Sunday, March 4, 2012

Science Only Defines the Divine

Amongst a peer group of which the average age is the age I was when I first held that tumbled piece of Lapis; I have to constantly remind myself that Gemstones and Jewelry have been my constant focus for the last six years. The other students may have worked in jewelry stores or grown up in the family business, but none of them have read as much as I have. I may not have been in school, hell, I may not have even had a job, but I was certainly studying, and if you're not reading on the toilet, you're not reading enough. For many at my school, it is the passion of their parents that has brought them here. The passion will build for them though, I'm sure of it, just as it built for me. Many a time I have seen the sparkle in someones eye when they see the beauties of a gemstone for the first time. When they see a hue of blue they've never seen before, or the color change of Alexandrite...the impossible! The impossible beauty! The impossible phenomena! The impossible curiosity & shear wonderment...And there truly is a sparkle in the eye, just as I'm positive a sparkle was in my eye when I first held Lapis. It's that experience of seeing the gem, holding the gem....that alone is incredible. It's what makes this a business. But then there's the experience and the questions. What Is THIS??!!?? I could list all of the questions I could ask, but that would be boring. Of the questions, I will say this, Science Only Defines the Divine.
And so it begins....the long awaited, and long prepared for, Colored Stones and Gem Identification. With a minimum of 1,750 stones to identify, and a lofty personal goal of 3000 right out the gate....yeah, I'm feeling a little cocky, but why not make that my prove my arrogance justified!! Or at least my confidence. I can be humble too a student I may (for once) be stellar, but seeing my instructors with 30-40 years experience under their belts. I have a long, long way to at this point I'll be 61 to 71 years old when I reach their level. Why didn't anyone throw me a chunk of Lapis when I was 11?
Well, time to make some Raviolis....ya know, my family was built in the Pasta industry. My 3-Great Grandfather, Antoine Zerega started the first pasta factory in America - Brooklyn 1848. I'm not complaining, because I love pasta, but it'd be nice if it had been Emeralds.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Update & Review

Gemology: (n) The study of gems. Gemologist: (n) One who studies gems.
Four weeks into the intensive 6 week study of Diamonds and Diamond Grading, with another 20 weeks of Colored Stones and Gem Identification - Identifying a minimum of 1,750 gemstones and detecting whether they are natural, and if not, by which process they were created. ~ We were looking at Synthetics, lab created diamonds. I personally hate synthetics... I told my class, "I feel about synthetics the same way I feel about clip-on bow ties. It looks like a bow tie, is made of the same material as a bow tie, but it's Not a Bow Tie...Phonies!" But hey, If you want to look like you can afford a 4 carat irradiated green diamond to go with your sponge bob t-shirt and m.c. hammer pants, by all means, don't let me stop you. I just wont be the one to sell it to you. I'll find you the best you can afford or a different stone more beautiful than you ever knew existed. Since I began studying gemology 6 years ago, I've seen colors I had never seen before, and constant phenomena...Nature's most beautiful mysteries.
And these beautiful mysteries is how it all began. When I first picked up that polished piece of Lapis Lazuli, questioning its powers, and then its existence. And when I spent what little money I had on craft store beads....the frustrating wonder...What is this!? Is it really aquamarine? At the same time that I was making my beaded designs, I was studying the true craft of jewelry - staring at pictures of goldsmiths with their hammers and stone setting tools...and I began to think...this isn't jewelry. When I was home for Christmas, I went to see a jeweler in town that I had met 4 years ago...I went to thank him for some words of wisdom and the advice that assured me of my next direction. He said, "There's beading and then there's jewelry; beading will only take you so far." So, at the same time that I realized I must know the truth of my gems, I realized that I wanted to design and fabricate real, fine jewelry to best display the gem, my muse.
In the last year and a half I have learned more than I can even comprehend. I have melted gold and silver, casted rings from both; set stones with the pressure akin to doing so with a gun to your head. I've sized rings up and down, re-tipped prongs, and repaired broken chain a millimeter thick. I Know What A Millimeter Looks Like. I know what a tenth of a millimeter looks like. I've engraved in platinum. I don't think there's anything that makes me smile more than a loud blazing torch and the blinding light of molten precious metal....though having every pore of my body sweat at once, sticking my hands in and out of a kiln made me smile was dehydrating, but I didn't need no stinking casting partner.... I know how to design and paint jewelry...under magnification with a tiny bristle of a tiny brush, painting the facets and reflections on black diamonds and the life-like stars of rubies....mixing watercolors to the memorable hues of my favorite dreamed of stones...trapiche emeralds, star sapphires, and demantoid name a few..I can design jewelry using CAD software and send the design to a manufacturer and have a finished piece of jewelry in maybe 2 days, or for the price of a car I could buy a milling machine and have it in 2 hours...the design part is fun, like a video game, but the somewhat lack of craftsmanship still bothers me a bit, it's also rather boring..On the other side of it all..I can carve jewelry from wax, sand it, polish it, sprue it, invest it, cast it, sand the casting, polish the casting, call it a ring, set it with stones, shape the prongs, re-polish, clean, dry, put in a nice box, sell for $1,234.05....ya know, theoretically.
And now, after a year and a half, I am in the midst of where I initially dreamed to be- studying gemology in residence at the GIA. I have a step up since I had taken a few courses through Distance Ed, but those courses were nothing like this....those were bedtime reading. This, this my Exhausting. But, I love it. I am on my path. My brain is fried....Before I sat down to write this...I'd been studying for 5 hours with a classmate....Big test tomorrow.... and then 3 full grades, 10 loupe grades, and then I can rest again.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


