Hidden Treasure at Hunt Country Jewelers

We’ve all been there – on the jewelry merry-go-round, spinning from store to store, getting nowhere. Diamonds, gold, and platinum swim before your eyes, but you can’t find that particular just-right piece you had in mind. It’s enough to make you give up and just buy another Keurig™.
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Let’s Talk About: Sourcing Your Stuff

It’s tempting, I know- that parcel of diamond melee for sale on Ebay.  It’s just exactly the right price for your budget and the size is pretty close, the quality listed is acceptable to you.  Perfect, right?

Well, maybe.  Consider the benefits of letting your jeweler source diamond and gemstone melee, side stones, and matched pairs for you that you may not get when sourcing them on your own, even from your own jewelry:

  1. Our parcels and pairs are matched and sorted correctly. Color and clarity are important to match because that’s what you are going to notice first, but even more importantly, from a manufacturing perspective, is matching in size and shape.

1.3mm and 1.4mm are not the same size.  It seems like a very small difference, but it is much more difficult to set stones that are not the same exact size.  It requires a different size burr to cut each seat, which means that a craftsman has to keep changing out his equipment during seat cutting.  In addition, the setter must now keep track of the order in which the stones must be set in order to match all the seats that have been cut with different sized burrs.

Depth further complicates size discrepancies.  Stones should be set to appear level and even.  I say ‘appear’ rather than ‘be’ because two side-stones that look the same from the top but are different in the depth or the shape of their pavilions require different things of the mounting and of the setter, often resulting in a necessary optical illusion of evenness and levelness.  Making non-matched stones appear to be matched demands a skilled wax carver and a master setter.

True sorting and matching for size requires an accurate micrometer, a lot of patience, and the knowledge to know what you are looking for.

Different shapes matter, too.  They may all look round to the naked eye, but under magnification some will be rovals (round ovals!), some more square, some tables will be off center.  These differences do make setting more difficult, but the bigger problem is that you will see the discrepancies in the final product.  It will look slightly less refined, not quite as graceful, and just a little off.  The craftsmanship can be excellent, but the finished look is heavily dependent on the quality of the materials used.

Much, if not all, of the money you save in buying that parcel yourself will be eaten in the extra labor required to work with incorrectly sorted and matched stones.  Which is a budget bummer, but you lose doubly when it also negatively affects the final look of your commissioned piece. We also find this sort of poor matching in already set jewelry.  The diamonds from the following pictures all came from the same piece; stones that are machine set or being forced into premade settings aren’t immune from the sorting sickness!

  1. When we source stones- centers, matched pairs, or melee, we are paying a great deal of attention to condition.  The overall condition of the stones may appear okay at first glance- we are looking deeper and under magnification for nicks, dings, and other damage that may be hiding where your naked eye can’t see it.  So what, you say!  If I can’t see it with my naked eye what difference does it make?  There are three ways it does, indeed, make a difference:

a. Price/Value: You should not pay full retail for damaged goods, nor should an appraiser place full retail value on them. Heaven forbid something happen to your ring, the insurance company will only pay out enough to replace with other damaged or subpar replacements.

b. Performance: You may not see the chipped edge on that diamond, but it’s interfering with the facet pattern and the light return. Colored gemstone parcels that have been stored in stone papers often have paper wear- an abrasion of all the crown facets from the contact and friction with the other stones in the parcel.  The abrasion present in paper worn stones often creates lines of matte, rounded facets- like a spider web of dullness across the top of your stone.  It’s not pretty.

c. Set-ability and Longevity. Diamonds fare the best here- it takes a rather large nick to make them unsettable, but it does happen.  Cracks, damage on the girdle, divots in the crown, all make diamonds unsuitable for setting.  Colored gemstones are even more sensitive- a misplaced inclusion or a small chip can make a stone unsuitable for setting due to the amount of pressure needed to properly press and fold the metal.  Even if you can successfully set these stones initially, their longevity in the mounting in compromised. Small nicks become large cracks when they meet the edge of a shopping cart and abraded facets have fewer years of beauty until they are matte cabochons.

