Monday, March 30, 2015

3.30.15 Vacation...all I ever wanted...

At the Continental Divide in CO
This year, spring break wasn't much of a "break" for us.  With all of the kids now out of the house, it was just another week - or so I thought - until I started seeing posts on Facebook and Instagram from my friends who still have kids in school.  Suddenly, I was filled with envy and wanderlust - ok, that might be a bit of an overstatement - but it did make me think about past vacations, and that seemed like a good subject for a blog entry.

It's not news to you, dear reader, that I bring home jewelry, not tee shirts, as souvenirs from my travels; and two of the most beautiful places we have ever visited are Estes Park, Colorado and the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

While I am no fan of winter, it is nice sometimes to escape the heat of a Texas summer.

A few years ago we opted to do just that, spending a wonderful week in Estes Park, Colorado.  We stayed in a lovely condo, with the Estes River running past, and lots of shops and restaurants - including a wonderful coffee shop just below us - nearby. 

We could sit on the deck and listen to the river flow over the rocks, and the sound of the aspen leaves rustling in the wind.  I can still close my eyes and hear that almost musical sound.

I really wanted to find a piece of jewelry to that returned me to that wonderful place, so I went walking around "downtown" Estes, asking in each shop "do you carry the work of local jewelers?"  I was lucky to wonder into Alpenglow Images and Accents, and found this aspen leaf necklace by local artisan Michele Brouwer, who takes impressions of local foliage and creates jewelry in precious metal clay.
Bougenvilla in Kailua

A couple of years later, I decided we were going to Hawaii.  It was the summer before my 50th birthday, and I suspected (because of their ages, and the upcoming ends of their terms in college or high school) perhaps one of the last times it would be relatively easy to get everyone in the same place at the same time for more than a week.
Birds of Paradise at
Nat'l Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific

So we went, for 10 days, it was amazing! The thing that struck me the most about Hawaii was the colors - everything was more vivid and intense than anywhere I had ever been. The gorgeous foliage was everywhere! 

Plumeria leis at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Once again, I was on a quest to bring home of jewelry representative of the fabulous local flora.  The flower most associated with Hawaii, and used most often in the making of leis, is the plumeria.

On the recommendation of a friend, I visited a wonderful shop, Island Treasures Art Gallery in Kailua.  It was here I found my souvenir - a silver pendant with the plumeria blooms and a dark blue freshwater pearl.

So, while I'm not going anywhere for a while (except maybe to the grocery store), I can wear my vacation jewelry, close my eyes, and conjure up wonderful memories of the beautiful places we have visited as a family.

Until next time.

Monday, March 23, 2015

3.23.15 Ain't she a druzy!?

Photo credit: Metalsgirl
So, what exactly IS a druzy?

The geological term "druse"  refers to very fine crystals that form on a fractured surface of a stone, giving it a sparkly appearance.  The website What is a Druzy? provides really good information on the features of these stones.

One of my favorite local jewelers, Laura Gibson of Metalsgirl recently posted this pink druzy ring, and wrote that's she's feeling a little "druzy obsessed".  It's not hard to see why...druzy stones are beautiful and generally affordable.  That's probably why they have been showing up everywhere over the past few years.

Laura's post was well timed, too, - it inspired me to write about these great stones.  I went on a bit of a druzy obsessed spree myself over the holidays. 

I bought one Laura's druzy rings at the Cherrywood Art Fair in December - a gift for my cousin who in Austin for a visit not too long ago. An avid climber, someone broke into my cousin's car and stole her stuff while she was hanging from a rock last summer.  She was really sad about losing her favorite brightly colored ring.  I saw this ring and thought it would be a great replacement - so my cousin is now sporting it regularly, and says it is a great conversation piece.

Photo credit: Kendra Scott
My daughter got a blue holiday druzy, too, this one from Austin based jeweler Kendra Scott.  It's my girl's favorite shade of blue, and she wears it often.

As happy as I am to buy jewelry as gifts, I am always on the lookout for my own goodies, too.  While shopping for other folks, I'd been eyeing this pair of Kendra Scott druzy dangles, which went on sale in I snapped them up. 

Unlike the ring, these Kendra Scott pieces are not natural stones, but cast to look like a druzy.  That's ok, they still look great, and in the case of the earrings, I love the metallic color (which is doesn't occur naturally).

Photo credit: Kendra Scott
Until next time - stay warm and sparkly.

Monday, March 16, 2015

3.16.15 A matched set

Gertrude and Julius Drayer
Birmingham, AL 1935

I adored my maternal grandparents.  People often referred to them as a "handsome" pair.  My favorite photo of them is from early in their marriage, in it they are the image of 1930s sophistication.

