Veni, Vidi, Ventus --
The randomly chaotic and crafty scribblings of a deranged, wannabe artist allowed too many colours in her Crayon box.

Surgeon General's Warning: Some content of "From Pooka's Crayon" may not be suitable for: work, blue-haired little old ladies, the politically-correct, rabid moonbats, uptight mothers, priests, chronic idiots, insurance claims agents, Democrats, children, small furry quadropeds from Alpha Centauri, or your sanity.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Random thoughts on setting faceted stones

Hey! Not dead!

It's 7:30 in the morning, I still haven't been to sleep yet, and don't honestly see it happening any time soon. Sleep deprivation dragged me back here.

It's going to seem like a total segue, this and other recent posts from those in the past, but trust me, I can play Kevin Bacon with every single wacky crafty thing I've done.

So, wandering back into a childhood obsession (Going through bookshelves, I found a gem and mineral book with a note written inside marking it as a gift on my *10th* birthday, and I just turned 42 -- and did you miss my Random Injected Thoughts?) with geology and volcanoes (Kevin Bacon), I started my wanderings and collectings again. The husband has brought home some fabulous rock samples: Cleburne fossils, some lovely painted sandstone, Montana agates and sapphires(!), basalt, scoria, volcanic breccia .... I love how tolerant he is sometimes. The two large chunks of amethyst geode that I have came from him. WHOA, speaking of segues ... total brainfart there. Back to the show.

Right. Volcanoes. Olivine bombs. Peridot, and three August birthdays. Gemstones. Jewelry. Kevin Bacon.

I see an awful lot of recommendations that surprise me, though that the offenders are the ones trying to sell the items doesn't. Durability really needs to be a consideration when choosing gemstones you want to set in jewelry.

NOTE: Technically (according to whichever competing school you ascribe to), mountings and settings are NOT interchangeable words. Mountings are the receptive medium for the stone you are Setting, which is the act of placing the stone in the Mounting. Of course, now that I've listed the definition, I'm sure I'm going to promptly require a rap on the knuckles.

Since I may be slightly above the normal level of wear and tear on jewelry, take this as it's meant. This is for ME, and my Things, who have my lack of grace, abundance of clutziness, and a tendency to abuse our hands. It may not apply to you at all. Then again, it might. Keep reading.

