Rare Rocks

It's been tough to get back to my rocks and making jewelry since my father passed away.  Then over the summer, life got pretty busy and I was away for most of the summer months.  But now it's fall and time to get back to work. 

In case you don't follow my facebook page, I've been sharing information about 12 of the most rare gemstones on earth each month this year. Like birders with their life lists, rock hounds have rare gems and rocks we long to see or add to our collections.  Some of us will travel great distances to find them.  The 12 I'm covering this year on facebook include some that I've actually seen, and many I have not.

For October, the rock is poudretteite.  I have no idea how you are supposed to say it, but if my French classes are of any help, it would be something like pooh-dreh-tite. 

Poudretteite is named after the Poudrette family who owned the quarry where is was originally found in the Mont St. Hilaire area of Quebec back in the mid-1960s.  Seven tiny crystals were originally found.  They were not identified as a new crystal/rock until 1986 when the new specimen was registered.  Since that time, additional crystals have been found in the Mogok region of Myanmar.  This location produces much larger crystals, however anything over 1 carat is considered extra rare.  The largest crystal ever cut is 9.41 carats; this stone came from a 21.22 piece of rough.  The faceted stone is on display at the Smithsonian.

Poudretteite is a potassium sodium boron silicate; the primary color causing element is manganese.  This results in colorless, pink and purple crystals.  Poudretteite is a fairly soft stone, only a 5 on the Mohs scale. 

Prices for good color in a clean stone run about $6000 per carat.

I've checked out quite a few photos of poudretteite, but the only one I've ever seen in person is the one at the Smithsonian.  It's gorgeous! And I can cross this one off my list of stones to see.

Happy hunting for your rare rocks.

Old Rock Hounds Never Die, They Just Pass On Their Love of Rocks

Three days after my last post, my father died.  It's taken me a while to be able to do much with my rocks, or to write about them.  Dad was my rock buddy and it seems pretty strange not to share what I'm doing with him.  From the time I was little, my dad dug, cut and made jewelry with rocks.  It fascinated me.  Still does. 

For the past few year,s as I started making jewelry, I would call Dad a couple of times a week and tell him what I was up to.  What rocks I cut.  What jewelry I made.  What I sold.  He always wanted to see what I was working on and wanted to know what was selling.  Always encouraging me.  I miss that.

He wasn't my only influence though.  My maternal grandmother collected and loved rocks.  I now have her collection.  She kept a list of each rock, numbered, and where each was collected.  It's getting hard to read that list, but it's in her handwriting, so I keep it in a plastic bag trying to preserve it for my grandchildren.

One of my granddaughters is coming next week.  She wants to learn to make a ring with a bezel set stone in it.  Last year she made a plain band.  She has always been interested in rocks.  I remember watching her "collect" stones in my driveway, then washing them off so she could see if they were pretty.  Just like I used to do. 

I hope that she stays interested.  I hope I can teach her some of what my father and grandmother taught me. Because these are things we remember.  Time spent with family and friends, doing something we love to do.. 

05.21.2013 | Add new comment | in: rock hounds, rocks

Caring for Your Rocks

A few years ago, I bought one of my granddaughters a birthstone ring.  She's a May baby, so that meant an emerald.  It was a size 7 when I bought it, and we sized it down to a 4.5.  Well, she's grown a bit and that ring didn't fit any more - not even on her pinky!  So, I took it to a local jeweler to have it sized and cleaned.

Now, if you read my Gemstone Information page, OR the page on cleaning rocks, you know that emeralds require special care when cleaning.   Nearly all emeralds are oiled - a process which deepens the green color of the rocks.  If you use normal cleaning methods, you remove the oil, and the stones will appear lighter - and actually will not be as well protected.

I should have re-sized the ring myself.  After all, I know how.  You remove the stones, then cut the ring band.  Next, you solder in a piece of gold that will give you the size you need.  Then you shape the ring band and file it even with the existing band.  Smoothing and polishing finish off the ring; then you just need to reset the stones. 

But, I don't have any gold solder right now and I don't know how to re-oil emeralds, so I took it to a "professional."  I even asked the woman who took the order if they would re-oil the ring to clean it - and she said they would. 

Which brings me to the point of this particular blog.  When you take your jewelry to a jeweler, don't just drop it off with the person up front.  Ask to speak to the bench jeweler who will actually do the work and find out if they really know how to take care of your special rocks.  In looking at the ticket that was written for the bench jeweler, I discovered that no one wrote down that I wanted the stones re-oiled.  So, it's an easy fix, but I shouldn't have had to have them write it down - you only clean emeralds with mild soap and water, or you re-oil them.  It's frustrating to have to go through all the extra trips to pick up the ring, tell they what they did wrong, then have to go back again to pick up the ring. 

