Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Several months since I've shared here...several tumultuous, roller-coaster-of-emotions, crazy-train-riding months.

And I don't even want to discuss them...the details still hurt. I will tell you that there's been a big, and unexpected, betrayal of sorts (emotionally at least). Promises made and not kept. Professionally, my skills and abilities derided. A dismissal. Heartbreak.

It sounds so dramatic...and some of it has been. I try to live a very no-drama life, striving to enjoy the moments, both large and small, that life presents: sunshine stealing across the bed in the mornings, the absolute silence of the neighborhood and house in the middle of the night, the temperature dropping several degrees as fall approaches (or rising a good bit as summer arrives). A new pair of shoes for my birthday. Unexpected moments of bliss.

The disruption of the life I strive to create, the atmosphere in my home, the surroundings in which I design, has been difficult. Interestingly though, I think it has fostered a bit of growth, an evolution (or at least expansion) of what I'm creating. Which didn't happen all in the last few months, of course. Often it's only by looking back in the distance that we can see the changes more clearly.

In April 2013, I started with this:

A simple design, born of my desire for three things:

1. to allow the beautiful, colorful gems I love to be the focal point of my designs.

2. to practice my side-by-side soldering skills, which sorely needed work

3. to Keep It Simple, both a design and a life mantra for me

The pendants above sold immediately, as did several others in the same style.

It could have been the turquoises. I'm well aware that some of my customers buy these creations because of the gems. Which is totally fine - that's part of my own love, and what I enjoy buying and using in my designs. But since I started this collection, I've had comments and compliments on the metal work, too...which as you can see by the photos above, wasn't exactly complex. That doesn't mean it's easy, because it's not. But it wasn't crazy, bold, or grand.

What I wanted, originally, and what my skills could accommodate at the time, was gem-focused items with some metal detail. I didn't want to just have plain cabs with a bezel around them. I wanted more. This was my solution.

But always, while I am designing, I am thinking about, "What else? What's next? How would I...? and What if?" It's a striving, a curiosity that never ceases.

The next step in the evolution was to make the metalwork more complex:

From last fall. More joins, more wires to shape, more playing with asymmetry and balance...

and then to this summer:

Adding more gems, still playing with balance (I'm always playing with balance. My love of asymmetry can get carried away if I let it). :)

and then, to this:

Oh yeah. Taking a big ol' hunka hunka gem and embellishing all the way around it...and then adding embellishments as stand-alone design flourishes, to build a handmade chain. NOW we're talking.

Also, I think I may be moving out of the "keep it simple" realm. ~wry smile~  It's still a part of how I approach design, but sometimes it's apparently good to kick it up a notch. Or three. :)

I can't tell you how happy the above neckpiece(s) make me. It feels GOOD. And despite all the other turmoil that's been in my life, every day I can't wait to get to the studio and see what's going to happen next...I think next year is going to be an earth-shattering year...

Be well, all y'all. Enjoy the change(s) in seasons. Stretch, strive, be as drama-free as you possibly can. And when you can't, be good to yourself. Work on healing...work on happy.

- Jill 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Time Flies...on a Private, Supersonic Jet

I look at the date of my last post, May 20th, and realize today is June 18th. Nearly a month has passed. In some ways, only a month. And yet...in some ways, my last post feels like it was written last year.

For days, days, days on end, my schedule has been to get up, eat breakfast, work.....fourteen hour days (or more). And then go to bed, get up, and do it all again. There have been a couple of weekend days where I didn't work - I really try not to, when I'm not at a festival - but overall it's been exhausting. I headed to Michigan (a ten hour drive) last Thursday, not exactly feeling on top of my game.

And surprise, surprise...I'm NOT on top of my game. I went to the doctor today and got diagnosed with a UTI (bladder infection). Sorry if that's TMI for ya, but it iz what it iz. Far as I can tell, it started Thursday when I left...but there was nothing I could do since I knew I wouldn't be able to see the doctor until today. So I'm a little more run down and tired than normal.

And yet. I feel like I can't rest because there's so much buzzing around in my head. Now I'm going to have some time (my next festival isn't until September) to try to put in place the things I've been trying to put in place for a long time. I've got a list. I've got motivation. I've got...to start working it ASAP, because there is truly no time like the present...and I'm already behind. ~wry smile~ Does *every* small business owner feel this way rather often?

