Clearing Out

Confession #1:  I have read Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

Confession #2: I am a tool junkie.

Confession #3: I am a paper packrat.

Each year, for almost as long as I can remember, I resolve to be more organized, more focused, and to stop using the floor as a filing system. And each year, I fail. OK, let’s not say “fail”. Let’s say that each year something more interesting or important comes up.

Confession #1: KonMari-ing

Regarding confession #1, in the midst of the exhortations to throw out everything that does not give you joy, I found some useful advice. For me, the approach of clearing out one category of stuff at a time is working (well, so far). As does the rule that when you start to clear out a given category of stuff, you must gather all of said stuff together in one place. It really does force you to face up to how much stuff you have, and makes it easier to realize that maybe you don’t need or even want all of that stuff.

However, there are definitely categories of stuff which do not induce joy, but which responsible adults should hang on to. Tax returns, for example (Marie’s general rule of thumb for papers: discard everything). No joy there, but I’m not going to tempt the wrath of the IRS by throwing them out. Cleaning supplies as well. Does it give me joy to hold a bottle of 409? Not really. But having a greasy stovetop is not going to give me joy, either.

Confession #2: Tool Junkie

This is supposed to be a blog about jewelry making and gemstones, so let’s get back on track. I cannot recall ever encountering a tool that did not at least inspire curiosity, and a well-designed tool does truly give me joy!  Before I actually purchase a new tool, though, I do have to have a  conversation with myself that that goes beyond “Want it!” and considers whether or not it will really help me be more productive in making the kind of work I make and whether or not I can justify the expense.

Sadly, I have not been able to justify the expense of a laser welder even though it is definitely a “want it” and would definitely help with my complex soldering projects. But they are $15,000 on up. Sigh.

In clearing out my tools, I was only willing to part with three items: a bench vise, a bench shear, and an anvil.

All of these, I’m happy to say, have a new home with another jeweler. I have no doubt she will create wonderful things with them.

Here is just a small sampling of tools I kept.

A recent joy-inducing tool acquisition: a small vertical bench vise. The angle can be adjusted through 90°, from vertical to horizontal. I generally use it for holding mandrels (cylindrical rods around which I form and shape metal).

I parted, reluctantly, with a bench vise because I had three of them. I kept the big one and the small one (pictured above) and let the middle-size one go.

My jeweler’s saw. The fine blade works under tension and is capable of cutting surprisingly thick sheets of metal. Yes, the blades break easily and wear out quickly – they are usually sold a dozen at a time!

The bench shear was not a tool I ever used much – for my needs, I always found that cutting sheet metal using my jeweler’s saw was the right way to go.

The anvil, which has a flat surface for hammering metal, a horn for forming/holding a ring or bracelet, and a square hole to hold a forming stake was replaced by more specialized tools. I have a steel bench block which is smaller and more convenient to keep on my work surface  – it is used all the time. I invested in a GRS Benchmate system which has various gizmos for holding work in place, I consider it indispensable when I am stone-setting. As for the stake-holder I find that the only forming and forging I want to do these days is on a very small scale, and I have a few specialized miniature forming stakes, and a holder designed specifically for them.

One of my miniature forming stakes.

I haven’t yet mentioned my favorite category of tools: hammers. Those are worthy of an entire blog post, and I’ll write about them in future.

I have no desire to reform my tool addiction. I don’t want to change. Tools represent craftsmanship. They represent making. They transcend time.

Confession #3: Paper

This is a tough one. There is a hideous amount of paper in my office and all of it either represents something that at one point in time was necessary for me to keep (receipts, instructions, warranties) or something that I thought I should look into one-day-if-I-ever-get-the-time-which-is-probably-going-to-be-never (business development ideas, improvements to my website, resources I might need one day) or something that is interesting (gemology, a how-to article, new discoveries).

Because my filing cabinets were full, I bought various other devices for sorting papers, and when those were full, I stacked papers on the floor. Sad but true.

I have thrown a fair bit into the recycling hopper. Like the papers related to a Blackberry phone I had 10 years ago and which never worked very well. And yes, it is giving me joy to reclaim the floor and see surfaces starting to clear!

As for the rest, let me introduce you to my all-time favorite piece of office equipment, the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500. Scan it and toss it, baby. Of course this is only a good plan if you backup, backup, and backup again your computer.

Fujitsu Scan Snap_Amazon
Fujitsu ScanSnap – no, I do not receive any credit or cash for telling the world I think this is a wonderful device!

Valentine’s Day Special Offer

This Valentine’s Day I’m offering these 14kt yellow gold earrings at a 20% discount. The are normally $210, and until February 14, 2019 they will be $168.

vday 2019

You can shop other designs at

Thanks for reading!

Wax Carving

Think for a moment about the jewelry that you wear. Do you wonder how it might have been made?

I have written before about how I create some of my pieces using traditional fabrication techniques (see my post “Staring Into Space”). I start with sheets of precious metal and wire in various thicknesses. I cut, form, and solder. Then I file, sand, and polish. Then I set stones. Each piece crafted this way is a mini construction project.

But I have designs in my head which are not suited to this style of making jewelry. So I’ve entered the world of wax carving. I recently returned from a workshop at the studio of Kate Wolf in Portland, Maine. Kate is an “educator, jeweler, and tool maven.” I first met her in 2008 at the Tucson Gem Show, where she gave a brief demonstration and lecture at the Rio Grande “Catalog in Motion” event. Ever since then, I had wanted to take one of her workshops, and this year the stars aligned so that I could do so.

I am just beginning to learn about wax and experiment with new designs. As you read this, remember that I am in a galaxy far, far away from experts in this field, but I want to share some of what I’ve learned.

In class at Kate Wolf Studios.

Why Utilize Wax Carving Instead of Fabrication?

Some new designs that I want to make involve curves and shapes that would be difficult to form in metal, designs which I think of as miniature sculptures. Wax carving will allow me to play around with such designs. The wax itself is a relatively inexpensive material, so unlike working directly with precious metals, the cost of the material is no barrier to experimentation. And unlike stone or metal, it is a forgiving material to work with. If you accidentally cut a deep gouge or remove too much, you can melt on more wax, let it harden, then resume carving.

