Thursday, March 2, 2017

How to Get Inspired


With spring just around the corner and winter being ridiculously mild this year, it's time to think about some inspiration for jewelry and wedding season. Here are some tricks and tips of how I come up with new ideas.....


To read more please visit our website at https://www.cecileraleydesigns.com/blogs/cecile-raley-designs/how-to-get-inspired



Friday, February 10, 2017

Tucson Treasures


I got back from Tucson Tuesday night and the very first thing I did was sleep.  First on the plane (1 hr the first leg, 2 hrs the second leg) and then 10 more hours at home.  My assistant Debbie, who was with me till Saturday, took Sunday-Tuesday off to recoup.  Yesterday, I got my little treasures from Brink, thanks to Prima Gems who did the transport for me together with their (considerably larger) inventory.

Tucson was amazing this year.  As many of you know, I stumbled upon a couple of dozen of boxes of Demantoid at Dudley's booth the first day, and I sold out three days in a row.  Spurred by the interest, I also bought a larger piece, .77 cts, a couple of larger pairs and a larger 5mm round from a Russian seller at the GJX.  They come from the Ural mountains.  Not sure I'll share the .77 piece - it's apple green, absolutely perfect in color, horsetail inclusions and everything. But the 5mm is on Etsy, and some 3.2 and 4mm pieces are available if there's interest.  Dudley also had more spinel melee, some more reddish ones, of which I still have some 3mm and 4mm pieces - nice open color, very bright.  He backfilled with a little of the older cobalt spinel material, and he explained to us why the stuff is so rare at this point.  He also backfilled on kornerupine, which I am selling out of at a rapid pace.  In general, some of the new stuff has been flying out the door this week, which made me rather happy.  Oh and there's a little bit more of the Kenyan tsavorite, also old stock.

Red Spinel, Burma, 3mm

Russian Demantoid 4-5mm

Russian Demandoid 6mm, .77 Cts, Perfect Color

Vietnamese Cobalt Spinel

Tanzanian Kornerupine

A new find - not yet released on my website, is what Dudley called "Chrome-Beryl" from Pakistan.  A light blue-green color, chrome beryl is not exactly aquamarine and not exactly green beryl.  It has the chromium content of beryl, ruling it out as an aqua, but it is too blue to be a beryl color.  Some of the pieces are bi-color. Dudley bought out the entire find, and I grabbed a bunch.




Speaking of beryl, I spoke at length to Monte from Equatorian Imports, who specializes in red beryl. Below is a little interview with him, explaining why they use the clarity enhancement process on most of their stones.  He convinced me to try working with some melee and so I've listed them on Etsy.  The color is gorgeous - and since there is no more mining in the area, there's not likely to be much once he is sold out.



Chromium Beryl
Chromium Beryl

While I was talking to Monte, I ran into Richard Wise who has just come out with a new Edition of his book, Secrets of the Gemstone Trade.  I bought a copy and interviewed him on the new book to share with you.



Red Beryl

I also got some more pyrope garnet from Arizona, I have 4.5mm pairs still available and 3.5mm rounds.  And I saw some gorgeous Nigerian Indicolite - one princess cut pair is on Etsy already, another longer pair is coming up.  There is a bit more Cambodian Zircon available (I suggest the pair shapes in my shop which need better photos if I have time), mostly rounds.  And I have some additional tourmaline.  There were no new shipments of the lagoon color, at least not for now.  I saw a seller at GJX who had it but he charged more than I charge on resale, so there was no point in getting any.

Pyrope Garnet
I bought some more paraiba melee, several more pairs in the 2.5-3mm range.  And a larger parcel of 2mm that can be used for melee.  I have another cabochon coming up as well.  Generally I found the paraiba to be a bit slim pickings.  Same with tourmaline in general.  I bought and sold two pairs of elongated pear shapes, and I have one more that's indicolite color (this will be on the more expensive side I'm afraid).

