Monday, April 18, 2016

Edison Gem Show and Glowing Rocks

On the first weekend in April, my friend Jochen Hintze came to NJ to vend at the Gem and Mineral Show in Edison, NJ.  The show is organized by Marty Zinn, who also hosts the show in Springfield MA (and one in Tucson of course).  The Edison show is a bit smaller but it is growing every year, so it is fun to go nonetheless.  Steve from New Era Gems always vends, and you can normally find another couple of gem dealers that new to the scene.

This year, I made the acquaintance of Neil Garrioch and his daughter.  Neil is an architect by day but also has a geology degree - he told me that geological work paid very poorly so he switched into architecture.  Neil owns "The Unexpected Gem" and is based in Philly.  His gems were indeed unexpected, he had two entire trays with kornerupine - my friend R, who had joined me, bought a few pieces, and I got 4 pairs and 2 singles (3/4 of the material is already sold).  The most rare form of Kornerupine is a dichroice teal blue with traces of green and purple.  Pieces over 1/2 carat are very rare.

Here's a video of me selecting the gems:

Neil also sold me what may be one of the only unheated morganites I ever got (Brazilian), now listed on Etsy, as well as some sphene and the gorgeous diopside scissor cut I put up this weekend.

The Edison gem show also always has an exhibit of fluorescent minerals.  This is because many of the world's fluorescent gems come from the Sterling Hill Mines in Franklin, NJ.  Since the mine is located less than an hour drive from my house, I went there last August to collect a bunch of glowy rocks.  Jochen, who is also a geologist by trade and who was passing through on his way to the Springfield show, went with me and showed me how to hammer the rocks to open them up.  He also showed me which surface characteristics to look for.  I came home with 70 pounds of rock, which is still sitting in a bucket in my bathroom.

This April, we finally had occasion to split apart the rocks a bit more, so we created the giveaway for you.  These rocks contain mainly Willemite, Hardystonite and Calcite, though you may find other glowy stuff in there.  On ebay and other websites, these rocks appear to go for quite a bit of money ($60-600 for very rare minerals).  But I bought mine for $1 a pound since I collected myself, so we're not charging.  If you want more from my bucket after the giveaway, feel free to contact me.  I'd charge shipping though since some of these rocks are heavy.

You might have fun watching this video, in which Jochen explains what you can see in the rocks, and then the next video where they glow in the dark in my bathroom.

Note that you need a shortwave UV light, not a longwave!  So not your regular blacklight. Otherwise, no sparkle.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Your Custom Order Step By Step

I guess it should have been obvious: the more gems I list, the more custom orders I get.  In turn, there are more and more little details to keep track of every day.  Some orders are really fast, others take forever, and if any mistake creeps in we start over - if a stock item is made in the wrong metal or with the wrong stone we just list it that way, obviously that's not gonna work with a custom piece.

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful for you to see what goes into a custom order with our shop (or pretty much any jewelry shop), and what happens next, in what order, and where the challenges are.

As you know, custom orders divide into two kinds for us.
(1) Custom items created from stock pieces: i.e. the 5mm round sunflower pendant in rose gold with color change garnet and hauynite.
(2) New pieces made from scratch in CAD.  This includes modifications to existing pieces because once you make one change (i.e. the size of the center), everything else changes (the height, the number of outside petals or melee, etc).

Now that I take so many custom orders, it is my job to advise on color combos, setting styles, and metals, i.e. suggesting that a particular stone should not be set in a harder metal, or should be prong set and not bezeled.  This takes a lot of back and forth.  Brandy, my CAD designer, then makes an initial 2-D drawing or layout of how the ring would look from the top.  We need that to start because we need to see how many gems are needed if they go into a halo, or petals, or we need to see how many stones can be put into a row, or in which type of layout.  Without that it is hard to calculate stone cost (and it is nearly impossible to do it before having this layout).

Example of Three Ring Layouts
After that we collect the other details from the customer.  We need the ring size so we can make the file in the right size, and the metal so we can calculate weight.  Exact weight can't be determined until after the model is finished of course, so we have to estimate when customers ask us.  Sometimes we use an order form, which is still in 'draft mode' so it hasn't been put on the blog.  But you can look at it here.  Otherwise we just create the listing on Etsy and/or in Excel.

Once gems are purchased for the job, or once the details are hashed out and a custom listing is made, we create what is called a "Job Envelope".  That's where we put all the details of the order, which are also kept updated in Excel.  Here's a photo of what it looks like.

The job envelope stays with the order until completion, and all parts that have to be purchased as well as all gems go in there.  The steps needed are listed in the order in which they come up.

Custom Job Envelopes

Assuming it is a stock item, we first order the piece from our casting service, Taba casting.  They stock each of our molds, which has a certain number (at some point these will be incorporated into our SKU to avoid mistakes at this juncture).  We order rings in the size they are needed because those can be sized in the wax.  And we order in the desired metal of course.  Taba takes about a week to turn an order around.

Then all pieces go into pre-polish, where the sprue is being cut and the piece is tumbled and cleaned (all castings need a little TLC before they can go to setting).  

Before & After Pre-polish

After pre-polish, they either go straight to setting or to jewelry work.  Earrings and pendants need posts, bails, jump rings, eternity chains or bracelets need to be soldered together.  This all happens prior to setting.  Rings can go straight to setting, which is why rings are fastest to make.  We try to have most of the basic supply items on hand (posts, jump rings, etc) but we still end up getting some items every time we go into the city.

Setting is next.  If stones break during that process I have to supply more.  If I remember, I put extra melees into each job envelope so I can save myself a trip back home. Pierre is my setter, as you know, but I also have a backup guy, Ethan, now that my shop is growing and I need more help. Both are traditionally diamond setters but they have adapted their tools and their skills to deal with my colored stones.

From setting, the piece goes to final polish.  This is where rhodium is applied to white gold as well, and all the dirt and grime from setting is washed out in ultrasonic (ultrasonic has to be very brief with colored stones but Arman, my polisher, is used to it by now).

As you may gather, each step involves a different person because each job is specialized - each needs its own tools and skill set.  All the people I use are located on the same block or one block away but we still run around all day between stops.  We usually map out our route as best we can ahead of time but we have to go back and forth when parts have to be purchased or other questions come up.  Each person wants a few days to complete their job, except final polish which is same day.  So the more steps, the more time it takes.  If something goes wrong, i.e. a part melts down a bit during soldering, we may have to start over because we don't stock everything in all metals.  We do stock scroll earrings now, but little else (too many parts, too much money).  

A note on engraving.  Alex, my engraver, hand engraves my pieces before the mold is made.  So it doesn't become part of the custom order process unless a piece is made in CAD from scratch.  This saves time, though it slows down production of a first piece. Alex is a true artist, he works for the top design houses in NY (and me, lol).  And he will not be rushed.  Sometimes he has a piece for a month.  The result is worth it however.

Well, this about sums it up.   I hope this blog entry provides a little clarity as to why not everything goes as fast as we hope, and why a few things are way faster than you expect (i.e. setting a gem into a scroll stud).  And how mistakes can creep in (= everywhere).  

Custom pieces, despite the difficulty they pose, seem to have become our signature style. So we appreciate both your support, and your patience, as they are being created.