Stone Setting Workshop at New Approach School

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In February I took a week off from my normal work and traveled to Tenessee to attend the Stone Setting Comprehensive workshop at New Approach School. I had heard great things about this school, the teacher Blaine Lewis and especially this class. I really needed a referesher for stone setting. I do it daily but always suspect there are things I could do easier, quicker and just better. I am fairly good, I would think, at bezel setting but always stuggle with prong settings, have good and bad days when trying flush setting, rarely do channel settings and never even tried Pave or bead setting. 

Even better about this whole gig was that I finally met some online friends from our Etsymetal team. I spend the week with Shirlee Grund and Sarah Hood. We had a blast. It was great knowing a few people in class already. But we also met a few other students, some locals and some who traveled to this class from various locations in the US.

Full week's work at stone setting class
All the practice rings finished during Comprehensive Stone Setting Class at New Approach School

The class is intense but somehow even beginners managed to keep up (more or less). I was glad I took this class and did not jump to the advanced setting class. Even if some stuff was what I do day in and out, I still learned a lot of new tricks to make it all better in the future. Some settings I did similar (maybe because I learned it from his bezel and flush setting video some years ago). Other setting tricks were really an eye opener (prong tightening via vector approach!!!! Duh, why did I not think about that one). I learned that I need to open my funnel holes way more than I did before and seats don't need to be that wide. Lot's of proper tool use, tips like which bur to used first, how to hold the flexshaft and get control over the bur, the proper height to cut the seat... It's all just packed with little eye openers and "secrete" tips.

Bead setting practice
practicing bead setting for the first time

Blaine's way of demonstrating the techniques is great and really understandable. Loved seeing everything he did in so much detail on the large screens via his super magnification. I took lot's of notes and refereed back to them ever since coming home and jumping right back into setting stones in my orders. Since returning and in the months afterwards I definitely saw an improvement in my settings and the time it took to get them finish.

Some photos I took during the week of the setting rings and the tools we used can be found on Flickr.

It was a intense week of learning. The class started at 8:30am and went till 6pm or 7pm most nights. Blaine stayed long some night since we just could not get enough of his wisdom and wanted to finish our tasks before going home.

Channel setting exercise
Channel setting practice run with brass blank and CZs. With some amazing tips  it's actually not that much of a mystery anymore.

The practice pieces during the class were all done with his pre-made brass mountings setting cheap CZ's. It's a great way of learning without having to fear to damage expensive mountings or stones.
  • Day 1 was flush setting and round stone prongs
  • Day 2 was bead setting and drove us all crazy. I think that was the hardest for us all. Kind of strange he did that so early on in the week but I guess the purpose was to teach us working with gravers. That really made a huge difference after that day. I think we also did a channel setting in the afternoon.
  • Day 3 we started grinding gravers and how to sharpen them, then jumped into an oval thick wall bezel setting. He showed us how to do milligrain on settings. And more custom tool making.
  • Day 4 we did princess cut prong setting and then a semi-bezel setting with round stone
  • Day 5 last day was really intense: short prong basket setting, Gypsy setting with a round Cabochon and then another type of channel setting with tilt in stones
I might get the days mixed up a bit, there was so much going on.

Stone setting Practice pieces at end of day 2
End of Day 2.
What this class certainly does not teach is fabricating settings. That's probably covered in other classes and for sure his 8 or 12 week programs. There is absolutely no designing and no fabrication going on in the Stone Setting Comprehensive class. He just hands out blanks and stones and you set the stones in the blanks. Simple as that :) What one will learn is setting various types of stones (mostly faceted) in any type of cast, die-stuck or commercial setting. Of course once you know the generic rules for stone settings it can be applied to about any other setting type too. And it will make fabricating settings a lot easier too when one knows already how the stone will be set in there.

I really loved that we made custom tools and learned graver sharpening. 

Gravers and custom stone setting tools
It was possible to purchase new GRS graver blanks during the workshop and learn to properly shape and sharpen them right there. I came home with a whole new set of stone setting tools. I love new tools!!!!! Those graver's and tools have been used every day ever since I got home. Makes such a difference!

The class is well worth the money. It certainly adds up quite a bit with tuition, lodging, car to travel around, food, flight from LA,... But I am really glad I finally did it. It will pay for itself in no time. I think I might be interested to go back to the advanced class in a year or two.

