Friday, January 5, 2018

TUCSON 2018: NEW VENTURES, AND REVISITING SOME OLD ONES


I’ve only been back from Europe for a couple of days (I landed the evening before the blizzard whereas my aunt’s flight was Friday and she’s now stuck in Germany over the weekend!  But I am already planning the next trip: Tucson Gem and Mineral Show 2018.  Even though I’m still jetlagged, I can’t say I’m going to mind getting out of these near zero temperatures.  Debbie is coming with me, Karen and Jo are manning the shop from frigid New Jersey.  Custom orders will chug along at a reduced pace the first week of February.
 (Tucson Gem & Mineral Show)

So, here’s what’s new this year, what the same is, and what is gone:
In with the new:
(1) Russian Demantoid: as many of you know, while my older source has run out I have made a new connection to a supplier in Russia, and I will be requesting melee and smaller stones for earrings.  For other orders, please let me know at your earliest convenience because I need to contact Sergey.
(2) Namibian Lagoon Tourmaline: finally the source of the now famous lagoon tourmalines can be revealed.  The supply line in Namibia has been secured and a new production has arrived that I will get to pick from.  Some of these will be available pre Tucson.  Colors are: lagoon, teal, mint and indigo.  Most of these are heated, some are precision cut.  I already saw some neat princess cuts that would be great for earrings.
(3) Montana Sapphire: I’ve been carrying these off and on for a bit and have been using them for jewelry as well.  It’s tough to match Montanas but I can supply rounds in 3-6mm as well as ovals in 4x3 up to 8x6mm.  Most are heated, but the price point is excellent, much cheaper than what I have seen elsewhere.  The colors are teal blue, teal green, yellow and a little bit of pink.
(4) Calibrated Mint Garnet: a new production of this material is also on the way, in calibrated sizes, which hasn’t been the case in a couple of years.  I don’t know exactly what’s available yet but I am very excited. 
(5) Grandidierite: Considered one of the 10 rarest gemstones on earth, there’s been a new but smallish production in Madagascar.  I’ve secured a small parcel of rounds and ovals, fairly clean material, which is brought to me to Tucson through my friend Jochen from Jentsch Minerals.  He picked them up from Madagascar for me in November of 2017. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/576505427/sale-grandidierite-baguette-rare-blue
Replenishing:
(1) Burma Spinel: this material is not new, and it is not big but I can still get some of the smaller stuff that you’ve been seeing.  Almost all gems are round.  Anything larger than 4mm is wiped off the planet.
(2) Ceylon Sapphire: I am expecting a bit of new stuff, especially matched pairs and blue rounds.  Would be happy to take custom orders for these.  Some color changes and purples will also be available.
(3) Chrysoberyl: I am getting a “mystery box” from Madagascar but I don’t know what it looks like yet.  Material is pretty scarce.
(4) Madagascar Sapphire: Also part of my “mystery box” with material from a few locations.  There’s been a lot on the market lately because of a bigger new find that also contains pinks, but I’ve mostly asked for blue and teal colors.
(5) Benitoite: I will be getting more of the ombres and melee in the 1.5-2mm sizes, and smaller pairs or singles (under half a carat) if there’s interest.  Some rounds for earrings may still be available. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/557618588/sale-benitoite-melee-benitoite-blue
(6) Lavender Sapphire Melee: I’m hoping to do this on the first day if I have time – there’s a Thai dealer that I see only at the GJX show in Tucson and they have a lot of small lavender sapphire melee.  I have to hand match them which takes oodles of time.  That’s why I can only get a limited number, but I will try this time to get more.  I’d love to know ahead of time which sizes are needed, so that I know what to get more of.
(7) Opal: I still have a few in the shop but I am getting quite attracted to the nicer quality black opals and opals and boulder, so I may purchase more if there is interest. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/526017215/sale-tsavorite-trillion-green-gemstone

