Friday, December 22, 2017

The Year in Review:  Milestones of 2017 - Good and Bad

This year has marked an exceptional number of changes, both for Cecile Raley Designs and for me personally.  As many of you know, I moved in late December 2016 - I moved only four blocks but what a difference: this little corner row house has a finished basement with an extra bathroom which marks the new "headquarters" of Cecile Raley Designs.  My living room is now a separate entity, to be enjoyed all day long without requiring conversion from office to personal space at the end of a workday.  My commute is still short, except for Tuesdays and Fridays when I head into the city to get supplies and pick up/drop off orders with our casting service, setter, jeweler and polisher.
We've also had our 10,000th sale on Etsy.  Our shop opened in August 2009 and I had one sale that year - quite a difference to an average of 1,500 annual sales nearly 10 years later.  While sales overall this year have been flat after an enormous 9 year growth spurt, views and visits are up about 30% over last year.  We've begun working a lot on our advertising so hopefully this will translate into a good 2018.  Of the nearly one million views we had this year, 50% are from direct traffic, which means most customers are either repeat or are seeking us out explicitly for some other reason.  I'm not convinced that Etsy searches themselves bring in an awful lot of business, except insofar as we carry a lot of rare goods!
For instance, our most searched gemstone is - I'm sure you guessed it - Paraiba tourmaline.  In fact it is searched 5 times as much as the next two: benitoite (that was a surprise), and Mahenge spinel.  The top five listings with the most favorites in our store are also paraibas. So it pays for us to keep continuing to source and advertise these precious beauties.  My main supplier is constantly negotiating to get more material but it is getting harder and harder. 
Paraiba has also been our best seller this year but we've sold a lot of sapphires, a ton of kornerupines, Burma spinels, and we've done well with our new demantoids which we will try to stock up on in Tucson.  Kornerupines are out for now, I've bought up everything I could and there's no supply, but I'm already hashing out other ideas for Tucson.  More about that in our January blog.
Approximately 65% of our customers are US based.  The rest are international: Hong Kong, Canada, UK, Australia, Israel, but also Japan, Norway, Singapore, and even Romania. 
In terms of designs, our Lily pieces have been our best sellers this year, many combos with red and grey: burma spinel, kornerupine, montana sapphire, grey spinel.  It's been a lovely combo indeed and I have to figure out a way to top that next year!
Speaking of next year, after Tucson and Vegas, I hope to be able to go to Madagascar again to see and support my friends.  The vague plan is to go in late summer, but I will keep you posted! 
Also, next year will mark my 10th year on Etsy, as well as my 50th birthday (where did time go?).  So stay tuned until we can figure out how to mark the occasion(s).
On a more personal front, there has been some sadness.  My mother, who was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia in the fall of 2015 at the age of 65, had to give up her apartment and move into a home.  She was having too much difficulty managing a household on her own, and she was falling a lot which put her in danger on her second floor apartment.  Luckily we found her a sunny terrace room in a very nearby and brand new care facility.  My aunt and I spent two weeks in August taking care of the move with her and clearing out the condo that had been her home for the past 30 years.  It is bittersweet for me that I cannot spend another Christmas there.
Also, on December 11th of this year, my 92 year old grandmother died from complications of an infection.  She had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010 and had been in a home ever since. In the past year, she didn't recognize anyone and she stopped speaking as well. But she still enjoyed humming to herself during some brief moments of lucidity until this fall.  My grandmother, who raised me from the age of 5 to 17, was as close as my mother was to me and at times, even closer.  I feel that in many ways, she made me into the person I am today.  Being like her - kind, giving, a good listener and a master at seeing a problem from the perspective of others - is what I strive for every day.  She shall be remembered for what she had to give to others.  In what will hopefully be the next two years, my book on her young life and experiences during world war II will be completed and find its way to a publisher.  In this way, I hope that others besides me can benefit from her story.
My grandmother
I will be traveling to Germany to attend my grandmother's funeral and to spend Christmas with my dad and mom. The shop will stay open of course with Debbie and Karen managing the year end clearance sale.
Happy holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Jewelry Laser Surgery: The Alternative to Solder