All these long demonstrations were great, packed with lot's of stories from his many years in the business. I really liked that he did a few little "screw ups" too during his demonstrations like braking some CZ's when channel setting. Not sure if those were intentional.  But he turned it around as a teaching point in how to fix these things. And that breaking stones happens to the best. Kind of made me feel a bit better :)

During our visit in Franklin, Tennessee we ate great southern food, heard some nice county music performances, did some sightseeing and met with Carrie Nunes who showed us around in Nashville. Beautiful city. I bet it's really nice there during non-winter times. It was a great winter getaway for me, a nice break from the oh so tough LA weather. In a way I loved the cold and rain for a couple days after spending my time in 80 degree Fahrenheit the week before in LA.  I came back with lot's of new knowledge to try and practice immediately since I got lot's of orders to finish.

Morganite Tetra Palladium Ring

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Last week this trillion Morganite ring in palladium sold and got finally completely finished up.

I made the palladium mounting for the genuine stone over a year ago and had left the gem unset to allow for some easier sizing. It sold and only needed to be enlarged 1 size up, which was possible by just hammering the shank. Not something that would have been that easy if I had completely set the stone in the setting. It would have been too much stress and risk of stone damage. I don't usually like to hammer much on a shank when a stone is already set, especially one with sharp corners. In those cases I usually opt to cut the shank and laser a little insert in to bring it up to size. Glad it worked out without having to do that. It was nice to finally be able to set the beautiful peachy Morganite in it and make it all pretty.

I will miss this little sparkler. So sad that I don't have another gem like this. I will keep my eyes open if another nice trillion Morganite will cross my path again.

I also got a new Camera last week :-D
Finally upgraded from my 8 or 9 year old Nikon D50 to a Nikon D7100. Yes, I am a Nikon girl. I don't even consider anything else. Good thing is: all my lenses still fit, I only needed to invest in the new camera body.

This was the first ring I shot with the new camera. Still somewhat similar overall since I was used to using manual settings for years.  The new one has way better picture resolution ( 24MPX vs 6MPX), which helps a lot when cropping my photos. Downside is the image files are huge and my computer needs a cleaning badly.
The autofocus with the D7100 is nicer and quicker and it has a larger range of aperture settings when working with my 40mm macro lens. This is great to archive a blurred background with just the sharp focus on the front. Gotta play with those settings a bit more.
It does have video too, but I am not sure yet when I will use that. Well, it's good to have it as an option.

The bad thing was that I apparently also needed to upgrade Photoshop. My old camera raw software was not able to open the new Raw files. Maybe there is a way around it by just getting the Raw manager from Nikon directly. I did not realize Adobe switched to monthly subscription only and does not seem to sell just the software anymore. Could be more expensive over time. But on the other hand always having the latest version is not that bad either. I did not recognize much of an improvement of the new PS CC version over my old CS5, at least not for the few tools I only use. I still have a few weeks with my trial version before I need to commit. Maybe I find a cheaper way and keep working with the old PS. I know there are other cheaper photo editing software available, but I somewhat like staying with photoshop.

Tetra Bridal Sets with Trillion Garnet and Lab Sapphire

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A couple weeks ago I finished a set of 4 rings for an awesome couple. They wanted matching bridal sets each from my Tetra collection which incorporate trillion cut faceted stones. For their sets they chose a lab created blue sapphire and a Mozambique garnet set in palladium with a matching 2mm contoured wedding band.

Bridal ring sets made in palladium with Garnet and lab created sapphire

The rings are also available now on my web site as Sapphire or Garnet bridal sets or just the garnet ring or lab sapphire engagement ring each. 
The lab sapphire ring can be made with a standard lab created sapphire or a more expensive Chatham  created sapphire. 
The garnet ring is also available with a Rhodolite garnet which would have more a raspberry color instead of the warm red Mozambique garnet color.

Palladium ring with trillion cut lab created blue sapphire
Palladium ring with trillion cut genuine Mozambique Garnet

It was fun creating these bridal pieces with those colorful gemstones. They are part of my Tetra collection rings which I have been making for years mostly as statement or cocktail rings. It's nice to bring this line now into my bridal selection too. I already offer a moissanite version too and can create it also with diamonds or genuine sapphires upon request.