(8) Ruby: I can get 3-4mm rubies, round and some other shapes, matched pairs and singles, as well as slightly larger singles.  Most will be heated though.  Let me know if there’s any interest.  My ability to get rubies throughout the year is more limited.
Say goodbye to:
(1) Kornerupine: the find from which I have been purchasing seems to be completely depleted.  I have put in requests with the relevant sources but for the time being I have been told by all of them that there’s nothing.  There may be a tiny bit of old stock still, if there is I will buy it. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/510045816/sale-kornerupine-octagon-precision-cut
(2) Malaya Garnet from Mahenge: the production is also finished.  But there is still material from last year on the market for for now.
(3) Purple Mozambique Garnet: production also finished for now, or almost finished, but some material is still available.  Tanzanian material is still (somewhat) available but it’s more grape colored, less purple.
(4) Kenyan Tsavorite: that production has ended some time ago but I have been picking up leftovers.  I bought everything still available in Denver in September. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/526017215/sale-tsavorite-trillion-green-gemstone
Mystery candidates:
(1) Paraiba: I’ve been promised a tad of new stuff by my old suppliers, but I have no idea what  it will be or how it looks.  I am expecting some more small melee however, the supplier who has sold me the 1mm, 1.3 and 1.6mm rounds secured a little bit more of the older production and is offering me the old price.  I don’t know how much it is though.  I will also look for larger melee (2mm sizes). Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/535597039/sale-paraiba-tourmaline-round-melee-16mm
(2) Hauyne: I keep asking, but I have no idea if there’s any.  As I have said before, production is available but nobody is allowed on the site.
Pre Orders are welcome – preferred even – the Tucson gem sale starts Sunday 1/28.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Year in Review:  Milestones of 2017 - Good and Bad

This year has marked an exceptional number of changes, both for Cecile Raley Designs and for me personally.  As many of you know, I moved in late December 2016 - I moved only four blocks but what a difference: this little corner row house has a finished basement with an extra bathroom which marks the new "headquarters" of Cecile Raley Designs.  My living room is now a separate entity, to be enjoyed all day long without requiring conversion from office to personal space at the end of a workday.  My commute is still short, except for Tuesdays and Fridays when I head into the city to get supplies and pick up/drop off orders with our casting service, setter, jeweler and polisher.
We've also had our 10,000th sale on Etsy.  Our shop opened in August 2009 and I had one sale that year - quite a difference to an average of 1,500 annual sales nearly 10 years later.  While sales overall this year have been flat after an enormous 9 year growth spurt, views and visits are up about 30% over last year.  We've begun working a lot on our advertising so hopefully this will translate into a good 2018.  Of the nearly one million views we had this year, 50% are from direct traffic, which means most customers are either repeat or are seeking us out explicitly for some other reason.  I'm not convinced that Etsy searches themselves bring in an awful lot of business, except insofar as we carry a lot of rare goods!
For instance, our most searched gemstone is - I'm sure you guessed it - Paraiba tourmaline.  In fact it is searched 5 times as much as the next two: benitoite (that was a surprise), and Mahenge spinel.  The top five listings with the most favorites in our store are also paraibas. So it pays for us to keep continuing to source and advertise these precious beauties.  My main supplier is constantly negotiating to get more material but it is getting harder and harder. 
Paraiba has also been our best seller this year but we've sold a lot of sapphires, a ton of kornerupines, Burma spinels, and we've done well with our new demantoids which we will try to stock up on in Tucson.  Kornerupines are out for now, I've bought up everything I could and there's no supply, but I'm already hashing out other ideas for Tucson.  More about that in our January blog.
Approximately 65% of our customers are US based.  The rest are international: Hong Kong, Canada, UK, Australia, Israel, but also Japan, Norway, Singapore, and even Romania. 
In terms of designs, our Lily pieces have been our best sellers this year, many combos with red and grey: burma spinel, kornerupine, montana sapphire, grey spinel.  It's been a lovely combo indeed and I have to figure out a way to top that next year!
Speaking of next year, after Tucson and Vegas, I hope to be able to go to Madagascar again to see and support my friends.  The vague plan is to go in late summer, but I will keep you posted! 
Also, next year will mark my 10th year on Etsy, as well as my 50th birthday (where did time go?).  So stay tuned until we can figure out how to mark the occasion(s).
On a more personal front, there has been some sadness.  My mother, who was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia in the fall of 2015 at the age of 65, had to give up her apartment and move into a home.  She was having too much difficulty managing a household on her own, and she was falling a lot which put her in danger on her second floor apartment.  Luckily we found her a sunny terrace room in a very nearby and brand new care facility.  My aunt and I spent two weeks in August taking care of the move with her and clearing out the condo that had been her home for the past 30 years.  It is bittersweet for me that I cannot spend another Christmas there.
Also, on December 11th of this year, my 92 year old grandmother died from complications of an infection.  She had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010 and had been in a home ever since. In the past year, she didn't recognize anyone and she stopped speaking as well. But she still enjoyed humming to herself during some brief moments of lucidity until this fall.  My grandmother, who raised me from the age of 5 to 17, was as close as my mother was to me and at times, even closer.  I feel that in many ways, she made me into the person I am today.  Being like her - kind, giving, a good listener and a master at seeing a problem from the perspective of others - is what I strive for every day.  She shall be remembered for what she had to give to others.  In what will hopefully be the next two years, my book on her young life and experiences during world war II will be completed and find its way to a publisher.  In this way, I hope that others besides me can benefit from her story.
My grandmother
I will be traveling to Germany to attend my grandmother's funeral and to spend Christmas with my dad and mom. The shop will stay open of course with Debbie and Karen managing the year end clearance sale.
Happy holidays everyone!
Yvonne