Stones *I* would personally avoid putting into rings and bracelets:
  • expensive tanzanites or chrome diopsides. Not very durable. If the stone and setting cost me around 20 bucks, I consider it acceptable. For an engagement or wedding ring? I guess it's a good thing divorce is so common: the stones don't last, either.
  • apatite of any sort, petalite, kyanite. Seriously. They're fragile.
  • flourite. This can be delicate to set at ALL, much less in a ring.
  • anything below a Mohs hardness of 6. Look, I'm hard on jewelry.
  • CVD coated gems. It can rub off: it's not necessarily permanent. Honest.
Other random faceted thoughts:
  • Pleochroic gemstones tend to take terrible pictures. Keep this is mind when looking online for gems.
  • Always do footwork first, and embrace your GoogleFu, grasshopper. Check the prices of stones on a variety of sites before buying, and if you can, see what you can find locally to get a good idea of what to expect.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. See the flux ruby market flood fiasco for a case in point. (Here's a chance to practice your GoogleFu!)
  • Don't neglect to take shipping charges into account. This applies to anything, really. If you can get it locally, without paying shipping, and it evens out? Buy local.
  • BEWARE OF THE HYPE! Again, do your homework. If someone claims something about a stone, they need to be able to back it up with facts. (Ie, if supplies of certain stones are so low, why are they absolutely *everywhere*?) Are they just WAY too enthusiastic about pushing something, especially when you know it's not appropriate to the usage of the stone?
  • Along the lines of Hype, beware "estimated appraisal values." If they're trying to sell you something, odds are good they're not going to tell you the piece is worthless. Decide on a personal basis what your lower limit is for stones you'll pay to have appraised: after all, if you have to pay for an appraisal, 125$ to ID a 5$ stone is probably not going to be in your best interests. Do your homework, and don't fall for inflated appraisal values. If you're in doubt at all about your stone, take it to another appraiser.
  • Location, location, location. This applies more to collectors than those purchasing for jewelry. Russian demantoid garnet. Burma ruby. Kashmir sapphire. Columbian emerald. You get the point. This also gives you a base to test the stone against to be sure you have what you think you have.
  • Beware of any surface-treated gemstones. Likewise, beware of "plated" and "gold over sterling." These processes can't be guaranteed as permanent.
  • "Irradiated" does not mean "radioactive." Your general living environment will cause cancer long before an irradiated gemstone will.
  • Shapes with points -- emerald, trillion, baguette, pear, princess, etc -- should, if possible, be bezel or channel set, or V-prongs used to protect the points from damage.
These next few are important.
  • Guys ... Seriously here for a minute. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir on this one for the most part, but listen up. If you're paying 50 bucks or so and getting 10 ctw or so of RUBIES? They're Not Natural Stones. They may be "REAL" rubies, but they'll have been treated, sometimes to the point that they're as fragile as glass. Check all of your stones carefully under loupe to see if they can not only survive wear and tear, but being set in the first place. The same goes for emeralds, sapphires, labradorites ( ..... Just Don't Go There, or I'll Use Bad Language. I've heard all the available sides of the story, and I don't want to hear any more. People make mistakes. YOU DID, TOO, by thinking you were getting something elite for only a few bucks a carat. AHAH, gotcha, din't I? Nuff said.)
  • "These gemstones *cannot* accept any treatment." (Emphasis not mine.) Whoooa, Nelly! Rein her in there, cowboy. Here's a little eye-opener for you: garnets *can* be treated; peridot CAN be treated; tourmalines can be treated and mimicked; labradorite can be treated -- have I made my point? GoogleFu. Get an assortment of books. Sometimes you have to collect more information than stones -- they may not be as shiny or easy to carry, but the knowledge is worth a thousand times more. Buyer beware, indeed.
  • Minimum weight versus average weight. Minimum could mean less than 5% of the stones of a particular calibration were that weight, and the rest are all larger. Average, you take your chances on getting a smaller stone. If you're buying for jewelry, I'd place calibrated millimeter size above carat weight. If you're buying purely for value ... you may be in the wrong blog. ("If diamonds are a girl's best friend, I shouldn't need a bra" will wait for another day.)
  • This is all about perspective. I'm not going to pull out diagrams and Kevin Bacon math again (I may be lying there, so keep that in mind), but here's a few hints in the right direction.