Here is one of my class projects as it came together:

The second reason I’m interested in wax carving is that I can create jewelry in the more expensive precious metals, such as 14kt or 18 kt gold, with minimal metal waste. When I fabricate using a sheet of metal, there is a certain amount of scrap material left over after I’ve cut the desired shapes. I save my scrap, and eventually I recycle it by casting ingots, or send it to a refiner. With the cost of silver, this is an overhead I can carry. But not with the cost of gold (which is currently around $1,200 per ounce).

Types of Wax

Jewelry wax comes in a variety of formulas and forms, each suitable for a different process. And within each major category of wax there are variations. Here are just a few examples that I’ve worked with.

Modeler’s Wax

Modeler’s Wax is a soft wax that can be purchased as sheets of varying thickness as well as in shapes that mimic wire: round, half round, square, etc. As the name implies, it is soft and pliable and has a very low melting point. I have used them to very quickly mock up a design or shape.

As when working with sheet metal and wire, you create a piece in an additive fashion:  cut a shape, form it, and connect elements by melting additional wax into joints. Connections must be done very, very carefully because of the low melting point of the wax.

Examples of soft wax: the green is 14 gauge, the pink sheet is 24 gauge. The blue is shaped like round wire, bezel wire, and tubing.

Soft wax cannot be carved or filed or sanded, so in my (limited) experience the end result is rather rough. The refinements have to happen after the piece is cast.

Carving Wax

Carving waxes are hard with a melting point around 240°F and are, as the name implies, suitable for carving. As with a sculpture that starts as a block of stone, a wax carving starts with a block of wax and the design emerges by removing wax. Saws and burrs are used to quickly remove the bulk of material, and then hand tools are used to carve and refine and the design.

Carving wax: the blue one on the left is a ring tube (the hole is pre-drilled to give you a head-start on making a ring shape), the solid round tube can be attached to a flexshaft and worked using lathe techniques, and the square block can become anything!

A skilled wax carver can achieve precise and intricate detail, and the wax can be finished to a highly refined point, so that minimal polishing and finishing work is necessary once the wax is cast.

Other Types of Wax

Yet other types of wax are used for injecting into molds or 3-D printing. Or other purposes I don’t yet know about!

These pellets melt into a wax that flows smoothly enough to be injected into a mold to create multiple copies of a design for casting.

New Tools

Needless to say, I returned from my class with my suitcase half-full of carving waxes and NEW TOOLS. Here’s just a few of them, a wax pen and a set of carving tools.

New tools!

The wax pen is used to melt tiny amounts of wax to be used in joining two pieces of wax, or building up wax to repair an error. It can be set to a limited range of temperatures, because different waxes have different melting points.

From Wax Model to Finished Jewelry

So what happens after I’ve finished carving a design in wax? The wax will be cast using metal — in my work this will usually be either sterling silver or 14kt or 18kt gold. But it could also be platinum or copper or pewter or brass, to name a few examples.

Casting refers to the process by which molten metal is poured into a mold and allowed to harden. The mold is created by positioning the wax model inside a metal flask and pouring a plaster of paris-like substance called investment around it. The investment hardens very, very quickly, encasing the wax. Prior to this step, a rod of wax will be attached to the wax to create a pathway from the wax model to the surface of the investment — this is called a sprue.

The flask is then placed in a kiln and the wax melts out via the sprue channel, leaving an empty mold of the design.  Then the molten metal is poured in. Usually a centrifugal or vacuum system is used in order to ensure that the metal flows into all parts of the mold. To get the cast metal out of the mold, the flask is submerged in water and the investment surrounding it dissolves. This whole process is known as lost wax casting, because your wax model, and the casting mold,  are destroyed during the process.

Multiple copies of the same design can be produced by making a re-usable mold. Wax can be injected into the mold and removed without damaging the wax or the mold, thus many wax copies of the same design can be easily created, and they can then be set up in a way that they are all cast at the same time.

181103_wax tree 2

This is called a “tree” – you can see that multiple copies of the waxes have been created using a mold injection, and when set up this way, they can all be cast at the same time. (image source: wikipedia)

Visit Me

You can see examples of my custom fabrication work — and coming soon, wax work — at

Gemstones: Natural, Synthetic, or Imitation?

All That Sparkles Is Not A Gem

Here’s a whirlwind overview to help you understand the differences between natural gems, synthetics, and imitations.

What Is A Gemstone?

You will find varying definitions and opinions on what, technically, constitutes a gemstone. In my gemological training we were taught that a gemstone is a naturally occurring mineral which is considered to have beauty, rarity, and durability. In addition to inorganic gemstones, such as diamonds, topaz, peridot, garnets, etc., there are organic materials which are considered gems, such as pearls and amber.

How Can You Tell One Gemstone From Another?

In the majority of cases it is impossible to accurately identify a gemstone just by looking at it.  A red stone could be garnet, ruby, spinel, or something else. A blue stone could be sapphire, topaz, tanzanite, or something else. Scientific testing, using equipment such as a polariscope, refractometer, and microscope, is used to identify gemstones and to separate natural gems from lab-grown synthetics and imitations.

A gem has a definite chemical composition. Gems are organized into species based on their chemical, physical, and optical properties, and within the species there may be variations.

The quartz gem species, for example, includes many different varieties. Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz, and citrine is a golden variety of quartz. In the beryl gem species, the green variety is emerald, and the seawater blue-green variety is aquamarine.

Diamonds are the only gemstone composed of a single element: carbon.

Certain gemstones, such as opal and labradorite, have visual characteristics which make them easy to identify by sight, but they are the exception.

Why Should I Care What The Gem Is As Long As It’s Pretty?

I think that knowing what you are purchasing is important. And knowing that the person selling it to you is honest about what they are selling is even more important. For one thing, there are enormous variations in the value of natural gemstones, and also in the value of a natural gem versus its lab-grown equivalent.

