Thursday, March 15, 2018

What Color is this Gem – really? Commonly Asked Color Questions and Difficult Answers

Nature doesn’t make it easy, does it?  Is it a ruby or a sapphire?  Is the Paraiba more greenish or more blueish?  Does the tourmaline have a sooty appearance in indoor lighting?  Is the color change on this garnet complete and does it change from a teal blue to a purple or a teal green to a red?   Does the sapphire have secondary hues of violet or purple?  Does the spinel glow, does it have open color?
As a gemstone seller, I have faced all these questions  and more.  Just last week I got a request for a round matched pair of 5mm gems – seafoam color.  When we finally sorted out what seafoam green meant, I realized I would have called that a lighter teal blue-green, and my idea of seafoam was more greenish than hers (maybe we were thinking of different vacation spots, lol).  Which is fine, there’s lots of disagreement on color names, as is evidenced when you get color samples for repainting your wall at Home Depot or Lowes. 
Does this sapphire have secondary hues of violet?
Seafoam colors, or mint?  Both?
Which, if any, of these tourmalines is seafoam color?
Is this paraiba more greenish or more turquoise?
Do you think this paraiba is blue or turquoise?
GIA has developed a helpful color reference booklet and chart. Below is the link to the booklet:
Another question I often face is about extinction – this happens at least twice a month, no joke.  How much extinction is there, is it half the stone, or the entire stone, the top half or the bottom..?  All my photos are taken in natural lighting with the light coming from one direction (namely outdoors).  I’ve tried taking photos with the lighting behind the stone but that doesn’t look good.  In order to avoid half of the gem looking dark, I have to go outside in the afternoon, put the stone on my outdoor table with the lighting directly behind me.  But sometimes that provides too much light and no amount of correction fixes it (it’s also rather cold in the winter and we don’t like losing stones in the front yard).  And ANY oval stone (and many pears) will look dark on one side if the light is not directly behind you.  Lightboxes have not worked for me, artificial light doesn’t work for many stones (i.e. mandarin garnet looks washed out, mint garnet looks too gray).  So you make do and hope that your additional description sheds more light onto what the stone looks like – pun intended. This can backfire if the description and the photos are too far apart.  Needless to say we spend oodles of time doing photos and listings, so at times trying to get it just right, especially with cheaper gems, takes more time than I can charge for the gem.  Nobody wants to pay $25 in photography time for a $10 gem.
Does this Burmese spinel have extinction? Open Color?  Left photo: indoor natural lighting coming from the right, right photo: outdoor natural lighting from behind the camera.

Does this Mahenge spinel have extinction?  Left photo: indoors natural lighting from the right.  Right photo: outdoor natural lighting from behind the camera.

Here are some additional challenges to accurate representation of gems:
  1. Monitors vary and not everyone knows how to balance out the colors when they get a new computer (there’s a function for this in the control panel, under color management).
  2. Cameras differ and so do the programs you can use to color correct photos. My Motorola photos do not look like the pictures I take with my Nikon, my older iPad basically sucks. My old “Picasa” software is no longer supported and I really liked the way it color corrected.
  3. Natural lighting conditions vary from place to place and season to season, and with the weather. My Tucson and Las Vegas photos are usually much brighter than my New Jersey photos. Dimmer winter light often brings out grey casts in sapphires, tourmalines and spinel. Showing color change requires very artificial conditions that do not obtain in most homes (i.e. fluorescent and LED lighting do not show color change, and dark regular incandescent light doesn’t show much color in the first place). Dudley Blauwet always tells me which Kelvin value (the unit of measurement used to describe the hue of a light source)  can be seen in particular areas in Sri Lanka and that those conditions are different from over here.  Well that’s very informative but doesn’t provide much practical advice on what to do, neat travel locations excluded.
Paraiba in direct sunlight taken in Tucson, AZ
Morganite in indirect sunlight taken in Tucson, AZ
Paraiba taken indoors without natural lighting
  1. Color vision differs from person to person. I don’t just mean that some people are color blind, I mean that most of us do not see everything on the color spectrum. If you want to freak yourself out, try one of these color vision tests online:
  2. Historical gem classifications and chemical ones do not overlap. We already know that most bright red rubies from old crown jewels are actually spinel, which can often be found in the same deposits. But it also used to be thought that ruby and sapphire were two different minerals. So when you get borderline colors, you have to make an executive decision as to which is which.  And even depending on where these distinctions are made (i.e. India or over here) you get different classifications, which in turn affect price.  The recent Madagascan rubies I got from Dudley Blauwet evidence this.  Dudley told me he had a hard time deciding where to draw the line to pink sapphire, but knowing that he’s better at this than I am, I kept his classifications.  This doesn’t mean that GIA would agree, however. And many labs use different color names for their classifications.  For example, a "purplish pink" ruby at GIA is a "pinkish red" ruby at AGL and Gubelin.  And a GIA "red ruby" is a often "pigeon blood red" at GRS.  So if you want your ruby to be pigeon blood red you can't give it to GIA.  One almost gets the sense that these gems change color as they travel.  However, the difference in terminology has to do with what each lab considers the scientifically correct color term.
What's the color of this ruby?
  1. Finally, here’s a real doozy for you. Some color names are trademarked. So “grape garnet” cannot be used in a description of purple Mozambique garnet, unless you are Parle jewelry.  You can only call it “purple garnet” or “grape colored garnet” (which is, incidentally, the same gem).  “Mint” garnet is currently in the process of facing the same fate, so in future I will have to say “mint color” or “light color tsavorite” or light “grossular garnet.” “Lotus garnet” is already the trademark for Malaya garnets.  So gem colors can be trademarked just like cuts, i.e. “Asscher”.   
So what can a prospective buyer, and especially one that is new to colored stones, do?  You can always ask a vendor for clarification on the description, ask for additional photos or a video, and last but not least, you can look at some well known shops in the retail world and make price and quality comparisons.  Swala, Pala, Gemselect, Wildfish, and many others have good photos and descriptions that are helpful for price and color comparisons.  And of course, you should go to gem shows in your area, if possible, or even just some shops that have a few colored stones, and start looking.  The more time you spend looking at things, the better you get at making judgments of your own.
What are the colors of he two sapphires on the left?