The couple has been very happy with their rings too. Here the note I received from them: 
"We received our rings this weekend and couldn't be more thrilled with them. They are beautiful pieces! Thank-you again for creating them for us." 
Happy customers means mission accomplished!

Custom Cut White Cushion Cut Lab Sapphires

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A couple months ago I asked my supplier for lab created sapphires to cut me a few square cushion cut white ones in 2 of the most popular sizes of 5mm and 6mm. Somehow square cushion cuts seem a bit more popular for my rings than the standard rectangle cushions I usually get. Took a couple month to finally get these sparkly stones in my hand. I had a mounting laying around that fit the smaller 5mm one for a sample ring to be photographed.

They are now available in on my web site or in my Etsy shop.


Finished it first with my standard polished band and then took one of my texturing hammers and applied a subtle texture to the band for a more rustic look.

Ring can also be made with a semi-bezel similar to these rings. This half bezel setting has a cut out on 2 sides.

Or in a smaller 5mm stone version:

Lab created sapphires offer a great alternative to the more expensive nature made stones. I would love to offer these too with genuine white sapphires, but unfortunately it's quite hard to find good suppliers for cushion cut white sapphires. Does not seem to be a common cut for them. 

EtsyMetal Blog Carnival: Favorite Things to Do in the Studio

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Favorite Things to Do in the Studio
What are your favorite things to do in the studio? Any favorite techniques, tools that you like to use...?

My favorite thing to do in the studio is making jewelry, what a surprise. One of the reasons of course is: there isn't any chance to do other things well. Every horizontal surface, except the floor, is covered with tools, half finished jewelry and usually a decent amount of dust and grime. Not very inviting to bring other tasks into the studio.

So the studio is really the dedicated place were I get my handy work done. Not a bad thing at all. Although it does sometimes feel like I have to drag myself into that room in the late mornings, once I start working it quickly becomes my happy place. Time to produce and get dirty.

This summer I started listening to audiobooks via headphones while finishing my work. It makes time fly a lot quicker and is more entertaining. Last Friday I played Tina Frey's "Bossypants", which resulted in sudden burst of loud laughter coming out of my studio. Guess my neighbors think I am starting to go crazy. Well, let them think that. I am certainly having fun listening while being productive at the same time.

Feel free to check out what other EtsyMetal members like to do in their studios.

Laura Jane Bouton
Abella Blue
Tosca Teran aka nanopod Hybrid Studio
Laura Bracken

Rings can turn your fingers green

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Ever wondered why some rings can leave a green or black stain on your finger after hours of wear? Here a few answers:

If I put a brass ring on my finger and wear it for a couple hours, there will be a green stain on my finger. Copper rings sometimes leave a dark stain on my finger. If I wear a sterling silver ring, I never had that problem. But some people (and it's not really that common) can experience the green finger phenomena with sterling silver and even low karat gold alloys. That does not mean the ring is cheap. It just means that person reacts to the metal in some way.

It usually has something to do with the person's body chemistry. Most likely they have a natural high acidity level in his/her skin. The green finger will happen more likely in hot and humid weather conditions. Once they sweat, a chemical reaction starts between the metals in the ring and the humidity surrounding it. As a result oxides will form. Those oxides are on the surface of the ring and rub off onto your skin leaving a greenish or dark stain. The stain is harmless and non-toxic. It can be washed off with soap and water. But if you actually experience a red itchy rash under your ring, it points to an allergy and should be taken more seriously that the harmless green stains. If you experience a rash, remove the jewelry, get it thoroughly (professionally) cleaned and let the skin heal up before wearing it again. If it persist consult a doctor to find the cause.

If your ring is tight or quite wide (or stacking rings) there is a bigger chance you encounter this issue as moisture is more likely to be trapped on the inside of your ring. Your skin does not get a chance to dry under tight, wide or stacked rings. Washing your hands with your rings left on, not rinsing well and drying afterwards the ring and the skin under the ring, bears a bigger risk too.

Many stacked silver rings

Similar chemical reactions can also be caused by ingredients in soaps and lotions. Those are often a culprit for rashes too as soap scum gets trapped between your skin and the ring metal. It's always best to take your ring (or all jewelery off) before showering, washing hands, dish washing and other activities involving exposure to water especially swimming in pools or salt water.

