Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Preparing for Tucson

Even though right now I am sitting in small hotel in France, sipping red wine and enjoying the holiday markets and wintry atmosphere during a much needed break, I am already thinking of warmer weather and of purchasing gemstones.

My Hotel Sitting Room in France
Holiday Spirit in Alsace, France
On February 1, when my home town New York will be in the thick of winter, I will be leaving for my annual trip to Tucson.  I am doing my final budgeting this month, and I've already placed some phone calls to check out who's there an who has what.  I'm mainly visiting the AGTA and the JCK shows, but I may try to browse others.  With over 60 gem, jewelry and mineral shows, there is a lot to choose from, but the two shows I attend are the main attraction for gem buyers.

Presumably, some of you need prepping as well, especially if you plan on making a purchase through me, so I need to get you acclimated to what's there and what isn't.

A longish phone conversation with one of my main suppliers who works out of Colorado has increased my expectations for some nice quality sapphire.  D. said that despite heavy buying competition in Sri Lanka, the family he has been working with over the past 30 years had collected quite a selection for him to choose from when he visited in November, and he purchased a lot.  He said there were not many rounds (so keep that in mind) but there are some matched round pairs for earrings, and there are more of the yellow Kenyan pieces that went in such a hurry last time I bought (last Tucson JTV just about bought them all).  I plan on grabbing what I can in blue matched pairs, and if I see matched purples I will buy those (last summer he had only one pair and I got that one).  I want some lavender pairs also if he has them at all.  D. also said he bought some nice star pieces. Some larger pads are also available, and some no heat rubies.  From my past experience, the main cuts will be ovals and cushions, almost no pear shapes, but some modified trillions and perhaps also some octagons.

Bright Yellow Sapphire from Kenya, Bi-Color Teal
Regarding larger purchases, if you plan on making any through me I prefer to know ahead of time. I can't front a huge amount of cash for you and buy stuff for you to choose and then maybe return, I'm simply not big enough for that - creating those types of choices requires a huge cash flow.  But I am going to bring my better camera and I'll be happy so let you see what I see through my eyes and thus limit both your financial exposure and mine.

As some of you may also remember from last year, I got these gorgeous emerald cut spinels from Burma, and some small melees (1.5-2.5mm).  D. purchased some more rough and is trying to have them cut in time for Tucson, but there will only be 1/2 tray and there are NO larger pieces.  He was offered but the prices were hideous so he passed.  And if he passes he is usually right.  Last year already, I saw extremely little Burma spinel and nothing in larger sizes.  

Burmese Spinel Emerald Cut/3x2mm
Cobalt spinel was also unavailable, and there was little from Vietnam.  I do have another source and maybe he fared better - I won't know until I'm there - but don't expect any more cobalts, I bought what D. had that I liked the last couple times I saw him, 

The same goes for Mahenge spinel.  I buy that from my NY source and right now there's very little new material.  I don't expect to see anything in Tucson, and certainly not at good prices because I was told by various sources that nothing good is out there and the mines are not producing much at the moment.  Half of it is, in fact, shut down until further notice.  

And the same goes for Tsavorite, though Mandarin and Spessartite Garnet are being mined again.  I may have good access to that as well as possibly some nice mints.  I should know that later in January.

My hauynite source from Germany is going to have some fresh cut materials for me.  Again, the largest size, and very hard to cut, is 3mm.  Expect more in the 2mm range.  Last October he was in New York but we didn't meet because he sold out in Hong Kong.  I may have to get to his booth early then again I want to go to ALL booths early and that's naturally impossible.  Selection takes time, and I can't and don't want to spend all my money the first day.  If you like some hauynite, please keep in mind that the material is very brittle and you need extra melee.  Also please let me know ahead of time what you'd like so I can put it on my list and purchase without having to go back and forth a lot.  Prices are $1400 per carat for medium blue with slight piques (that's the material I mostly buy) to $2000/ct for the cleaner and slightly lighter stuff.  If there are any 4mm pieces those will be priced individually.  But I kind of recommend against it since if that stuff breaks during setting you and I will both be disappointed.

Hauynite from the Eiffel in Germany

Paraiba Tourmaline Melee
Now on to my last topic, the famed Paraiba tourmaline.  First of all,let me explain how I got that material last February.  Last year I happened upon the brother of a dealer I knew from New York, and he had four trays of old inventory at ridiculously good prices by comparison even to Brazilian sellers in Tucson.  I bought a few pieces, stuck them on Facebook, and customers went wild.  So I bought and sold and bought and sold all week, bought some more before I left, and bought up the rest of the good stuff in the following few months.  There is literally nothing affordable left, and I didn't see anything anywhere else.  This dealer's brother may have some rough cut in melee sizes and I told him to let me know.  But don't have any expectations regarding other sizes at good prices.  That was a stroke of luck and the material is gone.

