I’m moving!

Not only am I moving in *real* life( I just don’t know when),

I’m moving my blog!

This blog will be open for a little while longer, but the new home is on my website, kaelindesign.com!

Go here to check it out… I’ve also got several new posts over there for all my lovely new readers, and I can’t wait to see you all over there!


Guest Post…

As much as I love writing on my blog, sometimes it’s fun to write on other people’s blogs too! So I wrote my continuing thoughts on spontaneous business matters on Noadi’s Handmade Business Blog here: http://handmade-business.blogspot.com/2010/08/spontaneous-serendipity.html

I hope you enjoy it!

How long is your to do list?

Image courtesy of nkzs.

How long is your to-do list? I found out today that mine is 5 double sided single spaced pages- and still growing. The reason I know this, is because I came across some well-meaning advice. “Overwhelmed or stressed out? Write everything down that you have to get done, then cross things off as you get them done.”

Sounds good, right? As much as I love a feeling of empowerment, and an enthusiasm for crossing off lists, I thought this was a great idea. I usually have a little list of things I need to get done, like groceries and ordering materials, but I don’t always add all the things I’m supposed to remember. It was a shock to finally sit down and put everything to paper- and yet five double sided pages seems so wrong to me. I wrote in little letters too….

Yes, I will have to do every single thing on those pages sooner or later. Some of the things on the list are vital to the continuation of my business… but instead of giving me a feeling that I have a place to start- I’m flabbergasted at what I’ve allowed myself to commit to!

What was I thinking? Well, what most of us think probably. How if I just work a little harder or a little longer, I will see that much growth for my studio. If I stay up an extra hour to work on my website- I’ll get that much more traffic. If I grow a vegetable garden the size of my house- I’ll save so much at the grocery store, and be healthier to boot. If I make my little girls their pretty dresses- they’ll have wonderful memories for their entire lives….

So I’ve become ruthless. I’m going to take the radical step to ignore what other ‘successful’ people advocate, and focus on what works for my life. And guess what? It was very liberating to take my big red Sharpie and cross off things by the paragraph. I’m not going to gain anything by working myself sick and sleepless- no matter how important the activities are.

I must admit- I did add a few things into my list. There are great big blocks of time devoted to blowing bubbles and drinking homemade lemonade on my front porch with the kids. I traded in working in the garden for going to the park. And I adopted a rather flexible schedule for all my paperwork that really does need to get done. If my list for the day isn’t done- oh well. My work day ends promptly at 5pm.

It doesn’t help that I really love most of these activities. I like making my girls’ dresses, and polishing my website. I will have to constantly guard against over-sechduling in the future. Right now, however, I believe it’s time for a glass of lemonade.

I get so bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of life that I forget, sometimes, how amazing it is to love what you do. Not just to find enjoyment in your day, and to feel satisfaction over a job well done- but to really, truly, love what you do. It makes me happy in a way that very little else in this life does- and rewards me with a near-instantaneous gratification of a finished project. Children take a minimum of 20 years or so to measure and evaluate one’s work in child raising before one knows if they have achieved success… A forged pendant may take me- at most!- a week, and (hopefully!) be gorgeous besides.

This is not to say that my life is conducive to my passions. Quite the contrary! I protect my art time with a zealous vigor- come flood, mashed french fries and my children’s squabbles. I think that having to do so makes the time I spend creating even more special. When I had all the time in the world to devote to my art, I certainly didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t thankfully go to sleep each night thinking, “I’m so lucky I can sleep a solid and un-interrupted 9 hours tonight so I can work a full day in the shop tomorrow.” No, no- I frittered.

I went to bed late, and slept in even later. I spent long, lazy afternoons reading. Oh I would work on my projects, sure, but I didn’t squeeze every moment for every last possible ounce of creation. I sauntered through life with a smile and a laugh and had a marvelous time- I just didn’t know it. I think about those days now with a nearly raw envy for all that ‘wasted’ time that could have been spent usefully. I know I enjoyed it at the time- and I still enjoy the idea of a long uninterrupted afternoon reading- but think of all the things I could create! I may have to admit to trouble letting go of my work now and again.