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Jewelry Laser Surgery: The Alternative to Solder

Many of you have heard me talk about lasering jewelry, or laser soldering, over the years.  Time to devote some blog space to what this actually means, and what is possible or not possible with laser soldering.
What is laser soldering? Laser soldering is a high tech, low heat, alternative to regular soldering.  Laser soldering uses solder, but instead of heating it with conventional methods, it is heated with a laser beam and then literally “shot” onto the area that is to be soldered together with high precision.  The heat used is below 450 degrees Celsius (below half of regular soldering temperatures).  Laser soldering is achieved with a laser solder machine which currently costs in excess of $5000.  Its original use is in computer technology (to solder together components of circuit boards) but it is now widely used in the jewelry industry as well.
What are the advantages of laser soldering? The advantages are precision (adjacent components like gemstones are not affected by the technique) and the heating source is not near the item to be soldered so that any components that are sensitive to heat will not be affected.  So for instance, if an earring post falls off of a stud earring, it can be lasered back without the gem having to be removed.  There’s also no risk of melting the components themselves, which is a great advantage if the components are very tiny, like a small jump ring for example.  Laser is also just about the only technique that works for channel wire because your soldering joint is directly next to the gem.
Examples of application: very tiny joints, such as adding a jump ring to a pendant or earring.  Ring sizing of rings with gemstones, or ring and pendant repair where the gem should not be removed.  Repairs of earring posts, conversion of stick pins to pendants. Laser soldering can also be used to fill porosities in a casting.  Porosities are tiny air bubbles or pockets that can occur during the casting process and that can “open up” during pre polish if they are just under the surface (mostly that is where they are).
Here you can see the imperfection at the top of the jump ring prior to being soldered:  

Below is the pendant afterwards:


What are the disadvantages? The soldering joints are small and use very little solder.  That means they are less secure than conventional solder.  This is not a big deal when you size a ring because you can just “shoot” many little bits of solder onto the joint – see video.  But earring posts, which have to take a little bit of pressure when you put them on, but are otherwise pretty tiny, are best soldered with conventional techniques.  With earring posts, lasering is a plan B only.  Another disadvantage, or rather, a risk is that if you have a tiny soldering joint right next to a gem, is that you can “miss the target” (see below for photo example)and hit the gem instead.  Then you “fry” a little hole into it.  Channel wire joints are notorious for that happening, that’s why it is so expensive.  It takes great precision and patience.  There also seem to be some gems, or gem colors, that attract and divert the laser beam.  We’ve had that problem a lot with red garnets, which is why I stopped wrapping them in channel wire.
What does laser solder cost? As mentioned above, the cheapest machines available for laser soldering, or laser welder, start at about $5,000.  Really good machines can cost up to $50,000. Correspondingly, when you get some work done with a laser soldering machine, the costs are higher because the costs of the machine have to be absorbed in addition to the time spent soldering.  A simple laser joint (attaching a jump ring) retails at $10-12 in my shop. Ring sizing actually costs ME more than what I charge you.  A small change in size costs me $25-30, a larger ring can be $50-60.  When I sell rings I partially absorb that cost through the price of the ring itself.  So when you go to a jewelry store and they tell you its $100 for ring sizing, that’s not an unfair price.  Doing a good job also takes at least a half hour (cutting metal, adding metal, shaving to make it match, repolish, plus gold costs if needed).  Downsizing is easier but can still change the curvature of the ring and open up settings, which then have to be rechecked in turn.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Are you Getting Ready for the Holidays? We Are!

