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 above...today 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 metal...it 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 chain...it'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!!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

My First Silver Ingot

This here is my first cast silver ingot!!! Oh, what a rush! It required the catching of breath when finished and carried with it the WOW feeling I remembered from sky diving. The process begins with a small baggie of silver granules - imagine silver Nerds candy. These silver pieces are first poured into the white plastic pipe, as in the top right corner of this picture. When the crucible is ready, i.e. "sweetened" with Borax powder and heated with the torch; the silver is poured into the crucible using the plastic pipe - like a decanter. The crucible is shown to the left of the plastic pipe - made from a ceramic material, it must first be heated with Borax until there is a glassy finish within. Next to my pinkie-finger you can see the steel mold that the ingot is cast in. Using thick, heat resistant gloves I first lightly oil the inside of the mold, and then clamp the two pieces of the mold so they are perfectly aligned. Both the crucible and the mold are heated at the same time with a torch that has a large "rose bud" tip, until a little smoke from the oil can be seen rising from the mold. The silver granules are then added to the crucible and the melting process begins. This takes about 10-12 minutes, until the silver first turns red hot (like charcoals ready for grilling) and then mixes together like mercury. Once the silver is all moving together, it is then poured quickly and evenly into the mold. The mold is then quickly opened, and the silver ingot quenched in water. ~ I suppose the excitement of this cannot be written well in words, but it certainly is exciting!
In other news, I had a good Saturday this past weekend. A couple friends from class and I went to a small Gem Show in Vista, CA just outside of Carlsbad. At one table we met a man named Robert who deal in gems out of Riverside, CA. He expressed to us that his business was more of a hobby, and so he's not out to make much money. Because of this, his prices for gems were more than reasonable, and his collection was very nice. My friend Jeff bought an UNTREATED blue topaz crystal for just $35!!! (GIA testing still to be done). The reason this was such a deal to those not in the know, is this....most Blue Topaz on the market has been heat treated to achieve that color. Your best luck of finding untreated blue topaz is if bought directly from the mine, but once the crystal passes through a few hands, treatment is more than possible, and close to guaranteed. The reason why blue topaz is one of the least expensive gemstones on the market is because there is a lot of it, and its treatment is fairly inexpensive. This all being said, Jeff's blue topaz still will need to be identified by the GIA as untreated and it is really just a specimen stone - not quite gem quality, but perhaps a tiny stone could be cut from it. If a stone were cut from it, and came with proper documentation proving its lack of treatment, it would be worth quite a bit more.
I bought one stone for myself, a 1.7ct Andalusite...about a 7x5mm oval cut stone with a light brown transparent body color, and good pleochroism of reddish orange & green seen all over the stone. = Pleochroism means that the stone has more that one color to be seen and usually the differing colors are seen from different angles. You may know of Tanzanite, which is a pleochroic gem. The best Tanzanite color is a purplish blue, similar to a fine blue sapphire. From some angles, the tanzanite will look more purple, other angles more blue, and sometimes, it can show colors of grey and light violet. How Andalusite is different, is that from the face-up view of the stone, all of its colors (greens, reds, browns, golds) can be seen reflecting at once!! I chose from a small selection of Andalusite. There were larger stones, but they didn't show as much color, and then there were stones that with my trusty Kassoy loupe in hand, I could see were more included (by flaws, but I hate that word). Now, I wish I had bought more of the stones. Andalusite is a rare stone in gem quality, but because it's not a desirable stone in the market, it's rarity does not make it expensive. It sold for $15 per carat, and I got it for $20. If it were not so rare in gem quality, I do believe that Andalusite could be a very marketable stone. It ranks around 6.5 to 7 on Mohs scale of Hardness, which puts it up there near Quartz. And with it's pleochroic phenomenon, it could certainly be desired, if consumers were aware of it. It's entirely possible that a new source of Andalusite could be found, and that it could flood into the market in the future. Because of this, it may be a stone I continue to study and collect, and eventually work into my fine jewelry designs. Ah, the future we will see!!!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Night Lab

Tonight is Night Lab at the GIA. Every Tuesday, those of us who need or want to do extra work meet at 4pm and work till 7pm. I took this picture last week after Night Lab. It is a hanging sculpture near the entrance to the Institute. What we have here is over a million carats of rutilated quartz cut from an 800 pnd crystal found in Bahia, Brazil in 1987. The crystal was set in this hanging sculpture when after 7 years of the cutting process, it broke in to 3 pieces. In the mornings, when I arrive to school, I can watch the sun rise directly behind this crystal through that long slender window. At night, as in this picture, the crystal is lit with glowing lights that cast shadows on the walls. In the silence of 7 o'clock; the energy of this crystal rebounds off the walls. I could swear I feel a vibration in the air surrounding.