Julius' cufflinks
I have quite a few pieces of my grandmother's jewelry - and some cufflinks that belonged to my grandfather.  Among these items was a matched set of women's collar pins and men's cufflinks, made of 9 karat yellow gold, each with a small diamond set into an engraved star pattern.

As with so many pieces, these were in a drawer, useable and wearable - but not my style, and certainly not my husband's (he's not a shirt with French cuffs kind of guy).

Gertrude's collar pins

Coming up with ideas for repurposing this set was more of a challenge than some previous pieces.  I spent a while looking for ideas, until I saw several pairs of vintage cufflinks that had been converted to earrings.  That was my "AHA" moment!

I talked to Courtney and Wynn at Creative Side, and they agreed that converting these would be a perfect project for some additional private bench lessons.

We started with the collar pins - which we converted to earrings -  because they were simpler to deconstruct.  The first step was to remove the pin mechanism from the back, and determine how to create a loop so that they could be hung from earwires.

I had presumed we would simply make a loop from a piece of gold wire, but Wynn had a better idea (and the benefit of years of experience) - he said we could take the pieces that formed the hinge, and reuse them by soldering them to the back of the pin pieces, so that they could then be attached to a pair of leverback earwires.

Next, we moved on to the cufflinks, which were considerably more complicated than the pins.  Nonetheless, we were able to make another pair of earrings (from the back buttons) and two pendants from the fronts of the links.

First we sawed the buttons off the back of the links, then clipped the bars off the front pieces, which we saved to melt down later and make wire for jump rings.  We cleaned and polished the pieces, and filed the backs, where the links had been separated, to make them smooth.  We did not attempt to "pretty up" the reverse sides, because the more we worked with each piece, the more likely we were to damage it.

The next step, involved taking the scrap gold and turning it into wire.  This took over an hour - and was probably the most amazing part of the day.  Wynn put the scrap into a crucible and heated it with a torch, until it became liquid and formed a tiny ingot, about the size of a seed. 

Wynn assured me that there was plenty of gold there to make a couple of inches of 20 gauge wire, that he would use to form the jump rings.  He began by putting the round ingot into a metal roller, pulling and turning it until he had a small rod, about one eighth of an inch on a side, and an inch long.  Then he took the rod and pulled it through a drawplate, using increasingly smaller holes until he had made about two inches of gold jewelry wire.  From there, he formed four jump rings, and soldered them to the two back buttons and two link fronts.

The final result - two sets of a pendant and earrings, one each for me and for my daughter.  Not to mention a whole lot of new knowledge for me about working with gold.

Pendant and earrings set for my daughter
Until next time

Monday, March 9, 2015

3.9.15 Spring forward

Did you set your clocks and watches forward over the weekend?  I did - and I don't care about giving up and hour of sleep on Sunday morning. I'm just happy we are moving towards more hours of daylight, the promise of spring and bluebonnets.

As I've said before, I think of watches as functional jewelry and I love my Rebecca Minkoff Baby G.  However, because I only do it once every six months, I forget how to toggle between the standard and daylight savings settings, so I have to check the manual.

Daylight savings instructions for Casio Baby G
Resetting my watch made me think about my mom's mechanical everyday watch.  I remember seeing her wind it in the mornings as she got ready to leave for work.  She bought this beautiful white gold Tissot on a trip to Europe with my dad during the 1970s. Because it sat in the box with her other jewelry for several years, it was in need of cleaning and restoration when I decided I was ready to start wearing it.

Once again, I turned to the fine folks at Russell Korman Jewelers - they are a licensed Tissot dealer, and their watchmaker, Dennis Warner is terrific to work with.  Mechanical watches are truly works of art, and the folks who build and repair them are true craftsmen.
Mom's 1970s white gold Tissot
I got to know Dennis initially when he rebuilt a watch I planned to give my husband as a gift. My husband is not much of a jewelry person - but he loves watches.

1970s Omega Seamaster DeVille
As a teenager, my husband had received an 1970s Omega Seamaster when he earned his Eagle Scout.  It was stolen while he was in college - and he never really got over it. With the help of some wonderful folks on vintage watch blogs, I found a dealer who had the watch - although it was not in working order.  It was, however, in very good condition, except that it needed a new wristband - and Dennis helped me find one of those, too - from a person in Australia who sold "new old stock".

When I gave the fully restored watch to my husband - he was speechless - and I knew my gift was a success.  He wears it almost every day (even though over the course of our marriage I have given him a total of 7 watches).

I change my watches up a little more than my husband - and when I want a watch for a special occasion, when I just want a dressier watch, or if I just feel like having a little bit of Mom with me, I reach for her Tissot, wind it up and off I go.

