Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Ring in Your Size: A Note on Ring Resizing

Every time I get an Etsy order that says in the note to seller something like: “please change the size to ….,” my heart sinks.  I need you to feel my pain.

Adding to, or subtracting metal from an existing design requires cutting and soldering.  To size a ring, you have to cut it open with a saw and then either take out metal or add to it.  Then you close the seam with a torch and solder, pickle it in warm acid to remove the fire scale, and file down the seam (or use sandpaper).  Finally, you repolish the ring.

I hope this sank in.  Now let’s sort out the logical consequences of the procedure I just explained.

1. Obviously, resizing takes time.  How long?  If I did it here, half an hour minimum.  If my jeweler friend does it, it’s faster, depending on the job.  If my setting shop does it, they have it broken down to two or three guys, and they’ll do a bunch of rings in an hour.  One only solders, another only polishes, another deals with the gem if there are issues.  (I get to that later.)

2. Time is money.  So what does resizing cost? $8-10, out of my pocket.  And that’s cheap, right?  If you ask your jeweler to do it, it will cost more because he has to maintain a retail shop and/or because he may ship it out to have it done.  Also notice that I only bill you $5.00 in my shop.  I pay the difference.

3. What if the ring has to be much smaller?  That’s not so bad, you just take out silver.

4. What if the ring has to be much larger?  That’s a recipe for disaster.  Note how many sizes there are: 2mm, 3mm, 4mm …., domed, flat, …., gold, silver, and all in different thicknesses.  Jewelers don’t have 50 kinds of different wire sitting around (there are probably 200 different kinds).  So I have to bring the extra, or they use a piece of metal and shave it down (now it will take an hour), or I might have another ring somewhere and they can cut into that one (turning it into scrap, by the way).  Recently, I asked a jeweler to add 4 sizes to 2 rings, and 3 sizes to another.  He was busy all afternoon.  I paid him $10 per ring.  That was hugely unfair.  I ended up overpaying him the next couple of times to make up for it.

5. What if it’s an irregular ring design?  I might be out of luck.  Nobody wants to touch it because no matter what they do, I will not be happy with the result.  My ring may turn into scrap.

6. What if there’s a pattern or texture on the ring?  If it’s simple, i.e. hammered design, I go back over the soldered spot with my texturing tool.  If it’s a pretty texture like flowers or something, you may see a seam that doesn’t fit the design.  If it’s a twig ring, you may see a seam if you look hard enough.  But those are not so bad because the design is very irregular but the thickness even.

7. What if there’s a gem in the ring?  Ok, now it’s getting interesting.
a)  The gem is prong set.  In that case, perhaps we can take it out first.  Good idea, the gem may not like to be heated to 1500 Fahrenheit.  It may burst or fracture internally (and turn out looking like a highly included gem).  But of course, I’m not a setter.  Taking a gem out is one thing, there are prong lifters for that; putting it back is another.  Some polishers who offer ring resizing at a low price don’t set, so they have to get a setter involved, who might break the stone, who costs extra, etc etc.  Also, some settings are fragile, too much bending will break the prongs.
b)  What if the gem is bezeled?  If the bezel is open in the back, the gem might still come out.  That’s more tricky but it can be done.  Nevertheless, it then has to be reset.
c)  What if you don’t want to take the gem out or it is in a flat and closed bezel that you have to destroy get at the gem? 

Here’s the procedure for that: you put the ring upside down into charcoal, where the stone is in the charcoal.  That cools the stone while you solder the ring (so long as the ring doesn’t fall over and all that).  This is a very common procedure, but it brings new problems with it:

Not any gem can be put into the charcoal and heated. Turquoise, pearl, coral and other soft and organic stones are out.  An emerald?  You work on it quickly and with great care.  I wouldn’t try it myself for the world.  And the polisher I sometimes use busted one in January.  Custom order!

8. Last but not least, how often does the gem break or crack during heating, resetting or whatnot?  Too often for my taste.  You know how many rings I list, right?  So I can count it for you: an emerald, a turquoise, a garnet, a topaz, a sunstone, so far.  I think that’s in the neighborhood of 10% of my total sales for the last few months.

I always sweat bullets when this one has to be resized.

If I can get the ring resized before the stone is set, I can avoid most of these worries, as well as a portion of the cost.  But that only works if I have a custom order.  With most of the stackers, there’s also no issue because in many of my parcels, all the gems are identical (i.e. aqua, tsavorite, amethyst, garnet, topaz, citrine).  Diamonds are not a problem, they can withstand almost temperature.  Sapphires and rubies are also pretty sturdy.  Emeralds are terrible, and each is different, so those are a major headache.

My most recent breakage (this is a pic from before it broke)

So now you know.  I hope you can understand a little better why I don’t always offer resizing.  I try to make my best judgment depending on the ring.  Also, if I can stretch it over the mandrel (by half a size or so), or just have the polisher shave out the inside a little to make it bigger, then much of this trouble is avoided.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Alex is Here

I went to another gem show last weekend.  I love going to those because sometimes even the sellers you already know have special show deals they won’t give you at any other time.  And you can get odd gems that usually take more time to find. 

I stocked up on some lovely tourmaline pairs, and I got a lot of matched pairs of spinels as well, so look out for new listings in the earring sections.  I also got a very cool star sapphire from Ceylon, some greenish aqua, more spessartite and a matched pair of trilliant cut color change garnet!

