Total Pageviews

Monday, December 21, 2009

Giving an Engagement Ring

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.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sourcing of Diamonds

Conflict diamonds. Blood diamonds. These phrases are used more and more these days although the reality is that the three conflicts that were taking place in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone when the phrases originally came into being, have ended. They referred to diamonds that were used to help finance rebel groups dedicated to overturning their governments. Often the miners were forced to work and turn over their production to the rebel groups.

I get asked about this more and more lately but I think a lot of people aren't trying to look at the whole picture. First of all, it should be noted that in many areas diamonds have brought great wealth and opportunity to nations desperate for income (Botswana is a notable example). When you decide not to buy the product you actually end up hurting countries like Botswana far more then you are hurting any conflict areas since 99%+ of the diamonds out there are conflict free. You should also be aware that currently more people are dying over the search for and mining of tantalum, a product used in every single cell phone in America, then in any current diamond mining areas. Are you willing to give up your cell phones? I lived for 40 years without a cell phone and got along just fine. And what is our excessive use of oil doing to the environment and how many lives have been lost to guarantee the steady flow of oil?

I understand that jewelry, often considered a luxury, is an easy target. But I firmly believe that if you can't stand to live with the idea that a dear price may have been paid for you to get a product, then you simply shouldn't buy it at all. Everyone seems to want the product, they just want to figure out a way to get it guilt free. But here's the real truth to the matter: NO MATTER WHERE YOU PURCHASE A DIAMOND, WHETHER IT'S CANADIAN, AFRICAN, RUSSIAN, AUSTRALIAN OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD THERE IS ALWAYS A CHANCE (ALBEIT SMALL) THAT SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE PAID A PRICE TO GET IT INTO YOUR HANDS. Whenever there is a large amount of money involved, particularly where it is concentrated in small, easily transportable objects there will be crime associated with it. PERIOD. You can't get away from it. It's been like this since mankind first emerged from the forests and it's stayed that way ever since. My firm belief is that, with the Kimberly Process in place, and with the new information age meaning that bad news spreads incredibly easily and quickly, only a very, very minute amount of diamonds are actually conflict stones but NO ONE can absolutely 100% guarantee that the one they are selling isn't. You should also be aware that all diamond mining, no matter where it takes place, leaves some amount of environmental damage (although they have gotten much better about trying to minimize this).

I know that the Canadians heavily promote their diamond product as conflict free, but who's to say that some material from other countries isn't finding it's way into Canada and being cut there and sold as Canadian goods? After all, there's big money involved, THERE IS NO WAY TO IDENTIFY WHERE A DIAMOND COMES FROM, and all you can do is depend on the dealer's word.

So what's a consumer to do? Well you can live with the fact that the odds of your getting a conflict diamond (especially from companies like Lazare Diamond who were instrumental in setting up the Kimberly Process) are extremely small, and that you are helping many developing nations earn some amount of money from their natural resources. Or you can buy a colored stone, something I strongly recommend because, personally, I think a fine blue sapphire is both more striking and is far more rare than a diamond (plus you get more bang for your buck). Or you can simply forget about getting a stone altogether. There is nothing wrong with having an interesting, but stoneless, band for an engagement ring.

Recently there has been a lot of press about synthetic diamonds coming into the marketplace. While fancy colored diamond synthetics have been available for quite some time, colorless diamonds are still extremely rare. The companies producing them regularly come out and make big press announcements that they are soon going to be producing massive quantities of colorless synthetic diamonds, but it has yet to actually happen. Are they producing some? Yes. In quantity? No. The other issue with these stones is that it takes a huge amount of energy to produce them as they are produced under high temperature and high pressure over a long period of time. So you may be avoiding the conflict diamond issue, but personally, I believe that you are inflicting more environmental damage.

My personal goal has always been to achieve some balance in my life. I bought a hybrid car before the gas prices went up because I felt it was the right thing to do. I recycle. I buy my gold from a refiner that sells me only recycled metals. I started disclosing gemstone treatments over 20 years ago, long before any other companies were doing it. I try to minimize my impact on the environment. I try to contribute to as many good causes as possible. But I also know that I am not going to give up a car altogether, nor am I going to stop using diamonds and colored stones in my jewelry. The choice of course, is yours. I just ask that you think about all of the things you are doing before focusing in on only one issue.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More on Diamonds

Okay so we understand a little bit about the cut of diamonds. In fact, it is the single most important feature when looking at a stone. You can have a D (top) color, flawless diamond and if it's poorly cut it will look like garbage and you can have a low color, low clarity diamond and if it is ideal cut it will still look good. However diamonds are truly a dime a dozen. There are millions and millions of diamonds out there available and already in jewelry. So what is it that keeps the price so high?

It used to be that DeBeers, the world's largest diamond producer, had a virtual monopoly on the market and they were able to influence the pricing of diamonds by simply stockpiling goods if things were slow, and releasing them when they saw fit. Now mind you, DeBeers being a monopoly actually helped most people (yes even you consumers out there). They were able to pretty much guarantee that diamonds would increase in value at or slightly above the rate of inflation every year. How was this good for the consumer? Well it meant that someone buying a diamond engagement ring in 1940 would be able to resell it in 1980 when either the husband or wife might have died for more money than they paid for it (even taking retail markups into consideration). It wasn't an investment (far more money could be made in the stock market or property) but it generally increased in value.

Additionally DeBeers was first formed because when diamond mines were first found in Brazil the prices plummeted until the mines were pretty much mined out and then prices went sky high. Then when diamonds were found in Africa the prices plummeted again until the first mine was played out and then they would skyrocket again and so on every time a new mine was found. It wasn't good for the miners, the dealers or the buyers as no one had any idea of what to expect or how to price a product that fluctuated so wildly in price.

Recently however, DeBeers has reduced their control of the market to below 60% so that they could be allowed to operate in the United States (which doesn't allow monopolies to operate here---although I'm not sure that our oil companies don't constitute just that). But strangely enough diamond prices did NOT plummet after this happened. Why not? Because all of the producers recognize the fact that if they start undercutting each other endlessly they eventually will make no money at all on the product and how can they stay in business if they do that? The retail price of diamonds has gone down in the last few years but that has to do with the Internet. The wholesale prices have continued to rise (although this year, due to the economy, a small drop occured).

But here is the interesting thing about diamonds. There are millions and millions of stones out there. But what there are NOT is millions and millions of top color (this means colorless D, E or F color stones), top clarity (VS or better) that are also ideal cut. I routinely appraise customer's jewelry and I can assure you that the bulk of the diamonds people own are mid range (H or I) to poor color (O or worse) and SI clarity or worse. A huge amount of material is in the marketplace (especially today as people become more price conscious and are willing to pay more for junk as long as it's got a designer's name attached to it) that wouldn't have even been sold as gem grade diamond thirty years ago. A lot of it is truly industrial grade diamond. One out of every two to three hundred stones I appraise is top color and top clarity.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is my belief that if you are going to buy a stone that is truly rare then you should get one that is, in fact, rare. You wouldn't come to me looking for a fine sapphire if you could find one at Kmart or Walmart or any other mass manufacturer (actually you won't find them there). You would come to me because you want something that is truly rare and desirable and that very few other people actually own. So, in my humble opinion (I'm not really humble, but what the heck), if you want to purchase a RARE diamond then you need to get the following: A stone that is D, E or F in color (or lack of color as these are actually colorless stones), VS2 clarity or better (preferably VVS2 or better) and is an actual American ideal cut diamond. These stones constitute a very, very small percentage of all the diamonds out there.

