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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Watermelon Tourmaline

Two posts in two days. You'd think I was inspired by the great movie I watched last night: Julie and Julia. Anyone interested in food will love it. But that's not really why I'm posting again today. Over the years I have worked with any number of both traditional and nontraditional gem materials. One of my favorite stones is tourmaline. Coming in a wide variety of colors it offers something for everyone. While not a super durable gem material (despite giving my wife one for her engagement ring I actually don't recommend it for every day wear), it can be so stunningly beautiful that it's hard NOT to put it out in all types of jewelry.

One of the really cool things about tourmaline is that crystals are routinely found that have more than one color in them. It can occur with one color on one end and another on the other, or even more interestingly, with one color in the center and another one on the outside. The crystals that occur with one color inside another are often cut into what is known as watermelon tourmaline (because often it is pink in the center and green on the outside). These are slices of the crystal, with the original rough crystal edge left on but polished on the front and back. They can be quite beautiful and they are certainly one of the most interesting gems I get to work with. Unfortunately, most of the time, high quality tourmaline crystals (those that have few to no inclusions) are cut into faceted stones, or for slightly more included stones into cabochon cut stones. This, unfortunately, means that most watermelon tourmaline slices are fairly heavily included, and often the colors are a bit muddy (again better colors will be cut into faceted or cabochon material).

Years ago, however, my primary gemstone suppliers (Jimmy and Pat) came into some material that was just stunning, both in color and clarity. While not completely free of inclusions (they never are) they were cleaner than most and the colors were quite intense. One of the first major pieces I made for my wife was a pair of earrings using some of these watermelon tourmalines with dangling tourmaline cabochons. At the time, Jimmy claimed that he would be able to continue getting material of this caliber but after a year or two the availability dried up. Since I had actually bought a fair amount of the material I didn't actually need more for quite some time. Over the years Jimmy and Pat changed directions somewhat too and weren't exactly focusing on this type of material.

Recently however, in an attempt to get out some new designs, I started thinking about this material again. I haven't seen any decent watermelon tourmaline in years. So I called Pat up and I said, you know Jimmy swore to me he could get more of this material but I haven't seen any in years. Surprisingly she actually remembered the material and where it came from and she went back to her German supplier who had originally supplied it to them. Lo and behold, the cutter had actually culled a few better ones and stashed them in his safe which he pulled out and offered to them. And they offered them to me. And I bought them all. The picture at the top is a picture of the five pairs that I got. If you've ever admired these stones, or had a desire for something different, these are probably the best that are out there right now. Come by and see them in person if you get some time. For a picture of a pair of earrings I made years ago with the same material see here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Selling Your Gold for Scrap

Inquiries on selling your gold are continuing to come in on a daily basis so let me address this issue for those of you interested in doing this. First of all, yes this is actually a good time for you to sell old gold that you're not wearing anymore. Gold is at an all time high (although I believe, when adjusted for inflation it is still not as high as it has been in the past). Platinum is fairly high as well although off of it's peak of $2400/oz that it hit about a year ago. I'm not recommending that you sell things just because gold is at a high. If you wear and enjoy the piece and money isn't critical, I wouldn't recommend it. But if you have old pieces you no longer use it is a better time than most to sell.

However there are a lot of things to understand about the process and what's involved. First of all most of the jewelry you own is either 14k gold or 18k gold (if you've bought from me you may have something in 22k gold or if it comes from Asia or India it may also be high karat). Karat is a statement of purity. 24k gold is pure gold. 18k gold is 75% pure gold and 25% alloys (usually copper and silver). 14k gold is 58.5% pure gold and the balance is alloys. (Incidentally, "karat" is different from "carat" which is a weight measurement for gemstones, although the two spellings are routinely confused.) So even if you bought a piece that was sold as "solid" gold, it doesn't mean it's pure gold, just that it is not something that is plated or gold filled. So even if you have an ounce of gold jewelry (and I'll get to that weight issue in a minute) you don't own an ounce of pure gold that is currently worth about $1100/oz. If it's all 18k gold you only have 3/4 of an ounce of pure gold. If it's all 14k gold it's only a little more than half an ounce.

