ruby cabochon ring right above it was enchanting as well; it glowed like it had a light inside.

 

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Diamonds and a few rubies. I particularly liked the large emerald ring in front, but it kind of reminded me of Angelina Jolie’s engagement ring to Brad Pitt, and I’m not a big fan of her ring, but the more exaggerated taper on this one was far more appealing.

 

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Multi-colored sapphires.

 

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Rubies, diamonds, huge rose cut diamond ring.

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Closer shot of the ruby cabochon, star sapphire and pale pink sapphire.

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Rubies and diamonds.

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We finally made it inside, but we wanted to wait for the diamond case, so I decided to entertain myself by taking pictures of some of the cases.

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Smaller gemstone jewelry.

 

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Rubies and pink sapphires.

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Amazing brooches.

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To be continued….