So let me distract myself a bit - because I can't do anything about it tonight - and tell you about Michigan. :)

First, the show is a long way away. And because my husband came with me, we added an extra day as he visited a client on Monday. So it was five hotels in six nights. By the time we were in the fourth hotel, I could barely remember what floor we were on or what our room number was. A lot of shuffling and moving things around.

It's not a big show. It doesn't have a ton of foot traffic - at least, not what I'm used to in some of the bigger festivals in, say, Arizona, or even in Georgia. But sometimes a smaller show can truly be a gem (no pun intended). I exhibited at this festival for the first time last year, and it was, if not exactly solid...well, it seemed to have potential. So I came back this year, a little (only a little!) better prepped with inventory, a little more familiar with the town, a little lighter on my feet because I had help from my husband. Those of you who have never done a festival, from setup to tear down, don't understand how much help it is to have someone with you, to share the load. Especially someone who knows *your* business pretty well. And to help with the (literally) heavy liftting. It made things much easier in some ways.

And the people...oh, you lovely people! The thing I really like about Michiganders is that they're direct. They're not brusque, but they're blunt and to the point, just the way I like my conversation. :)  Nice people who don't bother with any of the "bless your heart"-ish talk that you sometimes hear in the South. They'll tell you how they feel. People recommended other festivals, they were fascinated and interested that we were up "all the way" from Atlanta, and this crowd LOVES gems as much as I do. I sold several special designs that I wasn't quite ready to part with, but I know they went to good homes and will be well loved. I've never seen a group of people so interested in the details about my gems. What fun to talk to a fairly jewelry-educated crowd!

This was the first piece sold on Saturday morning. Brand spankin' new...she loved it and wore it out of the booth. :)

The weather was a *little* warm...but honestly about as perfect as it could be.

So we left town in very good spirits; I've got my list of to-do's to put in place, and all the show crapola is stored away for a little while. I'm looking forward to some long (but not fourteen hour!) days in the studio to build, to push, to stretch my dreams and make them into some fabulous jewelry. "Watch this space", as they used to say, to see what happens next...

Summer's officially here in three days. Let's make it a really, really good one. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Broad Ripple Festival Report

I just got home yesterday from the Broad Ripple Art Fair, in Indianapolis. And now I'm prepping for the Decatur Arts Festival this coming weekend. I have two (2.5, if I really push it) days to make some new pieces...

Fortunately I'm sharing a booth in Decatur and won't have a full display to fill (because as usual, I'm low on inventory). So I'm not feeling too pressured, but still....you know me, I like to have a lot of options available,even if they're not all on display at once. :)

So how was Broad Ripple? I KNOW you are wondering, right?? Well, results are mixed.

It was an easy show to do (aside from 8+ hours driving either way). I loved my space - which normally, since this is usually a warm-weather event - would be nicely shaded. It was still shaded this year, of course, but with weather in the 50s, I could have used a bit more sun. Sales were solid on Saturday and virtually nonexistent on Sunday. So I am divided on the shoppers. Those who did stop, chat, and purchase, seemed very knowledgeable about jewelry and other arts, maybe because we showed on the grounds of the Indinapolis Arts Center, which offers arts classes.

Those who came on Sunday seemed to be a very different crowd. As in, mostly not interested in art jewelry or art in general, just hanging at the event to entertain themselves. Nothing wrong with that...but if not enough people purchase art, not enough artists come back. And a show starts to die. Or at least slide downhill....that's never good.

Here's a booth shot:

Home away from home for two days. It's dark because of the shade, but I was happy with this setup. I didn't actually have a corner but there were two feet and a median next to me so I made a corner out of it. I like to use the extra space whenever possible.  :)

And this show has a big "gate fee" or entrance fee, of $15. I think that's a tad pricey for Indianapolis. I mean, I live in the Atlanta metro and we only have one art festival that charges (as far as I know), which is the ACC (American Craft Council) show. We're a much bigger city than Indy and though I thought that the art around me was excellent for the most part, I don't know that $15 to get in isn't kind of a turn-off to the customers...

But. I got a lot of love overall, and sold some wonderful one of a kind gem designs to discerning customers with good taste. :)

And there was this bonus:

Lilacs...one of my favorite flowers ever. And we can't really grow them here in Georgia. But there were HUGE bushes of them all around my space at the festival, and they smelled so lovely. Happiness in flower form. :) 

And now, on to the Decatur prep! Hoping to have some new goodies to share later this week!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Breathe. Breathe...BREATHE!!