  1. And lastly, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. When we are able to supply stones and melee for your project I have a lot more wiggle room to play with in your estimate- have two identical bands being made and I am providing your diamond melee?  Weeeeel, maybe I can look at your wax fees and trim them.  It’s all dependent on the project and the material, of course, but it gives me options to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck.  If you have provided all the stones I have to be very strict about every setting , every change to the wax, every gram of gold used.  So you saved $100 on your diamond melee, but now I can’t overlook the extra four hours we spent making changes to your wax, so the overall labor charge goes up $200.

So to sum up, it is possible to correctly source your own stuff, but the old adage applies: You get what you pay for.  True deals on great parcels will cost you (or me) in time and effort what they lack in price.  It is because of these issues that we have decided here at HCJ that we are going to be very conservative about what melee we accept to be reset in commission work; the savings cost is simply not worth the loss of labor and grace in the finished products that bear our name.  There will be instances when the stones you have are perfect for reuse, of course.  And if you think you have some we’d be happy to take a look.  If we can work with your material, we will and we’ll be honest about why we can’t if we decline to work with it.

As always, the goal is heirloom quality jewelry at a fair price.  We feel this policy helps us achieve that goal- and it helps you get a great product and have a great experience.

Have you ever attempted to source your own stuff?  Successfully? Unsuccessfully?

Let’s Talk About: Proper Prongs or The Tale of The Loosey Goosey Stones

We have a seen a rash- an epidemic, really- lately of loose center stones coming in for repair.  The vast majority of them have not been HCJ pieces (I say this to be generous, in actuality none of them have been HCJ pieces) and it has been an education to examine other work and determine why these stones are literally spinning in their settings.  There are several scenarios in which a center stone can become loose; the odds are on two.  1) Damage or wear significant enough to take a prong out of the equation, structurally, or  2) an incorrect setting to begin with.

I’m going to be discussing the latter today.  And we are seeing a lot of it.  In theory, setting sounds simple- place stone, fold metal.  But it’s actually one of the more complicated and difficult parts of benchwork.  I was speaking to a lovely German lady in the store the other day who had started a jewelry apprenticeship back in Germany; her apprenticeship was 7 years.  Three and a half years of that time was spent just learning setting. Three and a half years on a single skill!  And even then you are considered a new craftsman, not a master setter.  That’s how important and tricky setting can be.

There are complication to consider according to what type of stone you have and what type of metal is being employed, but what we are seeing goes beyond that.

When setting a stone in a prong setting, you must first cut a seat- this is exactly what it sounds like: a place for the stone to sit.  It is a shaped notch where the girdle of the stone rests.

The top portion of the prong is then folded over the girdle to lay flat against the crown.

The stone should now be supported and held at three points by the prong.

What we are seeing is a) seats cut improperly; b) prongs not folded properly; or c) both.  An improperly cut seat is either cut too shallow or, more likely, too deep.  Too shallow and there isn’t enough of a lip created for the stone to rest on.  Too deep and space is created in the metal of the prong behind the girdle of the stone.  This compromises both the points of support and the integrity of the prong by thinning the metal width right at a bend point.

An improperly folded prong isn’t pushed into full contact with the crown of the stone, leaving a flange that hangs out just waiting to catch on your sweater or hair and yank upwards.  When you combine that with a prong that has been weakened and thinned at the seat, it’s a recipe for a snapped prong.  In either case, the stone will sustain bumps that push it against the metal prongs holding it in place.  When there is air where there shouldn’t be, that stone begins to wiggle.  A tiny wiggle becomes a large wiggle as the stones wear away the metal at contact points.  Eventually, the stone will become so loose that it’s in danger of breaking loose from the setting all together.

Seats are often cut improperly due to lack of skill- simply over cutting, but sometimes an overlarge seat is cut deliberately in an effort to lessen the inherent risk of setting.  This is very common with princess cut stones, or any stone with a 90 degree corner, when round prongs are used and placed directly over the tip of the corner, instead of creating an ‘L’ shape that hugs the corner.