Many of you have heard me talk about lasering jewelry, or laser soldering, over the years.  Time to devote some blog space to what this actually means, and what is possible or not possible with laser soldering.
What is laser soldering? Laser soldering is a high tech, low heat, alternative to regular soldering.  Laser soldering uses solder, but instead of heating it with conventional methods, it is heated with a laser beam and then literally “shot” onto the area that is to be soldered together with high precision.  The heat used is below 450 degrees Celsius (below half of regular soldering temperatures).  Laser soldering is achieved with a laser solder machine which currently costs in excess of $5000.  Its original use is in computer technology (to solder together components of circuit boards) but it is now widely used in the jewelry industry as well.
What are the advantages of laser soldering? The advantages are precision (adjacent components like gemstones are not affected by the technique) and the heating source is not near the item to be soldered so that any components that are sensitive to heat will not be affected.  So for instance, if an earring post falls off of a stud earring, it can be lasered back without the gem having to be removed.  There’s also no risk of melting the components themselves, which is a great advantage if the components are very tiny, like a small jump ring for example.  Laser is also just about the only technique that works for channel wire because your soldering joint is directly next to the gem.
Examples of application: very tiny joints, such as adding a jump ring to a pendant or earring.  Ring sizing of rings with gemstones, or ring and pendant repair where the gem should not be removed.  Repairs of earring posts, conversion of stick pins to pendants. Laser soldering can also be used to fill porosities in a casting.  Porosities are tiny air bubbles or pockets that can occur during the casting process and that can “open up” during pre polish if they are just under the surface (mostly that is where they are).
Here you can see the imperfection at the top of the jump ring prior to being soldered:  

Below is the pendant afterwards:

What are the disadvantages? The soldering joints are small and use very little solder.  That means they are less secure than conventional solder.  This is not a big deal when you size a ring because you can just “shoot” many little bits of solder onto the joint – see video.  But earring posts, which have to take a little bit of pressure when you put them on, but are otherwise pretty tiny, are best soldered with conventional techniques.  With earring posts, lasering is a plan B only.  Another disadvantage, or rather, a risk is that if you have a tiny soldering joint right next to a gem, is that you can “miss the target” (see below for photo example)and hit the gem instead.  Then you “fry” a little hole into it.  Channel wire joints are notorious for that happening, that’s why it is so expensive.  It takes great precision and patience.  There also seem to be some gems, or gem colors, that attract and divert the laser beam.  We’ve had that problem a lot with red garnets, which is why I stopped wrapping them in channel wire.
What does laser solder cost? As mentioned above, the cheapest machines available for laser soldering, or laser welder, start at about $5,000.  Really good machines can cost up to $50,000. Correspondingly, when you get some work done with a laser soldering machine, the costs are higher because the costs of the machine have to be absorbed in addition to the time spent soldering.  A simple laser joint (attaching a jump ring) retails at $10-12 in my shop. Ring sizing actually costs ME more than what I charge you.  A small change in size costs me $25-30, a larger ring can be $50-60.  When I sell rings I partially absorb that cost through the price of the ring itself.  So when you go to a jewelry store and they tell you its $100 for ring sizing, that’s not an unfair price.  Doing a good job also takes at least a half hour (cutting metal, adding metal, shaving to make it match, repolish, plus gold costs if needed).  Downsizing is easier but can still change the curvature of the ring and open up settings, which then have to be rechecked in turn.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Are you Getting Ready for the Holidays? We Are!

Yes, it is almost here.  As I am publishing this blog, it is a mere six weeks till Christmas.  I have ordered the Thanksgiving Turkey, planned my space for the holiday tree - it’s going into the rec-room slash office space in the new place so that all of Cecile Raley Designs can enjoy it – and we have ordered gift packaging, calendars, for VIP client and vendor gifts.
Time, therefore, to share with you what is new – and old – for the upcoming season. 
Gift wrapping: for an additional $2, we now offer gift wrap.  You’ll get an organza bag, a polishing pad for tarnish removal and a sunshine polishing cloth for shine.
Calendars: our 2018 calendars are ready as well. They will come to you upon request, or with any purchase over $200.  All of our VIP’s will receive one, as well as a little thank you gift from us.
Gift Wrapping Package

Gift Certificate: these can be purchased again in my Etsy shop this year.

