Thursday, January 13, 2011


I had an opportunity this week to examine old world old school old time trust. And how its changed in the modern netcentric world, and how more importantly it hasnt.

This past year my gemstone business has grown a bit. Not much, but a bit. Mostly its kept pace with the year before. Not sure what that all means as far as my marketing input, but its a good thing for sure.
Its main goodness, to me,  is that I have gained peoples trust for quality, and good service.
I have a lot of repeat buyers, and that would indicate that. Or at least I hope so.
I have always had a good sense of what is right about a business transaction.  I watched other Jeweler friends of mine in Brick and Mortar stores, and the distance they would go to build and guard the trust of their customers. And it made sense. But they had this rapport built on face to face interaction.
So I try very hard in this still somewhat uncharted territory of internet sales to achieve those same levels.
But it can be difficult to convey in an online interaction, where there isnt any rapport prior to that transaction.
Example: It costs money to go shopping. In the B&M world, you put gas in your car and off you go, eating through the hours of your day. You find say a ring you just have to have at one store, buy it and take it home. Its not just right. Fits a little tight. Stores policy is sizing is extra, but he knows you really like it so he can size it for free,  or charge you for it. Many things enter into the result.
Online, you sit at home, you buy a ring with a gorgeous stone. You pay for it with extra for shipping, and receive it. It looks nothing in color to what you saw on the monitor. You want to return it. but the shops policy is refund on cost only.
So you lose shipping fees. The shop owner knows you may be back if he refunds the shipping. Many things enter into it as well. Blanket policies such as refunding shipping, or in B&M's unlimited free sizings invite abuse.  But stringent policies seem unyielding, cold and invite neutral or negative feedbacks.
The many things that enter the B&M's decisions on extension and such are figured out on the go, and through discussion and interaction that is just not possible to do online in the brief time we have to create our sphere of trust, and our extension of integrity, without getting walked on.
We know experience is the biggest guide in the B&M shop. The 'feel' of a customer, can give a very good idea of who to go beyond for. And who is going to be a problem and impossible to please.
How can we achieve the same kind of long term relationship out of the casual online shopper?
And how to feel out those customers who need the extra effort to just break even with?
I havent the answers completely yet. But I have a great intuition it lies in the vast amount of communication resources available to online sellers.
Life isnt all Etsy. and it isnt all personal websites. Those themselves arent enough. A customer has to feel they know you a bit. In a B&M, its after a couple purchases they call you by name. And they feel their investment is safe.
 While facebook, blogs and twitter, may be a viable starting point, I am not sure they are the complete answer.
But I say that from an unknowing position. Those are still on the horizon for my business.
Perhaps it is a custom package for each individual, with no one system being "right".
I am convinced of this though. If you can get through to the real person on the other end of that electronic maze, you can have an effect on them and how they feel about your merchandise. Of course you MUST back that up with quality and service that is unsurpassed in integrity. You need to walk your talk.
Thing is you must get there before any problem arises, or you will lose them as a customer, or worse have them spread negativity toward your shop or items, that is unwarrented and more the result of a nuance of dissatisfaction that would have been quite solvable, than actual issue.
If only given the chance.
And that the old words of trust, integrity and ethics are going to apply perhaps even more so than ever, but their face will be a brand new one.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Joyful Crow Studio Tour

Rolling Mill, wax injector, mold cutting area, and photo prep area. Back of vent system.
Passage into the rest of the shop.
My trusty Vic12 vacuum caster, Buffing Lathe, Electromelt Furnace.
Kiln, Vulcanizer, wax and ingot mold storage, and a couple stumps.
Two stumps with pitch bowl for repousse and chasing tools for it.
Cat bed also known as wax bench, here closed for use in additive build up, wax welder.
Wax bench open for carving. Made from old sewing machine bench so holds all wax filings.
Dapping stump with forming blocks and punches, my uncles old tool chest.
Apprentice bench, and flexshaft.
Another shot of apprentice bench.
Pickle area, old laptop, beads and findings storage, chemical storage.
My bench right, custom pliers rack, torch.
My bench left, custom magnetic bur rack.
Better shot of bur rack.
My bench, lower storage and compartment right.
My bench lower storage and compartment left.
Bench detail left.
Bench detail right.
Bench detail lower left.
Bench detail lower right.
Photo Studio area.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A note over my bench, just to remind me.......

There are a lot of lives on earth. This one is Mine.

