Stones · Studio

Opals: who knew?

I’ve never been the slightest bit interested in working with opals.    The hue of old milk with bits of anemic color feebly attempting to glimmer through?  Petrified yak snot would probably be more interesting.

But recently a client asked me to design a pendant with opal, and so I went researching, hoping to come up with something, anything,  I could use to create a beautiful piece for her.  I wasn’t optimistic, but boy, was I wrong about opals.  I’m in love.

Black opal 7 x 5 mm
Black opal 7 x 5 mm

At first glance, the gem world breaks down roughly into diamonds and colored gems.  Dealers of one rarely specialize in the other, too.  Colored gem dealers might carry a few opals, and those are usually of the underwhelming milky type.  Go digging, though, and you’ll come across the world of opal dealers, who cut and carry a range of opals most of us don’t know exist.  My client wanted an Australian opal, a distinct subtype of the gem, and within this category?  Even more subtypes.

Opals, unlike most other precious gems, are not colored by mineral coloring, and are not crystalline in structure.  Opal is hydrated silica, and when viewed under magnification opal’s structure is that of tightly packed strings of spheres.  Opal’s color play is due to how these spheres reflect the light spectrum. Larger spheres reflect the longer wavelengths of oranges and reds, smaller spheres reflect the shorter wavelengths of blues and greens.

 

Semi-black opal 11x 7
Semi-black opal 11x 7 mm

The stones I’ve fallen in love with are the black and semi-black Australian opals.  These stones are among the rarest of opals, and offer intense, brilliantly flashing color: cherry reds, peacock blue, acid greens and fiery oranges.  Black opals have a “body tone” of deep gray to black (a base layer of dark stone) and the color-play of the opal is made more visible because of this dark background.  The milky-white opals most of us are most familiar with are on the opposite end of this spectrum.

Alright, so I’ve fallen in love with opals…..what about that old superstition: Opals are bad luck to wear if they aren’t your birthstone?  Opals were bad luck.  To gem cutters.  Historically, gem cutters were required to pay for any stones which broke during cutting.  Opals are rat bastards to cut.  Remember their structure?  Hydrated silica.  They don’t cleave (split) along straight lines.  Cutting opals could result in a gem cutter owing a lot of money in damages, and that’s bad luck.   Most superstitions begin with the tiniest grain of truth, and this truth was probably the grain which got that tale started.  That, and stingy people born in October who don’t share well.

In Australia, the Aboriginal folklore says that opals were created when a rainbow fell to earth, and that’s not bad luck at all.

 

Semi-black opal 8 x 5.5
Semi-black opal 8 x 5.5 mm
Semi-black 9x 5 mm
Semi-black 9x 5 mm

Thanks to http://www.aussietreasurechest.com for the wonderful information on opals they provide on their webstie.  These images are stones from their stock, and were available for purchase at the time this article was posted.  If you have an hour or five to get lost in the world of opals, this is where I fell in love:  www.aussietreasurechest.com


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Studio

Amber Seaglass Ring

Another new piece, and I’m reworking the Teletubbytourmaline pendant.

And also!  Also!  My mom has started giving me Christmas presents because it is October, after all.  I asked for a round bezel punch set for Christmas, and so I’ve received a round and a square bezel punch set now!   It’s like magic!

You may leave your gift requests in the comment section, and I will pass them along as my own.  We are going to clean up this year,  I tell you.  She’ll never catch on.

I tell you this, because these things have just arrived as I’m writing about the new ring, and I’m a bit stream-of-conscious, having not eaten because I forgot to because I was a bit hyperfocused on finishing the ring.  And, apparently, my punctuation skills are gone, too.

But back to the new ring.

Amber Seaglass Ring
Amber Seaglass Ring

I’ve tended to ignore the earthtones in my work, and it’s not because I don’t like them.  Earthtones are just not in my aesthetic lexicon,  therefore they do not exist.  I don’t look good in most earthtones, and so they are invisible to me.

But look how pretty!  And warm!  Did you know earthtones could be so pretty?  You probably did, didn’t you?  Now,  if someone very twisted took over the world and made me make this ring in an enormous size and wrap my entire body in it?   I might not look good swathed in this color.  It would wash me out.  But if I wrap my wee little finger in this ring?  Fabulous.  I’ve made peace with earthtones today.  I’m growing.

Lesson learned, and I will be more forthcoming with the earthtones.

Studio

Teletubbies and one-track minds

Over the hills and far away,  Katie’s pendant comes to play!

SEE???
SEE???