So, tonight is Night Lab and another opportunity to see the glory that is this rutilated quartz. I will be working tonight on various tool modifications, as well as sawing out tiny shapes of copper. I am not enjoying the constant smell of copper emanating from my fingers, but learning to saw properly and cleanly is a necessity before going at that silver.

We had our first quiz today in class. I'm ashamed to say that I got 2 wrong and received an 88%. Oh well, there are 17 more quizzes, so I have time boost up that grade. The projects I've done have all been graded "A," though so far these projects have not been too difficult.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh Graver

This here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my 16/8 Graver. Gravers are for engraving - big surprise,
huh? Well, there are several kinds of gravers that I will be using, but this one is very much unlike the rest. On the bottom side or "belly" of the tool, there are 8 sharp, straight edges. When placed against the metal at a slight angle and carefully pushed, the graver scoops up the metal and creates 8 hopefully straight lines, fractions of a millimeter apart. If anyone has ever seen a Florentine Finish on a piece of jewelry, this is the tool that is often used to create said finish. It truly is easier said than done! In my practice with this tool, I have realized a few things. You should not push too hard or too deep - the idea is to create the finish, but to lose as little silver as possible. Be careful, but not afraid. You have to follow 3 degrees of Respect. Respect for the metal, Respect for the tool, and Respect for yourself. I find myself almost willing the graver to move - using "the Force" - but not to force the tool. It is exciting to watch the tiny curls of silver rise from the front of the graver, and to see the shining lines the tool creates. It is frustrating when I lose focus for but a fraction of a second, when my graver changes its angle but a fraction of a degree, and the lines skid off in a failing direction. This my friends, is something that requires great amounts of practice to perfect. One of my instructors, Robert, who studied in Switzerland, studied gravers for 4 years. I have only "scratched" the surface. I can tell that even though engraving is a frustrating art to learn, I love learning it, and will one day truly love knowing it.

It is now Thursday afternoon. I finished the Florentine Finish just after lunch, and began a new project - Terri's Tapered Ring. All of our projects have funny names...the names of our "customers." So far there has been Mr. Newmann, Mr. Richards, Bert, and now Terri. Terri's Tapered Ring begins with a simple unfinished brass band, or rather I should say "yellow metal band." The first step involves measurement - using our vernier calipers to find the width of the ring (7.2mm) and then dividing that by 2, we get (3.6mm), and then further separating the ring into fourths of each measuring (1.8mm). Using scribes, I carved fine lines around the ring, and chose a point to call the bottom of the ring. From there, I filed the bottom portion of the ring, nearing a required measurement of 3mm (though we are allowed a tolerance of +/- 2mm). The top of the ring has to be 7mm with the same allowance. My goal of course is to be precise! So far I am excelling in this project because of my eye for detail - using the fine lines carved around the ring as my guide, and following the silent mantra File, File, Measure, Measure, File, File, Measure, Measure... Other students have had to start over 2-3 times. I fear it as a possibility, but am still confident I can complete the project with just one band.
My day is over now... It's raining today, drizzling really, and the locals of Carlsbad/San Diego are freaking out. The radio this morning was describing how thunderstorms happen as if no one knows...apparently it doesn't happen much around here, and rain is unheard of this time of year. Still, it is nice...it feels slightly like home!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Picture

