Feature: Dan and Cindi Stair

Daniel and Cynthia Stair are the owners and gem cutters at Custom Gemstones and I have known them for many years, after first striking up a conversation when I was looking for my engagement ring stone. I recently reached out to Dan with a whole bunch of questions and he answered every single one! Something that I really love about their website is that they take before and after pictures and it’s fascinating to see how the rough turns out, and recently started posting video of every single stone that goes up on their website.

How much of the cutting do you each do?
I cut full-time and do one or two per day. Cindi works at the local hospital, so she only has time to cut a few stones each month.

What are your favorite stones to cut?
That’s a tough question.  If I had to pick one, it would probably be natural sapphires.  However, I really like tourmalines, spinels and garnets too.  I tend to favor higher RI or more dispersive gemstones, regardless of the hardness of the stone or the fact that harder stones take a little longer to cut.  They also last longer in jewelry, so that’s something I feel good about.  I don’t like to hear that people have rings made and then the stones get all scuffed up.

to1507

Do you have a favorite shape you like to cut? Or a favorite cut design?
No.  I don’t like cutting pears, but other than that, don’t really have a favorite.  Variety is a good thing when it comes to cutting stones.

Do you typically cut more from diagrams or more by instinct?
Actually, I only use diagrams less than 10% of the time.  I usually cut using a “style” such as step cutting as with emeralds or Asscher cuts, or brilliant cutting as with Portuguese, standard round brilliants, etc.  I also do a lot of radiant or princess type cuts if the stone is shallowish, and scissors cuts if it’s deeper in shape.  While I work, I figure it out as I go and make notes about the angles, index gear (rotational) settings, etc. as needed so I can remember what I did when I go back to prepolish, then polish the stone.

How did you get started cutting gems? What did each of you do before?
I was a photographer, writer and graphic designer for a large fishing lure manufacturer, and also did a lot of work for other area business and print shops when they needed full color printing done.  Back in the early 1990’s, I was probably one of the very first people to successfully use a desktop color computer for production of things like catalogs, magazine ads, etc.  Cindi was a housewife for many years and a gem collector.  She started cutting stones about ten years ago.  I started in 1998 if I remember correctly.

sa1680

What’s your favorite type of customer? 
I don’t really have a favorite type of customer other than maybe people working on engagement ring projects because it’s fun to be a part of that, or gemologists because it’s nice to work with someone who knows a lot about gemstones.

What’s the percentage split between commissions vs what you choose?
It’s gotten to be about 50/50.  Right now, we’re backlogged about a month with other peoples stones to cut, but also have to keep the ebay store and regular website interesting.  I try to cut one of my own, one for someone else, one of my own, etc.

I noticed that you added videos of your stones to each listing. What brought that on?
I was getting a lot of request for “more photos”, particularly from pricescope.com members.  What they don’t realize is how much time that takes and often, they were more looking for reasons to not buy a stone than anything else.  So, I decided to try videos because that shows so much more about how a stone looks in person that still photos alone.  Since I started doing that, I have noticed a huge reduction in requests for additional pictures as well as a major decrease in how many people get stones in the mail then decide to return them because they aren’t exactly as expected.  Neither the photos nor the videos are perfect, but between those and the written description, a person should be able to get a pretty thorough idea of what a stone will be like in person.

NewRockBig

You seem to have gained quite the reputation in recent years for recutting less than perfect stones, or damaged stones. How did that come about?
I used to send all those projects to other cutters, but started getting complaints that stones were being held for six months or more and the cutters were not returning emails.  So, I finally decided to do the work myself rather than referring people to others that did not provide a good service.  Since I have cut thousands of stones, and have that experience, I was able to develop some cutting concepts to fix a lot of the commercially cut stones without losing a ton of weight or having to do total recuts.  The tops are usually not too badly cut.  The pavilions are almost always 90% of the problem so learning to fix those has been the real key to improving the stones.  As far as reputation goes, I really can’t say much about that other than I always try to do a good job and keep the overall value of the stone in mind so people don’t lose money on their gemstone investments.

How long does each stone take to cut? Do certain shapes take longer to cut?
Most smaller stones that cut to be 2 carats or less take 2-3 hours to cut.  Bigger stones take longer, but not proportionally so.  For example, a two carat finished garnet might take three hours, and a 10 carat more like 5 hours.  simple shapes like rounds, squares and emerald cuts are fastest.  Shapes with long curved sides take a bit longer.  Examples would be ovals, pears, marquise cuts, etc.

What’s each of your favorite colors? Do you tend to try to cut those more often?
After all the years of graphic arts and now colorful gemstones, I have no favorite color.  I don’t, however, like olive green or brownish pink colors.  Cindi’s favorite colors are pink and green.  She tends to like all colors, even some of the “ugly” ones, except red.

sp1662

How often do you cut stones and keep them?
Me, less than one per year.  Cindi, every few months. I very rarely keep a stone.  I have a nearly flawless emerald, some opals and a blue to pink color change garnet that I’ve kept.  After 17 or so years, I only have about 10 stones total…if that.  Cindi, on the other hand has hundreds.

Does Dan have any jewelry made with the stones he has (Or Cindi) cut?
Yes.  I have a silver ring Cindi made for me using a welo opal and a Tripps setting.  I also have a small blue Australian sapphire that I cut in my simple, comfort fit wedding band.

