A Significant Change

I came across a website yesterday that posed the question, ” What is a significant change you have made in your jewelry business that has been for the better?” This got me thinking a bit and I decided to write about it because it might affect some of my clients.

With the start of the New Year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about where I have come from, and where I want to go from here. I try to read as much as I can about different techniques and styles so I am constantly learning and developing my interests, skills, and product line. As with all businesses, there are some rough spots and things that I look back on and say “Why did I do that?” but I am always striving to turn those moments into learning experiences.

One of those learning experiences has come from changing the way I finish off my necklaces and bracelets. This might sound like a simple concept, but it’s the difference between a piece holding up for the long-term, and a piece coming apart after being worn only once or twice.

When I first started creating jewelry, I ended my bracelets and necklaces using a piece called a “bead tip.” The concept is you put a crimp bead (a small metal tube that is squeezed onto the end of the wire) on the wire and then close a bead tip over the crimp bead. The clasp is then connected to the bead tip. After some time, I learned (the hard way) that this does not hold up, especially in bracelets. Because of the twisting that can occur when trying to close the clasp, the bead tips were sliding off the end of the wires and poor women ended up with their beads all over the floor. This was not a concept I put together; I had read about it on different jewelry designing websites, so I thought it would work. Now, looking back on it, I’m not sure why this method of ending necklaces and bracelets is recommended at all.

Live and learn. Now, I still use the crimp beads, but I feed the wire through the crimp bead, fold the wire over, feed it back through, and squeeze the crimp bead closed so I end up with a small loop that holds the clasp in place. This ensures that the necklace or bracelet will not pull apart unless it has some serious pulling done to it (beyond what should be done to a piece of jewelry to get it on). Each crimp bead is then wrapped in a crimp cover, which looks like an open bead until it is put into place, and then it looks like a regular metal bead. The photo below shows two metal beads (closest to the colored bead) and a crimp cover on the end by the wire loop.

Now, to my clients, if you have a piece of jewelry I made with the ends done as I have shown with the bead tips, I will gladly rework it at no cost to you so you can continue to enjoy your jewelry without any concern for its stability. If it was made that way and came apart, I will repair that for you as well.

I write this not to admit that I have created faulty jewelry, but to admit that I made a mistake (based off of something I was instructed to do not knowing was not the best method) and also to show you, the jewelry wearer, what to keep an eye out for when purchasing jewelry. For this reason, I am constantly researching and trying new methods of creating jewelry so I can provide you with not only beautiful, but durable jewelry. I hope this has been informative and helpful for you. Thank you for reading!

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Color Everywhere!

I am a big fan of color; however, getting it to work correctly can be a different story. I believe adding color, especially in little bits with jewelry and accessories, can really brighten your day, your outfit, and your mood. I also believe I have touched on my love for color previously, so I won’t dwell on it too much. To move into my topic, I was recently reading about the upcoming jewelry trends and found that one of the big trends in jewelry this spring is color. The reason for this trend is because the bright colors promote energy and a positive outlook to the day. Luckily, there are some pastels thrown into the mix for those who aren’t big fans of the bright and bold. Whether you prefer brights or pastels, the concept is the same…color boosts your mood. It seems like every where we go these days, people are talking about needing a mood booster, so maybe the fashion industry is onto something.

Pantone LLC is the global authority on color for the design industry. They recently posted the color trends for Spring 2012, which you can check out here: Pantone Fashion Color Report Spring 2012

After checking out the colors on Pantone’s site, the one thing I really like about them is that they coordinate with each other, or at least some of them do. I think the Starfish (tan) and Caberet (bright pink) would look great together in a jewelry set, or as a clothing outfit. The same goes for Driftwood (gray/brown) and Cockatoo (aqua). I have been looking at my jewelry line up lately and thinking it’s pretty well stocked, but now that I have looked at these colors, I’m thinking I want to work with them and add them to the line up. I am really loving the Caberet, but I don’t know if other ladies would feel the same way. I have a weakness for bold pink. The one color I have tried is the Color of the Year, Tangerine Tango.

Every year, Pantone selects a Color of the Year, and Tangerine Tango was selected for the 2012 Color of the Year. According to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, “Tangerine Tango is an orange with a lot of depth to it.” The color is sure “to provide the energy boost we need to recharge and move forward.”

I find it interesting that the common theme in the Spring 2012 colors is energy and moving forward. I think that says something about the feelings of most people right now. There is a desire to move forward and find energy and fun in life.

Now, what about you… Do bright colors move you? Are you attracted to them? By being attracted to them, you don’t necessarily need to buy them, but they might cause you to at least pay attention to them. When you look at the list of colors for the spring, which one calls to you? Which one do you like the most?

As always, thanks for reading!

All About Turquoise

Now that we have covered some of the elements of gemstones, let’s look at some specific stones.