However, there’s one crucial difference between the artist I was then, and the artist I am now. Then I only thought I loved what I was doing. It was fun, and it made me happy- and the love for the metal was there, but I wasn’t consumed. There was excitement, but no passion. Now I stay awake long into the night filing intricate designs, and catching up on my paperwork. I get up early to start my day job as “Mom” and lurking in the corners of my mind are thoughts that say things like, “Look at that shadow- what if you wrapped silver in that shadow and nestled some white sapphires in the corners to sparkle mysteriously…” and “I bet if I spend another three hours tonight on the SEO coding for the website, I can squeeze in some extra shop time around 11pm tonight before I write up those new listings and do the photographs…”

The changes in my life between then and now seem humongous. I used to make sculpture- now I make jewelry. And, really, that’s only a matter of scale. I used to be single, now I’m married with kids. That’s a matter of company- and yes, the majority of my time is spent very happily there with my loved ones, but I really think that my passion stems partly from the very lack of time. If you are told you will die June 23, 2060- 50 years in the future- how would you react? You would probably saunter leisurely, and take your time doing things that are not of the utmost importance… But what if you were told you would be dead tomorrow? Every second would be a precious commodity, not to be wasted on the inane or the frivolous.

Please don’t misunderstand me- if I knew I were to die tomorrow, I would spend my hours with friends and family, not with my tools- but the sense of urgency I feel when working on projects seems very much the same. The creation of pieces is an endeavor pulled from my inmost thought processes, and if I’m going to appear anything like sane, and not permanently bowled over by the insatiable onslaught of ideas, I need to work in my shop to be truly happy.

Fail Boldly

Sometimes the project just won’t work. Sometimes the grand idea flops. It happens to everyone. The hard part for most people is accepting this failure. It’s probably that word. Failure. Just the very mention of it conjures up thoughts of personal worthlessness and un-over-comeable inadequacy.

So what does one do in the face of an absolute and irrevocable failure? Well, some people don’t care for long- they push it to the back of their minds, and where they can quickly forget about it. Others obsess compulsively in a feverish attempt to overcome wretchedness. Other people (like me) do both. In today’s modern society, it’s not socially acceptable to admit to failing. More often the response is, Quick! Hide it, and maybe no-one will notice… I have a piece of advice, however.

Fail boldly.

As an artist, I face the prospect of failing all the time. What if no-one likes my work? What if I can’t pay my materials bill because no-one buys anything? What if I waste those very expensive materials?? I promise you, it’s enough to keep someone (alright- me) awake at night. But it’s gradually dawned on me that when I am running closely to failure- I am also closest to my most blinding successes.

Major manufacturers have known this for years. They test and test their products to make them fail- and then rebuild them even better. I have decided to embrace this philosophy. I can’t succeed if I never try, playing it safe never won the race, nothing ventured nothing gained- and all those other clichéd platitudes.

But what if I go about with the intention to try and fail? What if I work my hardest to include the likelihood of not only failing- but doing so in a spectacular manner? Imagine how amazing my successes would be then….

Have you ever stopped to consider how many kinds of ice cream there are in the world? Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Funky Monkey, Chai Tea… the list is as endless as one’s imagination! This week, I stood in the ice cream aisle in my grocery store and stared at all the varieties. As I contemplated the relative merit of Triple Chocolate Fudge with swirls of Rocky Road versus a truly luscious French Vanilla Bean to which I could fresh raspberries and Irish Cream, it occurred to me that this is the same excruciating choice that a modern metalsmith faces when designing a new art jewelry piece.