In melee I may do better.  At the GJX show last year there was a dealer from Brazil who had a lot of melee. The price was high and I wasn't overwhelmed with the quality, but there will be some more this year and if I can, and get enough demand for it ahead of time, I will buy a couple of carats in the 1-2 mm range.

This is it for my plans so far.  I am still investigating.  

I could use the following help from my readers at this point.  If you find particular gems of interest and would like me to look and see what's out there, let me know - this would help me decide what gems to concentrate on for stock items and purchases for the next few months.  Secondly, if you are seriously interested in something, let me know too, but you would help me greatly if you could research what I need to know to buy and trust me with your budget. I won't clean you out.  The Tucson gem show is 5 days, it is very busy and there are over 1000 booths for me to look at (booths, not gems, not gem varieties).  I select 8 hours a day, and some gem dealers are only in Tucson and never anywhere else.  They collect all year just for that show.  I am more than happy to purchase for you, but I need to know if I am really looking or just browsing, and keep in mind that for the most part, returns are not possible for me.

Tucson, for a gem buyer like me, can be paradise.  And it can be a gamble that can cost you your business.  Here's a simple example.  Say you have a budget of 10K - just to pick a number. That's a small budget for Tucson but it's roughly where mine is at.  Now say you see some things that YOU think are just amazing and rare and the price is great and you spend a lot of your budget on that materials.  Then it turns out that only you like this stuff and nobody else.  And then requests roll in for other gems, but you are out of money.  As I said above, for the most part gem buying in Tucson has no return options so if your buyer returns you are in the negative.  Here's another example.  Say you get a "call" for xyz but you don't know if is "a serious call" (that's our lingo for that type of thing).  So you act, spend your budget, and then the buyer loses interest, finds something better, or just doesn't like what you bought. Now you sit on the merchandise (also our lingo), being unable to buy more until you sell that material.  

This happens all the time!

So, I have to follow rules. Here are the ones I take very seriously: never spend all your cash on one thing.  Or on the first day.  Be willing to risk to lose an opportunity, others will come later.  Diversify and try to sell while you're there so you turn money over quickly.  Know which customers are serious, know their tastes, know them well.  Be conservative.  Develop good business relationships with sellers you can trust and with buyers who trust you.  Avoid disappointing either.

And here is my final rule - this one I have observed since day one and I can only pass it on to anyone who wants to be in this business, either for fun or for generating income.  NEVER buy goods on borrowed funds.  Never never.  Unless they are already sold (no returns) or you trust that person with your life.  If you borrow, then buy, and then can't sell, you're done.  So you have to say no to yourself, and sometimes lose a sale.  But it's the best protection you can have in the end.

Happy planning!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Shopping on Etsy

I don't know how many of you do holiday shopping via Etsy but I do my bit every year to promote some fellow shops that I like.

A big fashion item for me this year were leggins - they are just so comfortable, and I bought from two different shops both of which I was very happy with.

For the lower budget item, you can go to LazyDaisyLeggins, they ship quickly and their leggings are only $18 each.  I bought the skull leggins for Debbie and three more pair for me.  The leggings are super soft and stretchy.  Shipping was very fast.

If you like workout and yoga leggings, I recommend Narais. Sara also designs for bags and pillows, among other things, but my eye fell on the cat leggings which are just phenomenal.  Those took longer to ship but another set of leggings shipped right away.

For another snuggly winter item, I bought woolen slippers from MiasFelt 

From her I got blue woolen slippers which fit really nicely and shipped surprisingly fast from Lithuania (2 weeks I think).  My favorite are these here:

But for personal purchases and gifts, I went with the more conservative ones.

Next weekend I am going to a friend's pot luck wedding and I was tasked with making a cake.  I love baking German cakes, but I'm not so good with decor, so I went to Sugar Robot  and I got these incredible sugar butterflies, they look amazing.  Sugar robot also has leaves and other holiday decor items for cup cakes.  Shipping was next day, so there is still time.

Like most of you, I love holiday baking (though not the calories).  I think I recommended this shop last year, but I will do it again this year.  Go to Oma Gisi's bakery and get the Stollen confection

They are a taste of the real Germany, and they were a hit with all my friends. The shop does not ship quickly I'm afraid (my order took two weeks to make), but I realize the difficulty in baking to order, having it fresh, and meeting holiday deadlines.  It can't be easy.  I think Oma Gisi's stuff can be enjoyed anytime though.

