Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Simple Ring?

This may look like a simple ring, but when I look at it, I think of eating Mexican food with my hubby.

It's actually an Australian opal- a pretty one I spent a lot of money on in Tucson, Arizona last February. My husband Bob and I went on a 6-day vacation there from northern Virginia, and it was HEAVEN. Why? First off, we got a break from our 3 school-aged children. Second, we got to spend time together, sleep in, and eat lots of Mexican food at Los Portalos. And third, I got to shop for gems!

For those of you who don't know, Tucson is the center of gem-buying for 2 weeks every year in late January/early February. Vendors from around the world come to sell their wares in every possible hotel meeting room, convention hall, or other indoor or outdoor venue. It is pure heaven for a gem-crazed nut like me. Me and 50,000 other nutty people! I had a good holiday season last year so I was able to do some investing by buying gems at great prices. Not all prices in Tucson are good- you have to hunt, and therefore, must have time and patience. Otherwise you may not find the ideal deal.

Last week I made the ring shank- it's 2 sets of 3 strands (6 total) twisted then fused to make this look like it's braided. I love it! Here's an earlier post about how to make them:
If I could make these for every ring I made, I'd be happy. That's my personality though- I get into something and it's not until I overdose on it then do I totally get sick of it and reject it until much later. There was once an episode with Cheetos that you might imagine hit me hard- I gorged on them and then didn't eat them again for years... I'm sort of doing that with this ring shank, but now that I'm older and presumably more mature, I try to hold myself back from going full-out on what I like. Moderation is key.

I chose the stone and knew it'd be challenging to set. It's a bit thin and has a wavy bottom- so I had to make sure it was sitting nicely before I folded over the bezel. I took my time and spent 30 minutes going around and around on that bezel, hammer and punch in hand, carefully moving the metal down to meet the stone. But when I look at it, I remember the show I was at, and the people I bought it from. They were a Chinese company selling only opal. Did you know that most opal rough is bought up by the Chinese, cut and re-sold in the international market? Yup, it is. At another vendor in that same show, the husband of a vendor who was bored started a conversation up with my husband, and asked my husband if he was retired yet (this gentleman was). Bob and I had a laugh later about that because he's not really close to retirement age. Was that guy suggesting Bob looked old? I giggled about that.... Oh, to be retired and travel from gem show to gem show... one can dream..... We had fun that day and I remember trying to shoo Bob away as I was paying the opal vendor so he couldn't see how much I paid for those stones!

And that gets me back to Los Portalos. Coming into Tucson the first night, we were looking for a place to stop and get dinner. Bob was driving and I was hurriedly looking on Trip Advisor or some such app to find a highly-rated Mexican place we could stop at on our way to our hotel. Los Portalos was not in a great part of town, but it was on our way and highly-rated. It was the best chili relleno I've ever had. We sampled a couple of other restaurants for dinner that trip, but went back to Los Portalos two more times. I got the chili relleno each time, and each time it was perfection. Bob got different dishes each night, but the last night was the best. What a great way to end our trip! Great Mexican food, time together, and gem-shopping.

So now whoever buys this ring, gets a ring with good karma and soul. And I get satisfaction knowing that someone will love it forever, and I invest the money into a reserve fund for a trip back to Tucson....

(Here's the link to the listing on Etsy:)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Recent Work Completed

Finally finished some things sitting on my bench for the whole week- ugh! I hate when I have no time to work, distracted by the 'small stuff' of life!

You may remember this from my last blog post- this guy was almost done- just needed to set the stone and put on the chain and clasp.

It's a pretty piece- looks better on but I don't have anyone to model for me!! I opted for a gold-filled chain to increase the mixed-metal look of the piece, which I like.  Some keum boo added to this- etching, granulation- would be nice too. I am thinking that to combine techniques makes my work stand out more as I develop my own 'look'. It's been about 8 years since I started metalsmithing and I'm just feeling like I need to develop my own look or brand. It's hard to find a niche in today's over-crowded jewelry category!!

The other problem (if it is one) is that I love using opals so much, in exclusion of other stones. Ho hum. These were going to be simple post earrings, but after surveying women and having most like the wire-type earrings, I changed my mind!