So why can you get the green stain from some sterling silver rings and not others you may ask?

Well, they may fit differently. A more loose fitting ring might not cause that little micro climate and resulting stain from oxidation. Try wearing your ring on a different narrower finger for a couple days and see if the problem persists.

Another reason could be the composition of the metal alloy.
Not all sterling silver is treated equally. All the name sterling silver says is that there is a minimum of 925 parts of pure silver in 1000 parts of alloy. The rest is most often copper. But there are also some newer alloys replacing some of that copper with germanium, zinc, palladium or platinum to increase strength, to reduce tarnish and firescale, or for better casting properties.
Your sterling silver jewelry is usually marked with a 925 stamp on the inside, referring to the silver content. But that mark does not say anything about the other 7.5% metals. Some people, who have issues with the traditional 7.5% copper sterling silver alloy, may be perfectly fine with some of the newer alloys or vice versa.
Low karat gold like 9k, 10k or even 14k can cause the green or black stains too as the lower oxidation resistant gold content is offset by a higher base metal content like copper. All gold alloys contain copper in various percentages. If your skin reacts to copper, you may experience issues with gold alloys too. The higher the gold content the less likely any reactions occur.
Reactions to palladium (950PD) or platinum alloys are very, very rare.

Can a Rhodium plating solve the issue?
Well maybe, but there are drawbacks to consider too.

Artisanal handmade sterling silver rings are rarely rhodium plated. But most commercial mass produced sterling silver jewelry available in malls is rhodium plated these days. It's very a thin layer of an expensive metal, Rhodium, coated over a base substrate, in this case sterling silver. It prevents silver jewelery from tarnishing, which is why it's so commonly used in these retail settings. Can you imagine how much time a sales person would have to spend polishing all that sterling silver jewelry sitting in their show cases to keep it shiny white looking? Rhodium is also a quite hard metal and can give jewelry made from softer sterling silver an initial advantage when it comes to scratch resistance. It also gives it a similar look like plated white gold jewelry at a lower price. So sounds great, right? Well not so fast.

That thin layer of rhodium will wear off over time. It may be a great solution for necklaces or earrings that don't get the rubbing action a ring gets. But on rings, especially those worn daily like engagement or wedding rings, that Rhodium layer can come off quite fast. How fast depends on the layer thickness and each persons wear and body chemistry. Some people can strip a plating within days or weeks, for others it may hold for a couple month or even a year or two. But it will eventually always wear off. And when it does come off, it won't look pretty as it wears unevenly. Rhodium plating does not age well. It may look blotchy and get scratches exposing the different material underneath in some parts more than in others. That material underneath is not necessarily nicely white polished sterling silver. The silver below may have a different texture than the plated surface and tarnishes.

The layer thickness of the plating may vary widely from one manufacture to another. Some just do a flash plating job that won't last more than a few weeks at all. Often rhodium plating isn't directly done over sterling silver but plated with a layer of nickel first. When the rhodium wears off, your skin gets exposed to nickel, which causes skin allergies with nasty rashes for quite a lot of people. So you may have avoided your harmless green stain issue and got a nasty red rash instead some time later. A Rhodium allergy is unusual, but possible too.

Sure you can try to get your ring re-plated as soon as it starts wearing off. But that process isn't cheap and you will pay quickly more in these re-plating jobs that your sterling silver ring cost you initially.
It's also a pain to do any repair work on plated rings as the plating first needs to get stripped before it gets sized or repaired, adding cost to the process. Refinishing a plated ring is also not as easy as repolishing a un-plated sterling silver ring. The normal polishing action on a polishing wheel would just strip the thin layer of rhodium off.
For these reasons I don't recommend rhodium plating for high wear jewelry like rings. It ends up being more a pain than it's worth.

So what can you do if you experience a green stain from your newly acquired nicely hand made ring you love so much?