Here’s an example. I compared wholesale prices at a reputable jewelry supplier. A 6mm round natural blue sapphire would cost $695. A lab-grown blue sapphire would cost $6. So the natural stone is over than 100 times more valuable than the lab-grown one.

In addition to the question of price, certain gems have certain meaning to people. If you want to buy a pair of ruby earrings for your wife because her birthday is in July (ruby is the July birthstone), then you want to be sure you are getting a ruby, not a garnet.

180720_synthetic corundum crystals
Lab-Grown Crystals of Ruby & Sapphire (corundum gem species). Photo: GIA

What Is A Lab-Grown Gemstone?

A lab-grown gemstone is a man-made product which can be either a synthetic version of a natural gemstone or an imitation of a natural gemstone. A synthetic must have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as the natural gem. For example, a natural diamond is composed of carbon, therefore a synthetic diamond must also be composed of carbon.

An imitation, on the other hand, merely looks like a gemstone. Cubic Zirconia, commonly known as CZ, is an imitation. Originally introduced into the jewelry market to imitate diamonds, CZs are now manufactured in all colors, shapes and sizes in order to simulate a wide range of natural gems.

I’ve created this chart, which you can download as a PDF, as a visual guide to help understand this.


Are Lab-Grown Gems Eco-Friendly?

Some manufacturers and sellers of lab-grown gemstone synthetics and imitations claim they are more “eco friendly”. For this article, I did a little research to see if these claims were supported, and learned (not surprisingly), that the answer is not clear-cut and that no objective scientific studies have been done. To come up with an answer one must first define what it means to be eco-friendly and studies must look at the impact of the entire supply chain.

Even Tom Chatham, whose company manufactures high-quality synthetic emeralds and rubies, has been quoted on the subject as saying  “I can’t say anything personally, because every chemical we use comes out of the ground”.

Frauds I Have Encountered

There is nothing wrong with selling synthetic gemstones or gem imitations, as long as the seller is clear about the true nature of their product. However, Federal Trade Commission regulations state that such items must be clearly labeled, and that failure to do so is an “unfair and deceptive” practice. As such, it can be prosecuted as consumer fraud (extracts from the FTC are included at the end of this article).

Customers do sometimes bring me a stone or a piece of jewelry they have purchased elsewhere and ask me to identify the gem, and sometimes I see an advertised claim which is clearly false.  Here are just a few examples of consumer fraud which I have, sadly, encountered:

  • Cubic Zirconia (CZs) being sold as “champagne topaz from Brazil” (this was the description written on the customer’s receipt, and the customer subsequently had a certified gemologist test the stones — they were just fakes). This same business also sold CZs and falsely described them on various occasions as “cultured white sapphire” or amethyst or aquamarine.
  • A business selling CZs and misleadingly identifying them as “tanzanite zirconia” (which is not a tanzanite, it is not a lab-grown tanzanite, it is merely a CZ colored to imitate a tanzanite), or “genuine lab-grown sapphire CZ” (again, not a sapphire, not a lab-grown sapphire, merely a blue cubic zirconia).
  • A bi-color quartz crystal which was sold as tourmaline (tourmaline would have been much more valuable).
  • Citrine being sold as topaz (both are golden-colored gems). I once saw a ring with a yellow gemstone advertised as a “citrine topaz”. Citrine and topaz are two different gem species, and the golden variety of topaz is dramatically more expensive than citrine. The question in this instance was whether or not the word “citrine” was being used as description of the color of a gem which was really a topaz (i.e. golden topaz), or if the word “topaz” was being used to give an inflated sense of value to a gem which was really a citrine. It was, in fact, a citrine, so the inclusion of the word “topaz” was a false and misleading description.

Could It Be An Honest Mistake?

Errors are alway possible. A reputable business will stand behind what they sell and correct their mistakes. If the identification of a gem is unknown, it should be labeled as such and priced accordingly.

Tips For Consumers

  • Ask questions. Ask if the stone is natural or lab-grown. If the answer is lab-grown, ask if it is a synthetic or an imitation. Be suspicious if you cannot get a clear and simple answer to your questions.
  • Be wary of instances where a gem name, such as sapphire or tanzanite, is being used to describe the COLOR of the stone, not the actual stone.
  • Always get a complete description written on the receipt, including the purity of the metal and the identification of the gemstones. If the gems are man-made, the receipt should say “lab-grown,” “man-made” or something equally clear and obvious. If the gem is an imitation rather than a synthetic, the receipt should say “imitation” or “simulated” or something equally clear and obvious.
  • If you are purchasing a very high-end gemstone and have any concerns about its authenticity, you might consider sending it to a reputable lab, such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) for independent analysis.
  • Be wary of the big price drop: “normally these earrings would be $200, but today only they are half off”.

Select Federal Trade Commission Regulations

23.23   Misuse of the words “ruby,” “sapphire,” “emerald,” “topaz,” “stone,” “birthstone,” “gemstone,” etc. (link to FTC site).

(a) It is unfair or deceptive to use the unqualified words “ruby,” “sapphire,” “emerald,” “topaz,” or the name of any other precious or semi-precious stone to describe any product that is not in fact a natural stone of the type described.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “ruby,” “sapphire,” “emerald,” “topaz,” or the name of any other precious or semi-precious stone, or the word “stone,” “birthstone,” “gemstone,” or similar term to describe a laboratory-grown, laboratory-created, [manufacturer name]-created, synthetic, imitation, or simulated stone, unless such word or name is immediately preceded with equal conspicuousness by the word “laboratory-grown,” “laboratory-created,” “[manufacturer name]-created,” “synthetic,” or by the word “imitation” or “simulated,” so as to disclose clearly the nature of the product and the fact it is not a natural gemstone.

(c) It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “laboratory-grown,” “laboratory-created,” “[manufacturer name]-created,” or “synthetic” with the name of any natural stone to describe any industry product unless such industry product has essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as the stone named.

23.24   Misuse of the words “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” “precious,” etc. (link to FTC site)

It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” “precious,” “semi-precious,” or similar terms to describe any industry product that is manufactured or produced artificially.

