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Creating Gems

I’ve been cutting stones for what has amounted to many years now. I
know there is a lot of jewelry that does not use however,
it seems fairly apparent that the original purpose of jewelry was
for adornments and symbols to show off stones. The central purpose
was the stone. Even the basic vocabulary of jewelry is about stones.
A jewel is a stone not the metal. A setting is something constructed
to best exhibit that stone. I understand that we’ve moved away from
those ways of thinking but for those of you who use stones perhaps
we’ve moved away too far.

It feels to me as though these days many jewelry designers and
metalsmiths believe that there’s is the only real art and real craft
in this jewelry endeavor. Stone cutting is only a weak adjunct to
what they do. Oddly, often I hear many of the same people saying
that they create their designs because a stone moved them in some
way. Yet I sense an attitude that denigrates the value of the
process by which it became a stone that could move them. After all,
there is no real creativity in the stone cutting, they seem to
think. You just kind of throw it into a machine and it comes out
perfect. No muss no fuss no sweat no cost. .

This attitude seems prevalent even though they’ve often acknowledged
that it is the stone which suggested the design idea to begin with.
I wonder if they think that way of cutting that stone happened by
magic. I have people asking for something new and creative to work
with as long as it isn’t too creative because then they’d be in the
position of framing the picture. Sounds like we’re back to setting a
jewel. It seems like they’re saying, “create me something that’s not
too creative because if you’re too creative then my creativity won’t
be properly displayed. And say, why have you still go the same old
stuff? I’ve seen all that before. It’s dull. I want something new or
I won’t be able to allow my creativity to soar. So here’s what I
want. Create me something that’s not too creative, and give me 20
choices so I have the sense of variety to choose from which further
stimulates my creativity and by the way why is everything so
expensive? How am I supposed to make money with prices like that?” “
And oh. The color of that is nice, but haven’t you got it in a color
about a shade darker than that? GIA says a shade darker is much
better than that junk you’ve got. What do you mean that’s going to
cost me more money?”

How many jewelry designers have any idea whatsoever of how a stone
is comes into being for them?

My problem here, as a cutter of stone, is that I often get the
feeling that we’re considered kind of second class citizens and not
full partners in this jewelry design process. I suspect that much of
the reason for this is the basic ignorance of many metalsmiths as to
what’s involved in getting to a finished stone. How many jewelry
design courses even include stone cutting for instance, including
the acquisition of rough?

"Just give me the absolute top quality, perfectly cut and flawless
stone and give it to me cheaper than that outrageous price you’ve
put on it because I’ve got to make a good living out of this."
That’s the attitude I often sense. Yes. I know you have limitations
on your final price too. But couldn’t we work this out, rather than
you thinking that if you can get it from me real cheap you can make
more money off of it. I’m going to suggest that If we were closer to
partners, then we could both make a living off of it.

The other part of this too, is that I believe there is almost total
ignorance as to what the lapidary has to do in order to be in the
position to get that stone to you. Little thought is given to the
costs of production and the availability and affordability and
acquisition of the rough. Just to go a little further along that
line, because there is a direct translation between the weight of
metal purchased and the amount of metal in the finished piece of
jewelry, metal folks seem to think the same is true for stones. If
you buy an ounce of gold, you’ll get very near to that in finished
product. Nothing could be further from the financial reality of
stone. Frequently what you’ve got in your hand is a tiny fraction of
what I started with.

I could go on and on, but so this email doesn’t ramble forever, and
since I expect a bit of a reaction to it, :>) I’ll hold off on other
thoughts for subsequent emails.

