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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Anatomy of a Custom Order

I realize that many people have no clue what goes into the actual production of a custom job for a customer at Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers. So I've decided to document one that I took in this December. I had an old customer come in and tell me that she wanted one of my handmade 22k gold chains (as pictured). However given where gold prices have gone, I discussed with her pricing and she mentioned that she had a gold Krugerrand that she had inherited from her parents and that she felt strongly about being able to use the actual gold from that coin in the necklace if that was possible. I knew it would lower her cost a bit and I told her that I would be happy to try and accommodate her needs if at all possible. This first meeting took about a half hour to complete. She said that she would bring the coin in for me to use shortly.

After she left, I realized that while I knew that Kruggerands were gold, I didn't really know what they were composed of. I assumed (mistakenly, as it turns out) that they were simply pure gold. So I then spent a half hour on the phone with my primary gold supplier who proceeded to tell me that in fact Kruggerands were 22k gold. At first that sounded great because I need 22k gold to make my chains in, but he then informed me that the only alloy they used was copper. Not only would this not produce the color I need, but I knew the metal wouldn't behave properly when I went to fuse the links (I don't use solder in these chains; I simply heat them until they actually are almost at melting point and then fuse them together). We then got into a long discussion about how I would get it to the alloy I would need and I soon realized that it was completely impractical as I would need to get about 3 more ounces of pure gold, alloy it only with silver and then mix her coin in. This was impractical because I only needed a little over an ounce and a half of gold for the chain and I then would have a lot of her metal mixed in with my own that I would have to sit on until I had a need for it (plus she wouldn't get all of her metal back in her chain).

So I realized that I would need to find a refiner who would take her coin and alloy it to pure gold and then send it back to me. It took a few phone calls but I found a guy I bought some other materials from who agreed to do it. Once I got the pure gold back, I could add only the quantity of my own pure gold so that I could make up the specific 22k gold alloy that I needed for the piece. Basically I had now spent about an hour on the phone clarifying all of this.

About a week later, my customer came in with her husband and the coin and the order was placed, with the understanding that, despite the late starting point I would try and have it ready for Christmas (the order was actually placed on December 9). I then had to call and confirm with the refiner that I was sending the coin in to them and to spend a few minutes begging that they would get it back to me as quickly as possible. The piece had to be packed up and shipped overnight to Los Angeles. In the meanwhile, I also had to call my regular gold supplier and order the balance of the 24k gold I would need. I didn't actually get the pure gold back until December 17 (one week before Christmas). Now I had to actually make the chain itself.

In order to make the chain, I first had to melt all of the 24k gold together with the silver and copper that would alloy it down to the 22k gold mix I needed. This is basically taking a really huge flame on my oxy-acetylene torch and heating up a huge mass of gold until it melts, and then sticking a wooden stick in to stir it around until the alloys have blended properly. The stick, of course, catches fire but you just have to kind of ignore it for awhile and try really hard not to singe yourself. With the molten metal in the crucible, while keeping the flame on it the whole time, you have to lift up the crucible and pour it, all at once, into an ingot mold that creates a 3" long extremely thick rod of round wire.

The next step is to roll the rod down to a much thinner gauge wire. A rolling mill is used, the wire is fed into it, and each time you roll it through you crank down the gap a bit to make it smaller. Eventually you have to use smaller and smaller holes to roll it through. After every three or four runs through the mill, the wire has to be annealed (heated until it is red hot) in order to soften it enough so that the metal isn't being stressed as it keeps getting smaller and smaller. But the rolling mills we use actually make square wire not round wire so, eventually, I have to start pulling the wire through a drawplate. This is a bit more complicated. I have to first file the ends of the wire into points and then grab it with a large pair of tongs and physically pull it through progressively smaller holes. Again it has to be annealed regularly, and inevitably it breaks and I end up having to file the ends of, and pull, multiple pieces of wire. Usually in the larger sizes this isn't too hard but as the wire continues to get thinner it eventually reaches the point where the filed ends are so thin that they routinely break off before I can actually get any of the wire through.

Eventually when I reach the point where I have wire the size I actually need I anneal it one more time and then proceed to actually making the chain. Please note that I have now spent about 2 hours with the customer, on the phone with various people, shipping the package, etc. plus about 4-5 hours making the metal and wire. In tomorrow's posting I will continue describing the process.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Two more new pieces. One could go very nicely with the garnet pendant I posted recently and the other could go very nicely with the Maw Sit Sit earrings I posted recently. The holidays are upon us and I have no more time left to write. If you want to hear what I have to say you'll have to actually come into the store!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Thought For the Season

I occasionally get customers in who have very minor repair jobs that I am able to do on the spot for them. If I don't have to actually go into my workshop and it doesn't require more than a few minutes, I usually won't charge them anything. (Trust me I value my time highly but sometimes it just isn't worth the bother.) The ones who are polite enough to ask me if they can pay me something (and I do get a number who seem to think they don't have to do that unfortunately) I usually tell them that the next time they see a person in need to give them a few dollars. Today I got a note from one of them that I am going to reprint here:

Dear Daniel,
You recently repaired my broken necklace. When I inquired about payment, you suggested that I give $5 to the next person I saw who was in need.
The conversation I had with the panhandler in Harvard Square a few days later (to whom I gave the money) reminded me again that homeless people, just like anyone else, want to make connections with people and be recognized as human beings. It's a lesson I've been slow to learn.
Thank you for giving me the chance to learn that truth. Thanks also for fixing my necklace; it's good to have it back in action.

In any season (although it seems to be something we only think of in this season) it IS important to think about those who are so less fortunate than we are. Hopefully more of you will stop and give someone in need something as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Day, Another Picture and Strange Karma

One of my more classic looks but with a really nice topaz in it. 18k gold of course.
I'm always amused by how connections work in this business. Sometimes I'll have a ring design that no one looks at for years (literally) and then suddenly I get a half dozen people in looking at that design in the same week, and ordering it too. Recently I had another one of these incidents (actually I had two but I can't discuss one in case I give away someone's upcoming present). It had to do with a posting I ran awhile ago which you can read here. So if you read the article you'll understand that I designed a ring for a chef. I liked the design when it was done so I made another one up and put it out in the cases. No one paid much attention to it until---------a chef (!) who had gotten his fiancees engagement ring from me came in looking for a wedding band. And he bought the thing. So what are the odds? I sell only two of the things and they both go to chefs! But this kind of thing seems to happen with great regularity. Just a little thought for the day and now I'm back to being a bench slave.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Picture of the Day

This is a cute little boulder opal pendant I just finished up. 18k, 22k gold and a small emerald compliment. The opal is really very nice, but was quite reasonably priced.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Picture and Rerun of an Old Post

These are some new Maw Sit Sit earrings I just finished recently. They have little swinging diamonds in them and are, of course, 18k and 22k gold. I love Maw Sit Sit. It has an incredibly intense green plus the name is a lot of fun to say.

I am going to reprint the text of a post I ran just before last Christmas as I think it is particularly appropriate at this time of year. Those of you who remember it forgive me. The rest of you, enjoy it:

I should really be working. I am completely inundated and it is three days before Christmas, but I want to get this post up while I am thinking about it. This is intended for all of you guys who intend to give your intended an engagement ring for Christmas (three intends in one sentence, not bad). And I have to say that I have had a quite a number of you this year.

I had one of my regular customers come in last week looking for his annual Christmas present. When he said he had no idea what he was looking for this year, I suggested (as I knew he had been with this one woman for awhile) that perhaps it was time to give her a ring. Immediately, of course, sweat began to pour out, hemming and hawing began, and I generally got him completely aflutter. However what then transpired (or tranSPIRERed in this case) was a conversation about whether or not it was appropriate to give an engagement ring (I had initially actually suggested a sort of "promise" ring) as a Christmas present. He related how he had actually had a discussion about this at work and that he worked with quite a few women. They had ALL said that an engagement ring was NOT a Christmas present. For that matter it isn't a present at all.