How do you manage working together as a couple? How did Cindi get started and involved?
We both love gemstones in general and met when she start collecting stones I was cutting.  Oddly, we work together very well and almost never fight or argue about anything.  Cindi got started cutting gemstones as a hobby, which is how I got started also.

What is your favorite stone that you ever cut? Did you sell it or keep it?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but the first one I ever kept for myself was an almost flawless, untreated Colombian emerald that even shows dispersion or spectral color flashes in sunlight.  I am fond of this one because of the clarity.  The somewhat odd step cut pear shape isn’t necessarily what I like about it.  Under magnification, I could only spot three little specks of “jardin”.

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

What’s the weirdest stone you’ve ever cut?
Cindi has a really unusual gray tourmaline that is almost a charcoal color and super dispersive that I cut about 13 years ago.  The thing has big spectral flashes coming out of a completely gray colored stone.

Whatever happened to those corpse colored tourmalines you had listed? Weird as it may sound, I’m sorry I missed out on them…
The first of the two “corpse” colored tourmalines was purchased by a nurse (funny huh?).  I can’t remember who bought the second one.

uglytourmaline_what

A huge thank you to Dan for taking so much time to answer all of my questions and being so frank with his answers. Most of the images in this post were taken from the website, of some gemstones that are currently for sale (minus the pear emerald and the “Ugly Tourmaline”!) I have a particular weakness for Dan’s step cuts!

Advertisements

Miscellaneous Updates

Just a quick update this week, New Years is coming up soon (where did this year go?), and getting my new office/studio together is taking up way more time than I planned on.

  • My wonderful Angie Crabtree “Elle” print was finally framed, and it’s waiting for it’s new spot to be hung in my new office. I went simple on this one, and hopefully, since she is working on some antique diamond cuts, I can give “Elle” a companion sooner rather than later!
  • I haven’t been able to sketch and design as much as I normally do, snow shoveling has taken way too much of my time, as well as driving in the snow. It turns out that driving slow is key for avoiding wrecks! Right now I have three (plus) projects going on – two ring projects that I have very clear ideas on, and another more fluid project that I got a whole parcel of stones for, and have too many ideas on, so that will need to be worked on, hopefully in the coming week or so.
    IMG_1074
  • Not much going on with stock settings, I decided against rolling out the Dignité for now, and will probably reconsider in the future. I am working on a three stone idea that has been formulating in my head that lends itself well to pairing with the Vivant necklace.
  • Instead of the Dignité being released, I posted the Intrepide – a wonderful interesting halo that’s just a slight tweak on a simple halo, that really comes with big impact!  This setting is available for any size and shape of stone, please contact us for details.
    4
  • I have a Voeu ring that just came out of production, and is available to view in person at David Klass Jewelry in Los Angeles. This one was made with a peachy-brown imperial garnet with both yellow gold and rose gold. This setting really lends itself well to smaller stones, giving them a good dose of presence, even for a smaller stone.
  • I got a few new jewelry tools for the holidays, so I’m excited to use those, both for pictures and just in general.
    10
  • I am considering sending several sapphires to AGL for certification, but the negative side of doing that (for the customer) is that the prices will inevitably go up.
  • Speaking of pricing, I think I might do a sale on my items on etsy for January. I will decide in the next week or so.
    23

A bit short today, I have been completely overloaded, but will hopefully get back into the groove again soon!

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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

6

8

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.

9

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.

10

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.

11

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.

12

20

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.

14

15

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!

Gem Blast: Purple Sapphire

One of the best things about visiting home is my favorite little gem shop. When I was there over the summer, I managed to catch a glimpse of this stone, and couldn’t stop thinking about it when I got home! So I sent my gemstone-buying-partner-in-crime, Erin of Willajune Jewelry to go back and grab it before anyone else could.

2.4ct purple Ceylon sapphire, measuring 6.4×9.7mm. It was sold as being unheated and color shift, but I haven’t really played with it enough yet to see if it actually has a shift. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had sold my unheated color shift sapphire to a friend, and of course, I had to replace it with something else. This stone has a few cut issues, but I adore the color, so I’ll easily be able to overlook it.

This picture was taken at the gem store, shown with an amazing blue sapphire that is super saturated, but a bit on the silky side:

purple oval

This image shows it’s tiny window and a hint of the half and half shadowing. Notice how the upper half is a little bit darker and the facets look less defined than the bottom half.

purple sapphire

purple sapphire3

purple sapphire4

These next two were taken with my Canon in mixed lighting, fluorescent and natural daylight.

1

3

Under fluorescent lighting:

4

And outside:

5

6

I see more blue sometimes and more purple at other times, but I can’t really decide if it is a real color shifter.

8

10

I always have the hardest time thinking of settings for ovals, which is sort of weird because they were my second love, after trillions. At this stage, I’m pretty equal opportunity when it comes to shapes, but I play favorites with more symmetric shapes. So hearts, pears, trillions are harder for me to wrap my head around when it comes to setting rings, but easier when it comes to setting necklaces!

When I set something from my own collection, I tend to let the stone talk to me before I set it. So far, this one is pretty quiet, but I have done some quick shape sketches when an idea pops into my head for an oval.