The last "breathe" is more like, "Breathe, dammit!" which sort of ruins the ohm-ness of the mantra. Breathing (and meditating, and being all Zen) is NOT part of the routine lately. I'm leaving tomorrow for a big drive to Indianapolis, for the Broad Ripple Art Fair. It's a two day show but I'll be gone for five (drive day, setup day, show days, drive day) and then just a few days later I'll be at the Decatur Arts Festival here in Georgia. Not a lot of downtime lurking in my near future...

HOWEVER. And yes, that's in all caps because I'm quite pleased that today, the day before I leave for my next festival, I am making *no* jewelry whatsoever. Oh, I'm photographing, writing listings, posting new items on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest as fast as I can...but I'm not making. And that in itself is a huge accomplishment. Especially when - in the midst of building up inventory of my current designs, I took a two-day window to work on some new designs:

Like these turquoises...

You may want to sit back now (or alternatively *come* back, as I'm going to tell a story...) because here's how the magic sometimes works:

I had these circles. From...2008-ish? Anyway. I was learning fabrication. And I'd made a bunch of these circles, in various sizes. And I - God knows why - decided I wanted to cast them. Well, I do know why. Making these circles was HARD. (now is the point at which the seasoned metall-ers will bust a gut laughing, because making circles is pretty much one of the EASIEST things to do). But I was a remedial fabricator, and it wasn't easy then. So I had them cast. And I used them in a bunch of designs. I oxidized them, hung them on leather, added beads to them, soldered some of them together...you name it, I did it with these. And they sold moderately well....but I had a fair amount left over from the caster once I'd moved on with newer designs.

So they have sat around the studio for a while, and last week I got a wild hair and fabricated gem settings for them. I'd been thinking about doing *something*with them for some time, but the what was eluding me. I'd ALSO bought all these organic, funky-shaped cabs...(also a while ago) which I wasn't using, because I tend to like more symmetrically cut gems. So I started pulling out cabs from my stash, but the symmetrical cuts didn't look right with these circles...but oh, the funky ones DID. I laid out about twenty pieces and started making the back plates and bezels. Then I realized that I wouldn't get twenty done - and still get all the other work done I needed to before heading to Indy - and I stopped at ten. Just enough to make a nice showing in the festival booth.

Peruvian opals.

I wanted to keep these designs simple and very modern, using asymmetry and negative space for impact, heightening the contrast of the gems' smooth texture against the rustic circles. They came together quickly and were great fun to work on, almost like a breath (see what I did there) of fresh air. I've been trying for so long to learn to do more, and more, and more, make the jewelry more complex, more difficult to make...and these were just easy to play with. Sometimes you don't even know that you have what you need, but when you find it, and you put it all together...magic.

Now, of course, I want to make more...and I'm starting to feel like my whole creative mojo (which was kind of dormant for most of this spring) is coming back in a BIG way. Yahoooo!

But first...back to pricing, uploading, and packing up the jewelry. And packing up the truck for the drive. And packing up me and all my show needs....and maybe having a moment to BREATHE. I guess that's what I'll be doing on the eight hour drive tomorrow.  :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Peek Into the Life of a Studio Jeweler

