Sunday, October 11, 2015

Synthetic and Imitation Gems: What's it all about?

Synthetic and Imitation Gems: What's it all about?

Long ago, people thought of gemstones as rare and beautiful objects with magical powers.  This idea changed in the eighteenth century, when gem structure and composition became less mysterious.  Scientists began to discover ways of growing crystals of similar composition to the once rare and magical stones.  By the nineteenth century, crops of these new man-made crystals were being grown in labs everywhere.

A synthetic is the term used to describe a gemstone that has essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure, and properties as its natural counterpart.  These synthetics are all over the market today.  A synthetic ruby IS a ruby, however the cost and value of the two stones differ considerably. The cost of a synthetic gem can vary depending on how it was made. Some processes can yield a large quantity of stones in a short amount of time making them quite affordable.  Other processes such as flux growth requires very expensive equipment and can take up to a year to produce a single crystal.  This method is used in Chatham stones and can increase the cost.

An imitation is the term used to describe any material that looks like a natural gem and is used in its place.  This can be any material including glass, plastic, or other gems NOT being the one imitated.  For instance, a piece of glass or natural quartz could both be considered an "imitation diamond".

A few synthetic diamond crystals have come in to the market in the 80's and 90's, however, scientists have yet to produce a synthetic diamond with properties that consistently and convincingly match those of natural diamonds.  If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to diamonds, I would suggest these options in this order:

1. Diamond - Hardness 10 - Brilliance (RI)- 2.42
       2. Moissanite - Hardness 9.25 - Brilliance (RI) - 2.65 
      3. White Sapphire - Hardness 9 - Brilliance (RI) 1.77
 4. White Topaz - Hardness 8 - Brilliance (RI) 1.64
        5. Cubic Zirconia - Hardness 8.5 - Brilliance (RI) 2.15

You may notice that based purely on the numbers, cubic zirconia might sit higher on the list.  This is purely a personal choice.  I still feel that there is some history and romance with natural gemstones.  The process that natural ones go through to have formed in the earth is an amazing journey that has taken thousands of years.  Having a piece of that is by far adding more sentiment to your jewelry than the bit of extra sparkle a cz might give you.

What does this mean for you?

There are so many choices when it comes to buying jewelry and gemstones.  There is nothing wrong with choosing a piece based solely on its design, beauty, or cost.  The important thing is that you are informed about your purchase.  Don't be afraid to ask if a gemstone is synthetic, natural, imitation, or treated.  These things should be disclosed to you when you're buying, however being proactive ensures that you always know what you're getting.

How does NellMarie Jewelry fit in?

At NellMarie Jewelry, I use natural gemstones 99% of the time. I like to use synthetic emerald and alexandrite in many birthstone pieces as they are created without inclusions and are therefore stronger stones for wear. As I said before, generally I prefer the value of a stone that has made its way to the surface of the earth on its own.  Some of the natural gems have additional treatments such as Paraiba Topaz, Mystic Topaz, and Blazing Red Topaz.  These treatments are always disclosed at NellMarie Jewelry.  Now that you're armed with the right information- go forth and shop with confidence! :-)

For more in-depth information about gemstone treatments from the GIA, click here.

To see the beautiful gemstones of NellMarie Jewelry, click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Big Corporate Jewelry vs. Small Family Jewelry: How to decide where to take your jewelry.

I asked you all what is something you want to know about jewelry.  The reply I received was that some consumers don't know what to expect when leaving their pieces for repair at a jewelry store.  How do you know where to take your jewelry repairs?  I have worked for the large corporate jewelry stores as well as the small family owned jewelry businesses and I can offer some information to this topic.

