Monday, September 7, 2015

Bigger...Bolder, Round 2

2015 has been the year of custom orders. I've always done them, but this year they've really been coming regularly, one on top of the next. I currently have a list of eight custom orders, in various stages of progress (some are, so far, just a list on the whiteboard).

These more recent "bigger, bolder" designs were made for a lovely collector who likes BIG gems. Not that *I* mind. :)

This HUGE Royston cabochon had been sitting in my stash for about a year. I was a little hesitant when I bought it, but I was looking for larger gems, and it was too wonderful to leave behind. The blue is stellar, the patterning is excellent, and it's got that organic-y shape I love. So I took it home with me.

And then my collector saw it, and she certainly didn't hesitate. So I started working on it. I love how the embellishments feel very much in tune with the patterning of the stone.

Here's the entirety:

A whole lot of gorgeousness. I gave it to the customer last month, and she was thrilled. She was beyond thrilled. She always says, "My jewelry pieces are my babies" and this might just be her newest favorite. :)

But wait...there's a bonus. This same customer had purchased an AMAZING boulder opal, years ago, and she wanted that set as well. Soooo......

This fabulous gem had so much play of color going on that I didn't want to get too carried away with the embellishments. So it's a little less WOW but still glorious. It's so reflective that it was hard to capture the colors, but here are a couple more photos:

Also, I played with the clasp on this, making a symmetrical clasp / embellishment design. You can see it in the first photo - the "hook" connector on the right side of the photo is soldered shut and permanently attached. So when the customer attaches the other hook, the pendant hangs perfectly in between them. It means that the necklace isn't adjustable, but I know her very well and knew what length to make the chain so it would lay where she wants it to.

And, I have two more wonderful gems to set for this lady. They have bezels and back plates, but no embellishments yet...hoepfully soon...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Bigger...bolder. With the exception of the Sweet Somethings, that's been 2015's mantra. The necklaces below are two examples of my desire to really push my own envelope a bit and make some showpieces.

Crazy lace agate and a LOT of silver fabrication. :) This design was actually started late in 2014, just like the designs I shared here. But I just couldn't "get to" getting it finished, with everything else that was happening, so it sat for a few months. I finally made the arms and the set the stone, and I am so happy with the result.

And then this:

An amazing, and amazingly large, labradorite. I've been hoarding this gorgeous gem for a while and I guess it was just time for it to have a new home in metal. It's one of the more symmetrical designs I've made in a long time, and it is a stunning statement piece. It just GLOWS. :)

I can't wait for the chance to make more of these larger, challenging designs...right now I'm in the midst of prepping for fall events and haven't had much chance to spend the time (they are wonderful, but they take so much time!) on the statement pieces...but I have a few more to show from this summer's production. :) Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where to Go from Here?

I haven't been regularly keeping up with the blog...some of you would say, "Well, when *were* you, Jill?" ~wry smile~ I never seemed to have enough time for it. And now, suddenly, it seems a somewhat old and clunky format to share with you, friends and followers. I've been much more active on Facebook and Instagram than I have here, posting photos of new designs (almost) as soon as they're created.

And I've struggled with keeping up with making new designs - not for lack of designs, but for lack of time...same old, same old. Only so much two hands can do....which doesn't leave a lot of time for writing (hopefully) interesting blog content.

While I don't want to shut down the blog entirely, I think it's going to be much more photo-focused with less text. This may end up redundant for those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook, and if so, I apologize. But there's just never enough time...and my main love is the making, not writing about, the jewelry. :)

So, without further ado, let me share the Sweet Somethings creations:

These came about because while I've been pushing myself to design bigger and bolder, I also wanted something on the other side of the spectrum. Something sweet, and wearable for everyday, if so desired. Something smaller than my usual designs, that would layer with other little dollops of sweetness around the neck. :)

They've actually turned out to be quite fun to design and make, because they come together much more quickly than the big statement pieces. I can make up a batch and feel like I've gotten a lot done, instead of taking days at a time for the larger  and more complex designs. And they still hold true to my design aesthetic of balanced asymmetry. 

From top to bottom: chrysocolla, druzy, larimar, peruvian opal, shattuckite, turquoise, druzy. 

They are available here: blue piranha web site and here: blue piranha on Etsy

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Little Jewelry Education

When I'm exhibiing my jewelry at festivals, I tend to get a lot of questions about how the jewelry is made. So though I usually don't share Works In Progress, I snapped some quick iPhone photos while I was working on one of  my most recent designs.

