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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Anatomy of a Custom Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Thought For the Season

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

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

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Day, Another Picture and Strange Karma

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Picture of the Day

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Picture and Rerun of an Old Post

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Party Ring

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Tourmaline Earrings

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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