  Where should you go?  Taking your family heirlooms and leaving them ANYWHERE can be stressful. Choosing the right place requires doing your homework.  Look at reviews.  I always trust everyday people's experiences over any advertising or sales ploy.  I can not speak to every large corporate jewelry store, but this is how the one I worked for did business.
   Large companies do a lot of business.  To keep up with the demand, they must hire many jewelers to take care of these repairs.  The idea is they have benches to fill and believe anyone can be trained.  I have seen people with no bench experience start out as a polisher and move up to a shop manager or district manager.  These promotions are not generally based on the quality of repair work, but on the sheer number of repairs completed in a given time-frame. Each jeweler had a formula that took in to account their wage and the number of hours they worked to equal the number of repairs to be completed each day.  Time is of the essence in the corporate jewelry world.  What does this mean to you?
  This means that your jewelry is being run through an assembly line of sorts.  It may end up in the hands of an experienced quality jeweler or it may end up with a novice who is still learning or may not have the same pride in their work as others do.  A difficult labor intensive job would usually go to the most experienced jeweler, however ring sizings and re-tipping might go to anyone.  Either way, no one could spend quality time with any one piece.  Did you know that when they "bench test" a new hire they use actual customer's jewelry for the applicant to work on?  This is the problem.  Many customers want their repair done quickly, but you have to be careful what you wish for. In contrast, many small family businesses do take extra time and care with your piece.  They have a smaller turnover rate and therefore you generally see the same sales people that know you and your jewelry.  They are able to give you a personal experience. Unfortunately spending quality time with everyone and their specific jewelry needs can put your repair at these smaller venues out longer. Lets do a PROs and CONs list!

 I think consumers need to know the whole truth- bigger is not always better.  I personally suggest the smaller family owned businesses.  Their employees are educated in their field and can make you feel like a person rather than a number.  These employees are usually not on commission and can therefore be honest in what choices are best for you.  You have to know your jeweler.  Whether he or she works in a large or small business, you must get to know the body of their work.  Talk to your friends, find out who they were happy with.  When in a new store, look in their cases.  Find out which pieces were made in-house and inspect them.  Quality jewelers can be hard to find.  I believe it takes a real skill and an attention to detail to be a great jeweler.  Once you find someone with these qualities, follow them wherever they go. 
   A great business does not make a great jeweler, a great jeweler is what makes a great business.

These are a few local jewelry stores that have great jewelers!

 Revolution Jewelry Works

Vogan Gold & Silver Works

Purple Mountain Jewelers


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Artist vs. the Machine

Artist vs. the machine

I have this debate with myself a lot.  How can an artist compete with the machine?  Computers can do just about anything these days.  You can find a pretty picture online and have it printed in a thousand different sizes.  You can draw an image and have a 3D printer make the object right before your eyes.  Large companies spit out thousands of pieces of jewelry from rings to necklaces to body jewelry all for cents on the dollar.  How does an artist compete?

For me, I make jewelry the way I would want it.  It is made to last.  I keep making it in the hopes that the right person that knows the time and value involved will find it.  Sometimes I feel like I need a site for business  (Hint, hint...someone would make millions).  I can beat the machine with overall value, but only if the consumer has done their homework.

Who shops for one of a kind?  Is it only the people that can afford to buy one of a kind?  I have to be honest that the custom exclusive goods category is at a much higher price than the everyday sitting on the shelf pieces.  What kind of shopper are you?  Do you buy a piece knowing the extra work that went in to it or based solely on its appearance?  With such a small group of individuals that value the blood and sweat of a handcrafted piece, does it mean the artist is on the way out?  As a jeweler, am I now competing with a software engineer who can print a thousand of their pieces in the time it takes me to make two?  How does one adapt?

I believe individuality is the answer.  The next big thing is out there and it doesn't matter who finds it first.  Whether you are the artist or you run the machine, you have to find a great idea, something that is different from all other things and run with it.  Take hold of that idea and run, don't look back, keep pushing.  If the stars align and you find that one special thing that the world needs, the battle is over (or at least until the next big thing).  The artist can keep on being the artist.  It means that us artists can keep doing what we love all day everyday.  Maybe I'm still looking for my idea, or maybe I've found it and I'm just not running fast enough.  Either way, I'm going to keep dredging on because you never know when the world will decide to take notice.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Silver Education

Silver is a great metal that is sometimes under-rated.

