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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.