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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jewelry Security

Men's wedding band with diamond boston
I have, unfortunately, talked to more and more customers recently who have had to deal with thefts at their homes, so I thought I would write a couple of articles about this issue.  The first thing of course is that you should have insurance, but I'm going to leave that issue for the third article in this series. In this one I'm going to talk about some practical measures for safeguarding your property.

As a jeweler I've always had to deal with issues around security. It is simply a part of my job at all times. The entire idea behind creating a secure environment is to have a layered approach, incorporating different security measures, some of them being redundant.  A little paranoia is necessary to truly act on the issues of security and in this case it's not a bad thing.

So what can you do at home to create a secure environment for your valuables?  Well first of all, you can take some rather simple, basic steps in your daily routines like always closing and locking your windows when you leave the house (for those of you in a high rise this may not be necessary, but for those of you living in 2nd or 3rd floors (especially with easily accessible fire escapes it is still a necessity).  You should also make sure you don't ever leave your doors unlocked, even when you are out working in the back yard or running up the street quickly.  Criminals look for EASY opportunities to ply their trade and there is nothing they like better than an unlocked door they can slip into.

The next step is to hide or secure your valuables (and these days this would include things like documents that have detailed information about you that could be used for identity theft).  Hiding things is better than leaving them out lying around, but trust me, most of the places you would think about hiding your stuff has already been thought of by the bad guys.  But the harder it is to find something, and the more things you put up in the way (like locked doors inside your residence), the longer it will take for the thieves and, trust me, they don't want to spend any more time there than they absolutely have to.  You can also separate out your better jewelry from the costume stuff and leave the costume stuff more visible, making them either think that is all you have or at least forcing them to look further for the better goods.

A better solution is to get a safe to keep your valuables in.  However you need to think about safes.  Any small safe that can be picked up and carried out is worthless, as that is exactly what the criminals will do (and then they will open it at their leisure).  There are ways to permanently secure safes to beams in the house (many contractors will do built in, hidden safes for a cost) or concrete floors, but if you have a bunch of stuff and it has a high value you really need to consider a safe that is not easily moved to begin with. There are then different levels of safe security as well. Gun safes are usually just about useless as most of their doors can be peeled back with a crowbar.  However, when considering safes you have to consider the amount of value, relative to the cost of the safe.  If you have one ring worth $1000 to secure and you spend $5000 on a safe it really doesn't make much sense.  On the other hand if you have a hundred thousand dollars worth of jewelry you really should invest in some decent protection for it.  Of course if you have a safe you have to remember to use it properly. I have some customers who have a built in, fairly secure safe, but they would only lock it when they went away for a trip.  Consequently, they got robbed when they were out for the day and the safe was open and it was pretty easy at that point for the crooks to know that anything actually in the safe was the valuable stuff.  So if you have a safe you need to keep your valuables actually in it and you need to make sure to keep it locked at all times. 

You can also get a safe deposit box and keep the more valuable items in there when they are not in use. Admittedly this is a pain in the neck because you have to go and retrieve the stuff and then make sure you put it back, but if you have some very high end pieces that you don't wear often, this minimizes your risk. 

So, for starters, keep your doors and windows secured, hide your valuables, preferably in separate, locked areas, and think about a safe and/or a safe deposit box.  The next level of security has to do with alarm systems and I think I will deal with that in the next article and then the insurance issue in the following one. 

The ring at the top of the page is an 18k yellow gold and platinum men's wedding band with a diamond in it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rare Gemstones

Rainbow moonstone clasp in Boston and Cambridge
Rainbow Moonstone, 18k Gold Clasp
The clasp pictured here is 18k yellow gold with a rainbow moonstone.  Rainbow moonstones are technically not moonstones although, like moonstones, they are in the feldspar family of gem materials.  Rainbow moonstone is a trade name that came about because instead of the typical milky white or bluish sheen floating over regular moonstones, these had pinks, purples, yellow or oranges as highlights.  They have always been a favorite of mine and my wife owns a number of magnificent pieces that came out of my primary source for this gem material's personal collection. 

