Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Designing Halos with Melee Gems

In the past year, my business has increasingly developed toward custom projects and quotes.  This brings with it a lot of design challenges, and in order to simplify matters a bit on my end, let me share with you some useful information about gemstone melees and how to think about designs involving them.  A melee is considered any gem that is 3mm and smaller. 

First, note that not all gems come in all sizes.  For anything under 1mm, there are really just diamonds available.  Most colored stone melees come in 2mm and up, sometimes 1.5mm and up, and not everything comes in melee.

To calculate the weights of diamond melee, you might use a chart like this one:

Colored gems are often a little bit deeper and a little bit denser in their structure, so they weigh more, too.  The most easily available colored stone melee are sapphires and rubies, but as you know from my shop I also have many others: aquamarine, zircon, mandarin garnet, color change garnet, spinel, tsavorite, mint garnet, peridot, tanzanite, chrysoberyl, among others.  I collect melees because I use them a lot in designs, but for the most part, they are not readily available on the gemstone market.  I don't have all of these in all sizes so you'll have to ask.  Some are hard to replace (i.e. chrysoberyl) and lucky buys, others (sapphires, ruby, tanzanite) I can get almost all the time.

Setting:  the most common setting styles for melees is pinpoint and pave (especially the smaller sizes).

1. Pinpoint setting: this is easier and faster for a setter, hence cheaper - tiny prongs are directly entered into the CAD file.  But making a CAD model with ooodles of tiny prongs is time consuming and expensive.  So it's a wash more or less.

Sapphire Ring with Pinpoint Setting
2. Pave setting: this involves drilling individual holes in the metal and shoving tiny beads over the gems.  The risk here is more breakage, and it costs more time (and money).  The CAD model usually involves a flat surface only.  Sometimes we also put the holes into the model (good for bigger melee, like 2mm). This saves a little on metal weights.  There are two basic pave styles:

a) Bright Cut: This involves a straight line of metal on each side of the gem.  This line has a standard thickness of 1mm.  So if you want bright cut pave on your ring shank, you calculate the width of the melee plus 1mm on each side.  So the smallest is 3mm for a shank.  The bright cut can be millgrained, which is very common these days.  Millgrain often costs a bit extra.  

b) Cut down: this involves no rim, the sides of a ring shank (or halo) are cut down into little scoops with a resulting look almost like prongs.  Cut down pave will look like "all diamond" from the top, so a 3mm ring shank will need 3mm gems, and from the top you will basically just see gemstone and a little bit of prong.  Cut down pave can be expensive because you need bigger stones for a good look, but you can also do a very fine shank with 1mm gems that looks like all diamond.  There are different forms of cut down styles, the one pictured here is a simple scoop, but there are others, like fish tail, or Tiffany style.  You can google them on the web.

Paraiba Tourmeline Ring with Diamond Pave and Millgrain

Closeup of Cut Down Pave with Millgrain
Mint Garnet Ring with Cut Down Pave
Close Up of Cut Down Pave
Note that jewelry design is three dimensional, so you also need to consider the depth of a stone.  On average, a gem is 2/3 as deep as it is wide.  So a 1mm gem is .66 deep.  That's the depth you need for the shank in that case.  Colored stones are deeper.  As a result, you may need almost 3mm depth for a 3mm colored gem, and that makes for a very thick ring or pendant.  In a pendant with a larger center this is less noticeable but a ring shank that is too thick may look weird.

Now let's talk about halo styles more specifically.  A halo is a ring of melee (usually diamonds) around a larger center stone.  Halos add a lot of sparkle, an extra color, and generally enhance the look of a gem.  Standard halos are about 1mm or smaller in size because of the diamond cost.  But you can also go larger for a different look.  The trick is knowing how many gems of what size can fit around a center stone.  Here are some layouts we did for you to see how many options there are for just rounds and ovals (and only a few diamond sizes):

Round Melee Layout

Here's the downloadable layout sheet for you.  The sheet will print out to scale so you can lay gems on it upside down to see which layout they fit.  Printable Round Melee Layout Sheet

Oval Melee Layout

Here's another downloadable layout sheet that will print to scale: Printable Oval Melee Sheet

The next thing you should do is calculate the cost of your halo.  You do this by adding up the total carat weight of the diamonds you use, once you know the gem size you want.  Then you need to know the per carat price of the gems you are using, which is why I've added a rough guide below.  Most colored stones are not very expensive and much of the price is the cutting cost.  Diamonds are another story.  This is a table with two prices, slightly lower end and more fine quality goods.  For up to 2.5mm or just above, prices are usually the same per carat.  3mm involves a price jump.  I have calculated this at my standard markup, so other sellers may have different prices.

