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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Guest Post: The Evolution of Collecting

I have a special treat today, a guest post from someone who has become a close friend through gemstones, and whose services I sometimes utilize as a gemstone personal shopper due to her connections within the industry.  So if you have ever asked me for help finding a gem, rest assured I have likely consulted her on your stone.
Please welcome Aimée!
I have been collecting gemstones for my personal collection for almost five years now. It has been quite a journey. My financial situation has fluctuated during that time, and my connections in the industry have strengthened. I never used to consider myself picky, but have discovered that when it comes to gems…I’m a princess. I want it all – colour, cut, and price. So…how does one do that?
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I started by buying everything that caught my fancy. I should specify at this point that my purchases happen almost exclusively online. This means a pretty large learning curve in terms of how to read pictures, specifically around colour, tone, and saturation ( a word I’ve only learned in the last four years). Also, some vendors have what I would call “frenzied drops”, where you have about 3 seconds or less to decide if you want something, regardless of price. I’ve returned many stones, and sold the ones I felt guilty about returning or that I realized ultimately weren’t for me. I’ve sold some beautiful stones, many that I’ve forgotten about, until I came across a picture on my computer. I’ve also developed realistic expectations. “A good price” is very relative. I’ve known people to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a diamond, then want a trade ideal coloured stone that is exponentially rarer than a diamond, with a maximum budget of a few hundred dollars. This type of search will usually lead to frustration and disappointment, and is quite simply a waste of time.
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I try not to develop emotional attachments to my stones. Oddly enough, that can be difficult. I have stones and/or rings that I have a really hard time parting with, even though I will probably never set them, or rarely wear them, but they are pretty, and the memory of how they came to be in my possession is too sweet to extinguish. Selling to a fellow enthusiast helps. If it’s someone I like, who really loves the gem, I have an easier time passing it on. At this point, I only sell to fund new projects.
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So, I’ve built my collection. What was once “the ultimate” moves on, once I find a “holy grail”. (Like stepping stones, except in a few instances, where…I hoard. I have several Mahenge spinels. My excuse is that they are all uniquely beautiful – pinkish red, reddish pink – I’m pretty sure I have every shade in between. Now, I’m aiming for cuprian tourmalines. Unfortunately, I came into the game too late for certain gems. But I digress…) I TRY to no longer buy impulsively (which can burn me in the case of, say…a holy grail that I try to think about for more than 3 seconds, and it’s grabbed by someone else in that time, during a frenzied drop). I try to accept what actually looks good with my skin tone – honestly, I have some stones which just aren’t flattered by my pasty hand…but are too pretty to sell!
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I have scored some wonderful gems, at reasonable prices. This is usually because a fellow enthusiast has either pointed me in the right direction, or sold me something they bought several years ago at a good price, and they’re passing on the deal. Sometimes, it’s because I’ve bugged a vendor somewhat incessantly about a certain colour, and they finally got something in that might shut me up. Sometimes, I’ve really lucked out when a stone has sat around for quite some time for whatever reason, and the price can be negotiated somewhat.
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If I was to have some advice for a “newbie” about collecting, it’s to have patience. “The One” WILL come along, at some point. You are better off socking away the money until it does. In the meantime, educate yourself, look at what’s around and at what price point, see as many gems in real life as you can, and when you see The One, pounce!
-Aimée

A Catch Up Post

I’ve been a bit off the grid for the last two weeks. I’m normally a prolific Instagram poster, but between driving for multiple days at a time, visiting family and just doing vacation type things (sleeping in!) I just haven’t had the time.

But! We made it! We now live in Washington and it’s a huge change of pace for all of us, I can tell after living here for only two days. Yes, it has only been two days! The air is cleaner, the scenery is completely different, people are friendly, and it’s a million degrees cooler. Ok, not really, but it actually does cool down at night, which is new and unusual for us!

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So I wanted to give some updates on things, now that I’m here, though not exactly settled!

I have a whole new work space and a room that is basically dedicated to whatever I want to put in it. So of course, it’s all jewelry related stuff, with a desk for sketching (I need a drafting table eventually, or my back will give out) and the best part is – it has the most awesome view in the entire house and a huge picture window with lots of natural light.

I’ve been working on a few custom ring project designs. One is completely my own design, the other is helping design a basket of a ring I cannot wait to see! There are others in the works, but these two are the closest I have to being completed.

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Etsy store. I’m going to work on that a bit tonight, and at least get it so that I can put it back online tomorrow. I was hoping to be in a good enough spot to have added some new stones, but that’s not happening – YET. I believe the moving company is also going to be delivering tomorrow, so my world is going to get a bit more chaotic before it calms down a lot more. I am going to concentrate on more fall colored stones for now, so expect some warm browns, goldens and coppery pinks when I can get new stock up on the site.