Last but not least, I am going to blatantly advertise my aunt's shop - but for good reason: Silver Designs by Gitte. My aunt is a learned goldsmith.  In the late 1960s she was one of very few women in the industry, but she gave it up after experiencing the difficulty of working jewelry shops that mainly live off repairs and having to work assembly line under time pressure.  She had always hoped to make her own designs but it was far too expensive for my family to help her start her own shop, so Gitte looked for a regular ("money") job doing book keeping instead.  Now that she's retired, she's gone back to her roots. Every piece she produces takes an entire afternoon, and she charges essentially nothing for her labor (her pieces should cost $200-300 each).  She makes practically ever bezel, every accent piece, and sets all her own stones.  Here are some photos from her shop.

Silver Designs By Gitte - Shop Tools and Drawings

Before, After, and in Between

My Aunt's Work Bench and Some of her Silver Pieces

I'm really proud of Gitte for having found her way back to her girl dreams, and I only wish my grandparents could see it (Grandpa passed a few years ago and Grandma is in a home with dementia, she's still really lovely and misses us, but she can no longer retain what my aunt learned or did when she was younger).  Go Gitte.  Please help me promote her shop.

My Aunt's Studio where Creation Happens

Happy holidays everyone!

+ Cecile Raley Designs Staff

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What is Your Jewelry Worth?

I've been wanting to revisit the topic of jewelry appraisal for some time, especially since I see a lot of people now selling their gems and jewelry on Loupe Troop and other websites for "pre-loved" items. Most of the time the items are being sold for less than their value.

So as you probably all know, valuing gold is easy.  You just need an accurate postal scale to weigh it, and most online calculators for scrap gold will tell you what each gram of each particular carat weight costs.  To get the most out of your return, don't sell gold to a jeweler, try to mail it to a metal refinery directly, or to anyone else who gives you at least 95% of the scrap value.  I have a wholesale account with a scrap dealer so I can sell it for you if you like, I get 98.5% of that days's spot value, and I trade in old gold as part of payment for items in my shop.

Here is an online 'Scrap Gold Calculator' by grams

Scraped Gold

Diamonds are also not that hard to evaluate - in principle at least.  You do need to know the color (G, H,...) the carat weight and the clarity (VS, VVS, SI...).  Then you can look up comparable diamonds on eBay.  Remember too that diamonds can get chipped over time, and those can devalue the gem.

Diamond melees fetch very little in the market.  They are bought at 1/2 or even 1/4 of list price (they're called "breakout diamonds" and the price is "breakout price").  Diamond setters buy breakouts fairly frequently.

Most difficult to evaluate are colored stones, especially the most well known three: ruby, emerald, sapphire, and even more especially, when these were bought at department stores or jewelry chains (excepting high end retailers such as Tiffany's, Cartier, etc.).  Most of the colored gems in commercial jewelry are treated, and not just heated but also diffused, glass filled, resin filled, etc.  Only a lab can tell you if that's the case, and that's why I, for instance, will not buy any such items except for the gold value - and most jewelers do the same.

On the other end of the spectrum, citrine, pyrope garnet, amethyst, peridot and topaz have little to no value per carat and are usually scrapped because once they are worn a few times, they'll scratch and chip.  In the market, their values is treated as basically zero, even if they are "master cut".

However, since many of my customers are savvy gemstone shoppers, you should know that if you bought a collector's gem from a reputable source and it is in good shape and good size, you don't need to undersell yourselves.  Don't take that stuff to a jewelry store, most retailers are not familiar with collector's gems because that is not their business.  So you will buy below value.  Go to eBay, Loupe Troop, or any other site that lets you sell your stuff, describe it accurately, add disclaimers if need be (i.e. that you are not a jeweler or that it is pre owned), offer a return period (make it short but DO offer it), and you have the best chance at recovering your value - or at least more value than you would have gotten elsewhere.  Take your time though.  If you are desperate for cash you have to sell lower.  Case in point: many gem dealers answer the a customer's question "what is this worth if I sell it" with "are you in a rush to sell?".  And a "yes" or "need money now" answer yields a low ball offer.

Finally, are there some gems that I think you might consider holding on to, at least at present.  Right now, I would recommend that if you're not desperate, you hang on to any Mahenge spinel, even small, if it is that neon color and even reasonably clean.  Half the mine is shut down now for lack of production, and the other half is producing very little, and only 5% or so neon color.  Tsavorite production is also down.  Sapphire is worth keeping if it is heated only or not treated, eye clean, at least 1/2 carat, and a nice saturated medium to a more saturated royal blue, or a color changer.

Neon Mahenge Spinel available on my Etsy Shop.

