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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Let Me Sell Your Giant Diamonds for You!

yellow gold rectangular pin with purplish garnets
14k and 22k yellow gold pin with garnets
Any of you who have been regular readers know that while I am happy to give gold scrap credits for old gold pieces that are broken or you no longer want towards new pieces, I won't buy gemstones or diamonds from anyone. The primary reason for this is that so few stones I see actually are in the quality range of goods that I sell.  Another reason is that anything that has been worn over a period of time inevitably needs work done on it to get it back into shape for resale and usually it's simply not worth my time or effort to deal with the piece.

However what many of you don't know is that occasionally I will work on a commission basis to resell significant stones for my customers.  What do I mean by significant?  In the case of diamonds they have to be over 2 cts, and, unless there is something else interesting about them, preferably of fairly high quality.  In the case of colored stones they have to be larger and high quality no matter what.  The reason for this is that I work on a commission basis on these items and I need to make enough to make it worth my while to take time out from making and selling my jewelry. 

I recently had a customer come in with just such a project.  When the customer first told me about the stone, I assumed when he told me that it was a 20 ct. diamond that he had no idea of what he was talking about in terms of the size.  However it sounded like a project I might be interested in (even if it was nowhere near 20 ct) so I told him that I was happy to look at the stone.  When they actually came in with the stone however, I was a little taken aback at the size of it.  It was a pear shape and the stone was so large that the Leveridge gauge I use to measure stones wouldn’t actually measure the length of it, making it difficult to estimate the size.  The customer claimed she had been told that it was 25 ct.---it was her mother’s originally—but there was no way for me to know for sure as long as it was in the setting.  Now mind you the quality of this stone is nowhere near my quality range.  It was an I1 clarity and it had strong fluorescence.  The color grade was good however and it was most assuredly big---so big that I had never held a diamond that large in my hands---which qualified it for the "interesting" part of my criteria.
17.68 ct. pear shaped diamond ring next to a .75 ct. (center stone) ring
17.68 ct. pear shaped diamond
The customer and his wife had gone downtown to a local, very high end and big name jewelry store where they had been made an offer on the stone but they complained they didn’t like the gentleman they were talking to (who I believe was the owner of the company) and refused his offer of $50,000.    I told them I had no idea what the stone might really generate because it was out of my normal range of goods (both in terms of the clarity grade and the size) and that because of the size there were no diamond price charts one could look at to get an idea of the value.  But I discussed with them what the minimum amount they might like was and the fee I would charge for my work on selling it. 

In working with one of the dealers I sell to occasionally the initial price he was talking about was far above the initial offers but we still didn’t know what the actual weight was and our measurements were yielding estimates much lower than the customer’s belief that it was 25 ct.  So while we were initially thinking it was at least 20 ct. we knew we had to find out the actual weight.  So we popped out the stone finally.  It weighed out at 17.68 ct.  Still the biggest stone I’ve ever held! 

Unfortunately the price came down a bit once we realized it wasn’t over 20 ct., but for this stone I was able to get $80,000 ($30,000 more than the other offer made) for my customers after my commission, which they have happily accepted. 

Now I won’t do this kind of thing for people for ordinary smaller diamonds because, quite frankly, it isn’t worth my time unless the piece is unusual and I can make a reasonable commission.  But if you happen to have a larger diamond you have inherited or an unusual colored gemstone, please come by and see me. Perhaps we can all make some money together.  

The picture of the piece of mine at the top of the page was a very old piece of mine which is why it was made with 14k gold instead of my usual 18k.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How Long Does it Take?

Carved, satin finish onyx with gold and diamond pendant
18k yellow gold, onyx and diamond pendant

I routinely get people in who ask how long it takes me to make some of my pieces.  It's an interesting question but, in fact, not a simple one to answer.  So I think I'll try to dissect the question today to make you understand what goes into actually making a piece.  But first some background for it!

I've been making jewelry for more than 40 years.  This means that I have developed skill levels above and beyond what most jewelers have.  It also means that I'm faster than most jewelers.  (I'm also far humbler than most jewelers (-; ).  What might take my assistant Kady an hour or two to do can take me 15 minutes sometimes. Mind you,  I've always been fast.  When I started making jewelry the jeweler I apprenticed for routinely developed methods to consistently and quickly make up designs so the idea of working quickly was ingrained in me from the beginning.  Over the years I have also always had the attitude that it doesn't really matter how you get there, as long as it's finished right and you do get there.  Many traditional jewelers would never use some of the methods I employ to get a job done quickly because they weren't taught that way and they often don't think it's the "right" way to do something. I remember attending a seminar on platinum a number of years ago and the teacher, who is an internationally recognized expert in the field, repeatedly said that you should never use an oxy-acetylene torch when working with platinum.  I've only used an oxy-acetylene torch in the 30 years I've been working with platinum and I've never had any problems.  Go figure!