Admittedly if you're looking for a 2 ct. diamond you are going to be talking about some significant outlays. Stones in the VS clarity and top color range, ideal cut, are going to start at about $20,000. But it is my belief that it is far better to have a much smaller, high color, high clarity stone that is truly rare then to simply buy something because it's big and in your budget range. I would rather have a half carat D color, Flawless stone than a 1 ct. SI1 clarity, H color. After all, almost no one else has stones like that, and unless they're all shopping at Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, none of your friends will have one either.

If you would like some more details about the color and clarity grading of diamonds there are a ton of websites out there but you might check out the GIA website or the AGS website.
Pictured above are some new custom earrings I did recently for some customers. Other than having a few small diamonds on them they have nothing to do with diamonds but they came out real nice so I thought I'd post them (albeit one of my mediocre pictures).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lots of New Stuff

This is an interruption in my normal flow of topics here to let anyone who is reading know that I have a bunch of new stock out for the holidays; earrings, strands of pearls and opals, and even a new pin. Pictures will follow but if you want an early pick this holiday season, next week will be a great time to take a look (although the end of the week will be better as I have some more new things in process this week). A couple new William Henry knives in next week too!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Diamonds in Engagement Rings

Diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. There has been so much information and misinformation available over the years and it only seems to have grown exponentially with the growth of the Internet. There are so many different topics to discuss when talking about diamonds that it's hard to know even where to begin.

So let's start with a little history. Diamonds have been known almost since man became civilized (assuming you can say that man is actually civilized even today). But when diamonds were found in ancient times they were extremely hard for the people to cut or polish, what with their hardness and all and no modern technology to help. Some of the oldest known historical diamonds were simply polished with a few facets on the top and left flat on the bottom. It was about the best that could be done at the time.

However, over time, man, in his never ending quest for wealth finally figured out how to take such a rare (at that time) substance and actually cut it into something that sparkled a bit, particularly in candlelight. Most diamond crystals occur in the form of two inverted pyramids and early cutters figured out that they could lop off a piece on the top, and then add some facets around the still somewhat square stone to get some nice light reflection. These early cuts are known as "old mine cuts", almost always have a squared off outline, high crowns (tops) and either excessively shallow or deep pavilions (bottoms). Their facets were almost always lopsided, poorly placed and there were often naturals around the girdles (a natural is a part of the original diamond crystal skin that was never polished---you see this on some modern cuts as well because in a cutters' efforts to retain as much weight as possible they would often not even finish rounding up a diamond's girdle on the narrower spots on the crystal).

In the early 20th century, cutting techniques improved and they figured out how to actually round off the outlines of the crystals, achieving round stones. They also began to realize that if they didn't leave such a large crown on the stone they could actually cut a second stone from the same crystal. These early stones, which are still usually top heavy, have very small tables, are not very well cut either, but have rounded outlines are known as old European cuts.

Then in 1919, a diamond cutter/mathematician who's name was Tolkowsky worked out a formula for what angles to cut a diamond to in order to maximize the brilliance and light reflection from the crystal. This cut became known as the American Ideal Cut and was the standard against which all round cut diamonds were judged until just fairly recently. Tolkowsky had a cousin/apprentice who's name was Lazare Kaplan. Lazare Kaplan was the first person to adopt and popularize the American Ideal Cut and has continued to cut it ever since. The company Lazare Kaplan is now known as Lazare Diamond and they were the first in a number of other important advancements in the diamond industry, including developing the first lasers that could be used to imprint numbers (or words) on the girdle of a diamond (I believe they still own the patent) and a new high pressure high temperature treatment used to change the appearance of certain types of diamonds (not marketed under their own name).

Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers has been selling Lazare Diamonds for close to twenty years. The best thing about them is that every stone they sell will absolutely be an ideal cut diamond. Unfortunately a lot of people today sell stones they claim are ideal but often they are just better cut than some other stones and they don't actually have the proper angling on the facets or the correct table size to actually be called ideal. In my book it's a little like being pregnant. You can't be almost pregnant and you can't be almost ideal. The stone either meets the criteria or it doesn't.

I don't want to overwhelm you all with information at one time so I'll leave this here. Next posting, I'll talk a little about quality and rarity of diamonds.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Engagement Rings II

I just had another newly engaged couple in yesterday. He had picked out a band from me and she was thrilled with it. It was a completely nontraditional engagement ring as it didn't even have a center stone. In the picture to the left it's the bottom ring. But the young gentleman seemed to have a very good grasp of what his intended would like from the moment he walked in. Remember that it is the intent behind the ring that makes it what it is, not the actual piece.

So now you (the proposer) has figured out what kind of style your intended would like (well hopefully) and you have to deal with another issue. What kind of stone are you going to put in the ring? Diamonds, obviously, are the traditional choice but they are not the only option. Durability, however, is an issue that must be raised immediately. This is a ring that is going to be worn every day for a very long time and consequently it would be nice if it would hold up well. For this reason I usually recommend either diamonds, rubies or sapphires because these are the most durable of gem materials. Now mind you any stone can be broken (diamonds included---their hardness refers to scratch hardness not breakage) and, over time, most will show signs of wear and tear but usually these three will hold up better than most others. Stones like opals, tanzanite, pearls, etc. are extremely fragile and are definitely not good choices. Emeralds also tend to break fairly easily (although their scratch hardness isn't so bad) and are not a good choice.

The good news is that sapphires do come in a wide range of colors so the palette of colors available to you is fairly broad. For those of you concerned about the sourcing of diamonds (more on that in a future post) sapphires offer an excellent option. Personally I think they are far more interesting, but I think there is such a strong feeling about getting a diamond by many women that it shouldn't be ignored. My wife, who has a 10 ct. tourmaline in her engagement ring and numerous sapphire rings, still wanted a diamond for her 20th anniversary present and I was happy to oblige.

The question of diamond vs. sapphire however is something that should definitely be felt out beforehand. While I don't know many women who would refuse a diamond, some people, for a variety of reasons, just don't want one. On the other hand I routinely get women in who say that they don't want a diamond, until they actually start trying on rings. Maybe it's just my ideal cut Lazare Diamonds that sparkle so much that changes their minds or maybe it's just that tradition thing kicking in again. Or perhaps they realize that diamonds just can go with anything else they put on.

My next post will talk a bit about the diamonds I sell. The one after that will discuss the issue of diamond sourcing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Engagement Rings 1

Engagement rings. Oh my. What one other thing do you give to another person that is imbued with so much meaning and substance? All other purchases pale by comparison. Here you are saying I want to spend the rest of my life with just this one other individual. And you have to actually give them something that represents that, both to them and to you.

This is usually the time you start to figure out if you really know the person. You walk into the jewelry store and the jeweler (in my case) or the salesperson starts to ask you questions. PERSONAL questions. Does your intended like white or yellow metals? Do they want a diamond (how can you even know this if you haven't actually discussed what you're doing with them)? What colors do they wear. Do you know their ring size? Do they like simple things? More unusual items? How do you know they'll say yes? What's a guy (or gal) to do?