So, this is the 3rd project that I have completed...a "gypsy" ring. Its a poor picture, I know, but give my outdated cell phone a break. In my hand is the ring in a polishing cloth. Behind the ring you can see my bench pin, which I've modified slightly to make holding my work easier. On the bench surface behind the pin there are my files and a sanding stick, as well as a bottle of Vitamin Water.
Today I will be learning how to add textures to metal using my flex shaft, hammers, and possibly some burnishers. The key to adding any texture is deciding how long a finish will last. You can make a finish with sandpaper too, but it will probably be gone in a month. So, anything i do, I will have to think, "will this last 100 years?"
Tonight I will be going to Lab class, which is extra time in the shop from 4 to 7. It will be held every Tuesday night, and I plan to go every Tuesday regardless if I am behind or not. Any time spent with the Masters is time well spent.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Slow and Steady Does Not Win the Race

This isn't a race, but it feels like it some times. And it's not a competition, but it feels like it some times. I'd say I'm about a half to 3/4's of a day behind the top tier of the class...I'll be caught up by tomorrow I'm sure. I'm stuck between a rock and hard place however, in the sense of my peers to the left and right of me. To my left is the girl who drops her ring every five minutes and wonders why she has to continuously re-file her ring. To my right, a guy who seems to think making jewelry involves staring at his bench pin and biting his nails. It's negative energy is what it is. I'm writing it right now, but it bounces back and forth all day long - at least I have Mozart to put me in the dream zone for most of the time. I feel bad comparing myself and my work to those sloer than I am, but it's better than feeling envy of those already on to the next project. My only consolation is knowing that in the future, rushing through a project will not be the key to success. Unfortunately for this class, developing speed for the final bench test is the key. I do feel as though I am getting faster, and I can tell by my instructor's reaction to my work that I am quickly improving towards his standards.
This past Friday, I took a few books out from the GIA library. One was called the Jeweler's Bench Book...about the organizing of benches. Another was The Theory and Practice of Goldsmithing...an 500 page old comprehensive German text translated into English. So, I have been doing a little extra reading, and I think already that it is paying off. I spent the first 5 minutes of today organizing my bench, which impressed my instructor, but mostly made my work more fluid throughout the day. During the weekend I visited an Antique Mall filled with crap, and found a few things to help with my organizing. Ended up gluing an antique tin measuring pitcher to a 99cent wooden base... this contraption now holds my pliers, tweezers and sandpaper, as well as, on the wooded base, the flex shaft attachements in use. Everything is done very systematically at the bench, and if you don't know where everything is the moment you need it than you are seconds or even minutes behind. After today, I realized I may have to order a few things from the supply catalogs....extra split mandrels and various other flex shaft attachments. This way, the moment I think of needing a change in polishing buffs, I can change it 3 seconds later instead of a minute.... I could do this (making jewelry) for 10 hours, but they only give us 7 in a day. To me, an hour lunch break is a waste of time.
I need a beer now...and 9 hours sleep.

