Darlings, I must start writing again. With the five children and the career and the husband and the life swirling around me, my concentration is not good. I’m very much doing that whole young family thing all over again, but now I’m old enough to know how well my head can work when all these wonderful, beloved people aren’t constantly around me. I’ve been waiting for my ability to concentrate to come back, but I don’t think that is going to happen any time soon, and I miss blogging. I miss life outside of this new house and studio, I miss Karen, and I miss the way that writing centers and clears my head. I want something back that’s always been and always will be mine. I’ve been waiting until I get my feet under me, but I am constantly finding and losing my feet again and again in this new life of mine.It might not be grammatically correct or even make sense half the time, but post I will. Seriously, it’s like my brain is like a puzzle that has a different piece missing everyday. Yesterday’s missing piece might be back, but SURPRISE! A new one is gone! So ok, I promise it won’t be grammatically correct or make sense half the time; that should be exciting. You can rate my ability to think on a one-out-of-ten scale in the comments.First, I’d love to show you what I’ve worked on lately, ok? Ok.
Back to work! But, if any of my old readers are out there? I would love to hear from you!
We’ve all been taught that good jewelry is a good investment. And what is good jewelry? Good jewelry is jewelry made of precious metals, and set with precious or semi-precious stones. The value, we’ve been taught, is in the resale value. And I do believe good jewelry is a good investment, but not all “good” jewelry is created equal.
Recently, a neighbor went to an upscale national jeweler and purchased a lovely necklace for his mom. When the piece was described to me, I couldn’t quite picture what the pendant looked like, and so I went online to see if the jeweler’s website showed a picture of the necklace. It’s lovely, and I’m really annoyed. I’m annoyed about the public perception of jewelry value.
At the time, I spent days telling everyone in earshot about how deeply offended I am by this necklace. Weeks later, and I’m still asking anyone who will listen, “Can you believe that necklace was a thousand dollars? A thousand dollars! A thousand dollars. Seriously, can you believe that?” Everyone assures me that, no, they can’t believe it and they are as appalled as I am. I’m not sure I believe them. But blogosphere, listen! Ima break it down for you, k?
First, the facts, and then I’ll show you the necklace.
1. The resale value of jewelry lies in two things: the value of its materials, and/or its pedigree. How much gold is in the piece? Is it rare or an antique? Was it made by a renowned designer? Most jewelry is not rare and not made by a famous designer, and so the investment value of most jewelry lies in its material worth.
2. Material value is based on the current price of raw materials at the time you sell your “investment.” What you paid for your jewelry–its retail price–doesn’t matter one bit at the time of resale, unless the piece is rare, antique or has a designer pedigree.
3. Next, bear in mind the basics on how prices are usually calculated: Wholesale is roughly 4-5X the cost of manufacturing the piece. Retail is usually double wholesale.
So, here is the necklace that offends me so:
The jeweler’s description says that this pendant is 14k white gold, and is set with 47 diamonds totaling 1/2 carat in weight. The pendant hangs on an 18 inch box chain. It is a new piece from a large retail chain, and therefore is not rare or antique. While the jewelry store is upscale, its reputation is not such that it would confer a designer pedigree upon this necklace.
This next part is very secret, so don’t tell anyone, ok? I could be kicked out of the jewelry club and not invited to any of the sleepovers anymore for sharing this information. I’m going to tell you how much it costs to make jewelry. I’m going to tell you how much these materials would cost for me, at my wholesale prices, although I imagine that this large national chain buys their materials at much lower prices.
My current wholesale price of 14k white gold is 35.47 per DWT (a DWT is about 1.5 grams). There’s very little metal in this pendant, and I estimate that it weighs no more than .75 DWT, for a metal cost of $26.60.
Say the word “diamonds,” and everyone has a huge collective diamond orgasm. They should totally not. The total carat weight of this piece is 1/2 carat, and that and a nickel will get you…..not much. While the website says the pendant holds 47 diamonds, I count 31 white diamonds, and 18 champagne. The champagne appear to be significantly bigger. Based on the given dimensions of this piece, I’d say the white diamonds are 1 mm stones, and the champagne are 1.5 mm. My supplier offers good quality 1 mm diamonds for$2.00 per stone. Champagne are $1.50 Total diamond cost: $89. See? Why are you orgasming over diamonds? Stop it.
The 18 inch box chain:
My wholesale price, if I purchase ten or more of these chains, is $34.50. I imagine if I ordered thousands of chains that they’d bring that price down a bit.
Total material cost:
26.60 + 89 + 34.50 = $150.10 Again, this is based on MY wholesale prices. I have no idea what prices a large, national chain would pay, but I imagine it would be significantly less than my cost. One thousand dollars, people. One thousand dollars.