And here are some budget-conscious gift ideas from our shop:

Gold chains:  We stock those for the holidays and offer them in 16, 18 and 20 inches whenever possible.  Our green gold chains go with yellow gold, and I especially recommend any of our two toned chains. 

Beaded necklaces: They have been selling very fast lately but we have been restocking.  Prices are $90-$170. 

Moonstone, Labradorite, Burma Spinel Necklace available HERE

Earring jackets: Our flower petal jackets are only $45 and now come in a larger size for $50.

White Diamonds Jacket for stud earrings available HERE

Stud earrings: Our star studs make a cute holiday gift.

Sapphire Hexagon Stud Earrings available HERE

Gems: Give the special gift of a gem (maybe a birthstone) that the recipient can set to suit their own style.

Sapphire pair September Birthstone available HERE
And don’t forget to check our Specials section for anything that’s 20% off.
Shipping: We’ve actually upgraded our shipping policy, we are now shipping all orders over $400 Priority, and starting on the 15th of December until Christmas, all packages will go out priority.  The last day to safely order for priority shipping is Wednesday December 20th.  But we are happy to do overnight shipping until Friday the 22nd upon request.  If you are ordering an item that needs sizing or any other modification, we can ship it first and you can have sizing or modifications done after the holidays.  Other than that, anything in the shop is ready to ship on the same or next day.
Returns: just a reminder that our return period is two weeks.  Thankfully, we have very few returns, but we do understand that the holidays can be an exception.  So if you are not sure about a gift, make sure you let the recipient know that a return or exchange is not a problem.
And when do we have our holiday sales?  Our “Thanksgiving Sale” event starts Sunday November 19th with 10% off the shop until Sunday December 3rd.  Expect a larger flash sale of select pieces on Cyber Monday and a 3-day sale some time closer to the holidays.  For our 15% off semi-annual sale, you’ll have to wait until after the holidays. 
Happy Shopping!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Guest Blog: A traveler's report on the world of gems

Manhattan’s 47th Street rightfully deserves the name “Diamond District": shops for jewelry, precious stones, and all kinds of precious metal products line the street.  The bustle on the sidewalks feels like a foreign bazaar, even if the most exotic clothes are the black suits of the orthodox Jews. For tourists, it may seem superficial....

To read more please visit our website at:

 Photo of Diamond District NYC from 6th Avenue

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Does "Recycled Metal" Really Mean?

This blog entry is prompted by a couple of recent questions about working with recycled metals.  Etsy now offers a new category – “recycled” – that I can click on before I publish my listing.  And since the metals I cast in are recycled, I click “yes”.  And now that this category is visible to clients, they want to know what it means. Of course the word “recycled” can be used to describe a variety of processes.....

To read more please visit our website at:

Taba Casting here pouring pure silver metal "beans"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rare Gemstones - A Seller's Market

Anecdote:  in late summer I got a call for a 4+ carat lagoon tourmaline of a very specific cut and color, not too dark, etc etc.  Unsurprisingly, the potential buyer couldn't find such a stone anywhere.  I asked the buyer if they were serious about the purchase because it would be expensive and hard to find.  I come across about 100 lagoon tourmalines in that size a year at best and I know who imports them and the source.  I know Tiffany likes those stones too and they pay good money for them.  Out of those hundred or so stones, which is probably most of the annual production, 99% are not the specified color and cut.  Well maybe 98%.  But you get the idea.  Anyway I borrowed 5 stones to show to the client that came close.  No luck.  Again another stone, no luck.  It took at least a full day......

To read more please visit our website at:

This Cobalt Oval Spinel is old stock, there's currently almost no production

Monday, September 11, 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Newest Items: More Hexagons and Lily Designs

It seems that it's time for a somewhat overdue blog entry on some of my new items that have come out and are coming out soon.  It's always tough to stay on top of making new items, pricing them out carefully, adding in options, photos, and publishing them on the blog.....