Derek Levin

Hi Derek,

Thank you soooo much for hitting the nail on the head! I’ve been
cutting cabs since 1971 or '72, carving gems since '77 and faceting
since 1984 or ‘85, and in all that time, I’ve yet to meet more than
one or two jewelers who didn’t run me ragged with that sort of
garbage. After I’ve invested anywhere from twenty or thirty to
several thousand dollars into a piece of rough, and then devoted
anywhere from several to several dozen hours to the studying,
planning and cutting of the piece, it’s nothing short of
exasperating to bring it to someone I’ve previously respected, only
to hear the ignorant and arrogant kinds of comments you’ve outlined.
One of my all-time favorite such exchanges was was this beaut’, from
a GG/FGA back in the mid-1980’s:

Jeweler: “Ahhh, Doug, your cutting and polishing on this Sapphire
are absolutely exquisite; wow=85 just look at that thing shimmer and
dance! Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a natural stone of
any type that does as much as this one does! And I think I have
just the customer for it! Tell me, what would a piece like this go

Me: “About $600/ct if you need it on memo, and a bit less, if you’re
paying cash.”

Jeweler: “WHAT?! Are you flippin=92 nuts?!? I can buy Sapphires all
day long for a fraction of that!!! I=92ll give you $250 for the whol=
piece =96 take it or leave it!”

The gut-wrenchingly sad fact of the matter, Derek, is that the vast
majority of jewelers tend to think of the quality of the gems they
buy in terms of color and clarity, only. More often than not, they
live by the “buy a brick for $5, then sell it for $10 or 20” mindset,
without ever pausing to consider the artistry or symmetry of the
stone in question, or the time, dedication, quality of labor or cost
of materials incurred by the cutter. And, even more sadly, the fact
that there is an overwhelming abundance of truly horrible cutters in
the world supports this. The problem arises when those who buy and
mount our stones view our work and theirs with double standards.
While they invariably value their own labor and finished results
highly, and draw clear demarcations between their own pieces =96 or,
for that matter, pieces they=92ve merely spot-soldered together from
pre-cast components =96 and those that are mass-produced for
discounters, they=92re under the impression that connoisseur-quality
cutting and polishing should be valued at about the same rate as
dollar-a-carat sweatshop products. The worst case scenarios are those
in which art jewelers follow the same rules, and view other artists=92
pieces with similar disdain.

It is because of jerks like these that I finally got sick and tired
of cutting for mainstream retailers, closed my trade shop in New
York, moved to Boston to start over again, and eventually headed out
to the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts to take all of the courses they
offered on the techniques of jewelry design and metalsmithing. While
I was out there, I had the good fortune to meet Bernd Munsteiner and
discuss these very same frustrations with him. For some reason, I had
assumed that a guy with his presence and cachet would be immune to
these “pedestrian” obstacles, but he was more than familiar with them
from his early days, and mentioned having had this same discussion
with others, before. His advice to me was sagely, and I’ll pass it
on to you, as well: “Learn to design and fabricate the high-karat
gold and/or platinum jewelry that best compliments these masterful
works of yours, and then go out and find your own retail customers.
Don’t wait for others to come around to understanding what it is that
you do, or why it costs you so much time, money and effort. Just go
ahead and learn, and then go ahead and do.” It’s about the best
advice I’ve ever received. I=92m hoping it’ll work for you as well as
it has for me.

Douglas Turet, G.J.
Lapidary Artist & Designer
Turet Design
P.O. Box 242
Avon, MA 02322-0242
Tel. (508) 586-5690

Derek, I really enjoyed your post. Maybe the reason why the gem
cutter is currently underappreciated is that he/she has been
"under-cut" [ : ) ] by the machine-cut and badly hand-cut sea of
stonework out there.

It comes to the appreciation of quality. If a person just wants
something “good enough”, then they will only be willing to pay a
minimal amount in order to get it. If all they need is color, then
they will want good grade color for a resin price.

The only recourse you have is educating them. (How many of your
buyers actually look at the technical aspects of the cut, and not
just the color?)

You will lose those buyers who want something cheap, but you will
still have your self-respect.

If you have an open mind and an empty pocket, though, you could do
what a lot of jewelry retailers do, and re-sell stuff that you
didn’t cut – just to cater to the low-end buyers, keep them around,
and to hopefully “bring them up” to appreciate your work.

Good luck in your business.

however, it seems fairly apparent that the original purpose of
jewelry was for adornments and symbols to show off stones. 

