What to do About Metal Allergies

In my previous post, I mentioned a client who informed me of her metal allergy and said she doesn’t wear plated metal jewelry because of it. I’m not sure if ladies are more willing to share about their metal allergies now than when I started this business or if the problem is getting worse, but I think more people at my first show this year mentioned they have metal allergies than in my past four years of business combined.

The most common metal allergy is a reaction (usually redness or a rash) to nickel. People with minor nickel allergies can sometimes wear surgical steel (stainless steel) jewelry for a few hours. However, other people are so sensitive to nickel that they cannot wear watches nor have metal buttons on their clothing touching their skin. If you fall into this category, sterling silver, karat gold, niobium, nickel-free, and plastic findings should serve you well.

There is a catch to this…sterling silver and karat gold are not pure silver and pure gold (even though they are commonly thought to be pure). Pure gold and pure silver are generally too soft for jewelry. The exception is 24 karat gold. This is pure gold, but it is not often used because it is softer (and expensive). In order to make precious metals more durable, other metals (called “base metals”) are added such as copper, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium and/or manganese.

Keep in mind, the term “nickel free” is not a true term. It is allowed to be placed on items which contain a very small amount of nickel. There is not a standard for this in the U.S. yet. Hypoallergenic is also simply a marketing term with no legal definition. If you are looking for “hypoallergenic” jewelry, check out sterling silver, karat gold, and items marked “nickel-free.”

It seems most people with metal allergies respond primarily to the metal in earrings, but I have had some clients mention they have trouble with the metals in any jewelry as long as it is touching their skin. Your best bet for this is trial and error or avoidance. Wearing turtlenecks with longer necklaces would definitely be one way to get around this. Perhaps a silk scarf with a necklace over it?

Because there are different levels of sensitivity when it comes to metal allergies, I cannot honestly tell you what will or won’t work for you. But depending on your sensitivity, I can provide direction. Please note, all of my sterling silver jewelry is marked as such when it is on display. If it is not marked “sterling silver,” it is something else. Please don’t hesitate to ask about anything you see on display.

If you have any questions on this, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!


The Truth About Silver Plated

(At least it’s the truth according to Gretchen Smith)

I have a policy of backing everything I make as long as the issue is due to material or workmanship failure. I’m probably a little too trusting of people on this, but I also trust my jewelry to hold up. That said, I try to be open and honest about my materials and workmanship. If I discover an issue with something I’ve done, I like to let my clients know about it (see the previous post on clasp attachments.)

Now, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

A few years ago, it was suggested to me to try my hand at using silver-plated findings (the pieces holding the beads together such as the clasps and earwires are called findings) instead of sterling silver. This allows the finished piece to be less expensive, which opens up the possibilities for more ladies who want jewelry but are on a tight budget.

Let’s cover some definitions…

Silver- (or gold) plated – A thin layer of silver (or gold) deposited over a base metal (often brass)

Sterling silver – An alloy of at least 92.5% silver and (usually) copper (it is usually stamped .925). Sterling silver can be polished over and over to a bright shine.

I’ll admit I was hesitant to use silver-plated findings because I had heard about it wearing off. Several artisans who use silver-plated findings assured me that the hold up quite well and they’ve never had trouble with the plating wearing off.


Fast-forward to the first show of this year. I had a client pick up a few pairs of earrings she was interested in purchasing and she asked me whether they were silver or gold. As soon as I looked at them I realized the silver plating was wearing off and what she thought was gold was the brass base underneath. I explained to her what happened, and she noted she had a metal allergy and couldn’t usually wear plated metals because she broke out in a rash. She settled on a sterling silver pair of earrings instead.

I share this with you because if you have purchased a piece of jewelry from me which you know was silver-plated and it is starting to show signs of discoloration, please let me know. I will replace the findings for you. For no cost, they will be replaced with new silver-plated findings (or surgical steel in the case of earwires). I can also replace them with sterling silver findings, but there will be a cost to this (however, it will pay off in the long run).

Because of this issue, I plan on returning to my original business plan of using sterling silver for my jewelry creations. You will pay a little more up front, but the cost will be worth it over time. I do try to follow the metal market as closely as possible to assure I am getting the best prices on my materials I can find so I can make the pieces as affordable as possible for you.

Thanks for reading!

All tied up in knots

I think most ladies in this world either own or dream of owning a pearl necklace. Not just any pearl necklace, but a traditional pearl necklace that has knots tied between each pearl. I could be wrong, but I know I dream of owning one. I suppose I should contact my local jewelry designer…

Traditional pearl necklaces are strung on silk cord with knots tied between each pearl. If you have pearls strung next to each other, the beads can rub against each other and affect the appearance and strength of the necklace over time. By tying knots between the pearls, they rub against the silk instead of each other and the silk does not damage them.