To read more please visit our website at:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Forgotten Beauties: Some Jewelry Highlights from my Shop

In this blog entry, I want to focus your attention on a few pieces of finished jewelry from the shop that have remained behind in previous sales.  All of these feature gemstones that already are extremely rare or will be in the foreseeable future. 

To read more please visit our website at:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Russian Demantoid: What’s the Deal with Horsetail Inclusions?

As many of you know, I have been selling quite a few Russian demantoids on my site in the last year.  Initially they came from only one source, old stock, topping out at (exactly) 3.2mm, no heat, and a very bright medium apple green, no secondary yellow.  Super nice stuff, great cutting, all priced at $800/ct.  I still have some of that stock, but not much, and my source is out.  The price, as I said, is the price of older stock, and unless one finds a good connection, Russian prices are now much higher.....

To read more, go to our website at:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Upcoming Vegas Show: The Culture of the Gem Trade

This summer marks the 9th year of Cecile Raley Designs, and in August, I will have been on Etsy for 8 years.  As many of you know, I started out with beaded necklaces, only slowly moving to more fine jewelry, but from the start, I was attracted to working with real gemstones, no glass, resin, or other materials.  I almost never buy opaque stones like agates, jaspers, or turquoise.  I like faceted, glossy, vibrant, eye catching beauty that you can spot from afar in a gem tray – or on someone’s neck for that matter.
I went to my first real trade show in 2009: Jeweler’s of America in New York.  I love going to trade shows.  Not just because I love gem shopping, I also enjoy the interactions – the gem talk – and I love studying people and behavior.  The gem trade, to me, has its own unique sociology.  Its culture is ancient and many families have been in the trade for generations.  They size up buyers in a matter of seconds, and they trade information among one other. 

To read more please visit our website at:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

TIME for VEGAS: The Next Gem Shopping Trip – Pre-Orders Now Open!

Yippie – it’s gem shopping time again.  In just over 2 weeks, Cecile Raley Designs departs for the JCK and AGTA shows in Las Vegas!  I’m going to start the shopping by doing absolutely nothing  in Mandalay bay for a couple of nights

To read more please visit our website at:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Earring News: More ear wire options for existing new designs

You might have seen some of the new leverbacks that I offer in my shop - either as stand alone or to be added to another earring design.  So it's time to go over all the options I have, metal colors, and some prices to keep things organized.  (Note that a lot of these prices are new, and therefore higher.) This will help you create more custom pieces.....

To read more please visit our website at:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why I Source only Colombian Emeralds?

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about emeralds, but with Emerald month coming up I should return to this favorite gem of mine.  There are three well known locations for emeralds: Zambia, Brazil and Colombia.  I pretty much source only Colombian emeralds although I can get all three if needed.  Zambian emeralds are often.....

To read more please visit our website at:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

How to Get Inspired

With spring just around the corner and winter being ridiculously mild this year, it's time to think about some inspiration for jewelry and wedding season. Here are some tricks and tips of how I come up with new ideas.....

To read more please visit our website at

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tucson Treasures

I got back from Tucson Tuesday night and the very first thing I did was sleep.  First on the plane (1 hr the first leg, 2 hrs the second leg) and then 10 more hours at home.  My assistant Debbie, who was with me till Saturday, took Sunday-Tuesday off to recoup.  Yesterday, I got my little treasures from Brink, thanks to Prima Gems who did the transport for me together with their (considerably larger) inventory.

Tucson was amazing this year.  As many of you know, I stumbled upon a couple of dozen of boxes of Demantoid at Dudley's booth the first day, and I sold out three days in a row.  Spurred by the interest, I also bought a larger piece, .77 cts, a couple of larger pairs and a larger 5mm round from a Russian seller at the GJX.  They come from the Ural mountains.  Not sure I'll share the .77 piece - it's apple green, absolutely perfect in color, horsetail inclusions and everything. But the 5mm is on Etsy, and some 3.2 and 4mm pieces are available if there's interest.  Dudley also had more spinel melee, some more reddish ones, of which I still have some 3mm and 4mm pieces - nice open color, very bright.  He backfilled with a little of the older cobalt spinel material, and he explained to us why the stuff is so rare at this point.  He also backfilled on kornerupine, which I am selling out of at a rapid pace.  In general, some of the new stuff has been flying out the door this week, which made me rather happy.  Oh and there's a little bit more of the Kenyan tsavorite, also old stock.

