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 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...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Slow and Steady (Wins the Race but Tests One's Limits)

I'm currently working on new mosaic pieces which will become my new jury photos. This was last year's goal, which got completely sideswiped by many, many things. I've told you all about them over the course of last year's blog posts, so I'll just tell you today, that progress IS being made. Slow, slow, sloooooow progress, says the instant gratification girl...

This is SO not instant gratification. But also so very worth the time and effort. See why, below...

I am having to force myself to stay on task as I add mosaic after mosaic piece to my designs. I love the mosaic work but not all at once...I'm ready to switch gears a bit and make some more of the Pop Rocks pieces (or something else entirely new....). They're a lot of work too but boy, do they ever come together faster! And I'm itching to design around some yummy gems.

like these DELICIOUS agates I picked up recently...


Last year was a year of many rejections. Not that I'm surprised by that. The odds are against anyone who applies to art festivals, especially in the jewelry category. I know this. I've lived this. I've sort of come to my own happy place - well, not quite happy. Maybe my own "okay" place, with this situation. But since I currently feel that my own images / designs are not helping me with my goals of being accepted to more suitable events, it's time to update the images. And right now, while I don't really *have* any events, is the time to get the jewelry made, photographed, and submitted.

Which explains why I'm working on so many mosaic pieces all at once. So far, I've made three rings:

Yep. You've seen these before (or variations of). Problem is, some have sold, some are at my galleries; they're not all together for a photo. Now they are...and I'm not listing or selling them until they're professionally photographed!

Now I'm working on necklaces. I've sawn out the circles, textured the backs and stamped them, and now am cutting more mosaic pieces to put on them. There's a ton of work to still be done on these, but I'm putting one foot in front of the other and following the game plan. Once these are done and I have some festivals lined up, I can focus on the other 20,000 things I want to accomplish this year.  :)

In the interim between making the mosaic rings and starting the mosaic necklaces, I slipped in a little side project:

for what will eventually be a charity auction of the handmade chain, showcasing the work of 100 metalsmiths. Or maybe more...people have really gotten on board with this project and the project may go over 100 at this point. It's slated to be editorialized in both Art Jewelry and Lapidary Journal Art Jeweler magazines, there's talk of a book, a tour, a poster...who knows where it will go and when it will end, but ultimately the goal is to auction it off (or the separate links, depending on how big the chain gets) to benefit CERF, which benefits artists in need.

The idea is that your link is a snapshot of your work at this time in your career, and the links range from stunningly simple to fascinatingly complex. They're all amazingly individual, each one beautifully crafted.

If you'd like to see or learn more, check this Facebook page out: A Hundred for One. I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this! My link is mailing today. :)

And next on my agenda is my annual shopping trip to Tucson!! I've got my list made and can't wait to shop for new gems this year and of course to enjoy the winter weather in Arizona. After my last blog post, you know why!

Can't wait to show you my newest gem toys when I return...until then, be creative, productive, and happy!