When one considers all the options possible among stone setting, surface manipulation, patinas, different forging techniques- it is easy to understand why the creation of a new design can take days if not months and years. I am not by any means a master metalsmith as of yet, but even I personally know hundreds of different ways of creating a piece of art jewelry. My personal favorite, of course, is forged precious metals with gemstone accents, but I have large soft spot in my heart for an even more esoteric form of artistic expression in metals, called Mokume Gane.

Mokume Gane Ring

In the 1600s in Japan, a metalsmith by the name of Denbei Shoami invented a way of fusing layers upon layers of alternate metals. He discovered that when one did such a thing, then forged the layered billet into a thinner sheet, then selectively removed portions of the billet, and flattened the whole sheet again, one was left with an amazing amount of patterned beauty which was named Mokume Gane or “wood grain in metal”. He was a master smith, who was adept at the creation of forge-folded swords, or Damascus steel swords, for the warrior Samurai class of Japan. I can only presume through the distance of time that he felt the need of a new challenge as a smith, because the creation of Mokume Gane is a lot of work.

There are several different methods of creating this stunning mixed metal version of Rocky Road, but all of the methods are time intensive and subject to large amounts of failure.The first step of all the methods is the selection of the metals the artist wants to use. Some metals, such as copper, brass, silver, and certain gold alloys, are easier to work with than others, but the essential first step is the cutting, sanding, and cleaning/degreasing of the surfaces of the chosen metals. These metals are then fluxed, layered, and bound together under pressure. Usually this amounts to a set of iron plates bolted together with the layers sandwiched in the middle.

Mokume Gane Earrings

Here is where the methods diverge. The somewhat controversial, yet safer method uses small amounts of solder in between the layers of metal to bond the layers together, as is the case with traditional metal fabrication techniques. The artist doesn’t need to bring the metals anywhere close to their melting points, but is able to stay a comfortable 500 degree distance away from that threshold.

The artists who use the more widely accepted Diffusion Bonded method of creating this unusual material, rely on the property of fusion bonding to create their Mokume Gane. Once again, a small bit of science is required to explain this process. I’ll make short, I promise!

Mokume Gane Copper and Sterling Silver Art Pendant

Copper, Sterling Silver, Patina, Laquer

Certain metals and their alloys have the property of atomically bonding to similarly structured metals under the stimulus of heat and pressure. For example, when you take a piece of pure copper, and rub it vigourously on a steel obejct, the steel object will have acquired a coppery sheen in the area that was rubbed. This is a very low tech example of how “friendly” copper is with other metals. Most metals are willing to be sociable and friendly under the right circumstances, and there have been many phase diagrams and charts made up by more metallurgically inclined smiths than myself. I highly recommend Mokume Gane by Steve Midgett for those of you who are curious and like to read phase diagrams as bedtime reading material.

Of course, knowing what different metals require to be friendly with other metals has generally been a closely guarded secret that has been passed from generation to generation, and from Master Smith to Apprentice, for hundreds of years. It is only in recent years that Mokume Gane has seen a revival of new interest and an open sharing of information across the world. Smiths around the globe are using complicated alloys and fusion processes to combine a stunning array of dissimilar metals such as Platinum with White Gold, and Palladium with Silver, resulting in some of the most stunning patterns of luxury that is available today.

Mokume Gane Earrings- Long Dangle
So once one determines what metals to use, cleans, and binds them together, the whole apparatus is soaked in a hot kiln for hours. For the first method, this causes the solder to flow, easy peasey, and you’re done.

For the second method, the atoms on the outside of each piece of metal are starting to merge with the metal atoms of their neighboring pieces, forming a new alloy along their seams- this is the Diffusion Bond, I mentioned earlier. This new alloy can be formed with both metals in their solid states, or even in a semi-liquid state. So with the new alloy tentatively formed, it’s not quite enough to have this billet of material soaked in heat, and under bolt tight pressure. Now the artist has to force an even more forceful bond.

Okay, so it’s my favorite part- hit it with a bigger hammer!!