Red Spinel, Burma, 3mm

Russian Demantoid 4-5mm

Russian Demandoid 6mm, .77 Cts, Perfect Color

Vietnamese Cobalt Spinel

Tanzanian Kornerupine

A new find - not yet released on my website, is what Dudley called "Chrome-Beryl" from Pakistan.  A light blue-green color, chrome beryl is not exactly aquamarine and not exactly green beryl.  It has the chromium content of beryl, ruling it out as an aqua, but it is too blue to be a beryl color.  Some of the pieces are bi-color. Dudley bought out the entire find, and I grabbed a bunch.

Speaking of beryl, I spoke at length to Monte from Equatorian Imports, who specializes in red beryl. Below is a little interview with him, explaining why they use the clarity enhancement process on most of their stones.  He convinced me to try working with some melee and so I've listed them on Etsy.  The color is gorgeous - and since there is no more mining in the area, there's not likely to be much once he is sold out.

Chromium Beryl
Chromium Beryl

While I was talking to Monte, I ran into Richard Wise who has just come out with a new Edition of his book, Secrets of the Gemstone Trade.  I bought a copy and interviewed him on the new book to share with you.

Red Beryl

I also got some more pyrope garnet from Arizona, I have 4.5mm pairs still available and 3.5mm rounds.  And I saw some gorgeous Nigerian Indicolite - one princess cut pair is on Etsy already, another longer pair is coming up.  There is a bit more Cambodian Zircon available (I suggest the pair shapes in my shop which need better photos if I have time), mostly rounds.  And I have some additional tourmaline.  There were no new shipments of the lagoon color, at least not for now.  I saw a seller at GJX who had it but he charged more than I charge on resale, so there was no point in getting any.

Pyrope Garnet
I bought some more paraiba melee, several more pairs in the 2.5-3mm range.  And a larger parcel of 2mm that can be used for melee.  I have another cabochon coming up as well.  Generally I found the paraiba to be a bit slim pickings.  Same with tourmaline in general.  I bought and sold two pairs of elongated pear shapes, and I have one more that's indicolite color (this will be on the more expensive side I'm afraid).

Paraiba Cabochon
Paraiba Rounds 3mm

Paraiba Princess Pair
From a Thai seller that I've worked with a few times, I got nice sapphire melee (listed), ruby 3mm (sold), lavender sapphire melee (2mm, 3mm), a ruby marquis and some pear shapes (coming up).  The marquis fits the Cleo ring.  I also got one slightly bigger ruby.  I HAD a matched pair but one fell under the heater during the photo session and we are still looking for it.  Bummer because that was an amazing pair.  (Shortly before I moved I found a ruby underneath my deep freezer that had been there for about 2 years, so you never know when that turns up).

Sapphire Melee
I found "my" benitoite dealer at the Inn Suites - he sold me those ombre layouts before.  I have more ombres available - I'd love to do one in my new five stone hexagon pendant.  And I have 1.5mm, 1.8-1.9mm and 2mm melee.

Benitoite Melee

Benitoite from California
On the more unusual side, I brought back a twin star sapphire, a reddish orange kyanite, a Vesuvianite, a little bit of Triplite, Mexican Danburite (white), a dumortierite cabochon (I can barely spell that!), and next week I am getting another shipment from Dudley!

Double Star Sapphire, Ceylon

Dumortierit in Quartz from Brazil

In sadder news, there will be no hauyne in the near future.  As I shared on FB already, there was an accident on the mining site in Germany (a small field near Idar Oberstein, which is the only place in the world where it has ever been found), and since then the owners of the property have not let anyone on to the site. My German seller, Juergen, who lives nearby, hopes to change that in the near future but right now it is uncertain what will happen.  Juergen had completely sold out in Hong Kong and the Israeli dealers from whom I got a big parcel last year didn't come to the show.  They specialize in Vietnamese spinel and there was not enough material this year to feature it.

Dudley said he might have a little more hauyne and he promised me to look next month when he gets home.  Juergen said he had some more rough and he would email me when it was worked up.  If either of these come through, I will let you all know.