Yes, it is almost here.  As I am publishing this blog, it is a mere six weeks till Christmas.  I have ordered the Thanksgiving Turkey, planned my space for the holiday tree - it’s going into the rec-room slash office space in the new place so that all of Cecile Raley Designs can enjoy it – and we have ordered gift packaging, calendars, for VIP client and vendor gifts.
Time, therefore, to share with you what is new – and old – for the upcoming season. 
Gift wrapping: for an additional $2, we now offer gift wrap.  You’ll get an organza bag, a polishing pad for tarnish removal and a sunshine polishing cloth for shine.
Calendars: our 2018 calendars are ready as well. They will come to you upon request, or with any purchase over $200.  All of our VIP’s will receive one, as well as a little thank you gift from us.
Gift Wrapping Package

Gift Certificate: these can be purchased again in my Etsy shop this year.


And here are some budget-conscious gift ideas from our shop:

Gold chains:  We stock those for the holidays and offer them in 16, 18 and 20 inches whenever possible.  Our green gold chains go with yellow gold, and I especially recommend any of our two toned chains. 


Beaded necklaces: They have been selling very fast lately but we have been restocking.  Prices are $90-$170. 

Moonstone, Labradorite, Burma Spinel Necklace available HERE

Earring jackets: Our flower petal jackets are only $45 and now come in a larger size for $50.

White Diamonds Jacket for stud earrings available HERE


Stud earrings: Our star studs make a cute holiday gift.

Sapphire Hexagon Stud Earrings available HERE

Gems: Give the special gift of a gem (maybe a birthstone) that the recipient can set to suit their own style.

Sapphire pair September Birthstone available HERE
  
And don’t forget to check our Specials section for anything that’s 20% off.
Shipping: We’ve actually upgraded our shipping policy, we are now shipping all orders over $400 Priority, and starting on the 15th of December until Christmas, all packages will go out priority.  The last day to safely order for priority shipping is Wednesday December 20th.  But we are happy to do overnight shipping until Friday the 22nd upon request.  If you are ordering an item that needs sizing or any other modification, we can ship it first and you can have sizing or modifications done after the holidays.  Other than that, anything in the shop is ready to ship on the same or next day.
Returns: just a reminder that our return period is two weeks.  Thankfully, we have very few returns, but we do understand that the holidays can be an exception.  So if you are not sure about a gift, make sure you let the recipient know that a return or exchange is not a problem.
And when do we have our holiday sales?  Our “Thanksgiving Sale” event starts Sunday November 19th with 10% off the shop until Sunday December 3rd.  Expect a larger flash sale of select pieces on Cyber Monday and a 3-day sale some time closer to the holidays.  For our 15% off semi-annual sale, you’ll have to wait until after the holidays. 
Happy Shopping!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Guest Blog: A traveler's report on the world of gems

Manhattan’s 47th Street rightfully deserves the name “Diamond District": shops for jewelry, precious stones, and all kinds of precious metal products line the street.  The bustle on the sidewalks feels like a foreign bazaar, even if the most exotic clothes are the black suits of the orthodox Jews. For tourists, it may seem superficial....


To read more please visit our website at: https://www.cecileraleydesigns.com/blogs/cecile-raley-designs/a-german-travelers-report-on-the-world-of-gems

 Photo of Diamond District NYC from 6th Avenue

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Does "Recycled Metal" Really Mean?

This blog entry is prompted by a couple of recent questions about working with recycled metals.  Etsy now offers a new category – “recycled” – that I can click on before I publish my listing.  And since the metals I cast in are recycled, I click “yes”.  And now that this category is visible to clients, they want to know what it means. Of course the word “recycled” can be used to describe a variety of processes.....

To read more please visit our website at: https://www.cecileraleydesigns.com/blogs/cecile-raley-designs/what-does-recycled-really-mean-what-we-do-and-don-t-do-when-it-comes-to-recycling

Taba Casting here pouring pure silver metal "beans"


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rare Gemstones - A Seller's Market

Anecdote:  in late summer I got a call for a 4+ carat lagoon tourmaline of a very specific cut and color, not too dark, etc etc.  Unsurprisingly, the potential buyer couldn't find such a stone anywhere.  I asked the buyer if they were serious about the purchase because it would be expensive and hard to find.  I come across about 100 lagoon tourmalines in that size a year at best and I know who imports them and the source.  I know Tiffany likes those stones too and they pay good money for them.  Out of those hundred or so stones, which is probably most of the annual production, 99% are not the specified color and cut.  Well maybe 98%.  But you get the idea.  Anyway I borrowed 5 stones to show to the client that came close.  No luck.  Again another stone, no luck.  It took at least a full day......

To read more please visit our website at: https://www.cecileraleydesigns.com/blogs/cecile-raley-designs/rare-gemstones-a-sellers-market

This Cobalt Oval Spinel is old stock, there's currently almost no production