About Me & My Work

I am Lorraine Hornby, and I am a jeweler and a Certified Gemologist, SCC. I design and create unique, contemporary jewelry. In general, I use only natural gems and cultured pearls in my work, although I do use synthetic gems if the customer requests this for budgetary reasons. My work can be seen and purchased at

Designing A Sawdust Festival Booth

Creating Booth #229

Last year I gave you a brief outline of how the Sawdust Art Festival comes together, from Booth Pick Day through the booth building process.

I had managed to get the same location for 3 years in a row, so designing my booth didn’t take much thought. I simply took the design from previous years and tweaked it a bit to fine-tune the layout & functionality.

This year, however, someone else took my old spot before it was my turn to choose, so I had to pick a new location. Such is the way of the lottery system at the Sawdust! You can still find me in my old neighborhood, though – I moved just around the corner (to #229).

The new location has its advantages and disadvantages, but on the whole I think it will be great. It does present a few design challenges, however. Fortunately, I love space planning!

The Outline

Here’s what every artist starts with in designing their booth: the official plot plan.

180601_plot plan

As you can see, I have a basic rectangular space to work with (my previous location was a triangle – booths come in all shapes and sizes, some with trees in the middle of them). The diagram is not really to scale — the actual location is nice and wide, but very, very shallow. After taking into account the wall framing, I have less than 4 feet of space from the front edge of the booth to the back wall. This photo gives a better sense of the dimensions.


Note my cardboard cut-outs representing the counters and cabinets for my jewelry display! Although my space backs on to an existing structure (The Art Spot), I still have to build my own wall in front of it. This location also has an electrical box in it – that’s the green thing in the ground in the corner. I have to keep that accessible, so when the floor is done, my builder has to create a cut-out for it. It also constrains what I can put in the corner, since anything on top of that box needs to be moveable.

Design Challenge

If all I needed were countertops for jewelry cases and a chair to sit on, designing this space would be trivial. But I actually make jewelry in the booth over the summer, so my plan has to incorporate a functional jewelry studio. And since my techniques involve sawing, soldering, forming, and stone setting, I move a lot of equipment into the booth. I need a workbench, a soldering tank (which has to be enclosed in a fire-rated box), all the accessories associated with soldering work, a flex shaft, a buffer, a tumbler, a bench vise… and the list goes on. I also have to plan lighting, and where and how to run power strips for my equipment and lights.

I also have to account for a “husband space”. My devoted art slave (although he prefers the term “booth babe”) spends most evenings and weekend mornings in the booth with me.

And because I never leave my booth unattended, even to eat, I need a dining space. It’s usually just whatever surface I can clear at mealtimes, but for this year’s design I have ZERO extra surface space. Ikea’s flip-up Bjursta table will be used to solve this problem, although when the table is in use, I think I will have to crawl under it to get from one end of my booth to the other!

First Step

The first step is drawing out my basic construction plan: noting height, walls, flooring, roofing, and access to the booth. Because I build counters around the perimeter of the booth, I have to make sure there is a 2-foot wide opening to the booth. This plan has to be approved by the Grounds Manager at the show before construction can begin.

180601_Booth Plan Sheet

The Details

Since my space is so tight, I spent a lot of time double- and triple-checking my measurements. Being off by just half an inch could mean that the cabinet I thought would fit under the counter won’t. My booth builder suggested creating a recessed area between the studs to give me an extra 3” depth on my back wall shelf, which was a genius idea.


Usually my work area is in the interior of the booth, behind the jewelry counters. There’s no room for that this year, the jewelry bench is front and center. Customers will really be able to see me demonstrating my craft. The dashed line box between the chair and stool represent the dining table when it is in use. When it’s closed it gives me a 4” deep shelf, perfect for a beer or glass of wine!

Progress So Far


As you can see,  it’s coming along nicely!

Visit Me

Opening day will be Friday, June 29th, and the show will be open 10 am – 10 pm every day until September 2nd (except on the 4th of July, when we close at 6 pm). I hope to see you there, at booth 229, and in the meantime, is always open!

The Cullinan Diamond

Diamonds, more than any other gemstone, are steeped in legend and lore. Some are famous for their history, some for an exceptionally rare color, and some for their size.

The Cullinan Diamond, discovered more than 100 years ago, is one such diamond.


On January 26, 1905, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found was discovered at the Premier mine in South Africa. It was named for the mine’s owner, Thomas Cullinan.

The fist-sized rough stone weighed 3,106 carats (1.37 pounds), and was mined at a depth of only 18 feet, although its origins were likely to have been more than 200 miles below the earth’s surface (a bit more on that later).

As amazing as a diamond of this size is, some experts believe it was originally part of an even larger stone and that it had sheared off at some point in the past, a theory arising from the fact that the stone had one flat side.

180415_wells & rough cullinan_getty
Frederick Wells, manager of the Premier Mine, with the 1.37 pound rough diamond. photo: Getty

The rough stone was put up for sale, but it took two years before it was purchased by the Transvaal Colony government (the region which is now Pretoria, South Africa) to give to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

Transporting the Cullinan

Even without the scourge of modern-day social media, the fact that the incredibly rare and valuable gem was being transported from South Africa to England could not have been kept secret. Armed detectives took the stone to Cape Town, where it was locked in a guarded safe on a steamship to London. Or so everyone was led to believe. The package contained a fake, and the real gem was sent to London in a plain box via ordinary registered post.

Cutting the Cullinan

Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam was chosen to cut and polish the Cullinan. One of the brothers, Abraham, picked up the real gem in London and traveled back to Amersterdam with it in his coat pocket. Meanwhile, another anti-theft diversionary tactic was being used. Publicly, the Royal Navy was given the responsibility for transporting the “gem” across the North Sea. Not even the captain knew his package was empty.

In Amsterdam, Joseph Asscher spent weeks studying the diamond. An incision was made preparatory to cleaving the diamond. This step alone took four days. Then, on the first attempt to cleave the diamond, the steel knife fitted into the incision broke. But on the second attempt it split cleanly.