February 19th 2011....... I have 5 weeks left in the Graduate Jeweler Program. Let me begin by saying, as I have before in some shape or form, that nothing has ever frustrated me more than making jewelry, but still continues to hold my interest and fuel my passion and imagination. I turned to my friend Akshay yesterday sitting at the bench beside me, and said, "Akshay, can you believe we do this every day?!"

My instructor, Jerry, checks my work in front of me. I can see his trained eye behind his glasses, scanning and focusing through his jewelers loupe. For the most part I already know what's wrong. I know what he's checking, and I know when he'll find it. Knit-pickers! Prong needs to be pushed down more. 30-40% Contact. 75% free-standing metal...etc etc. Oooh! the dreaded flashing, ooooh! abraded stone, Ooooo! Stone tables not level. all gets fixed. A slight internal grumble for the struggle, but perfection is necessary - back to the bench.

I wonder if perfection is strived for as much in any other industry, as it is in fine jewelry. Even the back of a piece, must be as beautiful and free of imperfections as the front. However, I am still learning. It is expected that I will not achieve total perfection on my class assignments. There is always something, whether it be in matters of prong alignment or waviness in the metal caused by polishing or over-filing after a ring sizing. Some things they let slide, other things may lead to starting the piece of jewelry over. I heard a story once from one of my instructors who studied in the hardcore land of Switzerland. A Swiss Jeweler's Education makes mine look like kindergarten. I often wish I was in Switzerland. Anyway, the story goes that a jeweler in my instructor's shop, was working on a gold locket of exquisite beauty and detail. The piece was hand engraved, had several working, tiny parts, and the jeweler had been working on it for 3 months. And then it happened. Perhaps a loss of focus, perhaps an act of God; the jeweler's solder had become contaminated, the locket was over heated, and those perfect movable parts were destroyed. The jeweler had to begin again. ~ The above pearl enhancer with the pear shaped stone (synthetic spinel)... I started 4 times since my torch was too hot and I melted the gold prongs. Once I had the gold all together, it was time to set the stones. After an intense fabrication, such as that was, the idea of setting stones; having to ever-so-carefully push the prongs over the stones, after cutting away 40-50% of the prong metal....let's just say the margin for error makes one feel like they're defusing a bomb. One slip, and slips do happen, could ruin my week. Luckily, I'm just that good, and set those stones without fail. But damn, how I've failed in the past. ~ Wish I'd taken a picture of the Tiffany-head ring I screwed up the other night. I had filed a gold half-round band, to fit a white gold Tiffany-style head. The Tiffany Head, as you may know, holds the diamond high above the band to "present" the stone to all viewers. It's like a freakin lighthouse! If you ever buy a ring with this type of head, please make sure you splurge on the Platinum. The ease with which those prongs collapsed under the pressure of me setting the stone was ridiculous. I also destroyed a pair of simple earrings I had been working on. They were from a simple lesson on dapping metal - making small domes, soldering them on posts, and then setting small round malachite beads. Anyway, long story short, my Quick Work of these simple earrings had been my mistake, for I could not in good conscious put my name to them. From there, my chasing hammer finished the earrings for me. This was a lesson - that even the simplest of designs need care, an eye-for-detail, a little bit of patience, and a desire for perfection. I wonder what a reader would think of all my notes on perfection. Nothing is truly perfect, or is it? People are not perfect. Gold was, is, and will be....what will it be? We Know What We Are, But Not What We May Be. Ahhh rambling philosophy.

