Dutch friends, new bling


Aquamarine and sapphire pendant, about 1 1/4 x 7/8 inches

My mom loves the Netherlands.  She loves the wide-open green flatness, the canals, the skinny city houses,  the Noordzee, and the spring flowers.  But most of all, she loves the Dutch.  There was never a Friday when she left the office without her Dutch coworkers making sure she had plans, never a moment when she didn’t feel welcomed and included.  While she’s enjoyed the people most everywhere she’s worked around the world, the Dutch became family.

After years spent living and working in The Hague,  my mom has come home for a job in San Diego.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make.  While there were many compelling reasons to move back to the States, it was so very hard for her to leave her friends; her Dutch family.

As my mom readied herself for the move to San Diego, her beautiful friend Susanne emailed–on behalf of all the Dutch friends– to ask me for ideas for a parting gift.  I suggested they take her for a tattoo, but the Dutch are way classier than me: they opted for jewelry, and ordered my Aquamarine Waterfall Pendant.

aquamarine and moonstone Waterfall Pendant

And that would have worked out just fine, if my mother wasn’t so damn full of damn opinions.  Luckily, her Dutch friends know that she’s a veritable opinion piñata.

Mom asked that I use a stone she already had  instead of the aquamarine cabochon (above) my design called for.  Her stone was a big, gorgeous, faceted aquamarine she had purchased from a British friend in The Hague  shortly before he died (we’re going to call that the new aquamarine from here on).

The challenges? The new aquamarine wasn’t interchangeable with the stone in my design, and a new design was needed to account for the stone’s unique attributes.  I did, however, need to keep with the two-stone look of the pendant I had been asked to make.

Where the original aquamarine cab in the design was all about watery relaxation, the faceted aquamarine was all sparkle and glamour, and just didn’t work well with the laid-back moonstone cabochon of the original pairing.  I opted to pair the new aquamarine with a gorgeous cornflower blue, flower-cut sapphire.

Another challenge was the cut of the new aquamarine: the stone was incredibly deep--half as deep as it was wide– and I needed my design to creatively account for that depth; to allow the face of the sapphire to be on the same plane as the face of the aqua, without looking awkward.

My  solution: A medieval-looking b0x setting,  stones set with prongs to keep them open and airy.

I hope all of my mother’s Dutch friends love what I came up with, I’m really pleased with my design, and my mom loved it.  After gasping, she declared, “I’m going to get mugged wearing this!”

And that is high praise from the Bling Jedi Master.

*Thanks Mom, for the image!



Ring fail and the evils of white gold

I was quite excited about this ring… its beginning stages.   Let’s discuss, and then a word on white gold.

Pleased with the profile of the ruby ring I showed you last week, I wanted to play with that look.  I liked the forward thrust of the angled bezel under the roundness of the ruby cabochon,  and wanted to go further with the tapered bezel/cabochon combo.  How about oversizing it a bit, for a more whimsical look?  Maybe mixing yellow and white gold to make a more contemporary piece?  How about we brush the white gold for a satin finish?

The new piece?  It works in some ways, but not in others.

From the front, I’m feeling the love.  Because I was going for a more modern look, I made the bezel quite heavy, and from straight-on I like the look.   The bezel is in balance with the band, the aquamarine a wide, glowing orb shown to its best advantage.  I wouldn’t say I hit the mark on “whimsical,” but from the front this is a balanced, feminine, clean design.

But viewed from the side…..

Fail, for several reasons.

The band is too slight.   I started with a milled, heavy gauge round wire, and wanted to keep that milled, super-symmetrical look.  However, as often is the case with a new design, there were many restarts.  Solder, sand, hate, unsolder, sand, resolder, sand, hate, unsolder…… What with the sanding and hating the band dwindled away a bit, and it now fails to balance the heavy bezel.

Now, the bezel.   It doesn’t have the clean sharpness needed to read as contemporary; it needs a sharper edge in front, a tighter angle in the taper. Lacking that sharpness, it ends up  heavy and  graceless.  Neither here nor there.

As long as this ring is ONLY seen from dead-front, we’re cool.  Sadly, that means we have an overall fail, because if it doesn’t work in every way?  It doesn’t work.

Were I to continue to play with this idea, I could go in either of two directions.   I could lose the tapered bezel, allowing the stone to sit flush with the bezel. Pretty, simple, clean, feminine.   Or, I could do a redo on the contemporary look.   Sharpening up that bezel, bulking up the band, aiming for what I missed this time.

Now, white gold. This is the first time you’ve seen me work with white gold.  That is because white gold is on my axis of evil, although I understand it has its place in goldsmithing.

There are two problems with white gold.  Well, three, if you count  being evil.  So, three problems: evil, finish, malleability.

1. Evil.

2. Finish.  Many are in love with white gold, but the bright white shine they equate with white gold isn’t really white gold.  It’s rhodium.

14k white gold is 14 parts deep yellow gold, and 10 parts alloy.  That’s a lot of deep rich gold, and because of this, white gold will never be brighter white than a steely, silver color.  White gold, at its whitest, is not as white as silver.  That beautiful bright white, shiny finish seen on white gold pieces in jewelry stores?  That’s a rhodium plating on top of the gold, used to make real white gold more attractive. People who love think they love white gold really love white, shiny rhodium plating.

3.  Malleability.  Remember when we talked about alloying?  Yellow gold is allowed with copper and silver, and the intent is to keep as much gold color as possible while adding a bit of hardness.   In aiming for white gold, however, the goal is to lose the whiteness, and so different alloys are used.  Rat bastard alloys.  Evil alloys.

