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!



Isn’t that pretty?

Blogosphere, where is my camera?

I need it.   I have something pretty to show you today.  Something silver, if you can believe it.

Here. I’ll describe it, which is almost as good as a photograph, but not really.

A chunky silver ring, set with a beautiful, glowy piece of lime-green Maine seaglass.  At the base of the bezel, I’ve left a heavy lip of textured silver.  I’ve oxidized the setting, and then rubbed it back to a satiny finish.

Isn’t that gorgeous?

Why don’t I keep looking for that camera, eh?


Ring fail and the evils of white gold

I was quite excited about this ring… its beginning stages.   Let’s discuss, and then a word on white gold.

Pleased with the profile of the ruby ring I showed you last week, I wanted to play with that look.  I liked the forward thrust of the angled bezel under the roundness of the ruby cabochon,  and wanted to go further with the tapered bezel/cabochon combo.  How about oversizing it a bit, for a more whimsical look?  Maybe mixing yellow and white gold to make a more contemporary piece?  How about we brush the white gold for a satin finish?

The new piece?  It works in some ways, but not in others.

From the front, I’m feeling the love.  Because I was going for a more modern look, I made the bezel quite heavy, and from straight-on I like the look.   The bezel is in balance with the band, the aquamarine a wide, glowing orb shown to its best advantage.  I wouldn’t say I hit the mark on “whimsical,” but from the front this is a balanced, feminine, clean design.

But viewed from the side…..

Fail, for several reasons.

The band is too slight.   I started with a milled, heavy gauge round wire, and wanted to keep that milled, super-symmetrical look.  However, as often is the case with a new design, there were many restarts.  Solder, sand, hate, unsolder, sand, resolder, sand, hate, unsolder…… What with the sanding and hating the band dwindled away a bit, and it now fails to balance the heavy bezel.

Now, the bezel.   It doesn’t have the clean sharpness needed to read as contemporary; it needs a sharper edge in front, a tighter angle in the taper. Lacking that sharpness, it ends up  heavy and  graceless.  Neither here nor there.

As long as this ring is ONLY seen from dead-front, we’re cool.  Sadly, that means we have an overall fail, because if it doesn’t work in every way?  It doesn’t work.

Were I to continue to play with this idea, I could go in either of two directions.   I could lose the tapered bezel, allowing the stone to sit flush with the bezel. Pretty, simple, clean, feminine.   Or, I could do a redo on the contemporary look.   Sharpening up that bezel, bulking up the band, aiming for what I missed this time.

Now, white gold. This is the first time you’ve seen me work with white gold.  That is because white gold is on my axis of evil, although I understand it has its place in goldsmithing.

There are two problems with white gold.  Well, three, if you count  being evil.  So, three problems: evil, finish, malleability.

1. Evil.

2. Finish.  Many are in love with white gold, but the bright white shine they equate with white gold isn’t really white gold.  It’s rhodium.

14k white gold is 14 parts deep yellow gold, and 10 parts alloy.  That’s a lot of deep rich gold, and because of this, white gold will never be brighter white than a steely, silver color.  White gold, at its whitest, is not as white as silver.  That beautiful bright white, shiny finish seen on white gold pieces in jewelry stores?  That’s a rhodium plating on top of the gold, used to make real white gold more attractive. People who love think they love white gold really love white, shiny rhodium plating.

3.  Malleability.  Remember when we talked about alloying?  Yellow gold is allowed with copper and silver, and the intent is to keep as much gold color as possible while adding a bit of hardness.   In aiming for white gold, however, the goal is to lose the whiteness, and so different alloys are used.  Rat bastard alloys.  Evil alloys.

White gold is usually alloyed with nickel or palladium. Palladium yields a more malleable, grayer 14k white gold.  It can discolor over time, it becomes brittle with repeated heating.  It’s a bastard.   Nickel yields a much whiter (the band, above, is 14k nickel-alloyed gold), much, much less malleable white gold.  Much less malleable.  Like, don’t even bother trying to forge it into pretty shapes and curves.

White gold is also less stable than its yellow counterpart.  Heated to melting, yellow will cool to roughly the same work properties it started with.  Melted, white gold will cool to a grainy, brittle mess which needs to be returned to the refiner for chemical processing.