The stress has really begun to affect us... We do this every day. 8am to 3pm, though it feels non-stop. We torture ourselves at the bench with the pressure to finish, with the pressure for perfection, with the heart-wrenching wonderings of self-worth, when it just doesn't go right! When the solder just wont flow. When we burn ourselves with hot metal. When we stab ourselves with files and gravers. Even my instructor, Don, has sawed off his thumb before. Nausea hits weekly, sometimes daily...Remember to BREATHE!!!! Men like me (and it's not just me) have left the room in near tears, blood boiling, stomach rolling, from the shear cliff of frustration we hang from or fall from each and every day.

{I have a long weekend now to enjoy.... President's Day. Not good actually....we miss an entire day of work because of it. I doubt the dead presidents would want us to stop working - this is America. Even though we were given extra time after class this past week to make up for the missed upcoming Monday... I still wish I could go in on Monday. There is work to be done. More lessons to be learned. And only 5 weeks left. Maybe, I'll go take a walk. My weekends are often spent relaxing: sleeping in, eating, reading about Professional Goldsmithing, reading about jewelry, designing jewelry, or playing Gran Tourismo 5 on Geoff's Playstation (the way I figure it, it can only help my hand-eye coordination.) }

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hell Week

Well, it wasn't exactly Hell Week since I have another 3 months before the Graduate Jeweler program ends, but damn was this past week tough, and my week coming will undoubtedly be even more difficult.
I had a great Christmas break, though I could have used an extra week. At the same time, part of me wishes I hadn't had a break. To break is to stop working. To stop working is to Stop learning. And then to forget... And so the first few days back at school were incredibly frustrating. My hands were shaking, my eyes seemed blurry. It felt as though it were day one. Just as I had expected and hoped, the instructors have begun to crack the whip.
The new week has begun... I am trying to take deep breaths while I work, and not "over work" myself. I have to remember to focus and not to lose patience. I lost my patience last week (first week back from break) when my friends Geoff and John were making too much noise for me to focus. Some of my most difficult challenges come in the form of other people. I dream of a day when I can work in near solitude. Picture me on 64 Acres in the Hudson River Valley; in a rustic barn converted into a jewelery workshop, with naught but the sounds of nature and my hands forming the beauties of gold and precious stones. This is where I take myself each day, floating through my imagination, as I try to calm my emotions, my tremors, my eyes.
We began a new project today...a pin!! I like pins/brooches....I feel they are truly a platform for the imagination. Of course, we aren't doing anything with our imaginations. Ours is a circle pin, which we have to set about 34 tiny round brilliants in. Circle pins were popular in the 40's and 50's, but so far are proving less popular in class. The synthetic spinels we're using are not uniform in size, so we have to "high grade" each stone, sorting them as we go depending on the sizes of crowns, pavillions, and girdle thicknesses. It's all kind of a lengthy process, culminating in a rather boring pin.
Before leaving for my winter break, I ordered some stuff from Rio Grande - a jeweler's supply catalog. Now I have begun to create a "jewelry studio" in my apartment. Hopefully it will get my creative juices flowing in preparation for my upcoming design program.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Never Have I Needed A Vacation More

