Personal Entries

A day’s work

Hello, my darlings!  How was everyone’s day, today?

I had a wonderful day, because I now have air conditioning in my studio!  It was lovely and cool in my fortress of solitude, and the new air conditioner emits a slight hum which blocks the sound of the children’s voices.  I did NOT die of heat stroke, and I also did not have to listen to most of today’s heated sibling debate: who would most own the dog we are not getting.  They were arguing about a THEORETICAL dog, while our perfectly good real dog lay nearby, ignored. I really love them.

And while I was in the cool, quiet studio, I made this: 


I’ll finish up the setting and set the garnet tomorrow morning, and then I will show you the finished piece!


Double sapphire dangles

double sapphires

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.


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.

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.


22k Custom

I’ve just received an order to make this ring in 22k gold.  You didn’t know I could do that, did you?  I can!   In fact, if I received an order to make this ring out of petrified llama snot, I could probably figure out a way to do that, too.  Because I am that hard-headed. 

Jade Queen's Ring
Jade Queen's Ring

I wasn’t a big fan of jade until Valerie urged me to work some into my collection; Val loves jade, and after working with it, I do too.  Jade has a feel and a mood, and most stones don’t have that.  Jade is cool and relaxed and feminine without being fussy.   A lot like Valerie!

This ring will be gorgeous in 22k, and its design is sturdy enough to be a good fit for the softer, high karat gold.

The opportunity to work with a high karat is a huge treat for me, as I mostly work in the 14k Americans prefer.  Wonderful, but a bit lighter in color than the rest of the work prefers, a bit less malleable. 

The term 14k means the metal is 14 parts gold, and ten parts something else (usually a blend of silver and copper), for a total of 24 karats.  This makes 14k gold 58 percent pure gold.

24 karat,  pure unalloyed gold,  is too soft to be practical for jewelry, and alloying it with silver and copper adds strength and durability.  An 18k blend, at 75 percent pure gold, is widely considered to be perfect for jewelry;  it strikes the balance of retaining gold’s best characteristics (color, workability), while minimizing its one key fault: softness. 

The 22k I’ll be working with is 92 percent gold, and it’s the preference in many eastern cultures despite being a bit soft.  In addition to 22k’s  gorgeous, buttery texture,  I’m looking forward to working with it because of its appeal to other cultures.  

I think there is a place for higher karat, contemporary artisan jewelry in America.  We’re a melting pot, and home to so many first-generation American women of foreign descent;  thoroughly American, and yet with strong ties to their parent cultures.  Their Mom’s jewelry?  Probably higher than 14 karat, but also stuffy and old-fashioned in their eyes, as any mother’s jewelry seems.  These women are blending the old and new, and I’m excited to create designs which might appeal to them.   The quality of gold they’ve learned to look for, with the modern sensibilities they want. 

I’m excited to incorporate higher karat into my designs and show the process on the blog.  As with creating custom pieces, I want people to know this is do-able, and jewelry which is personal and unique is an option.


New Button Ring

Good morning, my darlings!

I’ve had more than a few emails gently asking when I will show some new designs, and the answer, frustratingly, has been…..I haven’t created any.

While it’s wonderful to be receiving so many orders for existing designs, it hasn’t left me time to create new, cool stuff.  As those around me know, that’s been driving me nuts!  The business woman in me (the one who likes the utilities to stay on) is happy with all the orders, but the artist?  She’s been chomping at the bit.   Running my own business has been such a learning experience, and balancing the creative and the practical aspects of being a working studio artist is a challenge.  Each facet needs the other for success, though,  doesn’t it?

This weekend I forced myself to turn my head off to the practical demands for just a few hours, and here you are:  a new,  cool thing!  Ta da!

I found these buttons at a local shop, Knit One, Stitch Too, when I stopped by to pick up silk cording for pendants I’m working on.

Betsy Weber is the owner of Knit One, Stitch Too, and she and her son were very patient and helpful as I sifted through every single shell button they stocked to find the just the right ones.  Thank you, Betsy!  Betsy ships worldwide, and for those of you looking to support independently owned shops, this is a great one.

Button Ring

The first button ring (below):  An abalone button in a sterling, satin-finished setting with an irregular bezel.  I dig it, and it screams “summertime” to me.  I’ll have this listed for sale later in the day.