The next problem is that if you're weighing your gold at home on a normal scale you're not actually weighing in the right weight system (please try to say that phrase "weighing in the right weight system" three times fast). Gold is weighed in troy ounces. Your scales weigh in avoir ounces. If you have one avoir ounce of gold you actually only have .91146 troy ounces. So you take your one ounce of 18k gold that is actually only 3/4 ounce of pure gold and multiply the .75 times .91146. You'll see that you get only .6835 ounces of pure gold that you will actually get paid for.

Okay so now let's say you take your 1 ounce of gold, that is actually .6835 ounces of pure gold, and multiply it times $1100 for the current price of gold. You end up with a figure of $752 (give or take). Now you're getting really excited. Woohoo! $750 I didn't have before! It sounds great, except that no one is actually going to give you $752. Why? Because everyone has to make money on the deal. You take it to a jeweler, who's paying overhead and labor (so that he/she can be there when you decide you want to sell your gold). He has to pay for these things. He also is taking a chance on what the gold price is going to be. Let's say he ships scrap in to the refiner once a week. The refiner then takes at least a few days, or sometimes up to two weeks, to process and refine your metal and only then sends the jeweler a check. So what happens if gold goes down a hundred or two hundred dollars an ounce by then? If the jeweler paid you $752 he would have lost money on the transaction (forgetting about what he would lose on his overhead, etc.). Now there are refiners who will settle the day a jeweler sends in their gold but, guess what: they pay less for the metal!

Additionally a retailer has to take into account the fact that sometimes what they test the metal to isn't accurate. If someone brings in something marked 18k but it's actually 14k (or even just 17.5 k) and the jeweler pays based on the stamping (or even a test that turns out to be flawed---and some criminals are now trying to sell extremely heavily plated items that it's easy to be fooled by) they don't get paid as much, or they can get nothing at all if it's not actually gold. On top of all of this many communities require gold and jewelry purchasers to hold onto anything they buy for up to 30 days. This is mostly to attempt to prevent criminals from selling something that disappears overnight. The side effect is, again, that a jeweler has no idea of what the gold price will be when he actually sells the pieces to the refiners.

And then there is the refiner (and possibly middle men as well) who all need to make some money on the deal. Businesses have to make money to survive so you truly aren't going to get something for nothing.
Then the question becomes what is fair for everyone involved. Unfortunately there is no clear line here. Some places have much higher costs of doing business and need to make more money on each transaction. Some advertise more about this and need to make more money from it. Some little hole in the wall jeweler may not need to make much and he might pay better or, because he does less volume and his risks are higher, he might need more.

So where do you go when you want to sell your scrap? Well you don't come to Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers because I don't buy gold outright. It's not part of my business model . I do, however, take gold in towards work being done on custom pieces or on pieces from my case. I have recently updated my payments on these items and find that I am relatively competitive with what many jewelers who buy gold are offering.

I can tell you that you absolutely do not want to go the companies that advertise on national television. Besides the fact that there have been numerous exposes of their pretty horrendous actions in buying metal, any company spending that much on national advertising is not going to pay as well as your local jeweler. What I do tell people is that their best option, if they live local to Boston, is to go downtown to one of the Jeweler's Buildings (333 or 387 Washington Street--333 is usually better), and go to three or four places that buy gold (most of them do down there) and take the offer that is the highest. If you live in New York City there is always 47th Street, also filled with jewelers. Most major cities have some type of jeweler's building where jewelers are centralized and a little Google research should get you locations. If you're in the suburbs go to three or four local area jewelers and do the same thing.

There is some misinformation circulating right now (the Boston Globe's latest article on selling gold didn't help with this either) that you need an appraisal before you go to sell your jewelry. While you can get appraisals that will reflect the actual potential resale value of your goods, most appraisals are insurance replacement value appraisals which have no relation to what you will get when you sell your gold at all. But here's the biggest problem, even if you can get an appraiser to value it appropriately: any legitimate appraiser charges for his time. My minimum charge for an appraisal is $75. If you only have $150 worth of gold scrap you've just spent half of it on me. In my book, that's kind of stupid. Besides, it doesn't really matter what an appraiser says. If no jeweler is going to offer you more than $100 for a piece of gold, no appraisal in the world is going to change that.

So spend a little time doing your homework and a little time hoofing it to a few different places and take your best offer. If you're thinking about selling the gemstones in the pieces please read my prior posts on this subject. And good luck!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Aquamarine is the birthstone for March. (Actually an alternate is bloodstone but this isn't seen around much anymore.) Unfortunately what most people think of when they think of aquamarine is a kind of washed out very light blue stone. That, of course, is only because they haven't shopped at Daniel Spirer Jewelers. There are some magnificently colored blue aquamarines that are available if you'd like to spend a little more money for something that is actually blue.