Paraiba Cabochon
Paraiba Rounds 3mm

Paraiba Princess Pair
From a Thai seller that I've worked with a few times, I got nice sapphire melee (listed), ruby 3mm (sold), lavender sapphire melee (2mm, 3mm), a ruby marquis and some pear shapes (coming up).  The marquis fits the Cleo ring.  I also got one slightly bigger ruby.  I HAD a matched pair but one fell under the heater during the photo session and we are still looking for it.  Bummer because that was an amazing pair.  (Shortly before I moved I found a ruby underneath my deep freezer that had been there for about 2 years, so you never know when that turns up).

Sapphire Melee
I found "my" benitoite dealer at the Inn Suites - he sold me those ombre layouts before.  I have more ombres available - I'd love to do one in my new five stone hexagon pendant.  And I have 1.5mm, 1.8-1.9mm and 2mm melee.

Benitoite Melee


Benitoite from California
On the more unusual side, I brought back a twin star sapphire, a reddish orange kyanite, a Vesuvianite, a little bit of Triplite, Mexican Danburite (white), a dumortierite cabochon (I can barely spell that!), and next week I am getting another shipment from Dudley!

Double Star Sapphire, Ceylon


Dumortierit in Quartz from Brazil

In sadder news, there will be no hauyne in the near future.  As I shared on FB already, there was an accident on the mining site in Germany (a small field near Idar Oberstein, which is the only place in the world where it has ever been found), and since then the owners of the property have not let anyone on to the site. My German seller, Juergen, who lives nearby, hopes to change that in the near future but right now it is uncertain what will happen.  Juergen had completely sold out in Hong Kong and the Israeli dealers from whom I got a big parcel last year didn't come to the show.  They specialize in Vietnamese spinel and there was not enough material this year to feature it.

Dudley said he might have a little more hauyne and he promised me to look next month when he gets home.  Juergen said he had some more rough and he would email me when it was worked up.  If either of these come through, I will let you all know.

All in all though, aside from the lost (and found) cell phone charger, the lost (and found) rental car key that turned up in my pocketbook the day after we had left the rental in the parking lot of El Churro's and taken an Uber back, a delayed arrival flight, a hotel booking confusion that forced us to drastically downsize for a night (I'd rather skip the details), and a forgotten passport coupled with a nearly missed flight, the trip went perfectly smoothly.  And it was totally worth it all, too!




Monday, January 23, 2017

Tucson Prep

For those of you who travel "vicariously" with me to Tucson to hunt for gems, here's a little more of a breakdown of what I have now, what I am looking for, and what kinds of purchases I am arranging.

Let's start with what has been my main draw, and my personal favorite - Paraiba tourmaline.  I've done a count on my melees and I have adjusted all the quantities in the shop to reflect what I have left.  I have arranged with the melee sellers to buy some more on my first day in Tucson and they are holding back the parcel.  But each size (1, 1.3 and 1.6mm) only has a few carats left.  The sellers have informed me that they cannot get more.  So for those of you still planning projects, let me know what you need and/or buy them at the beginning of the sale - I have to pay for these up front and prices are high so I can't simply buy them out.  I can also get 1.8mm but they are about $80 or so each which is why I haven't stocked them.

I will also be able to get some more 3mm rounds similar to the pair I had up a couple of weeks ago. I've already called ahead for those and have arranged for a few to be held back.  However, there are only 5 or 6 pieces.

3mm Paraiba Pair

I've already met with the other dealer from whom I usually buy my Paraibas here.  They gave me first dibs on the freshly cut material (all from their old stock of rough).  I bought some small ovals and marquis, a few greenish cabs, a blueish cab, and some rounds in the 4mm range.  I am processing those already and will be releasing them later in the week.