However what this all means in terms of how long it takes to make a piece is that I might be able to produce a ring in an hour (in actual bench time, more on that in a bit), but the very same ring might take someone else 3-4 hours.  It also might take an employee 3-4 hours so when I figure out the labor involved I have to plan on that and not my Flash (as in the comic book) like abilities. 

So can I make a piece in an hour?  Well certainly some of them, however there is never actually only an hour involved. Anything that gets soldered needs to sit in a pickle (acid bath) for extended periods of time after the soldering in order to be clean enough to work on again.  This is one reason why it gets tricky for me to even know exactly how long it takes me to make something.  Because there is always a lot of down time in the middle of my work, I routinely work on multiple pieces at once.  Sometimes I have a half dozen or more pieces in progress all at once.  So while I may actually work on a particular piece for an hour it's rare that anything can actually be done from start to finish in a short time period. 

But then there is another issue and that is why I have posted the picture of the onyx, gold and diamond pendant above that I just finished up last week.  I bought the carved onyx I used in this piece in 2008.  One of my regular suppliers was here on a selling trip and I fell in love with the piece.  I knew I wanted to do something with it. Over the years since then I would pull it out of my stone boxes and sit it on my bench and think about how I wanted to approach the piece.  Routinely it went back in the box after lying around on my bench for a month or so.  At the beginning of this year I was doing a more thorough cleaning of my workshop than usual and found it hanging out near my bench again.  This was in the middle of January.  I spent another month and a half thinking about what I wanted to do with the piece.  And then, out of the blue, it came to me.  The piece was completed over a period of two days.  But it took me six whole years to figure out what I was going to do with it.  So how much time did it take me to make it?  If I charged according to the number of years of my time I spent on it, I should be selling it for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  However fortunately for you (and unfortunately for me) I don't charge for my work in that way (the piece is only $1075---a bargain when you consider the years of thought that actually went into it).

There are other factors that go into the time frame on my pieces.  A number of my pieces (mostly my wedding bands) are cast pieces. This means that I initially make up a model and then have a mold made so that the piece can be reproduced more easily.  Many times these are pieces that have fairly complex designs and the initial design and work time on the piece can be quite substantial.   Once that is accomplished however finishing up the castings is a much simpler process. So if it takes me 10 hours to get a proper model made up and then only a half hour to finish the casting later, how much time did it actually take me to make the piece?  And of course when something is hand built from scratch it will always take longer than a casting will.  Sometimes these pieces can go quickly too and then sometimes everything possible will go wrong with them on the way.  I've been known to remake a ring three or four times because I can't get it right the first time.  You, of course, don't see that as you only see the end result. 

So how long does it take me to make a piece?  Anywhere from an hour to 40 years!

Please feel free to share this article with my newly located Facebook buttons on the upper right.  And please feel free to leave a comment.  I know you read these things.  You're always coming in the store and telling me you do.  Even if you just want to say hi!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ideal Cut Diamonds

necklace composed of blue opal beads with gold spacers and a gold center piece.
22k yellow gold and boulder opal bead necklace
About a week ago one of the jewelers I know called me and asked if I could help her out with a customer she was working with.  She helps people trying to do a "do it yourself" project with jewelry sometimes (not something I recommend as inexperience in this field rarely leads to fine results but that's another story).  So she had a young gent who had managed to design a ring (nothing very original but that's also another story) on a computer using Cad-Cam and had a local casting company cast the piece up in platinum for him.  He had purchased three diamonds from an online company whose big thing is that they (supposedly---but that's yet another story) sell ethically sourced stones and jewelry.

The reason they came to me is because somewhere in the design to casting process some little beads had been added in on various parts of the ring that were not a design element and were not supposed to be there.  No one knew how they even got on there.  They weren't a mistake in the casting process as they were quite regularly placed.  Unfortunately they were regularly placed in areas where it was just about impossible to get them cleaned out of.  (Again, this is why I don't recommend do it yourself jewelry projects.)  He also needed to get the stones set into the four prong settings.  I don't believe in four prong settings because if you lose one prong you can lose the stone. If you have six prong settings you have to lose three prongs to lose a stone.  But when confronted with a design that only four prongs were going to work on (and this was one of them) I believe you need to make the prongs substantial enough that it is going to take quite a bit to knock one off or wear it down.  The prongs on this ring were nowhere near heavy enough, but again, this is why I don't recommend this kind of stuff (have I said that enough yet?).  So when no one else can do it, people like to bring it to me.  Sweet, huh?

But this isn't really about the ring itself. It's about ideal cut diamonds.  So what is an ideal cut diamond?