Unfortunately this confusion often leads to picking out something incredibly simple. Guys, in particular, tend to feel it's much safer to choose the simplest, most straightforward design that they've been told through advertising (and, because most of their friends aren't much more adept when they propose, what they see on their friends' girlfriends) is the right way to go. Hence the somewhat absurd popularity of what is commonly known as the "Tiffany setting". This straightforward design with a plain band and a four prong setting was originally popularized by Tiffany And Co. (although it is unlikely it was actually created by them as it is such a basic design) and a version of it is made, and sold, by just about every jewelry store in America---well except in Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers.

This is a fine way to go if you're pretty certain that is what your intended really wants. After all, the goal is to make them happy. However if the guys actually knew how many women I get in here on their 5th, 10th, 15th, or 20th anniversary who say to me: "I really wanted something more interesting, but I couldn't say anything to him at the time. He had just proposed to me!! NOW I want you to make me something I really like because we've been married long enough I can tell him what I really like."

It's also a fine way to go if you really understand your intended and their style and it fits into that. Unfortunately, most of the time, most guys pick out something they like (or think they like), as opposed to thinking about what their intended would like, and let's face it, most guys tend to be pretty conservative in what they themselves wear. There aren't many out there like me who actually wear clothes that aren't off the rack and that represent my own sense of style!

So what is a guy (or gal) to do??? Well one thing is to simply propose without a ring and say let's go ring shopping. Women today are not what they were 40 or 50 years ago and many of them want a real say in something they are going to wear every day for the rest of their lives. Another is to make sure that anytime you're passing by a jewelry store with your significant other, stop and look at the stuff. You can ask what a person actually likes without giving anything away. You can also always give them some jewelry for other occasions (oh you know, like birthdays, Christmas/Chanukkah, Valentine's Day or my personal favorite giving holiday July 4!) and you'll get a feel pretty quickly if they like what you're picking out. Actually looking at what they already wear is also a good starting point. If your intended tends to wear big, wide rings with a bunch of work on them, you can probably be pretty assured that a simple four prong setting isn't going to work.

My belief is that you shouldn't be restricted to what is "customary" unless the intended makes it quite clear to you that is what they want. People like to be different and express themselves in ways that are different from every other person out there. Additionally, our lifestyles today don't lend themselves as much to a ring where a big stone is sticking up all over the place. How many rock climbers want to have their engagement ring sticking up all over the place as they grab onto various sharp ledges? What is most important to remember is that it's okay to do the unexpected these days.
Pictured above is my idea of an interesting engagement ring. My next posting on engagement rings will be on stones for them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Platinum The Other White Metal

I always wanted to do one of my ads in the Boston Globe with a picture of a platinum ring and the headline: The Other White Meat...Metal (with Meat with a line through it). In fact it isn't the other white metal, as it really is a white metal as opposed to white gold that is actually yellow metal posing as something it isn't.

Platinum is normally worked as either a 900/100 platinum/iridium mix (platinum is almost always alloyed with a member of the platinum metals group) or a 950/50 platinum/ruthenium mix. The numbers refer to the parts of platinum relative to the parts of alloy. There are other alloys available and recently some companies have started to work with a 585 mix (14k yellow gold is 58.5% pure gold) although they aren't allowed to call it platinum as the metal quality laws don't allow anything less than 900/100 to be called platinum. Personally I like that platinum is used with such a high purity level (I only sell 18k gold or higher for the same reason) and it seems foolish to cheapen it so much. but there is always someone out there looking for a way to make a buck.

Platinum is a more expensive metal than gold for a variety of reasons. One is that it generally is more per ounce than gold is (although they are getting incredibly close in price at the moment as gold continues to rise due to the value of the dollar falling so much). It is also worked purer than gold (90/10 or 95/5 as opposed to 75/25 for 18k gold) normally. It is also a much denser metal so the exact same piece in platinum weighs far more than gold does. And to top it all off it is a much more difficult metal to work with. While hand constructing platinum is certainly possible, casting is a far easier option normally. Platinum is soldered or fused at such high temperatures that protective eye gear is necessary whenever working with it and it takes far longer to attain a suitable finish than gold.

There is some confusion about the durability of platinum. Depending on who you talk to you'll hear that platinum scratches much easier, that it is harder than gold, that it lasts longer, doesn't hold up as well, you name it. In fact all metals scratch, especially when used in rings. Platinum does, in some cases, seem to scratch a little easier but it builds up a nice patina as it does. However, the difference between platinum and gold is that when you scratch a gold ring you actually remove metal from it. When you scratch a platinum ring most (although not all) of the metal is simply moved from one point on the ring to another. Hence it is actually a more durable metal as it will wear away more slowly.

So the question becomes should you get platinum or should you get white gold? In my belief, you should get the one which has the color that pleases you the most. This is a little tricky when buying commercially made rhodium plated white gold as it starts out looking almost the same as platinum, but you do have to remember that it will change in time. My 18k palladium white gold has a different appearance altogether than platinum. There is nothing wrong with it. It is just different.

Personally I believe white metals were put on Earth only to accent yellow ones and anyone asking me would be told, get a yellow gold piece. But I'm not the one who's going to wear it. For those of you who love white metals, get the one who's color you like and enjoy!

Pictured above is one of my platinum rings with a color shift purple/blue sapphire and diamonds.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

White Gold vs. Platinum or The Other White Metal Part 1

Recently I read an article in which a "jeweler" had sold a rhodium plated yellow gold ring to a customer and told them it was "white gold". Apparently the "jeweler" didn't actually know that there was such a thing as white gold, hence my quotes around the word jeweler as I would hesitate to call anyone a jeweler who didn't know what white gold actually was. Unfortunately, the amount of misinformation in my trade is staggering and it only seems to get worse as technology advances each year. If you're not willing and able to keep up with things you simply shouldn't be in this business.

So let's talk a bit about white gold. All gold that isn't 24k (or pure) gold is an alloy of pure gold with other metals. Usually this is copper and silver. White gold however is a different story as you're taking a yellow metal and trying to make it into something it isn't. In the past, nickel was added to the metal to make it white. The word white here is a relative term as most of it didn't actually come out white, but yellowish white. It was then rhodium plated (rhodium is a member of the platinum metals group) to actually make it look as white as possible. The problem with plating the metal, however, is that the plating wears off and one day you look down at your ring and it's suddenly two different colors. White gold with nickel also tended to not cast well and many white gold castings start to show stress cracks over time.

The other issue with nickel white gold is that many people have an allergy to nickel which shows up as skin rashes and inflammation around any area exposed to the metal. Honestly, some people have allergies to gold as well but it is far, far less common than nickel allergies. Nickel in jewelry has actually been banned in many countries in Europe.

A number of years ago, after complaining incessantly to my metal supplier, they located an old formula for a palladium white gold recipe which I experimented with and they soon afterwards began producing for sale. This is a completely nickel free metal. It is also not the pure white color of platinum but rather has a somewhat grayish tone to it. It is easier to work with, does not seem to have the brittleness problems associated with the nickel white gold and is a nice alternative to nickel white gold. Recently more white gold options have come into the marketplace due to technological advances in metallurgy and the ability to use computers to analyze different formulations. But most of them still are either using palladium or nickel in them as the basic whitening agent.

Next posting will be on platinum. Pictured is the Philippe ring. The center is sandblasted 18k palladium white gold, the borders are 950 platinum.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Better pictures, Happy Times and Green Gold.