Lapidary Degrees of Fineness

Working in stone was a different sort of attraction to me than metal.
Initially and Continuously.
I first approached stone way before jewelry. Just the awe it would inspire. The way things mineraly were formed and their stunning beauty and variety.
After being into jewelry quite awhile and purchasing gems at an ever increasing disappointment level as my metal work surpassed the quality levels I could find in obtainable stones,  I knew I needed to approach mineral gems from a different perspective.
I couldnt get what I wanted because the cutters were making such a mess out of perfectly good materials.
Or they were doing fair work on stones they used little or no creative vision to layout. Designs obviously put together to achieve the most pieces from a slab.
The dreaded "cookie cutter" approach.
I knew I needed to get into making my own precious stone cabochons if I was going to achieve what I wanted out of my metalwork.
Achieving fineness in stonework is a lot more oriented to rudiments of technique and repetition than metalwork. Dues need to be paid in terms of much time spent in getting it right. That's ok though.  Much harder to overwork a stone than a piece of jewelry.
They have a wider latitude of being reworked again and again till its right.
A lot of what I see in handcut lapidary is sorely lacking in enough time spent.
Thats probably the biggest single cause of poor stonework.
And those specifics arent as variable, as you are essentially creating by releasing, not fabrication.
Its removal not,  construction.
You arent the master, The stone already is. Its up to you to gently bring its inner potential to light.
You arent really creating anything.
But its also true that you hold the keys to a focal stone that will be an exemplary definition of the mineral species, or a chossy, pitted, undercut, uneven, half sculpted, poorly polished, hack job.
Its up to you.
A stone needs a decent and even surface, and symmetry of radius to have visual continuity.
Look at it often as you sand. Even it out. If its a freeform - fine, it can have a lot of latitude, but if its a specific shape, use a template.
But either way the surface must blend smoothly.
Long tube fluorescents overhead are nice as they reflect two long parallel lines you can judge curvature evenness with. Moving around should show smooth transition over the whole visible face.  And the back should be like a mirror to that light, the tubes should reflect two parallel lnes all across it. A stone with an unfinished back is an unfinished stone. It removes the option to the jeweler of setting that stone in an open backed or even a double sided setting. Finish the backs.
Undercutting is a very common fault and is difficult if not impossible to completely eliminate in every stone.
It comes from having variable hardness materials or zones side by side, the sanding wheels will obviously wear away the softer material first. The greater the contrast in hardness the more pronounced and difficult it is to remove. A light touch, the use of flat laps, and concave hardwood wheels and diamond paste is all in the bag of tricks against this "firescale of the lapidary world."
All this takes time. And many lapidaries, knowing they are selling a supply try and kick it out fast.
I remember one fellow whose first day on a popular handmade sight came into the thread with a bold
"Howdy, how long does it take you guys to cut a stone? because I have it down to ten minutes per cab."
His stuff is far from what his moniker claims it to be.
Its not a race.
True enough you can get good at repetition, but each stone is unique as well. It takes some stones a long time to be sculpted well, and given the proper attention. Several hours or more on a complex stone is not uncommon .
And a small but even solder bevel should be sanded on the bottom edge of all cabochons that are to be bezel set. This provides relief for the little solder fillet that is inside the bezel, without this you subject the stone to unven presures on the edge when setting, possibly leading to fractures.
The only time this can be overlooked is if the cabochon is to be prong set. Typically reserved for colored clear stones. It allows them to be st flat on the seat with no unsightly gap.
In a sideview the stones profile, which is generally a parabola of some shape,  sometimes with an edge sometimes smooth, can follow any number of configurations but one.
And that one is straight sided.
I am sure there are a lot of fine Lapidaries out there that would challenge this.
So be it.
Most of them are not metalsmiths that have done complex bezel settings.
Setting a straight sided stone has distinct disadvantages and the only advantage is to the cutter on speeding up the process by not having to be as accurate in creating a smooth bezel bevel.
When the stones side is straight, it forces the bezel to be vertical, with no ability to hold. Thus the bezel must be folded over a sharp lip, with attendant difficulties at the corners with buckling and wrinkles. That stone is held in by the downward pressure of the bezel after folding, NOT by a cinching due to a taper which is MUCH less prone to loosening. And the straight sided bezels are limited to thin bezel gauges to be effectively set.
The other thing straight sides do is to void the abilities of optional setting techniques. Such as using thick walled bezels that are hammer set below the edge, or down low on the radius if no edge is on the stone. Or thick bezels that are flush edged with the dome edge of the stone to leave a clean face and very smart clean visual.  Or such things as partial bezels which require a taper to have any grip at all on the stone. And prong settings where the prong is snug to the sides of the stone but not folded over the top to keep the face of the stone clean. None of these types of setting are possible with a straight sided stone. Thus to cut one eliminates all the options a jeweler has to utilize the stone in their designs except the fold over. This is going to limit its sale potential. And lower its value.
Which brings us to finish. POLISH THE STONE. Bring it up to the highest gloss that the material will allow. And then some. I wont go into specifics on techniques as they are enough to fill a book by themselves, but basically use a 10x loupe and check the stone over. if you see scratches, its time to go back and rework it.
Lastly is layout. It is one of the areas where real creativity beyond the limited effects of good sculpting are evident. Get a good fine drafting pencil and sketch a bunch of different potentials before finally settling in on a final design. Slabs have a nice soft roughness that accepts pencil nicely.
Forget about how many you can get out of a slab.
Thats not the point. And make the shape work with the design.  Look at what you are doing, look at what the stone has to offer. If it doesnt seem right, lay it aside and come back to it later. No hurries, No worries.
Take a tour of sites and shops and get a critical eye to the way folks cut. It wont be long till you can start to see why an 8.00 cab is an 8.00 cab
Good enough is not good.  Good enough may be ok for you.  You may even be able to sell a lot of good enough cabochons. But as those jewelers that buy such stones get better, they will graduate to better lapidary.  Good enough isnt stiving for excellence. Good Enough is not a Degree of Fineness