And, I probably won't use that jeweler again.  They steam cleaned the ring!  What kind of a jeweler doesn't know that emeralds should never be steam cleaned?  I don't even own a steam cleaner - they can damage too many types of stones!

You spend lots of money for your special rocks and jewelry - or someone did.  Maybe you inherited it from someone special in your family.  Either way, you want them to be cared for properly and come back to you from the jeweler in top condition.  Spend a little extra time and make sure your jeweler knows what care your special rocks need and deserve.

The Trials of Online and Point of Sale Commerce

It's January 3, and I just finished the Christmas rush.  Had a pretty good season, so please don't think I"m complaining, but it's already time to move on to the next holiday and get busy making things again.  I know this because I went into Walmart today (against my better judgement) and there are Easter candy displays up.  Wait a minute I thought; isn't there another holiday or two before Easter?  So I started looking around and although there are some Valentine's Day candy boxes, and a shamrock or two on the shelves, they really seem to be skipping Valentine's Day!

This made me realize that I probably should at least try to make some VDay sales, so I started wandering around looking for things to use on my display at the local Winter Market for the next few weeks.  When you sell online, you can add some pictures and maybe a line of items that are aimed at a particular holiday market to your website.  At Easter I put up vintage crosses in several designs, at Valentine's Day I usually make some ruby or heart shaped jewelry.  You get the idea.  Then I add a link labeling jewelry chosen for that holiday to highlight it and voila - holiday sales.

But, when you sell face to face, you have to have actual decorations to get people thinking about that particular holiday.  And, I don't have any for Valentine's Day.  Or St. Patrick's Day for that matter.  And so, the hunt began. 

It's really cold and snowy outside - unusual for southern Illinois - so I decided to search every aisle of Walmart for the exercise.  I didn't find anything that would be useful as a decoration for my display.  So, needing more exercise anyway, I headed over to JoAnn Fabrics.  They often have lots of holiday things to decorate your home, or to make decorations.  Nope, not much.  They too are sort of skipping VDay and heading right for Easter.  Am I crazy?  Isn't there a market for the lesser holidays?  I don't give up easily, so I headed next to Hobby Lobby - where they are still selling off Christmas at 80% off.  Wow!  What's the markup on Christmas decorations if you can sell it at 80% off?  Maybe I need to reconsider my markup! (Just kidding, I won't do that to you)

I did get (kind of) lucky at Hobby Lobby.  They are putting up what appears to be two aisles of Valentine's Day items, and some shamrocks!  So, now I have to think about the display, and how to set it up and where I'm going to store these things until next year once we do actually move on to Easter - fortunately I bought Easter items last year.

Meanwhile, maybe some of that VDay candy sitting out on the display would attract some customers - or are we all still working on our resolutions to lose weight?

Ellen's Great Aunt Margaret's Copper Disks - Series 1

A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law  Ellen gave me a box full of silver and copper.  It belonged to her great aunt Margaret who had made jewelry and done copper enamaling into her 90s (we should all be so lucky to stay active that long!).  Ellen and my brother were in the process of selling their house and retiring to the coast (nice!) and she decided that maybe I could use the metals in the box.  I think she just didn't want to move it.

I wasted no time in using the silver and gold filled metal.  I had lots of projects that called for both of them.  But, most of the box held copper - and lots of it was already cut into shapes.  I'm sure Margaret bought them that way and then enamaled them - some peices were even already enamaled.  But, I don't really like to work with copper.  For one thing, it takes more heat and it stinks when you solder it.  Well, I guess that's two things, but I digress.

For two years I would periodically get out these copper shapes and stare at them.  Stack them up.  Sort them by size.  But inspiration never struck.  Then a couple of weeks ago, it hit me - I was out of silver sheet!  And, I wanted to make jewelry.  So I got out the copper shapes again and stared until it occured to me; I didn't have to use them in the shape they came in.  So, I got out the smallest round copper pieces and started to play with them once again.

The first one I made into a lily pad.  I get lots of my inspiration from nature, and my water lilies had all just lost their leaves that week - too cold for them now.  I added a small lotus looking silver flower.  Then a small silver frog.  Then, I accidentally dropped several bits of silver onto one of the disks and I thought - hmm, how about a cup shape?  And so, the series began.   I ended up with 12 rings which I am calling Ellen's Great Aunt Margaret's Copper Disks Series 1. 

There are lots more sizes and shapes so I"m not sure what the next series will include - but I had fun with this one.   I"ll be taking pictures of the rings this week and hope to get them posted on the web next week.  Meanwhile, my silver sheet has arrived and I can get back to some previously planned projects.  But it just goes to show you - the creative process sometimes works best when it HAS to!