Flash forward to modern jewelry. Not only do we see knotting used for pearls, but it is also used with gemstone and glass beads. Knotting works well for several reasons. As I mentioned, knots keep the beads from rubbing against each other. They can also help if the necklace happens to come apart. The knots will stop the beads from sliding off the cord if the cord breaks. They also help to accent the beads and provide some separation between them. This is especially nice if you have unique beads you want to call attention to.

I find knotting to be simply elegant, but I do not see it done very often outside of high-end jewelry shops. For this reason, I have been teaching myself the knotting technique. At first it was frustrating because it is quite challenging to get the spacing just right. Now, I almost find it enjoyable.

In anticipation of my first show a few weeks ago, I decided to create a new jewelry set for myself. I have been wearing the same earrings and necklace to each show for the past four years! I wanted to create something bright and perfect for spring, but when I pulled out the beads I wanted to use, I only had 15 inches of them. That’s a tight necklace! I wanted to keep it in a traditional style and stay away from shiny metal, so I decided to use some silk cord and knot the beads together. This is what I came up with:

You may have seen these beads before. They are left over from another set I created. I love the look of these beads, so I have been taking my time trying to figure out exactly what to make with them. What do you think? I think the necklace looks like something out of a vintage jewelry box. That was my intention for it. I chose the off-white cord to really make the beads stand out.

Do you have any knotted necklaces? If so, what type of beads is the necklace made from?

I’m really in love with this necklace. It might be hard to sell it.

Thanks for reading!

PS: This weekend I will be at Manheim’s (PA) train station for Artist’s Alley. This event will feature our local glass blowing operation as well as several of the best local artisans. The show is from 12-5PM on Sunday, May 27, and we will do it again on the last Sunday of every month through August. If you are in the area, stop by and check us out! Thanks!

Emerald – May’s Birthstone

Now that we are almost to the end of May, I thought I would do a write-up on this month’s birthstone, emerald.

Emeralds come from the mineral beryl, a colorless stone which has impurities in it to give it the green color we associate with emeralds. I have previously discussed aquamarine, which is also from the beryl family.

Although they are a hard stone (7.5–8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness), emeralds have many inclusions in them, which cause them to lack in toughness. An inclusion is anything that is enclosed within a gemstone. These inclusions can often be air pockets and small fractures, which can cause the gemstone to break more easily therefore reducing its toughness. (Please note hardness and toughness are not the same.)

The inclusions in the stones are generally filled with oils and/or polymers to help make them stronger. These treatments are regarded as standard practice for emeralds; however, there are different amounts by which a stone may be treated and it is always good to ask your jeweler for a treatment report. Knowing how your stone is treated will save you headaches in the long run. Because most emeralds have inclusions, if you put them into an ultrasonic cleaner, they will break or fracture at the inclusions.

According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “the first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald, and used it in her royal adornments.” Today, Colombia is one of the largest sources of emeralds and Colombian emeralds are also highly sought after for their beautiful color.

If you are interested in the metaphysical properties of the emerald, it is thought to make its wearer more intelligent. It was also once believed to cure illnesses and the green color is thought to reduce stress and relieve eye strain.

I keep thinking about working an emerald piece into the Gretchen Smith Jewelry lineup, but I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. Do you have any ideas?

Thanks for reading!

Artist’s Alley in Manheim, PA

Once again, I believe I learn something new every day. I have been told that all of the “artsy” people in our area live in the next town over. I have been involved in art and craft shows in that town and the people almost seemed surprised to find out where I live. It’s sad, really. However, this summer, a few of us are out to set the record straight. There are artisans in Manheim, and they have talent!

Let’s start at the beginning. Manheim has had a history of glassblowing and recently a group of folks got together to bring the glassblowing tradition back into town. This group, Stiegel Glassworks 1976, is growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that they have already built an addition onto their building. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many artisans I enjoy watching in their craft as much as a glassblower. It’s beyond fascinating!

This summer, Stiegel Glassworks 1976 will be hosting a series of events entitled “Artist’s Alley,” which will not only feature Stiegel Glassworks, but several of the most talented artists from Manheim (and possibly the surrounding area) will be displaying their talents as well.

So far we have a pen and ink artist, a wood carver, and jewelry, and we have a few others waiting in the wings. The hope is to have a complete variety of artisans instead of several repeated styles. If you live in the area and are interested in participating, please let me know and I can get you the contact information you will need.