White gold is usually alloyed with nickel or palladium. Palladium yields a more malleable, grayer 14k white gold.  It can discolor over time, it becomes brittle with repeated heating.  It’s a bastard.   Nickel yields a much whiter (the band, above, is 14k nickel-alloyed gold), much, much less malleable white gold.  Much less malleable.  Like, don’t even bother trying to forge it into pretty shapes and curves.

White gold is also less stable than its yellow counterpart.  Heated to melting, yellow will cool to roughly the same work properties it started with.  Melted, white gold will cool to a grainy, brittle mess which needs to be returned to the refiner for chemical processing.

I’m often asked to make my designs in white gold.  White gold, brittle and less ductile, does not take well to the forging techniques I use.  I don’t start with milled  stock, and this is what gives my work its hand-wrought feel.  My pieces are forged; I don’t want the look of machine-milled metal, and with white gold it is best to start with machine-milled stock and go with simple fabrication.

However, I do think white gold has an interesting, steely look, and I can make peace with it if I can work milled bits of it into my designs.  That’s what you see above.  An attempt at making peace with white gold; of having an inclusive studio.   I’m a jewelry diplomat.  I’m like the Ghandi of jewelry, the MLK of bling.

I know.


Aquamarine Waterfall Pendant

waterfall necklace 5

I might possibly, maybe have been just a wee tiny little bit insufferable about this pendant when I finished it.  My exact words might have been something like,  “Wow.  I mean, just wow.  I am incredibly talented.  Seriously.  I am just really, really truly gifted.  And I’m not bragging, I’m just stating the obvious.”

And those around me who have to listen to this just roll their eyes, shake their heads and let me have at it.  They know these moments of adrenaline-fueled vanity are brief.   They know that tomorrow I could be singing a different tune:  “I suuuuuuck  and I’ll never be successful and I hate everything and then we will all die a horrible death, the end.”

See?  One balances out the other, and I’m all about the healthy balance.

But, the pendant!  A 12mm long teardrop aquamarine cabochon sits above a rainbow moonstone, and hangs on an 18 inch gold chain.

I’ve been on a bit of a ring kick over the past year, and with this design I’ve been able to get excited about necklaces and pendants, too.  It’s the combining of stones that’s hooked me; the one gem playing off the other that makes this interesting to me, and while Valerie was here we sat down and did some brainstorming, organizing, and ordering of stones for future pairings and groupings.  If you are very good, blogosphere, I will show you those tomorrow.

Stones · Studio

Ruby and Aquamarine

Look at the new pretties!

Aquamarine cabochon and Ruby
Aquamarine cabochon and Ruby

I am so excited, and I know just what I’m going to do with these two.  I’m not going to tell you though, because I worry it would be too much for you.  You’d be so overwhelmed by all the potential awesomeness that you would fall to the floor, convulsing,  saying,  “No Katie!  The world can’t handle that awesomeness!  Don’t do it!”  I don’t want to do that to you, because I love you, blogosphere.  You’re welcome.

First, the aquamarine.  3.5 ct, glowy and the loveliest color.  I’ve been keeping my eye out for aquamarine cabochons, and loved this one.   A faceted aquamarine is all about cut and clarity and depth of color, but cabochons are about personality and color.  This one reminds me of the sea, and isn’t that what aquamarines are supposed to do?  A beautiful oceanic color, flecked with tiny swirls of minute black speckles.  It looks like a ladleful of ocean scooped up and turned to stone. Love. It.

The ruby. A 2.18ct Vs-SI Ruby.   My beautiful niece picked this out while I was up north.  She is seven, and after I ran down cut and color basics, I told her my price range and set her searching.  When she came up with this stone, I had to agree it was gorgeous.

(Thanks to Jake for the photo.  I was fixin’ to start swearing in frustration [which is good, as we now know], when Jake kindly took over the Vaka photography department.)

The challenge when stone shopping is finding a good mix of size, quality and price.   If I spent a thousand dollars per stone, I’d have an easy choice to make;  2 carat, thousand dollar rubies are all gorgeous.  But I want the stones I purchase to allow me to keep my prices reasonable, and most people can’t afford a piece of jewelry which holds a thousand dollar ruby.  I want my jewelry to be an attainable luxury.

While some of my pieces might be quite expensive, I want the majority of my collection to be affordable to a woman buying something beautiful for herself.  It may take her several months of saving before she can treat herself,  but she can purchase something of quality and beauty if she wishes to do so.  This means, at least for my ready-to-purchase designs, that a 2 ct thousand dollar ruby is out of the question.

I spend hours and hours searching the stock lists of vendors who I’ve found, through trial and error, to be reliable and honest.

This ruby has great color, but the cut is crooked….

That ruby has a terrific cut, but the color just doesn’t pop….

This one  has a gorgeous cut and gorgeous color, but a visible crack…

This one has great cut and color, but it’s too small for what I have in mind…

The process is a treasure hunt, and one I really enjoy.

After finding the best stone, I need to design the setting in a way which minimizes  the flaws, and maximizes the stone’s attributes. The designer’s job would be a no-brainer if every stone was a perfect 2 ct ruby, and cost was no matter!

This ruby is  lovely, but at 6.5 x 6.5 x 4.95 mm it is quite deep. That 4.95 mm means it will need a setting which allows for its depth, but also remain fairly open in the back.  If I closed in the back of the bezel, it would dramatically darken the stone’s gorgeous color, and that’s one of the best things about this stone, isn’t it?  I need my design to allow as much light as possible, hold the stone high, be sturdy (it’s holding a 2+ carat ruby for heaven’s sake), be comfortable to wear daily (I want my jewelry wearable), and be relatively affordable.  And while it’s meeting all those demands I want it gorgeous, too.  I want the wearer to be unable to take their eyes off it; I want it to be their perennial favorite.

It’s that problem-solving which makes my job so much fun.  I really love it.