In 1919 a mathematician diamond cutter named Marcel Tolkowsky worked out a formula on what angles to cut a diamond to that would result in the maximum amount of brilliance, scintillation and fire in a diamond.  He figured out how the light would best travel through the stone and be reflected back out at the viewer by the facets below.  This involved a series of calculations, including the size of the table (the top flat area on a diamond) relative to the total size of the stone, the crown angle (the angle the top part of the diamond is cut to), the pavilion angle (the angle the bottom part of the diamond is cut to), and the crown and pavilion height percentage. An ideal cut diamond has to have the correct measurements in all of these categories in order to be considered ideal.

Tolkowsky had a cousin named Lazare Kaplan who was also in the diamond business and he went on to cut, promote and sell ideal cut diamonds and he was the first to do that.  The company he formed, originally Lazare Kaplan and now Lazare Diamond, has been in the forefront of many of the innovations in the diamond marketplace.  They developed the technology to laser inscribe the girdles of diamonds that is so prevalent today among other things.

Now when I started selling Lazare ideal cut diamonds about 25 years ago, hardly any diamonds (less than 1%) were actually being cut to ideal proportions. The primary reason for this was because when cutters cut a stone to ideal proportions they lose more weight from the rough than normal.  Most cutters, being paid by weight, just wanted to get the largest stone possible from the rough and since at certain sizes (.50 ct., .75 ct. 1 ct. etc.) there were significant price jumps just for hitting that weight, stones were often cut horribly just to hit the desired weight.

However about ten years ago, there was a subtle shift in the martketplace and the fourth "C"--cut--started to become more and more important as customers realized that the stone could be a "D" color, Flawless and still look bad if it was poorly cut.  However, as always seems to happen in business, as soon as people started to look for better cuts, the marketplace stepped in and began to "market" cut as well.  Unfortunately (and also as always seem to happen in business) this meant that once the term "ideal cut" was acknowledged as an important term, it began to be applied to any diamond that the companies thought they could get away with it.  They described stones as "near" ideal (a little like the idea of being a "little" pregnant) first.  Then as the Internet companies jumped into the fray they began to come up with more new terms like "super" ideal, "signature" ideal, or "insert company name here" ideal.

These are all completely bogus terms.  An ideal cut stone has to fall into the angles and sizes specified by Tolkowsky to be considered an ideal cut stone.  An excellent cut grade from the GIA or other gem labs is not necessarily an ideal cut stone.  It may be a well cut stone but it isn't an ideal cut. Actually some of the terms are slightly nuts.  One well known on line diamond site lists stones that are ideal cut and then others that are "signature" ideal cuts.  In looking over the angles on the stones it seems that what they sold as "ideal" cuts had no relation to a true ideal cut, but that the "signature" ideal cuts actually came in closer to what a true ideal cut should be. In other words the term "ideal cut" has been completely bastardized to fit whatever marketing gimmick the companies choose to use.

So back to my original story.  The young gent handed me the three stones he had purchased from the "ethically sourced" company and told me he had bought them as "super ideal" cuts.  The pricing on them seemed a little low for anything like that so I took a quick peek under the microscope at them.  It was immediately apparent that not one of them fit into the ideal category.  There is one thing you can look for on a diamond table that will almost instantly tell you if the stone is ideal.  A diamond's table that is in the 53%-57% range established by Tolkowsky as part of the ideal range will almost always have the lines that create the table bow inward surrounding it.  It took me less than 30 seconds to see this was not the case.  I confirmed it later using more advanced measuring devices but there was absolutely no way the stones would have been considered ideal cut by anyone who actually knew what an ideal cut is.

 So first of all how can the company call itself ethical if it's lying about what it's selling?  Secondly, while the stones seemed inexpensive for an ideal cut, they weren't actually ideal cut so there is no possible way the customer could have compared pricing to see if he was actually getting a good price.
The Internet is like the Wild West and there are very few controls on what is allowed.  I have personally seen more bogus information on metals, colored stones and diamonds then you could imagine.  My suggestion, as always, is to work with a local, well educated jeweler.  Work with someone you can talk to and who you trust.  It's always better to spend a little more but to know that you got what you paid for rather than just to look at a final price tag.

The ring, incidentally came out just fine when I was done with it.  You never would have known there had been some bizarre small bumps all over it.  I still wouldn't have made the prongs as thin as they were but there wasn't anything I could do about that.

If you are a regular reader you might notice that I have installed a like and share button for Facebook.  If you are on social media, please use the buttons.  Actually you can even go through now and post some of your favorite articles I've written on there if you'd like.  The more people who know about me, the better off I am.  Thanks so much.

The picture above is of my wife's 25th anniversary present.  It's 22k gold with boulder opal beads.  But I can make one for you too if you'd like!