  • check if it's too tight and traps sweat and moisture underneath, if so ask the maker if they can stretch it slightly for you to provide a better fit
  • clean your ring and skin well and keep both dry, don't wear it when being exposed to water like showering, hand washing, swimming etc. Remove rings at night to give your skin a chance to breath.
  • change your diet so your skin is less acid (probably note everyone's first approach)
  • clean the inside of the ring as often as possible (daily) with polishing cloth. After about a week or two, the reaction should stop occurring.
  • try soaking your rings in a mixture of household ammonia and water (50/50) for a day or two. The ammonia solution will turn blue as it forms a copper ammonia ion and this will not hurt the silver. After that, your rings will not turn your skin green because the copper has been removed from the surface of the sterling. Be careful if you have any stones set in your rings. Some stones should not be soaked in ammonia.
  • consider if Rhodium plating may be worth it for you with all the maintenance issues it may have
  • apply a protective shield like clear nail polish to the inside of your ring. It will wear off over time and has to be redone.
  • if all does not help consider remaking the ring in a different metal. Platinum, palladium and 18k gold are safe options but come at a higher price. Or use some of the new silver alloys like Argentium, Continuum, deox-silver, palladium sterling or platinum sterling.

If you want to learn more about the metals I use feel free to check out this post.

How to clean your rings see info on my web site.

For more detailed info about sterling silver in general check out a post I co-wrote on EtsyMetal's blog.

Spinel Rings

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I do have a soft spot for gorgeous sparkly colored gemstones. Probably one of the reasons I love being a jeweler. I can play with those beauty all day and even get paid for it.  One of my favorites are Spinels.

Spinels rings in a beautiful color array.

Spinels are pretty unknown gemstones since they are quite rare and therefore not really commercialized much. They are more commonly used by small scale jewelers in one-of-a-kind designs. Spinels, a MgAl2O4 magnesium aluminum oxide, are usually mined in Sri Lanka and Myranmar and often found among corundum deposits like sapphires and rubies. Blue and red spinels actually have been mistaken for rubies and sapphires. Their excellent hardness of 8 on the Moh's scale and their high clarity makes it a great gem for everyday wear jewelry, even rings.

They come in beautiful pastel shades of pink, red, orange, blue, purple, brown and even deep black. Most of them have a great sparkle too.  I collected some beautiful pastel colored spinels over the years and finally found some time to carve up some waxes and cast rings for them.

carved waxes for solitaire rings with Spinels

A couple of these I cast in a new Sterling Silver alloy, Continuum, which is suposed to be a harder sterling silver and suitable for more valuable gemstone settings. Others were cast in Silver/Palladium alloy and a special deep red one in 14k yellow gold.

Sterling Silver ring with  a very sparkly round pink Spinel in a half bezel setting.

Oval faceted light lavender colored Spinel is set in a full bezel setting in this elegant sterling silver engagement ring.

An oval gray purple Spinel in a full bezel setting in this new sterling silver alloy.

This cushion cut medium blue Spinel was set in a full bezel Silver/Palladium ring.

Unfortunately this red purple spinel ended up sitting a bit rotated in it's setting and is therefore not for sale. If I find time I may try to fix it or just keep it for myself. It does look very nice with some other recent test rings with black diamonds and moissanites. Those little screw ups are sometimes my way to get some new bling for myself - not that I try it on purpose.

This deep red spinel has more fire than the picture can convey. It deserved to be set in 14k yellow gold to complement the warm gem color. Ring has a soft satin brushed finish. The half bezel setting lets some additional light into the gem, bringing out it's blood red color.

You can find all these and other spinel rings listed in my Etsy shop.

EtsyMetal Anniversary Sale

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I rarely do sales in my Etsy shops but this year I decided to participate in the yearly EtsyMetal anniversary sale. October always marks the anniversary of one of the most supporting teams: EtsyMetal. To celebrate some team members offer 20% off in their Etsy shops.

To see a list of all participating shops check out Etsymetals blog page.

I decided to join in this year. I am having a sale in my Nodeform shop on Etsy. Use the coupon code ETSYMETAL7 at checkout to apply a 20% discount.

Unfortunately I don't offer any sales in my wedding shop. But you can find lot's of statement rings and bracelets in my main shop. Many of those listed rings are one-of-a-kind art pieces that are in stock and ready to ship.

Check out this stunning Tourmaline ring:

 Or how about a unique rough diamond amor ring:

Also available are some of mt 3D printed bracelets like this one: 

So go over and browse a bit and take advantage of this offer.

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