All in all though, aside from the lost (and found) cell phone charger, the lost (and found) rental car key that turned up in my pocketbook the day after we had left the rental in the parking lot of El Churro's and taken an Uber back, a delayed arrival flight, a hotel booking confusion that forced us to drastically downsize for a night (I'd rather skip the details), and a forgotten passport coupled with a nearly missed flight, the trip went perfectly smoothly.  And it was totally worth it all, too!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tucson Prep

For those of you who travel "vicariously" with me to Tucson to hunt for gems, here's a little more of a breakdown of what I have now, what I am looking for, and what kinds of purchases I am arranging.

Let's start with what has been my main draw, and my personal favorite - Paraiba tourmaline.  I've done a count on my melees and I have adjusted all the quantities in the shop to reflect what I have left.  I have arranged with the melee sellers to buy some more on my first day in Tucson and they are holding back the parcel.  But each size (1, 1.3 and 1.6mm) only has a few carats left.  The sellers have informed me that they cannot get more.  So for those of you still planning projects, let me know what you need and/or buy them at the beginning of the sale - I have to pay for these up front and prices are high so I can't simply buy them out.  I can also get 1.8mm but they are about $80 or so each which is why I haven't stocked them.

I will also be able to get some more 3mm rounds similar to the pair I had up a couple of weeks ago. I've already called ahead for those and have arranged for a few to be held back.  However, there are only 5 or 6 pieces.

3mm Paraiba Pair

I've already met with the other dealer from whom I usually buy my Paraibas here.  They gave me first dibs on the freshly cut material (all from their old stock of rough).  I bought some small ovals and marquis, a few greenish cabs, a blueish cab, and some rounds in the 4mm range.  I am processing those already and will be releasing them later in the week.

Paraiba Princess Cut Suite ($2000/ct x .30 ct for the suite)

3x2mm Paraiba Ovals ($1500/ct)

Hauyne (hauynite): again what is online reflects what I have, except for a few 2mm pieces.  That dealer should definitely be in Tucson and he knows me as well.  But his prices are higher than what I had stocked last year in Tucson because last year, I was lucky enough to buy out a mixed parcel (1mm-1.8mm) of about 15 carats.  That's the parcel I have been selling from all year and that's drawing to a close.  The "larger" pieces come from the German dealer, and I can restock on melee, but expect them to be closer to $1400/ct, and for finer goods, $2000/ct.  Forget anything larger than 3mm, but I can get a few 4x3mm ovals, that's about the largest size.

Paraiba Round $1600/ct (.35ct round shown)

Marquis +/-4x2mm ($1400/ct)

Cobalt spinel: from what I can tell, that material is off the market.  The true blue anyway.  It was much rarer than Paraiba, and the yield is now next to nothing at astronomical per carat prices.  So unless Dudley has a little left that I didn't buy yet, the best piece is still the one in my shop.  There's a small Israeli company, two brothers, that will be at GJX - they might have stuff because they collect on location, just like Dudley.  They have a lot of Vietnamese material.  Also, if anyone is interested in the lilac and light purple spinel pear pairs, or other shapes, please inform me ahead of time.  I can't stock that material, it is too expensive, and I cannot memo from them.  This company exhibits once a year only, only at GJX.

Paraiba Cabochons, .8 and .48 cts ($600/ct)

Sapphire: I love to stock and I can memo good Ceylon material, matched pairs, color changers, purplish, cornflower blue, royal blue.  The largest selection is in ovals, but there are many good round pairs available in the 3.5-5mm size.

Other tourmaline: I always look for nice saturated pinks, blueish greens, and indicolites.  But I don't have a regular source for any of them, and the lagoon colors only come through my NY seller.  There haven't been any recent shipments though some new stuff is expected in the next few months.  That location is kept fairly secret and the production is very small.

Burma spinel: I wrote about this last time. It is on my list, as well as the other rare stones. If you have any interest in bixbite, demantoid, benitoite, and other rare stones, please let me know ahead of time. I have to be very careful with funds, and I need to know who wants what before I buy.  My company is  not big enough to purchase large inventory.  Maybe some day:)