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!


Stones · Studio

Jewelry Axis of Evil: new member

Blogosphere, the Jewelry Axis of Evil has a new member.  Today, opals join silver, my camera, and white gold on the list of Stuff I Really Hate.  White gold moves up a spot on the list, because I was using it in combination with the opal.  My camera jumps two spots, because it’s very frustrating to be unable to show you a quality image of that which deeply offends me.

I’m pretty sure that the opal would have behaved nicely if not for the bad influence of the white gold.  Similar to my stance on teenagers, I expect white gold to behave like white gold; it is what it is, and it can’t help its nature. Foolishly, I expected better of the opal.  If only I had listened to the rumors about opals and their sluttish ethics, I never would have left the two alone together.

Opals, white gold, and my camera: dead to me.

This morning, as I sat polishing up this pretty opal ring, I mentally wrote a very different post; a post extolling the virtues of opals and expounding upon my new, improved relationship with white gold.  Then,  I noticed the bezel was a speck loose, on the left.  Back in the vice it went, one gentle press on the bezel’s edge, and CLICK: the unmistakable sound of an expensive stone fracturing.   A unique stone, a match for which will be difficult to find.  CLICK: the sound of yesterday’s work, wasted.

Now I have nothing nice to say about opals and white gold. Not. One. Thing.

Media and Art

Well, he told them

Crazy-hair scientist guy sets the record straight.

One point on which I disagree:  Crazy-hair science guy says that were the trophy made of 24k gold, it would bend in half when lifted.   No, no, no, crazy-hair science guy!  Lifting it would not cause it to bend, but it would bend more easily under pressure.

My take on this?  FIFA says the trophy is solid 18k gold.  Crazy-hair science guy rightly takes this to mean solid all the way through. Because solid means, well, solid.

But FIFA is not selling or trading this cup, and so they would not be subject to the laws of the precious metal trade and its tightly defined terminology.   And they don’t seem to be subject to common sense definitions either, but that’s ok.  They are really good-looking.

FIFA has just used the wrong word, and I think what they are trying to say is that the trophy is made of metal which is pure 18k gold; the only metal used in this trophy is 18k gold.  From the weight measurements given, it is obviously hollow.

The World Cup has given us such joy; we’ve enjoyed weeks of watching beautiful men run around being muscly and sweaty,  and so I could not care less how FIFA describes their trophy.    Bless them for the good work they do. They make the world a better place.


On my artisan highhorse

I’m fixin’ to git irritated.

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:

I am offended

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.

The pendant:

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.

The diamonds:

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.

Simple Diamond Ring

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.

To summarize:

$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.

Personal Entries · Studio

Ring, jade pendant, broken bones

First, Matt made this, and I couldn’t be more proud.   I am so puffed up with pride that I’m a danger to all around me; one brush with a sharp object, and I’d pop, spewing pride everywhere.

Matt wanted to make a ring for his awesome teacher, Elizabeth Blount.  We started with the same basic wide band design Matt made previously, but this time he wanted to change it up a bit.  He pierced the band in many places to give it a “swiss cheese” look, and although I questioned the name  “Swiss Cheese Ring,” that’s what the boy is insisting we call this.

“It looks like polka dots, should we call it a Polka Dot Ring?”  I asked.

“No, I like Swiss Cheese Ring.”

“But it sounds like you made the ring out of cheese!  You could call it the Bubble Ring…?”

“No.  It’s the Swiss Cheese Ring, Mom, and I’m not changing it.”

Everyone get that?  It’s the Swiss Cheese Ring, and so don’t be messing.

I was most proud of Matt for how he stuck with this ring,  seeing every aspect through until he produced a professional piece.    He worked that solder like a badass, he refined edges, made calls on the finish, sized it perfectly, and  polished and then polished some more.  I showed and demonstrated and drew diagrams, but that child did the work, and I’m in awe of him.

These pictures don’t do his ring justice, but it is terribly difficult to photograph a ring with a jumpy ten year old snatching it away between shots.  He was not as patient with the photos as he was with the making.


Next, my new pendant.  In the process of tracking down the right size and color jadeite for the Jade Solitaire Ring,  I picked up a few other pieces of jadeite.  This one was a shallow disk of very light-colored jadeite, and in the midst of filling the last of my Christmas orders I irresponsibly managed to make a pendant of it.

So, there is supposed to be a picture here, but I’m am a bit too overwhelmed at the moment to edit and all that stuff.   Keep your pants on for the picture, and I’ll post it this afternoon.   Oh cripes, nagging naggers, I’ll do it now.  But this slightly blurred picture is all you get.

And third.  There will be no broken bones in the last days left to fill Christmas orders, got it?  I do not have time for X-rays and maternal tenderness.

But this sure looks broken to me.  How about you, Dr. Blogosphere, do you think thumbs should be so…blue?