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A matter of Fineness, Part 2. The practical application.

Though I have/had quite a few mentors and skilled folks to borrow from idea wise, I am largely self taught. I think this is more an admission of a stubborn streak and fear of public failure than any bravado success story. But its easier for me to struggle and hack it out alone, than face a class where my weaknesses can shine like a neon sign blinking SHY, INTROVERT, overhead.
I created a lot of scrap over the years. And  maybe it wasn't all so bad as the lessons learned sank in deeply once the experience was gained.
So what did I really garner from my exposure to the masters I admired, and even got to speak with, learn some tricks from and watch?
Well, beyond the philosophical I wrote about yesterday a lot of good hard method.
Such as:
For Jewelry.
Take care of burs and bits of flashing BEFORE you solder. or if it benefits, after, but take care of them. Such as sometimes a jumpring used as a flat circle embellishment will show the seam.
If you solder it closed first with hard solder and clean up the seam THEN apply it, it will show as a smooth circle. And this goes for the little bits at the ends of wires as well. Take the time to finish those ends FIRST. use a cup bur, or twirl it against a abrasive disc  to round or taper as desired, but dont just leave it cut off. The difference in the results are quite astonishing. For spirals, its a very slick trick to taper the wire down to a near point for a flat spiral prior to bending it makes the eye follow it and and linger there thoughtfully, rather than abruptly ending at the center.
When bending wire, note the corners and their treatment. Its a nice idea to have an extra pair of pliers where the side edges have a radius ground into them. Just slightly. It enables a sharp edged corner to be bent without the telltale little divot from the pliers edge to be worked out and the resultant wavy dip at the corner. And jet set can be used for this fashioning as well to save the 80 buck Swanstroms from over zealous grinding errors that may occur.
As a matter of fact, jet set can be made to perform a lot of smooth edged tasks in the shop. Probably enough to dedicate a whole blog entry sometime. (note to self)
All pliers work should show a deft hand, a lighter touch is sufficient most always and renders less cleanup. A good use for older worn silicone abrasive wheels is to take a small piece of steel wire or an old small round file and groove the wheel to the appropriate gauge wire you are cleaning up. Having that inside radius makes wire cleanup smooth and easy.
All in all we use a lot of wire in our work, pay attention to its structure and integrity. Take a little extra time and thought to preserve its structure and form. It WILL show.
And that goes for flat wire, square wire or any embellishment, including bezels. Clean them up BEFORE assembly. Make sure the bezel is EVEN, and FLAT across its join before you attach it to a backplate or install a seat. And figure its height and make it the top edge tapered nice and even all around. Yes you will probably have to rework it once hammered down, but it will be a lot less work to start from a flat surface correctly tapered.
For sheet, same things apply to a degree. Keep the sheet and flat and free of scratches, and finish them to tripoli prior to assembly. Round the edges evenly on the circumference, it keeps a nice consistency.
For pierced work clean those saw marks. Its difficult but it really can make your pierced work pop.
A very nice technique is to take some of the new plastic backed sanding sheets by 3-M and cut them into thin strips of only a couple/three mm wide, or whats needed. Clamp the workpiece in a vise, thread the strip in there and do the shoeshine rag shuffle. Careful to not stay in anyone spot long. Instead blend and feather those edges and marks away.
One idea that was passed on by one of my favorite Metalsmiths was try and dome just about everything. Using a flat back plate is boring and it just doesnt fit many of the designs its forced into.  For example, regardless of use, which is more pleasant to look at, a soup spoon, or a flat version of one?
The eye likes curves, and depth. And its not too hard to plan for. Get some pieces of hardwood and sculpt some low dishlike dapping depressions. Dig the old dremel up and slap a wood bur in there and go to town. And yes jet set can come to this rescue as well. (Sheesh, who invented that stuff??!!)
Its really not hard to put a stone on a curved surface either, just make sure you use a wire seat a larger gauge than the radius of the dome inside the bezel.
On soldering use less than you think you need, and you will find its just enough. Its a sign of an advanced student of metal to get this one down. And we all slip back to kindergarten once in awhile. But its really a truth. If you fit well and take your time a small amount of solder will suffice. And the tighter corners will really make it shine. Granted there are some places where you will want a fillet, but these are the exception rather than the norm.
 While this list of ideas and tricks is by no means comprehensive, its just to get you to think in terms of finish.  Going that extra distance.
Regardless of whether you like the matt finish or the high gloss polish, the underlying structure you start creating with before the final finish, is going to determine how it really looks.
And it is up to you, of course. You may be kicking out pieces that sell so quick it doesnt seem to matter.
 And for that type of work, perhaps it doesnt.
But those pieces can still benefit from your attention and time. These really are rudiments of your craft.
I understand cost effectiveness, and many of these things seem to fly in the face of that.
But thats till you have them down as routine. And then they are a matter of course.