I’m often asked to make my designs in white gold.  White gold, brittle and less ductile, does not take well to the forging techniques I use.  I don’t start with milled  stock, and this is what gives my work its hand-wrought feel.  My pieces are forged; I don’t want the look of machine-milled metal, and with white gold it is best to start with machine-milled stock and go with simple fabrication.

However, I do think white gold has an interesting, steely look, and I can make peace with it if I can work milled bits of it into my designs.  That’s what you see above.  An attempt at making peace with white gold; of having an inclusive studio.   I’m a jewelry diplomat.  I’m like the Ghandi of jewelry, the MLK of bling.

I know.

Personal Entries · Studio

Child labor

Matthew has had quite a few orders for his silver ring.  In fact, until two days ago, he had more orders in January than I did, and I’m beginning to wonder at what point encouraging your child’s hobby becomes child labor.

Would he just stand still and smile? No, he would not.

Matt is proud that he’s made something others find valuable, and he surprised me by asking if I thought people were  buying his ring because he’s ten.  He didn’t want that, he said, and he worried that they were. I’ve assured him that, no, people don’t buy thirty dollar rings because you’re cute.  A twenty-five cent cup of lemonade?  Sure, cute will sell that, but not thirty dollars worth of it.

He’s morphed into a no-nonsense professional metalsmith, casually tossing out the lingo.  “When do I need to have that size 7 out?  Where’s the new flux? Is this the medium solder?”

I love it; I love  his new sense of accomplishment, the validation of skills these sales denote, the dignity he obviously feels.  Being the youngest of three boys has not always been easy.  There are always two older, more experienced brothers ready to correct him, ready to help even when he was not asking for help.  But now he’s top dog.  Now he, at ten, is more accomplished in this one area than both brothers combined, and it’s an important area: it’s Mom’s business.  

With the success of his sales has come worry, too.  He’s worried about getting his orders out in time, he’s worried when he makes mistakes.  I’ve assured him that I’ll be there with him, I’ll walk through this beside him, picking up anything too heavy for him to shoulder, lending a hand if things overwhelm.

“Does that mean I have to give you part of my money?”  He’s asked.  Ah, the money.  Out of every sale, five dollars goes to materials, and Matt keeps twenty-five dollars as profit.  He’s a bit overwhelmed by his sudden wealth.  That’s a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh cards.   That’s a lot of electronics he doesn’t need but wants to buy because he can

I’ve been asked many times if we can go to Target. 

“Why?” I ask.

“I want to buy something.”

“What were you thinking you wanted to buy?”

“I don’t know.  Just… something.”

When I told him I wanted him to wait a week before purchasing anything, and I only wanted him to spend a quarter of his earnings, he seemed relieved.  Whew.  It is not easy being rich.

Matt seems to have gone through my catalogue of Everything Which Has Gone Wrong In the Studio In The History Of Ever, and is considering how he’d feel about these things happening to him.  He hopes he doesn’t poison himself.  He hopes his hair doesn’t get burned off.  He really doesn’t want to get rouge in his eye.  

And the clients, he’s worried about the clients.  I’ve only had one really difficult custom order, but my upset over it must have made an impression.

When his second order came in, Matt lamented, “Oh, I hope I don’t get any crazy clients!  If I do, I’m just telling them, No!  I will not make a ring for you!”  So basically, he’s a lot like the Soup Nazi, but with rings.  The Ring Nazi.

I’m not sure how real these worries are, or if they are just a way of verbalizing the new grown-up dignity he feels, his new badassery.  It’s the parfait-layering of his little boyness with this silversmithing gravitas which makes me smile.

“Mom, can I finish this ring later?  I wanna go outside and play. ”

I look out the window a few moments later to see him rocket his soccer ball into the goal he was so excited to get for Christmas.  He runs a circle around the yard, arms raised for his victory lap.


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.


Apple Green Turquoise Ring

When I first started Vaka Design, I hoped that the business could be an umbrella for all of my talented friends and family; that I might simply be one of many artists who ran Vaka.  It didn’t work out that way and that’s been fine, although I’ve been ready to smack my friend Karen.

While I started in painting and switched out mediums to pursue metal, Karen has her degree in art and previously focused on metal.  Karen loves silver, but life and motherhood had led her away from metalwork through the years.  Art can be intimidating to pick back up once it has been laid aside for a while, and Karen has needed to find her own pace and path back into the studio.  I’m certain my nagging, cajoling, berating, and pleading really helped, and don’t let anyone (whose name rhymes with Shmaren) tell you differently.  It totally helped.