Bashing this innocent block of metals repeatedly with a very large hammer is quite fun, and yet, if the materials have been over heated, this will be the time when molten showers of metal spray in every direction and leave you with several days wasted and an unusable piece of metal.

After letting the material cool, it’s ready to be reduced and warped into pieces that are usable in jewelry or other decorative metalwork. If you cut a chunk off the side, heat it to forging temperature, and twist it repeatedly, you will wind up with a stunning cross section of a star pattern, which I’ve shown here in my Star Mokume earrings:

Star Mokume Copper, Brass and 14 K Gold Earrings

14 K Gold, Copper, Brass, Patina

If you beat the billet with a very fine round nose punch in lines, and then reduce the billet down to sheet, you will wind up with this very popular “Raindrop” pattern, as shown in my Mokume Gane pendant:

Mokume Gane Copper and Sterling Silver Art Pendant

Copper, Sterling Silver, Patina, Laquer

You can even forge it in a simple linear configuration, showcasing the traditional woodgrain pattern popular for centuries as shown in my Wright Metals pendant:

Handmade 18 K Gold Mokume Gane and Sapphire Pendant

18 K Gold, Argentium Silver, VVS White Sapphire

So, even with the siren lure of forging silver and gold, a metalsmith can become blase about the wonders of forging precious metals, and yearns for new challenges. As if there wasn’t enough to keep oneself occupied with forging silver and gold…

and yet…

…as much as I love French Vanilla Bean ice cream doused with Irish Cream and Raspberries, sometimes you just need Triple Chocolate Fudge with swirls of Rocky Road. Or a stunning Mokume Gane pendant.

Help! I’m so confused when it comes to shopping for jewelry. I just don’t know what all those terms mean!

Have no fear- Super Jeweler is here! Alright, not really, but I’m a metalsmith-jeweler and I can help explain all the little symbols and arcane terminology you might find when looking for jewelry. I’ve answered all of the common questions I have heard below, but if you have any other questions, I will be happy to answer them! Just leave a comment at the end of the article!

Silver Tone SP GF 14/20 12/20

AlluraGold Gold Bond Flying Unicorn GP

What is Silver?

Silver is an elemental precious metal that is found all over the world. It is prized for it’s beauty, luster, and value. It has been used as currency, and manipulated into status symbols, jewelry, armor adornments, and household objects for centuries. In modern times, silver is the most affordable of the precious metals, and is widely available in the jewelry industry.

I see lots of different people calling their jewelry silver- but they have all kinds of different prices! Why is that?

There are many different kinds of applications of silver and alloys that you might find being turned into jewelry. The most common types are: Silver Tone, Silver Plate, Sterling Silver, Fine Silver, Argentium Silver, and Palladium Silver.

is by far the cheapest because it contains no actual silver. That’s right. It’s just tin or some other nondescript base metal that looks like silver. No precious metals are involved whatsoever, and this material is generally only found in cheap imported jewelry, or sometimes on beaded art work. The artist will always know what they’re using, so if in doubt, make sure you ask!

Silver plate, or , is the next cheapest, but this time the inexpensive base metal is thinly plated, or coated with real silver. This type of jewelry is also extremely common, but unfortunately is also prone to being misrepresented as sterling silver. Silver plate will flake, chip and is likely to discolor you over time, but it is a popular and economical alternative to solid precious metals.

Fine silver is as close as we can come to 100% pure silver. There are always trace amounts of something mixed in, no matter how hard we try to keep them out, so technically, it is 99.9% silver, but for practical purposes, it is called pure silver. You will find fine silver jewelry is very “soft” compared to other types of jewelry, and is whiter than any alloyed jewelry you might come across.

Speaking of alloys, or mixes of metals, we come now to Sterling Silver. In the USA, this metal alloy is legally required to have 925 parts per 1000 of pure silver, with the remaining balance of metal generally comprised of copper. The addition of copper makes it more stronger and more durable than fine, or pure silver. It is highly common in the jewelry industry, and is much admired for it’s strength and beauty, however, it is extremely prone to tarnishing.