Dad's Favorite

My father had surgery a couple of weeks ago - serious surgery.  Which got started quite a bit later than scheduled.  So, while we waited for him to go up to the operating room, we talked.  About rocks.  Well, other things too, but we always end up talking about rocks.  And, as we talked, it occured to me that my Dad has a favorite.  Not me.  A favorite rock.

Dad collected a variety of rocks and made jewelry out of most of them.  He gave methe remains of all those rocks a while back and I'm having a good time cutting them up and making them into cabs (no, still not as good at it as my father, but I'm making progress).  Among all those rocks was an entire box of Ohio flint.  Dad asked if I was using any of the flint.  "Sure", I told him.  "But there are so many rocks, I'm using some of all of them."  He then proceeded to tell me that none of the other rocks would take a polish as well, and none of them would have such a great variety of color.  Clearly, his favorite.

My father actually dug all the flint in the box at Flint Ridge back in the 1960s and 70s.  For a while, we had so many little pieces of flint, I used them instead of gravel to set my mailbox!  Now, I wish I had kept more of them. 

Ohio flint is different than the flint you find in many other areas of the mid-west.  The Illinois flint, for example, is pretty much dark gray.  It would polish just as well as the Ohio flint, but the color is monochromatic, and so, not as fun for jewelry.  Ohio flint comes in lots of colors:  white, gray, black, red, yellow, cream, pink and blue.  I've never seen purple, but it could exist.  One of Dad's most treasured flints is the Nellie blue flint.  It's name comes from the town where the blue flint was once found.  It's gorgeous stuff - and I have one large cab and a few nuggets left - that's all.  I hear there is none left to dig.  But, Flint Ridge is still the spot to find great colored flint. Dad's pretty sure he won't be able to go dig there anymore.  Guess I'll have to go for him.

When I got home, I looked at all the jewelry my father made me back then.  None of it is flint.  But, all of his jewelry is.  How did I miss this all these years?   My Dad plays favorites with rocks.

Road Trips and Rocks

I don't often get to talk to SanDee, but when she is in town we inevitably talk rocks.  I'm envious because she and significant other were on a trip and she was collecting rocks.  Something I haven't been able to do for quite a while.  Getting new knees has helped, but there is a limit to what the fake knees will let you do, and climbing rock cliffs is not recommended.

But, SanDee was meandering around the midwest and part of the east coast searching for rocks and historic sites along the way.  For a whole week!  I guess there are lots of folks out there who get to go on rock hunting trips pretty regularly, but I don't.  My full time job has no vacation time and I work year round.  So, trips of any length are out of the question.  I have trouble fitting in a quick search when I'm in California - and the darn rocks are everywhere!

SanDee and I started talking about some of the places we have collected and it turns out we've been to some of the same places.  If you get a chance to go to northern Michigan, there's a treasure trove of rocks to be had.  We both have native copper from the U.P. , Lake Superior Agates, Petosky stones, and some fossils.  We both love, love, love Isle Royale - not for rock hunting, but just 'cause it's gorgeous.  We both love the Painted Rock shoreline of Lake Superior and Tequamenon Falls - in the fall when the leaves change colors it's beyond words.  The rock formations are really something.

I sent SanDee on her way with some suggestions about where to see rock arches in Ohio, where to see Old Man's Cave and the Hocking Hills (which are marvelous rocks), and where to find Ohio flint,.  And of course, Garden of the Gods and Fyrne Cliffe here in southern Illinois.  Oh, and the fluorite crystals near Cave-In-Rock.  The pearl farm in Tennessee.  The list got a little long.  I hope she got to see some of them on her trip. 

In any case, our chats reminded me that I work too much and I need to go collect some rocks.  There have to be some that aren't up a cliff!

Music and the Creative Process

My iPod died.  I mention this because I sat down on Sunday to work on a bracelet - a lovely turquoise and silver piece - and there was no music coming out of my iPod.  I wasn't sure I could make jewelry without music in the background. 

This iPod was an original mini; first generation!  The battery stopped holding a charge a couple of years ago, but I set it into my Bose dock and it still played music every time I turned it on and sat down to make jewelry.  Not this day.  It displayed some numbers on the screen, then slowly faded to nothing.  I felt like I'd lost an old friend.  And the jewelry making didn't go smoothly that day.  The bracelet turned out ok in tihe end, but the process was missing something.

Maybe it wasn't the lack of music that made it hard for me to concentrate.  Maybe I was mourning a friend?   No matter, the issue of music and the creative process is one I've often pondered.  When I write (as I do for my full time job) I always have music on in the background.  I remember doing this as a child, (with my parents telling me I'd never learn anything with all the noise going on while I studied);  but I did learn and have needed music most of my life. It drove my ex crazy.  All that music all the time.  Tee Hee.