    ** 1 ct stones are The Mark, the cherished number for jewelers and nervous fiances everywhere. From 1 ct up, stone values can multiply exponentially, dependent of course on rarity, faceting, color, clarity ... Yadda yadda yadda. Now, depending on the cut, a 1 ct stone isn't necessarily that big. Carat weight depends on the specific gravity of the gemstone in question, and can vary quite a bit.
    ** Glancing at my earring studs, I see a large number of 5mm stones, a lot of 6x4s, a whole bunch of 3mms, 5x3s and even 2s and 1s in some of them, and that's just the ones I regularly wear. These are all Perfectly Average Sizes for stud earrings. Go shopping, GoogleFu and wander into Your Everyone Has One corner jewelry store. Look at the average sizes on just plain normal studs.
    ** If you have more than one hole in your ear, and you decide to wear a monstrous 10mm gemstone, unless you have huge earlobes this is going to make wearing an earring in the second hole difficult. Smaller ears are also a problem, especially again with multiple holes.
    ** If you receive 6x4mm stones that were advertised as 6x4mm stones, then complain about how small they are -- whose error is that? Not the seller's. Get a millimeter gauge and USE IT. The only excuse for complaining about getting *exactly* what you paid for is a lack of knowledge.
    ** You know what I have a problem with? NOT receiving small accent stones. Out of all the faceted parcels I've purchased, I've never, EVER received anything smaller than 3mm. Do you know what the most common accent stone sizes are? 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3mm. Know what I have to hunt down and purchase separately? Yeah. "Tiny" ie, perfectly sized and proportional accent stones to complete jewelry pieces.
Not-so-random musings on setting stones:
  • When in doubt of your skills, have a jeweler set your stones.
  • If you have a chance, take a class on bench jewelery. Barring that, at least do some research and study before grabbing the pliers and thinking anyone can do it.
  • Use the right tools for the job. There's a reason why there's so many specialist tools out there. Don't be trying to yank a stone out of its mounting without the proper tool, either.
  • And speaking of the Proper Tools: a lot of these stones are truly delicate. Seeing someone grab kyanite with uncoated metal tweezers makes me cringe every time, I don't give a pig's whisker how good you think you are. There are coated tools, goo to coat your tools (also good to make handles more comfortable), tweezers with rubber sleeves ... Choose, but choose wisely, Indiana! :D ALSO: Tweezers with coated tips prevent a lot of fumble fingered handling with very small and very large stones. There's absolutely no reason you should have to keep throwing your stones across the room -- YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! (Guilty!)
  • It's all too easy to mangle your setting, your stone, or both. Practice makes perfect, but practice on the cheaper stuff. Your sanity will thank you.
  • When in doubt, consult a jeweler. (No, that's not deja vu)
  • Yes, you CAN use mountings of a different mm size than the stone, provided that the mounting and stone are the same shape, and the prongs fit securely. Generally, no more than .5 mm off from the setting is a good bet. Example: 3.5 mm stone can fit in a 3 or a 4 mm mounting, though it will be more secure in the 3. However, it's always best to try to find the right size in the first place.
  • If your stone doesn't want to go into the setting, check the culet depth. The stone may have too deep a belly for the setting.
  • Emerald mountings and true emerald cut stones (not the rectangular octagon or cushion) can be difficult to set. Mountings that have corner posts are very difficult to bend over the sharp corners of a stone. I recommend a jeweler.
  • Pre-notched mountings have had a special tool applied to notch out the posts to make room for a calibrated stone. If the mounting you've purchased is NOT pre-notched, this is not something you can do yourself unless you have a whole lot of time to learn, and a massive wallet to spend the tool money. Best bet? Yep, get a professional to notch the setting for you. (Note: some stores offer cheap pre-notching services when you buy a setting from them, so if you're purchasing an unnotched mounting, check and see.)
  • Even if you use one of the variety of snap-in-place mountings, make sure you tighten the prongs once set to be certain the stone is secure.
  • "Requires finishing" or "requires final polishing" mean you're going to have some work to do to clean up the mounting before you can wear it, and often aren't particularly large in descriptions.
Hope you enjoyed this chaotic wandering through my insomnia-wracked brain. A welcome to my new readers -- hope this helps!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Green" Expressions I