Through all of my years of schooling, and even while working at the bank in NY, I never felt such a need for a break as I do now. Everyone is feeling it...shear exhaustion. A half hour before class ended today, in a state of worn-out delirium, I had to put my tools down. It's only been an hour since that moment and in 15 minutes, it's back to the shop for me. Back to the stress, the pressure, and the noise. Don't get me wrong now, I still LOVE what I'm doing. What I'm doing (and Loving) is a serious challenge. It is a constant test in patience, focus, and the utilization of the myriad skills learned over the past 3 months. Good God, has it been that long? It has flown by. Not a day missed, even when sick. Not a single tardy, my heart would not allow it. My mind is saturated with angles, measurements, temperatures, gold, silver, tools, tools, and more tools; stirring through my mind without much pause, but to think of gems and design instead. Ok...well...i'll have to continue this tomorrow....So begins another 3 hours.

{Next Day} Well, Night Lab was a success for me, as I was able to finish two projects and hand them in for grading -I got A's on both, though I would have given myself Bs. Passed out last night at 8 of the clock in all my clothes, and awoke at 5:30 confused and slightly dehydrated. It is now 3:30 in the afternoon, class has ended, and I am quite simply in pain. Spent the last 2 hours of my day hunched over a grinding wheel, shortening and re-shaping my gravers. It was almost a waste of time...I mean it needed to be done, but I'd been working all day on the fabrication of an oval head for about a 5x7 stone - attempting to make two silver ovals with a difference in size of about a millimeter (took a few tries), solder them closed (melted one, had to start again), shape them on a mandrel(making a perfect round far easier than a perfect oval), and file & polish the tiny ovals to near perfection (most people just order a pre-made head). These tiny ovals become the upper and lower gallery wires of the setting, protecting the stone as well as letting the light in. After that was through, I had to use a cylinder bur to remove 40-50% of the metal from the four "corners" of the ovals, making notches at ten degree angles for the prongs to fit in place. I still have to solder the prongs to these tiny oval gallery wires and being as it needs to be perfect, I decided to wait for a day I was better rested. So, I worked on my gravers and cleaned up my bench...and here I am, struggling now to formulate clear and grammatically correct sentences. I feel as though perfection this week in anything, is far out of reach. More to follow tomorrow...right now, I need a beer.
Well, today was the last day of class, and tonight I head back to NY on the red-eye. I'll be back to Cali on January 1st to finish the second half of the Graduate Jeweler program. As for that perfection I mentioned I was aiming for that, and I'm happy to say I'm getting closer. I was working on a ring today with a gypsy set center stone and two flush set stones on the ring's shoulders. Setting these stones is an ancient art that should not be rushed. You must remove just the right amount of is like nearing the edge of a cliff..closer, and closer, and closer till where just one more tenth of a millimeter will make you fall. It is playing Chicken. And as always, the loss of focus for but a second, could spell absolute disaster..
That's all for now....I have to go pack. Merry Christmas and to all a good night.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Love of the Ah Ha! Moment