So here's what happens to pictures when you get a professional involved. My good friend Lorrie, who is perhaps the single most talented person I know, did a little work to my picture and Voila! you can actually see the darn things and the way they really look. Lorrie, incidentally is a jeweler, photographer (she takes all of my advertising photos and some of my website ones), graphic artist (she designed my logo), weaver and then she has some kind of a regular day job too! I may have left out some of her talents as every time I talk to her I find out about another. One of my best new (relatively speaking) designs for earrings I did for her originally:

I had another happy, newly engaged couple in the other day. The young man had come to me to get this engagement ring for his girlfriend who was in Israel at the time. He picked out the design and we started talking about how he was going to propose. He was picking her up at the airport so he thought that would be a good place to do it. When she came out of customs, he was down on his knees with flowers in hand. She says that she thought he was just so emotional about seeing her that he had fallen to his knees and she kept telling him to get up...until he pulled out the ring! And then she was speechless. This is a great business to be in.

I promised I would talk about my "green gold" in this posting so I'd better get into it. First of all "green gold" shouldn't be confused with green gold, which is gold that has been alloyed to have a greenish cast to it. All karat gold used in jewelry is an alloy of pure gold and various other metals. In most cases it is alloyed with copper and silver and in order to get a red (pink or rose) gold it has a high copper to silver ratio, a yellow gold will have approximately equal amounts, and a green gold has a high silver to copper ratio. White gold is an entirely different story but I'll get to that in another posting.

Anyway the "green gold" I'm talking about here is environmentally sound, preferably recycled, gold. A number of gold mining companies have recently changed their mining practices to reduce damage to the environment as much as possible, but there is a huge amount of this resource already mined from the Earth and the less we have to mine, the better it is. Unfortunately mercury is often used in the gold mining process and it is a major and dangerous pollutant.

A number of years ago, my primary gold supplier began selling only recycled gold for their mill products and they are active participants in the No Dirty Gold Campaign. Additionally they have spent a large amount of money to upgrade their refining facilities so that they meet or exceed all federal, state and local laws regarding pollutants. For their finished products (none of which I buy as I only sell jewelry I make) they do have to purchase some metal but they follow these guidelines when they choose the suppliers they use:

1) Appreciation of basic human rights outlined in international conventions and laws.

2) Free, prior and informed consent of communities effected by mining operations.

3) Provide safe working conditions, respect for workers rights and labor standards.

4) Keep operations our of areas of armed or militarized conflict, protected areas, fragile ecosystems or other areas of high concentration value.

5) Do not force communities off their land, dump mine waste into water or generate sulfuric acid.

6) Disclose information about social and environmental effects of projects.

As you can see they are in the forefront of this issue and I'm pleased that I can offer their mill products in my jewelry. Unfortunately, my casters do not offer the same guarantees (although I believe most of their metal is also recycled) so I can only offer this option on hand built pieces, or pieces that I have cast in the past, but can hand build. It's just another small step we're trying to do to help out in the environmental mess that humans seem to have done such a good job of creating.

If you come into my shop please feel free to ask me about the "recycled gold" option.

By the way, for those of you interested, the Philippe ring is now out in my shop (albeit with some minor variations). If I can get Lorrie to take a picture of it, I'll post it, but the difference in the two colors of white metal is something I don't think I can possibly show.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Earrings and Name That Ring!

By now some of you have probably figured out (if I haven't told you already) that I am one of the worst photographers in the world. No matter what I do nothing comes out the right way. But I can't afford to hire someone every single time I finish a new piece and so you're all just stuck with putting up with my crummy pictures. Those of you who have been in my store can use your imaginations a bit as you know how the stuff looks in real life. The rest of you will just have to come in and see for yourselves. These are my newest earrings that I am just putting out today with boulder opals, and emeralds in 18k and 22k yellow gold. I always like to think of this look (one I've done similar ones to in the past) as one of my comet earring designs (to see some of my comet pins click here) but my wife used to have a pair (she lost them unfortunately) and she always called them the bug earrings. So "the bug earrings" they have become. You've just got to trust me when I tell you the opals are far more beautiful than my picture presents them.
Speaking of naming jewelry I have a habit of doing just that. Some pieces (especially the space based ones) are actually named pieces, like this one which is called "Black Hole in the Center of a Spiral Galaxy". Some pieces are named after the people I designed them for (like my Zelda earrings---sorry no picture currently available). Some have the numbers they were originally assigned (like the D20---a design I've been doing for ages and that has had more numbers than you can imagine over the years and that D20 means absolutely nothing about except that it was the first number it got---and that I always know what I'm talking about when I call it a D20). Bear with me here. This is actually leading somewhere.
Over the years I have created a few designs, both from custom jewelry work for individuals and from my own head, that have become long term, fairly steady sellers. The D20 is actually probably one of my best selling rings over the long period I've been making it (25+ years). Recently (relatively speaking as the first one I made was about 3 years ago) I came up with a new design for a customer (the original used her stones) that has turned into the best selling ring I have ever made. You can see a picture (not by me!) of it here. (Have I got enough hyperlinks in this posting yet or what!) I cannot begin to tell you how many of these rings I have sold in the last two years. Now, mind you, we're not talking thousands here, or even hundreds, because I simply don't make that much of anything, but it has far surpassed any other design in sales both during this period and probably in the last 6-7 years (the D20 being the closest I have to it probably).
I know that one of the reasons it sells as it does is because it has so much of me in it. Every one I make (in gold) is hand built and there are, as will happen with that, slight variations each time I make it. It has my distinctive styling in it as well. And I like the ring myself so I probably sell it a little harder than I might some other designs that I make. But still, even when I don't try to sell it (as happened the other day when a woman in shopping had already picked out another ring to buy and then happened to notice it---I didn't think she wanted something with a center stone in it---and immediately bought it) it seems to go. But my problem is that it needs a name. The number doesn't exactly have much rhythym to it and I haven't been able to come up with anything for it. So I need some help. Any and all suggestions would be appreciated. Leave your comments below and I'll take a look at them.
Next posting will be taking up the issue of green gold---not green as in the color but green as in the environment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why I'm in This Business II

I confess to having been so busy lately that I've been unable to get much written. The need to both sell and make the custom jewelry that I do is a time consuming process and I find myself with less and less time these days to get it all done (not to mention that I have to keep up on the blogging). I feel fortunate to have as much business as I do right now. Most of the jewelers I know are so unhappy about business right now. Current jokes of the trade: Have you read the new book about how to open a jewelry store? It starts with Chapter 11. And: Down 10% is the new up.

However while I like to know that I can do what I like to do and make a living from it, the true joy of my job comes about for other reasons. Obviously I get some kick from the process itself, not just the creative process but, more importantly the actual making of the pieces. One of the reasons I have always preferred to hand build pieces instead of cast them is that I really like to actually MAKE jewelry. I enjoy the bending, forging, soldering, chasing and all of the other processes involved. I particularly like it when I can isolate myself in the workshop, crank up my tunes, have a little nip of my favorite tequila, and just bang away at everything. There is nothing quite like the kick of finishing up a piece and looking at the final result of hours of work and saying, gee that really looks nice. Of course, every once in awhile, you get to that end point and say to yourself, now what the heck was I thinking when I came up with this idea?, but usually it's the other way around.