Gem Lab Reports: Some FAQs

As you’ve probably noticed, Cecile Raley Designs provides certificates with certain gems, or we offer to provide one upon request.  With more and more requests for certificates coming in, it’s time to review what these reports do for you and when you should get them. 
Gem Identification: This is probably the single most important thing a lab report can do for you.  A gem ID provides you with certainty that the gem you bought is what you thought it was.  It tells you that the gem is not synthetic or lab grown.
Specifications: A lab report also gives you the details about the gem, its shape, weight, cut, measurements, color, and variety (i.e. the sapphire variety of corundum).
Treatment: Not all treatments are mentioned in a lab report, or need to be.  Whether treatments are mentioned depends entirely on the gem and this can get complicated very quickly. Basic treatment, i.e. heat treatment of a sapphire, must be disclosed.  But this is not the case for an aquamarine or a tourmaline.  Why? In part this is because it cannot actually be determined if an aqua or tourmaline is heated.  The heating process does not leave any trace on these gems. Treatment is also disclosed if it can affect the value.  So, for instance, if a ruby is glass filled it has little to no value and if it is totally untreated it has high value. Note, however, that to detect different treatments, different techniques are needed.  Heat, glass fill, or surface enhancements like oil can be detectable under the microscope but it’s not possible to detect if borox was used in diffusion treatment.
Origin: Origin in gems is often very hard to determine and it is not always certain. Only fairly broad origin regions can be determined, not the actual mine or town where a gem came from, and for different gems different methods are needed.  Essentially one determines origin by identifying other trace minerals in the gems and locating its origin.  Alternatively, as with Russian demantoid, the types of inclusions can be a tell-tale sign of the origin.  With some gems, diamonds for example, origin cannot be determined at all.  We only know that certain colors, such as pink, mostly originate from a specific location, Australia in this case. And diamonds come from just about everywhere!  By contrast, other gems (like grandidierite and kornerupine) have only one known origin. It is also important to point out that gems under 3mm in size cannot be tested for origin (AGL won’t provide any reports for them at all).  These stones are too small to yield useful readouts, or to have any identifying inclusions.