 Fine silver is 99.9% silver but is much too soft for most jewelry.  Most silver you see in stores is made from sterling silver which is 92.5% silver with 7.5% alloy.  In the United States it is the law to stamp silver goods with a quality mark if it is silver. Acceptable marks include 925, ster, and sterling. Be careful of buying silver in other countries because the laws for these quality marks are different.
  Taking care of your silver jewelry is also important.  As a jeweler, my opinion might vary from what you read in other places.  I am a fan of polishing cloths.  Always go to the cloth first!  Silver tarnishes due to a naturally occurring reaction with sulfur or hydrogen sulfide in the air.  I have seen people try to stop this process in a number of creative ways (vacuum sealing their tea sets), but the truth is that it is going to happen no matter what.  I like polishing cloths because they don't have harsh chemicals.  Some silver cleaners can harm porous gemstones so if you don't know which chemicals hurt which stones then just go to the cloth.

  What is rhodium plating? Rhodium is number 45 on the periodic table of elements and is a hard silvery-white metal.  It is a member of the platinum family and is the rarest non-radioactive metal on Earth.  It is widely used in the automotive industry as a key component in catalytic converters.  In the jewelry industry it is used as a plating over white gold and silver.  It makes a great plating because of its hardness and resistance to corrosion.
   I rhodium plate all my silver jewelry to keep it from tarnishing.  Plating, unfortunately, is like an icing on a cake.  It shows any minor imperfection on the "cake" because it is just a very thin layer.  All jewelry has to have a perfect clean polish before it can be plated.  Also, it does wear off eventually.  The rubbing on our clothes, hands, and everything else throughout the day will scratch and wear the plating off.  It is not a permanent solution to tarnishing.
  Rhodium does not adhere directly to silver.  To rhodium plate a silver piece, you have to under plate it first.  Under plating is the process of putting a secondary metal over the silver before applying the rhodium.  I use nickel or palladium as my under plate, but you can also use copper. Ever notice your costume jewelry turning pink after you've worn it for a while?  Copper is a common under plate on most inexpensive white metals.  As you wear off the bright white plate on the outside, you'll see the copper plate coming through.

Why Silver?
  I work with silver a lot and there are many reasons to choose it.  Probably the biggest benefit is the price.  You can get a much bigger bang for you buck in silver jewelry.  Silver is maintainable.  Unlike costume jewelry, silver can be polished, sized, and customized.
  Be a smart shopper when it comes to silver.  Many big box stores use the same molds for their gold jewelry as they do for silver.  This gives you a silver ring that looks like one of those dainty embellished gold rings that sell for so much more, but there is a down side.  Silver is a soft metal!!  A dainty ring is fine in gold, but in silver it will never survive.  I have been repairing jewelry for over ten years and have seen countless rings smashed, cracked, mangled, and broken.  This is why all the silver jewelry I make at NellMarie is made to be silver.  They have wide, heavy shanks with thick prongs or channels.  Make sure the silver jewelry you buy is made to last because it can if you take care of it.
For more information, visit my website at

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pearl Facts

I wanted to take some time to answer some commonly asked questions about pearls.

1. How can I tell if my pearls are real?

There are a few ways to tell. One way to check is to run the pearl along your teeth. Don't bite down on it, just rub it on the front of your tooth. A genuine pearl will feel gritty. It will feel like a little ball of sand across your teeth. An imitation pearl will be smooth. In this same instance, if you want to check your friend's pearl and don't want to be shoving their jewelry in your mouth, there is another way. Rub the pearls on each other. Two genuine pearls will feel gritty against one another.