More importantly, however (at least to me) is knowing the role that these pieces I create play in so many people's lives. Here I am creating pieces that stand for so much to people, a declaration of love (usually), a celebration of an important occasion (anniversaries, new jobs), or even of sad ones (memorializing those who have passed). Every day that someone wears one of my pieces they remember that they got that piece from me (well usually) and they remember what it represents to them. We have had a lot of people wear our engagement rings but until recently we had never had the opportunity to have a proposal in the store itself. Now admittedly, in this recent event, the proposal had actually already been made, but it was remade and celebrated in the store itself. The pictures here are of the two fiancees and three of their friends who came in to help it all happen. What a great feeling to know that I've been a part of so much happiness in so many people's lives.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Custom Work IV and Why I'm in This Business I

Earlier this year my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary (well actually late last year but we didn't celebrate it until this year). We went to our favorite state (other than where we live) in the nation and headed back out to California for a 5 day stay at an inn in Big Sur, Ventana where we have spent many significant moments in our life together and 5 days in San Francisco. Last year there was a significant forest fire in Big Sur that came up to the Inn's doorstep and coincidentally (but not because of the forest fire) their restaurant burned down shortly after the big fires.

We had some trepidation about returning this year because of this but ultimately the draw for us of going back to the place where I had proposed to my wife and where we spent our honeymoon was just too strong. Interestingly the least exciting part of our stays at Ventana in the past were the restaurant. While it's location was stunning, sitting out on the deck eating lunch looking at the mountains to the left and the Pacific Ocean in front of you was always a memorable experience, and it had a very nice bar, the food was, well, like hotel food. Mind you there was nothing wrong with it. There just wasn't anything (especially for a foodie like me) very special about it either. Consequently Kathy and I were prepared for the worst, as the Inn had moved a small kitchen into their main building where their offices are located and set up a small dining room there as well for hotel guests only. One of the things I find so relaxing about the Inn is that there really isn't much to do there so the idea that we might have to drive out somewhere else every night to eat (especially on the winding Coast Road after starting the cocktail hour early) was NOT something I was looking forward to.

You may be asking by now what this all has to do with jewelry but bear with me. There are a number of points I'm getting to but you have to hear the whole story behind it first.

Upon our arrival, after a 5 1/2 hour plane flight, and a 3 1/2 hour drive from the San Francisco airport, through mist and fog, the last thing we wanted to do after checking into our room was to get back in the car and drive somewhere for dinner, so we headed over to the main building to see what they had done about the restaurant situation. They had set up a formal dining room area and off to the side, right next to the what was now the door to the kitchen (formerly the office door) they had set up a 4 seat bar. Since Kathy and I both prefer to sit, and eat, at bars we plopped ourselves down there and settled in. We were presented with menus that were short (4 appetizers, 4 mains) but that certainly didn't look anything like the former restaurant's menu.

The food, as it turned out was simply amazing. It utilized completely different ingredients (although there was a nod to the fact that it was still a hotel restaurant with a meat and a fish dish), was flavorful, unique, amazingly well presented and just downright delicious. Now because of our seats at the bar, we were kind of in the middle of the action as everything went by us on the way in or out of the kitchen and we could see through the window on the door what was happening in the kitchen as well. We were befuddled by how such a tiny (and I mean tiny) kitchen could be producing food of this quality but we were thrilled to know that we wouldn't have to be making daily trips out to eat elsewhere.

I can't remember if we actually met the chef on the first night we were there (although I believe we did and complimented him then) but on our second night, after yet another fantastic meal, he came out, introduced himself to us and we had a very pleasant conversation. His name is Philippe Breneman and he had been brought in by the hotel group that now manages Ventana to get the temporary restaurant set up and running while he was waiting for the restaurant at another inn they manage in Santa Cruz to be built, as that was going to be his restaurant. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that we were there for five nights and the menu was a little short for our stay given some of our food preferences. He almost immediately offered to make us a five course prix fixe meal for the next night that would allow us to have some things that weren't on the menu. Every single dish he brought out for the five course meal was a masterpiece of attention to detail, flavor and sight. He personally brought out each plate and talked about the food and how it fit into the theme he had come up with for the meal. Although he used many of the main ingredients that were on the regular menu, he presented them all in a completely different format. This was, if not the best meal I've ever had, one of the top two or three meals I have ever had in my life (and we eat out a lot). We were also the only people in the restaurant the meal was prepared for.

As our stay continued we spent more time with Philippe learning something about each other's lives and he continued to treat us with service that was far and above anything that was asked of him. Now I have a number of local chefs who are friends and quite a few more where we are regulars and are somewhat known by the staff, but I have never had an experience like this.

Okay, okay, so what's my point? There are two actually. The first is that, at Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers I try to treat my customers the same way that Philippe treated us. It is important for anyone who is taking care of the public to do just that. Take care of your customers. I try to do that myself by listening to my customers about what it is they want and why they want it. I try to learn something about them so that when I make them a piece (especially a custom one) I am making something that has meaning to them. I like to think of myself as being here to make my customers happy. I'm not just selling a piece of jewelry; I'm more often selling something that has huge meaning to the people who are going to wear it. In over 25 years in my store I have created thousands of wedding bands for people and every day I am continuing to be a part of their lives. You may not remember where you bought a car or an air conditioner twenty five years ago, but you do remember where you got your wedding bands.

So here's the second point: A few months ago I got an email from a woman (Sara) who said that she was Philippe's fiancee and that they were getting married soon and that Philippe had insisted that I make the band for him. I was thrilled by this both because I had obviously made a new friend, but also because someone who had never actually been in my store (and it is different to see something on line than to actually come in) had felt so strongly about me that they wanted me to participate in such a significant event in their lives.

We had many emails back and forth trying to come up with a design that would make both Philippe and Sara happy and that I could produce for them in their price range. Pictures of different pieces went back and forth. Different ideas flowed throughout the process. But foremost in my mind throughout the process was who Philippe himself was and how he had treated us. How could I not at least attempt to make him something that would impart at least some amount of the pleasure for him that he had created for us, for such an important time of his life?

We finally arrived at a band that would utilize my 18k palladium white gold (a metal with a distinctly greyer tone than most commercial white golds) in the center with platinum (a distinctly whiter metal) on the sides, a row of eight flush set diamonds in the center with the grey toned white gold sandblasted and the platinum on the sides high polished. This band was completely hand fabricated, utilizing metal from my supplier who provides me with recycled gold and platinum, and after about another two weeks I had it ready to go.

Last week I shipped it out to Sara. Of course, then the nail biting stage starts. Did I do what they wanted? Will they like it? Will it fit (in this case a big question because there really isn't any good way to size the band)? So I waited and wondered for a few days. Yesterday I got a call from Philippe (the first I had talked to him since the whole process started) who was thrilled with it. He wants to start wearing it right away but Sara won't allow it (although she said to me in an email: "By the way, it is at our house, hidden away, but he keeps sneaking peeks at it and trying it on!") Now THIS is why I make jewelry. And this, as I said in an earlier posting on custom work, is why you should look for a jeweler who will listen to you. Someone can have the most wonderful skills in the world, but if they don't want to see who you are, they won't be able to make something that is right for you.

As for Philippe, he is currently running his restaurant called Aquarius in Santa Cruz. Anyone reading this who is on the West Coast should absolutely make a trip to his restaurant. I can't guarantee you'll get your own personalized five course meal, but I can guarantee you'll have an absolutely wonderful one.

Because of my marginal photography skills I did not take a picture of Philippe's ring, but I am making one up for the cases (if you're in, just ask to see the "Philippe ring") and I hope to get a picture of that once it is made up (that I will post here) and I have one of my photography assistants in for a round of picture taking.