Carla and Jenny agreed with me without even knowing they were doing so.  Which is my favorite kind of agreeing with me.  It allows me to sit back and pretend I thought of things first, and say, with an air of self-satisfaction, “Ah, yes.  That is exactly what I already said, and now I see that everyone agrees with me.”  Y’all should try it.  But I really was feeling the tourmaline pendant was very Teletubby,  very Dipsy-esque.  That’s exactly what I thought it looked like.  I promise.  Seriously.  No, really.

Before I posted about the pendant, I told the boys I thought it looked like a Teletubby.  Having said that, of course they saw the resemblance, and so I stopped offering that idea up for consideration; I wanted to see if anyone else saw the similarity without prompting.

As I spoke to my friends throughout the day,  I asked if they would take a look and tell me what they thought.

“Why,” they all asked, ” you’re not sure if you like it?”

“I like it, ” I’d say, “but once I shot it and looked at the images….well, now it reminds me of something else, and I can’t get it out of my head.  Go look?”

“Ooooh,” they’d say, as if my concern was one common to me, “does it look phallic?”

No, it doesn’t look phallic.  I don’t make phallic jewelry!  At least not under my real name.  I use my Mom’s.

On Friday night I took the pendant with me to Riley’s soccer practice. Here, none of my soccer-parent friends mentioned phalluses before seeing  it.  Only afterwards.

“If you take off the granules,” Bob said, “then it would look just like a penis!”

Another parent added, helpfully, “And if you put another tourmaline up top it would really look like…… that.”

The adults snickered like twelve year olds, and  looked at me with a mixture of admiration and amusement: here is a woman obsessed with sex.

My friends,  every single one of them married or living with long-time partners, seem to have penis on the brain; seem to think that I, as the only single one among them, must be oversexed and overly focused upon penises. And as they point their penis-pointing fingers at me,  I think we all need to ask ourselves,  “Who owns this problem?”

Hmmm?


Studio

Tourmaline and Seaglass-Updated

I went into my studio to work on the square ruby, and by mistake I made other things, instead.  This happens a lot.  I find if I just stay in my studio long enough, most of my ideas come to fruition…..at some point.

tourrmaline pendant2

Of the pieces I made this week, first up for show and tell is this seaglass and tourmaline pendant.

I picked up this tourmaline early this year, and  I’ve been sitting on it while I mulled a setting which would really make it sing.

Tourmaline has become one of my favorite go-to stones;  it comes in a wide range of colors, and is a tough 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale.  While it’s pricey, it’s affordably pricey, with good stones in reach for most buyers.

I’ve paired the deep forest green tourmaline with a cool, frosty piece of Maine seaglass and rubbed the gold to a soft, satin finish.    The end result?  Medieval-gone-contemporary-casual chic.

Update:  

It occurred to me that this pendant looks like something familiar.  I’m not going to tell you what it reminds me of, because then you’ll see it, too. 

What if I took all the granules off, except for the one on the bail?  Thoughts?

Left-actual piece.  Right-what if?
Left-actual piece. Right-what if?
Personal Entries · Studio

Embossing the Big Gold Ring

Sarah

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.

embossing
Etching works best when done in a Royal Dalton, Beatrix Potter bowl

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.

embossing

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.

www.vakadesign.com

Studio

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.

www.vakadesign.com

Studio

Satin Diamond Solitaire

Lauren was a bad, naughty baby and lost her engagement ring.  Baaaad Lauren!

This is Lauren’s new engagement ring, which she would be wise to glue to her pretty little hand.

Lauren's engagement ring, which she will not lose.  Right, Lauren?
Lauren's engagement ring, which she will not lose. Right, Lauren?

 

Lauren asked if I could make the Simple Diamond Ring, but with a satin finish.  Of course I can!  I don’t even need a reason!    I did recommend, as I usually do when a ring will be used as an engagement ring, that we modify the bezel so the diamond ring can be worn comfortably with her future wedding band.  The champagne diamond I had in stock had a warm, almost pinky hue, and I love it with the satin finish. 

As is often the case, I love what happens when I collaborate with clients….I little of their idea, a little of mine, and TA DA!  Something gorgeous I hadn’t thought of before. 

I am totally listing this design, because it’s groovy.

www.vakadesign.com

Personal Entries · Studio

Maine Seaglass Ring

Shall we take a look at what came out of my studio today?

Maine Aqua Seaglass Ring
Maine Aqua Seaglass Ring

I loved the color and shape of this piece of seaglass, and wanted the ring to feel ancient and regal, rustic and elegant, feminine but not delicate.  I’m really pleased with the outcome.