First of all I am not quite sure that the historical use of jewelry
was simply to show off stones. While gems and metals were used
together to act as symbols of status and wealth and as objects to
beautify, the purpose of jewelry was not just to show off stones.
The metal itself was representative of status as well, and was
revered as a means of portraying an image. If you look back, perhaps
a good place to start would be with the Etruscans, you will find that
most early jewelry was made simply to exhibit somewhat masterful
skills of metal working that had nothing to do with the gems that
were set. Also the sheer quantity of metal involved in some early
pieces (check out the King Tut or Ramses exhibits that ran through
the states a number of years ago) was also the true symbol of wealth
and power.

That being said, it is a fact that both gems and jewelry go hand in
hand together. However, the feelings you express so vehemently are
similar to the ones expressed by a lot of jewelers who can’t seem to
either set themselves apart from other jewelers easily or who can’t
properly educate their customers about what makes their product
unique (whether it be design, guarantee, or whatever) in order to get
paid a higher price than someone else down the block. I think your
issue with jewelers’ attitudes is actually a problem YOU are having
not the jewelers. You have to go and educate them about why your
product is better and worth the extra price. Once you do that, they
can then go and justify the pricing to their customers. Will you
convince everyone that it is worth the extra money? Absolutely not.
But all you really need to do is convince enough people that you will
do the business you need. We don’t expect to sell every person who
walks in our doors. We do expect people to challenge our prices
(since our average price point is well up into the thousands), and
we do expect to be able to justify our prices by educating the
customer about what makes our work worth the extra price. So stop
complaining and educate. It will get you a lot further in this

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

All, If you search in the archives you will find a very similar
thread that I started in the past years. I will not enter this
discussion on line because it is a discussion which has no compromise
solution. Stone cutters have thier experiences, jewelry store owners
have thier experiences, and bench workers have thier experiences.
All are different experiences and I have have found no way to bring
all three together for the mutual benefit of all three.

If anyone would like to respond to me off Orchid I will gladly
explain what I have done as a stone cutter to remain in business. My
email is Flame me if you want or enter into a good
discussion with someone with 25 years as a stone cutter

Gerry Galarneaau - In sunny Phoenix, AZ, USA where I am working hard
cutting stones to bring stock back up for upcoming events. Jaspers,
agates, sapphires, tourmalines, quartz, specimens, etc…


I don’t understand! I have mined my own metal, found cut and
polished the stone, alloyed the metal, and hand fabed a piece of
jewelry that I long ago sold. What do you mean you can’t bring all
three together for mutual use? I have been doing this for 30 years.

Ringman John

Sounds like more of the ‘Walmart-ization of America’. I’m not
getting into the jobs and businesses lost to overseas competition
here, but the mindset of the retail customer that has been created,
and that allows Walmart and other discounters such overwhelming
success. It seems that more and more folks, from the poorest people
just scraping by on food stamps and welfare on up to the richest, are
more impressed with ‘getting a deal’ than with real value. And, what
they value most is getting it cheap as opposed to getting great
merchandise for a fair price. By fair, I mean fair to all, not just
to the buyer. Every day, I see customers in our store who care more
about the bottom line than what they are getting. They’ll go to the
credit jeweler or discount store and buy the lightest weight,
poorest quality of jewelry for a fraction of the price in our shop.
No amount of talking will convince them that our piece is better, and
worth more. Or, if they do believe that it is better, they will
still want us to compete with the discount price. They still won’t
believe that they are getting what they pay for, for better or worse.


It seems that more and more folks, from the poorest people just
scraping by on food stamps and welfare on up to the richest, are
more impressed with 'getting a deal' than with real value. 