All right. Take a step back, grab another cigarette, don't go off into a rant about "Green Guilt" and ....


I hate wasting things. Or rather, my brain won't LET me waste: it can always come up with a use for something, no matter how trivial it may seem. I have to make the most of the money I spend, and the most of what I can magpie.

Case in point, and. You slab, you shape, you facet, you polish -- but what about all that "garbage" rough leftover? With just a bit of non-linear Pooka-style thinking, you can reduce your wasted material by at least 50%.

(Note: I'm not going to go into my usual intricate How-To instructions at this time, these are merely ideas. If there are requests for detailed projects, then I'll worry about working up tutorials.)

are easy to accomplish.
  • There are hundreds/thousands of mosaic and pattern books available ("Green"-cough- tip: Check out Half Price Books and other used book stores. You can also find sites and references online. Just download and print as needed.)
  • Rough can be used as is, tumbled, or given a polish. If you slab and cab, you can easily create custom shapes out of the "junk" to use as tiles. Since there are multiple methods for placing your tiles, your shapes don't even need to be perfectly flat to be used. Some of that "garbage" can be surprisingly pretty after the tumbling cycles. BONUS: When you're cutting stones down, you're going to have the perfect variety of hues and tones to create a very intricate dimensional piece.
  • Historical references are a perfect place to start. There's fabulous inspiration in Central American mosaics, the works of Antonio Gaudi (practice your GoogleFu here!) ... the list is a very long one. You'll get a really good idea of just what you can do with all those leftovers.
  • Lots and lots of leftovers from big slabbing projects or multiple tumbler loads are perfect for testing grout colors. Just do small 4x4 squares, applying the tiles with your favorite appropriate adhesive (Be warned: silicone for glass has a STANK to it. It doesn't bother me, smells like dyeing Easter Eggs, but my family gags on the vinegary stench.), wait till it dries, and create samples so you know you've chosen the right grout to work on the right project.
  • Get an "ugly" gemstone -- faceted or cabs -- in an order, but you don't want to bother with the cost of shipping it back to return or exchange? (Seriously, if you paid less than C on a stone that should cost Zx5, and shipping is N, then loupe it, examine it, learn from it, and find another way to use it. OH CRAP, I DIDN'T KNOW THERE'D BE MATH! I'll ramble on about the fun of included stones at a later date.) They make fantastic accents in mosaic pieces -- including mosaic jewelry. Eyes, mouths, teeth, petals, buttons, bubbles, fish scales (man, I wish I'd had some "crappy" faceted stones when I did my fish tank vase: garnets, carnelian, and citrine would have made fantastic fish scales!) -- you get the idea here. Garbage has suddenly become a nice pricey mosaic!
  • By any other name ..... Think dendritically! "Inlay," "intarsia," "mosaic," "multi-media collage," -- it doesn't matter what you call it, you're painting with stone.
Resin jewelry is a great use of leftovers. Using the resin, you can place stones into the molds to create some interesting mosaic jewelry with no grout or adhesive other than the resin that holds it all together.
  • Larger single stones make great focals in resin pieces, as well as nice tiny accents in collages.
  • Mix a small amount of resin, just enough to cover the bottle of your properly prepared mold. Follow the instructions for curing time before adding a second layer. Using tweezers (with my shaky hands, I prefer cross lock tweezers), carefully lay your stones onto the first layer of resin. Top off the mold with mixed resin, and let cure. Calibrated molds can be used with regular cabochon mountings of the appropriate size.
Think about "fairy bottles" you've probably seen. Tiny glass vials for jewelry making are available from multiple sources, and some are quite elegant. I have one with filigree work that I need to complete for Thing 1, so I'll get Thing 2 to take a photo when the piece is done. Cheap, too small, or unmatched gemstones are gorgeous in the bottles, as are the "cast-offs" -- you know, those ridiculously tiny pieces of rough that always seem to accumulate. Don't waste them! Tumble them up, the super-mini chips can be lovely.

Speaking of Tumbled Stones ....
  • Of course, not all stones can be tumbled or polished. Books and GoogleFu are your friends for learning the Mohs value of a particular rock or mineral to be tumbled. Stones of a similar hardness should be tumbled together for the best results, as harder stones can seriously abrade and wear down the softer ones.

  • Tiny chips don't need to be tossed out - toss them IN the tumbler instead. They're useful as filler, and make good filler for display in bottles, jars, and anything that will let light bounce off the polished surfaces.
  • Waste stone can be tumbled and wire wrapped, or drilled for use as beads. Thinner, translucent pieces can make gorgeous suncatchers (tutorial on request).

  • Check those tumbled stones carefully, using a mm gauge. If you don't have one, get one. They're cheap -- even the digital calipers are now quite affordable. I love mine, as I'm getting blind in my old age. You might just find that some are close enough in size and shape to being calibrated for use in standard mountings.

If you've cut cabs, slabs, or faceted stones from a piece of rough, and have some larger waste chunks, consider bookends, shaped/carved paperweights, cup holders. This is definitely more collector oriented, as there's an attraction to displaying a larger prepared specimen that your precious stone came from. Gem in the rough, anyone?

If you're in the trade and selling stones with a documented provenance, history, pieces all shaped from a single huge piece of rough, from documented closed down mines or mined out sources (Sweet Home, yes?), run a poll to see if your collector customers would be interested in pieces of rough that their gemstone came from. I guarantee you'll get takers, and thumbnails, micromounts, and handheld specimens don't have to be flawless, perfect color, or worth working to be of interest to collectors. Note: Documentation? Is a good thing. Certification can even be used as part of a display: piece of rough, piece tumbled, piece faceted, certifcate, with a nice sharp microscope photo to use as the background. EXTRA NOTE: I'd LOVE a piece of Nigerian rubellite rough, if anyone has or knows how to get their hands on a small bit.

Some of those leftovers might hold potential you haven't thought of or dared to try yet. There are several treatments for your stones that you can do at home without professional equipment or dangerous chemicals, provided you follow the instructions and all proper safety measures are taken (ie, heated stones CAN explode, or explode when cooled too fast).

You got to use the skills to pay the bills. :D

That way, you can afford to buy more toys!