But my favorite purchase was the alexandrite.  I don’t usually disclose my sources, but I think I should in this case, because there’s a bit of fake alex on the market and you have to be cautious.  (More about how to tell a fake below).  This company is the only one from which I purchase alexandrite, which is their specialty.  They are called “Precious Pebbles” and are a wholesaler located in New York and in India.  It is a family run business, and gems, mining and cutting have been their trade for over 200 years.  A while back – I don’t know when – they negotiated a deal with the Indian government for one of the alexandrite mines in India, which they now co-own. 

There are three main origins for alexandrite today: Brazil, Sri Lanka and India (though it now also comes from Tanzania).  Brazilian gems are usually a bit more forest green, but the slightly lighter material I purchased – which is Indian – can come from Brazil also.  The Indian and Sri Lankan material (formerly “Ceylon”) is usually lighter and a tough grassier in hue.  Both can have excellent color change.

The mysterious Russian alexandrite, sadly, has been mined out a long time ago.  Also, even expert labs are sometimes hesitant to provide certainty about origin, as the Russian and Brazilian material can be virtually identical.  The best bet, if Russian is what you want, is to find some privately owned stock.  Precious Pebbles does not have any Russian material, and that tells you something, since they carry several hundred thousand carats of alex in their stock.

And that is also is why I got such a great deal.  If you have this much alex, you can spare some at a lower price, especially the materials that are hard to sell when you have so much of the superb quality stuff that sells for thousands.  Compared to that, the “lesser” alex, with slightly more inclusions and slightly less color change, cannot show itself from its best side, and it gets selected out.  So I got my parcel at something like 70% of the “cover price”.  This means that even at a markup, I can beat standard wholesale prices by about half, and you know that I’m happy to share.

How can you be sure that an alex is not fake, then?  You need to practice a little, but here’s how you go about it:  the worry with alex is not dye or oil (which you can test for by putting a gem into alcohol).  The worry is that you have synthetic material.  You do need a loupe for this, and a couple of genuine gems for comparison (a sapphire is a good choice here).  Now flip the gem over and look at the back facets.  Are they clean like a mirror or do they look like they’d been cut with a serrated knife?  The latter indicates a synthetic gem  Compare to your genuine gem for likeness.  Next, loupe your comparison gem.  Note that you will find inclusions even in a clean gem.  If you don’t, flip the gem over and look at it from the back, you’ll see more.  For instance, you can note slight color variations (zoning), or streaky white clouds (silk) or black dots and lines (piques) depending on your gem.  Now look at the alex.  Do you see inclusions also?  Then you are safe.  Mostly, the alexandrite inclusions are reflective in nature, they look a little like slices of mirror inserted vertically into the gem.  Lastly, check for the color change.  If it is too eager, and flips in lighting that’s not incandescent, that’s not a good sign.  Mild color change and minor inclusions are more likely to indicate authenticity, unless you paid an arm and a leg for your gem.

Ok, then, I think you are ready to judge these.  I took two pics of my stones in daylight, and two (fuzzy ones) in my bathroom, with nothing but incandescent light overhead.  Let’s look at these pictures right to left. (The labels for clarity are based on my own judgment.)

1. A rectangular cushion cut.  1.1 cts, 6x4 x 4.4mm.  Mild color change, deep cut for color.  Clean when louped from the front, but a clear inclusion on one side when louped from the back.  I’m going to run with the label VS here.  Price: $200.  -- SOLD

2. An oval.  .96 cts, 7.3 x 4.8mm.  Medium color change, darker color, not totally eye clean (one inclusion visible from an angle).  Price: $180.

3. A larger rectangular cushion cut (center).  1.18 cts, 7.6 x 4.9mm.  Mild color change, but high brilliance.  Eye clean and loupe clean also.  VVS.  Price: $220.

4. A rectangle.  1.23 cts, 7.8 x 5.2mm.  This is the largest gem.  It is also the shallowest, and has almost no color change.  On the other hand, it is eye clean and when louped has one inclusion visible from the front but only at an angle (VS-VVS).  Price: $200.

5. A pear shape.  1.03 cts, 7 x 5.1mm. This is the best of the lot.  It’s a fairly deep stone, dark forest green, and has the strongest color change of the parcel.  Most of the body is eye and loupe clean, but there are some inclusions in the tip that you can see close up and with a loupe, mainly from the back. SI in my view.  $220.  --  SOLD

If you want just the stone I will list it out on etsy or ship it to you for payment via paypal.  You get 2 weeks to look at it, at that point, you ship it back or I keep your money. J

I'm going to list some of these out on etsy in the next couple of weeks anyway.

For custom orders, as always, there’s no refund.  Note that not all of these can be bezeled, unless I hire someone to make me a precision bezel (which I’m willing to do, but I have to get a quote).  The commercial bezels, in other words, won’t fit these, and I’m not yet expert enough to make my own perfect tapered bezel.  I can just make the regular bezels for cabochons, and even those are not great.   So for the cushion cuts and rectangle, I have to use baguette settings or prong.  I think the pear shape would make a nice pendant in white or yellow gold.  The others would be nice rings, but a rectangular pendant is also very cute.