Friday, September 24, 2010


9,972 hours to go, and again I am getting progressively better, quicker, and more compfortable with what I'm doing. Yesterday, though a new project was given out, I was able to finish the first two rings. Today I will try to get as far on the 3rd ring as I can. This one, called a gypsy ring, will be a little more difficult to file & sand than the first two. By difficult, I mean it will require twice as much focus, as the ring is round throughout and I will have to closely follow the contours with the files. I am finally utilizing my ipod in class, which helps to put me in my own zone. It's been difficult with the girl to the left of me who drops her ring every 5 minutes, and the guy to my right who wants to discuss life stories while we work. Ummm, no thank you... Headphones on, work begins! Though I have made a couple of friends here, the truth of the matter is that I am here to learn, to work, to learn, to work, and to learn some more. My friends Matt & Jeff understand this and follow the same rule. I have seen them while they work, and I am sure they have seen me. We are focused on our minds, our hands, and our paths. My instructors are masters of their craft. I listen to their words and watch the movements of their hands with utmost intensity. Conversation is for the bar. Concentration is for the bench. I've managed to keep my New York side in my back pocket, but soon I may need to set some boundries. That's enough drama for this post.
Today is Friday and it doesn't much please me. If I could be at the bench Saturday I would be that much more content. Fortunately, Tuesday nights there is extra time to be had in the shop from 4pm to 7pm. If I havent finished my 3rd ring by Monday I will finish it then, or I will continue to do tool modifications. This is something I am loving about the trade - each tool that a jeweler possesses can be modified to suit his own needs. Currently we are learning how to modify our files by grinding down their tips, making it easier to file in tight/difficult areas. We will also be making our own burnishers on the grinding wheels. Yesterday I found some pitting in the silver I was working on (very small holes in the silver) and used a burnisher to essentially push the silver over the holes. Before the advent of polishing machines, hand tools were often used to polish the surface of metals. Though it was more time consuming, I found it to be more "thrilling" given the history of the technique. I also was able to learn how to use the polishing machines yesterday. They certainly can get the metal quite hot, and to my left and right I see students having to put their rings down to let them cool. I, on the other hand, haven't put mine down yet. I am too overjoyed by the mirror finish of my silver to care much for my burnt fingertips. No pain, no gain.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Yesterday, the 3rd day of class, I found myself getting a wee bit stressed. Though my technique is coming along, and my work is all well & good; I am not as speedy as the speediest of my class. We spent the first two days working on one ring, and yesterday, only one day on another ring. As of yet, I have come close to, but have not finished the rings. By finishing I mean getting the silver to the point where no file marks can be seen, and then taking it to the polishing machines to create that mirror finish I oh so much desire to see. At the same time, I can compliment myself in that each day my work and speed is certainly progressing. Yesterday, I dove right into that ring, got hold of my focus, sawed off the sprue, and was most likely the first to have the sprue filed down to the shank. But then came the filing, which for some reason I don't feel I have fully grasped the art of. One thing I hope will help is that my instructors are going to raise my bench on 2x4s. Because of my 6'5" height, I am not at the most comfortable position at my bench, and therefore am not able to see my work at it's most optimum level.
My instructor, Doug is his name, can see that I am frustrated. He sees that I am passionate, ambitious, and have the desire. He assures me that on the 3rd day, I am not expected to be perfect at this craft. Even those who have hit the polish machines - their rings are still not complete. Perhaps, my slowness as of now (these are my thoughts) is due to desiring perfection before I polish. Whereas everyone else has gone to the polish wheels, only to discover they have more filing to do.
At the beginning of lunch, I spoke to my instructor Doug, who told me of a book he's reading called Outliars by Malcom Gladwell. Doug explained that the book discusses how those who are successful, became so for many reasons, but mostly for the time they spent working on their "craft." 10,000 Hours!! Doug continues to assure me that he has been working as a jeweler for over 30 years, and I should not expect much from myself after 3 days. So, I'd say I have about 21 hours under my belt. That leaves 9,979 hours to go. 9,979 hours before I can say I'm good. I do have to pick up my speed though. Back in the days of beading, if it took a whole 60 seconds to put a 2mm bead on a thread, I was at least happy I got it on (that's a little extreme) but now I have to pick up the pace. In the future I will have to take a timed bench test....must keep that in mind.
The past two evenings, I have gone out for a couple beers with whom appear to be my friends for this stage of the journey, Matt and Jeff. Together, we push each other to success, and our conversations of gems and jewelry excite our dreams for tomorrow and the future. Each of us has come a long way through life. We recognize that this is our time to truly grow.
In 15 minutes I will grow some more....off to class.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day One

Words cannot describe just how incredible this all is. Our day, 8am to 3pm, was spent learning how to saw and file metal. I am sure, to some, this would sound boring, but seeing silver dust on your fingers and bench pin, and the silvery sheen develop on a pale cast ring is truly a sight to be seen.
Our first project, named Mr. Newmann's Ring, is a previously cast silver ring that we have been "hired" to file and polish into a wearable piece. Many rings can be made at once using the lost wax casting method - that is how those mass market, "k-mart" type rings are made. Imagine a branch, though instead of flowers protruding, there are silver rings. These rings are not yet finished; they are covered with a casting skin, and many flaws that need to be filed and polished away.
My project began with weighing the piece in penny weights to determine the amount of metal I am beginning with. Later, when finished, I will weigh the piece again to see how much metal I have lost. Thus I am actually graded on how much metal I lose from the ring. Loss of metal = Loss of profit. However, nothing is truly lost. The interesting thing we were learning yesterday is that jewelers and goldsmiths, for thousands of years, have been the original recyclers of materials. Every dust particle of metal is saved, and eventually sent to a refinery. Our instructor explained that every few years the carpeting and chairs (anything that can collect gold or silver dust) is sent out to a refinery. There, all the carbon is burned away to reveal only metal. Then, by using different acids, they are able to separate the metals, and either send it back to the jeweler or a check for the value of metals. Nothing is wasted!
So, Mr. Newmann's ring is half way completed. Today I will continue to file the sides of the ring, then use the flex shaft tool to sand the interior of the ring, as well as using a burr to create a textured finish in the hard to reach areas inside the ring. The goal is to make even the parts unseeen, as beautiful as those seen. Later in the day, I will use the polishing wheels.
Off to Class!!!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010