My next posting wil be "Why I'm in This Business II" and should be up much sooner than this one came out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Custom Work III

This will be my final posting on custom work for the moment and it has to do more with the job/role the customer has to play in this situation. At Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers I really try very hard to please my customers and work with them regardless of the limitations (within reason). If my starting custom price is too high, I will try to work with the customer in using an existing design, perhaps with other stones in it or a minor modification. If time frame is an issue, I will do my best to work with you on that as well, but there are certain things that are beyond my control.

Having been in business for so long, I have seen many changes in the way business is conducted. In particular, over the last 10 years, since the widespread use of the Internet began, there has developed a mindset about how quickly things can be done. Say you want a book that just came out. Well, you can go to Amazon, or one of the other online booksellers, find it, click a couple of buttons, and voila!! two days later the book is in your hands. Unfortunately this kind of "click and it's done" mentality has spread widely and seems to now encompass all fields of work.

I like to play computer games and a year or so ago I needed a new computer. I went online and found a place that specialized in putting together custom gaming computers. I was able to order exactly what I wanted, and they built the computer up to my specifications and it took about three weeks to get it. Interestingly, while reading their reviews on line, the thing that other customers complained about the most was how long it took to get the computer. Now, none of this company's product was off the shelf set ups. But very few of the purchasers could grasp the concept that when an individual had to actually hand build the unit they wanted, it would take some time to actually produce it. Given that we were dealing with gaming computers, I was pretty sure that the majority of purchasers were fairly young and that they had been raised in the computer age.

So how does this relate to jewelry? Well for one thing, while there have been some advances in the use of cad/cam computer designing, and there have certainly been huge advances in the understanding of metallurgy allowing for the development of far more alloys than ever seen before (because of computers), making jewelry can still be a pretty labor intensive field. It is especially so when you are working with someone like me. I would much rather hand build a piece than cast it. There is simply more of "me" in the final product and I can guarantee that I am using recycled metals. But when I do have to cast a piece (and some pieces simply need to be built that way) there is time needed for building a model, having my casters make a mold and cast the model, and then for me to do whatever finish work/stone setting, etc. that is necessary. When working on cad/cam pieces, I need to develop a design, attempt to translate it to my cad/cam person who then needs time to do their work, get a wax cast up, and then have my casters cast the piece and still do the finish work. All of these elements add time to the process. And all of them assume that the first model/wax/piece is what you, the customer, actually wants. If the first model isn't right then I need time to make the second or third. If not enough time is left for making a design, then there often isn't time at the end of the process to make alterations, or correct misunderstandings, in time for the final product to be used.

While I can produce many of my existing designs in relatively short periods of time, true custom work (i.e.: I want you to make this exact pattern of oak leaves all around my ring) takes time and the more a jeweler has, the better chance that, you, the customer will get exactly what you want. Four to eight weeks is usually a reasonable time period for true custom work. Yes it can be done quicker, but the results won't always be the same. It is important that you try to plan ahead on this type of job. And remember that the reason you're coming to someone like me is because you don't want something that looks like it was made by a machine!
The pendant pictured above was a custom piece made using a customer's marquis shaped diamond in 18k yellow gold.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Custom Work II

The follow up to the last posting on custom jewelry design is what should you, as a customer, expect from the jeweler. True custom work can be a tricky business. Often a customer will think they are explaining themselves clearly about what they would like to see in a design but the jeweler is hearing something entirely different. Individual jewelers will also put more, or less, of themselves into the process impacting what the final result is. Sometimes the customer, not being a designer themselves, will have absolutely no clear way to describe what they want and this leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the jeweler.

Personally I want my customers to be happy with the final result. I want this for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is just in my nature. The second is that if the customer isn't happy with the piece then they won't wear it. If they don't wear it, no one else sees it and no one can ask them where they got it. It doesn't do anyone any good if a beautiful piece of jewelry ends up stashed in a drawer somewhere gathering dust. I'm not a big believer in owning something you'll get absolutely no use from.

As a customer you should find out FIRST what the jeweler's policy is on custom work. Will they redo the job if you don't like it? Do they show you drawings, models, computer renderings, etc. first? What will happen if they can't make a piece you're happy with? Personally I'm not a sketch artist so I don't do drawings. But I do show the customer a model of the piece in metal (usually, although sometimes it will be in a wax) so they can see what the final result will look like. I find this works better than any other method because the customer can actually try on the piece and see how it appears on their finger. Sometimes drawings or computer renderings of rings don't accurately reflect how it's going to look on YOUR finger. Ultimately, it's going to be on your hand, not on a flat piece of paper. I also offer to make up to three models without an additional charge. Over this I may add extra charges, but usually this is only if the customer has changed directions entirely and it isn't just some minor modifications of the design.

You should also ask around, or check some of the places where reviews are written (Yelp, etc.) to see if anyone has had any experiences with the jeweler you've chosen. While it isn't possible to make every single customer happy, the majority of what you hear should be on the positive side. This however is no guarantee that your taste will coincide with the taste of the jeweler, or the other reviewers. (Try reading restaurant reviews on line sometime for a few places you've been to and liked. Some people will love the food, some will hate it, and some will think it's mediocre. Everyone has different tastes.) If you don't like the way the work in the shop looks, you could probably assume that you aren't going to get something made that you're happy with. You also want to watch for these things when working with a jeweler: Are they actually listening to what you are saying? Do you feel comfortable with the jeweler? Do you feel confident in their abilities? Are they looking at the practical nature of what you want (i.e. do they warn you when the design you want will be too fragile, or the stone you want might be damaged in the way you want to wear it)? If you answer no to any of these questions, then I would always recommend you look elsewhere. A jeweler who might be a great match with one person might not be with another.
The picture at the top of the posting is a custom piece for a regular customer for whom the three aquamarines held some significance. If my memory serves me right there was also supposed to be a certain number of wires on the piece to represent something else. She knew that she wanted something with the three stones, the particular number of wires, and an irregular shape, but she wanted me to do something that was consistent with my usual look.
The two pictures posted in the middle and bottom of this post were of an aquamarine and diamond engagement ring. In this case the customer knew he wanted an antique looking ring and the general idea was pulled from pictures of antique rings. The specific lines were worked out by me and a computer design program was used in conjunction with this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Custom Work

What exactly is custom work? Unfortunately many jewelers (especially more traditional ones) seem to think that picking something out of a catalog from one of their suppliers and sticking your stone (or one you're purchasing from them) into it is custom work. In my book, however, custom work means creating a new design for the customer. If you come into my shop and see a piece I have made and say "That's lovely but I really want it with one of those natural color fine blue sapphires you have" that isn't custom work as it's just using an existing concept. On the other hand if you come in and say I want that design with a sapphire but I want you to change the way all of these wires are placed, that IS custom work. Or if you come in to me and say I want you to build an octagonally shaped design that measures 2" across and has a diamond set in the middle for earrings, that would be custom work.

I have been doing true custom work for 25 years and I have covered the full gamut of possibilities. I have set pieces of the Berlin Wall, rocks from the top of Mt. Everest, human teeth, canine teeth, metal pieces that were removed from healed human bone material, tyrannosaurus rex teeth, shells, found rocks, etc. I have worked on designs that customers have brought me sketched on pieces of tissue, done in fine detail on a computer program, or that they have dreamed of and relate to me verbally. I have worked on pieces that have meaning for people in some way or another, whether it be a mountain range they are fond of (Mt. Monadnock, the Grand Tetons, the Adirondack), ocean scenes, and even a tree that someone grew up with.