Joseph Asscher, striking the blow the cleave the rough diamond. photo: Wikimedia

Over a period of eight months the diamond was split and cut into 9 major stones and 96 minor ones. Three cutters worked 14 hours a day during this time to achieve this.

180415_cullinan majors_wikipedia
The nine major stones cut from the Cullinan. photo: Wikimedia

The two largest cut diamonds are the Cullinan I (aka Great Star of Africa, 530 carats) and Cullinan II (aka Second Star of Africa, 317 carats). These were returned to King Edward VII and became part of the British Crown Jewels. The remaining stones were kept by the  Asschers as payment for their services.

Mysterious Origin of Really Big Diamonds

Most diamonds are formed 90 to 140 miles beneath the earth’s surface. But a geologist named Evan Smith, who is a Post Doctoral Fellowship Researcher at GIA (the Gemological Institute of America), has studied exceptionally large diamonds such as the Cullinan and discovered that they have some unusual characteristics.

He has found that they have inclusions which are highly magnetic. This, along with other research, led him to conclude that unusually large diamonds are formed between 220 and 460 miles below the earth’s surface — 3 or 4 times deeper than all other diamonds.

Mining Diamonds

Diamonds, whether they originate 100 or 400 miles deep, are brought to the earth’s surface in the same way: volcanic eruptions. These eruptions form what are known as kimberlite pipes, some of which have diamond-rich deposits.

While kimberlite pipes are primary sources for diamonds, the gems are also found in what is known as alluvial, or secondary, deposits. In such cases the diamonds were separated from the kimberlite pipe either by the explosive force of the eruption which formed the pipe, or were washed away after millions of years of erosion. The oldest recorded source of diamonds (dating to before 500 BC) is India, and these were all alluvial deposits. No one has ever discovered the original kimberlite source!

Thanks for reading!

You can read about the world-record setting Pink Star diamond in my blog post from April 2017.

And for unique (yet still affordable) hand-crafted jewelry, visit my website at

Staring Into Space

A certain amount of my work time is spent staring into space. It may look like I’m doing nothing, and indeed it is hard for me to ignore the voice inside my head yelling “you’re wasting time!!!!!”,  but this is an essential part of how I come up with new ideas. And, in fact, how I write this blog (what should I write about? how much should I say? is anybody interested? have I got my facts right? what pictures should I use?).

Sometimes I have an idea, and I sketch it out, and the piece comes together exactly as I planned, and no staring into space is required.

But sometimes, I start with only a concept, and the piece comes together in stages. I don’t know what the next stage will be until I finish the one I am working on. I admit that this is not ideal. Long periods of staring into space are required.

I recently created a custom pendant using a tahitian pearl belonging to one of my customers. A rather large tahitian pearl – 15 mm in diameter.

I started with some rough sketches, but because the pearl was so large I felt I needed something 3-dimensional to help visualize how the designs would look. I used wax and polymer clay to crudely mock-up the design I liked best:

Fortunately, my customer had the imagination to see where I was going with this idea, and she liked it best, too. So it was off to the jewelry bench for me.

I knew there would be several challenges in fabricating this piece. The first was that I would be using substantial pieces of silver to form the waves, which would make it difficult to get the curves exactly right. After annealing (a process that makes precious metals like silver & gold more pliable) I managed to get the curves close to what I wanted.


However, it then took quite a bit of time to get the curves exactly how I wanted them, because they had to join up perfectly at either end while at the same time leaving the correct space for the pearl and a visually pleasing relationship between the two waves. Invariably, changing one curve just a little affected the other curves in undesirable ways. Once the two waves were correct and soldered together, I soldered another piece of silver between them to create a platform for the pearl.

Now came more staring into space. I had to decide how the pendant would hang. I originally thought that I would attach a loop at either endpoint to connect the chain, but after considering various combinations of loops and means of connecting them (solder on? drill and cold-connect? full circle loop? half circle loop? wavy loop?) I didn’t like how any of them fit with the overall design.

Eventually I decided to solder small circles to the top wave, positioned a few millimeters in from the end points. The pendant itself was already quite wide and I knew it would hang better if the attachment points were brought in a bit. Because the pendant is asymmetrical, I had to determine what size loops (one is larger than the other) to use and where on the top wave to position them in order for the pendant to hang level.


The next fabrication challenge involved the remaining soldering steps. When soldering, you need to bring the pieces of metal being joined (and the solder that joins them) up to the same temperature at the same time. So when soldering two pieces which are significantly different in weight and thickness, it is difficult to get the larger piece hot enough for the solder to flow without getting the smaller piece so hot that it melts or deforms.

The design incorporated five small tube-set white topazes, so I not only had to get the loops soldered on to hang the chain, I had to solder the settings for the other gems (yes, there was at least one do-over along the way). The final soldering step was to attach a post on the platform for the pearl.

The fabrication work is finished, and the piece is embedded in a thermoplastic (when softened I can mold it around the piece, and it hardens as it cools) so that it is supported and protected during  stone-setting.

The pearl was not drilled, so I also had to decide on the best place to drill it, and do the actual drilling. I created a small mold to hold it while I oh-so-carefully drilled. That done, all that was left was the final polishing and using a 2-part epoxy to secure the pearl on its post and platform.

I love how the piece turned out, and most importantly, so does my customer!


Visit my website,, to see more of my work.

The Tucson Gem Show

It has been called “The Greatest Treasure Hunt in the World”, and the city of Tucson, Arizona is invaded annually by its participants.

“It” is the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase — the largest event of its kind in the world. From its start as a one-weekend show put on by a local club (the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society), The Tucson Show (as it is commonly called) has grown to encompass more than 40 separate gem, fossil, and mineral shows located at venues ranging across the entire city of Tucson. It has become so important to the City of Tucson that the City Manager’s Office created a position for a TGMS Liaison Officer.

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Amethyst cathedral geodes. I estimate that the tall ones in the back are close to 10′ high, and they are by no means the largest specimens I have seen at Tucson.
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This map of Tucson (produced by Interweave Press, who publish The Tucson Show Guide), marks the locations of the 42 separate events which comprise the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase.