Well, it has been a long time it seems since my last posting... I am still alive, barely. Jewelry is not an easy craft to learn. We are given new projects every other day, regardless of how much of the last project we have finished. At the moment I am trying to complete 4 or 5 projects. Most of the class is in the same boat, and I have been told it is normal for people to be behind in the first two months. Essentially we are learning to solve the problems that Master Jewelers encounter all the time i.e. - weak solder joints (one of my rings fell apart last week because of my own poor soldering), and pits in silver caused by poor castings or improperly poured ingots. In all of our frustrations and with all of our mistakes, we are constantly learning. We have been learning all the possibilities of Repair including re-sizing rings, changing heads in and out of ring shanks, half-shanking, re-tipping prongs, etc.etc. This past week we were making silver chain. I was especially excited for this since I have always wanted to design and make my own's what sets jewelers apart. Soldering is a rather difficult process for me I confess, having been blessed with tremors in my hands. Actually sitting at the bench all day is also difficult, having been blessed with lower back pain. What an odd business for me to get into considering. Chain making is good practice for soldering though, it becomes methodically Zen; the step-by-step and repeat process of heating the jewelry, fluxing the jewelry, heating the solder into a .5mm ball, getting said ball onto the tip of a pick, and then placing and heating the solder simultaneously in just the right spot. All this while holding a scorching torch in my left hand, the pick in my right, and keeping the piece of jewelry steady in a third -hand cross locking tweezers. All this with the constant noise and commotion of the shop around me - the sounds of flex shafts grinding away metals, polishing machines humming in the back, the ultrasonic buzzing, the steam cleaner steaming, heavy hammers hitting anvils; not to mention the annoyances of my peers: slamming drawers, laughing to stupid jokes, singing with their headphones on, and asking stupid questions. So...basically, I have to take a Deep, Deep, Deep Breath, zone out all of the above, ignore reality, and get it all done. The challenges are intense, but when you see that solder flow cleanly and completely in a moment of somewhat chaos; it is like an orgasmic millisecond of enlightenment. It is the Ah Ha! Moment. The way I figure it is, my hands will stop shaking when they know what they're doing. When the Ah Ha! Moment becomes an Ah Ha! Existence.

I have now signed up for Applied Jewelry Arts program. My current program ends on Apirl 1st, and the AJA will begin on April 14th. I have met many people from the current AJA program, and I know that I can do better than them. The program will begin with Design - using pencils and paints to render metals and gemstones in jewelry designs. The Design portion lasts six weeks and concludes with a student choice award, which I plan on winning. After Design, six weeks of Wax Carving and Casting will begin, which with my skills of filing metals, I think will be easier to succeed in. After Wax will come Cad/Cam design software, which will be interesting as well, though I feel it is slightly "cheating". ~ Yes, cheating....the way I see it, goldsmiths were making fine jewelry hundreds of years ago without the use of electric tools like flex shafts and polishing machines. Hell, they were heating metals with blow pipes, not mini-torches. Sometimes, I feel like I'm cheating when I do something in 5 minutes that should take hours by hand, but I guess it's just a different time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Deep Breaths, But Still There's Stress!

Things are getting a bit tougher on the Jeweler's Path. It feels like every day there is a new project, and every day it is harder to keep up. I had a Bench Test for the Florentine finish last week, which I completed however will need to work on the polishing of the shank. My Florentine finish came out very well though, better I'd say than most of the class. That being said, I am still slightly behind on a few projects. We re-sized one ring, which I still have to polish. Another ring, called Terri's Tapered Band, I still have to taper & polish. Today we got a new project called Rod's Rods, which involved filing round, brass rods into 3 and 4 sided, 2.2mm rods...not as easy as it sounds. I still have the 3-sided rod to complete, but can pat myself on the back for the the other one, which came out perfectly after 4 tries! Another project was Simone's Simple Band - taking that cast ingot and rolling it through a mill to the correct measurements, and then making a slim, flat band out of it. I then had to stretch the ring from a size 4 to a size 10. It's still not finished, as I now have to down-size the ring back to a size 7. After that, I have to begin, and hopefully quickly finish, Betty's Bypass Ring, which will include making a bezel setting for a black onyx cabochon. And, another project is being introduced tomorrow...deep breaths!!!! There is truly not enough time in a day, and far too many distractions in class.
Tomorrow I have another quiz...which so far I have an A-average in quizzes. I need to make a list tonight of the steps I need to take to get all my projects completed. This week is going to be grueling!!!!