F/G Color VS Quality, Swiss Cut
G-H Color, SI Quality, Standard Cut
Below 3mm: $1800/ct Retail
Below 3mm: $1400/ct
3mm: $3600/ct

Is there more you'd like to know?  Do you have suggestions for blog entries that help your design efforts?  Please let me know here in the comment box, via FB or Etsy.  I'd love to hear your suggestions.

My thanks to Brandy Belenky, my CAD designer, for helping me with this entry and doing the layouts.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gem Shows: Past, Present and Future

Traveling to gem shows to shop was a new thing for me this year.  I did go to the Springfield Gem and Mineral Show last fall but I exhibited with my jewelry and gems.  Or rather, I pretended to exhibit because I shared the booth with Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Mineralien, and since nobody was interested in my jewelry (wrong audience), I shopped while Jochen watched my inventory.  Other than that, I regularly attend the JA (Jeweler’s Association) shows in New York, but most of the vendors there are sellers I regularly interact with.  Going to the show just makes it easier to shop. 

Given how successful Tucson and Vegas were for me - I spent money and you spent money, so that is my definition of success in this case – I plan to make these regular trips.  I have to admit that, as a town, Vegas itself was not very exciting for me.  I don’t gamble, although I found that sitting at a slot machine and putting in a few pennies was the fastest way to free coffee.  There are no coffee machines in any hotel rooms so getting coffee involves going downstairs, in the direction of the casinos.    In my five days there I gambled $23, and I walked away with $17 profit.  This was not a bad start, but still, I don’t see that this is where my future lies!  I am also a big fan of daylight, of which there is none in casinos.  Nor are there any clocks, which, for Germans like me, can be anxiety producing.  Not knowing what time it is, is inherently negative for me.

Selecting Hauynites in Vegas

Food in Vegas was great though, only New York is better (yes, I live near New York, so…).  However, the show was fun and every time I go to an exhibit, I connect with new vendors.  Vegas show prices are not as good as those in Tucson, where you can often find strange deals on stuff you didn’t expect.  But the more serious and solid vendors always offer you the same prices (market forces permitting).  So I was there to shop around, to find stuff for customers, and to solidify ties with my sapphire supplier Dudley, as well as with an opal seller from Germany who has hauynites (and opals, too).

The Strip

For fun, when I go to Vegas next year I hope to add a day trip to the Grand Canyon, and in Tucson I want to check out some nearby national parks.  When you are born and raised in Europe, where everything is tiny, the vastness of the mountains and canyons of Arizona and Nevada is unreal.
But let’s get back to business.  Next month, from August 5-9, I will be attending the Springfield Gem and Mineral show again, this time to shop in earnest and without pretending to sell.  There are not many vendors in Springfield that carry what I am interested in, but Dudley is going to be there, and so will a couple more people I know.  I can, for instance, get more emerald trapiche and cat’s eye (why nobody has bought any cat’s eye is beyond me as that stuff is ultra rare – and, yes, expensive).   Also, my friend Jochen is coming, and so I will have an opportunity to learn more about the current gemstone situation in Tanzania and Mozambique

Comparing Color Change Sapphires
For those of you who are fans of no heat sapphire and ruby, mainly from Sri Lanka but also Africa, please let me know ahead of time if you’d like anything in particular. I can also get heated ones.  I may find some new spinel from Vietnam and Burma and Cambodian zircon (hopefully those adorable emerald cuts I got).  Don’t hold your breath on Paraibas, I know of no vendors that carry it there unless there is some sort of freak occurrence (like my finding the Paraiba melee in Vegas at this booth where there was absolutely nothing else of interest and just buying the box on a whim before anyone else figured out it was sitting there).  My Paraiba suppliers sit in NY and they are pretty wiped out – of inventory that is.

In Springfield, I can also get a lot of weird cabs (like the purple chalcedony I had), and also bigger cab material.  I don’t normally look for that stuff but I can get it.  And beads.  So keep that in mind as you browse my shop (or other shops).

There will be no other shows for me this year - the next will be Tucson again in February. 

P.S. Before I go to Springfield, I’ll be having my annual summer sale.  My projected date for that is 7/19, with 15% off the store for 2 weeks.  There will be no second 20% gem sale this year as I plan for that to be an annual event only, tied to my Tucson trip because that’s when I need to raise funds and turn over inventory the fastest, so 15% will be the largest discount offered.