In the last several years, new alloys have been brought to the metals market. The most popular of the new alloys is called . It is available in two different alloy ratios, 970 parts silver per thousand, and 925 parts silver per thousand, with the balance of the metals being comprised of germanium. You will note that the ratios of silver is actually higher than sterling, and so this alloy also costs more than sterling. However, it enjoys some of the same structural strengths that traditional sterling has, as well as a greatly increased tarnish resistance. There is still a bit of debate on how to mark Argentium Silver, but the inventors of the alloy have chosen a Flying Unicorn as their symbol.

Another alloy that has been introduced is Palladium Silver. This alloy is actually 925 parts silver, 30 parts Palladium, and a secret balance of metals. Palladium is a member of the Platinum family, durable, strong, and does not tarnish. It is highly expensive in comparison to Argentium and Sterling Silver, but has the added allure of being an affordable platinum family alloy, as well as featuring the gorgeous pure white that is so desirable in platinum.

The last silver that you may come across in art jewelry is reticulating silver. This particular material is designed to take advantage of a certain form of metal manipulation that requires the material to have more copper than traditional sterling silver. So this material is also known as 80/20 silver, and has approximately 80% silver, and 20% copper. It is possible to accomplish this process with traditional sterling silver, so you may also find reticulated silver labeled “sterling”, but you are more likely to find it labeled 80/20. If you have questions about reticulated silver, you can find more in my articlehere.

What about Sterling Silver Plate?

If you find jewelry labeled sterling silver plate, it is legally invalid. A retailer may ONLY call something sterling if it is a solid ratio of 925 parts of silver per 1000. It does not count if the interior of the jewelry is base metal. It is still silver plate. Nothing more- and don’t let anyone try to sell you something different.

What about Rhodium Silver? Is that an alloy too?

Rhodium silver is actually Rhodium plated sterling silver. Rhodium is another precious metal, but unlike silver it doesn’t tarnish. It is has a wonderful shine and luster, and when plated over silver, continues to give that wonderful shine for a very very long time. It is, you will note, still plated. However, this is a much thicker layer than silver plate, which is designed to be a cheap alternative to a solid precious metal, and so the rhodium is more resistant to flaking and chipping. Please note that Rhodium is more expensive than silver, and adding this plating will actually increase the cost of the sterling silver as well as increasing it’s tarnish resistance.

Alright, So how on earth can I tell the difference between all this stuff?

Well, first you can ask the artist. They will always know. If the artist isn’t around, or you’re looking at jewelry online, the piece should be clearly labeled. If it isn’t clearly labeled, you can look on the piece itself, either with pictures or in person. Silver tone will not be marked, unless it is with the country they were massed produced in, such as China or Taiwan. Silver plate is generally marked, SP or not at all. Sterling silver will be labeled 925, ST, or sterling. Fine silver will be labeled PURE, FINE, or 999. Argentium silver is very new on the market, and the method of marking hasn’t quite consolidated yet, so you may see 970, 925, a small flying unicorn, or no markings at all. To my knowledge, there currently are no markings for Palladium silver.

Wait a minute- you just said that silver tone, silver plate and argentium silver may not be marked! So what am I supposed to do???

If you’re having doubts about the piece, look very closely at it. Silver plate will show up in the corners and crevices of the piece. If a piece looks like it has wrinkles in the corners, it’s generally plated. Silver tone will look like it’s painted in places. It won’t be quite as shiny, but is most often a matte finish. Argentium Silver will also be heavier than the base metals in a plated or silver tone piece of jewelry. If you still have doubts- I recommend skipping the piece and purchasing something from an artist that has a more clearly labeled selection of artwork.

What is gold?

Gold is one of the most valuable precious elemental metals on our planet. It has been used for centuries as currency, status symbols, and the basis of national economies. Naturally tarnish proof in it’s pure state, gold has several methods of being measured and quantified in jewelry.