Custom work can be both challenging and interesting. It often requires me to stretch my skills to new levels. By far and away the stuff I have the most fun with, however, is the work that I do based on what I have out in the case, especially when the customer allows me to just go with the flow. The piece pictured here is one I recently finished that utilized a customer's tanzanite and assorted diamonds.

Next blog: More on custom work.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heat Treatment of Sapphires

The question that surrounds the entire issue of heat treatment of sapphires (or other gem materials) is: "What should I buy?" Personally I believe that if you see a stone you like and that the treatment is within the norms (i.e. heating as opposed to diffusion or dyeing) you should buy it. While it is nice to be able to say that your stone is completely natural, the fact of the matter is that man plays a role in the entire process whether treated or not. The stones are mined by man and cut to achieve their maximum beauty by man. If you want something completely natural you could always get a sapphire crystal, but most of them are really pretty ugly. I have given Kathy, my wife, both natural and heated sapphires. My concern is that the stone be beautiful, well cut and pleasing to the eye. The rest of it is moot. I don't want to own an ugly stone just because it hasn't been heated.

Years ago there was very little difference in the price between natural and heated sapphires. The general public had very little knowledge of what was being done to stones before they reached a retailer. Today, thanks to organizations like the AGTA and forward thinking retailers like myself and larger firms like Tiffany's, the public has been given the right to know what is being done to their stones. This has, in fact, led to a premium (in some cases a significant one) being placed on stones that can be proven to be natural color.

Unfortunately, there are still far too many jewelers out there who either don't understand what is being done themselves, or don't care about informing their customers (in some cases illegally). The FTC states that treatment of gem materials MUST be disclosed if the lack of treatment results in a significant price difference. Regrettably they don't define "significant" but a good lawyer could argue that even a 5% difference could be construed as that. Technically what this means is that fine sapphire that has been heated will need to be disclosed but tanzanite treatment would not (because ALL tanzanite that comes on the market has been heated). Personally, however, I have always believed that ALL treatments should be disclosed as the public has the right to know exactly what they are getting and acted accordingly.

So to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, buy what you like! Just make sure that you are informed about what it is you are actually buying.
Pictured above: Natural color sapphire.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Heat treatment of sapphires

Sapphires have been routinely heat treated for many years. The basic concept behind the treatment is that 9 times out of 10, heating the stones results in what is generally considered a more pleasing color. Some Sri Lankan sapphire occurs nearly colorless (known as "gueda") but can turn a wonderful blue color with heat treatment. Most material comes out of the ground lighter in color than what is considered most desirable.

Most desirable, of course, is often in the eye of the beholder. Personally I have always been drawn to lighter colors in sapphires as I find they sparkle more. But, either because of an individual's preference, or because of the heavy marketing of dark blue sapphires, many people want a very dark color in their sapphires.

All colors of sapphire can be heated. Much of the yellow sapphire on the market today seems to be heated. Most pink sapphire is heated. Purples are now routinely heated (although many years ago when I started selling purple sapphires most of them were not heated).

More recently sapphires have been diffusion treated. This is usually a process where the gems are heated but another element is added into the crucibles, either on purpose, or accidentally and the element is actually diffused into the stone's structure (this is all simplified quite a bit for an easier understanding of the process). Most diffusion treatments are effectively only surface treatments. This creates a problem as if you need to repolish a diffusion treated sapphire, the color will disappear. More recently however, it seems that some material has been created in which the diffusion treatment runs almost throughout the entire stone. By introducing another element into the gem, I believe this is no longer truly corundum and I won't personally sell diffusion treated stones. One of the reasons I work with so few gem dealers now is because I need to know exactly what I am getting and I only work with people I trust to know this.

I also refuse to buy my colored stones from any dealer who is not a member of the American Gem Trade Association ( They have more information on gemstone treatment on their website if you're interested in more information. Members of their organization MUST disclose all gemstone treatments on every invoice they write. They have been the front runner in the entire topic of gemstone treatment disclosure.

A few years ago, a plethora of orange sapphire suddenly appeared on the market in quantities not seen before. Since there had been no new mines producing the material found that could account for this, the gem trade began looking a little more closely at this material. It turned out that it was almost all diffusion treated using a new process in which the treatment went most of the way through the stones. It ended up with an almost virtual halt in the trade of orange sapphires for a number of years until proper identification methods could be researched and found. Recently orange sapphire has been reappearing in the marketplace (properly disclosed) and I was fortunate enough to just purchase about 15 cts. of beautiful natural color, unheated, orange sapphire melee (stones 3.5 mm and smaller). Anyone who would like to check out some of this material come on by my store sometime and I can show you.
Next posting: More on sapphire treatments
Pictured above: Four untreated sapphires.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Man is always trying to improve things that nature has created and gemstones are no exception. Gemstone treatments go back to ancient Egypt when they would throw agates into hot oil baths in order to quench crackle them and give them a different appearance. However, in today's world, with all of the scientific advancements that have occurred, gemstone treatments have gotten far more sophisticated and far harder to identify.

Some gemstones, like tanzanite, would not even be sold if it weren't for the treatments. Tanzanite comes out of the earth a pretty ugly brown color. It is only through heat treatment that the beautiful blue/purple color it is known for appear. Similarly blue topaz, while occasionally occurring naturally in blue, would never have gotten so popular if it were not for the irradiation/heating treatment that turns the excess of white material into blue.

Some treatments are less stable than others. Emeralds have always been oiled, or more recently fracture filled with an assortment of substances, in an attempt to reduce the visibility of the inclusions, or "jardin" that is common in almost all emerald material. Oil can leach out over time from normal wear and tear (washing your hands, exposure to cleaning agents, etc.) and the entire look of the stone can change over time because of this. Advancements in gemstone treatments (not all of which are completely ethical, especially if not disclosed at the time of purchase) led to diffusion treatments of many sapphires (along with some other gem materials). Diffusion treatments are a process in which other elements are either intentionally or accidentally forced into the stone through extended heat treatments. The problem with many of these stones is that the treatment leads to a change in color that is often only on the surface. If it becomes necessary to repolish the stone for some reason, the color underneath is completely different.

If only the very wealthiest people were interested in gemstones, than it wouldn't be necessary to treat many of these gem materials. But we're living in an egalitarian society now and everyone feels they should have the right to own a beautiful stone (fortunately, since I wouldn't be in business if that wasn't the case). There is far more demand than there is supply for the finest examples of some gem materials, hence the need for treatments to enhance the natural beauty of the gemstones coming out of the earth.
My next posting will discuss sapphire treatments.
Pictured above: Natural color fine cornflower blue sapphire.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two days ago a young couple came into my store with a set of two bands they had bought at a local gallery/shop as an engagement ring set for her that they wanted sized. One of them held a large, extremely low quality rose cut diamond (this is an old style of cutting in which the bottom is flat and facets are cut in a dome like shape on the top---but while the cutting style was old, these were modern cuts) in a low bezel setting that was attached to a very thin plain, hammered band (too thin, in my opinion, for a stone of that size). The stone was so heavily included that it was not transparent at all. The current "rage" in "designer" jewelry is to use rough diamond crystals or similar odd cuts of low quality diamonds. It keeps the designer's costs down but they can still say it's a big diamond (or at least that it is a diamond). A lot of these goods would have been used as industrial stones a few years ago, but these days everyone seems to be trying to shave their costs. Frankly I used some diamond crystals in my jewelry about 25 years ago, but I tend to be a little ahead of the times I guess.