The fact of the matter is that they are right. An engagement ring is a statement of commitment, a declaration of your love for this ONE person, and something to be worn as an indication that this person is no longer available to the general male public (or female if you happen to be gay). It is NOT a present. That is just cheaping out and trying to kill two birds with one stone. Now if you want to give an engagement ring on Valentine's Day, that's fine as there is nothing more romantic in this world than asking, and being asked, to marry someone. But to give it as a Christmas present (or birthday present) and then pretend that you don't need to give them anything else is simply not the right thing to do. And who wants to be remembered as a betrothed who cheaped out at the very beginning of the new and exciting path you might be embarking on. So fellas, face up to it. Give an engagement ring as a sign of your commitment but DON'T give it as a substitute for some other present. (Ideally of course, if you are commited to giving it to them for one of these events, you should first give them a beautiful pair of earrings or a necklace and THEN surprise them with the ring.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Party Ring

Here's two views of my new "party ring". Natural color (unheated) purple sapphire, pink sapphires and a diamond, 18k lower wires, 22k gold upper wires. If you're going to a party, or you simply want your hand to have a party this would be a great ring for you!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Tourmaline Earrings

As promised another new picture. These earrings are 18k yellow gold with tourmalines and diamonds. I just had a customer call who's birthday is today, and is having a party tonight and she wanted to come in and buy them to wear this evening but alas I am still closed on Sundays. However I told her she could cut out the picture and paste them to her ears for now. As of Tuesday I will be open every day until Christmas. It may be that if you want to see these in person you'll have to get in early on Tuesday!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

As promised some pictures of new pieces. I'm going to be posting one per day for the next few days. This one is an 18k white gold pendant with a rhodolite garnet. I do earrings like these too!
Wish I could write more but I'm working way too much these days.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lots of new jewels coming out daily right now. New pictures will start tomorrow but here's a picture of an older favorite of mine. Opal, emeralds, sapphire, diamond in 22k and 18k gold.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Real Rarity of Gemstones

So at the end of my last posting I mentioned that you could forgo diamonds and get some of those purple sapphires I love so much....but maybe not. People tend to forget that the product that I deal with (truly fine quality gem materials) is actually in relatively short supply. A number of jobs I've taken on recently have shown just how short the supply really is. The piece pictured here is a new pendant that I just finished up. The center stone is a black (well more grey than black) South Sea mobe pearl. A few years ago I got my hands on a small (very small) collection of a few of these round beauties. Since then I haven't been able to get a single one of any quality.

Two years ago I took an order in for a pair of carved spectrolite faces (like this one) that I so like to work with. The stones had to match a pendant that my customer had bought from me. I kept ordering stones and the carver kept sending me labradorite (which is a lighter color material usually with speckles in it), which of course didn't match. I've been after my supplier to keep at him about getting the right material and, while I kept getting nice faces none were what I needed. Then earlier this year another customer of mine came to me and wanted me to get a matched pair of faces similar to these but with the faces facing each other. So I placed the order for those as well as the smaller ones I was looking for. When they came in finally guess what? They were also labradorite. Pretty but no comparison. So after many discussions with my supplier she finally found out from the carver that he had, in fact, run out of spectrolite material entirely and was running out of carvable labradorite as well. The only other material my supplier has been seeing (uncarved spectrolite) has nothing near the colors or intensity that all of my older cut faces had.

I also recently took in an engagement ring order from a very nice couple who spent a few hours with me. They picked out a design (this one) but they saw a very nice lighter toned blue/purple color shift sapphire that I had from my regular sapphire supplier but it was round and the design takes an oval stone. So I first went to my primary suppliers but no ovals were to be had in this color range. I expanded my search. I went to a number of other suppliers I have used in the past and eventually a few new ones as well. The first thing I realized when I started seeing the stones they sent me was that the stones I now sell are even better than I realized. Most of the ones sent to me were dark, poorly cut, windowed, included and all over the place in color. When I finally got the other suppliers all focused on the actual color I wanted, no one (so far, although I have more stones coming in this week) could actually produce a single stone that was an exact match to the one in my case. I have one or two that are close. I have one or two that are actually pretty. But it surely isn't like when I want a blue sapphire where I can get a bunch in whatever size or shape I want almost immediately.

So what's my point you might be asking. Well I have a couple. The first is that while there is a plethora of junk out there, the existence of high quality stones is in fact fairly rare, especially when dealing with things that are out of the ordinary. The second is that we are, in fact, running out of material at a fairly rapid pace. Fine quality gem material is a rarity, not a commonplace thing. With the booming Asian markets absorbing huge amounts of the remaining high quality materials, Americans being ever more concerned about the price of things (and hence gem dealers offering the better goods to Asia first), and the depletion of many of the world's most prolific mines we are going to see less and less high grade, fine gem material. I wouldn't ever consider the purchasing of gems to be an investment but if you want your grandchildren to be able to own some of this better material it might be a good time to invest in a few pieces to pass down.
The pendant is 18k and 22k yellow gold with chrome tourmalines, a pink sapphire and a diamond and is currently available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

De Beers

Because I am located in a somewhat intelligent part of the country (you know, MIT, Harvard and a plethora of other universities are located here) I have, over the years, had to listen to a lot of (mis)information about diamonds over the years. The biggest complaint I have had to deal with is that diamonds are not really worth what they cost. And the reasoning behind this is that one company, DeBeers, controlled the market entirely through the stockpiling of diamonds over the years and that the price was completely controlled and not based on a fair market system. Well since 2001 DeBeers has steadily divested itself of this role, through a systematic, planned and controlled reduction in the amount of the market they controlled and a complete elimination of the stockpiles they held, those held ostensibly in an attempt to support the market (from the complainers standpoint). It currently controls approximately only 30% of the total production of diamonds worldwide. And yet, except for a slight dip in prices in 2009 due to the worldwide economic crisis, the price of diamonds have continued to rise, especially for higher quality goods. So the question comes to mind, why, if the price was not real, are they still going up in value?

Did you know that almost 1 ton of rock must be mined in order to produce 1 ct. (1/5 of a gram) of diamonds? Then the production has to be hand sorted (there are no computers that can do this) to the different quality levels. After this the material has to be sold to cutting centers (most now located either in the countries where the mining is taking place or countries such as India which are only recently stepping up from third world countries) and hand cut (often, although the Israelis have pioneered a large amount of computerized cutting), then sold to wholesalers who must then move the material to manufacturers or retailers. Let's also not forget that HIGH quality stones (like I sell, only top color D-E-F color and top clarity VS clarity or better) are actually in short supply (or being bought rampantly by the exploding Asian countries).

So the next time you're thinking of complaining that diamond prices aren't justified, think about what goes into getting those sparkly little things onto your fingers. Of course you could always opt out of diamonds and get some of those amazing purple sapphires I love to sell which will always be less expensive than diamonds.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I know, I know, I keep telling you I'm going to write a blog on opals and then nothing shows up. But let me explain my problem. Every time that I get started on the entry about opals I go back to reading this great opal book that I own. Then I get so engrossed in reading it that I never get back to writing. If I can actually finish it one of these days I'll actually write something about opals. Really. I promise.

But in the meanwhile, since I have been so bad about keeping up with my opal blog writing I thought I would show you guys one of my latest projects. Back in March of this year I got an envelope in the mail one day with a couple of blurry pictures of a ring, a check for $700, and a short note from someone I had never met before. She said that she had seen some of my work on a customer of mine (one of my oldest ones actually---not her age---but how long she's been a customer) and she just knew that I could recreate the ring her grandmother had worn for years, passed down to her and that she had subsequently lost/had stolen.

Now I love to get money I'm not expecting. But this person had never met me or been in my store, I could barely tell what the ring she wanted duplicated actually looked like from the picture (as you can see here), and she had no idea how much I might actually charge for the finished job. So I emailed her and told her that I would not cash her check unless she actually came in and talked to me personally. So she did. We had a long discussion about what the ring had actually looked like and I agreed to take 0n the job (and subsequently cashed the check!).