2. Can I clean my pearl strands?

Many chemicals, including cosmetics, perfumes and perspiration can damage the nacre on pearls. Cultured pearls should be thoroughly cleaned periodically, especially if they are worn often. To help pearls keep their luster, wipe them with a soft cloth after each wearing. To clean pearl strands, wash with a mild soapy water. Some detergents can dull nacre and cause surface pitting so if using a jewelry cleaner, be sure it is pearl-safe. Rinse pearls and lay flat on a towel to dry. Make sure strand is completely dry before wearing or hanging so as not to stretch the silk string.

3. Are cultured pearls genuine pearls?

Yes. A natural pearl is made when a foreign object gets inside a mollusk and irritates the soft tissue. The mollusk will try to reduce the effect of the irritant by coating it with nacre. The nacre is the lustrous part of the pearl that we value. A cultured pearl is a pearl that is the result of human intervention. The irritant in this case is deposited by humans.

4. Why are pearl strands knotted?

Pearl strands should be restrung every year if they are frequently worn. Because pearls rate poor to good in toughness, the constant rubbing together in an unknotted strand can cause damage to the pearls. Knotting pearls is also a safety effect. If the strand breaks, only one or two pearls will be broken loose.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cleaning Jewelry...

In all my years of being a jeweler, I have noticed that there are those that do and those that don"t.  Cleaning your wedding ring of all things should be important.  In most cases, a wedding ring is an investment.  It is something you or your spouse or the both of you saved for x amount of time.  In some cases, you spent more money on your ring than on a car or home.  Would you buy a Lamborghini and never wash it?

Diamonds have this magnificent property that allows them not to be scratched, or scuffed, or discolored, or worn out.  As long as they are clean, they will be just as beautiful on your 50th wedding anniversary as they are on your first.


1. Don"t wear your rings gardening, rock climbing, playing sports, or any other activity that could or would cause damage to your ring.  Diamonds CAN CHIP!  Prongs will catch and stones will be lost.

2. If you are not sure what the best way to clean your jewelry is, ask a professional. DO NOT clean your rings with toothpaste.  I am not sure who started this idea but it is simply not the right way.  Toothpaste can leave a film on your rings.  Many brands also have abrasives in them that will not harm your diamonds but could be problematic for other softer stones.  The things that usually make rings dirty are oils from our hands, lotions and perfumes.  Toothpaste is not intended for breaking down grease and oils.

3. DO NOT boil your rings.  I am sorry that this has to be mentioned, but unfortunately there are those of you out there that have tried this.  Extreme heat does not necessarily cut the oils out of your rings.  Also, extreme temperature changes can be damaging to any colored stone.

4. Careful of the silver cleaners!  Many silver cleaners are specific just to silver.  They can be very strong and even though they work well in their intended purposes, they should not be used for all jewelry.  Many of these cleaners strip not only the oxidation (the black tarnish on silver) but the polish as well leaving you with a matte finished piece that has to be re-polished.  Do not use these cleaners on your gold jewelry.  In most cases, silver jewelry is better cleaned with a polishing cloth.  Always go to the cloth first!

5. Have your jewelry inspected regularly.  Most Jewelry stores will tell you every 6 moths is a good time to have your jewelry inspected.  This is true for any piece you wear often to everyday.  Before you start scrubbing your own jewelry, have a professional check that all your stones are tight.

6. Homemade Jewelry Cleaner:
Combine these ingredients in a small baby food jar and keep it by the sink.  Use an old worn out toothbrush (leave the toothpaste in the bathroom:) to do the scrubbing.

1/3 Water
1/3 Dawn dish washing liquid
1/3 sudsy ammonia

Sudsy ammonia is hard to find sometimes.  It is a lower strength ammonia for cleaning.  If you are unable to find it, do not use regular ammonia.  Use 2 parts water and one part Dawn.  The dish washing liquid is made to cut grease and oils and will do wonders cleaning your ring.  Hint: make sure all the soap is rinsed out of your ring before putting it back on.