After a long night of difficult sleep, I awoke at 6 am to prepare for my first day at the GIA. I was nervous, exhausted, and excited. I showered, shaved, combed my hair, and donned myself in my best duds: lime green chinos, argyle socks, blue shirt, and my green & pink bow tie. I was 5 minutes late to the Orientation (blame it on the bow tie) but luckily they weren't going to start the speakers until 8:30. Lateness will not happen again.

Directed upstairs to a large conference room; I was greeted and given a packet of information and a name card - Paul Anthony Vermylen III. Along two long tables sat my fellow students. Some were already speaking in intense introductory conversations, and others sat quietly drinking their coffee and eating muffins. I joined the latter, feeling at the moment too dazed to be the social butterfly I usually never am.

The first part of the day was reserved for introductions and speakers - deans, alumni relations, student services, security etc. At 11am, we were given a short break to mingle with other students. Still unsure of whom to speak to, I went outside for a cigarette and met one of my fellow students, Jeff from Chicago. Back inside, and with one friend made; I met a guy named Matt who was telling a guy named Akshay about his National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course. "I've done that!" I exclaimed, and so another connection was born. Akshay was from New York - enough said.

The four of us had lunch together in the cafeteria. Our conversations ranged from gems to beer to the unbelievably of what we were setting out to do. It is thrilling to meet others with the same passion for gemology and jewelry.

At 1 o'clock we headed for room 204, our classroom for the next six months, and sat down at our individual workbenches. There in front of me was a stack of books and jewelry supply catalogs, as well as a large gray toolbox. Three instructors stood in front, who had been in the industry for some 20-30 years.

For the rest of the day we did an inventory of our toolboxes. It was like Christmas morning, but unfortunately, though we could unwrap our gifts - we couldn't play with them. I was giddy through the entire inventory. For the past few years I have stared at the pages of jewelry supply catalogs, longing to own these tools, and more, to know how to use them. Now I own them!! And beginning Monday... I will LEARN!!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greetings From Carlsbad, California

Well, after driving 3,092.79 miles, I am finally here!! From New York to Cumberland, MD, to Bowling Green, KY, to Hazen, AR, to Amarillo, TX, to Lordsburg, NM, and the final push to Carlsbad, CA. Though exhausting, the trip went without a hitch, and as always, it was good to be On The Road Again....
So, here I am in Carlsbad, the land of my dreams, the present place of future possibilities. Upon arriving, I did as Lewis & Clark had done, and stared out in awe at the Pacific Ocean's setting sun, relishing the end of a day as the beginning of a new one.
Currently, I am staying at a Motel 6, but if all goes well with the application process, I will be moving into a studio apartment this coming saturday. With an actual kitchen, actual windows, and no holes in the walls, Waterstone Apartments will most certainly be a step up from my last dwelling.
Tomorrow morning is Orientation at the GIA, beginning at 8 am. Class will officially begin on Monday at the same time. At the moment I am so "anxited" to begin, I can barely think straight, and worry if I will be able to sleep with such anticipation for the day/year ahead.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Just a month left here in New York.

Before I know it, I'll be packing up my Honda and heading west to learn the craft of fine jewelry.

Often, when I tell people what I’m doing with my life and where I’m headed; there is a look of confusion on their faces. As if asking,

How did you come to this?

And then they ask it, but the story is really too long for the 1-2 minutes anyone cares to listen. So perhaps I should answer the question here...

It is my assumption that most people have little to No idea how the jewelry they bought or received last Valentine's Day, truly came to be. Where the stones came from, how they were formed, if they're natural or lab created; how the jewelry was made, who made it, how did they make it....? These are all questions most people don't need the answers to. But in my life, every question needs an answer.