I still think that this problem is an issue for people who aren’t
marketing their work to the right sectors, or who aren’t
differentiating their work well from the mass produced stuff. There
is a reason why Tiffany’s is doing so well and why high end designer
clothing is still selling so well. Companies (or individuals) who
spend the time and money marketing to their target group of customers
will do well regardless of price range. If what you are making can
be compared too easily to something available in Wal Mart then you
have to change your designs so that they can’t find the same thing at
Wal Mart. Will you appeal to as many customers as Wal Mart? Of
course not, but you don’t need to. You don’t need to have as much
traffic flow as someplace like that. You just need the right traffic
flow. It may be that you are located in an area where you can’t
drive enough traffic to your store that is the right kind of traffic,
but perhaps then it’s time to look at relocating or changing your
marketing/production plan in some way that will positively effect
your business.

     Every day, I see customers in our store who care more about
the bottom line than what they are getting.  They'll go to the
credit jeweler or discount store and buy the lightest weight,
poorest quality of jewelry for a fraction of the price in our
shop. No amount of talking will convince them that our piece is
better, and worth more.  

I beat my head against the wall for twenty years trying to fight the
discounters. I finally closed a store which was started in 1873 by
my great grand father because I just couldn’t compete with them. It
was demoralizing. I took a year off to size up the situation and
reopened as a one man show.

I’m now grossing half of what I was grossing as a store but have
cut my overhead by more than 75%. I’m cleaning up and loving every
minute of it.

What made the difference? I finally came to the realization that
Walmart and the Discounters aren’t the problem . The problem is the
public. The Discounters have made a success out of exploiting the
stupidity and gullibility of the public. It is not our job to be
baby sitters. You can win without being crooked. For example, woman
comes in with a trinity and a quote from a chain store for $120 to
retip 12 claws. You quote $80 for the worst eight claws give her a
five year guarantee requiring twice yearly checks, do the other 4 in
a couple of years , try to sell her something each time she comes
in. You’re not cheating anyone, you’re just repackaging the goods. I
imagine there are a few “enamelists” out there who will disagree
with me. R, H.

Derek, I looked at your offering of pale green beryl, and commented
a good deal, and then asked for a matched pair of calibrated
cabochons for earrings. Remember ? You did indeed seem to enjoy a
great deal of exhange on the matter. But, you know what ? That
doesn’t qualify as a partnership kind of relationship in a way you
seem to be looking for. Most people can make friends, fairly
promptly if given the opportunity, but we are all caught up in the
hurly-burly of daily life and busy making a living, or a business,
or things with more pressing need than fly-tying or fishing. If
you want to appeal to designers or just bench jewelers, you will
need to let the work you do stand on it’s own. Do you want to cut
stones in new and wonderful ways? Create something never done
before ? Offer material that is so rare as to capture one’s fancy ?
If that is the case, you must first spend a great deal of time
doing it, planning it, thinking about it. That may well preclude
getting many other people involved in your work - it simply eats too
much time. Stone cutting would seem to be a solitary pursuit, for
the most part. Maybe you would rather have a store front where you
could relate to people all day every day. There must be at least
as many who want to be jewelry designers as those who would create
the materials for same. But they will be very busy designing, and
unless you just luck out by connecting with a certain few who are
caught up by your stone-cutting designs or rare materials, i.e.,
things that set you apart from the herd, you won’t be satisfied, in
my opinion. At no time in our exchanges did you mention or offer
anything exceptional in the way of cutting or design. I was
interested in the material itself, the color, so that was alright.

But you didn’t suggest you did anything else in the way of cutting,
or desire any kind of design partnership. It wasn’t that long ago.
Is this something new in your plans ?

What if you took some time to put up a fine web-site of your work
and let it be known that you welcomed input, new ideas, and
partnership in stone-cutting custom designs? You have a forum here,
goodness knows. In the past we’ve all had an opportunity to view
members new sites and comment and applaud. That’s the best place to
start, not by a complex dialog that really only clouds minds so that
we cannot see the glow of those gems. Show us the gems, and
designers will follow ! In an easy to access, well-produced site,
carefully thought out to produce the results you want, I’m sure we’d
all support and applaud. Others have done it - follow their lead
and see. Perfect your photography and let those stones speak. I
challenge you !

And wish you success,