I'm heading to Birmingham, Alabama, in two weeks for the Magic City Art Festival, and they sent out a little Q and A to post on their web site in the weeks leading up to the event. I thought the questions were interesting, and a little unusual, so I'm sharing them (and my answers) here, to give you a little insight into the world of a studio jeweler. I love this kind of stuff and can't wait to see how the other artists answered.  :) 
  1. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The physicality of actually making jewelry by hand. It's a very labor-intensive process and there's a lot of "repetitive motion" tasks that can be hard on the body. I still love every aspect of it though, from idea to implementation to "clean up" and final finishing. I love being so involved with something that someone else will love and cherish.
  1. What artist tool do you use the most? How do you use it? 
My creativity. I use it for dreaming, designing, making. But it's also my best problem-solving tool. In the studio daily I'm confronted with technical design problems to solve, balance to achieve, especially with custom-cut gems and asymmetrical designs, metal to forge (harden) and heat (soften) and I have be creative in setting up the process to best achieve the results I want to create for each design. Other tools are very useful, but it's the creativity that drives me and also makes me strive for constant improvement, in both design and creation.
  1. If you had all the time in the world to hone your craft and create work in another art medium, which would it be and why?
I might try my hand at shoe design (shoes are a second love to jewelry) but really, I would still work in the jewelry field. I'd spend time learning how to set precious stones and do even more "specialty" type work. I'd play with platinum and other fine metals, and design with the rarest and most lovely gems I could get my hands on. And I'm a tool junkie, so I'd like to play with some of the fabulous tools (like lasers and 3D printers) that would open up a whole new avenue of design.
  1. If you could make art in any city around the world, where would you go and why?
Do I have to choose just one?? Paris comes to mind...New York, New Orleans, Marrakech, Moscow...I find most places that have a defined aesthetic very inspiring. But ultimately I'd probably end up in Prescott, Arizona. It's a great "little" city with small-town charm, lovely seasons, dry desert air, and a history for me. I grew up in Arizona and have been going to visit Prescott with my family since I was about fourteen. My parents retired there years ago, and I would love to have my own studio nestled in the mountains.
  1. Do you have a favorite piece that you have created over the years? Describe it.
My all-time favorite is from a few years ago. I'd just transitioned into jewelry fabrication, and was struggling to define what I wanted to do, how I would put my design aesthetic into a whole new way of making jewelry. My creative voice felt very small and indistinct. I had a gemstone with an interesting pattern across it, and  (long story short) I ended up replicating that pattern with metal. It was the beginning of my "metal mosaics" and allowed me to set myself apart a little, to work with something that was very "me". I've had offers to buy that necklace, but it's one I'll never part with. It means too much.
  1. When you create, do you like silence or do you listen to music? If the latter, what type of music typically fills your studio?
It's a mix. When I'm hammering and filing and doing the more energetic work, I listen to everything from 80's Hair Bands to classic rock. When using the torch for more delicate soldering operations, I listen to what used to be called "alternative" in the 1990s, or instrumental music. When I'm sketching designs, I really need silence. I usually take a tray of gems and the sketchbook up to my bedroom, plump up the pillows and sit there in total quiet, to get the ideas flowing.
  1. What is your favorite snack food when you work in the studio?
Busy hands have no time for snacks! The best diet I know is to be working all day. But when I do break, I like chocolate. Sometimes just a handful of chocolate chips gets the job done.
  1. Help our collectors discover great talent! Name 3 favorite artists who you have discovered at MCAC or other art shows over the last 3 years. 
I love and collect Eric Strange's ceramics: Eric Strange Facebook
Su Abbott makes fantastic art: Su Abbott Art
And Elaine Rader is one of my jewelry idols: Elaine Rader

And that favorite piece?? Here it is:

Thanks for letting me share with you. Hope to see some of you in B'ham soon! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Good Work Takes Time

The best things in life are to be savored. They are not rushed, they do not hustle, they are slow to birth. They demand focus. Attention to detail. An eye for balance that will not be satisfied...until it (finally) is. Designing jewelry is like that...it's not...quick. :)

It's even slower when your husband is between jobs (first time in twelve years!) - he says he's "on hiatus" - and looking for a play buddy. No worries; he has another job lined up. But his hiatus, while good for our relationship, has not exactly helped my productivity. I can't begrudge the time though, because we'll be married for fourteen years this coming Tuesday. And I think that's the most time we've had together since our honeymoon...I am supremely fortunate that right now my schedule has been as open and flexible as it is. Normally during March, I'd be traveling to at least two festivals. As it turns out (blessing in disguise, hmm), I exhibited at neither. So I could give the time to Brett, quality time to the relationship, time to the paintingprojectfromhell that started out as a simple dining room re-do and morphed into the living room. Which would be all fine and good, except that our living room has twenty-eight foot ceilings. And endless nooks and crannies, which require very tall ladders, and magic acrobatic feats of taping and painting. Not the easiest project to tackle..

Anyhoo, March is over. April is looking and feeling like Spring is finally arriving, and I am *almost* to the point of having a LOT of new designs to the nearly-completed stage...they're just all in the mid-process stage currently.

Like the one above. I've been working on several mosiac designs, and this is by far my favorite. The others are still getting the side-eye. :)  It needs oxidation, stone setting (a gorgeous labradorite will go into that oval on top) and final polishing. I didn't have the energy left in me today, after working on these:

Just a few of the nearly fifty cabochons I've bezeled, textured, backplated, and soldered together since early March. About twelve of them are ready for soldering on embellishments next week, and the rest need design time with me to figure out their embellishments. :)

And when I say, "just a few", I mean that there are a LOT more waiting (you may have noticed both the band-aid and the blister on my hand in the prior photo; there's another blister as well. These hands have been busy:

Beauty out of chaos, kids...that's how it works in my studio, at least...the messy part at the bottom is bits of the wire that I texture, cut, and shape for the embellishments. And who would guess that a Sharpie and painter's tape are *indispensable* jewelry-making tools?  :)

So. I've had a good, fun, busy March, but I'm glad it's behind me. I'm really looking forward to getting back to speed in April - I love making these "pop rocks" designs, and playing with all the stunningly fabulous gems, but I have a TON of other ideas in the works and want to get started on those, too...they're not-so-impatiently waiting...

