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!

Personal Shopping: Lavender Sapphire

Well this week has been crazy. We have had some insane weather here in the Pacific Northwest, including snow, rain (enough for Seattle schools to close, if you can imagine that amount of rain), 70+mph winds, freezing fog, and then record high temperatures.  Yes, it was in the 50s this week, which is downright balmy for this far north at this time of year.

Now, why would I talk about the weather, you might ask? Well, on November 17th, we had the above mentioned nasty wind storm, which knocked power out all over Spokane…and damaged part of the roof at the USPS sorting warehouse. Which, when the second wind storm hit, weakened the roof further to the point that it had to be evacuated. This happened just as a 3.62ct Mahenge spinel arrived in the ill-fated sorting facility in Spokane from Mayer & Watt. (If you don’t know Mayer & Watt, you should.) The gemstone that I was planning on evaluating and writing today’s post about. So that post will have to wait for next week. But a neon “original find” hot pink/red Mahenge should make for a good Christmas week post, so I’ll just have to let it go until next week.

Now, I’ve been working on some custom designs for some of my favorite clients, as well as looking at new stones for new clients, and really trying to get all of the stock collection up and running. One thing I’ve recently started doing is really going out and searching for stones, personal gemstone shopping, if you will. And I’ve been lucky enough to get in contact with the right people, at the right time, and find some extraordinary stones that I really thought we would not be able to find.

For instance, and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen this stone, but I had a client come to me looking for her engagement ring stone. She wanted a lavender, leaning blue, oval sapphire that was at least 9mm wide on the width, precision cut. Which, if you’ve thought about it,  translates to about 5-8 carats, depending on cut. So, as soon as I saw her wish list, I said, “Hey, this is going to be incredibly hard to find. I would start thinking about alternatives or concessions you feel comfortable making.” So she did, and said that she thought a lighter pink or even a white sapphire might be acceptable, adding round to her list of acceptable shapes. And I started keeping an eye out for those. Which is when I found Mayer & Watt.

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Image is property of Mayer & Watt.

Geoffrey Watt participates in a gemstone appreciation group on Facebook, One World Gemstone, and when he posted an image, I went and looked at his company’s FB page. There was a white sapphire that was round, which fit my client’s new criteria list. So I reached out and asked about the round white sapphire, and while Geoffrey and I were talking about it, I mentioned originally looking for a lavender. To which Geoffrey said, “You mean like this one?”

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Image is property of Mayer & Watt.

Insert my heart popping out of my chest.

At 5.97cts, 10.7×9.2×7.5 it was exactly what we had been looking for. I was so excited that not only was this stone in existence (I truly thought that it wouldn’t exist, or at least, that we wouldn’t find it) that it was within reach, and it took me about two hours to compose the email to the client with the details because I was so excited and in shock.

After jumping through a whole bunch of hoops, and Geoffrey making every attempt to accommodate our needs, it was hers.

Since then, she actually sent it to Jerry Newman for a recut, to clean up the symmetry a bit since it would be her engagement ring stone. Jerry did an amazing job, managing to only lose 8.3% loss, from 5.99 ct to 5.49 ct. The depth was originally 7.43 mm and is now 6.9, keeping the original face up dimensions at 10.7 x 9.2mm.

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Images are property of Jerry Newman. 

Not to be overly gushing, but when I originally got this client request, I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to come through for her. And it’s been through a couple of incredible colleagues in the gem trade that I was able to make a client’s engagement ring dreams come true.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

In the event that you see something in Mayer & Watt’s inventory that sparks your interest, feel free to request information through our contact page. Please keep in mind that Mayer & Watt are exclusively wholesalers, so they will not respond to your requests directly.