However a number of years ago, rainbow moonstone became an endangered species.  The mines they were coming from were basically mined out of all the better and larger material available.  Now mind you, this doesn't mean that there isn't mining still going on, but it tends to be of the tailings (the material first thrown away from a mine that,  after a mine has been spent, is often gone back through to find anything now deemed worthwhile). It also doesn't mean that there aren't other jewelers  who bought large amounts of the material when it was available that have back stock of it they can still release (as I had to explain to one of my customers who after I told her that I could no longer get rainbow moonstone because the mines were mined out showed up with a new piece she had bought elsewhere with rainbow moonstones in it and told me I was wrong).  And it also doesn't mean that there isn't other material (like blue sheen moonstone) that has a similar look but isn't really rainbow moonstone. 

When the material first showed up in the marketplace I was selling it for $20-50/carat on a regular basis.  Now if I can even find the material it's five to ten times that amount in cost to ME!  This particular stone is a great reminder of just how precious some gem materials truly are.  When it reaches a point where there is no new material coming in to the market place, not only do prices rise rapidly but availability becomes a huge issue.  Natural gemstones are NOT a renewable resource.  Once they come out of the ground, they can't be replaced.  The only way to have more material is to continually find new sources.  Unfortunately, like tanzanite, rainbow moonstone simply doesn't have other sources than its original ones. So sometimes, when you see a truly unique and beautiful gemstone, you should simply buy it because you never know whether you'll be able to again.

So where did I get the rainbow moonstone in this piece?  I had the good fortune to be approached by my primary moonstone supplier who had just taken on selling a collector's collection of rainbow moonstones as she needed the money more than the gems.  I bought a number of pieces from her because I knew I wouldn't have another opportunity unless another collector decided to sell out.  The one in the picture has some beautiful oranges floating across its surface. 

I am always interested in any feedback my readers might have.  I know you're reading this because you come in the shop and tell me and because I can see it on my blog tracking, so please write something back. Anything....just to let me know what you think. And sign up as a follower too. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lessons Learned, Fun Clasp, and Opal Earrings

Beautiful triangular opal earrings boston/cambridge
18k yellow gold, Ethiopian opals and diamonds
A long time ago I learned that it is always better to not try to do everything yourself.  Despite the fact that I am an extremely well rounded jeweler in terms of my skills, there are certain things that, while I know how to do them, I realize it is far better to let someone with the proper skills (and patience) take care of.  I have belonged to a couple of jewelery news groups on the web and I was always amazed at what some of the "jewelers" (I use that term loosely since many of them weren't professionals) would make inquiries about.  They would want to know what people used to do their tax returns, how to build steam cleaners, how to build their own tools, etc.  I could never figure this out.  I mean, if you're a jeweler then you should be spending your time making jewelry, not filling out tax forms (there are accountants to do that), making your own tools (that are, unless you need something very specialized, available for a pittance in terms of your time wasted), or, as in the one case of one very misinformed gent, trying to make your own steam cleaner (which is the only thing that absolutely every person on the forum told him not to attempt to make on his own as it requires building a secure, high pressure boiler that, yes, if improperly made, can explode).

Consequently, I don't do my own casting (the people I know who tried to do the limited amount of casting I would be doing overwhelmingly had poor results).  I don't do my own engraving.  I don't do my own stone cutting. There is one particular type of stone setting that I don't do myself.  And I don't do my own stringing.  I know how to do every one of these things and have actually done them all.  But it quickly became quite apparent that to become a really good, and quick, stringer I would have to spend years perfecting the practice. Same with engraving.  These types of things are specialty projects and are best done by people who do it all day long every day.  Sure I could restring your pearls, but I'd have to charge you ten times as much and it just wouldn't be as good as what my stringer does.  Quite honestly, I also find some of these repetitive jobs incredibly boring (not that some of my work doesn't get a little repetitive but at least it's usually when I have a torch in my hand and I always like to play with fire) and they don't really go anywhere towards the things I love to do best which is actually making up new pieces.