Abalone in Sterling
Abalone in Sterling

Next up is the glazed red shell button:

button ring2

The forged “thread” is soldered on one side, and then bent through the button holes.  It’s the bezel which actually secures the button. The thin, wide shell button isn’t as sturdy as a gem, and so I designed the setting to work as a bumper; to take the force of any blows the ring will receive, and so the “thread” rising up from the face of the button is as useful as it is decorative.  I’ll finish this one with a satin finish, as I did with the abalone.

The great big square button?  I’m going to set that one in gold, and with a slightly more complicated setting.   It’ll be big and gorgeous and “full of win” as Jake’s friend Erika would say.   The challenge with a piece like this is keeping the cost of the setting down so the ring will be affordable: in the  mid $200’s.  Because of the size of the button, the setting will need to be sturdy, but sturdy in gold is expensive!  To avoid that,  I’ll play with the base of the bezel being reinforced in silver.  The visible, beautiful parts will be gold, the working parts, silver, and if all goes well it will work and add up to a stunning piece.

Also in studio news:  the extra silver solder I ordered is in, and so I’ll be attempting this design again.   Cross your fingers!


Let’s look at my mess

One of my professors (OK, I dated him, too, if I’m being honest) once told me that the only difference between established artists and student artists is the amount of failures they have behind them.  I must have been having a moment, because his pep-talk also included comments on how we are only learning when we’re failing, and we can’t realize how important these failures are until we’ve learned beyond them.  

I must be growing!  I’m going to be sooo good soon!

Let’s look at the mess I made.

Keeping in mind how expensive failure can be when being polymetallic, I approached my striped wide band with economy of materials in mind.  I intended to make a fine gauge band, sand it smooth, and then solder the whole thing onto a heavier sterling band.  The gold would not be structural this way, and so I could use much less.

I milled out gold and silver to about .20 mm thickness, and cut thin strips of each, about 2 inches long.  I soldered those together.

two strips soldered together
two strips soldered together

Then, I trimmed the sides so that I had a rectangle, and cut that into smaller sections.  I would solder these together,  cut the band horizontally, and solder one more time. 


When I work with gold I use three different solders, each melting at an incrementally lower temperature.  This allows me to solder multiple joints without melting previously soldered seams.  When combining gold and silver, silver solder is used, and I only had one temperature of silver solder on hand.  With a bit of care, this hasn’t been a problem before,  but to protect those initial seams from heat I coated them with a heat shield product.

It didn’t work.


The first solder seams liquefied, and the gold jumped up and over the silver pieces.  I’ve not seen that before, and wonder why the gold jumped on top of the silver, and not the other way around, as gold is the  heavier metal.   Whatever the scientific reason is, I think this could be avoided by using multiple solders with staggered melting temperatures.

Not a costly mistake, but I’ll wait until I have a variety of silver solder on hand before I try this again.


1/4 teaspoon of bling

14k casting grain
14k casting grain

This just arrived.  5 dwt of 14k gold casting grain.  I usually buy my gold in casting grain form and then melt and mill it myself; that way I can add in any scraps I have, and I always have a lot of scraps.   This doesn’t quite fill a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, and was $150.00 before shipping.



Custom adventures

Every once in a while custom work can be a nightmare, but usually it is incredibly rewarding and fun.

It’s nightmarish when clients are insistently unrealistic (“What I’d REALLY like is to replace the sapphire in this design with a petrified emu egg, and the gold with moonbeams and fairy dust.  And I’d like to be able to wear this ring as a pair of pants, too.”); when they are insistent upon something which is not technically or financially possible, or something I know will not turn out as they think it will.   This is frustrating for both parties, and I hate how that feels.  I’m getting better at recognizing the red flags which precede these situations, and clarifying what is possible in custom work.  When everyone understands limits and possibilities, then we have a working relationship primed for success.

And then there are the dream clients.  The ones who like my work, arrive with basic  ideas, and are excited to collaborate with me.   And that is G, for whom I’m finishing up a pendant, today.  G has purchased pieces from me before, and asked if I could now use a 14k rose gold necklace as material for a new pendant.  The necklace was a gift from her Grandmother, and while it had emotional value for her, she wasn’t wearing it because it was not her style.  G sent me several images of things she liked, with notes clarifying: like this but no stone, about this big,  domed, and quite thin.  Maybe a neat texture?

I took it from there, and made a quick mock-up for her.