Brett and I are heading off today, for a big weekend in Tennessee and Kentucky. Tuesday is our 14th wedding anniversary (I can't even believe it) and we're going to visit some new places, shop for art - we have a newly redone dining / living room that have needs - listen to some music, relax and enjoy a bit of a final "hurrah" before he goes back to work on the 14th. I'm ready to leave the pliers, files, hammers, and torch behind for a few days, rest my aching hands and shoulders, and just be for a little while. :)

Happy April, all! Hope it's a happy and productive month for everyone!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tucson Goodies, Part V: Koroit Opal

For 2014, I have several goals, designed to stretch both my metalworking skills and my gem-buying choices. It's no secret that I love the rare, the unusual, the sometimes fantastical gemstones...but often the rare, unusual, and fantastical is out of budget. In the past, I've compromised by buying smaller gems, more organically-shaped cuts (less skilled cutters often cut the gems into organic shapes, rather than perfectly balanced shapes and sharp corners, which are harder to do well, and thus cost more), and simply choosing not to purchase the gems that seemed completely out of reach.

I do choose what I consider to be the best of the gems that I can afford, considering size, shape, and quality. My loyal customers know that when you buy jewelry from me, the gems are the very best I can find. I've also been working nonstop on honing my metal skills so that I could do those gems justice..and now I want to stretch the type of gems I offer as well.

With this in mind, one of my splurge-y purchases this year was four (yes, just four) Koroit opals.

I wish I could get a better shot of these, so you could really see the color play of the opal. But these take a very high polish and that causes them to reflect the lighting terribly, so I get a lot of glare on my photos. But they're beautifully lit from with in with opal veining. **I did make a video of these beauties; unfortunately I am not tech savvy enough (yet) to upload it here. But it's posted in Instagram (I'm bluepiranha) and on Facebook.  :)

The stone above has a bit of opal veining at the top and more at the bottom. Koroit opal is a form of boulder opal, which, just like boulder turquoise, means that the opal is not completely cut out of the host stone. The interesting thing about Koroit opals ( from the Southwestern part of Queensland, Australia) is that the host rock (and thus the opal contained within) ends up forming these wonderfully wild and whimsical curly, curvy patterning. I bought these directly from the man who mines them, and he told me that Koroit is the only place where that kind of geological patterning takes place for opals, and no one knows why.

You can see a bit more of the color play throughout this stone. And trust me when I tell you that while these were a bit of a stretch for my budget, they were the miner's least expensive gems. Most were not stretch-able for me at this time, but I did spend a bit of time looking at his other offerings. They are like freakin' candy.

Here's a great example of an even more fabulous - and much pricier - Koroit opal:

See how much more color play, both throughout the stone, and in the opal striations, it has? And it's much more precisely cut than the organically shaped gems that I purchased.

I'm not ready for that yet...but a girl's got to start somewhere. And these opals are just one of many stepping stones (no pun intended) on my way to bigger, bolder, better. :)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tucson Gem Show, Part IV: The Turquoise!

I learned my lesson last year, having randomly stumbled across one small booth selling beautiful examples of Royston turquoise. I bought a few, and sold all but one (thank you, my awesome customers!!). The response to them was phenomenal, which means that I get to buy more!

This year, I went straight to that same booth when the show opened, and I literally fought my way through the crowds to get some of these goodies. The booth was packed with other people who wanted the same thing I did, and getting your toes stepped on or your side elbowed is sometimes part of the gem buying experience. But trust me when I say it was totally worth it. :)

For those who don't know, Royston turquoise comes from Nevada. It's a lovely and prized type of turquoise with stunning color and matrix. But the type of Royston turquoise I REALLY love is known as boulder, or ribbon turquoise. The turquoise gem is not completely cut out of the host rock, or boulder (hence, boulder turquoise), and the lovely blue color winds through the boulder, often resembling a ribbon. Like these:

they give a flash of the blue, contained within a lovely golden brown host rock (sometimes the host rock is a bit paler, as in the center earring pair shown above). Unusual, lovely, and yes...a bit spendy. But sooo worth it. 