Essentially, what I do is take raw metal materials - sheet, wire, and tubing - and "fabricate" them into jewelry:



It comes in square shape already, but I hammer in every line of that texture.


The tubing, as you can see, comes in various diameters. I buy 12" tubes and then hand-cut the smaller tube sizes I need from that. 

So that's the raw materials. But how do they become a finished piece of jewelry? 

For me, since I design primarly with gems, the sort of "prequel" to beginning to make a piece of jewelry is pulling stones from my stash, comparing colors and shapes until I'm happy with what's in my hands.

After choosing gems, what happens first is a sketch. Well...sometimes. My sketches are mostly rough ideas to build upon, not detailed jewelry renderings. I've found that I'm more comfortable working in the metal itself, rather than making a sketch and transferring that idea to metal. But for more complex designs, like the one I'm using to illustrate today's post, sketching does help to gauge "what's going to go where", and "Do I really want a 3 inch doodad which might not be structurally sound, or would it work better at 1.5 inches?". It's helpful to answer these questions sooner, rather than later. :)

Once (if) the sketching is done, it's time to make bezels and back plates for the gems. I can't solder anything together until the gems have their metal homes first. I detailed the process of bezeling and back plate-ing here if you want to read more about that. Once that part is done, I start shaping and refining the embellisments.*

*Anything that's additional to the basic metal fabrication is commonly called embellishments. I could simply set the gems in a bezel and add a bail, and that would be an un-embellished pendant. Most metalsmiths, however, like to play. So we add all manner of layers and doodads and geegaws and granules...those are the embellishments.  :)

In the above photo, there are no backs to the bezels around the gems, and the embellishments have not been soldered in place. This is the beginning of desiging. I cut and shape the wire embellishements and start laying them out on the tape until they look right. 

I shape freehand, working along a somewhat meandering path to what appeals to my eye. I like what I call balanced asymmetry. For this design, that means that the two triangular bezels in the upper corners of the necklace are close, but not quite the same distance from the center bezel, and that the triangles are not both facing the same direction (one is point up; the other, point down). 

Now the wires are soldered, and two of the hinges are done. The necklace is taped to a neckform for me to check how it will lay on the body. 

Above (in this terribly blurry phone shot) are the small tubes I have cut from the 12" length to make the hinge joins. And the jump rings (which I also make by hand): 

that join the hinges together, as seen below:

In the above photo, you can see one of the "arms" of the handmade chain on this design. 

These are some of the arms. They're soldered together, and the tiny tubing is attached, but they're not added to the body of the design yet. But they're going to go up the neck, on the sides of the centerpiece, and lead to some additional handmade chain in the back. 

And *that* extra chain is all hand fabbed too. I take a slightly thinner wire and make ovals out of it, by first coiling it on a mandrel. With round wire you can just coil to your heart's content, but square wire can very easily get "off the square" and twist where you don't want it to. So it's a little slower process to carefully coil square wire:

Then the rings get sawn off, one by one, I've sawn a bunch loose already:

Loose rings sawn from the coil:

Next the open ends will be soldered, and then they'll be textured:

The one on the left has been textured; the ones on the right are soldered but not yet textured.

They then get soldered together, with another jump ring, to form this:

at the back of the necklace. 

Here's a process shot of those loose arms, all soldered together and getting their tiny ball embellishments:

Painter's tape, as you can see, is an invaluable tool in the jewelry studio. I use it constantly to temporarly keep things in place before they're physically joined. 

And now the whole neckpiece is done. Well... done with the fabrication and soldering, that is. Which doesn't mean that it's *finished*. There's a whole lot of clean up to do, which will remove any excess solder that went where I didn't want it to go, and then several steps of polishing the metal to get that soul-satisfying, deep shine. And then the gems need to be set. Probably at least a day's work (if not more) no full-on shots yet...but I promise to show you once it's ready for viewing. :) 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eye for Detail(s) and Being Extraordinary

I am very big on detail. I love basics that are tweaked. A simple black top with an artfully draping neckline, or a surprise slit sleeve. Basic boots with a combo of leather and suede, instead of just one or the other. Interesting buckle detail. A bit of lace in an unexpected place. Braided straps. Embroidery. Laser cuts. Patinas. Funky zippers. I could go on…you get the gist. I own very few “basic” basics. I like them to have some added zing. 