Karen has gotten into a groove, and has produced a piece that she absolutely MUST list, because it is gorgeous.  It will be listed later this afternoon under the new category of “Karen’s Work.”


And so, let’s let Karen tell you about her new piece:

apple green turquiose ring lead
Apple Green Turquoise Ring

So. I’ve been talking about getting back into making jewelry for a long time, and thanks to a tax refund last year, I was finally able to lay out the funds to get started (after someone , who shall remain nameless, had kicked me in the butt for the umpteenth time).

When I ordered this stone, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. It certainly looked intriguing in the photos, but I had never seen green turquoise before. I was delighted when it arrived, however. There is something very appealing about this color — it makes me think of green pears and key lime pie and summer. I’d wear it all the time, except with my coloring ,  green makes me look as though I have some sort of liver malfunction going on.

I wanted to keep the design very simple, and I don’t really care for wispy-looking, dainty jewelry. I like my silver a little more substantial — just like my men. So here you go… the apple green turquoise ring. (Totally natural stone, by the way — not treated in any way).



Custom love story…continued

Is this not the loveliest couple ever, in the history of the world?

Nick and Holly, engaged!
Nick and Holly, engaged!

Several readers have emailed to ask what became of Nate and Heather’s custom engagement ring.

These two happy people are Nick and Holly, from New Zealand, and when I previously wrote about them I referred to them as Nate and Heather in order to maintain their privacy; they weren’t yet engaged.   Now they are happily engaged, though, and had their engagement party last night.  Now we can totally talk about them without spilling any beans.

This is the original mock-up for Holly’s ring, with notes discussing possible changes to be made.

mock up

Both Nick and Holly wanted the ring to be symbolic of two hands curving towards each other to complete a circle, and Nick’s original sketch and an explanation of the changes I advised can be seen here.

Between the silver mock-up and the final product, though, two significant changes were made. 

First, Nick sent me Holly’s ring size, which is roughly an American size 9.   I was concerned that if I followed the mock-up exactly, Holly would end up with a teeny little ring which would look quite twee on a larger hand.  I didn’t, however, want the ring to be bulky or masculine, as Holly strikes me as very, very feminine woman.   I decided to make the ring significantly heavier, and modify the added weight by making sure every bit of the ring was rounded, with no hard edges to convey masculinity.  The result was soft yet solid, delicate but not silly.

The second change, and one which will make every woman reading this fall in love with Nick just a little bit:  when I told Nick the ring’s cost would be lower than he had anticipated, the wonderful man told me to find a much bigger champagne diamond.  When the stone arrived it was gorgeous, and I was frustrated that the camera couldn’t catch what I could see in the sunlight.  Sparks of greens and ambers and purples, the kind of colors which make champagne diamonds one of my favorite stones.  I couldn’t wait for Nick and Holly to see it in person.

And the final work.  Well, almost……after I shot this I realized I had set the stone slightly crooked, and went back and fixed it.  It’s amazing how shooting a piece can show up previously unnoticed flaws, and I often rework pieces after photographing them.



Shortly after Nick’s proposal, Holly wrote to tell me of it, and I opened the email in Charlotte Douglas Airport while waiting for the boys’ flight to take off:

I feel right now, and have done for a few weeks now, like I’ll never stop being happy and content again.

The rest of her letter made me laugh and cry, and I’m shocked that the passengers around me didn’t alert security about the crazy woman at Gate 6.  An older woman looked at me with concern, and I sniffled and said, “They got engaged.”  This seemed to explain everything to her, and she smiled and nodded, because it’s perfectly reasonable to cry and laugh when someone gets engaged.

Holly wrote of Nick’s proposal:

He stopped on my favourite trail, where it widens out to let people stop and admire a view of Queenstown, the remarkables, and the southern alps and he dropped a knee and asked me to marry him.

She went on to say how she’s spent hours looking at the ring, how it catches the light, and how much she loves the deep, beautiful color of the stone.

I have been so incredibly honored to be involved in Nick and Holly’s important moment, to be the one they chose to make their ring, and to have had the tiniest little part in these two wonderful people’s lives.

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: finished!

The 22k custom Jade Queen’s Ring was a pleasure to make, although there were some tricky spots.

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.

With the extra gold I ordered I made this Hoop Ring.

Garden of Grace