What about other gems?  Well the spessartite mine is only not producing right now because of local unrest, not because of lack of material (the story is more complicated, but I'm skipping it here).  Other gems, i.e. chrysoberyl, are not known enough right now, but they are not declining in value.  Neither is tourmaline, and chrome color or bright blue or bright pink are always desirable.  Obviously Paraibas are worth keeping.  Other tourmaline colors have much less value and production is constant.  Right now there is a shortage of aqua, but I don't know why and it might be temporary.  Heat treatment doesn't affect aqua prices. Emerald I don't know enough about.  It is my understanding that emerald rough is being mined steadily, but the mines are controlled by investors and/or government.  Good material is available only with connections.  I see very little that's both good and untreated on the market, so if you have a gem that is both, and you haven't scratched it, then you might consider holding on to it as well.

Personally, I keep very few gems.  In the end I always sell because that's what I do.  Sometimes I keep smaller pieces of rare gems because I like having something left that I like.  But I have kept some Mahenges, and I am keeping some sapphires, some mint garnet and some tsavorite.  But spinel (Burmese red, Mahenge pink) and sapphire (blue) are my strongest bet.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jewelry 101 - How Stuff Gets Made

I have blogged about this topic before but in light of the never ending string of convos I wake up to every morning, I think it might be useful to review my production process, what I do and how long it takes, step by step.

1. Design: I design all the pieces in my shop, and I work together with my CAD friend, Brandy, to turn these into 3-D models.  I rarely have anything done in metalwork - the cost is often the same anyway, and with 3-D you have the option of changing the design if you don't like it.

After the CAD model is designed, it is printed at my casting service, Taba Casting, in wax.  They use a solidscape printer (amazing), printing is charged by the hour.

CAD rendering of Cecile Raley Designs  "Edwardian Ring"

The printed piece is then cast in sterling silver.  If I see that it needs a good polishing job before we go to molding and casting in the final metal, I will drop it off for pre polish or "cleaning" first.  For example, I might want the shank to be a hair narrower, or some detail brought out, or get rid of grid lines (3D printing is layered printing so sometimes the layers produce grid lines). The higher the resolution of the image before printing, the longer the printing takes but you also have fewer grid lines.

Cost: Anywhere from $100-300 depending on the complexity of the job (i.e. a hex setting is maybe $80 with all steps, a big cocktail ring maybe $300). This is my cost, no markup.  I will probably have to change that for custom designs in the future since these take a lot of time talking with the customer, and those hours right now are not really billed for.

Silicone Rubber Mold of a ring. This is used in the casting to metal process

2. Casting: the casting process takes about a week from when I place the order.  There's a casting labor fee of $3-6 for my pieces (big bracelets might cost $20), my molds run about $15 but they only need to be made once.  For custom pieces that's a disadvantage because the customer bears the cost for my design fees.  Printing and molding are distributed over approximately 10 pieces.  Sometimes I sell way more than that (i.e. the hexes) and sometimes less (my nine stone ring).

Once the casting comes in, I inspect it, and drop it off for pre-polishing.  The sprue is cut, the piece is tumbled, smoothed out and cleaned.  This also takes a few days.

This is a silver casting of an old Cecile Raley Designs ring with the 'sprue' still attached

Cost: the cost is calculated by taking the metal weight multiplied by metal cost (which varies by metal) with a markup from casting service which is in turn multiplied by my wholesale formula.  Polishing costs are $10-40 depending (this already includes my markup).

3. Jewelry work: If anything needs to be soldered, this takes place after pre-polish, i.e. if jump rings have to be added, or bails, posts, lever backs or a chain.  Again, I drop off then pick up a few days later.  I have to supply all parts so I need to shop for those.  I try to keep an inventory of the main things I need and stay on top of what needs replacing, but often we need parts we don't stock, so we shop during the production days between our stops.

Cost: This depends, just a pair of posts is $20 (with my markup), but more complex jobs (i.e. 6 soldering joints or channel wire) are more.  Often the math is done by soldering joint, so it just multiplies out straightforwardly.  Say you want an eternity necklace with 6 pieces, that's 12 joints.

4. Setting: That too is a separate job, so after pre polish and any jewelry work, the piece is dropped off with my setter.  I supply all the gems, leave instructions (pave, millgraine,....).  Pierre knows most pieces but special requests (ball prongs for instance) have to be clearly communicated and he has to remember them when he does the piece.

Pierre Prong Setting a Ring
To read more on Stone Setting please refer back to

All my pieces are in "jewelry envelopes" with all steps listed, and special instructions on the back.  Sometimes going over instructions takes just as long as setting.

Complicated setting jobs take a few hours, but just setting a pair of studs maybe 10 minutes.

Again, the cost is by the piece.  A small pave gem will cost $10, a big 5 carat gem might cost $100 (again with my markup).  So my big cocktail ring for instance has 9 gems and takes a lot of cutting prongs and millgraine work, so I get charged about $120 for it (that's what I pay).

5. Final polish: after setting, the piece needs to be buffed and the dirt removed from the setting tools.  Any tool marks need to be smoothed out.  Pierre works hard to avoid them but that's not always possible.