It took me awhile to decide how to approach this job but the idea of building a ring in a cone shape with a plethora of leaves by hand was a little daunting so I decided to use the CadCam approach, allowing a computer to at least get the first part done. As it happens there was a fair amount of handwork involved afterwards anyway so there is still quite a bit of me in the ring. The pictures here are of the finished ring and the original photo I had to work from, and yes it was no better than what you can actually see here in this copy of the picture.
While I can't tell you that this particular design is actually my style of ring, it's always nice to be able to help a customer maintain their connection with their past through their jewels. And as I will always do, I made it up the way that, if it had been my design, I would want it made so that it would last for years.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I haven't forgotten about my blog

At the request of a customer I am trying to get together a blog on opals but it's an extensive subject (and I have had to read up on them again) so it's taking a while. I should have something posted in about a week. Meanwhile here's one of the pictures I found of a beautiful opal! Just to whet your appetite a little. Oh and for anyone who likes moonstones I recently bought a magnificent triple strand of beautiful moonstone beads that are up for sale and worth seeing in any event.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


In my last posting I told you about some boulder opals I had just gotten in and that I was pretty excited about having some new material to make earrings with. I also told you a few postings ago that if you wanted my new designs, you really had to get in here quickly. This week I put out three new pairs of opal earrings. The ones at the top of the page are boulder opal and rubies in 18k and 22k gold. And I'm sorry but you can't have them because I put them out on Wednesday and they sold on Friday.

The pair below this paragraph have the really spicy pair of boulder opals I was talking about in the last post and my assistant Katy got a really pretty amazing picture showing some of the astounding color flash in the stones. This pair will not last long either.

And I also just put out the pair pictured below this paragraph as well this week. This is one of my comet series of earrings (although I have customers who say they are my bug earrings). These stones were not boulder opal splits, but a larger stone that I had cut in half (and that retained its color properly).

The following is a blog post I started quite awhile ago on opals. It talks a bit about opals in general and white opals specifically. I'll get something up soon that discusses black opals.

If you asked me what my favorite colored stone was I would have a really hard time choosing between sapphires and opals. Admittedly they are completely different types of stones but they both move me in a myriad of ways. And opals, without a doubt, have a slight edge simply because they aren't just ONE color but they are MANY colors. Some of them have ALL the colors. I mean, what more can you ask for in a gem material? Well okay, they could be a whole lot more durable and they could hold up better over time, but still they are just so fascinating. And they have so many colors!!!

Well actually the nice opals have so many colors. For many of you opal means those ugly white stones that have some specks of greens, blues or reds in them. But that just means you haven't seen any of my boulder opals or the astronomically priced black opals that show up occasionally. So what the heck are opals anyway you might ask? And I'm glad you asked because I intend to tell you what they are. They are beautiful!!! Ooops sorry I was actually going to get scientific here.

Opal is an amorphous, hydrous form of silica. Basically what that means is that it has some water in it. The amount of water, and the crystallization of it, will effect the opal in a variety of ways. It is believed that the play of color comes about because of the diffraction of light and slight variations of refractive index from a large amount of spherical, regularly arranged particles of silica and from the voids between. Okay enough science. It's great to know this but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans when you want to own an opal!

There are actually a variety of types of opal that are available. The ones most people may be familiar with are white opal, boulder opal, black opal, crystal opal and fire opal. All of these are broken up into even more varieties but it isn't really that important for a non gemologist to know.

White opals, the most common of the opal family, are opals that have a white (sometimes described as milky) body color with flashes of color scattered throughout. There is a huge amount of this material available but much of it is either so milky that there isn't much play of color or there just isn't much color in it to begin with. This is not to say that there isn't some beautiful white opal out there. I have owned, at various times, many fine pieces with strong color flashes throughout the stones, but generally speaking because the background is white the colors simply don't show up that well. Often if you coated the back with black ink (or set them with black behind them) you could see a lot more colors. If this is being done to the opal, however, it must absolutely be disclosed to the customer as it is a misrepresentation of the goods if it isn't revealed. I never did this with stones that I sold, unless it was going into a custom piece for someone and they specifically requested it, but it was always pretty amazing how much of a difference you would see in the play of color when it was done.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More on Custom Work

Custom work is always an interesting process. People come to me with all sorts of things, ideas, visions that they've had and then hope I can make them come to life. The picture here is what a customer brought in to me not long ago. She had a rather traditional looking three stone ring with a diamond and two emeralds but she wanted to do something else with the stones. So she drew up her idea on an envelope and brought it in. She said that she would allow me to exercise some of my own judgement when it came to the types of leaves and the overall look but that the drawing was pretty much what she had imagined. This project took me a bit longer than most as it required some thought behind how to get the stones at an angle, still make it wearable, and have some of the details she envisioned. Fortunately there was no time frame on it since she was just doing it for herself. These pictures are what I came up with:
I always recommend, when working with a jeweler on a custom design, that you like the kind of work they do in general. If you're giving an Art Nouveau styled design idea to a jeweler who only does geometric work you're probably working with the wrong person. On the other hand there are people like me out there who are adaptable enough to come up with pretty much any kind of design imaginable, which is not to say that I don't really prefer to work on pieces like this one that reflect a lot of what I do in general.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Alexandrite, a member of the chrysoberyl family of gems is one of the most expensive gem materials on the market. Due to the way the stones absorb light, the color of these stones will change from a greenish blue color to a purplish red color depending on their light source (fluorescent/incandescent). As with all gem materials there is better and worse material out there so it is possible that lower grade material will not be so expensive but nice material always carries an incredibly steep price tag.

Alexandrite was originally found in Russia (hence the name as it was believed that the first piece was found on one of the birthdays of Czar Alexander) but sources in Sri Lanka and Brazil are now producing material as well.

In gemology, stones that do things like change color or have stars in them are known as stones with phenomenon. Personally I think alexandrites can simply be phenomenal stones. It is a stone however, that requires the purchaser to have an appreciation for the unusual, and is not neccessarily the most attractive of stones. While high quality alexandrite may achieve a rich purplish red color there is always a brownish tinge to this color and while people often wistfully say that the green approaches emerald green in tone, the color is less like emerald and more like tourmaline. In reality, even fairly expensive stones will have a muddiesh color tone to them and sometimes, under some lighting situations, the two colors will sort of blend together, again leaving a somewhat blurry image. But fine material can be truly astounding (and is exceedingly rare). One of the most beautiful stone I ever saw was at the Tucson gem shows about 25 years ago where one of the dealers had a magnificent 15 or 20 carat stone that had a huge color change and was beautifully transparent. I believe that the price was somewhat over $100,000 for the stone at the time (this was 25 years ago mind you!).

It seems that the people who know about, and love, this stone always tend to be collectors. I have one customer who owns 5 alexandrites that she has purchased from me. Another customer, who is mostly a gem collector, also has one he got from me. It is, however, an expensive habit. You can generally expect to pay between $5-10,000 per carat for decent one carat size stones. Larger stones are extremely rare so as soon as you get into the 2 ct. or bigger range the price range will skyrocket.

If you are interested in owning these stones here are the things to watch out for:

1) If the stone doesn't exhibit color change it isn't an alexandrite, it's just a chrysoberyl. There are many gem "dealers" on the Internet who sell stones they claim are alexandrite but they don't have any color change so they really can't be called that (I have seen a plethora of these stones show up in the last few years).

2) There are synthetic (man made) alexandrites that are in the market that are extremely hard to detect. You need to buy from a reputable source. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Interestingly, synthetic alexandrite is not a cheap stone to produce so the pricing on these will be higher than many other synthetics, which often means that they won't be so much cheaper than the natural that you would immediately be aware that it is a scam.

3) For many years, synthetic color change corundum (sapphire) has been on the market and was originally marketed as alexandrite because it had a color change. The colors are usually different from an alexandrite and after you've seen a few they are easy to identify. So if someone comes to you and says they own a really big alexandrite, most likely they are talking about synthetic corundum. I don't get as many people in with these as I used to, but over the years I have had to deliver the disappointing news to many people who said their mother/grandmother/great uncle/great grandfather swore to them that this was an alexandrite, that in fact what they had was a pretty much worthless bauble.