If you go to my "In the Closet" Pinterest page, here:  Jill's Pinterest

you'll see what I mean. The items shown there are have stand-out color or some other detail that elevates them. I spent a decade in retail, surrounded by beautiful clothes, shoes, and accessories at my fingertips, and I don't think I've ever recovered. Nor do I want to. :)

This is the same approach I bring to furnishing and decorating my house, and to my jewelry designs. Special details, like an unusual shape, an interesting texture, a marvelously and unusually colored gem. All those little fillips of pleasure that just make your heart sing. Why be ordinary?

Texture detail on the back of a pendant. I like them to be finished well and visually interesting on *both* sides. :)

In an entirely different market, Christian Louboutin sells red nail polish for $50. Yes, you read that right. $50 for a simple bottle of nail polish.'s not ordinary:

Sephora Sells Louboutin Nail Polish

It's a CRYSTAL bottle. With a SEVEN-inch tall handle. Same heel height as his tallest shoes. Mr. Louboutin is also apparently quite big on the details that make a difference.

Crazy, right? Except that the first run sold out. And what did Mr. Louboutin have to say about his over-the-top design and price? For nail polish?

“There is no need to add an ordinary product to the beauty category. This is extraordinary.”

And well, why not? *I* didn't buy this nail polish (but I'm not what you'd call a beauty industry "big consumer"). But for beauty / cosmetics lovers, $50 isn't a whole lot, relatively speaking. 

But the sentiment...why add anything ordinary? Why, indeed? When you can be / make / design / create / enjoy the EXTRAordinary? 

As Todd Reed has said: 

I'm not interested at all in making jewelry easier or less expensive.

Same thing, no? Todd believes in the story of each design, the originality of each, the uniqueness. Each piece is handmade. No casting, no reproductions. He doesn't want to add anything ordinary to the jewelry category.  

And y'know....neither do I. I want to make designs that make my heart sing. That make YOUR heart sing. That shine in loveliness and fine craftsmanship. In fact, that's one of my overriding goals for 2015: to make even more original, extraordinary designs. To be even more extraordinary. 

I hope it's one of yours, too.... :) 

*Sorry for the font issues in this post. I can't seem to get it all to one font...or appropriate bold areas...or anything...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tucson Gem Show 2015, Part VI

I bought a few less gems this year, because part of my budget was dedicated to buying gemstone slabs for my own cab cutting purposes. I'd taken a short class on cutting cabochons, and talked with a few gem cutters before heading to Tucson to see what was what. The one thing I heard consistently was, "Tucson is by far the best place to buy slabs". So I didn't want to miss the opportunity!

And oh opened up my eyes to a whole new way of looking at gems, and trying to figure out how I would be able to "get the lion out of the marble". It's one thing to look at something like this:

And think,"I know what to I want to do with that"'s quite another to look at THIS:

and figure out exactly how I'm going to get some interesting cabs out of it. But I'm I brought home about fifteen small, inexpensive slabs to play with. This one was my "spendy" slab, probably for later on when I have more practice under my belt. But in a week or so, I go back to learn more cutting, so I guess I'll see what happens with it all. :)

Another view, to give you an idea of thickness. I'm really quite excited about this aspect of playing with gems, and while I don't think I'll ever want to cut all of my own gems, I think I'd like to have a few specialty items that I "made"the gem as well as the metalwork. Right now that road's wide open...who knows where I'll be with this new direction by the time *next* year's gem show comes around??

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tucson Gem Show 2015, Part V

Here are some of the hits and misses from this year's shopping trip. First, the misses:

Too late:

This is a quick cell phone snap, but I think the gems show up beautifully despite that. The top is azurite / malachite with a copper (I think) infusion in it. Normally I don't like that kind of effect but these were amazing. Spendy, however. Like double the highest price I pay for earrings...I seriously thought about treating myself but I was being a good girl this year, and so they stayed.

The bottom gem...I'm still so sad about. It's one of the loveliest Tiffany Stone cabs I've ever seen. It's rare to begin with - found, so far, only in Utah - and quite pricey. This unfortunately got sold in the time I got the "okay" from a client to buy it, and the time I went back to get it. I am hoping it makes someone else VERY happy...

Too spendy:

The photo (again, cell phone; I don't haul the good camera to Tucson for gem shopping) does these no justice at all. They are facted, BIG, bicolor Tanzanite beauties. And at $450, there wasn't even a question that they were coming home this year. But they were amazing to look at.