Paraiba Princess Cut Suite ($2000/ct x .30 ct for the suite)

3x2mm Paraiba Ovals ($1500/ct)

Hauyne (hauynite): again what is online reflects what I have, except for a few 2mm pieces.  That dealer should definitely be in Tucson and he knows me as well.  But his prices are higher than what I had stocked last year in Tucson because last year, I was lucky enough to buy out a mixed parcel (1mm-1.8mm) of about 15 carats.  That's the parcel I have been selling from all year and that's drawing to a close.  The "larger" pieces come from the German dealer, and I can restock on melee, but expect them to be closer to $1400/ct, and for finer goods, $2000/ct.  Forget anything larger than 3mm, but I can get a few 4x3mm ovals, that's about the largest size.

Paraiba Round $1600/ct (.35ct round shown)

Marquis +/-4x2mm ($1400/ct)

Cobalt spinel: from what I can tell, that material is off the market.  The true blue anyway.  It was much rarer than Paraiba, and the yield is now next to nothing at astronomical per carat prices.  So unless Dudley has a little left that I didn't buy yet, the best piece is still the one in my shop.  There's a small Israeli company, two brothers, that will be at GJX - they might have stuff because they collect on location, just like Dudley.  They have a lot of Vietnamese material.  Also, if anyone is interested in the lilac and light purple spinel pear pairs, or other shapes, please inform me ahead of time.  I can't stock that material, it is too expensive, and I cannot memo from them.  This company exhibits once a year only, only at GJX.


Paraiba Cabochons, .8 and .48 cts ($600/ct)

Sapphire: I love to stock and I can memo good Ceylon material, matched pairs, color changers, purplish, cornflower blue, royal blue.  The largest selection is in ovals, but there are many good round pairs available in the 3.5-5mm size.

Other tourmaline: I always look for nice saturated pinks, blueish greens, and indicolites.  But I don't have a regular source for any of them, and the lagoon colors only come through my NY seller.  There haven't been any recent shipments though some new stuff is expected in the next few months.  That location is kept fairly secret and the production is very small.

Burma spinel: I wrote about this last time. It is on my list, as well as the other rare stones. If you have any interest in bixbite, demantoid, benitoite, and other rare stones, please let me know ahead of time. I have to be very careful with funds, and I need to know who wants what before I buy.  My company is  not big enough to purchase large inventory.  Maybe some day:)


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tucson: How to Shop Wisely at a Gem Show

The countdown is on: on Monday January 30th I leave for Tucson for the largest gem show, or rather, gem shows, of the world, ready to stock up on more goodies.  I will visit the AGTA and GJX shows for the most part, but I also go to a couple of the smaller shows, notably the one at the Hotel Tucson City Center, where my friend Jochen from Jentsch Mineralien exhibits.  That's more of a mineral show but you can also find some gem dealers there.  I got some nice deals there toward the end of the show last year.


Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Mineralien





Shopping for gems in Tucson is one of the most overwhelming experiences you can imagine.  If you don't stay focused on what you want to look for, and if you don't keep an eye on your budget, you will spend everything on the first day.  You also need a plan.  Wholesale purchases are not refundable.  On occasion you can exchange, but usually only if something's wrong with the product or if you have a relationship with the seller.  If you have a customer who is interested in something but needs to see the stone first, I can memo it at the show from the sellers that I know and that trust me, I photograph it, and then return it after a day or two if there's no sale.  That's the best way to do it short of buying a ton of stuff just so that you can send out photos.  You still have the risk of return but I have to say 95% of my customers understand the risks I have to take and return only if absolutely necessary.  Or they tell me ahead of time that they are not sure about a purchase so that I can make different choices.  With some sellers I can memo gems for longer, which I do at the end of the show, then I can mail out the goods to my customers and pay only for what I sell after the return period is up.