During final polish, a piece can be rhodium plated, plated with another color, or a silver piece can be blackened (they call that "antiquing" in the trade).

And yes, the cost is again by the piece at $10-20 (with my markup).

Here's what you might take home from this breakdown:

1. The more production steps, the more time it takes to produce a piece.  A simple ring that just needs to be cast, polished, and set can take a few days, but a multi piece creation that needs soldering and maybe layout and going over with the jeweler in detail can take a bit longer.  Each person in this chain wants a few days, and 3x a few days is less than 5x a few days.

2. Most of the costs are labor, unless you use more expensive gems and material.

3. Costs are linear (so setting 3 stones costs 3x the price of setting 1 stone) because labor is linear (you can't set 3 stones faster, or polish more pieces faster).  Discounts are rare, unless you produce 100 or more of the same piece, in which case the jeweler might just offer a discount because he has guaranteed work for a while, not because it is less work.

4. The more parts and steps your design has (or my design for that matter), the more expensive it is.  When you get work done overseas, where setting and jewelry costs are a fraction of what they are here, the story is different.  But local labor is high (think of what you pay your plumber or electrician for their skilled labor, and you have a good comparison base).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

About Those Pretty Grape-Purple Garnets

There's been much buzz about these grape-purple Rhodolite garnets lately.  Well, actually they are closer to Malaia garnet than Rhodolite - my friend Josh Lents from GAL (Gemological Appraisal Laboratory of America: did a microscopic analysis.

Grape Garnet Ovals and Emerald Cut
But let me back up.  Purple-grape colored garnets have been around for a bit, but the material was generally from Tanzania and that stuff isn't quite as bright as these newer finds.  From what I can piece together, they first showed up at a gem dealer's office in Tanzania who is a big buyer over there (I can't disclose the name) and ended up in the hands of two US gem dealers who get many of their supplies through the Tanzanian dealer.  One of these gem sellers deals in rough, and that's how it most likely made it to some of the US cutters.  The other seller deals mainly in faceted materials, and that's how I got mine (though I buy from the other seller on occasion also).  Talking to both tracked back to the source in Tanzania, and neither of them knew of anyone else who had the material.  The actual origin of the garnet is Mozambique, however, and the market in Mozambique is not very controlled.  So even if you are a big buyer and put word out that you'd like an exclusive, the material will most likely be sold elsewhere.  This means it may turn up with other sellers in the US.  

Larger Grape Garnet Pieces from Mozambique
You should know however, that there are really only a few hundred good gem dealers throughout the US, and many know each other because they buy from each other and they vend at the same shows (i.e. the AGTA, the GJX, the JCK).  So it is ultimately a small world.  

Anyway, given the fact that these gems have not shown up anywhere so far but these two dealers, I surmise that the finds are very small.  

So what is unique about these gems?  Well, both Jaimeen Shah at Prima and Josh Lents from GAL have never seen this stuff before.  Nor had the other seller I talked with.  And that says a lot.  The color is a bright grape purple (purple with "notes" of red).  The material is clean, most pieces are smaller, and those have the best color.  

Why the name Malaia, and not Rhodolite?  Well according to Josh, Rhodolite is Pyrope and Almandine garnet.  But the microscopic association of this material isn't typical, Josh says, which is why he believes there's some spessartine in it as well.  And that would qualify it under Malaia.  He says that "Reviewing both spectral and microscopic analysis, it is interesting to note the association of apatite and rutile inclusions present in these samples, which is highly characteristic of mixed garnet crystals of pyrope, almadine, and spessartine."

Here's a look inside these pretty pieces:

Micro images of Mozambique Grape Garnet

And what about the most important thing, availability?  The honest answer is that nobody knows.  I would surmise that some locals sold these gems, and they got here through the chain I described.  Who else has it, where it is located, nobody traced that back as of yet.

For the time being, all the rough that I know of (from the original purchase) has been cut.  The larger pieces my supplier had are already all sold, so there's just what I have (the two smaller emerald cuts are also sold).  I may be able to get more 6x4 ovals.  Word has been put out for more, and some will presumably show up sooner or later.  Usually however, when "word is put out" and there's not a ton of stuff, prices will be higher next time.  For the miners and brokers that have to live hand to mouth, long term planning or relationships with gem dealers are a luxury.  If you can sell for more today and feed your kids, you will.  Prices are calculated from there on up.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gem Setting Revisited

I have written about setting gems before, but in lieu of the fact that so much of my business is now custom, here are a few of the most important considerations worth having at your fingertips.