Value: Most labs do not provide a value of the gem on their report.  Gem values constantly fluctuate so there’s no point in trying to nail it down.  Only appraisal labs, such as GAL, give you a value.  GIA, AGL and EGL do not.  The point of providing a value is to give an insurance company something to go by in case the gem is lost or stolen.  It’s not really to show the client that they got a good deal (or a bad one, for that matter).  And how is the value determined?  Gem labs find out the value by referencing quarterly price tables that list approximate values.  These values, in turn, are based on reported sales.  Price lists are only available for the most common stones.  For uncommon materials, the lab has to do research, i.e. looking at comparable gems on the internet or calling other labs and asking them if they have recently seen or valued a gem of that type. 
2013 Rapaport Diamond Report. You can find more information here:
Sometimes, there’s no comparison base at all.  Cobalt spinel, grandidierite, benitoite and kornerupine are just some gems that have no prices available for comparison.
What does a lab report cost? The cheapest report I know of is the GAL mini cert which costs about $40 retail, and $80 for the full report.  The AGL gem brief is $70 for smaller stones, and a prestige report with origin is $220.  And if you have a gem pair each gem costs separately.  AGL won’t put both on one report.  GIA starts at $160.  AGL and GIA have a turnaround period of 3-4 weeks, GAL is faster – at least for me they are because I give them a lot of my stuff.
And now for the most important question: Should you get a report at all?  I would say no if your gem cost you less than $500.  We US sellers are bound by law to provide you with the merchandise we advertise so if anything is not as promised we have to take it back, and if fraud is suspected, we are in trouble.  Plus, lab reports can increase the asking price for a gem because the time and money of the report will now figure into the price.  This is especially true for  AGL and GIA reports.
That said, when you buy a diamond, it should pretty much always be certified, at least if it is more than half a carat.  This is for a different reason, however.  Diamonds are easy to identify, so you don’t need the report for that (you can get a diamond tester instead, or hold it to a flame if you suspect it’s moissanite – it will change color).  But because diamonds are expensive, a report, and in particular a GIA report, which is a very strict grading, provides you with assurance that you are paying the correct price.  While diamonds are not traded on the commodities exchange, they do have fairly fixed values, determined by the Rapaport diamond sheet.

Tucson Treasures: News from the Gemstone World

We did go overboard this year.  I bought SO MUCH STUFF and it will take me weeks to release it all on Etsy.  But let me get out a couple of news items for you first, and then I'll give you an overview at least.
1. Tanzania. With a new government in place since last fall, there have been a lot of export restrictions in an effort to stop corruption and black market trading.  My friend Jochen from Jentsch Minerals had to pay a lot of extra fees to export his crystals, Steve from New Era Gems didn't get his entire shipment out, and reports I heard from other vendors are that there were restrictions on all gemstone rough exports.  But the situation is slowly straightening itself out - Tanzania lives off the gemstone trade after all.  I don't know further details, but we may have to expect some slowing down of exports for a few months.
2. Mogok.  There are travel and mining restrictions in Mogok as well so there's been difficulty exporting rubies and sapphires.  At Tucson most sellers seemed to have older stock.
3. Russia.  While there are new finds of Russian demantoids, it is still very difficult for Russians to export their goods.  Shipping gems is illegal, they have to be set in jewelry, so people have to travel with their inventory and then keep it abroad.  
Disclaimer: I haven't done any serious research online to determine more details about what is really happening in Tanzania, Mogok and Russia, but my main interest is always to find out which gems are flowing freely and which aren't so I know what to stock up on and when.  So take this information as vague and subject to change.
1. Paraibas: I bought some but mostly I bought before I got to Tucson.  The situation is roughly the same as the past couple of years.  Prices have not increased drastically but there's also very little product.  I got smaller single stones (2-3mm), some cabochons, and that's more or less it.  What I have left has to be priced individually so it will trickle out slowly.  Also watch for some slices coming out.  
Paraiba 1mm Melees
2. Kornerupine: I got almost nothing so you won't see much more in the shop.
3. Burma spinel: I got some more melee, not a ton, and I did get that larger cushion single and cushion pair, which matches.  Those were really nice buys despite the price.  Very neon color.  I got the cushion on the first day actually, both purchases were old stock.  In other spinel news, I also have some old Vietnamese material (no longer on the market) - a precision cut pear, and a larger suite of 8x4mm pinks to lavender color.  
Cushion Spinels
Vietnamese Spinel Ombre
4. Demantoids: I stocked up on some medium sized pieces and pairs (not many), and I will be listing stuff in the 1-4K category, which I didn't really have before.  I also got some super bright melees, 1.5mm and 1.3mm.  I didn't list those yet.  I went back for more but they were sold out the first day.  I also have a couple of ombre layouts that would work in my 2mm hexagon settings.
Opal & Demantoids
5.Sapphires: watch for more 2.5mm purples (2 and 3mm are gone already), more purple singles, a pink pair, blue pairs, and a little more in terms of blue singles.  I also have yet to list my unheated Madagascar pink sapphire/rubies - they have a super saturated color and are smaller rounds at 2.5-3mm.  I also have some very strong saturated pink sapphire melee (1.5-1.7mm)..  The ruby pair I have listed is also awesome.  I have a small pair of baguettes also not yet processed.
Pink Sapphire & Tourmaline
Blue Spinel & Pink Sapphire
6. Benitoite: that almost sold out from under me but I secured some melee, ombres and two smaller rounds on the first day.  
7. Tourmaline: I have more Namibian pieces, especially blue pairs, I got some Afghan mints, some lovely old mine Zambian yellows, 4mm and one 5mm rouind pinks, pink pear pairs, other green rounds (blue green to mint green) and some precision cuts.  
Canary Tourmaline & Grey Spinels
Yellow Zambian & Pear Shaped Pink Tourmaline
Afghani Tourmaline & Marquis Shape Paraiba 
And to tie up loose ends, watch for more of the following: 4.5mm mali garnet, sphene, grey spinel, opal pairs, zircon (blue), precision cut aqua (mostly sold out though), Afghani emerald (small pairs), one nice round blue spinel, 
Precision Cut Tourmaline & Round Burma Spinel
Precision Cut Tourmaline & Peridot
Blue Zircons & Grey Spinels
Boy that IS a lot of stuff.  No wonder I am broke:)