4) As with any expensive material there are always scams waiting to happen. Lately there have been a number of incidents in which jewelers have been approached by people (I actually had an email conversation with one myself) with large (ostensibly) alexandrites (among other stones) who will claim a variety of misleading things in an attempt to sell the pieces. They will say things like: oh, this stone is so valuable that no gem laboratory will identify it. Or that it is so valuable that they can't ship it to a gem lab to be identified. This is a load of hogwash. Any reputable gemological laboratory will identify any size gem material. As a matter of fact, they love to get in large, unique gem material because it increases their knowledge of what is available. And anything of any value can be shipped through a variety of means, and if they don't want to trust a shipper, surely if you have something worth so very much money, you can afford a trip to hand deliver the stone to a gem lab.

5) While it isn't absolutely necessary, it does help to have certificates from a reputable gemological laboratory on any major alexandrite purchase.

6) Know your source. Work with someone like myself who has both a Graduate Gemologist degree and has been in business for a long time. If they are a member of the American Gem Trade Association or Jewelers of America it helps as well. There are just far too many fly by night operations who are just out to make a quick buck and the Internet has expanded their numbers exponentially.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

I had a very successful tax free day this year, in particular thanks to a few of my wonderful customers out there. But it's left me busier than ever. Besides trying to make up a bunch of new stock ahead of time for it (pictures will be forthcoming), I have been somewhat swamped with custom work as well. So I've been working 6-7 day weeks and nights. It does however get my creative juices flowing and I'm still putting out new stock. I just got in a triple strand of magnificent blue sheen moonstone beads that are going to the stringer this week (a picture will be forthcoming after the stringing) with a handmade clasp. I also just got in a South Sea black mobe pearl that I'm working on a pendant for. There is a large Asian gem and jewelry show about to take place and I've talked to a number of my suppliers about what it would be nice for them to pick up for me this year. This is just a brief check in but my next posting will be about alexandrite because Laurel asked about that and it is really a pretty interesting gemstone. I hope to get to that in the next few days.
The ring above is one of my wife's pieces and one of my favorites. It has a beautiful tourmaline in it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sales Tax Holiday and Too Much Work

Well as always seems to happen with my vacations I've been worker harder than ever since returning (hence my lack of posting of late). It's always a lot of work to get ready to go and then a lot of work to catch up. Unfortunately the vacations seem to fade way too fast because of this. It seems to be a big engagement ring time and I've had a slew of orders I've been working on so that all these couples can start a new life together. I do love to see couples in love! Actually it's the part of my business I like the most. Some of them are custom designs and as soon as I get them made up I'll get some pictures up.

The weekend of August 14-15 has been declared a tax free weekend in Massachusetts. It is a great time to buy those wedding bands or engagement rings that you know you're going to need anyway and to do a little early holiday shopping. My existing customers should watch their email folders for a special offer from us as well for the weekend (well only Saturday actually as we're closed Sundays). The tourmaline earrings above are currently available. They are hand built in 18k yellow gold with some beautiful dark green tourmalines.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back from Vacation and Metal Allergies

Well I'm back from vacation and somewhat rested. I think it was a good idea to take some time after my return from Martha's Vineyard off as well. It gave me a chance to ease back into things. As for the Vineyard we had some great (albeit hot) weather while we were there. It didn't rain at all. We had a wonderful stay at the bed and breakfast we stayed at: The Doctor's House and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to stay on the Vineyard. I think in the future I wouldn't stay quite as long. Neither Kathy nor myself are beach people so after about 4 days you run out of things to do there. But if you are into beaches there are plenty of pretty ones there. There were quite a few good restaurants we went to although it wasn't until near the end of the week that we found some decent bars as well. My idea of a decent bar may differ from most people's however as I look for my favorite drink, tequila, wherever I go. The picture is of me at the head of Aquinah on one end of the island. I think I look like I'm on vacation.

Now on to my topic of the day. I have been inundated lately (it seems) with people having allergic reactions to metals they are wearing. The reactions can range from mild irritation to serious scabbing. So let's discuss the causes of these problems.

The first thing is that many people confuse the problem they are having. People who wear wide bands often complain that they have a metal allergy but often it turns out that it is simply that things like soap, other cleaning agents, or dirt is collecting under the band (especially if there are bezel set stones on it in which case even more junk can collect in it) and it is this that is actually bothering people. If you seem to suddenly develop an allergy and you wear wide bands, I almost always recommend thorough cleanings (jewelers can do it better than you can but more on cleaning in a minute) first and then that you spend some time thinking about whether you have changed cleaning agents you are using, skin creams, perfumes etc. that may be impacting you because they are collecting under the band. If after doing this you are still having a problem then it may, in fact, be that you have a metal allergy.

Most people who have a metal allergy are in fact allergic to the alloys that are used when making gold into either 10k, 14k, 18k or 22k gold. The metal most people are actually allergic to is nickel. However, nickel is ONLY used in white gold. I routinely get people in who think nickel is used in yellow gold but it just isn't. As long as you are buying from reputable sources, nickel will never be used in making yellow golds. If you are having reactions to yellow gold then you are probably reacting to the copper or silver in the metal, BUT this is not always the case. Some people are allergic to gold as well. Platinum is the most hypo allergenic of metals on the market, but it is possible for someone to be allergic to platinum as well. Obviously if you are wearing base metals (costume jewelry) then the likelihood of being sensitive to it is very high.

Here is the other thing to remember: Our bodies change over time. You may not have been allergic to something when you were young but you may be as you get older. (Personally I never had allergies when I was young; now I can't make it through the spring without a lot of Claritin.) So if you have a reaction to wearing metal what do you do? Well if you are wearing white gold, I generally recommend that you stop and switch to platinum (although a good rhodium plating may help until the plating wears off) if you have to have a white metal. If you are wearing yellow gold, I generally encourage people to move up into higher karat golds. If you wear 10k (why anyone would want this metal I don't understand but that's just me I suppose) move up to 14k. If you wear 14k move up to 18k. If you're wearing 18k, and it is feasible for the design you want, move up to 22k (rings are not always durable enough in 22k gold). If none of these options work you may want to try platinum. For earrings there are hypoallergenic steel ear wires available if nothing else is working.

If none of these things help then you're just plain out of luck but it's worth trying them all first. If you are really enamored of white gold, some of us are now using a nickel free white gold which is colored with palladium (and zinc in some cases). Nickel in jewelry has actually been banned in a lot of the EU already and it would probably be a good thing if it was done here too, but don't count on it. Palladium white gold is more expensive than nickel white gold and that always means that manufacturers for the most part won't change their ways. I was actually somewhat instrumental in the reintroduction of palladium white gold into the US marketplace as a whole (due to my constant nagging of my gold supplier about how problematic the nickel white gold was to work with). I only sell 18k palladium white gold in my shop.

As for cleaning your jewelry at home here are my recommendations (because it always looks better and there is less of a risk of reaction to gunk collecting underneath rings). 1) Do NOT boil your jewelry. There is far too much of a risk of forgetting about it and returning to find your stones completely cooked after the water dries up. And yes, you can burn your diamonds. 2) I generally do NOT recommend home ultrasonic units. First of all they aren't as good as the commercial ones jewelers use. Secondly stones can break in them. 3) Do NOT use any of the commercially available jewelry cleaners that are profligate in the marketplace. I find they do more harm than good. 4) What you can do is take some ammonia (plain grocery store ammonia), Ivory Liquid (dish detergent) and warm water and mix it together. Any proportions will work, although obviously the more ammonia in the mixture the stronger it is. You can soak stuff in it for awhile and then use a soft toothbrush to scrub the stones, especially underneath them. This is where most of the dirt collects and it impacts the way a stone looks tremendously. Always scrub with plain water afterwards.

I would still encourage you to get your jewelry cleaned professionally at least twice a year. If you own a piece of jewelry from Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers I offer lifetime free cleaning on my work (and I'll do up to 6 pieces I didn't make for free too if you own something of mine----there are a few exceptions to this as some pieces can be major events and a charge will apply). Many other jewelers will clean jewelry for free as well, or have minimal charges (I charge $5 per piece---again with some exceptions---if the jewelry isn't mine). The advantage of bringing it to a jeweler however is that they can also check all the stone settings at the same time. You wouldn't ever drive your car for 2 0r 3 years without having a check up. Don't drive your jewelry for that long either without having a check up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vacation Time

First of all the new turquoise and diamond earrings I posted a picture of in my last post have sold already. It seems if you want my new stuff you have to jump on it quickly. So here is a picture of a new sapphire ring. Unfortunately (despite the fact that I didn't take the picture), the sapphire didn't read well in this shot. (Okay addendendum on 7/1---This is a new version of the picture---color reads a bit better but it's still prettier than this.) I can assure you that it looks a whole lot better in real life. So look at the design and imagine a really stunning, beautiful dark blue sapphire in it.