In a way, I blame my parents.  They introduced us to all types of music at a very young age.  I remember music always being on in the house.  So, perhaps that's why I need to have music playing when I'm being creative, or even when I'm just cleaning the house.  Studies have shown that some people are more creative when they listen to music.  Surgeons often play music in the operating room.  And, it seems that so many creative people have a strong connection to music. 

I choose music to suit what I need to do.  If I'm working on a hard process, like forming, chasing or in general pounding on metal, I choose music that really powers me through.  If I'm sketching and trying to come up with new ideas, I often listen to soft jazz or new age stuff.  Something soothing that lets the creative juices flow.  The rest of the time - anything goes!

I really need to get a new iPod.  Last week I went to silver smithing class and half the group was pounding on something.  I couldn't hear myself think, let alone come up with any new ideas.  Yep, a new iPod and some noise cancelling headphones!

What's in a Name?

I was talking with some fellow jewelry makers last night and we don't agree on the name of a rock. We didn't agree on the pronunciation of another.  That's not uncommon. The conventions for naming rocks are a little vague, and are usually based on 1) who found it first, 2) where it was found, or 3) what color or pattern the rock displays.  Official names are pretty standard, but that doesn't keep those in the rock and jewelry trade from coming up with new names all the time - they do it to market the rocks.

For example, zoisite is a fairly common rock.  It comes in several colors, most of which are opaque.  Probably the most famous zoisite is a blue-purple with red flashes that is transparent.  You know it as Tanzanite.  The Tiffany Company gave it that name based on where it was found because they thought it would be easier to market the rock that way.  Lately, I've seen green opaque zoisite with opaque red corundum crystals embedded in it sold as "ruby in zoisite."  It's just a matter of time until someone in the trade comes up with another name for this rock that they think will help it sell.

But, this "trade name" business also causes problems.  I've recently purchased several cabochons and some rough of a rock from China that is often sold in the trade as Red Creek Jasper.  This rock is NOT jasper.  It's softer than jasper and usually needs to be stabalized, much the way we stabalize turquoise in order to cut and polish the rocks.  If you do not stabalize this Red Creek stone, it doesn't take a very good polish, it tends to crack and when you cut slabs and cabs, you lose quite a bit of soft rock in the process.  There are others out there that the trade has labeled jasper that are not.  Again, it's done to sell rocks.

Why should this matter to you?  Well, if a rock is mislabeled, you may not know whether it is hard enough to withstand constant wear.  Jasper is a very hard rock.  You can put it into a ring and wear it every day.  That rock will look just as good 3 decades from now as it does the day you purchase it.  But, if it has been mis-labeled, your rock may crack when you accidentally bump it against a hard surace (like a desk at work) or it may lose it's polish and shine.  Wear on the surface of the rock will dull the polish.

I like some of the names people come up with for rocks - they are pretty, evocative and sometimes very descriptive.  But, they also need to be accurate.  The name Red Creek Stone is just as nice and easy to market as Red Creek Jasper - but one tells the buyer what the stone really is and the other does not. 

BTW, we were arguing over Mexican Crazy Lace Agate - some of us know it as Mexican Lace Agate, some as Mexican Agate, - you get the idea.  At least we all agreed that it was an agate -  which  means it's a quartz with banding.

Designing for Rocks

I spent Monday designing a necklace - for me.  I actually design them all for me, but I don't always end up keeping them!  I had been chatting with a friend about rocks and was reminded of how often I see a piece of jewelry where the rock gets "lost" in the design.  Then other times, you see a piece that just compliments the rock beautifully.  The difference, of course, is good design.

Rocks come in lots of colors and patterns, so if you have a monochromatic rock, the silver or gold work around the rock can be quite intricate and set the rock off nicely.  However, if the rock has lots of pattern and/or color, busy metal work just detracts from the stone.  There are women who will find this next statement heresy but I think people put too may accent diamonds (and other accent stones) around rocks that just don't need them.  A well cut stone with good color saturation and no inclusions is gorgeous all by itself - and the design should draw your eye to the beauty of that stone, not how well you can do metal work or how many accent stones you manage to add to the piece.

On the other hand, sometimes the metal work is the focus and the stones are the accent.  I recently saw a bracelet that was a geometric gold pattern with tiny sapphires of various colors accenting specific points in the geometric design.  It was gorgeous!  The stones were in just the right place to draw your eye to the details of the gold work.  Made by someone who truly understands design.

I guess I'm into timeless, classic jewelry - I see lots of well designed work that is just too busy to suit me and that's ok.  We need lots of variety because customers don't always share our design asthetic.  But please, don't lose the stone in the rest of the work - mother nature worked too hard to create them for us to bury them in our designs!

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