The point created by the corner is vulnerable to chipping, so it’s understandable why pushing a prong directly over the point is nerve-wracking and risky.  Over cutting and under folding isn’t the correct way to manage the risk, but it does explain the impulse.  The correct way to manage the risk is with a ‘L’ shaped prong that holds the stone along two flat planes, protecting the vulnerable corner.

There are two courses of action to fix a loose or spinning stone.  The first is a band-aid, but it not very expensive, nor is it invasive.  Tightening or crimping the prongs down can be effective, but probably not permanently.  The second option is the best long term solution- it is more expensive and more invasive, but it fixes the problem for good.  The real fix is to unset the stone, completely rebuild the prongs- sometimes this involves a new head- and start the setting process over.

There are other possible pitfalls with prongs, but most are aesthetic- over large prongs or stones set crooked- that do not affect the integrity of the setting.  Of course we try to avoid those, too!

Around here, both Ed and Logan are master setters.  Neither will agree to set a stone they feel is too risky, nor will they use design elements and metal choices not suited to the stone.  It’s one of the benefits of creating each mounting for individual stones- no one size fits all heads, prongs, and seats.  Just individually designed and crafted heirlooms.  And we stand behind our work; if you have an HCJ piece that has a loose stone bring it on by and we’ll take care of it.  Note, however, that we can identify when a problem is a manufacturing issue, which we will of course take care of, but if you ran the ring over with your car…well, then we can still fix it, but we’ll have to charge you for that one J

-Carolyn

Let’s Talk About: Marketing Monikers

Paraiba. Padparascha. Merelani.  These monikers denote special colored gemstones- and often special gemstones mean extra special expensive price tags. So what’s the skinny on these denotations?  Where do they come from and do they affect prices?
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Let’s Talk About: Diamond Details

Often, when speaking with a young man or couple on their first trip to look at diamonds, I find myself walking them through a basic diamond primer.  All these letters and numbers, designations, grades, cuts- what do they mean and how do they affect performance and price.

Here are the basics and some of the questions we hear most often:

What does ‘graded’ or ‘certed’ mean?

There are many labs around the world that will grade a diamond by their color, clarity, and cut; some labs are more reliable than others.  Our preference, here at HCJ, is the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).  Both Ed and Logan have earned their Gemologist credentials from GIA, we are the most familiar with their scales and processes, and they have been around since 1931.  GIA has historically been of of the big movers and shakers in the industry; many innovations and pieces of equipment have come from their organization.  We have found them to be the most accurate and it is a set of GIA Master Stones that we use to internally grade diamonds.

American Gem Society (AGS) is another reputable American lab; they use a different and less common scale, but are very reliable.  EGL USA and IGL International are known quantities that can be worked with, but we do not trust their grades at face value.  EGL grades are consistently generous with color and clarity.

We do avoid the term ‘cert’ or ‘certed’ around here- it’s a truncated form of certification and it’s not accurate.  Labs grade diamonds and issue a grading report; they do not certify anything and cannot be held liable if you or a merchant do not agree with their findings.  Both terms, ‘graded’ and ‘certed’, are used to indicate that a stone has been assigned color, clarity, and cut designations from an outside lab.  This is not an appraisal, nor should it include a value judgment, and they do not originate in house.

Grading reports are excellent for verification of information- including if you should ever need to resell your diamond- and for your insurance co mpany.  They are especially helpful when shopping so you can be sure you are comparing apples to apples.  We generally have stones graded if they are above 0.50 ct. or if we believe them to be exceptional- like in the case of a fancy colored diamond.  For appraisals, diamonds smaller than 0.50 ct., or estate diamonds we tend to grade in house.  A lab report does increase the cost of the stone and the stone most likely needs to be loose to be graded, so we do not tack that on if we do not feel it is of great benefit.  Many jewelers will provide in house grades- check their credentials and ask what equipment they use.  HCJ’s in house grades are reviewed by two GIA Graduate Gemologists and we use a set of GIA Master Stones as well as a GIA GemLite for color grading and Gem Instruments microscopes and proportion scopes.