It was back in early 2007, that I first took an interest in gemstones and Gemology (the study of diamonds and colored stones). At the time, I was broke, unemployed, and spent most of my days drinking coffee and writing poetry. I found some source of solace in a local New Age bookstore learning the basics and philosophical excitements of metaphysics - Astrology, Tarot, Numerology, etc. I was drawn to the mysterious meanings of things that I couldn't otherwise explain. Surrounded by crystals meant to cleanse the mind and body, I was more enamored by their rich colors, and mysteries “frozen” in time. Baskets of tumbled stones, led me to books describing their metaphysical properties. When friends were ill, I would bring them different varieties of Quartz and the belief that the stones would cure them. The more of these books I read, the more I realized most of it was bull shit. Back then I was grasping at straws trying to figure out who I was, and where, if anywhere, I was going to go. I knew the stones had one power; they had a power over me. I was in love with the stones, and knew that somewhere in their mysterious beauty lay the answers to my own mysteries.

While perusing jewelry stores, seeing the stones that I knew of, and others I'd never seen; I became aware of my passionate interest and my ever-increasing knowledge of gems and jewelry. I wanted to make something better…and knew that one day I would.

For a long time, I was simply Beading… I ordered beads and findings on-line, and sought to make unique pieces of jewelry. I taught myself a lot, but the more I learned, the more expensive this hobby became. I had become a beading snob; I couldn’t afford to make what I wanted to make, nor did I want to make crap-jewelry like a bored housewife. Around the time of that realization, I was speaking to a Jeweler in Huntington who told me the wise words “there is beading and there is jewelry… Beading will only take you so far, Jewelry Continues.” He told me of his apprenticeship, and that nowadays one becomes a jeweler either through being an apprentice or going to school. School?

One night, by candlelight (couldn’t afford electricity), I was reading The Book of Diamonds: Their History and Romance from Ancient India to Modern Times, by Joan Dickinson, with an introduction by Harry Winston. It was then that I first read of the Gemological Institute of America.

I found the GIA on-line at www.gia.edu and realized that not only was it the World’s foremost authority on Gemology & Jewelry, but that I could take classes on-line via Distance Education. The GIA thus became the fire under my ass. I found a job as a stock boy at a local drug store in early September of 2007. It was an awful place, but it got me out of desperation. After a month of stock, I knew that it just wouldn’t do…especially with the holidays approaching. With the recommendation of a good friend, I got a job as a bank teller. It was a stressful job, and the pay wasn’t excellent, but it was enough for me to get back on track, and begin my studies with the GIA. After I had started my courses, Gemology and Jewelry became my life’s main focus.

In 2008, I completed my first degree, the Accredited Jewelry Professional. It was a great sense of accomplishment for me, as well as a big piece of the puzzle, willing me to go on. Since then, I have continued with my gemological studies in an effort to achieve the Graduate Gemologist Degree – the best awarded by the GIA.

So now, in 2010, I am taking a break from studying Gemology, to study Jewelry in Carlsbad. It will be six months for the Graduate Jeweler degree, essentially learning to be a Bench Jeweler (punching & sawing metals, soldering, setting stones etc.) Then another six months for Applied Jewelry Arts, which goes into the design process, wax carving, mold making; as well as the more modern industry aspects such as CAD/Cam design software, and laser welding.

Even I find myself wondering how I got here…but I’m here and I’m still going. It’s a path into the unknown. Into the unknown crystal and the unknown craft.

Follow me….

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Introductory Post

Dear Friends,
Come September, I will be travelling across the country again, this time on a Jeweler's Path. As many of you know, I have been studying Gemology for the past few years with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Beginning September 16th, I will be studying the craft of fine jewelry making and design with the GIA in Carlsbad, California. To begin, the Graduate Jeweler program is six months of intensive study in everything from punching and sawing metals to soldering, and setting stones. Classwork will begin each day at 8am, and finish some time after 3pm. I am very excited to begin this new journey, as I feel that finally I am on the right path. I have planned to continue my writing out there, and this Blog will help to formulate my thoughts on writing - I want to write about the jeweler's path. My other hope is that this Blog will allow my friends to join me along the way. As fun and interesting as I know this new path will be, I know as well that it will be rigorous and trying.
Stay tuned for more....the days till my path's beginning are dwindling.
Yours, Paul Vermylen III