In creating the bezel, I left the base a bit wide to accommodate the gold granules.  I do love the granules, but I also liked the look of the extended base before I attached them, and I plan on playing with the extended base in some upcoming designs.

While I’ve had this design in mind for some time, I was hesitant to execute it because of the higher price tag the piece would call for.  The weight of the gold granules adds considerably to my materials cost, and their addition also requires a substantial amount of work time.  My simpler seaglass rings (priced  from $150-$250) are usually purchased soon after listing,  but I’m uncertain if a ring featuring seaglass, instead of a precious gem, will be salable at a higher price. This bit of seaglass is such a beautiful little jewel, though, and I didn’t want anything less than the most perfect setting for it.

I’ll list this tomorrow morning, but right now I’m very tired, blogosphere.  I’m going to go get in my pajamas and curl up with my new book.

www.vakadesign.com

Stones · Studio

Rose cut diamond ring

Pretty, sparkly, shiny, new.  This is what I’ve done with this diamond.

.29 ct, 4.1 mm rose cut diamond ring
.29 ct, 4.1 mm rose cut diamond ring

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.

xxxxxxx

Personal Entries · Stones · Studio

Sarah’s pretty engagement ring

Sarah's ring
Sarah's pretty ring, and I just noticed a little schmutz on the stone. Oy.

When Sarah contacted me regarding having a custom ring made, one of her biggest concerns was the sourcing of the materials.  Recycled gold is readily available and I use it in pieces which can support its higher cost,  but her gem concerns were a murkier subject.

Like many, she knew of the unethical and eco-unfriendly practices of gem-mining, and wanted to avoid purchasing a stone which funded those practices.

While purchasing free trade stones or stones marked as eco-friendly seems like the obvious choice, it isn’t that simple.   The world of diamonds and gems is complicated and of dubious transparency,  and most of the worlds’ beautiful gems come from areas which are in turmoil, or where work and environmental practices are not what someone else might consider enlightened.  Additionally, there is no single international industry authority governing eco and free trade certification.

When I first started goldsmithing I wanted to offer stones of kinder origins, but after researching I came to the conclusion that there simply might not be such a thing.  Are there companies which do follow stones from the mine to the cutter?  I’m sure there are.  But there are also many, many companies who know they can offer stones with such certification for much higher prices, and they create the certification themselves.  How does one know the difference?  I haven’t figured that out yet. Much like buying free-range or organic products, there are not any industry standards and these terms can mean anything.

Many large gem companies selling stones guaranteed to be ethical, conflict free, and eco-friendly work the same way.  They offer stones with these certifications, but when you go digging they also own the companies which provide the certification.  For instance, while free trade is a common term,  “Free-Trade” is a term trademarked by the company which markets these gems, and they promise the stones have been overseen from the mining through the cutting to ensure ethical practices.  The gems are sold through only one dealer, and that dealer is….ready for it?  Free-Trade’s parent company, Columbia Gem House. While I wouldn’t accuse them of misleading the buyer,  they don’t seem to be answering to any governing body and I don’t know how to gauge the validity of their certification.

So, what can you do?  Find a reputable dealer who provides the country of origin for a gem, and then decide if you can live with that country’s mining standards.    You could buy a lab-made gem.  You could buy a gem with some sort of certification, and hope it means something.

Sarah decided that she wanted a garnet, and the option she felt most comfortable with was using one of the sangria-colored garnets my mother’s oldest friend,  Cynthia, brought back from India years ago.  Sarah felt a stone which was several decades old was at least not harming anyone or anything now, and she could live with that.  I admired that in her purchase she was trying to do right by the earth and others,  and I wish doing so was easier and more straight forward.

My mother is thrilled to know one of her stones is being given such a special use.

Sarah wanted a ring similar to the Simple Diamond Ring, but with the garnet set sideways.   While she felt she would not be wearing the engagement ring much after she was married, I urged her to let me change the bezel a bit, just in case she might want to wear it more than she anticipated.  We went with an angled bezel, which will provide her with a more comfortable fit when worn with a wedding band.

When Sarah saw the ring?  She said, “I don’t think I’ll want to take it off!”

I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction!

National Geographic has explored this subject for years, and as an impartial observer their articles are a wonderful resource for those who are concerned about gem-trade practices.  One article, in particular, illustrates the circuitous path gems take from mine to market:  an article on the diamond trade here.

www.vakadesign.com