I am taking a muchly needed vacation for 10 days starting on July 6. Hopefully it will provide some refreshment for my creative spirit (I'm going to the Vineyard for part of it). I should come back with a lot of ideas for waves. Wait a minute, I already do waves in my jewelry. Oh well. I'll find some inspiration somewhere. This will be my final posting until I return.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How About Some Feedback

I know that some people out there are actually reading my blog because I routinely get customers in who said they read it. But honestly guys, I'd really love some feedback. Any and all comments are appreciated. Is there something you've found helpful? Is there a posting you hated? Is there something you'd like me to write about? Is there something you don't want me to write about? Would you like to see more pictures of something? Please let me know. And become a follower too! By the way I also can be found on Facebook and I have a fan page for my store as well. Join up and become a fan!

Pictured above are some new 18k gold, turquoise and diamond earrings.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mokume Gane

I've spent some time recently looking over some other jeweler's blogs and once again had my feelings reinforced about what I don't want my blog to become. Almost universally, they are discussions of a piece recently made, usually with pictures of the work in progress. Now this is all well and good. I'm sure that a lot of people are intrigued by how jewelry is made and it's great self promotion to show what goes into making the items we produce as jewelers. But generally speaking, it's not the direction I like to go in. I prefer to talk about my MOTIVATION for making a piece. I also like to talk about subjects that I think will help my customers buy any piece of jewelry (not just mine). But today I'm going to throw all that out the window and talk about one of the techniques I use to actually make some of my pieces. Why? Because I said I would in my last posting.

Mokume gane is a Japanese metal layering technique that has been used for thousands of years in making both jewelry and ornamental objects. Mokume means woodgrain and gane means metal so the description is woodgrain metal. That is exactly what a lot of it can look like. It used to be that almost all mokume gane work was done with a variety of less expensive metals, copper, silver and a number of oddball alloys that the Japanese had developed. More recently it has been done with precious metals. There are some jewelers who specialize in mokume gane and do some absolutely stunning things with it. They have taken the technique to whole new levels. Using ovens to carefully bond their metals together over long periods of time, they have come up with some new ways of using mokume and a variety of new looks for it. With modern advances in technology, their ability to produce perfect billets of mixed metals to work with is impressive.

However I don't want to spend my entire life doing one process. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I can please so many different types of customers is because I work in a variety of styles. While some of my work is immediately recognizable as mine, a lot of it is just nice jewelry. And that's what I like to do. I'd be bored to tears if all I did was one particular technique. So I leave that for the other jewelers who specialize in it, but I do have a particular mokume that I enjoy making and that I produce routinely.

Basically what you do in mokume gane is create a piece of metal with a large number of layers of different colors of metal and then peel away parts of it to see the layers underneath. I do this by starting with a piece of my special 22k yellow gold mix and a piece of the 18k palladium white gold I use. I've found these two metals fuse together better than some others, given the conditions I'm working in. I then fuse the two layers together using my torch in a process in which I heat the two metals until they are almost liquid and they actually fuse together. Then I cut the piece in half and fuse them again. I do this until I get either 16 layers or 32 layers of metal. This metal is then rolled down (in a mill) until it is fairly thin. I then take a dapping die (a small tool I use with a hammer that has a ball on the end) and punch out a series of rows of holes (they don't go all the way through) in the metal. The piece is then flipped over and ground off on the top. This allows the different layers to show through.

I really enjoy making mokume gane because it involves a lot of torch work (I admit, I have somewhat of a fascination with working with a lot of fire) and it is just generally fun for me to do. It's technically advanced (trying to get the metal to fuse properly with a torch is tricky---most mokume today is produced in controlled ovens), it's always a little different and I can do some neat things with the results.

In the three ring picture only the top ring is mokume gane. That is a 32 layer mix. The earrings are a 16 layer mix.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Appraisals 103

If you read my last two posts on appraisals you should have noted that I said that appraisals are a legal document. If you go into a jewelry store and show a clerk a piece you own and ask what is this worth and they scribble something on a piece of paper, or even verbally state a value, that is in effect a legal document that could be used in a court of law in the event of a fight with an insurance company over value, or in the event of a fight between heirs. The problem is that someone who glances at something briefly and then gives you an on the spot value, but doesn't charge you anything, is doing you a disservice because the statement won't be accurate and is risking being dragged into court over it with no real backup for their statement of value.

If you want a legitimate appraisal you have to be willing to pay for it (although a point of sale insurance appraisal may be provided free by the jeweler you are purchasing the piece from). Fees for appraisers will vary but you should NOT work with anyone who charges by the value of the pieces appraised. This used to be common practice, although it isn't done as much anymore, but the problem with it is that it tends to be better for the appraiser to overvalue the jewelry because they get paid more. This type of fee is considered unethical by all appraisal organizations. Beyond that, however, some appraisers charge by the hour (I do), some will charge by the piece, and some may base a price on the entire collection they are dealing with. In general, you can assume that free appraisals (excluding point of sale insurance appraisals) are worth exactly what you paid for them: nothing.

Anyone can actually write up a jewelry appraisal. There are no licensing boards per se. There are various appraisal organizations which people can belong to and require their members to pass certain tests and while it is nice to get someone with this background it isn't actually critical. Assuming the jeweler doing your appraisal is a Graduate Gemologist (or the equivalent), has taken courses on appropriate appraisal practices and has a good grasp on the marketplace in general (not just what their store sells things for), you should be able to get a decent appraisal. I don't belong to any appraisal organizations (time constraints more than anything prohibit it, plus I'd rather be making jewelry than appraising it) but I do have my Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America, I routinely take refresher courses in gemstone identification, and I have completed numerous courses on appraising over the years. Additionally I read a half dozen trade magazines every month, both for current information on appraisal practices and for pricing information. I also have been doing appraisals for long enough that I know when something is out of my range of expertise and I will refer people accordingly.

So when you go to get an appraisal I recommend the following:

1) Look for someone with the proper credentials

2) Look for someone who will take the time to do a proper appraisal. Grading diamonds properly takes some time. The proper identification of gemstones and metals takes time. The accurate write up of these things takes some time.

3)Do not use someone who has a vested interest in buying whatever is being appraised. If you have an antiques dealer buying an estate from you, they should NOT be the ones doing the appraisal (no matter what kind of appraisal). If the jeweler writes an appraisal for you and then makes an offer to buy the piece from you based on that, I would think long and hard about having another jeweler value it.

4) Work with someone you trust. If you don't feel good about leaving your merchandise with them don't use them.

5) Do expect your jewelry to come back looking a little different. Any appraiser worth working with has to thoroughly clean any items being appraised. Suddenly the big inclusion in the center of the diamond that you never saw before is readily apparent because the diamond is clean (possibly for the first time in decades).

It is helpful if you have old documentation on pieces to bring this along when you meet with an appraiser. A good appraiser won't use another appraiser's or a jeweler's statements to write up their own appraisal, but sometimes point of sale appraisals are helpful because they have accurate stone weights listed (something that is hard to get once a stone is set into a piece).
Hopefully this series will help anyone looking into appraising some of their jewelry.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Appraisals 102

Okay so let's say that you've been buying jewelry over the years and never had an appraisal for any of it, but you've just started working with a new insurance company for your homeowners policy and they tell you they want an appraisal of your jewelry to cover it properly. This again requires a retail replacement value appraisal. An appraiser should use the same general approach in valuation as I described in the last posting but prices should be updated to reflect current metal and stone values. In the case of gold and platinum, the prices are up so it might be possible to have a value assigned to a particular item that is, in fact, higher than what was paid for the piece. In the case of diamonds, it is possible that the price will be lower as the RETAIL price of diamonds has dropped over the last 5-7 years. Some consideration of the condition of the jewelry has to be taken into account as well. In the case of a piece with missing stones, or with a lot of metal worn off, it really isn't up to the insurance company to replace a lost or stolen item with a new, perfect condition piece. All of these factors should be taken into account when valuing these pieces. Other factors on older pieces (are they collectibles?, were they made by a known--now dead---artist?, etc.) should also be taken into consideration. In the case of items that are collectibles the values should be based on similar items that are being offered for sale to the general public.