Here you can find out more about Stiegel Glassworks 1976: Stiegel Glassworks 1976

Here you can find out more about Artist’s Alley: Artist’s Alley

With the economy being what it is, I have heard more people are “staycationing” this summer and these events would be a great local destination for a day trip. Kids will find the glassblowing absolutely fascinating, and there are some great restaurants around to fill you up. Rumor has it there will be trolley rides, too! Come visit us for a day!

Thanks for reading!

1st Show Recap

I am a big fan of finding learning experiences in everyday events. Sometimes this is the best way of finding something good on an otherwise bad day.

I attended my first craft show of the year last Saturday. It proved to be an interesting day. The night before the show, I told my husband I always get nervous the night before my first show each year. I have to get back into the swing of things. I was especially nervous this time. My mom and sister were away and my husband had to work, so I flew solo. It taught me to keep my chin up in the face of frustration and it taught me how bad my memory is.

The show was a local community day. It had a combination of food, children’s activities, and artisans and was scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m. Vendors were to report at 7:00. My truck was packed and ready to go at 6:50 (the show was almost literally right down the road from my house). Upon arrival, I noticed no one around me had canopies set up, so I decided to keep mine down. This was good because I can’t set it up alone very well. As I started to get everything out, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing. Then it hit me – my earrings were all at home. Thank goodness home was 5 minutes away! After a quick trip home, I was ready to roll. Lesson- create a checklist to make sure you have everything before leaving home.

Then came lunch…when I realized I ate my sandwich as a mid-morning snack and didn’t have a lunch. Lesson – bring a few snacks in addition to lunch.

I found it interesting how many ladies asked about metal allergies throughout this show. I am wondering if people are starting to have more metal reactions because they are buying cheaper jewelry with the economy being what it is. Note, nickel and copper, which are often added to precious metals to make them more durable, are generally the metals people are allergic to more so than the silver or gold. Lesson – do more research on metal alloys and metal allergies.

As the end of the day approached, I began to realize my arms were a bit pink. I was intending on being under the canopy, so I didn’t think about applying sunscreen before leaving the house. After I got home, I realized I was a little more than pink on the back of my neck. Ouch! Lesson – if the show is outside, put on sunscreen just in case.

The show wasn’t super busy, but I was happy with the results and I learned a few things. Now, if only I could keep these things in mind for the future.

Here are a few photos I took at the show.


Thanks for reading!

Sticking to the Roots

As I approach my first show of the year this weekend, I find myself looking through my inventory and wondering if I’ll be “spot on” with my designs and style or if people won’t know how to take my style.

 I know, I should have more confidence, and I usually do, but I find myself questioning the first show each year. I think it reflects back on the very first show I attended. I sold a necklace and a pair of earrings. The small sale numbers didn’t bother me as much as the vendor across the aisle who told me I was “too high end for this show.” She told me I need to do glass and silver-plated metals in order to really make sales because people are more interested in having a lot of stuff than having a few quality items. I considered what she said quite seriously because she had customers in and out of her stand the entire day and she made a lot of sales.

 That show was in March of 2008. Over the past four years, I have thought a lot about what that vendor said to me. I explored doing less expensive jewelry. I explored using lesser-expensive materials. I had set my mind on what I was going to do and this idea of changing wasn’t working well for me. I continued to find myself falling back to what I liked. I love sterling silver and natural gemstones (even if they are modified for color, stability, etc.). I love simple elegance that can be worn to the office and out to dinner. I’m a fan of wearing jewelry that people aren’t quick to ask if I made it because it doesn’t look handcrafted.

 Now, I’ll admit I do make some pieces with glass and silver-plated metals. I want my jewelry to be accessible to everyone. I do keep my simple elegance style in these pieces. I believe every lady deserves a piece of beautiful jewelry and I believe every lady should own a piece of beautiful jewelry. However, I try to stick to my business “roots” as much as possible. Those “roots” involve sterling silver and gemstones.

 Why am I telling you all of this? Because I have learned an important life lesson through my jewelry business. This lesson is important whether you sell jewelry, work in automotive, or spend your day doing research in the woods. I have learned how important it is to stay true to my dreams and goals and the “roots” of my business. You might not have your own business, but it’s vital to stay true to your “roots” of life. These are those things you believe in deep down inside.

 Rather than creating the style of jewelry another vendor thought I should create, I have changed the type of shows I attend. Instead of changing what I believed was a quality product, I stuck with it and I am proud of it. I am much happier working with what I love instead of doing what someone else thinks I should do.

I tell you this to encourage you to reach for your dreams. Don’t put yourself in debt or danger doing it though. Do it slowly, but do it. Establish your “roots” and stick with them. Maybe we can get there together.

 Thanks for reading!