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Like this.

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Or like these.

I am still working on my stock ring line and will hopefully have more designs in production soon, still working out the kinks with some CADs for the upcoming ones.

Now, when the etsy store opens tomorrow, I had promised my readers a coupon code, so here it is: “AUTUMN2015” (no quotes). It is good for 15% off purchases of $100 or more until November 1.

Also, yesterday, August 9th, was the one year anniversary of my blog! That’s a bit crazy!

Viva Las Vegas! JCK 2015 Part 2!

Part 2. Or day 2. This is by far the most photo intensive post in this trilogy.

Friday

Naturally, after not getting to sleep until 3am, we slept in a bit, though that was not the plan. The plan was to get to JCK ASAP and start trawling through gemstones as early as we could. Instead we woke up and started looking at gemstones again, this time in daylight, before deciding it was time to eat. Of course I went for the color shifting 6ct violet sapphire first.

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None of the other photos came out well, so I’ll skip them in an already picture heavy post.

Meeting with Amy Phillips of David Klass Jewelry

First thing we did after gathering our badges to go into the show was meet with Amy with David Klass Jewelry. She was showing us a wax for a ring David is making with the emerald from the first post. A client had been working with them on a diamond halo design, but had kind of hit a brick wall after a few CADs. I made a couple of tweaks to make the design a little bit more delicate and feminine. Since it’s not complete yet, I’ll keep it to a more boring view. I will say that I am so excited to see this project completed!

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AGTA Show: Prima Gems

From seeing the wax, we went downstairs to the AGTA show, otherwise known as colored stones! So you already know I was so excited!

Of course I studied the map and made a beeline for Prima Gems. I browsed for a while, bumping into a few people that I recognized, including Yvonne Raley.

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I just want to say that Nattalie Shah is an angel. My companion was seeking out red spinels and green garnets, but in the meantime, I had every single spinel pulled out of the case and had them spread out all over the counter. Not joking:

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Here is a 12ct Mahenge Spinel, moderately included.

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Same stone, being a show off.

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While my companion was digging through red spinels, I was amusing myself going through a massive parcel of smaller red and pink spinels, pulling out stones that talked to me and putting them on a gem sorting tray. Most of these were the largest in there, but there was one that had color that just popped out at me.

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The entirety of the parcel I was going through:

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Playing with the UV flashlight.

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Some of the red spinels that were being scrutinized.

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No, really, scrutinized!

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At one point, I got tired of red spinels, (though not tired enough to ask them to put them away!) and asked to see this really awesome blue-green tourmaline. This stone needs to be made into a necklace.

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From the red spinels, we went to green garnets. Check out these mints!

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In the meantime, I had put this little guy to the side for myself. Tiny, but you can see the neon color from across the room.

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I’d forgive the shape for this color, the perfect blue-green for a mint.

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Then Nattalie pulled out the UV light to play with a 4ct tsavorite. It was like Christmas in one stone!

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Doing a mean impression of an emerald. Inclusions didn’t hinder the performance of this stone at all, though magnification makes the inclusions look worse than they are. This is one of those stones that doesn’t show it’s true beauty in photographs.

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AGTA Show: Random vendors

At this point, we had spent so much time pouring over Prima stones after our late start, that we had run out of time, so we raced around just a bit looking at a few other booths. I took some photos of items that caught my eye.

A couple little rose cuts.

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Colored stone melee, starting at .8mm to 3mm.

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Untreated emerald rings.

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Brazilian Paraiba. I should have inquired about pricing, but didn’t have time to stop.

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Managed to have Gem 2000 pull some larger light pink sapphires to view for a client.

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Ogled Gem 2000’s emeralds. The emeralds were everywhere!

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And their spinels. Spinels were also everywhere.

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I was also on the look out for blue sapphires for another client, so we checked these out with Gem 2000 as well,

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The Other Roommate’s Arrival

After hopping on the shuttle and rushing to meet our other bling sister, we found her, and of course helped ourselves to her jewels. I know you’re surprised, but I took a bunch of photos:
Blue zircon.
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Green sphene earring drops from Prima Gems. 
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Tanzanite double halo ring. 
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Vintage ruby and diamond ring, Love Affair Diamonds. 
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Ideal cut diamond earrings with ideal cut diamond halo jackets, ID Jewelry.
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Mint garnet from Prima Gems
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Spessartite garnet from Prima Gems
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Ideal cut diamond
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Dinner time: Texas de Brazil

So, by this point, it was time to grab dinner. We were picked up in a limo, and taken to Texas de Brazil. I hadn’t had Brazilian in several years, and this Brazilian put THAT Brazilian to shame. If you have the opportunity to go to one of these restaurants, do it. And hit up the salad bar in a major way, because it’s so so so good. Just as good as the meat, which is, of course, the main attraction.