Now, let’s talk about artisan jewelry.
The gold in my Simple Diamond Ring weighs, on average, 1.8 DWT, for a metal cost of $62.23. The 1/4 ct diamond currently wholesales for $58. Total material cost: $120.23. I charge $400 for my Simple Diamond Ring, and that price is in the range other artisans charge for similar pieces. My ring looks as if I might go a bit heavier on the gold than my competitors do, but I’d say our material costs are within $30 of each other.
*What I’m not accounting for (but my head might pop off if I don’t mention it), is the labor involved in each of these pieces. The commercial piece is mass-produced by casting, and then polished and quickly set with stones. My piece requires hours of work. I do not use milled stock, but forge my work from ingot to finished piece. I could save time by using standardized milled stock from my gold refiner, but then my pieces would have the perfect symmetry of commercial jewelry. And then I’d have to be mad at my own jewelry.
$150.10 of materials in a mass-produced piece selling for $1000. The workmanship? Feh.
$120.23 of materials in a unique, custom-made piece selling for $400. The workmanship? On behalf of myself and other artisans, total awesomeness.
My point is this: artisan jewelry is a better investment, and that necklace makes me mad. Artisan goldsmiths sell their jewelry at prices much closer to wholesale prices, which means less devaluing of your investment. With an artisan piece you are NOT paying for national advertising, a big store, a retail staff, executives, and a team of mechanical laborers. You are paying for materials and the time of an artisan.
Artisan gold is a much better investment because we price much lower. Why? Because we’re stupid. We’re artists. If we had good business sense, then we’d be upscale national jewelers.
Holy moley, it’s been an intense few weeks, and mostly because of one piece.
The embossed Big Gold Ring. When I took on this project I had no idea of how challenging it would be. It has taken many weeks, and so many tries that I am now such an embossing expert that I could emboss anything on anything. I could emboss your name on your butt, if you’d like.
Embossing is fairly simple: you are shaping a softer material by pressing it against another, harder, material. Piece of cake, right? Well, not if you are trying to keep your softer material thick. Thin metal will take a print by handrubbing it, but the thicker a material is, the harder it is to get it to emboss. Additionally, my softer material, 18k, is quite expensive, and so I didn’t have a large quantity to work with. Best case scenario would be embossing on a large sheet of gold, and then cutting back. In this way the embossed area could be crooked at first; you wouldn’t need a perfectly centered good print, but just a good print. And great googly mooglies, a good print was hard to get.
By the end, I had attempted this ring with about 20 plates. Each time the plate was run it would stretch, and so if the print was not perfect a new plate needed to be created. At one point I gave up, cut out tiny little letters, brazed them onto the ring, and called it a day. But I felt like that was cheating, and when my client said she’d wait while I worked, I started with the embossing again.
Prepare a plate (sand and texture, apply resist, scratch through, acid bath for several hours, refine the etching), melt and mill the gold, run the plate and the gold through the mill. Good print? No. Repeat. Good print? Yes, but crooked. Repeat. Good print? Yes, but the pressure of the mill made the gold too thin. Repeat. Each repetition took the better part of a day.
I forged my own new tools, I mixed new acid recipes, I cried on the new tools and in the new acid.
How did I finally get it? Ok, I won’t put you to sleep with the technical details, but just know that I’m a FREAKING GENIUS.
It was a mix of precise placement of pressure, depth of the etching, refining and incredible bull headedness.
But beyond the technical aspects of embossing, it was a challenge to find the right balance of relief and delineation for the letters. The purpose of the embossing was not to announce the letters to the world, but to be a private presence to the wearer, perhaps unnoticeable to others at first glance. I also wanted them high enough to be pleasing to the touch, to beg to have a finger make a habit of tracing them.
Nice sharp, low embossing was very pretty, but the client wants to wear this ring everyday. Low and clear was subtle, but low embossing would wear down in time.
High, clear embossing was too prominent and quite masculine-looking. It sat on the ring, not in the ring, and needed to be softened to look feminine, fluid, and most of all, incorporated.
Four weeks, 20 odd plates, and 80+ hours, and it’s done. It glows and it looks like something ancient someone dug out of the ground, and you know I like that. It’s a bit more organic than I had envisioned it looking, but it’s pleasing, and asks to be touched.
Karen called me, excited, because one of my vendors had just posted their new stones. New stones! We love new stones, right? Right!
Our professional take on some of the gems we perused:
“This strawberry quartz looks like a murder scene.” Karen tells me. ” It looks like somebody exploded. And the other one that kind of freaks me out is the bloodstone. Those bright spots of red, it looks like the stone is wounded.”
