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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.