The most important thing to remember however about insurance replacement appraisals is that the values shown will have absolutely no relationship to what you might be able to sell the pieces for. As such, these appraisals should NEVER be used to help make a sale to a private individual, nor will they help you in the least if you take your jewelry to a jeweler to sell it. So if you want to sell your jewelry you do NOT want an insurance replacement value appraisal. And, conversely, if you are buying jewelry from a friend, or from an online used jewelry site, you should not use a retail replacement value appraisal as a starting point for price negotiations.

Estate appraisals are a different type of appraisal that is used, obviously, when estates are being settled. It can also be called a fair market value appraisal, and can be a more accurate representation of what a piece might sell for privately. Fair market appraisals have to reflect a price for what the piece might actually sell for, if there are no time constraints, between a willing seller and buyer, given the condition of the piece at the time. Now in some cases, on badly worn pieces, this could be the actual scrap value. It also could be a value close to what an antiques dealer might pay for the goods at the time (a good reason not to have the dealer do the appraisal themselves). It is helpful for people who have an estate to settle in terms of financial liability (estate taxes, etc.) and it can be helpful in the event that a jewelry collection is being split up among heirs (something I get people in for routinely). It's rare that I see collections with a value that will actually impact taxes (most of those tend to go to auction houses) but it is helpful if you want to equitably split up some jewelry (or assign a buyout price for one portion of the value, i.e.--mom only left one diamond but there are two daughters; one gets the diamond and pays the other the fair market value of half of the diamond).

The values in estate appraisals will be much lower than in insurance replacement value appraisals, but they may still not reflect what you would actually receive from the sale of old jewelry for scrap since there often will be more value than just the metal and stone content. Additionally, a fair market value appraisal valuation must take into consideration the phrase I used earlier: "if there are no time constraints". If you go into a place to sell your jewelry for scrap there is, effectively, a time constraint. You want to sell and you want to sell now. That always lowers the value.

The last type of appraisal I'm going to briefly discuss is a relatively new one on the scene (well at least in that they previously were used exceedingly rarely), which is one that is supposed to reflect the value of what you would get currently if you did go in to sell your jewelry because the price of gold is so high (or just because you need the money). The idea is to get an independent valuation so that when you go to the scrap buyers you will have a reasonable idea of what to expect. This sounds like a great idea except there are two problems. The first is that any legitimate appraiser charges for their time. If you pay out half of what your scrap is worth to find out what you're going to get for it, it's pretty much a waste of money. Now if you have hundreds of pieces of varying karats of gold with a lot of different stones in them, it might (and I say might because your cost for the appraisal will be much larger given the quantities of items) be worthwhile. But the real problem is that by the next day the value is already moot as gold prices fluctuate daily (especially these days). The second problem is that it doesn't matter what ANYONE writes on an appraisal. If no buyer is willing to pay you more than $100 for a piece then that is what it's worth even if an appraiser thinks you should get $150. So if you are selling (and I discussed this a bit earlier in my posts on selling gold), the best thing to do is simply go to three or four different places (or if you have a family jeweler you trust go to them) and see what they offer you. Then take the largest offer.
On my next posting I'll talk about finding an appraiser, what you should expect from them, and what they will need from you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Appraisals 101

The subject of appraisals seems to be coming up a lot lately so let me write a post or two on this issue for those of you in need of some advice. First of all you need to understand that there are different types of appraisals for jewelry. The most common type is an insurance appraisal. This is an appraisal that will describe a piece and give the cost to actually replace the piece described at a retail store in the event of a loss or theft. The next most common type is a fair market value appraisal. This is commonly used in estate valuations and should reflect the amount the piece would sell for if offered for sale in its current condition. Lately some appraisers have been offering an appraisal that would reflect what should be a reasonable price to assume receiving if you scrapped the piece/s. There are a number of other types of appraisals (donation, IRS related, etc.) but most people aren't going to be concerned with these.

What most people don't realize, even many jewelers who think they can scribble something on a piece of paper and that that constitutes an appraisal, is that an appraisal is a legal document. It can be used in a court of law. As such, those doing the appraisals have to follow some guidelines (although many don't) about establishing value for the items.

An insurance appraisal on a new purchase, sometimes also known as a point of sale appraisal, is the most important type of appraisal for most people to be aware of. This appraisal should reflect what it would cost to replace the same item in the event of a loss. This is the type of appraisal that most insurance companies will want to write a policy to cover your jewels. Except in rare instances, such as when there is a true sale on the piece (not like in the department store sales where everything is on sale 350 days of the year), or errors were made in pricing (I sometimes have this issue on custom work, if I under quote a job and realize afterwards that if I do it again I will HAVE to charge more), insurance appraisals should not show values higher than what was actually paid for a piece (this presumes it's a new piece you've just bought).

Unfortunately for a long time jewelers used to sell people something for $1000 but then tell the customers, oh well the real price would be $2000 so I'll write you up an appraisal for $2000 and you should insure it for that amount. This was bad in a myriad of ways. First of all, they did it to make you think you were getting a deal, when in fact, if you went back the next day for the same thing, you'd pay the same price. Secondly, you would then pay insurance on $2000 rather than the $1000 that would actually be paid for the piece, enriching the insurance companies but not anyone else. In fact many insurance companies have deals with retail jewelers in which they pay far less than the retail price (the real retail price of $1000 not $2000) in exchange for sending the jewelers a huge amount of business. So all of this time you've been paying an insurance rate on $2000 when the insurance company may only pay out $6-800. Good for them, but not so good for you. So if you purchase something for $1000 that is what the appraisal should say. And if you're purchasing from some company that claims that their jewelry will appraise for double or more of the price paid, in fact they are making a false, unethical, claim. If an appraiser were to value the piece at double what you paid for it, knowing that you could go back to the same location and buy the same thing for the same price, then they shouldn't be calling themselves appraisers.

Now mind you, some of appraising is subjective in nature. It can also vary depending on the area you are in. A custom made piece from a jeweler in the boondocks of North Dakota is going to cost less than from someone like me in an area where my costs are much higher. So values will vary. Different appraisers use different formulas as well. And there are a number of things like diamond grading that have some very subjective issues around them. One appraiser (or even a diamond grading lab) may see a VS2 stone and another may think it is an SI1 stone. That can sometimes make a huge difference in price. However a retail replacement value appraisal should reflect a value that is fairly accurate of what it would cost, in that specific area, to replace a piece at a similar venue to where it was purchased. In the case of custom work, unique designs, or designer jewelry, the value should reflect what that piece would actually go for. It is illegal to copy designs so a David Yurman piece, or a Daniel Spirer piece for that matter, should be valued at what it would cost to replace a piece made by that actual company/person not at what it would cost to have someone else steal the design and duplicate it. Things like branded diamonds also need to be recognized for what they are. A Royal Asscher cut diamond, actually cut by the House of Asscher, will carry a higher price tag then a diamond cut to the same shape by any old cutter. The same goes for the Lazare Diamonds that I sell.

My next post will be on insurance replacement appraisals on items that were not recently purchased and, if possible, on fair market value appraisals (although that might have to wait for a third posting). The earrings pictured above are a 16 layer mokume gane in 22k gold and 18k palladium white gold with a .10 ct. ideal cut, "E" color, VS clarity diamond in each earring. A proper appraisal would have to show the price it would cost to buy these from me as this is one of my designs.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marquis Diamond Custom Ring

The pictures here (mine and I apologize for the quality) are of a ring I just completed for a customer. I broke all of my own rules on it. First of all, I'm not a big fan of marquis shaped diamonds (which used to be called navette shaped for you history buffs out there)but I do routinely have customers come in who own them and want me to do something different with them and I'm always happy to accomodate them. In this case she was looking for something fairly streamlined and geometric, but she had also seen an ad for some pendants that had marquis stones (not diamonds) set with only two prongs holding them in and she wanted the end prongs to actually come out of the band itself, or perhaps a better way of saying it is that she wanted them to actually be created from the band. Of course I went into a long discourse on why there shouldn't be only two prongs. It's not enough protection against loss, leaves the diamonds more subject to breakage, etc.