Tucson Continued: More News about Our Upcoming Trip

In my last blog entry, I talked a bit about what I am planning on buying / not buying during my upcoming trip to Tucson.  I’ve now contacted most of the gem dealers I work with to see what’s new, what they will bring, etc. 
Starting with my shipment from Madagascar: it will arrive on 1.19.  My friend Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals is bringing it – he’s passing through on his way to Tucson.  If you want to visit his booth by the way, he will be at the Inn Suites from 1/27-2/8.  He doesn’t sell faceted stones, however.
I will be getting a box of chrysoberyl, a box of sapphire, and a box of grandidierite.  All are part of a trade.  My friend Irene from Antsirabe needed some funding last summer to prepare and deliver a shipment of calcite to a French/Malagasy couple that was selling them in Denver and Tucson.  Irene needed an ox-cart, an oxen and some men to transport the material, as well as labor to cut the rough into egg shapes and other shapes.  I sent the money via Western Union and expressed the offer to trade for gems.  So with your purchase of any of these, you will have directly funded a small business enterprise and helped a family in Madagascar.
Not yet Processed Chrysoberyl
I’ve also talked with my friend Dudley Blauwet.  He has worked up some more of his older kornerupine rough which I plan to get.  I’m especially hoping for 3.5-4mm sizes.  The more reddish Burmese spinel are nearing the end but there are more pinkish ones still, and a LOT of sapphire, which  I’m always excited about. There will be a little more of the Afghani emerald and Dudley is also enthusiastic about a new lot of pink sapphire/ruby.  There will be mostly rounds, 3-3.5mm, all Madagascan material, no heat.  I received a photo but it’s not a very good one so I’m not going to publish it here. Also, with more experienced gem dealers that know me well, I can work by description only, the photos, in the end, don’t add any informational content.
Chrome Beryl with Red Burma Spinel
Afghani Tourmaline with Red Burma Spinel
There will also be a tiny amount of small cobalt spinel, I’ve asked for that to be held for me and I plan on grabbing that right away.  Listings for that should be up on the 31st or 1st.
Paraiba tourmaline will also be available.  I just got off the phone with those sellers and they are in the process of grading a new batch.  I am going to go on Tuesday 23rd to inspect it – before it ships to Tucson.
I hope to be picking up a few pieces of lagoon tourmaline later this week, to be listed on the weekend if I have time. 
What I have NOT been successful with is hauyne.  I have contacted the dealer but not heard back.  And I don’t know where else to look.  Dudley had some, but it has ALL been bought at this point. There was a dealer in GJX from whom I got quite a few two years ago, but last year he wasn’t there.  It’s a seller who usually trades in Vietnamese goods (spinel mostly) but last year they didn’t have enough material to bother with the trip.
Our Tucson sale starts Sunday 28th but expect some listings to show up earlier. 
Finally, if I may, it would help us a lot if you could fill out the questionnaire we are sending out.  We’d like to get as much information as possible before we start spending our hard earned funds, so that we don’t end up getting our cash stuck with purchases that don’t move.  So even if your own kitty doesn’t allow it this time around, it would help us to know what interests you most.  The toughest and riskiest decisions for any gem dealer are what to buy and what to leave alone, even if we like it ourselves.  Once your money is traded for gems, you’re stuck with what you have and you HAVE to try to sell it!
Afghan tourmaline super close up (not yet listed, 6x4mm in size)
That’s it for me folks.  A news blast is scheduled next week to officially announce the sale (so if you read this blog you are ahead of the game!), other than that you’ll have to stay tuned to Social Media and the shop to find out what’s new.  We will do our best to keep you informed as we head for 14 hr working days (and hopefully a trip to Tombstone) in the less frigid Tucson.
(Picture of the lavender sapphires I am hoping to buy in smaller colors and other shapes, i.e. round).

Friday, January 5, 2018


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:
(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:
(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:

(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:
(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:
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:
(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.


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!

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.