The second ring (meant to be worn with the first) was the same design but with a much smaller rose cut stone that the customers were told was a grey diamond as well.

One of the first thing I asked this couple was if they had recently purchased the rings, and when they said they had, why they weren't having the store they bought the rings in size the bands.
After all, I always include free sizing (anytime) whenever I sell a piece of jewelry, and frankly I think that any store that sells rings (excluding perhaps antique stores) should offer the service. If you pay a lot of money (and this couple did) the rings should be made to fit. If I did the sizing I was going to charge them and that seems kind of silly to me. They said the "designer" who made the bands was in California, but I told them that the store that sold them should at least have a local jeweler they worked with who could do it for them. They decided that they would go back to where they purchased the rings and ask them to do it.

However, that isn't what this is really about. Because I am a Graduate Gemologist, and because I am always thorough when looking at a piece of jewelry someone presents me, I took a closer look at the stones. When I looked at the smaller one, I realized I could see a streak of blue in the stone. Now ANY diamond crystal that shows blue in it would be properly cut (into a modern brilliant) and sold as a blue diamond, even if the color doesn't extend through the stone. As a matter of fact, most natural color blue diamonds that I've been shown by dealers, are stones that you have to hold up and kind of look in the corners to find the blue in them. Obviously there are blue diamonds that aren't like this (I've sold one and the Hope Diamond is a most notable one), but the bulk of them are, as blue is such an incredibly rare color in diamonds.

My suspicions now aroused, I checked the stone with my diamond tester first, and when the reading came back negative, took a closer look at the stone under the microscope. Sure enough, there was a blue streak as I might see in a very low quality sapphire and there were inclusions indicative of it being a sapphire. We then had a longer discussion about what the salespeople had told them about the identity of the smaller stone and they insisted they had been told it was a diamond. At that point I told them that they had to go back to the store and deal with that issue first as it was far more important than the sizing issues.

Legally, if they were told in writing (definitively) or even verbally (harder to prove), that the stone was a diamond than that is what they are entitled to have and it is the legal responsibility of the store to provide them with the same ring with a diamond in it. Ethically it is also the RIGHT thing to do.

Most customers, when they are buying a piece of jewelry are buying blind. They have no real idea of what they are getting and it is up to the jewelry store to make sure that they are clearly told exactly what it is. I haven't heard back from this couple about what happened (not sure if I will either, as the bearer of bad news is often not appreciated much) so I'm not sure if I can provide readers with a final comment on this.

However, my point in this posting is that all jewelers (or stores selling jewelry) have both a legal and ethical responsibility to fully disclose exactly what a customer is buying, and if the customer does not understand the information, they should explain it more thoroughly. As a customer, you should always make sure you shop at jewelry stores where full disclosure is a normal part of the sale, and you should also insist that any information relating to the identity, or quality, of a stone is clearly written on the receipt.

Next posting: Gemstone treatments

Pictured above: One of my favorite pins: 18k, 22k gold with Tibetan turquoise, Chinese freshwater pearl, fancy colored sapphires, and diamond.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I always enjoy selling new designs more than old ones. Don't get me wrong. I always enjoy selling any of my jewelry. But, when I have a new idea, and it sells almost right away, or fairly soon after I make it, it gives me a much better kick. It means to me that I wasn't just imagining things when I decided it was a great piece to make.

While I also enjoy selling to anyone who comes in my shop, it's always nice when the "special" pieces go to someone I know a bit, who I know will appreciate it more. The drusy chrysocola pendant purchased in my first went to a somewhat older (as in age--she's 86) customer of mine, who's son and daughter-in-law buys from me quite regularly as well. She's a great person, travels extensively and, most importantly, has a wonderful sense of humor. And she loves my jewelry. What more could I ask?

I had put the piece in my window display and she happened to notice it as she walked by. No real selling involved here. Once she saw it, she just knew she had to have it. I wish it was this easy all the time!!!

In my next posting I'm going to get into some ethics issues revolving around the jewelry business as it seems to have come up a few times in the last few days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Designing a piece of jewelry is different for every jeweler. Some people are good sketch artists and can visualize and draw up ideas beforehand. Some people are good with the computer and can use Cad/Cam programs to build designs with that. Personally I just like to get in there and muck around with the metal. Sometimes I'll do a rough scribble of what I would like to do (I particularly like to do this on the walls of my workshop) but usually I just like to go to work. The gemstone I'm working around, and the metal I'm working with, often dictate where my designs will end up. Factors like durability, wearability and cost also enter the picture, especially when I'm working with large stones.

Every once in awhile I have an ah ha moment. For some reason it's almost always when I'm in bed (often asleep--hence the bags under my eyes all the time). One of the dominant themes that runs through a lot of my work came to me that way over 20 years ago when I was trying to do a new piece for my wife, Kathy, with a mobe pearl and some diamonds she had gotten in a piece before she knew me.

I had the same thing happen with the drusy chrysocola pictured in my first post (although it wasn't quite so meaningful). I woke up with the concept that I wanted to make it fit into a basket of sorts and that I wanted to cover up and use the brown part of the stone as the base for the design element while allowing the drusy part of the stone to speak for itself. The basket idea worked from an economic standpoint as well as I didn't have to build a large heavy bezel and back for a rather large stone.

Creating the actual piece, of course, was not nearly as simple as I anticipated at first, especially once I decided to add the diamonds. Soldering pieces onto an open wire basket without the whole thing falling apart is always fun. Trying to set stones into bezels (the piece that holds the stones) when there is no real support (I had to do it before I set the chrysocola) is also a lot of fun. Since I still handcraft so much of my jewelry, a lot of the things that I do are still a bit tricky, but a little challenge is always far more interesting than doing the same thing over and over again. And, as it happens, I made something up that I really liked.

In my next post I'll talk about actually selling the piece.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Buying gemstones

One of the best things I get to do in my job is buy gemstones. First of all it's a great way to spend money and not feel guilty about it! Over the years I've developed a more limited number of suppliers who can supply the quality of goods that I need along with offering products that meet my ethical needs (proper disclosure, sourcing, etc.). Most of them have become friends over the years and we all recognize how codependent we are. If they offer me a great product at a fair price, I can sell more of their product.

It's always fun to sort through hundreds, or even thousands, of loose gemstones to find that one or two that just moves or inspires you, or you know is simply so beautiful, that someone will come along who loves it as much as you do. I have different sources for different types of goods; some I only buy one or two types of things from, usually because they're specializing in a particular product, but some carry a range of goods that I buy. My primary sapphire dealer also carries beautiful tourmalines, garnets, peridots, etc. but doesn't sell pearls or opals. My opal/pearl supplier doesn't carry anything other than that.

My latest purchase was from Penny who's a West Coast based dealer who carries a lot of cabochon gemstones and a wide mix of goods. She always has some interesting pieces, more funky than my traditional stone suppliers, and while I don't buy a lot of goods from her I can always find something that excites me. The drusy chrysocola pictured in my previous posting (7/17) came from her in my latest purchase. The stones pictured with today's posting also came from her.

In my next posting I'll talk about how the design came about for the drusy chrysocola.

Pictured: Rutilated quartz, carved onyx, Argentine agate

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm starting my first blog.

I'm starting my first blog today, July 17, 2009. This is my latest piece for the cases that I made up about two weeks ago. It sold yesterday to one of my favorite customers. Tomorrow I'm going to tell you how I got the stone for this piece and how I came up with the design.