I have this bracelet marked 14K- is it solid gold?

It is a solid gold alloy. Gold is incredibly expensive, and many generations of metalsmiths have found ways to incorporate less expensive metals into gold to help reduce costs. They call this “karating”, which is why we say something is 14 karat gold. 14 Karat is actually 583 parts per thousand gold, and due to being nearly 50% other metals, lacks the brilliant golden color that pure gold and higher alloys have. Please note- 14K is not considered legally gold in some countries, such as India.

What’s this little mark that says GP?

GP is the marking for Gold plate. Commercially available gold plate jewelry has a microscopic film of gold over base metal, and has marked tendency to wear away very quickly, or to chip and flake at the drop of a hat. It is possible to have high quality gold plate piece of jewelry, but that type of jewelry will generally be heavily gold plated.

So how much gold do I actually have in my karat jewelry?

In the USA, the lowest karat allowed to still be marked as gold is 10K. It contains approximately 416 parts per thousand gold. You will note this is less than 50% gold, and even though legally permissable, some artists will refuse to mark this alloy as gold. 14K contains 583 parts per thousand. 18K contains 750 parts per thousand, 22K contains 916 parts per thousand, while 24K contains virtually 100 parts per thousand.

I’m so ! My bracelet is marked ! I have a solid bracelet!

Um, no….. not really. That designation is given to a material called Gold Filled, or GF. This means that the item has an interior base metal that has been permanently bonded at a molecular level with 14 K gold in a quantity that comprises 20% of the item’s over all weight. This is not the same as Gold plate, even though it is similar to that plating process. First, the layer deposited is much thicker than gold plate, and has been atomically bonded along it’s seam with the base metal until it actually forms a mixed alloy. This material does not chip or flake in any way, but may wear through if worn for many many years. Gold filled is also available in 12k over a base metal, and is marked 12K/20, or 12/20. Other designation marks include GF, 14/20, and filled.

What is Vermeil? It looks just like gold to me…

Vermeil- pronounced ver-MAY, is 14k, 18k, 22k, or 24k gold thickly plated over sterling silver. It is actually quite durable considering the fact that it’s plated. For comparison’s sake, if gold plate is a 1, vermeil is a 30. Because gold is a nice soft metal, the gold layer on vermeil is most likely to dent instead of flake. A viable alternative to solid gold jewelry, it must legally be gold over 925 silver, and will be marked “vermeil”.

I just saw something that said it was – is that the same as Gold Filled?

No, actually, Gold Bond is a very new gold product that is a blend of Vermeil and Gold filled. The layer of 22 k gold in a gold bond material is very very thick, and is nearly 1/4 the total weight of the item. Similarly, the base material is anti-tarnish Argentium Silver, so that all materials in the piece are precious metals. This material is extremely new, and isn’t very wide spread yet, but it is likely to be quite a nice fully precious alternative to gold filled products.

there any other gold alloys I should know about?

Yes! In these times of economic difficulties, many artists are starting to turn to alloys containing gold, but that don’t meet the minimum karating requirements of 10K or 14K. The advantages are clear- all the beautiful colors and value of gold, but without the exorbitant costs. There are any number of alloys from different metal refineries, including Karatium, which can contain anywhere from 2.5% to 20% gold depending upon color, and AlluraGold, which is 5%-19% gold depending on the color. As these materials are only available to the professional jeweler, you will find them clearly marked.

I’m still overwhelmed! How do I choose what kind of jewelry to buy?

That’s the easy one. Think about what it means to you to wear jewelry. If you want to wear jewelry that will last a lifetime, buy sterling silver or better. If you want to just wear something inexpensive, and don’t really care if it’ll last the year, buy the other stuff. If you still can’t decide- buy what you like, and don’t worry about the numbers. The purpose of jewelry is to make the wearer happy after all- so if you like it, wear it!