The memo system is very widespread in this industry, but it also requires a lot of trust.  No seller will memo to someone they don't know.  And even if you come "vetted" through another gem dealer, getting stones on memo has to be earned.  During the time you have the stones, you are 100% responsible for loss or breakage, once you set a stone it is yours, and once you sell it, you must pay the seller out. Some wholesale buyers use the proceeds from the sale of a memo'd stone to buy other inventory in the hope of selling that too.  They take the money as an unapproved loan, in other words.  That is not uncommon but a big No No.  Not getting paid, or not getting paid on time, is a big reason why gem dealers dislike memo-ing out stones.  Memos are usually short term (a few days, a week, maybe a month), and something longer is rare.  I have longer memo agreements with three sellers in industry, and I make sure I spend most of my money with them to keep those privileges.

The AGTA (the American Gem Trade Association) only allows US businesses as vendors.  That means you see a lot of familiar faces there.  Pala Gems, Prima Gems, and lots of other well known sellers have big exhibits there.  Some do retail business online also, most don't.  Some do retail shows but not as many as they used to because online business is often better than retail shows.  The GJX show has a lot of international vendors, some of which I see only once a year, only at that show.  For instance, there's a small Israeli company (two brothers) that specialize in Vietnamese (and other) spinel.  They spend all year matching up pairs of lavender spinels for earrings, and they carry some very vibrant pinks also.  I try to get to their booth on the first day.  There is also a red beryl dealer in the GJX show - red beryl and paraiba and benitoite actually.  I see him quickly as well though he will now occasionally send me things in the mail.  It took two years to establish that but now we have a good "mail and email" relationship.  When I have him ship me goods I make sure I buy at least one thing from each shipment so that the relationship continues.

Red Beryl

Red Beryl and Aquamarine

Lavender Spinel from Vietnam

Pink Spinel from Vietnam

Pink Spinel from Vietnam and Purple Sapphire


I don't go to Tucson with a fixed budget, though I do go with a list of things, and I replenish what I am out of and what I cannot get elsewhere (except sometimes Vegas): hauynite (hauyne), Burma spinel melee, hopefully demantoid melee if any is left.  Those three items are high on my list so I will try to do those on the first day also.  Some booths get overrun the first day, so you can't even get an invoice made.  But at one such booth I am a repeat buyer so I just put everything I am definitely buying into a tray with my business card and they make the invoice in the afternoon.  Sometimes I start taking photos already before getting the invoice, and listing items.  I tell them which boxes I am borrowing, go outside (there is an outdoor seating area with some food trucks) to photograph, then bring the boxes back and photograph the front and back to do the pricing and get the weights.

In addition to my purchasing tray, I make a second tray with things I may want but am not committing to.  This tray I keep limited because it is rude to take inventory out of stock on the first day that you are not buying.  So I usually tell the staff that if they have a call for it, put it back into stock.  They normally don't but I want to make sure they know that they can.  I've seen people go glitter crazy and stash stuff into trays and then not return to purchase.  That sort of behavior is remembered and it is not likely that the person will get away with it twice.

At Dudley Blauwet's booth I will be getting sapphires - his are THE most well cut and cleanest on the market, and he's never wrong about whether or not they are heated.  In fact Dudley boasts - correctly I believe - that he has the largest collection of unheated sapphires on the market.  And he is well known for them too.  If any of my buyers wants sapphires, in particular Ceylon, no heat, Tucson and Vegas are the best times to let me know because I will see the widest variety.  JTV and other big online retailers visit booths like his on the first day and sometimes buy out entire productions (one year all the Kenyan yellow sapphires were gone when I got there).

I will also be looking for more Paraiba tourmaline, though one of the two largest sources I have is located in Manhattan and they call me when they cut material.  The Brazilians incidentally, have been buying back their stock because there is such a craze out there and the material is no longer mined.  Then they turn around and sell it for more.  Prices have not stopped rising and most of the sellers that know I'm after any good Paraiba now let me know when they run low.  For instance the melee's I carry are going to be gone soon.  There are maybe 2-3 carats left of each of the sizes I buy and certain common sizes (i.e. 1.5mm) is out.  The largest melee is 1.8mm and those I have to sell for $88 each, which is why I don't buy them.  Though I can if I have a call.