Gem Blast: Considering Gemstone Recuts

I typically like to do Gem Blast posts as mostly pictures with little commentary, as it gives me a little break from writing, and I get to post pictures, which I love taking, but this one is a little bit different because it deals with a specific issue: Gemstone Recuts

This stone started out coming to me from ebay, and is a hot pink spinel from the Mahenge area of the Morogoro region of Tanzania. It was 1.8cts, and 7x6mm. It wasn’t until owning this stone for well over a year that I realized that it had a horrible crack in the pavilion, along the keel. I enlisted the help of  Jerry Newman of Gemart Services to see if it could be cut out and let me tell you, that man is a miracle worker.

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Amazing color! But if you look carefully at the above left image, you can see something funky going on on the keel from the face down view. But when you flip it over and look at the keel through a macro lens, it makes sense.

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So I sent my stone to Jerry. He had said that he thought he could get rid of that nastiness without it affecting the face up size. Once he was done, and he is very very fast – I got the “It’s done!” email less than a week after he got it – he said that he thought he could recut it again and make it more brilliant, but he wanted to know my opinion. After the recut:

 

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Obviously I liked the stone just as it is, and didn’t want to lose more material or risk the loss of more saturation. It is difficult to tell because the environmental situations are different from the “before” pictures, but the stone lost a little bit of saturation. However, Jerry managed to only recut the pavilion with no loss to the face up size. It went from 1.8cts to 1.55cts, and actually became more stable since the liability of the crack on the bottom was eliminated. The clarity was improved as well since the fuzziness that the crack created went away.

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Because of the overwhelming success of the above pink spinel, I have started considering recutting a few other stones of mine…

Silvery spinel, 5×7, considering a recut on it to improve performance. It currently has a small window, and a bowtie. Sometimes it even shows a bit of half and half shadowing. I think it’d be gorgeous if it had some improved cutting. It has a bulgy pavilion, so recutting it should be relatively simple and improve it significantly. I actually think the stone is nice to begin with, with a really cool light gray, but I think the risk is small enough and the payoff good enough that I think it should probably be done.

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Possible Emerald Tourmaline recut. This is a different case because this stone started out as a precision cut stone from Master Cut Gems. It has a gorgeous color, but it was very badly chipped (mangled?) when it was set in a setting. Unfortunately I didn’t realize this until long after purchasing the original ring. Luckily I had a stone that would fit into the setting, so it wasn’t a total loss, but the stone is pretty much unable to be reset because it’s so badly damaged. Here is a picture of the stone from Dana at Master Cut Gems before it was set:

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Beautiful color, eh? It’s a great teal, not too dark. And here is the stone after being unset, under my macro lens, which makes everything look dark and shadowy, since it is black:

 

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You can see in this image how smoothed out the chipping is, with no sharp edges, showing that it was done quite some time ago, and is not new damage:

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I have a macro picture of the stone in the setting, and you can just barely make out the mess under the one set of double prongs. This is the mess on the opposite end:

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Another view, giving an idea of the slight bicolor (green on one end, blue-green on the other) action going on with this stone, as well as showing the wear on the facet junction on the meet between the crown and the table facets.

 

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So, I’m kind of playing with the idea of seeing if it would be possible to cut all of the bad stuff away, and leave something that could be used. I have talked a little bit before about my love of all things step cut, so it really pains me to chop this up, but I think there might be potential to cut another step cut out of it, perhaps a shorter emerald, a carre or an asscher. Unfortunately, this stone is a smaller 1.07ct (the chip is probably big enough to decrease that!) so it’d probably end up being about 5×5 and maybe .60ct, so I don’t know that it’d make a lot of sense to do it, but I might do it anyway because it’s such a great color.

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Gemstone recutting, or cutting of rough is not a job to be taken lightly. It takes an immense amount of talent, intestinal fortitude, luck and knowledge to produce these small sparkly items. I have nothing but the utmost respect for lapidaries because it is not an easy job, and clients can be hypercritical of the results. I greatly admire those that do it, especially recutting damaged stones and cutting from customer’s rough because of all of the risk involved. Every time I have gone into a jewelry project with something I’m unsure about, I have a pit in my stomach until it is completed, and when the risk is the total ruining of a gemstone, the risk is really quite high, and not something to be attempted on a whim.