1. What metal should I use?

The softest metal is Sterling Silver, but setting costs are high in the US, so my personal view is that doing custom setting in the US in silver is a waste of your money.  Gold is better.  Yellow gold is the softest of the gold metals, white gold is the hardest, rose the most brittle.  So for soft stones, yellow is best. If you have a soft(er) or brittle stone that you really don’t want to get busted and want to use a white metal, splurge on Platinum.  That’s what I recommend for Paraiba tourmaline for instance.  Platinum is softer than white gold.

Note, however, that in the US,  most standard settings available only come in 14K yellow and white gold. Rose gold and also platinum are often special order and special orders are not refundable in the wholesale world, meaning that when I buy it I cannot return it.

2. What setting style is best?

If you want your stone to be kept safe during setting, use prong style.  That is easiest to do and least risky to the stone.  Sadly, if you want your stone to be safe after setting it, you want to bezel it, especially if it is a ring.  Silver prongs fold easily but bend open easily too, I counsel against them for rings unless there is some protection around it, like a halo (my settings are designed with thicker prongs too).  Bezel settings for faceted gems use the hammer setting method where the metal is literally hammered over the stone with a small electrical hammering tool (the ones for cabochons use thinner metals and can be folded without hammering, the problem there is that you need a very exact fit and that means most bezels have to be made by hand, which costs more).  This won’t work for very soft stones in gold (kyanite, apatite, sometimes emerald), so you can be stuck with using prong settings.  To help secure the stone, you might consider 8 prongs instead of four.

4 Prong Setting

Bezel Setting
8 Prong Setting

An alternative to both that I use, but that requires more expertise, is a beaded setting, or pave.  This is a kind of bezel setting (bezel on the outside) but little bits of metal are shoved over the gem to hold it down (so like prong setting).  The beading tools are sharp so that’s a risk but the gem is very protected after wearing.  My pave pieces are done by hand, so the “prongs” aren’t in the CAD.  This has a more handmade look but that’s how more high end stuff is made and when you have a great setter (I LOVE mine), you will get a nicer result than the commercial look.

Pave Setting

3. Are there other setting styles?

Yes, there is burnished or gypsy setting, which is like a bezel setting but into a flat surface, the metal is then rubbed over the stone.  This cannot be done with anything over 3mm and it cannot be done with soft gems. 

Gypsy Setting
Photo from

There is channel setting.  This involves bending channel wire (imagine a straw sliced in half) around a gem.  That’s done by lazer because you have to solder the two ends together.  It can take up to an hour a gem and is very expensive (my retail price is $120 a piece!).  Channel setting works only for pendants and earrings because the back will poke out, but it offers a very delicate look.  Gems with more than one corner can’t be channel set because the metal isn’t pliable enough.  The corner is used for the soldering seam.  So rounds, ovals, and pears work, not emerald or princess cuts.

Channel Setting

4. I want to buy my own setting, what can I expect?

In the US market, expect to be restricted to 14K yellow or white gold and some silver (not much).  Get prong settings for faceted stones because bezels have to be fitted very exactly and if you order online you won't have the gem on hand.  Prong settings allow a little more give (.5mm at most).  When in doubt, buy the larger prong setting, not the smaller one.  For cushion gems, use round.  For elongated cushions, use emerald settings because there are hardly any cushion settings available anywhere. 

Specialty shapes: expect problems.  Many shapes just require custom jobs.  But if you have one you like, the cheapest way to go is doing a pendant and starting with a setting that can be adjusted a little (like narrowing down a pear to an elongated pear, or a trillion for an off shaped trillion). 

And one final note on using old settings: most settings are made for diamonds and those are not as deep as colored stones for the most part.  And since prongs get clipped to accommodate the gem, you may not have much room to work with.  Prongs can also get brittle with age, and they can break upon or after resetting.  So it may not pay to reset unless you have a more expensive ring.  Don't reset if it is pave style or if you don't see enough prong or bead to put back over the stone.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Working With Color

As you all know, working with colored gems is my specialty.  I love figuring out which colors go together, come up with crazy combos, and matching them to the right metal.  And I often get the following response: "I would NEVER have come up with that combo."

Actually, coming up with the right color combination is not as hard as you think.  Here are some pointers for how to do it, followed by some of my own favorite pairings.

1. Start with beads, not gems.  All gems (or just about) come as beads too.  The colors are, nearly enough, the same.  Buy an inch or two of the various gem colors you like and mix them together on a piece of white paper or a white paper towel.  Add and subtract until it is right.

Before I moved to colored stones, I did beading for a good two years.  And putting together different colors what one of my favorite things to do.  A few combos were very surprising (kyanite and spessartite), others quite obvious (pink and purple sapphire).

Mixed Bead Layout

2. Combos of 3 colors work best when 2 colors are related.  Blue and purple are related but look boring together, so for a third color use something different, i.e. green or yellow.  When you use yellow and pink, add orange or red.