My notes to her:  Size will depend upon how much we get when we melt down your necklace, your piece will have a more developed texture, and how about a deeply shined finish?

Her notes to me:  How about an uneven edge (she likes the edge of my turquoise pendant), and she wasn’t sure about the shine.

We left the shine up in the air, and I got started.

Previously, I had researched working with rose gold.  I’ve never worked with it before, and was a bit scared by what I read.  My biggest concern was ruining her gold, and from what I had read, TERRIBLE things could happen.  If you don’t get the temperature just right, and quench at just the right moment, rose gold can mutate, rise up, and kill you in your sleep (oh my.  I’d like to avoid that).   Additionally,  even those goldsmiths who loved working with rose gold advised only using solder on invisible seams, and not to bother buying rose gold solder unless you just can’t avoid a face seam.  It doesn’t behave well and flow smoothly when melted,  and usually doesn’t match your metal.  I had this in mind when designing the mock-up, and the only joint is on the back of the piece.

I was thrilled that the rose gold had let me live through the night, and even happier when I walked into my studio today and saw the  morning sun hitting G’s partially finished pendant.  Now I understand why people fall in love with rose gold.  Wow.  The piece, not even polished, glowed with an incredibly feminine warmth,  both delicate and strong in color.

Let me show you what I’ve done:

I've melted and milled the gold.  It's a bit thicker than the final piece will be, and this allows for more work to be done texturing and raising the dome.
I've melted and milled the gold. It's a bit thicker than the final piece will be, and this allows for more work to be done texturing and raising the dome.
I've cut the basic shape with shears, and the extra will be remelted and used as the bail.
I've cut the basic shape with shears, and the extra will be remelted and used as the bail.
Texturing, working, raising. I anneal and work, anneal and work.  To produce the depth of character I like in my pieces, working and reworking is necessary.  It's similar to how the layers in paintings produce depth.
Texturing, working, raising. I anneal and work, anneal and work. To produce the depth of character I like in my pieces, working and reworking is necessary. It's similar to how the layers in paintings produce depth.
This is the scrap I removed earlier.  I've pickled and cleaned it, and now will melt it into a workable shape.  The black you see is compressed charcoal, and it reflects and holds the heat, making melt temperature possible.  I've hollowed out a channel, and it serves both as a melting vessel and a mold for the melted gold.
This is the scrap I removed earlier. I've pickled and cleaned it, and now will melt it into a workable shape. The black you see is compressed charcoal, and it reflects and holds the heat, making melt temperature possible. I've hollowed out a channel, and it serves both as a melting vessel and a mold for the melted gold.
And...melted into a nice workable shape.
And...melted into a nice workable shape.
This morning.  Look at that gold!  Isn't it just gorgeous?  And it isn't even polished....
This morning. Look at that gold! Isn't it just gorgeous? And it isn't even polished....

I’ll finish this today, and show the images to G.  We’ll make any necessary adjustments, and I’ll ship it.

Clients like G are a joy.   This kind of collaboration is so exciting and rewarding, and it’s a happy challenge to try and come up with something she will just love.

Upcoming custom:  A couple whose emails almost make me cry; they are like a little window into a beautiful, deep love.  I’ll be designing an engagement ring.  They want it to tell a story and have a secret, and be a unique symbol of the beginning of the life they are creating for themselves.  I want them to have everything they want. This is a privilege, and I can’t wait.


New Earrings

Just finished these and one other pair of earrings, and will be listing them later this afternoon.  These are 14k with citrine, and the others are a very cool sterling/gold mix. 

Citrine in Gold Rectangles
Citrine in Gold Rectangles

I know my collection is short on earrings, but I’ve been having a lovefest with rings lately.  Now I have some earring ideas beginning to percolate, and I’ll go with them.  I find that forcing myself in a direction I’m not eager to go yields lesser quality work.

Seeing my pieces photographed often leads me to make further adjustments to them, and I originally had these earrings with little pearls instead of citrine.  Now I see I’ve left a bit of polish on the right side of the top earring, and I’ll need to clean that up a bit and reshoot.  I don’t like to clean up details like that in photoshop, because it doesn’t feel honest; I want the customer to see exactly what they are getting.  I don’t have any qualms, however, about cleaning up the red paint mark on the rock background.  I think anything reminiscent of blood in my photos is probably not a good idea.