Personal Entries

Blue Sapphire Ring

There is so much I want to tell you.  I want to tell you all about sapphires, and I want to respond to Crystal’s comment saying that she’d like to hear more about my new blended family, and I want to tell you all about what I am doing in the studio.  But I am working like a crazy woman to get Vaka rolling again, and I am cooked.  I kinda love this working so hard I fall into bed at the end of the day thing, though, so I’m not complaining. It feels so good to be working again!

So here is a ring I finished today (are you sick of looking at jewelry yet?).  It is a lovely 5 x 7mm cornflower blue sapphire set in 18k.  And, as usual, I am fickle and so this is now my favorite piece. 

Look!  Look!  Are you looking?


Personal Entries

I love emeralds

To view beautiful emeralds is to fall in love.

If someone said to me, “Katie, if you could make for yourself ANY piece of jewelry –regardless of cost– what would it be?”

Go on, ask me.

I would, my inquisitive friends,  make myself a big ole’ emerald ring.  I’d get an enormous emerald-cut stone (big enough to be truly vulgar. As big as a baby’s head.  A really big fat baby.), and I’d set it in 20k.

In the meantime, while I wait for a baby-head sized emerald to fall at my feet, I made this!


This stone is 5mm, and I don’t think I’ve ever set a 5mm stone that pops the way this does.  The 18k certainly plays up the green, but emeralds have a vibrancy and luster no other gem does.  So full of life and joy; how can anyone be sad wearing an emerald?

Today I also touched up the bezel on the granulated garnet ring from yesterday.  Take a close look, and see if you notice the difference.

And with that, my darlings, I think it’s time to get my weekend on.  I hope you all have nothing but the best of weekends!


Media and Art · Personal Entries

I like liberty!

“Why don’t you guys come up for dinner?”  Karen asks.

“Oh, that would be great, ” I say.  Karen’s Dad is in town, and it will be nice to see him. ” What can I bring?”

“A ring.  You can bring a ring. ” says Karen.  “A solid gold ring, with the Bells of Canterbury on it.”

“Piece of cake,” I say.

“And I want the bells LIFE SIZED–“

“Oh honey, I was going to run to Canterbury to get you the ACTUAL bells, and mount them right on the ring for you.”

“Well,” says Karen, “that would be nice!”

I am thoughtful when designing my pretend, ridiculous jewelry.

“Or!” I say,  “Or!  Maybe the Liberty Bell, instead?  It’s closer.”

“Ohhh, I like liberty,” says Karen.

“OK, then.  I’ll go get the Liberty Bell, and I’ll mount it on a ring for you and bring it to dinner.  Anything else?”

“Yes,” says Karen, “I want the word ‘LIBERTY’ written on the ring.  On the outside.”

“No problem.  In big letters?”

“Yes, an inch high.  And, I’d also like the poem from The Statue Of Liberty inscribed on the inside of the ring.”

“The ‘bring us your poor, your huddled masses‘ poem?”  I ask.   I need to be clear about what poem it is that I’m inscribing.

“Yes.  That one.  The whole poem.  On the inside.”

“Sure!  I can totally do that!  Anything else?”

“I want all the ‘i ‘s’ dotted.  With diamonds.”

“OK.  So.   Gold, Liberty Bell, the word ‘LIBERTY,’ the huddled masses poem, diamonds for the dots over the ‘i ‘s’, by dinnertime tonight. Is that all?”

“Yes,” says Karen.  “And I’d like you to deliver it on a white horse.”

“Naked, a la Lady Godiva?”

“Yes.”  Says Karen.

“And your price range?  What’s your budget?”

“Five dollars.”

I think that’s fair.



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!



The Reef Ring

Oh my ducklings, I’ve not meant to ignore you.  I’ve just been distracted by shiny things.

I’ve been on a serious creativity roll, and so I’ve been going with it, ignoring the more administrative aspects of Vaka-ville in favor of twelve-hour days in the studio.  I’ve made some new pretties in the last week, which I will attempt to pace myself in showing to you.  I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I’m not so good at the pacing, and so I might just blog-vomit them all out in the next twenty-four hours.  You never know.

First up, let’s talk snails and slugs and patterns found in nature.  Stay with me,  will you, while I guide you down the odd little paths of my mind?

Since moving south, I’ve discovered the most beautiful patterns on objects around my yard, and it took me a while to realize they were left by snails.  We don’t have little garden snails up north, and so I’d not seen patterns like this before.  I’m not sure if the patterns are the result of some chemical in the snail’s slimy trail eating through the surface covering of dirt and algae, or if the snail is feeding on the surface covering of dirt and algae.

snail trails

Similar but less delicate are the trails I found one morning, left by the slugs who spent the night in a wheelbarrow left out overnight.

slugs and their trails in my wheelbarrow

A friend understood my fascination with these patterns, and photographed similar patterns she found at the beach.

Worm trails? Patterns in sand at the beach.

I love the quality of these lines. The fractal coolness of the snail’s winding path doubling back on itself, smaller patterns creating larger replicas of themselves. The increasing complexity of pattern as the slugs crossed paths, and crossed them again.  The up and down depth and three-dimensionality of the sandy worm paths.   Once these patterns captured my attention, I noticed other similar lines in nature:  the line of a wave as it breaks and races up on the sand, the dark lines of sediment left high on the beach.    Sticks of worn coral, and old logs washed up with the high tide,  lines of knots raised up like smooth hills.  The irregular up and down,  in and out, again and again to make a pattern.