These are all earring pairs. I didn't have as much luck finding pendant gemstones this year, but I did stock up on earring stones as much as I could. That doesn't mean that I have a lot, because these aren't easy to find - I only saw Royston / boulder turquoise at two gem vendors this year - but I grabbed what I could.

Of course, I didn't forgo pendant-sized gems entirely:

These all have the lighter host rock, but will still make lovely pendants. The upside-down teardrop shape is one of my favorites to work with.

I also found these three ovals, and....

this bad boy. It's BIG. And beautiful. And it's going to make a stunning pendant. :) 

But let me share my OTHER great find:

Natural Kingman turquoise, from Arizona. One of my favorites of the American turquoises. The Kimgman mine is still in operation, but only for copper mining; turquoise is no longer mined there. So any Kingman gems that come on the market are from old stock, in limited amounts. They're also often not in my budget. But this year, the stars aligned and I found a few that I had to bring home. Just look at those two beauties! The coloring and matrix remind me of some of the prettiest Peruvian opals that I've shared with you....only these are even better in some ways. :) 

And for the first time ever, I found earring pairs!

Just a sampling of the 12 pairs I found. All different, all stunning. And all American.  :)

I have one more unusual gem to share with you. And then it's time to get on to turning these gorgeous goodies into jewelry! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tucson Goodies, Part III: Peruvian Opals

Certain gems I just love in almost any incarnation. Peruvian opals fall into that category. I love them when they're a pure, sky blue, when they're slightly translucent with inclusions, and when they've got flashes of blue intermixed with brown "host rock" that makes them look like landscapes.

They're not an inexpensive stone - blue Peruvian opal is found in just one place: the Andes Mountains, in Peru. Like most relatively rare stones, it commands a relatively big price. And sometimes, as with most varied-color stones, you lose some of the patterns in smaller cuts. So this year I went a little bigger in my selections:

This is an example of a Peruvian with that great, sky-blue coloring. You can see bits of the host rock embedded within the blue color, but it certainly doesn't detract from such a beautiful cabochon. The length of this gem is about 1 3/4 inches - definitely a statement gem.

This is a great example of a more translucent opal. The soft hue combined with tan and a bit of black are lovely together.

These gems are some of my favorites - the "land and sea" stones. Great color, interesting detail, landscape-like variation.

And finally, the Mother of all opals:

It measures just under 2" long and is over 1/2" wide. I love the unusual cut and the landscape detail. It will be a bit more of a challenge to bezel (making larger bezels in general is harder than smaller bezels, plus it has two sharp corners which will be more difficult to set), but I'm very much looking forward to designing for this stone!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tucson Goodies, Part II: Labradorite and Larimar

I went to the Tucson Gem Show with a fairly limited list this year, and I didn't stray from it very much. I have been looking at getting back into wholesale, so I decided to buy (hopefully) enough stones for a small wholesale line as well as what I need for my retail designs. Thus I bought a bit more of my favorite stones and best sellers, but not as much of an assortment overall. I also bought lots of small gems for earrings, which are not nearly as exciting to photograph or view, so I'll spare you those. :)

First up, just a few of the labradorites I found:

a lovely round lab. Beautiful coloring and striations. I don't buy round shapes very often, but occasionally I stray from my love of asymmetry and play with something more balanced. This is about the size of a 50-cent piece and looks even better in person. :)

This is the biggest labradorite I purchased, with an amazing blue flash. It's at least double the size of my usual lab pendant gems and I can't wait to design around it!

Larimar, a perennial customer favorite, was much harder to come by this year. I saw a lot of what I consider bad quality larimar, for very spendy prices. And I really would rather not offer the stone for sale at all, than buy what I consider poor quality material...so I came home with very little. I did see some excellent larimar, but at prices that were way out of budget. The stone is found in only one location in the world, in the Dominican Rebublic, and it's definitely changed over the years - I don't know if it's getting played out, or the quality is changing, but the "good stuff" (in my opinion) is harder to come by and prices continue to rise.

I bought this rough slab - it's unpolished, so has a matte surface finish - and I'm thinking about prong-setting it. Prong setting is one of my goals for 2014, and I think this will lend itself nicely to that. It's also THICK:

a little over 1/4 inch thick. It's pretty substantial compared to most of the gems I buy. And in the side view above, you can see a lot of the natural brown inclusions - which I find in most of what I consider "lesser grade" larimar. I try to buy stones without much of the inclusions as I prefer the overall blue coloring. I don't mind if the inclusions are on the side, as in this slab, but usually I like my larimar clearer. A lot of what I'm seeing is very pale white with just a hint of blue, or a pale green combination, which I don't find nearly as attractive.