“Do you think that may be why they call it Bloodstone?” I ask, “some people dig that.”
“Well, the coral looks like salmon,” says Karen
“It has the same look…… It would look like you’ve set a teeny tiny salmon steak.”
“Now this is a neat one…..Charoite, kind of a creamy purple.”
“Oh, Karen that’s horrible! It looks like a half-eaten gob stopper!”
“It does look like a Tums.”
“Clinohumite sounds like a gynecological problem.,” I say,”it’s a pretty orange but….”
“It does, it sounds like something you might need some yogurt for.”
“Fossil coral……this one gives me the creeps,” I say, ” Ew Ew EW! It gives me the heebie jeebies!”
“It looks like egg sacks.”
“It looks like these worms we used to have on the dock up in Maine–”
“Yes!” says Karen, ” we had them at the lake, they look like they’re made up of cells. I remember brushing up against them and practically walking on water to get out of the lake fast enough.”
“Just like Jesus! Jesus must hate fossil coral.”
“Here’s the one,” I say, “that looks like petrified snot…..Sphene.”
“Oh, it sure does. It’s probably from the same age as amber. It’s probably petrified dinosaur snot.”
“You’d think they’d market it as such,” I say, “that might be a good selling point.”
“Maybe not as much as we think.”
“Huh, ” Karen said. ” I don’t know how I feel about this.”
“Which one?” I asked.
“The rhodochrosite. The pink is sort of a raw, fleshy color. It looks like a cross section of tissue.”
“Ew!” I say, as I scroll through the new selection of rhodochrosite. “It does. It looks like tissue samples.”
“It looks like I’m looking at row after row of things that need to be biopsied.”
Blogosphere, one of you who I won’t name (her name rhymes with Shmarla) has had ants in her pants about the black diamond I purchased a while back, and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful stone, and it’s been hanging on my wall for ages. Shmarla wrote to ask after the black diamond’s health recently, a subtle nudge and one that makes me wonder if Shmarla might be Catholic, because she guilted me just right.
I wanted to do right by this gorgeous diamond; I wanted to create a diamond pendant which would be the antithesis of the generic white diamond solitaire pendants I see far too many of. A sparkly thing to wear on your pretty neck, but a rich and interesting, warm and elegant sparkly thing.
I mulled and mulled until I came up with this design, and it took several attempts before I got it right. It’s the gold granules. Let’s talk about them.
Before alloying was discovered, granulation was done differently than it is today. 24k does not require solder because it tacks to itself with heat. Ancient goldsmiths would set the granules in place and heat the base layer from underneath, causing the granules to delicately bond to the piece. Clustered granules were the norm because they provided support and strength for each other; the bond of each individual granule was to fragile for it to stand alone.
Today, in karated gold, solder is used, and it’s this additional ingredient which can make granulation so tricky. Strong and wearable, but tricky. Solder needs flux, either applied separately or mixed with the solder as paste solder, and the solder and the flux move when heated. Granules are tiny little suckers, and as the flux bubbles and settles, the granule rides the flux like a buoy rides a wave. The best way to apply granulation is to melt the solder and flux first, and then add the granule. The molten solder still “grabs” the granule and moves it, but you have much more control. Unless, of course, the tiny pieces you’re working with overheat and collapse into a big ball of goo, which they tend to do if you’ve skipped lunch and are thinking about dating while you work. Because you’re still as boy-crazy as you were at 15.
So Shmarla, thank you for your gentle nudging, because I needed it to make me get this finished! I thought of you while making this piece, and I hope you like it as much as I do. I like it so much I want to marry it, but I’ve already committed myself to the Aquamarine Waterfall Pendant and that would make me a jewelry bigamist.
Sarah originally contacted me to ask if I could engrave names on my Big Gold Ring. Of course! On the inside, right? Nope.
Sarah was hoping to engrave her late husband and daughter’s names on the outside of the ring, and asked if I felt that would be attractive. I didn’t feel it was the best option. Engraving seems like an afterthought, and given the importance of these names, I wanted their addition to the ring to make it even more attractive; I wanted these names to be an integral part of the ring’s design and beauty, and I recommended that we scale back to initials and emboss them. Sarah liked that idea, and decided that if we were only doing initials then she would like all her children’s initials embossed on the ring.
The design shown above is what we came up with, and Sarah was very patient while I figured out how to implement my idea. It’s taken a lot of tries, and Sarah’s is the piece I was working on when I wrote this post.