The pic's a bit blurry- sorry! I had to rush the pic because the camera was almost out of power and guess what? My daughter doesn't remember where she put the charging unit to the camera! Nice! Anyhoo... I fused the bezel cup and 3 granules onto the discs, then fused the 4 balls onto the square wire, which was then soldered onto the discs. The earwire was soldered onto the back of the square wire. I like the industrial quality they have- I think it contrasts nicely with the vaguely floral etching and the ethereal quality of the opals. 

Still have a couple of things on my bench to finish up- I hope the 'small stuff' of life doesn't keep me away from my bench this week!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's on my Bench?

I have some works-in-progress so I thought I'd do a short post to show you what I'm hoping to finish up by the end of the week!

The above pendant was first etched with a copyright-free pattern I found in one of those Dover design books (I think it was Art Nouveau but I'm not sure!) I cut out the design and smoothed the edges. I used Argentium silver, so that afterward I could put some select granules on top of the pattern to further decorate the surface. After fusing them on, I created a 22k gold bezel and fused that on as well. I'll use a gold-filled chain to complete the mixed-metal look.  So now I need to set the stone, attach the chain and figure out what to use/make for a clasp.

I also made a couple of my twisted/braided ring shanks for use in some special rings. I recently bought this yummy translucent chalcedony and am thinking it may be perfect for the job. I'm thinking about how I'm going to set it. Was considering using a gold bezel, with maybe some silver granulation on the sides, or maybe even a stone set on the side, too. Not sure....

These are recent etchings. The top pair are domed a bit, with keum-boo fold foil in the center and oxidized. The eyes are really cool, aren't they? Still trying to think of what else to do with them for earrings. Any ideas?

These small etchings will have 6mm opals in the center. They're prettier than they look here because once I blacken the background they will really be set off and firey! At first I was gonna keep it simple and just solder those bezel cups on and put a post on the back. But I recently did a survey on our Ladysmiths Jewelry Collective Facebook page, and more people actually prefer wire earrings. So, I'm thinking of a new plan.... catch me back later and see how they end up!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Question of Value

At the end of this month the Ladysmiths and I will be participating in a showcase 2-month show at the Northern Virginia JCC. The JCC is taking 30% of our sales, so I had to do some thinking about what to price my items at. Normally, I price as low as possible so that I can make as many sales as possible. It's a fine line, because I don't want to undersell my items, but at the same time, I don't want to price so high that it turns people off.

Many in the business of selling handmade items argue that I should set my items at their retail price. That means, if I want $150 for my item, I should set the price at $300. That allows me to wholesale my items to stores and the retail price is fixed. Of course the $150 I want for my item consists of my costs of materials, plus the cost for making it (hourly wage x number of hours to make). The problem I've had is: What should my hourly wage be?? What is the value of my skillset?? Now since I make one-of-a-kind items primarily, I don't see how the argument that someone can look at my website and see that item listed for less holds water. However, I recently started to cast some of my pieces, and list them on Etsy. Combined with the desire to start wholesaling, it does make sense to have one retail price. 

But then value is not always calculated based on materials + time to make. Many times, I price based on perceived value. I feel sometimes that is a more accurate way to price. Take the above bracelet. It is made of 18 pennies pre-1983 (100% copper). It obviously cost me $.18 to make. Hours to make- maybe 4. So the questions are: What is my hourly wage? If it's $20 an hour, do I let this go for $80? Should the cost include the cost of the hammer I used to rivet the links? Or some part of it? Some people have told me hourly wage should be many times that. What are similar things sold for? What is the perceived value? After all, not everything works via formula. Pricing is very complicated. 

Should price be based on what people are willing to pay? Some would be willing to pay $300 for one of my items, others can barely rationalize spending $100. It really depends on my target market, and also depends on how educated they are about what went into making that item.  I have taught classes to certain students who want to come in, make a few things, and say they've enjoyed the class. But what they realize is how difficult it is. Sometimes they want me to do things for them. 