However, sometimes when I actually get into making a piece up, I realize things are going to be different than I thought. After I got the seat and the general shaping of the band together I realized that four prongs on the side were going to take away from the streamlined simplicity of the band. I also realized that the band was so incredibly chunky to begin with that if I could actually make prongs out of it to hold the dismond, they would be so substantial that security in the setting wasn't an issue. Also because of the way I built the seat for the stone, even though the sides were exposed, they weren't hanging out in the middle of open air to be whacked anytime the customer moved her hand.

So I made an executive decision to leave them off and finish up the ring with only the two prongs. It took me close to 2 hours to set the stone (usually I can do a stone setting in about 10 minutes) because I had to hammer set (use a hammer and chisel to push the metal down onto the stone) the stone in place, something that with a marquis with long pointy ends that are just dying to break off when you look at them crosseyed, is extremely dangerous. But both the stone, and my now sweaty self, managed to survive intact and I think the ring came out quite nicely. It's not one of my usually more detailed pieces, but I think it came out pretty cool looking and the customer seemed thrilled.
My pt assistant Jason cleaned up my pictures a bit and so they're not quite so bad. My apologies for the red wax showing though.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Synthetic Diamonds From Your Pet's (or spouse's) Ashes

The pictures here are a new custom design I just finished for a customer. She had two green synthetic diamonds made from her most treasured cat's remains. For awhile there have been a couple of companies offering to make either human or pet remains into synthetic diamonds. I'm not sure how much of the ashes would actually really be in the diamonds when they are finished but I believe that the companies are using them in the stones produced. Personally I would rather have my ashes sent into space in the next available rocket but if my wife decided she wanted to carry some of me around with her and I left her enough money to do it she should feel free to have me made into a diamond or two (or if they've figuered it out by then I'd really prefer a purple sapphire).

I know it sounds a little funny but as I've said before what I really do is not make jewelry but memories. And for those of us who have significant others, or as I do, favorite pets, the memories are what is truly important. If you want to honor that memory by making their ashes into something you can wear I think that's just great. And I'm happy to make up those stones into something beautiful you can wear, and enjoy, every day that will keep those memories close.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More on Custom Work--Let's Not Steal Designs

The other day I got the following email: "I saw on your website that you make custom jewelry, which got me very excited. I found three rings that I really like, but unfortunately two of them are not for sale in the US. So I was hoping you could custom make them for me. I attached three pictures and I was wondering if you could tell me the prices for custom making these rings?"

Unfortunately in a world where everything is so readily available on the Internet, where the lines are blurred on ownership of ideas and artwork, and where anyone seems able to download just about everything for free (and seems to do it whether or not it is the right thing to do) this type of query is far too common. It's particularly prevalent in the jewelry community. For some reason jewelry is not considered art (granted it often isn't) so an anything goes attitude runs rampant both outside the jewelry community, and sometimes within it. So let me make a few things clear.

All jewelry designs acquire copyright protections the moment they are created (assuming they are original). An individual or company does NOT need to actually file any papers on copyright for their protection to be considered legal and intact, although if you plan to vigorously and legally protect your copyright it is better to do so. Copyright protection is different than patent protection. Patents can be obtained for unique new working elements in jewelry (unique clasps or hinged mechanisms) and it is a far more time consuming and expensive process than applying for copyright protection. People who violate copyright laws do so at risk of being sued and if they produce something in quantity that violates copyright they risk losing a lot of money. So when someone comes to me and asks me to copy another jeweler's design directly I can be sued.

More importantly, however (at least for me) is that it is quite simply the WRONG thing to do. Why would you trust a jeweler who is willing to wrongfully copy someone else's designs with: your own stones, to tell you the truth about the metal they are using, or to be honest with you about anything else?

Now understand that there are many jewelry designs out there that are not truly unique, whose history in some cases goes back over 4000 years, or are just truly so basic that just about everyone makes a version of them. In these cases the designs are pretty much in the public domain. But to take another designer's work and directly copy it is just not the right thing to do.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Silly Can You Get?

I have a small thing for a few crime shows on television. I happen to like all of the Law and Order series a lot and I watch CSI Miami both because my wife likes it and I tend to find it amusing, albeit unbelievable (trust me no one can get a DNA sample analyzed and back in under an hour and no one can find fingerprints that are actually useful on 99% of the things they find them on in the show). But last night's CSI Miami (May 3, 2010) reached some new heights in misinformation that I have to take them to task for.

Guess what it was about: A jewel heist of course. So a bunch of guys go in and rob a jewelry store. Ok that's understandable. It happens more than most people imagine (more money was lost in jewelry thefts in 2008 than in bank robberies in the United States). Of course someone gets shot in the theft, and while I don't want to spoil the plot, it happens, ostensibly because the guy--a customer-- gets up and challenges the bank robbers (a no no for everyone by the way). Okay so far I'd say.

But then the robbers get away but CSI is able to track one of the vehicles used to a location where they find all of the diamonds from the pieces taken in the theft scattered across the ground outside the warehouse that was used! So apparently the criminals went in, stole all of this jewelry, pulled out all of the diamonds and left them behind and just took the gold! Now if that isn't stupid I don't know what is. Admittedly, most criminals really are stupid. But as the program develops what they seem to have decided is that the gold (which they mistakenly said was over $1200/oz---something it hasn't quite hit yet although it is getting close) was more valuable than the diamonds. One of the spurious claims made was that all diamonds are marked now and could be traced because of this. Consequently the criminals didn't want to keep them.

Admittedly many diamonds (and all of the Lazare Diamonds that I sell) are laser inscribed with an identification number, and it has become fashionable to laser inscribe many other stones with their certificate numbers if they have one but the concept that almost all of the diamonds had inscriptions is ludicrous. Additionally, any serious criminal (and these people were made out to be very serious ones pulling heists all over the country in a similar fashion) would know that these inscriptions can be polished out if necessary. They would also know that most of the diamonds don't have any, so to leave somewhere between $100,000 and $1,000,000 (both of these figures were used so I'm not sure which they actually meant) worth of diamonds lying behind on the ground is just idiotic. Also for the quantity of stones left lying behind, if it was only $100,000 worth (the figure used most often), then none of the stones left behind would have been large enough to warrant having a number engraved on the girdle. But please, never let it be said that reality is what they are shooting for on these shows, or that the show producers (or at least their technical advisers) are any smarter than the criminals. I just hope the general public doesn't decide to believe any more of this nonsense than they already do.
This is an addendum on June 2, 2010. Gold has hit and exceeded $1200/oz periodically since this post was originally written, so maybe they were a little prescient.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jewelry Designers; Designer Jewelry

I happened to be looking through one of the latest Nieman Marcus catalogs a few days ago. I routinely look through them because a) we happen to get them, b) I have a little thing for shoes (as those of you who have seen pieces of mine with shoes in them can attest to) and c) because I like to see what is going on in the high end retail jewelry world. Nieman Marcus is heavily into "designer jewelers".

What, you might ask are "designer jewelers" as opposed to jewelry designers? "Designer jewelers" are people who may have started out making their own jewelry but inevitably get picked up by some big companies (either through direct marketing by savvy partners or by chance) and are forced into producing large quantities of jewelry. They routinely transfer all of their production overseas because the labor is so much cheaper and once they get caught up in the cycle that is necessary to continue to promote and sell their product, they routinely look for ways to increase the profit margins so that they can continue to grow and expand and can afford to sell their product to places like NM and everyone can make a lot of money. "Designer jewelers" are obligated to come up with new lines every season (much as clothing designers do) and there is a constant pressure to produce a new look that is still consistent with whatever their look was to begin with.