3. Combos of 2 colors should have some contrast.  So pink and a strong purple is nice, but lavender and purple is more boring.

4. Consider the metal when you do your layout.  I think the rules for metal are simple.  White gold is very neutral but doesn't bring out the color of a gem.  So if the gems themselves don't have much color the piece will look a bit washed out.  If the gem is very bright, white gold might be a good choice.  Yellow gold is not neutral at all and needs to be considered a separate color when you do your layout.  You have to think about whether or not yellow will go with your gem.  Rose gold seems to be a color enhancer but itself neutral.  It works well with lighter colors that need some "umph" but doesn't run interference.

I think that pinks work well with yellow gold but purples clash.  Blues are ok, greens are ok but some strong greens (i.e. emerald) can look a bit gaudy.  In general, yellow gold can make a piece look a bit gaudy and therefore cheap.  Son don't use too many different colors with yellow gold.  If you want a very bright piece with other colors, use white gold instead.  I use rose gold a lot because I want to enhance color without the piece looking gaudy.  Rose gold also goes with most skin tones.

5. Here are some of my own favorite color combos.

Color Combo
Pink, Yellow
Tourmaline, Spinel, Sapphire, Chrysoberyl
Pink, Yellow, Orange
Tourmaline, Spinel, Sapphire, Chrysoberyl, Mandarin Garnet, Citrine
Pink, Red, Yellow
Tourmaline, Spinel, Ruby, Sapphire, Chrysoberyl
Pink, Green
Pink and Green Tourmaline, Spinel, Mint Garnet, Tavorite
Green, Yellow
Tourmaline, Mint Garnet, Tsavorite, Sapphire, Chrysoberyl
Blue, Green
Zircon, Sapphire, Aqua, Tourmaline, Mint Garnet, Tsavorite
Blue, Green, Lavender
Zircon, Sapphire, Aqua, Tourmaline, Mint Garnet, Tsavorite, Tanzanite
Blue, Yellow
All Sapphire, Zircon and Yellow Sapphire
Dark and Light Blue, Yellow
Zircon and Sapphire or Kyanite, Chrysoberyl, Yellow Sapphire
Turqoise, Green
Apatite or Paraiba, Tourmaline, Mint Garnet
Pink and Purple
All Sapphire (Cold Colors), or Tanzanite

Tanzanite and Paraiba

Lavender and Blue Sapphire
Tourmaline, Chrysoberyl, Zircon

Sapphire, Burma Spinel
Sapphire, Burma Spinel, Chrysoberyl, Mandarin Garnet

Sapphire, Burma Spinel

Sapphire, Emerald, Zircon

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Trouble with Photos

One of the criticisms I hear the most regarding my shop is that my pictures, well – suck.  Ok, nobody puts it that way and that’s really nice.  But they could be much better.  Or maybe they couldn’t.  I kind of think they can’t but I’d love to be convinced otherwise!  Comments are welcome.
Let’s start by talking about light.  There are nice daylight lamps on the market, most color gem dealers have them.  You can build a light box (white box, open on top for light, the white then reflects the light all over and increases its power.  The daylight lamps shine in from the top, usually people use at least two, sometimes four or five.  That eliminates any extinction that is caused by the lighting coming from only one direction.

My thing about the daylight lamps is that I just can’t stand the way they change color.  And it is nearly impossible to change that color back to what the gem really looks like by adjusting the color after.  There is a certain vibrance that daylight lends to a gem which daylight lamps can’t imitate (Mandarin garnet suffers from loss of vibrance under daylight lamps).  Also, some gems actually pick up in color (purple sapphire is an example).  Others (blue sapphire) grey out.  I see this happening a lot when I purchase gems in indoor lighting.  Despite really strong daylight bulbs, it is really hard to make out the true color of certain gems.  With sapphire it is the worst (for me).  I have to take every single piece outdoors.  Most dealers that know me know this about me, and many appreciate it because it means you know what you are doing.  And if the gems are nice, taking them outdoors is a compliment to them.

I don’t use daylight lamps for photos.  I use daylight.  But there are drawbacks.  I use my window sill because when you use actual daylight you need a lot of it.  But unless you can get the daylight to come from directly behind you, you get the gems to show extinction.  Direct sunlight doesn’t work, the contrasts are too strong and you end up with strong shadows. Diffused daylight is best, but bright. Ideal lighting, to me, is when you sit in the shade on a bright sunny day.  I can only achieve that effect outdoors, not on my windowsill (and this is a problem in winter, plus I’m on the 4th floor, I have a roof deck but I don’t like to go out on a cold and windy day).  Rainy days grey out a lot of gems (i.e. sapphire, mint garnet, Ceylon spinel).  Probably they just enhance the grey that is inherent in some of the gems, and so they look more drab.