The skillset I have was not learned overnight. It's hard to rationalize what salary I deserve because I am in the business of making luxury goods. Does anyone really need a penny bracelet? No, of course not. If it's a choice between food and the penny bracelet, they will choose food. But for those with some expendable income, the choice to buy art is a wise one. Items made by artists, artisans, craftspersons, whatever you want to call it, are guaranteed to enrich your life, give you pleasure, and inspire you. What is the value of that?

What do you think??

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Results from the Ladysmiths Etching Workshop

Last week the Ladysmiths, a group of local female metalsmiths, came to my house for an etching workshop. You can see a brief report here:

And above, are the earrings I made with some of my etchings!

I have been having the best luck lately using my laminator rather than an iron to stick my PNP (press and peel) paper to the metal. I like using copyright-free images and print out a whole page of images, some I use, and others up for grabs. Once printed onto PNP paper with my laser printer, I tape each image onto a sheet of silver with a small piece of tape. I used a piece of paper to 'catch' the silver sheet as it comes out of the laminator, because it is hot!! This technique does not seem to work well with smaller pieces- the piece can get stuck in the machine, and it doesn't trap and keep the heat long enough to effectively melt the toner. But large pieces of silver with a bunch of images positioned on it seemed to work great for me and for others. I put it through the laminator about 8 times or so. A good guideline is when you can see the image become higher-contrast through the back of the blue plastic.

The PNP paper transferred great and I then cover up the remainder of the silver sheet with nail polish so it won't etch. Whatever isn't covered with PNP blue paper is painted. If I was using words, I'd have to mirror image them so that when they transferred, they read the correct way. I also reverse the black and white because as you can see, whatever is black is protecting the silver from being etched, so it's always a good rule of thumb to do this. I use plastic duct tape on the back to protect it from being etched- it's more cost effective than nail polish!

I wrote an article a while back for Art Jewelry magazine on Nail Stamp Etching. It's a great way to use already-etched plates to create patterns for etching- no PNP paper.  You can read about this way of etching in this blog:

I soaked my sheet in used (blue) nitric acid for 10 minutes, checking it every so often. If you start to see PNP paper floating up from the silver- TAKE IT OUT! This can happen if the acid is too strong. I use nail polish remover for the polish and sandpaper to rub off the PNP.

I sawed out each of the flowers and annealed them a few times with my torch to bring up a layer of fine silver to the surface. This is called depletion-gilding and it's necessary with sterling silver in order to apply keum boo (fused gold) to the surface.

You can see from above that my goal was to gild the interior of each flower.

And here I'm thinking I need to add some opals!!

So I create 12 bezels and solder them onto a base sheet, then cut them out roughly. This will be for 2 pairs of earrings. I like the difference in scale between the swoop of the flower and the small gems. This is important for visual interest. A variety of colors, textures, patterns and scales keeps your eye moving and your brain reads that as dynamic. A lot better than boring!!

So after the gold is applied, I oxidize/buff each piece for a little contrast and slightly dome each piece. You can also see above I created the tops for the 7-petal flower pair. 

Above is that pair just before I set the stones. Because I oxidized the piece and it was hard to clean out the little 4mm commercial bezel cups, I used a hole punch to create little white circles of paper that sat beneath each stone. Because the citrine and iolite are transparent, the dark silver background would've dulled their color, so this seemed like a good thing to do. It certainly did brighten them up!

Here are the other pairs before I set the stones and bent the earwires.

And above are the finished pair of 7-petal flower earrings! I used citrine to pick up the gold color, and iolite because it's a great complimentary color to the yellow. They have great movement because the lower part dangles. The leaves were created by cutting out leaf-shapes, using a ball peen hammer to hammer the edges, then using a chasing tool with a sharp line to create the veins. The upper assembly was soldered onto a piece of flat wire, and then the earwire was soldered on the back side. A hole was drilled in the flat wire to receive the wire loop soldered on the back side of the flower. I like how the slight dome gives the flowers some nice dimension.

And here is the other pair. After filing and sanding the edges of the top portions, I soldered a wire on the back- the top was folded down to create the earwire, and the bottom portion was looped through the hole in the flower dangle.

I made 2 similar pairs because I'm listing one in my Etsy shop and one I'm using in the JCC show the Ladysmiths are participating later in the month. If they don't sell, maybe I'll keep a pair!