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The table in our private room was made of one giant piece of wood, and I loved the contrast with the lucite chairs. 
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My favorite dinner companion. Diamonds. 
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And to finish up the night, some random colored stone rings, including a couple of mine. 
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Yet again, we didn’t end up falling asleep until 2am, and there was no partying involved! The last day was fast approaching and I was determined to get to the show earlier than I had today.

Day 3! Blog post fast approaching! Tomorrow!

Pantone 2015: Marsala

Ok, Pantone, what happened? 2014 was Radiant Orchard. 2013 was Emerald. Why Marsala for 2015?

First off, Marsala is a fortified wine typically used in a chicken dish. So when I heard that “Marsala” was the color of 2015, I was like, “What?! What color is Marsala besides a brownish purple-red?”

Well, dear friends, I’m here to tell you that Marsala is indeed, a brownish purplish red.

Now, it’s certainly not that I have something against the wine. It’s the color. As a gemstone enthusiast, I’m typically eyeing the vivid jewel tones, or the softer pastel shades. Adding brown to any gemstone is absolutely against all of my gemstone picking instincts. It’s a great color for makeup, with eye shadow, blush, lipstick, and nail polish, but for gems?

So where do we go in the Year of Marsala with gemstones? Spinel? Tourmaline? Garnets? Sapphire? Zircon?

I have a spinel and a sapphire that are sort of Marsala colored, depending on the light…but I’m just so unenthusiastic about this color of the year. Way to let me down Pantone!

For the all important eye candy, here’s a 4+ct sapphire that is sort of Marsala colored, and one of the most color shifty sapphires I’ve ever seen. Orange-brown, peachy purple-pink with a vibrant surprise color. Since it’s so all over the place, I figure at least one of it’s random shades could probably pass for “Marsala”. Right?

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Don’t let the above photos fool you though – they were taken in very specific lighting conditions.

In other very specific lighting conditions, it goes hot pink, lighter pink and a dusky purple.

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Yes, all the pictures above really are the same stone. From a brownish-orange to purple-pink to bright pink, it’s the closest thing I have to Marsala. The entertaining part about this sapphire is that it goes it’s least attractive (but most interesting!) color in daylight – the lighting situation that is typically the most flattering for other gemstones.

I know that I’m clearly not the only jewelry person scratching their head about how to work Marsala into 2015.  Or you know, counting down the days to see what 2016 brings and hoping that it’s something more jewelry friendly!

New Year

So, we’re in the final days of 2014. While I’m sad to say goodbye to an amazing year, I cannot wait to see what 2015 brings. Which brings me to today’s topic: looking forward into the new year.

First, I am planning on making small change to the blog. I will be blogging on Mondays and Thursdays instead of Tuesdays and Fridays. This is just a matter of practicality for me, as getting blogs done over the weekend is easiest.

I got a new iPhone 6, along with a new Olloclip with multiple lenses for Christmas. I’m looking forward to playing with those and seeing if they will help improve my photography quality. I’ve been without a macro lens for a little while now, so I’m looking forward to playing around with various lenses and seeing what they can do for me.

I also got a new laptop – I have a massive amount of photos and am constantly combing the internet for inspiration and taking too many pictures of whatever stones I currently have. My poor current laptop has over 70k pictures on it, and keeps telling me its out of space. Which, of course, is a problem. So I got a new laptop and will be transferring most things over to the new laptop at some point.

Goals:
-Try to concentrate more on design, color usage.
-Working on putting together my first jewelry line, I am hoping to have 7-8 stock items. I will update as necessary when things start to get finalized.
-I am working on a few custom projects for friends, multiple green garnet pieces with interchangeable parts, and several large gemstone rings.
-I have been considering taking both drawing classes and CAD classes to improve my skills. Hopefully I will figure that out relatively soon.
-Potentially setting up a boutique/shop.
-Somehow add about 5 hours to every day so I can get everything I want to done!

Future blog posts:
-Hoping for more features on more people (lapidaries, jewelry designers, antique jewelry dealers, etc) in the industry.
-Putting together a sort of gemstone/jewelry term dictionary. If you have questions about certain terms you’ve seen on the blog, or elsewhere on the internet, please let me know so I can cover them.
-If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for blog posts, please feel free to contact me.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season and looking forward to 2015 as much as I am!

These babies below just went to a new home! (Tsavorite, spessartite, spinel, aquamarine, rubellite, tourmaline and zircon.)

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