The embossing technique I planned to use was fairly simple: a hard plate (the embossing plate) is created with the image engraved, backwards, into it. This plate is then run through the mill sandwiched between another hard plate and the gold. The pressure exerted upon the plates forces the softer gold into the recesses of the engraved plate, creating a raised mirror image. Piece of cake, right?
The problem is creating the backwards image. Letter stamps for metal are readily available, but not backwards letter stamps, and so I needed to create my backwards letter image from scratch. Using an engraving bit on a Dremmmel did not create a fine enough line, and so I decided to create the embossing plate with acid etching: I’d cover the plate with acid resist, trace my backwards design onto it, scratch through the resist and then let the acid do the work on the exposed metal.
It didn’t work. By the time I let the acid eat deep enough, it had also eaten out enough that the letters lost their crispness. The embossed image it produced when I ran it through the mill was course looking. I tried the acid etching several ways and the final verdict? Acid is a rat bastard. As is the Dremmel.
I decided to forge my own stamping tools (three of which are shown below), which I then used to create the plate on the right.
Sarah opted for 18k gold, which makes embossing a bit easier; the gold is the tiniest bit softer and can squish into the recesses of the embossing plate the tiniest bit better. Next, I ran the plate and the 18k gold through the mill, and I’ll show you the results next time. A hint? Making your own tools and running through the mill is also a rat bastard.
I came up with this design when a client asked for sapphire earrings for his wife. As you might have noticed, my collection is a bit light on the earrings. And I love earrings! I really do, but the problem with earrings is that they are going to need to be priced at almost twice what a ring would be. Gem earrings require double the gems, double the work, double the gold of the average ring, and so I need to be sure I create earrings which can support the higher price I need to charge. They need to be good reach-for-them-all-the-time earrings, the kind of thing your daughter tries to steal from you when she goes off to college because they’re timeless and she digs them, too. They need to work hard and be hard wearing.
I think this design is a great foundation design: feminine and simple, and a great jumping off point for lots of different combinations of gems. Elegant, but can be dressed up or down, and allows the stones to take center stage. A colorful cabochon up top, and a twinkly faceted stone below to catch the light as they move. I’ve ordered some lovely cabochon/twinkler combinations, and I’m eager to get them set: citrine and warm brown zircon, jade and peridot, ruby and iolite, garnet and sapphire.
I’ve set this pair with a 2 ct blue sapphire on top and a super-sparkly .5 ct white sapphire on the bottom.
Pretty, sparkly, shiny, new. This is what I’ve done with this diamond.
The biggest issue in photographing jewelry is the difficulty of capturing the true tones and textures of such highly reflective and refractive surfaces. The wrong light can make it impossible!
I photographed this piece in the morning light, which often makes things look a bit green. Can you see the green cast the light has given to the diamond? I’ll need to reshoot this ring in cleaner afternoon light.
22k melts at a higher temperature than 14k, and I had difficulty getting it to really flow and form a nice ingot. I ended up calling Karen and asking her to come down to my studio with her own torch. We were just like Star Trek. I said, “Set phasers to kill!” And we both shot the gold until it melted and flowed…like liquid gold. You didn’t know your jewelry was being made by a closet Trekkie, did you? Now you do.
The rest of the differences in work process all center around 22k gold’s softness.
-Forming the ring was a joy; the texture of annealed high karat gold is chewy and supple and incredibly malleable. It’s easy to make it bend into intricate shapes and textures, easier than 14k. Being just a bit more gentle than I would with 14k, it was a piece of cake.
-The softer texture made it necessary to make the ring a bit thicker than the design was in 14k. I wanted to make sure it would hold up for the ages, and that meant it needed a bit more heft to take daily wear and tear. I had not anticipated this when calculating cost, and I will need to keep this in mind for future pricing.
-After forming and setting the jade, I tumbled the ring in jewelers’ shot to harden it. Tumbling with shot is a type of burnishing: pressing a smooth surface against a softer material until it is flat and compacted; hardened. With 14k, I allow pieces to tumble for an hour or so, but because of 22k’s softness I wanted to tumble the piece for as long as possible to attain maximum hardness, being careful not to over-tumble and cause the ring to become misshapen. I left it in the tumbler, checking it periodically, for about four hours.
-22k’s softness makes it a bit hard to polish. I normally polish gold with felt buffs and jeweler’s rouge, which is an iron compound. This method tears into 22k and leaves it rough, and so polishing must be done by hand. High karat will never take on the reflectiveness of lower karat gold; it will never be super-shiny, but by burnishing and hand rubbing it acquires a gorgeous, warm glow which can’t be found in lesser karats. Tumbling left the piece quite smooth, and then I burnished its tiny little crevices, and hand rubbed with wool until it glowed.