Too rude:

The photo does none of these justice either...but trust, me they were amazing. However. When I asked about taking a photo for my client (not everyone allows it), the man I asked was very polite and said yes. So then I asked him if they would hold these four gems briefly while I texted my client the photo). He said okay, but then another man broke into our conversation and said, "Hold them for how long?" I said, "I don't know exactly, but I told her to have her phone nearly and she should get back to me shortly". He said, "That's not acceptable.". Then he paused, and said, "We'll hold them for fifteen minutes". Which was fine...but his attitude was beyond rude. I got about two steps away from the booth, and turned around. I flagged him down and said, "Never mind holding those. I'm not spending any momey with you today."

Damn shame, but there are enough lovely gems out there and enough dealers that I didn't want to spend with him. I don't get offended easily but there's no reason to be so rude. So I moved on.

And found this:

for my client. A fabulous and fascinatingly patterned Kingman turquoise. Unlike any other Kingman I've seen - the dealers had about four pieces of it, and this was the most superb. So I got the okay and now it's here waiting for me to make a very special necklace. :)

And the rest of the hits:

A very unusual crazy lace agate. Crazy lace was in short supply this year -  or at least the crazy lace *I* liked - but this was such a perfect little "scene" that I snapped it up.

Some new Mookaites (Mooka jasper, from Australia). I haven't bought any in a while, but I set (and fairly quickly sold) three or four of them last year. So I figured I'd add a few back into my stock. Its color is amazing, the cuts on these are excellent, and it takes a lovely high polish (as you can see by all the glares off the cabs in the photo). I really like to pair it with labradorite for a sort of moody, elegant combination. And the bottom one is also like a little scene. :)

These are amethyst with goethite inclusions, from Brazil. It's hard to capture the beauty of these in a photo, but they are partially translucent and beautifully cut and polished. I'm quite excited to play with them.

And finally, a sampling of  Utah lace agate. Slightly different than crazy lace agate (which comes from Mexico), this Utah lace that I purchased has some lovely red and purple-ish banding going through it, as well as some white parts which were well-cut to have them look kind of like snow-topped mountains. These will make spectacular pendants and earrings. :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tucson Gem Show, Part IV

It seems like no matter what time of year it is, I'm eagerly anticipating the Tucson show. And right between the end of December and the end of January, I'm *really* eagerly anticipating it. Like bouncing-off-the-walls anticipating. I really don't buy gems online very often, because I want to see and feel and know what I'm getting. There's a lot you just can't tell from photos. So every year, this is the single best opportunity to find interesting, unusual, and gorgeous gems that help determine my design directions.

This year, I found a few new / old favorites, such as these fabulous dendrite opals:

They are always so wonderful. I buy some smaller ones from a local gem cutter, but for the big, impactful gems I buy only in Tucson. No one else cuts 'em like this. :)

And as much as I love shopping for my favorites, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt for new and interesting gems. Below are a few photos of what caught my eye this year:

Azurite malachite. The gems above fascinated me with their interesting patterns and coloration. They're less spendy (especially in this somewhat larger size) than the azurite / malachite that doesn't contain the brown host rock, but I really loved the color combinations. I think I ended up with about ten or twelve cabs.

And then I picked up a few - only a few - of this gem without the host boulder:

Also stunningly beautiful. They're typically priced a lot higher than I'd like - and you can see how much cleaner the corners are on these; better quality cutting (though not always easier to set!). I pick up a few at random times when I find shapes / patterns / colors I like, figuring that eventually I'll have enough to do something really fun with them. I'm okay with a bit of hoarding. :)

Some lodelites shown above. From Brazil. I don't see lodelite, or buy it, very often...but it's fascinating. It's a type of quartz, with inclusions. And it's cut so that you get an almost 3-D effect looking down into the gem. But to get that 3-D effect means it typically has a very high dome. And they're not all polished smooth on the bottom, where the inclusions are. So setting might be a bit of a challenge, not that I mind. :)  And this brings my stash of lodelites to a grand total of three. :)

Oregon blue opal. This has a lot of matrix (the brown and white) in it, but I found it more interesting this way. The plain blue reminded me a lot of chalcedony, which I don't really use much...but I like  the contrast of the milky-sky blue with the earthy browns. And who knew that Oregon produced opals??

In my next post, I'll share some other unusual / special gems, and the beauties that didn't make it into the suitcase this year, for one reason or another. A girl's got to leave a bit for the rest of the jewelers. *wink*