Turquoise is one of the most popular stones used in jewelry and can be found in both traditional and modern designs. In my last write-up I mentioned the fact that turquoise is almost always treated by stabilization before it is used in jewelry. I would like to follow up on that to explain it a little more, and also discuss some alternatives for turquoise.

Turquoise is an opaque stone with colors ranging from light blue to blue-green, and may or may not have darker colored veining through it. It is a copper aluminum phosphate (an organic compound) with the copper causing the blue coloring and the aluminum causing the green coloring. The bluer the stone is, the more valuable it is. According to the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), “Turquoise is among the oldest known gemstones- it has been mined since 3,200 BC.” Because of its popularity, turquoise is getting harder to find, especially high quality turquoise. Many mines have already closed because they were depleted and this is causing an increased production of lower quality turquoise, which needs more stabilization to work in jewelry.

In regards to its treatment, turquoise is often treated either with resin, epoxy, paraffin wax, or plastics. These chemicals absorb into the turquoise, which is naturally porous, and strengthen it while also improving its texture. Untreated turquoise can be used in jewelry, and when it is, the value of it is much higher than treated turquoise. Stones which have more of a blue color contain more copper and are harder than stones which are have more of a green color. These stones usually are not treated or not treated as much.

Because of the increasing rarity of quality turquoise, many jewelers have started to use what is known as chalk turquoise as a substitute. According to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads:

“Chalk turquoise is a form of natural turquoise that has a white chalk-like consistency. It has the same chemical composition as turquoise, only without the copper (it’s the copper that causes the blue turquoise color). Chalk turquoise is also a bit softer than regular turquoise. It is dyed pleasing colors and stabilized with resin to produce beads that are hard enough to use in jewelry. Chalk turquoise is considered less valuable than regular turquoise because it does not contain the minerals that create the rich blue and green colors.”

I will admit I often use chalk turquoise in my jewelry designs for its color and affordability. I do not generally use it as a substitute for real turquoise. I use it as if it is its own stone just like any other colored stone.

Another form of creating the turquoise look is to use “reconstituted turquoise.” To create this, manufacturers grind up turquoise stones which are too small or low quality into a powder. They mix it with a binding agent, such as resin, and then it is dried and cut into pieces. This form of turquoise should always be noted as “reconstituted” and not sold as real turquoise.

Lastly, we have synthetic, or imitation, turquoise. This is generally made of a plastic, ceramic, resin, or other reconstituted stones which have been dyed. Synthetic turquoise is used primarily in your less expensive jewelry.

A natural alternative to turquoise is magnesite. According to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, magnesite is a mineral with the same crystal structure as calcite, “a calcium carbonate with a hardness and texture similar to turquoise and marble.” It is generally white or close to white in color with darker colored veining throughout it. Because of this veining, magnesite is often dyed to look like turquoise.

Due to the increased demand and decreased availability of turquoise, it is getting harder to find quality turquoise in jewelry. Because of this, many jewelry manufacturers are going to alternative ways of creating the turquoise look, while keeping the cost affordable. If you find a piece of jewelry that is advertised as turquoise but just doesn’t look quite right, ask about it. Generally, if it is not real turquoise, it should be advertised as such, but it never hurts to ask.

Gemstone Treatment Definitions

Now that we have discussed what gemstones are, I’d like to explore the treatments which can be done to gemstones. According to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, gemstone treatments can be defined as follows:

Assembled: Products made of multiple layers or combinations of manufactured and/or natural materials joined together.

Bleaching: The use of chemical agents to lighten or remove a gemstone’s color

Coating: Surface enhancements to improve appearance, provide color or other special effects.

Dyeing: The introduction of coloring matter into a gemstone to give it new color, intensify present color or improve color uniformity.

Filling: As a by-product of heat enhancement, this is the presence of solidified borax or similar colorless substances which are visible under properly illuminated 10x magnification.

Gamma/Electron Irradiation: The use of gamma and/or electron bombardment to alter a gemstone’s color, which may be followed by a heating process.

Heating: The use of heat to effect desired alteration of color, clarity and/or phenomena.

Infilling: The intentional filling of surface-breaking cavities or fractures usually with glass, plastic, opticon with hardeners and/or hardened foreign substances to improve durability, appearance and/or add weight.

Manmade: Fabricated products.

Natural: Stones which are not currently known to be enhanced.

Oiling/Resin Infusion: The intentional filling of surface-breaking cavities with a colorless oil, wax, natural resin or unhardened manmade material into fissured transparent/translucent gemstones to improve appearance.

Irradiation: The use of neutrons, requiring an environmental safety release from the NRC, with the combination of any other bombardment and/or heat treatment to alter a gem’s color.

Stabilization (Bonding): The use of a colorless bonding agent (commonly plastic) with a porous gemstone to give it durability and improve appearance.