Until next time.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

3.5.15 A diamond is forever (or at least a really, really long time).

Frances Gerety, the advertising agent who spent her entire career working on the DeBeers account, coined the phrase "a diamond is forever" in 1947; it was kind of a throw away line, but it stuck...and I confess to buying into it.  I've spent a fair amount of time, money and creative energy giving family heirloom diamonds new life.  Finally, I have found homes for the last of the stragglers.  

Two dozen tiny diamonds
These were the last few, tiny old European cut stones, most no more than a millimeter or two, taken from my great grandmother's wedding ring.  I had more than one jeweler tell me they had virtually no monetary value, but I kept thinking they're diamonds, I must be able to do SOMETHING with them.  Well, now I have.

This week I went back to Creative Side Jewelry Academy, where I made my crescent moon pendant, and with the assistance of Wynn Bradford, set three of the diamonds in the "crater".

Inspecting the diamonds
The first step in the process was to examine all the diamonds, and choose the best ones for setting.  After putting them in an ultrasonic cleaner, Wynn lined them all up, balanced on their culets (the point on the back of the stone), to determine their symmetry and how well they were cut.

We chose the five stones with the best color and shape.  Next it was time to determine the placement for three of them in the pendant and mark them with a sharpie.

Marking the positions for the stones
Flush setting, which is the technique we used, is the simplest form of stone setting.  It involves drilling into the metal with a burr, to create a cone-shaped void in which to place the diamond.  After the stone is set into the metal, a sharp tool, called a burnisher, is used to push the metal down over the top edge of the stone to hold it in place.

The process sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing is ever as easy as it looks (especially when a professional is demonstrating).  Before attempting to set the stones in the pendant, I tried a couple of practice runs with some CZs on a piece of scrap.

Practicing a flush setting
Even with stones that were twice the size of my diamonds, it was a real challenge to get it right.  Especially the burnishing, which requires running a very sharp point around the edge of the stone - I ended up putting some pretty good scratches in what would be the piece of jewelry (good thing it was scrap).

Sensing my hesitation, Wynn offered to set the diamonds into the pendant for me.  I'm glad he did - I learned a lot just by watching, and the result is beautiful.

"Floating" diamond pendant

After finishing my pendant, I still had twenty or so tiny diamonds left over, and didn't want to just put them back in the little ziploc bag to continue languishing.  My friend Jonathan (of the sapphire earrings) had suggested getting a small crystal locket, and putting the loose stones to make a "floating diamond" pendant.  So that's exactly what I did.

Now, all the diamonds have a place, and I have two wonderful pieces of new jewelry with my old stones.  Lucky me.

My finished Moon and Stars pendant

Until next time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

3.2.15 Swords into plowshares, bullets into jewelry

I'm excited to be going back to the bench at Creative Side Jewelry Academy this week, to set some tiny diamonds in my lost wax pendant and repurpose some vintage items.  More about that in a future post...

I was perusing CSJA's Facebook page and saw an interesting article.  It is about a NY based jewelry company called Article22.  The name comes from Article 22 of the UN Declaration of Human rights; items in their line of "Peacebomb" jewelry are made from scrap metal found in Laos, left over from the Vietnam war.  I haven't bought anything from them yet, but I have signed up for their newsletter, and will keep watching.

Photo credit: Raven + Lily
Reading the article made me think of a boutique right here in Austin (actually right here in my neighborhood), Raven and Lily, which has a wonderful line of jewelry with a very similar concept.  R+L has a line of jewelry made by Ethiopian women from reclaimed bullet casings.

I stopped by the bright, airy store front when it opened last year, and walked out with what would be the first off many purchases - their silver tone fair trade wrap necklace.  I love everything about this piece - the social component, the feel, and because it's handmade, each one is unique.

Photo credit: Raven + Lily
Good for these folks and dangerous for me - they are right around the corner, and I haven't been able to resist going back - only to come out with numerous things, including gifts for other folks and of course, for me.

Two more things (from the Ethiopian line) that I've snagged for myself include these terrific tribal fringe earrings, and the multistrand necklace.  The earrings sway when I wear them and tinkle softly like bells. Sometimes I shake my head a little bit just to hear the sound they make.  The necklace, which looks almost like rose gold, is made from casings with a high copper content. 
Photo credit: Raven + Lily

I wore the necklace last December when my husband and I went to Gruene Hall to hear the marvelous Rosanne Cash at the end of her tour for (her 3 time Grammy winning album) The River and The Thread.  She was so gracious after the show, taking time to autograph my copy of her book Composed, and take a picture with me.  It seemed right to wear this necklace to hear her - as she is such a strong, wonderful voice for peace and social justice.

Until next time.