Paraiba Tourmaline Earrings
Other than that, I love looking at any kind of rare stone there is: benitoite, rhodochrosite, lazulite, you name it.  After the first craze is over, I usually walk every single aisle of both shows slowly, looking at what I might have missed.  It's always fun to find new sellers with interesting stuff and to talk with them.  Usually though I'm too busy to talk and my shoulders hurt at night because I walk with my head bent down half the time.

Benitoite and Rhodochrosite at GJX 2016
During the Tucson show I run a 20% sale off all gems in my shop.  It is my biggest gem sale with the steepest discount I can afford.  The objective is to move inventory very quickly to increase my budget for purchases that I take home.  What I don't ship out during the show I give to friends of mine who also vend to travel with Brinks for safety.  The gems arrive in NY a day or two after the show, and I pick them up immediately.  Then it's like Christmas all over again.  I often can't enjoy my purchases at the show because I am too busy buying and selling - and all of you readers of course ask me questions all day long, which I try to answer in addition.  This year I am taking my assistant Debbie, with Karen holding down the fort here.  Debbie will handle more of the social media and the photos to free me up for purchases, and so that I don't work till midnight each night listing and shipping.  After all, we want to enjoy the warm weather.  New Jersey in February is not a lot of fun!

More about Tucson coming up in two weeks....








Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pave Setting - Hand Set versus Pre Cut

I thought I'd devote this blog entry to my why my setter Pierre has lost his hair.  Or so he says: by hand setting my tiny little and very soft glittery colored stones into hard metal castings that aren't ready made for the fast setting type that is the standard nowadays.

Let's first talk about how stones are set for commercial jewelry production.  With most rings and other pieces nowadays being made in CAD, it is possible to cut holes into the model where the stones go, add the milgrain, as well as the beads that will be pushed over the gem.  Even the "engraving" can be done in the CAD.  Have a look at this CAD model.  

This is a perfect example of the engraving and milgrain having been added before casting the model.
Here's an image of a CAD with beads (right side):
And here is a casting of a piece like this, one that I have previously used in my shop, before setting.
The resulting jewelry has a very even look with each bead being perfectly rounded.  The setting labor for these rings is faster as well.  The finished product will look something like this:

Good setters and jewelers will recognize immediately that this ring was prepared for easier setting in CAD.  The CAD work itself is more expensive for a piece like this, but since most of these pieces are then mass produced it pays to save on labor, which can be less than half per stone, and can be performed by less qualified setters.
Finer jewelry is often hand set.  For my pieces, Pierre had to build tools that would hold the tiny pieces without marring or bending the metal.  If he sets a pear shape into a piece that has a round hole, he has to drill the hole differently.  If the stone is a bit small, he doubles the milgrain.  If it is a bit too large, he will add less milgrain.  If there's an empty space created, he will fill it with a little engraving.  





This is how my pieces look after casting and pre-polish.  You can see these are totally blank slates.  That means I have "give" when I select gems for these, and Pierre can accommodate different shapes.


The result is that each of my pieces looks a little different.  Pierre tries to get inventive so that the result always looks good, though not usually identical to the previous piece.  This 9 stone ring is a perfect example.  The center can be round or square, between 2.8 and 3mm.  The inner rounds should be 3mm (ish) and the outer closer to 2.5mm. Look at how smaller center and sidestones get more milgrain and beads.





I'm lucky to be working with Pierre, who's been in the business for over 40 years, having learned to set gems in his teens.  He still loves what he does, and it shows.  He finds my designs very challenging because no two items are ever the same.  But he also says it gives him a break from the same "day in day out" setting that other people give him.  Very few setters work with colored stones on a regular basis, and just about none do pave work with them.  When I started showing up with my crazy ideas, I often got him very frustrated - stones too deep, too uneven, too "wonky", not at all like diamonds which are like eggs.  But over time, both he and I learned how to tame the little beauties.
Here are a few more images of some of my favorite pieces:






Grace Ring, Sapphire, Mahenge Spinel, Paraiba Tourmaline