Even with all this practice and preparation, a lot of times my photos come out too blue (especially my cell phone photos which are otherwise very crisp).  I’ve been told that all cameras, maybe even those in cell phones, can be adjusted for color accuracy in the camera itself.  (Just like a monitor can be adjusted).  In my case I’ve not yet managed.  So I adjust afterwards for color temperature, using my hand shots for reference (I know the color of my hands, which makes it easier). 

Too blue, you can tell from the "white" padded background

The direction of the light is also important.  If the gem is too tilted, the table will look white.  Or it shows tilt window, which almost all colored stones have and which forces you to photograph the gem straight on (hard to do when the light comes from only one direction).

Table is too white

In case you are wondering, I use a Nikon D5100, with the regular lens.  The camera is almost 3 years old now, so I could probably upgrade.  But I don’t know how much that would change things. 

A "good" photo

As you all know, gems thrive in the right light.  Or they “die” on you.  So the correct light, which produces the correct color, is everything.  Some gems also glow more in certain lighting.  Real paraibas show this.  Late daylight is wonderful for them.  Sapphires look better in mid-day in my view.  Morning light is often cooler than evening light, and winter light is different from summer light.  All this can affect what you see.  And – once everyone uses LED lights – say goodbye to the wonderful color change effect that some gems have.  I can see it only in my bathroom and that’s where I take all my color change photos.  :)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cecile Raley Designs: Behind the Scenes

Perhaps some of you are wondering how it works. How things get done so fast - sometimes, and then painstakingly slow other times. How things get made, who makes them. Or what you need to run a business like mine. So here goes.

In my home office, there's just me and 2-3 days a week, my very cool friend Debbie. Two days a week we're out, making "runs" in New York. 

I work 7 days a week but not all day every day. I start right after waking up. Etsy questions, convos, listings, photos. That takes about two hours.  When Debbie comes in, she ships.  When she doesn't, I ship.  Shipping can sometimes take half a day.  Etsy insurance doesn't cover gems,  Ship Station does, PayPal does, the latter only up to $500. So we use different services. Payment plans require checking for total amount paid before insuring and all parts of the payment plan (or custom order) need to be checked as shipped.  Ring sizes have to be double checked, custom orders checked one last time, and if a second person is there, all packages are gone through twice to make sure no content got mixed up.

Debbie, My Assistant and Friend

By the time that's all done I usually already have more custom requests, so I take more photos and answer questions. I make a lot of quotes. I go though invoices, do some bookkeeping. In between we do Facebook, Pinterest, other social media, newsletter, blog, we order supplies and castings.  It easily takes all day.

Most of my time is taken up with customers and Etsy itself.  Most of Debbie's job is shipping and social media.  But we also switch off with that, with photographs and other stuff.

Twice a week I go to 47th street to process orders. Those are very busy days!  I am often off to a late start because I have so much Etsy traffic. So Debbie gets there first, going directly from her house, picks up castings and gets them to out pre-polish service - they cut the sprue, clean and tumble. New designs make it from there to Alex, the engraver, then go back to Taba Casting for a mold and castings.

Buying Supplies in New York City (Actually this is Cheese)

Our custom orders each have designated jewelry envelopes with customer name, order date, metal, size or length and order description or drawing. All the order steps are listed and get checked as we go (i.e. casting, parts needed, pre-polish, jewelry work, setting, final polish). Many steps are the same for each piece.  So we essentially funnel the envelopes through 4-6 stops a piece, leaving them at many stops for 2-3 days, and quality checking each time. Some days we pick up or drop at the lab, requesting certificates. On other days I have appointments at various gem dealers while Debbie does the "runs" between stops with the "jobs." We text each other all day long, double checking what is where or which setting works or which customer needs what.  Some days we run out of time. Plus I have to take breaks answering questions for customers (those are the days when you get convoluted convos with many typos).

"After New York" days are often the busiest.  Custom orders come back and need photos and listings and if possible, are shipped asap.

I love my New York days. I exchange news with Pierre the Setter, Vasken the jeweler, Josh from the lab and Jaimeen from Prima Gems. I find out what's new in gems, what the buzz is on the street, and I get to be out and about. I can take much of the news back to my customers.

Often there are errors to correct, and there can be slow downs (a casting has to be redone, a stone broke, or I don't have all the correct stuff in my bag so a custom piece is delayed). Debbie and I need to plan our day carefully so nothing is forgotten and we don't run out of time. One step is missed and we lose half a week!  It happens though. And often it is our fault because there is too much to think of at once.

I process up to 150 orders a month and half or more are custom. I stick to my wholesale pricing so getting more staff isn't easily paid for. But I love what I do and wouldn't go back to my day job for anything.