Hey, more power to them if they can do this but if you watch the progression of most of these designers you will see that they gradually dumb down their designs to the point that a) they aren't really very interesting and b) they look just like everyone else's work. It's interesting, too, how so many of them work in lockstep with each other. Remember a few years ago when circle pins came back into vogue? It was astounding to me how all of the big name "designer jewelers" came out, at exactly the same time, with a variation on a circle pin.

But as most of us know people tend to be like lemmings and follow anyone who happens to be leading at the moment so if everyone else owns a boring design, they have to have it too. I don't object to this. If you want to spend your money on something that looks like what everyone else has that's fine. What I DO object to however, is the use of cheaper and cheaper materials that "designer jewelers" are forced to use in order to keep their price points where they want them. This is particularly becoming apparent now that gold prices have gone up so much. "Designer jewelers" have routinely used low end gem materials (usually in large sizes) to accomplish this. There is a reason so many of them use large amethyst, citrine, peridot, etc. in their designs. But it seems that every year they take it to a new level.

A few years ago, rough diamonds became the rage. Now mind you, I made up pieces with diamond crystals more than 20 years ago, but they were just fun pieces, not meant to be serious jewelry (one was a space capsule that parts of came off to make into earrings). Now, however, they want you to think that they have value. The reality is that any diamond crystal of a high enough quality is going to be cut into a finished diamond. There is simply too much value there to sell them as uncut stones. So the uncut diamonds that are available are inevitably junk. Some "designer jewelers" are using large rose cut or partially cut diamonds in their jewelry that 5 years ago were considered to be industrial grade bort.

But what has set me off on this latest rant is a piece shown in the latest NM catalog that simply stunned me. They had an advertisement for a designer named Yvel in which is shown a chain (a basic commercial chain) that has bezel set stones scattered throughout. The description of the stones is that they are "natural multi color Sapphires". Technically, they probably are sapphires. But you could have used pebbles found on the beach and they probably would have looked nicer and they definitely would have had as much value because the "sapphires" (and I use this term loosely) are simply junk. They are so included that they are opaque (fine if it's a star sapphire but otherwise pretty useless), they have been badly faceted (why put a lot of facets on a stone that will never sparkle?) and are something that if you took them out of the "designer jewelry" would have absolutely no value! I would not give anyone 50 cents for any of the stones shown, nor would any jeweler who buys stones and gold from the public.

Now it would be one thing if something like this cost $50 and you could go home with a fun new bauble. Or if the pieces were truly a piece of art that incorporated an unusual design. But that isn't the case (especially in this case when the basic design has been around for a few thousand years). These items all sell for top dollar and the value is simply not realistic. It has nothing to do with any actual inherent value in the piece. Now I'm not saying that if you pay retail for something (please read my post on selling your gems) that you will get that back if you go to resell it. But you SHOULD be able to get something more than the scrap value for the gold. I can assure you that in a piece like the one shown there is no way that would happen. In reality the "designer jeweler" probably also paid next to nothing for the "gems" included in the piece.

So the next time you're thinking about buying a nice new piece of jewelry take a minute and think about whether it's something that will always have some value and if it's something you would want your children to own!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shop Local or Bricks and Mortar vs. Internet

This past weekend my wife and I took another trip to our favorite shopping mecca, New York City. It was my birthday and it gave us a chance to visit with our older son, my parents and my sister and my new niece. This is a picture of my niece and I on this trip. But this isn't really about how cute she is (although she is) but about part of the trip and what some of it means in the grand scheme of things.

I believe in a prior post I mentioned another trip to New York and a store we happened to particularly like there: Takashimaya. This is a sort of Japanese department store although it is a fairly limited chain (I believe there is only one in the States). My wife and I have always loved to go there because they have a great little restaurant in the basement and it was always a little like walking through a museum when you would walk through the store. They also managed to cover just about everything you would see in a normal department store (clothes, jewelry, furnishings, bedding, florist, perfumes, etc.) but in a relatively small amount of space. It was seven floors but each floor was fairly small. They always had a heavy bent toward Japanese products but also managed to carry clothing and jewelry designers that were more localized. Their prices were always fairly high, but they also offered a unique product, always flawlessly displayed (read: attention to detail) and their staff was always quite helpful (and over the years we consistently saw many of the same people). One of the comments I always heard from people who had been there when I would talk about the store is how much they loved looking at everything but because it was expensive they wouldn't actually buy anything.

So it was much to our dismay that when we eating in their restaurant on this trip that we overheard a waitress (who remembered that I always drank coffee when we came, by the way) tell another customer that the store was closing (in June probably). It turns out that the employees had just been told this on the Thursday before we arrived in New York. The company was closing the store and selling the building. We were told that it was because sales just simply hadn't been good enough during the latest recession and that they were losing money. Mind you, my wife and I can't be blamed for this because we always spent money there when we went on our trips to New York. But apparently there were just too many of those lookers and not enough who would actually buy.

So what does all of this have to do with Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers? Allow me to reprint an email I recently got here:

"Hi Daniel,

I am not a "diamond person." Or at least that's what I thought until I saw one of your ads, months ago, in the Boston Globe. The rings pictured there were so beautiful that I cut out the picture, just to save. Today, I happened upon the picture again and finally visited your website. I am in awe. Your work is the most beautiful, fanciful, and creative jewelry I've ever seen.

I'm an aged hippie, turning 60 later this month, and never thought about diamonds until my son shopped for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, out in LA. The ring he settled on is beautiful, but I feel sad that he didn't find your site first.

At any rate, while I'm not in a financial position to actually own one of your rings, I wanted to let you know how impressed I am, and how their beauty, just viewed online, has affected me."

Trust me I love to get accolades from people who love what I do, BUT the reality is that I don't stay in business because of accolades. I stay in business because people buy my product. My product is unique, like Takashimaya's (in some ways more so because they are all my designs), but it is also more expensive than many other jewelry stores. I get many couples in who are looking for wedding bands and the women are looking for something unique but the gents are often looking for something simple. I offer an extensive line of basic wedding bands and they are generally better made than most others, usually made from recycled metals and they are actually hand made by ME. However they are routinely more expensive than something commercially made by machine (or overseas) that you could find on the Internet or at some mall chain jewelry store.

So the question then becomes, why should you buy it from me or another small local jeweler? Well, in my mind, the first and foremost reason is that if you want people like me to be around for a long time then you need to help support us. When you buy from a small local vendor you are supporting your neighborhood and you are helping them to stay in business. You are also keeping your hard earned dollars working in your community and not having it all go overseas to some other country. How would you really feel if you woke up one day and there was no more jeweler, hardware store, gift shop, etc. in your neighborhood? If there was no way that you could actually touch and feel the product you wanted to buy? If there was no way to try on a dozen different outfits to see which one truly looked better on you?

One of the things a lot of people are doing now is going into their local shops, being educated about what they want by the people in these shops and then going on line and buying whatever it is they have decided on and learned about from their local shop. Sooner or later though, those local shops won't be there anymore to help you with this if you don't actually shop there.

The other thing you will never get online is the personalized service that you can get from a local store. I routinely get people in with rings they have just purchased online that are the wrong size. Because of how hard it is to ship everything back and forth they end up paying me (a service I provide to my customers for free at any time) to have rings resized that they shouldn't have to.

Or they bring in the stuff and it's falling apart, because online you can never truly see if the merchandise is well made, and they have to spend a lot of money with me (sometimes as much as they paid for the pieces to begin with) to have it fixed. They are often forced to do this because jewelry is not really just about the actual metal and stones---it's about what it means. If you've been given an engagement ring by your intended, you usually don't want to give it up even if it was poorly made to begin with, because it's all about the meaning behind it.

Unfortunately, in this country, it is too often about the price and not much else. I was amused by the fact that as soon as the economy nosedived suddenly most people didn't actually care so much about environmental concerns. And suddenly WalMart wasn't the evil demon that it had been before. The problem however is that often some of the economic downturn is a self actualized event. Because everyone suddenly thought they should spend less, they did, which actually made the economy worse than it would have been. Now I'm not advocating that everyone go out and spend money they don't have wantonly. But I think everyone should take more into consideration than just simply the price. If you save a hundred dollars but in the process you end up driving a local shop out of business (which you may need later for those repairs!) what are you really saving?