I also found this wonderful, splurge-worthy stone:

and couldn't leave it behind. It's better in person than in the photo, because you see the gradations of color more clearly in person. Why was it a splurge? The beautiful, consistent coloring over most of the stone (compare the color on this stone to the more striated-white areas on the slab in the first larimar photo), the rectangular cut, and the way it looks like ocean waves crashing toward the bottom. I'll have to design something really special for this gem. :)

And while I struggled with finding larimar, I did manage to purchase quite a few Peruvian opals and some great turquoise...I'll show them to you very soon!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tucson Goodies, Part I: Agates, Opals, Abalone

I promised to show you the lovelies I found at the Tucson Gem Show this year, and I'll get right to the gorgeousness, starting with some lace agates:

These are laguna lace agate, a variety of crazy lace agate, from Mexico. These agates (crazy lace, red lace, Utah lace, etc) are wildly patterned and the colors are earthy and bold, ranging from white to tan to brown to gray to a deep red. The "crazy" name comes from the twisting, irregular patterns.

The triangle above is Utah lace agate, a new stone for me. Most lace agates come from Chihuahua, Mexico, but I did find out that there's a variety of lace agate in Utah. I love the translucency (there are translucent parts in the center, right above the white bottom and in the upper right corner) mixed in with the more colorfully banded patterns.

Another piece of Utah lace. I love the scenic effect, with the cloud-like bands of white up top and then the dark band of "earth" in the center and the deep gray looking like water below...

These are red lace agates. They were actually for sale as two separate pendants, but I really think they'd make great earrings. They're quite well matched in size and color pattern. :)

I also had to get a few more dendrite opals. I see several dealers who offer these at the gem show, but I only buy from one gem dealer, because whomever is cutting his rough is a MASTER at making wonderfully picturesque scenes with these stones. I love how the outer edge of patterning wraps around the center of these gems, and the bottom one looks just like moonlight is shining in from the left side. Brilliantly done!

I really worked hard at staying true to my shopping list; the lace agates were a bit of a side track, but I already had a few, and they'd sold well, so I wanted to add some more to my existing stash. I had bought some as far back as 2003 or so, and then for several years, I couldn't find any with nice enough patterning to satisfy me. Last year I found some organic shapes that I want to prong-set, but this year it was nice to come across some great new gems with those gorgeous patterns. And the dendrites are SO lovely and I always sell a decent handful, so I bought a few more. :)

And then I ran into these:

They're faceted abalone and boy, are they wonderful. The photo doesn't really do them justice. I only bought a few, but I really wanted to play with setting them. I'm not sure exactly what the process is in making these - I know they're a doublet (see my previous blog post about doublets here), but I don't know how the faceted (glass, I assume) top is bonded to the abalone. I DO know that it's a pretty durable process, having had this ring:

for a number of years. It, too, is abalone under a faceted top. And it's held up very well.

Here's a side shot of the abalone I bought:

You can see the facets on the top; the black line on the bottom is the abalone shell bonded to that top piece. It won't be noticeable once they're set in a bezel, and the facets just magnify the bright abalone beauty. What fun! Can't wait to play with them. I also bought smaller pieces for earrings. :)

I still have a lot more photos to share, including larimar, some FABULOUS Peruvian opals, and of course, the turquoise...I found some really amazing pieces of the Royston Turquoise this year...stay tuned.  :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tucson Gem Show 2014

Every year, I make the pilgrimage to Mecca - that is, the Mecca for gem hounds, AKA the Tucson Gem Show. And every year, something happens. One year the rental car was accidentally booked in Phoenix - 90 minutes north - when I was in Tucson. I went from rental car counter to rental car counter, looking for car. Eventually one was found, but as you can guess, not for a reasonable price. And it was the tiniest car...

Then three years ago, this happened. That was a rough start...

So this year I arrived in Phoenix, got my rental, and prepared to drive to Tucson. Only it didn't quite work out that way, and I ended up staying in Phoenix overnight. I'll skip the details, but what that meant was getting up super early to drive down to Tucson on Wednesday morning. Which worked out fine, except I crashed quite early that night...super-early to rise, super-early to bed, I guess. :)

Three days of frenzied shopping later, my gorgeous gems and I headed back to Phoenix, and enjoyed visiting with my best friend, lunch with my mother, and a grand bit of relaxation in the desert sun. All was well until Sunday night, when I started hearing rumblings about the WEATHER in Atlanta. More technically, the predicted weather...which sounded eerily (and ominously) similar to this scenario. Having had enough of that mess, I kept a close watch in the weather, and on Monday, I called the airline. My flight was originally leaving on a Tuesday, which would put me right in the middle of the most recently predicted snow and ice. The airline told me that they were allowing passengers to change their reservations at no charge, so I asked about a Thursday flight. The agent told me there was one with just a handful of seats, so I asked him to put me on it. 