Aquamarine is a member of the beryl family of gems which include emeralds, morganite, golden beryl and goshenite. With a hardness of 7 1/2-8 it is just below sapphire in hardness which makes it a relatively durable gem material. Almost all aquamarine is heat treated to burn off a green tone that is present in almost all material when it comes out of the earth. I have had occasion in the past to own some untreated aquamarine and the greenish blue color can be somewhat attractive, but it is hard to find.

Aquamarine can occur in huge sizes; of note is a crystal found in Brazil in 1920 that weighed in at a whopping 243 pounds and that yielded many fine cut gems. There are a number of notable pieces that weighed in at well over 150 cts. each.

In ancient times aquamarine (the name comes from Latin meaning "sea water") was supposed to impart the wearer with insight and foresight. Anyone out there who thinks they are psychic might want to try wearing one to help them see some of the future. It also was thought to induce sleep, and when soaked in water, cure eye troubles, stoppage of breath and hiccups. Potent stuff this stone!

Pictured above is a simple pendant I just made up with a very fine, medium dark blue aquamarine in it. If your birthday is this month come on in and look at it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


It's the beginning of March and I've decided to start a new birthstone post that will run at the beginning of each month with some information guessed it---birthstones. Today's will be about birthstones in general but tomorrow I'll give you some information on aquamarine, the March birthstone. As it happens it's my birthstone as well (not that I own one personally---well no wait, I DO own a lot of stones personally--I mean not that I wear one personally).

The birthstone lists do have some attachment to ancient history. There are biblical references from as early as the 1st and 2nd centuries that mention them. There are also very early astrological birthstone lists. Twelve is an important number in human life and twelve stones representing various things pops up a fair amount in ancient times.

Modern birthstone lists, however, are pretty much a marketing tool. They have been changed repeatedly, and often the lists bear no resemblance to the original ancient texts. Even recently there have been additions made to the lists. Also the astrological birthstone lists tend to have a lot of overlapping of months, further complicating the issue. The generally accepted birthstone list currently in use looks something like this:

January: Garnet

February: Amethyst

March: Aquamarine

April: Diamond

May: Emerald

June: Pearl, Moonstone, or Alexandrite

July: Ruby

August: Peridot

September: Sapphire

October: Opal or Tourmaline

November: Citrine or Topaz

December: Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli, or the newest, recent addition of Tanzanite

In ancient birthstone lists there were often other stones, agate, sard, etc. that were mentioned. Some of these no one is truly clear on what was even meant since early man used to call a lot of gem materials by different names or wrong names (most of the largest "rubies" in the Crown Jewels collection in London turned out to be spinels). Additionally they didn't even start the calendar with the same months as we use today. But the list above is generally what's acceptable today (unless you want to use your astrological list and then you have another whole set of parameters).

Personally I think birthstones are fun but somewhat problematic. Their most common use seems to be in birthstone rings for mothers. Now this is a great idea in theory but the problem is that if you have a bunch of kids you have to put all of these different colors of stones into one piece of jewelry. Frankly, most mother's rings I have seen (and even a few I have had to make) are pretty ugly because of the color combinations necessary. No matter what you do if you try to put a peridot next to an emerald next to an amethyst it's just not going to be attractive. It may represent all of those babies you've had but it's just ugly. Now with the more prevalent use of rings with stones that go all the way around a ring, it might be a little easier to combine some of these colors (four different colors placed equally around a ring won't be right next to each other and resolve some of the issues), but it is still usually a problem.

My personal solution for this quandary is to do a mother's bracelet. Make a charm style bracelet (check out my wife's here) and do it with charms that have the birthstones necessary. They aren't all right next to each other, you can space colors that don't go well together farther apart, and frankly they are a lot more fun! Of course if you only have one or two kids it may not be necessary to do something like this, but I urge people with multiple children to look at this as an alternative.

Tomorrow's posting will be on March's birthstone aquamarine. The picture up top is courtesy of the AGTA. For those of you who don't know who they are, they are the American Gem Trade Association and their goal is to promote the sale and use of colored gemstones in an ethical manner. Click on their name here if you want to learn more about them. And yes I am a member.