What do all the numbers and letters mean?

The numbers and letters are indications of the color and clarity the diamond is deemed to be.  GIA founder Robert Shipley and Richard Liddicoat created the color scale and GIA began using it in 1953.  Fun bit of trivia: They started the scale with the letter ‘D’ instead of ‘A’ because it was originally intended to be for industry use only and they thought that failing grade connotation of ‘D’ would discourage jewelers from using it with clients! Not exactly how things worked out!

Diamonds are graded loose and upside down with their little pavilions up in the air; body color is more visible this way.
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Clarity is noted by a series of combined letters and numbers, and determined by a set of three criteria: Position, nature, and color/relief. The 11 clarity grades and what they mean are as follows:

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All grades from F-VS2 are considered ‘eye-clean’, meaning that you will not generally be able to see any inclusions or blemishes with the naked eye.

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Info on clarity grades sourced from GIA, Diamonds and Diamond Grading, Assignment 11, pgs. 4-16.

Cut grades deal with the proportions of a stone, the angles present, polish, and symmetry and how these factors affect brilliance, fire, and scintillation.

GIA uses a five grade scale for cut: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.  AGS uses a numerical scale from 0-10, zero being the highest grade.

As GIA states on their 4C’s Education Blog (http://4csblog.gia.edu/):

“A diamond’s cut is crucial to the stone’s beauty and final value.  And of all the diamond’s 4 C’s, it is the most complex and technically difficult to analyze.”

The qualifications for each grade are difficult to break down, but in general one should look for:

Table < 60%
Crown Angle around 34%

A Total Depth between 60-63%
Girdle Thickness should be even and ‘medium’, not thin or extra thick

That is a very basic, basic description of some elements of cut- if you can and you are really interested, it’s best to find a GG who will be willing to show you a variety of stones and walk you through their varying characteristics so you can see which have the most impact to your eye.  If you can’t see the diamond in person, then a cut grade can be a good general indicator of which stones have more ideal proportions and should be better performers.  We’re big fans of seeing the stone with your own eye to judge performance since everyone’s eyes and definition of beauty are different.

Do these grades affect price?

Yes, significantly.  The higher the grades, the more expensive the stone.  There are small jumps within close categories, but large increases when you move up a category, in color or clarity or both.  An H to G stone will have a small increase, but an H to E will have a large one.

So what happens if you don’t agree with a grade, which is often the case with EGL stones?  Well, the price looks great because on paper you are getting that E stone for the H price; but in comparison with actual E colored stones, that diamond will suffer.  Essentially, you really do get what you pay for.

What is your recommendation on where to start?

My first recommendation- always- is to set a budget.  There are beautiful diamonds in all price ranges as long as you are flexible and reasonable in your expectations.  There is no need to go into debt for a diamond; tell us your budget and let us play with the combination of specs to find you a great stone.

Second recommendation- see the stones in person, not just one but several.  Loose, mounted, lots of colors and clarities, to start to get an idea of what your eye prefers.

Third, most people have budgets.  If you are a lucky one with no budget, this doesn’t really apply to you.  Don’t pay for what you can’t see; prioritize size, color, and clarity (good cut is a given- I won’t even show you stones that aren’t well cut!).  Are you willing to trade down a color grade for a larger stone?  Is clarity your mountain to die on, but size is flexible?  Out of the triangle, you can usually have two, but you have to be flexible on at least one.  Claire loves high color and doesn’t mind eye visible inclusions and I am the complete opposite!  High clarity and a lower color for me, please!  The near colorless grades-GHIJ- and eye clean clarities between SI1-VS1 are white and clean stones, especially when mounted.  Start there and then play with the grades according to how much over or under budget you are.

The most important tools you have are your eyes.  You should choose a diamond that YOU think is beautiful- regardless of what the paper says.  Use the grades to make sure you aren’t overpaying (comparing apples to apples), but choose a diamond because you love it.