So. Two more days in Phoenix...not a bad deal, right? Not really...except that I needed to get back to work. When I'm not working, no work gets done, and I'm behind already for my creative goals for this year. And I was leaving again on the 18th for another trip...the timing was just not the best, but when is it really? I settled in and managed to suck up all the lovely Arizona sunshine, and enjoyed the sunsets every evening:

They're not as grandly colorful as they are in summertime, but I still love to see them. There's nothing like a Western sunset, no matter what time of year. :)

Anyhoo, Thursday came and my traveling home was STILL iffy. I'd called the airline again the day before, because the storm actually came in later than predicted, and it seemed like they still might not be landing planes in Atlanta. After a 40-minute hold, the airline rep told me that my best bet was to stay on my direct flight for Thursday and hope it didn't get canceled (!). Any other flights would involve layovers and red-eyes. So I kept my flight and on Thursday, I made it home, tired but relieved. 

Of course, I did manage some snaps while I was busily shopping for gems. There is much craziness to behold at the Gem Show each year; much loveliness too. And things that just boggle the mind. Here are just a few:

This is a detail of carving on stone. Amazing, amazing workmanship:

That's the saddle on the horse, above. And the detail of the mane:

 And this elephant:

All of the details you see here are carved into the stone. I cannot imagine the hours of work on just that one piece.

The vase next to the elephant is about three feet taller than I am! Yikes!

These are stone lights. What a lovely glow! If I didn't have to ship 'em home, I'd have at least one in my house. :) One of the days while I was in Phoenix, my girlfriend and I went out to downtown Scottsdale (big shopping destination, lots of fine art galleries). And we saw some of these lights in a gallery there...with a hefty price tag....and I showed her this photo and told her to come down to the gem show with me if she wanted one. I don't know the price difference, but I suspect it would be massively less expensive. And you know, they have plenty:

They're in a huge part of one of the temporary tent, and there were hundreds of them for sale...

Part of the reason you NEED several days to shop the gem show is because there are a lot of other folks trying to do the same thing. This doesn't look like a lot, but it's only part of the line for only one of the shows...waiting for the doors to open.

I'm waiting, too.  :)  This is the opening of the show where I often find most of my gems for the year. This was on the morning of my second day of shopping, and I spent more on that day than on the other two days combined. 

Rows and rows and ROWS of gems:

And this is just part of one gem seller's area. They're based in Massachusetts and I can't imagine the logistics of getting it all across the country. Here's a closer shot of what's on the tables:

A bit daunting for the novice. It's easier (though still time-consuming) if you know what you want, know what you can / want to pay for it, and know who's selling it. I think I only bought from twelve vendors this year...but I knew I was going to see most of them before I went. Two or three others were lucky finds.  :) 

This is behind the checkout area of the same gem dealer...girls get to sleep in a hotel room, but guys take turns in the pup tent. Gotta make sure the inventory is safe. And on those super-cold years?? Hopefully they bring extra blankets!

My friend's boys are now five and almost-two, and she has a little more free time in the mornings now since they go part-time to school. So she's started hiking, and I went on three hikes while I was there. I used to hike all the time when I lived in Phoenix and I miss it terribly. Nothing like being up IN my mountains. It's a good start to any day  :)

And finally, an obligatory shot of The Compound's newest denizen:

Chip is a retired herding dog who has come to The Compound (I call it that because my friend has a lot of land, and has variously shared it with four dogs (right now there are three), three cats, two horses, and a number of both saltwater and freshwater fish. And her oldest son loves reptiles, especially snakes, so there will probably be some of those in-house in the future). Anyway, Chip now resides at the compound, so he can rest and get lots (and lots and lots) of lovin'. He loves to be loved, and he's very gentle, which is great for two little ones. And for happy visitors who don't have doggies at home. :)

So the 2014 Tucson shopping trip comes to an end...a little later than expected. But the good news is that I bought lots and lots of gorgeous gems to set this year. I'm really excited to share them with you and am currently taking photos like a madwoman. Look for them shortly in my next few blog posts...