Next up:
Lapidary Degrees of Fineness.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Its a new day!!!!! and, Its a matter of fineness.

Welcome to my new blog.
Pardon any construction dust and debris in this newly assembled theater.
I will sweep it up soon.   Promise.
Started in the interest of exploring Fine Lapidary and the items made in the Noble Metals of this beautiful Planet I have been privileged to work with.
 I have been immersed in these two rivers as they have flowed through my life for years and years.
Their association has enriched me deeply and helped form who I am.
Conversely the other Paths I have walked have added immensely to the inspiration I have to apply to my creations and understanding how these materials have played a role in my life.
It will be both fun and adventuresome to share my views in this very public journal, of the results of that very enriching experience .

Thanks for taking a gander at my ramblings.
A matter of fineness.
On doing better and striving for excellence.

I enjoy a unique role in working with metal and stone.
I never had to do it. I always did it out of desire. Passion if you will.
Also subject to lazy slacker attitude...but that's another entry for another day.
Today we will focus on the passion that does ignite.
Some came from the desire to tinker as well. And that stemmed from my father who enjoyed just about everything mechanical. He and I differed as I became more focused in creating specifics and abandoned many of the fringe interests I had.
That "putting away childish things" probably applies somewhat.
But what made me not have that "good enough" attitude began by being self taught, combined with that lack of need to "get it done, get it out" that is taught in schools.
As I acquired skills and interests in techniques untried beckoned I often questioned where to stop.
Where overworking would result in failure versus where fixing the flaw in the piece took two more hours. And knowing that difference.
Experience forged those exact answers. But the framework was set long before that. Inputs from mentors that I observed.
Quietly absorbed.
Too shy to jump on board their actual tutelage, if even possible, some being long passed from this Earth and whose work I could only see in museums and books.
I was lucky enough to SEE what they were about. Where they didn't stop till it was right.
And in the case of the living legends I was in proximity to understand the day to day mindset of
striving for the excellence that afforded them results sought by major Diamond houses of New York.
These cats just didn't mess around. and it was'nt their dinner dollar that drove it.
And not their pride either.
I wanted to be like them.  I wanted to own a piece of that skill. Just a houseboy to that level of skill.
Why? Because in a thousand years, there will be museums that have John Paul Millers phenomenal
granulation and enamel pieces. And not one item of Paloma Picasso's will be found anywhere.
There's a mastery. There's a depth, and yes a passion, to be working towards that thing in humanity that is not driven by money.
Money.    sigh.
It is indeed needed.  Its lack can be hellish.
I learned the hard way about money.  But that, as said on another subject, is for another day.
When I had no money, I had time. I had a lot of time. I could take my time. I was fortunate to have a little material to work with. And with all that time I damned and determined not to fritter those materials away.
The pieces I made then were near flawless. Not hugely great designs, though some were pretty hot.
No, it was that without that distraction of money I finally broke through the well guarded psyche
door of DRIVE. I stuck with it till it was "RIGHT". Not too much,  just the correct amount. not stopping till it was so. Undisturbed because of my insolvent situation.
An odd source of dues.
And it stuck, and at the same time coalesced. I felt at one with a tiny fraction of what those masters achieved.
Not at all deceiving myself as to skill level, but an understanding of the DRIVE that was behind all that beautiful work. From the Etruscan's to Marv Shapiro. From Byzantine vessels to Laine Goldmans little Les Paul Custom.
Strive for excellence. Do the right thing. Add that finishing work. Smooth that bur, clean that solder join, open that back up, clean up that bezel,  redo that scratch,  re-polish that stone, work out that flat spot, feather that dip.  Polish that mother.
There's 5000 years of mastery riding on your every move.

Unless of course you are just doing it for the money................

It still applies, but you may just miss the association. And the  sweetness of the efforts success.