Many of the shows are open to the public, although there are a few, such as AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) and GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) which require proof that you are a wholesale buyer in the gem and jewelry business. One year, as I was standing in line at GJX to get my badge, I overheard a woman trying to get in with a reseller license for an interior design business – she was turned away.

The AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) show is held in the Tucson Convention Center. It is one of my favorites because it not only has stunning gems, it also features exhibits from the Smithsonian, displays of award-winning  jewelry, and educational seminars. It is also much less claustrophobic than some of the other shows, where one can hardly move without bumping into another person.
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I spend most of my time hunched over tables like this, searching for the gems which will inspire my jewelry designs.

It is difficult to imagine the scope and range of this event unless you have experienced it. From cheap tchotchkes to rare minerals to the most magnificent gemstones and jewelry, The Tucson Show has it all. As someone before me has said, if it’s not at Tucson, it probably hasn’t been discovered yet.

A collector’s specimen of aquamarine, seen at the Pueblo Show.

It is not just designated event venues that host the various gem shows. Any open space will be taken over, either by RVs where dealers just park and set out their wares on a table or by tents (some simple pop-ups, some that are hundreds of feet in length, complete with air-conditioning). If a show is located at a hotel, not only is every public space in the hotel given over to vendors, but the rooms themselves become stalls.

The photos below were taken at this years’ 22nd Street Show, one of the event-tent venues.

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Perhaps you are looking for a replica of a dinosaur for your museum?
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Or perhaps you are a collector seeking the real thing (this dinosaur leg is from Colorado)?
To a meteor collector, this a little piece of heaven.


The Tucson Show By Numbers

  • There were 42 separate shows in 2018.
  • Start-to-finish, the event runs for 28 days, although the majority of shows occur during a two week period in the middle of that time.
  • An estimated 55,000 visitors come to Tucson for the shows.
  • More than 3,300 dealers, representing over 30 countries, participated in the shows.
  • 42 gazillion dollars changes hands. Not really – I just made that up!  No one know how much business is done, but it is almost certainly in the millions of dollars.

An Abbreviated Timeline

  • 1955: The Tucson Gem & Mineral Society organized a small club show at the Helen Keeling Elementary School. The show was held over one weekend, and about 1,500 people attended.
  • 1956: Because of their success the previous year, the show moved to the Pima County Fair and Rodeo Grounds.
  • 1960: The Smithsonian Institution was invited to attend, and Paul Desautels, the assistant curator of the Smithsonian’s mineral collection, brought some noteworthy items to exhibit. The Smithsonian’s participation continues to this day.
  • 1961: A 19,227 carat ruby from Ceylon was exhibited. The first satellite shows occurred, in an empty gas station across from the fairgrounds, and motel-room sales started in the Holiday Inn South.
  • 1966: The show was extended to 3 days.
  • 1970: The British Museum exhibited and lectured, and legendary gemologist Campbell Bridges brought tsavorite garnets and emeralds from Tanzania.
  • 1972: The show moved to the Tucson Convention Center and was extended to 10 days. The satellite shows have continued to grow.
  • 2018: The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase runs from January 19th through February 16th and includes 42 shows with more than 3,300 dealers (according to The Tucson Show Guide).

See What My Tucson Finds Have Inspired

To see what I create with my Tucson Gem Show treasures, visit my website:

Garnets: A Rainbow Of Color

How many of you with January birthdays know that your birthstone, garnet, comes in colors other than red? Garnets can be green, yellow, orange, black, violet, and of course, red.  According to the GIA (Gemological Institute of America), garnets are divided into more than 20 categories. They are collectively known as the garnet group.

The garnet group is a set of minerals which are closely related in terms of crystal structure and chemical composition. Within the group, the gems are divided into species, and some of those species are further subdivided into varieties.

Garnet Group chart

Some Garnet Trivia

  • The name “garnet” is thought to be inspired by the vivid red crystals which can look like pomegranate seeds. The name comes from the Latin word for grain or seed: granatus.
  • A 5,000 year old garnet bead necklace was found in a grave in Egypt.
  • The Bohemian mine (in modern-day Czechoslovakia) began mining red garnets in the 1500s, resulting in a regional jewelry industry that peaked during the late 1800s.
  • Campbell Bridges discovered Tsavorite Garnet in 1967. Tsavorite is a bright green, easily mistaken for emerald, and is part of the Grossularite garnet species. Although he first discovered it in Tanzania (where he also discovered Tanzanite), Bridges traced the line of the deposit back to Kenya, and wanted the gem named after Tsavo National Park.

Demantoid Garnets: The “Emerald of the Urals”

The rarest and most valuable garnets are the brilliant green demantoid garnets (a variety in the Andradite garnet species). The name means “diamond like lustre” and they do indeed exhibit fiery flashes of color, as diamonds do. Demantoids were discovered in the Ural mountains in Russian in 1853, and that remained the only known source until 1996, when a major find was discovered in Namibia (the Green Dragon mine). Russian demantoid garnets can exhibit what is called “horsetail” inclusions, and this phenomenon makes them even more valuable.

horsetail inclusions in a Russion demantoid garnet

More recently, deposits have also been found in Madagascar, Afghanistan, Italy, Iran, China, Korea, Zaire, and the United States. Demantoid garnets are usually small (stones larger than 1 carat, or about 6mm in diameter, are rare), so if you see a large stone advertised as a demantoid garnet, be suspicious.

Color Change Garnets

A few garnets exhibit a very rare phenomenon known as color change — their color changes based on the light source (e.g. under a lightbulb versus under sunlight).

One such variation is:

  • In incandescent light (light bulb): color is pink to red
  • In sunlight or fluorescent light: color changes to greenish-yellow
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color change garnets

A second variation might be:

  • In incandescent light (light bulb): color is grayish violet to purple
  • In sunlight or fluorescent light: color changes to greenish-blue or violet

More Than Red

Garnets come in such gorgeous colors that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I have to admit I’m partial to the fiery brilliance of the demantoids and the rich purple-red of the rhodolites. Remember, garnets are more than red!

