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.