So why am I talking about this (besides the obvious at this point that I like to talk)?  Of the things I don't do, engraving is like an add on to a piece, stone cutting is nice but I want to make the jewelry with the stones, and I only cast designs that I make a model up for, and the casting process really isn't about "making jewelry--plus I still do all the finish work on the pieces.  However, when it comes to selling strung product (pearls and beads), stringing is kind of the whole thing---well, usually.  But I'm not usual, so I refuse to use any commercial clasps on my strung product that I sell out of the case. I have for about 30 years always made my own clasps to go on the pieces.  While a lot of the clasps are just a simple "S" style clasp, some of them are much more interesting.  I have shown some clasps on the blog at times but I thought I would show you some pictures of a variation on an "S" clasp that is a two sided clasp.  This particular one has work, and stones, on both the front and back. In the event it rolls over there will always be something interesting to look at. This is a custom piece I made for a customer using her diamond and my chrome tourmaline.

The best thing about my strung product is that once I have it strung for an "S" style clasp or some of my fancier ones (see this blog picture here), you can always add more clasps to your collection as all of them will work on the same strand of pearls or beads.  In other words, your partner never needs to think much about a new gift, they just have to get a new clasp!

The picture at the top of the page is of the new earrings I made up with the Ethiopian opals I got in recently that I mentioned in a prior posting. We got some good representation of the color but it's even better than the picture shows as there are some red flashes that didn't come through.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Gold Prices

18k gold swirl earrings with pearls
18k gold "Pearl Swirls" 
I'm not sure how many of you follow the gold market as closely as I (and most other jewelers) do, and frankly I never used to have to follow it as much myself.  Gold prices remained fairly stable for years and while they changed on a daily basis, we never used to see the kinds of swings that have occurred in the last few years. However with the stratospheric heights gold has risen to in the last few years it has become more and more important to watch where gold is going.  If I place an order for gold on downswings it can mean savings of up to 5% often on my metal costs.  Of course, since I can't predict where it's going in general, I also can get hit on the upswing as I have no control over when my orders will be produced and actually shipped and I pay a price for the metals based on the day they are shipped. In the long run for me price variations don't make a huge difference since sometimes I pay more and sometimes I pay less. It all tends to average out in the long run.  I also learned long ago that I could no more predict the way gold was going then I could predict when the sun was going to shine next. 

All that being said, gold seems to be on a downward slide right now.  It has come down from its highs and is hovering in the upper $1500 range right now.  As it happens it did this same thing last year around this time, so this may just be another seasonal temporary drop.  However a good deal of the reason gold skyrocketed as it did had to do with people's fears about the economy and there are now very distinctive signs that the economy is picking up steam again (check out today's job report) which could lead to a longer term, more permanent, drop in the price.  While the days of $400/oz gold will probably never return (it now costs more than $800/oz to retrieve 1 oz of gold from the ground), it is possible that we could see a return to more subdued figures in the long run. Please remember here that I have never been able to predict the price of gold so I may be completely wrong in all of my thinking but I do read a lot about the movement of the market and I think it will continue a slow but steady drop over a long period of time. I also have customers who are in the market and they claim it will start to go up again and reach new heights but to date it hasn't gone back up to its peak of $1900/oz that it reached in September 2011 and I'm not sure it will during the near future.  Notable also is that most gold mining company stocks have plummeted in the last year. 

So why am I bringing all this up?  Well as some of you know by now I will take gold in as payment towards custom work and case sales (and repairs as it happens).  I don't buy gold outright from anyone but it has turned into something as good as cash for me since I have a network of scrap buyers who will pay me on the day it has been turned in, which means I can pretty much guarantee what price I will get for it.  And I have had a lot of customers coming in the past two years who have taken advantage of this to get themselves into some new pieces of jewelry using old jewelry that is broken, unworn or, as in the case of earrings, where parts have been lost. With gold prices where they are these bits and pieces can add up significantly fairly quickly.  This is the first time in history that you can sell for scrap commercial pieces (note this will not apply to handmade, designer or custom pieces as the labor charges are much higher on those items) you bought 7-20 years ago for more than you paid for them.  However with gold prices on the downward swing, you will get less for your scrap and it might be time to finally consider gathering up all of that stuff and trading it in.  Even if you don't know what you want right now, I'm always happy to keep a credit in my system for future purchases.

Pictured above are some new earrings I did recently.  18k yellow gold and pearls.  By the way, my offer in my last post for a $50 store credit if you come in and ask to see the orange sapphire is good through the end of March.