Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stone Setting by Pierre

I am slowly learning how to add little video clips to my blog so here is my first one.  It was my practice piece but then I thought it came out nice enough to share.  In this video, Pierre explains how he is prong setting 3mm diamonds into a diamond eternity band.  First he opens the ring up underneath, then he drills the seat, pops in the diamond and gently pushes the prongs over the stone.  They pop into place perfectly.  And the end, Pierre shapes the prongs into perfectly round little “balls” for an even appearance.

As most of you already know, there are many different kinds of setting techniques, and each takes a separate set of tools and a separate skill set.  Simple prong setting is the easiest, and it is least harmful to the stone.  In his office, Pierre is equipped with a huge microscope, flex shafts, beading and millgrain tools, clamps of all types, ultrasonic, and who knows what else.  To be fully equipped, especially for setting micro pave under a scope, you need to invest several thousand dollars.

Pierre has been in the jewelry trade since he was 14, and has decades of experience just setting stones.  Still, some of my gems present unique challenges to him.  Most setters set diamonds, or rather, most of what is set in industry are diamonds, and those are hard to break.  Many colored gems can get scratched or chipped by the tools that are needed to push the metal over the gem and file down the prongs, so a very steady hand is needed, and gems do break on occasion.  That’s why setters do not guarantee the stones they set.  Too much risk is involved and insurance is crappy and expensive.  It is therefore best to go over your project with the setter carefully, making sure the gem can withstand the tools that are needed for the particular setting job.  Gems are inspected for inclusions or cracks which can present additional risks.

Another challenge is getting a tiny piece of jewelry to stay in place and not bend or move while the setter works on it.  Rings are the easiest because you can put them into the clamp, but pendants sometimes have to be set in shellac, or setting cement, a wax like substance that melts when warmed up.  To remove the shellac, the jewelry piece has to be warmed up in water and then cleaned in the ultrasonic.  Sometimes stones break during that process – I once had an aqua pendant that cracked because it got overheated while the shellac was being removed.
An image of Pierre and I my assistant took while i was shooting the above video :) 

Customers often wonder why setting costs so much.  One reason is the equipment, plus there is the rent on 47th street that has to be paid (figure on maybe $2000 a month for a small office).  And then it takes time.  Setting a pair of earrings may take only 10 minutes, but pave setting an entire ring can take an afternoon.  So if a setter charges $300 for that job he is within his rights.   I generally pay gladly for good work, but for my markup it presents a problem of course.  Technically, the setters I use make jewelry that goes for thousands of dollars, not hundreds, and so the setting cost can be more easily absorbed.  On the other hand, I find nice setting work addictive, and I like my gems to be hugged by prongs that got filed down into tiny claws, or perfectly rounded so they look like beads (you can see how that works in the video).  

Friday, January 9, 2015

My First Trip to Tucson

I am so excited.  On February 2nd, I am leaving for my first Tucson show ever.  I will be there for the entire week, working part time and shopping part time, making new connections and getting a better sense of availability and pricing of gems.

For those of you who don’t know that much about Tucson, it is the largest gem show of the world.  It takes place once a year, from mid-late January to mid-late February.  Actually Tucson isn’t one show, but consists of approximately 40 different shows, all taking place in various hotels and convention centers.  There are gem shows, bead shows, mineral and fossil shows and more, some are wholesale only, others are open to the public.  Some of the hotel shows are actually taking place in the hotel rooms themselves, so the dealers display their wares during the day and they sleep in the same room at night.  Someone told me this tradition arose because so many dealers would sell out of their rooms at night, or before and after the shows.  Therefore it made sense to just sell out of the rooms, period.
Here’s a link to the Tucson gem shows taking place this February:

The show I’ll mainly be attending is the AGTA Gemfair.  That is one of the largest, maybe the largest show; it takes place at a convention center, and it is wholesale only.  I got free tickets because I am working for two days for my favorite gem dealer, Prima Gems, and then roaming around the rest of the time.  My friend Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Mineralien will also be exhibiting but at one of the mineral shows, so I will look in on that as well.  I doubt I’ll be able to go to all 40 shows though, lol.
A lot of gem dealers actually go to Tucson a few days before their show and make wholesale appointments to sell out of their hotel rooms, so it is said that many important trades and deals happen before any of the shows start.  I’m not big enough to participate in this, but I may nevertheless benefit through my gem dealer friends.

Budgeting is very important when you go to Tucson.  People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars there, and I have nowhere near that kind of cash.  I have to decide on a number, and I have to be very careful.  I have trained myself to be willing to walk away from a good deal and think about it first, and of course I can ask people I know there for advice before purchase.  Thanks to the survey I just ran, I have some ideas about what you guys are interested in, but more suggestions are welcome.   
You may see a gem sale in my shop around the time I am gone, which Debbie will manage (she will also manage my kitties while and house sit my wares).  That sale will allow me to raise some more money if I see interesting stuff.

Here’s the AGTA exhibitor list, as you can tell, there are a few hundred there, and that’s just gems.

What will I buy?  In a way, I don’t know.  One thing about these shows is that you need to be open minded.  When I go to the JA Show in NY, which has maybe 20-30 gem dealers, I go with a list, I meet my regular sellers, and then I just look around for deals.  I will do some of that in Tuscon also, but additionally I will want to find some unusual and rare stuff.  Unheated Ceylon sapphires are something I always chase after.  They are in my mind among the best long term gem investments that one can make.  Even low heat sapphires are ok, so long as there’s no other treatment, and of course the best color is blue, then purple or bi-color or purplish blue.  A nice star sapphire cab might be good, and of course, if I had the money, the bigger the better.  Meaning like 2-3 carats (if I have to buy I top out at that price range).  Mahenge spinels are another good investment, or Burma spinels, but I already have the source for the former.  The latter are hard to find.  The rest is just, well, whatever turns up.  Tsavorites are a bit dark for my taste, and I do have a source there as well.  So I will probably focus on Ceylon sapphire and Burma spinel, and then see what else is out there.  Someone mentioned I should look for Paraiba tourmalines, the problem with those is that you cannot determine origin on the spot, and many sellers price Afghan or African material very high so you don’t know what you’re getting unless you go straight to a lab.  For stuff like that, it is best to clear the source with other gem dealers, get references, and then make a more cautious purchase – insofar as that’s possible with Paraibas given the price.

African Tourmaline Rough (from which my unheated Tourmalines are cut)
I will keep you posted and will try to take some little videos for you that I’ll put on Facebook.