I’ve had these images pinned on my studio walls for several years as I’ve played with the idea of them; these patterns whisper to me, and I’ve never been quite sure of what they are saying.   By the time this ring was finished, I finally knew.  They speak of time passing, and of patience.  They speak of the natural rhythms which reveal themselves only in the absence of interference, they speak of the stability and order and beauty of the seemingly random and wild.

Reef Ring

I’d like to play with this pattern a bit, casting it and creating a limited edition, maybe working a tiny diamond into it, maybe elongating it and making a bracelet.

I think I’ll call it the Reef Ring.

Personal Entries · Stones

New Diamond

While  I’m not fond of white diamonds, I was intrigued by this one.  It’s peppered with the carbon that, when heavily present, makes a diamond black.   But this has just a bit of it….and I like it! 

.57 ct, 5 mm diamond
.57 ct, 5 mm diamond

 If we called this a white diamond, then these flecks would be seen as a detriment to the stone’s beauty;  they’d make it subpar, too heavily included to be valuable.  But if we call it a galaxy diamond (the name for this stone which is gaining ground in the world of alternative diamonds), or a dalmatian diamond (my own tag)?  Then it’s mysterious and cool, and somehow brings our minds back to how diamonds form.  They are of the earth, and as individual as you and I.   It’s unlikely you’d confuse this stone with another once you’d worn it and memorized it.

I think it all comes back to what we’ve been taught we’re supposed to value in diamonds, and I think that’s just silly.  That’s an idea which banks on us not thinking, and we like to think, don’t we?  Yes.  Yes, we do.


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… 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.


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

The whole answer

Today I’m answering interview questions, one of which is asking why I pursued jewelry.  The answer I’ll give is an honest one, but is only part of the whole answer.  Does that still count as the truth?  I hope so.  The whole truth is far less glamorous, and not as PR snazzy.

The answer I’ll give?  I love the way jewelry bookmarks events and becomes part of our life story in a way no other body adornment can.  I love gold, and its warm glow and tactile properties.  For those of you following along, you know this already, don’t you?  I do love me some goldsmithing.  Love it bad.

The rest of the answer is important, though.  Especially to women, and especially to women with children.   The beautiful children we bear and nurture and adore limit our ability to self-rescue; there is only so much we can do to help ourselves without harming them.  Some of us are happy to always put our children’s well being ahead of our ambitions, some of us struggle with that.  Some of us have no choice but to be ambitious in our pursuit of financial success, because our children’s well-being hinges upon it.

I was at a crossroads several years ago when I decided Matt needed to be temporarily homeschooled.  As a wee little thing during the divorce and my illness, he’d struggled and there were some lingering issues I felt we needed to stop and address so that he could go forward and thrive.  I had just finished my degree, and was working as a school district tutor while I decided where to apply to MFA Painting programs.  Working as a single mother with young kids wasn’t going well.  I was calling in sick a lot.  The limitations motherhood would place on a career were becoming obvious.

I took a good, hard look at my little family, and decided we couldn’t do the move an MFA program would require.  I couldn’t uproot these boys, settle them into a new town, start an MFA program full-time with the teaching assistant position it would surely include, and have us all thrive.  I’d put a lot of time, post-divorce, into making sure the boys and I were strong and healthy, and to move us would undo so much of our progress and stability.

So what to do?  How to pursue a career in art (which damn it, I’d waited so long to do and owed myself), provide the steady income a single woman with children needs, and be home when the kids were home, when they needed me?  That was going to be a trick.

I decided to use the time home with Matt to switch mediums, and made a list of studio arts which could sustain a business.  Of the mediums I considered, jewelry was the obvious choice; I knew I could love it and do it well. For the eighteen months I was homeschooling Matt I researched, practiced, and learned.  The depth and breadth of my BFA was invaluable in my ability to quickly pick up a new medium.  One of the best parts?  My son did this with me; he watched closely as I made this decision and struggled to attain a new goal.  At times his pride and belief in me brought me to tears, and was all that kept me from throwing up my hands in defeat; I’m keenly aware of the example I am to my boys, and quitting out of fear and frustration isn’t a model I want my children to learn.

When Matt went back to regular school I was ready to go, and gave myself six months to begin to earn an income before I would need to scrap my plans for financial reasons.  It’s been a doozy of a year with high highs, and deep pits of self-doubt and worry, but it’s working. I’d like to believe the interview today is an indication that I must be doing something right.

This is the part of the answer to the reporter’s question I don’t think she’d be interested in hearing,  the part that isn’t about art and creativity and glamour:  I chose goldsmithing because I’m a mother, and my choices have to work for three beautiful, amazing young men, not just me.

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.


14k, 22k, 24k

As I currently have three different karats of gold in the studio, I thought you would be interested in how they look side by side.

14k looks rich and glowy when seen by itself, and as Americans, 14k is what we’re accustomed to.  Beside 22k and 24k, though, it’s easy to see what’s missing .  As I’ve mentioned before,  14k is 58% gold, 22k is 92% gold, and 24k is 100% gold.

left to right: 14k, 22k, 24k
left to right: 14k, 22k, 24k