Synthetic: These are manmade materials which have essentially the same optical, physical and chemical properties as a naturally occurring counterpart.

Diffusion: The use of chemicals in conjunction with high temperatures to produce color and/or asterism (star-like) inclusions.

Waxing/Oiling: The impregnation of a colorless wax, paraffin and/or oil in porous opaque gemstones to improve their appearance.

If you go to the link above, you will see that there are some treatments I have not listed. The list I have here shows the enhancements that are likely to be used on the gemstones I use in my jewelry. As much as possible, I try to use natural gemstones without any treatments. The most common exception to this is when I use freshwater pearls because they are almost always treated by bleaching to give them the nice white color most people desire in pearls. Turquoise is also always treated by stabilization because it is not strong enough in its natural state to stand up to the wear of being used in jewelry.

Now, I know what your next question is. “How do these treatments affect the value of the gemstones?” If you compare a completely natural stone to a stone identical to it with the exception that it has been dyed or heated to enhance the color, the untreated stone will be more valuable than the treated stone. Keep in mind, there are several stones which are always treated in some way because they would not be strong enough for use in jewelry in their natural state.

I hope this cleared up some questions you might have had, and if you didn’t have questions, I hope it leaves you feeling a bit more knowledgeable about what you are getting in your gemstone jewelry. I know I have a better understanding of these terms and I’ve been seeing them for several years now.

Thanks for reading!

Precious Gemstones Verses Semi-Precious Gemstones

Introduction

One misconception I have heard over the years is that my jewelry is not made of “real gems” and some people only buy “real gems.” The first time I heard this, I was quite confused. I thought, of course these are real, they came from the Earth were cut and polished for jewelry applications. I quickly realized that the customers were confusing “real” with precious gemstones verses semi-precious gemstones. It wasn’t a matter of whether the stones were “real,” it was a matter of the customer being more familiar with precious gemstones. I decided I better research this a bit so I can make an educated explanation next time someone asks whether my stones are “real.”

For starters, the terms “precious” and “semi-precious” are going out of style (for lack of a better way to put it) when referring to gemstones. There are several “semi-precious” stones out there which are just as, if not more, valuable and rare as the stones which are considered “precious.” The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) states in their Code of Ethics: “Members should avoid the use of the term ‘semi-precious’ in describing gemstones.”

A gemstone is a mineral, rock, or organic material which can be cut, polished, and used for jewelry. Some of these materials can be enhanced (dyeing, stabilizing, and heating are a few enhancements), but they are still classified as gemstones. In modern jewelry, precious gemstones refer to diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires (I have also heard these referred to as “the big four”), and all other gemstones are semi-precious.

Minerals as gemstones

As I mentioned, some gemstones can be minerals. A mineral is a naturally formed solid substance with a crystalline structure. Sapphires and rubies come from the same mineral, corundum. Depending on what impurities are present, you either end up with pink to dark red ruby, or a cornflower blue sapphire. Some sapphires can also be found in yellow and pink.

Emeralds and aquamarine come from the mineral beryl. Purple quartz is known as amethyst. The mineral olivine is known as the gemstone peridot, while garnet, diamond, and topaz are the mineral names for the gemstones of the same name.

Rocks as gemstones

Rocks are solid substances made up of minerals and they are classified according to their composition on the mineral and chemical level. While most gemstones are minerals, there are a few that are rocks. Lapis lazuli, jasper, ruby-zoisite, and obsidian are a few commonly known rocks which are used as gemstones. Because rocks are made up of different minerals, they often have various colors and patterns in them. As a side note, one of my favorite stones is jasper because it comes in so many colors and patterns. Almost every stone is completely different and it allows for very unique jewelry pieces without the pieces being too complicated in design.

Organic Gemstones

Organic gemstones were once living things or were created by living things. Amber, jet, pearls, ivory, and coral are the most commonly known organic gemstones. Organic gemstones are the softest gemstones and more care needs to be taken to protect jewelry made with organic gemstones.

Amber and jet both come from trees, but in different ways. Amber is fossilized tree resin, while jet is formed by the remains of wood. Pearls are formed inside oysters and mussels by layers of nacre building up around a small irritating particle. Ivory is no longer as common as the other organic gemstones. It comes from the tusks of animals, namely elephants. It is no longer a common gemstone due to laws protecting the animals. Coral is also quickly becoming more challenging to find due to protection of the coral reefs. Coral is a marine animal that has a hard skeleton made of calcium carbonate, which is used for jewelry.

Summary

I hope this helps to bring a little more understanding about the stones I use in my jewelry. Next time you go through a jewelry department or a jewelry store, take a few minutes to look at all of the different stones and look closely at their colors and textures. A stone might not be one of “the big four,” but it can be just as beautiful!