This is Riley’s hand, and as I’ve mentioned before, Riley is a bit go-big-or-go-home when it comes to soccer.  Riley did this last night during his indoor soccer game, and in a few moments we have a doctor’s appointment.

When I suggested,  last night, that the thumb should be X-rayed, Ri’s head popped off.  Riley is Weather Boy, but even more than that, he is Snow Boy.  The South is useless to him for its lack of snow, and for weeks he’s been monitoring the forecasts for every venue he will visit during the holiday season.  X-rays and broken bones were not in any of Riley’s forecasts.

“But then I’ll have a cast, and it’s supposed to snow tomorrow, and there’s already snow in Pennsylvania, and if I have a cast then I can’t play out in the snow when we go to Maine after Christmas!”  A brief moment of silence, then, “If they put a cast on, I’m  taking it off if there’s a lot of snow.  I don’t care if it heals wrong, I’m not missing the snow.”

“Riley, honey, you cannot take off your own cast–”  And everyone in the room looks at me with grins on their faces.  Jake, Matt, Karen, but Riley has the biggest grin of all.

“You did,” he says, and lets out a huge ” WHOOP!” After flinging his body into the air, he jumps up and down, pointing at me, a smile from ear to ear. ” You took off your own cast to WATERSKI, so I can take off mine!”

Well, shit.

At Riley’s age I used my Swiss Army knife to cut off a full leg cast so I could waterski, and until this moment I was very pleased with that bit of badassery.

Payback’s a bitch, as my mother warned me the moment this child was born.


New tourmaline pretty

Pink tourmaline cabochons are so appealing to me.  Beautiful jelly colors, with inclusions like tiny mysteries frozen inside.   So different from their faceted tourmaline counterparts;  gentle and charmingly winsome to their faceted sisters’ flash and fire.

5.38 ct pink tourmaline in 14k

This is a 12 x 9 mm stone, and a faceted stone of this size might be a bit much, don’t you think?

A large, faceted stone might only be dragged out of the jewelry box for the dressiest of dress-ups,  but a large cab has a quiet beauty easily paired with everything from jeans to silk blouses.   Worn all the time, it can become a signature piece.

I can’t quite decide what to call this color, as every change in light brings out a different tone.

Now listed at


What were you thinking!?

Oh my gosh, did you forget to enter the Monsterbling Contest?  You did, didn’t you?  Because you’re drunk again, right?  That’s what I thought.   OK, you need to stop that and we can talk about that some other time, but in the meantime you seriously need to submit a monster, ok?  Seriously.  Only one day left and all.

OK, as you were.


Monster time!

Monsterbling time! 

Yes, yes, I know.  I haven’t posted pics of the pendant, and I will.  Cripes.  Nagging naggers.

For those of you riddled with self-doubt, let me go all Art Mommy on you for a moment. Ready?  Close your eyes and picture me holding a plate of brownies and wearing an apron.  In person I look just like a young Sophia Loren,  or maybe Penelope Cruz.  Go with that image.  And for those of you who have sent me emails telling my how hot I am?  Make sure I’m fully clothed under that apron, K?:


Pookiepants, of course you can draw/sculpt/photoshop/sew/knit/needlepoint a monster!  You’ve always been so talented!  Remember when you were little and you used to play with Legos for hours and hours?  So creative!  And I know I had to take your crayons away because you wouldn’t stop eating them, but before that?  You drew the most beautiful pictures!  Remember how we had one of your pictures made into a Christmas card, and everyone just raved about my little Picasso?  I was so proud!  You’re brilliant! 


But I guess if you  had your eyes closed you couldn’t read all that, huh?  And you wouldn’t be reading this, either.  Hmmm. 

I’m monstrously excited about the contest (see what I did there?), and I’m looking forward to plastering the walls of my studio with the images everyone sends in, so….get sending!

Enter early and often, and the more the merrier!

The rundown on the contest is here.

Stones · Studio

New Ruby pendant

Look!  Look at the new pretty!


A 1.52 ct  SI Ruby, set in a slightly Etruscan-looking handforged setting. I’m not sure “Ruby” should be capitalized, but I’ve decided that’s how we’re going to roll at Vaka Design.  Rubies deserve it.

Beautiful Rubies glow.  That, with their color, is what they are prized for (is there any royal crown, in the history of ever,  which doesn’t include a ruby?).  The silky glow for which rubies are famous is caused by tiny threads of the mineral rutile, which  are naturally occurring in the stone.  Rutile is terrifically refractive and highly dispersive.  In common speak?  Rutile does awesome things with light.  Rutile’s natural inclusion in Ruby turns a red stone into a glowing, silky, gorgeous thing.  Thank you, rutile.

 I am really pleased with this, and have several other stones I intend to set similarly. In fact, I’ve decided to have a sapphire pendant in this style be the carrot for the Monster Bling contest.  More on that soon…..