Visit Me

You can shop my jewelry collection at Studio 44 Jewelry.

A Bit About Gold

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When I first started making jewelry, I worked exclusively in silver. If I accidentally melted something while soldering, it was frustrating (to say the least), but not a financial disaster. Gold, however, was fluctuating around $800 per ounce at the time, so accidentally melting a piece of gold was not a risk I was willing to take.

Over time, I became more skilled technically and more confident with my designs, and I started incorporating gold in my work.

Gold is one of the eight “noble” elements, meaning it resists oxidation and corrosion, and is not easily attacked by acids (the others are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, and platinum).

You’re probably familiar with the expression “passing the acid test”. It is a reference to a test developed in the 18th century, which used nitric acid to determine whether or not a metal was actually gold.

Fun Facts About Gold

According to the World Gold Council:

  • It is rarer to find a one ounce nugget of gold than to find a 5 carat diamond.
  • About 187,200 tonnes of gold have been mined since the beginning of civilization.
  • Of that, over 90% has been mined since the California Gold Rush (1848 – 1855) – approximately 168,480 tonnes.
  • But all of the gold ever mined would fit in a crate only 21 cubic meters in size!
  • The world’s oceans are estimated to hold up to 15,000 tonnes of gold.
  • One ounce of gold can be stretched into a length of wire 50 miles long and only 5 microns thick (0.001 mm).

Another Fun Fact: Gold is Biocompatible

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Pure gold is biologically inert – it will pass through a human’s digestive tract without being absorbed. It is sold in very fine, thin sheets or flakes and often used to decorate chocolate works of art.


Gold Leaf in Jewelry Making

In jewelry making, gold leaf is used in a Korean technique known as keum boo. Heat and pressure are used to fuse nearly pure gold onto sterling silver or other metals. The gold leaf will bond with the silver using temperatures between 700°F and 900°F, which is much lower than temperatures used when soldering two pieces of precious metal (soldering temperatures range between approximately 1,200°F and 1,500°F).


This is a new design which I’ll be introducing at the upcoming Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy. In this example of keum boo, I’ve used a chemical solution to blacken the silver after applying the gold foil. It’s called liver of sulfur – it blackens silver, but gold does not react to it. I like the way it creates a contrast between the black and the gold.

The Golden Buddha

There are countless beautiful, masterful, inspiring works of art created with gold. But the most astonishing one I have ever seen myself is the Golden Buddha.


Sitting in glowing serenity in Wat Traimit in Bangkok, Thailand is what is probably the world’s most valuable buddha statue. It weighs in at 5.5 tons of gold. Disguised for an unknown number of years under a layer of plaster, its true composition was revealed in 1954 when it was being moved and was accidentally dropped, breaking off some of the coating. According to Wikipedia, the statue is in nine parts, and the purity of the gold varies throughout the statue, from 40% pure gold in the body to 99% pure gold in the hair and topknot. Using an estimated value of $1,275 per ounce (approximately what gold has been this month), the gold in the Golden Buddha has a material value of nearly $230 million.


The Golden Buddha is nearly 10 feet high.



What If….

This is not the post I planned to write this month, but the scary number of natural disasters in the news recently (one of which impacted my family) made me want to reach out and remind my customers to take a few steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Coincidentally, September is National Preparedness Month.

What if you lost your home due to a fire, a flood, an earthquake? My mother and step-father lost theirs in the Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, and that has motivated me to offer a few suggestions. Disaster planning is not my area of expertise, so this is hardly comprehensive, but after helping them in the aftermath of Harvey, these are the things that have been on my mind.

I also wanted to share an article I wrote for our local paper, a personal account of the devastation caused by the flood.

1. Back Up Your Computer To An Off-site Location

Personally, I back up to an external hard drive kept next to my computer, which is great if my problem is that my computer has crashed and I need to re-load all my data to a new one. But I also back up to a cloud-based service in case the house burns down, so that my data can still be retrieved. I’ve been using Crash Plan, but they will be discontinuing their service for home users, so I will soon be hunting for a new provider. Here are a some reviews I’ll be checking out:,review-2678.html and .

Another option to a cloud-based back-up is to periodically back-up to an external drive which can be kept in a safe location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You will not always have the most current back-up of your data doing it this way, but it is a very easy option.

2. Use A Password Management App

Do I really need to explain why it is a bad idea to keep your passwords on a sheet of paper in your desk drawer? No, I didn’t think so. A good password management app will provide both a high level of security for your information and allow it to be synchronized across devices, so that even if you have lost your computer, you can access the data on a tablet or smart phone.

Also, make sure that the contact information you have registered with important online accounts, such as banks or credit cards, is current and includes your cell phone and the correct email address. If you are logging into your account using a device or browser that has not previously been authorized, you will generally have to go through a verification process that involves texting or emailing an authorization code. If your contact information is not current and you cannot receive the authorization codes, getting back into your accounts becomes much more complicated and time-consuming.

Here’s a recent review of some password managers: . I’m using 1Password and have been pleased with it.

3. Document Your Home And Its Contents

I was living in Laguna Beach in 1993, when a wildfire raged through the canyon and into town. Over 400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. The fire burned to the end of the street where I was living, and only a change in the wind stopped it from getting to my apartment.

Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to make a visual record of my possessions for insurance purposes. But – true confession – for 24 years I have failed to cross “photograph contents of house” off my list of things to do. Coming close to losing my home apparently wasn’t enough motivation. But seeing first-hand what has happened to my mother and step-father’s home and helping them start to recover from such a horrible loss – that has done the job. I came home and started taking pictures.

I also looked into apps that would help document everything, and come across these reviews: and The one I decided to try is Encircle, although I haven’t really started using it yet, so cannot personally report on its functionality.

4. Get Digital Images of Precious Photos

It’s probably been years since any of you used a film camera. In fact, some of my younger readers might NEVER have used a film camera. For your digital images, if you are not already backing them up to the cloud (or as part of your computer back up), you should start doing so. But if you have old-fashioned prints of photographs that are precious to you, make a digital copy of them. Either scan them, or simply take a photograph of the photograph. Just pick a few to start with.

5. Have Important Contact Information In Your Phone

You probably have contact information for family members and friends in your phone, but what about your insurance agent, your doctor, or your pharmacy?

6. And All the Rest

Then there’s all the issues related to simply surviving the disaster and seeing to it that basic human needs are met. Here’s a couple of web resources: and .

A Home I Used To Know

A Personal Account Of The Devastation Caused By Hurricane Harvey

by Lorraine Hornby

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Only the bedrooms upstairs were spared.

I grew up in Spring, Texas – once a rural area just north of Houston, now a congested jumble of suburbs and strip malls. Until September 3, a house on West North Hill Drive had been my mother’s home for more than 50 years. It was where I grew up, roller skating and riding my bicycle around the neighborhood in the days when parents could tell their children “go play in the street”.

It survived Alicia (1983), Allison (2001), Rita (2005) and Ike (2008). Harvey changed that. Mom and my step-father, Mike, were away when the storm hit. They managed to get a flight to Dallas, and spent the next week in a hotel there, able – for a while – to remotely access the security cameras at the house to watch the floodwaters rise.

On August 26 the water was coming up the driveway. By August 27 it was inside the house, she guessed to a depth of 2 or 3 feet. Neighbors had already evacuated.

My brother made plans to rent an SUV and drive from his home in Des Moines with his two sons, tools, and supplies, in order to be there when the flood waters went down enough to haul out the ruined possessions and rip out the sodden walls. I booked a flight.

Then the power went out and they could no longer access the cameras. One of my step-sisters saw a Weather Nation Live video on Facebook, and recognized a street name as a rescue boat chugged through the neighborhood. The video clearly showed Mom & Mike’s home, with water up to the roof of the first floor.

Mom told my brother to cancel his plans – who knew when the water would recede or the roads  open. My flight was scheduled for a few days later, and I kept my reservation in the hope that the airport would be open again by then. It was, and I arrived on September 5 – the day after I closed up my booth at the Sawdust Art Festival.

Even more than the home, my mother was worried about her dog, who had been boarded at a nearby kennel before they left on their trip. It turned out that the kennel stayed dry, although roads leading to it flooded. An employee lived close enough to wade through knee-deep water to care for the animals.

As anyone who has a pet knows, though, animals suffer stress just like humans do, and when she was finally able to get back to Spring and retrieve the dog, he was clearly traumatized. He is always a source of great comfort to her, but he was also the cause of terrible worry in the first days after the flood. He got bitten by something – we suspect a spider – which resulted in multiple trips to the vet. The only time I saw my mother cry that week was when she had to leave him at the vet for the third time in as many days (he is fine now).

The Kindness of Strangers, and Friends Who Aren’t

Hard times bring out the best and the worst in people. The fact that this is a cliché makes it no less true. Mom and Mike have received an astonishing amount of help from complete strangers.

First, there was the family that they met in their hotel in Dallas, who loaned them a car to drive from Dallas to Spring as soon as the roads were open.

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This was once the utility room and kitchen.  Volunteers cleared the house and stripped the walls before mold started growing.

Then, over Labor Day weekend, there were the community volunteers who set up a command center in the neighborhood and organized dozens (maybe even hundreds, I don’t really know) of volunteers, along with food, water, and clean-up supplies. They literally dug in and did the filthy, sweaty, back-breaking job of dragging out ruined furniture, appliances, and possessions, then stripping the walls to the studs.

In the week following Labor Day the majority of those volunteers had gone back to their own jobs and I was wondering how I would move the debris still in the back yard around to the pile in the front on my own, when two people walked up to the house and asked if we needed help. I gratefully said “yes”.

As for the worst, there are of course the looters and the hustlers and the corporations that seek to profit from the victims’ misfortune. On a personal level, you will discover that some “friends” are not. It’s just another wound to your heart, already hurting from the loss of your home and the treasured mementos of your life.

Cleaning Up

For the first five days of cleanup, no confirmed information was available to as when the debris would be removed. Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, every house on the street had been cleared, and each lawn was covered with the ruined contents, piled several feet high.

Then someone came around to distribute printouts of a pretty graphic from FEMA illustrating how the rubble should be separated into tidy piles: electronics, household waste, hazardous waste, appliances, vegetative debris, construction debris, and ordinary household waste. And it should all be within 10 feet of the curb and not near any trees.

FEMA’s view of the world.

The reality bore no resemblance to the pretty FEMA graphic. Everyone worried that their yard would not get cleared if they did not sort the garbage, but truly, it would have required another army of volunteers to do so. Eventually, we learned that the Home Owner’s Association wasn’t going to wait for FEMA and had hired a dump truck and excavator. Trash removal started a week after the flood, and thankfully, they took everything, sorted or not.

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The way it really is.

There is never going to be anything easy about losing your home and its contents, whether it is by fire or flood or earthquake or tornado. But I think flood is the worst.  When the water goes down and you start to clear your ruined belongings, you open a drawer and it is still full of water. All the clear plastic boxes used to neatly organize things in the garage are full of water.  You see your soaked photograph albums. You are left with the task of dismantling a structure which is still standing, albeit soaking wet, and you must rush to demolish the walls so the studs can be sprayed to prevent mold.

Helping Out

For those displaced by a disaster, after the basic human needs of shelter, food, and water are met, what is needed most is labor. If you are going to volunteer labor, take your own protective gear: respirator masks, eye protection, gloves, sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen, insect repellant.

People who have lost their homes need help doing laundry, finding a place to live temporarily, cleaning and packing whatever possessions they have managed to salvage. And chances are, they need tech support. I spent a great deal of time setting up Mom & Mike’s iPads and phones to do things they were used to doing on their computers (Mom’s computer was lost in the flood, Mike’s survived in an upstairs room, but he no longer had internet access on it).

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Important papers and all the family photograph albums were lost.

It is a long and stressful road, recovering from a disaster. Mom and Mike are on their way, though. Most days bring progress, sometimes huge, sometimes small. But progress.