Category Archives: Misc ramblings

I don’t know how to categorize this.

u.s. border stories

virgin of guadalupe with potatoes

Virgin with potatoes

I know this is a departure from the usual fare, but I wanted to post a quick plug for my mom’s new blog. She’s been volunteering in a tiny medical clinic across the border in Nogales, Mexico for the past several months. She was sending us the most interesting stories of her days there and now you can read them too:

I live 5 miles from the Mexican border in Arizona on a ranch in a remote part of the Sonoran desert. Migrants passing through our desert seeking economic relief and work—any work— die within a few short miles of my home. I have been an RN for 45 years, and am retired—I was so through with health care. And then I read of the numbers of deaths so close to home. So I’m back—doing the most profound nursing care I’ve ever done.

more cool first lady jewels

Michelle Obama's jewelry

I like the entire ensemble here: Ralph Lauren dress, Tom Binns necklace and bracelet, but most of all, I like the ring. It’s by Yewn and has a jade center stone with a distinctive squared silhouette and a pave lattice motif. Like this:

Yewn jade lattice ring

I do like this ring. The necklace is pretty cool too.

Tom Binns necklace

This isn’t the exact one but it has a similar look. It is made from silver, and crystal stones possibly? The asymmetrical tangle look is nice and makes the dress a little more rock and roll.

Tom Binns necklace

Here she is on another occasion wearing a necklace by the same designer.

Michelle Obama's kick-ass earrings

And I included a pic of Michelle Obama’s outfit at a state dinner at Buckingham palace. Tom Ford dress and supercool dangle drop earrings. I can’t find any information on the designer of these but I like the thorny-looking motif and the large briolette drop. Possibly diamond? I’d like that. Maybe not though; it could also be rock crystal or aquamarine..

first jewels

Oh my poor, poor neglected blog. Sorry folks for the dramatic pause in pretty pictures.. I have actually been very busy and have not had enough function left in my brain to keep my blog populated. I bought a “fixer” house, moved, had a nasty bout of colds/flues that rampaged through the household, tore apart and remodeled the bathroom, and now am working on the kitchen. And we had family visiting. And I got way behind in my orders doing all of this.. (But I’m caught up now!) Whew. Onward.

I have a number of custom pieces I have made over the past few months and I will get them posted here over the next week. For now, I just wanted to point out how amazingly cool Michelle Obama’s jewelry was at the recent Correspondent’s Dinner. I usually think her formal ensembles are pretty great and whatnot but this time her jewelry picks were completely AWESOME AWESOME and AWESOME!!!

Michelle Obama's jewelry ensemble for the 2011 Correspondent's Dinner

The three layered necklaces. The pewter color scheme here is really nice and unusual and goes well with the dusty purple color of her dress. All pieces are pretty sweet: the chain lariat choker that hangs over the lower necklace of interesting metal beads.. But what really makes this for me though is the heavy cable chain on top. Too cool.

Michelle Obama's jewelry ensemble for the 2011 Correspondent's Dinner

Here’s a close up of the bracelet stack. Snakes! I love it when people wear snake jewelry.

(I have no idea who designed any of this; if anyone does, please mention it in the comments for me? Thanks!)

Michelle Obama's jewelry ensemble for the 2011 Correspondent's Dinner

The entire ensemble. Did I mention how awesome I think this is? Check out her snake ring too. The earrings are whatevs; I don’t have anything to say about them.

Anyway, I was super impressed with her jewelry choices (her stylist’s jewelry choices? Does she select her own clothing/jewelry for functions like these? I really have no idea how these things work) and I think she looked flipping gorgeous.

EDITED: I found out who the jewelry designer was: Irit Design for all pieces, including the earrings. Sterling silver and diamonds! LOVE it all!

tucson gem show 2011

Cultured Sea of Cortez pearl

[Blue cultured Sea of Cortez pearl. It’s pretty amazing, not only because it is gorgeous, but because it is from the first ever cultured pearl farm in the Sea of Cortez. Previously, it had been understood that culturing the “Rainbow-lipped” oysters in the Sea was impossible. But three guys figured out how and now they have a small farm in Guaymas.]

Well, the gem show was overwhelming and hectic as usual. Two days to buy everything I think I might need for the next year is pretty nearly impossible—but I do give it my damnedest. At least I feel like I made some decent contacts.

Mostly, I bought pearls (some things do not change). The Cortez pearl above was the fanciest/rarest I’ve ever purchased. I will definitely have to visit the farm one of these days; it’s only a five-hour drive or so from my parent’s house. I’ll write more in depth about the various stones I got in a later post. For now, I’ll just post a little eye candy.

Tahitian pearls

Mmm: lovely round and semi-baroque Tahitian pearls. Gorgeous peacocky and magenta colors.

South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls from Myanmar, except for the upper right round pearl, which is a Chinese freshwater.

Chinese freshwater keshi and round pearl

I actually bought these at the last year’s show, but never got a nice photo before. Chinese freshwater rose/peach round pearl and keshi of various colors.

NV Turquoise -- all natural and unstabilized

Turquoise! I can never resist buying this stuff. These are all from Nevada I believe (maybe a couple pieces from New Mexico—will have to check) and are discovered, mined, cut, and polished by two of the nicest people. All their turquoise is non-stabilized and un-enhanced, and it is lovely stuff.

Rose-cut translucent diamonds

Rose-cut diamonds! The largest is 1.6 carats, the smallest is maybe 1/2 ct. Coolness!

* * *

And I did not watch the Grammy’s on TV but I did peruse the blogs this morning to see what everyone wore. So far my favorite jewelry piece was the Lorraine Schwartz snake bracelet: gold and platinum with large diamond slice ‘spots’ and pave white and yellow diamonds. It looks like it has ruby eyes too. (You can get a huge blown-up version here.)

Lorraine Schwartz snake bracelet

pavé class

faberge poppy ring

[Poppy ring by Faberge (modern). Multi-colored diamonds, padparadscha sapphire, blingy-bling, platinum, gold, etc.]

I left for my pavé setting class (at Revere Academy in San Francisco) with all sorts of grand ideas about what I would make the moment I got home. I even sketched designs on the flight over. Of course, after one day of class, it was sharply clear that I will need to practice for MANY hours before I will be even near confident enough to offer pavé set stones in my pieces. Pavé is hard! I can’t believe it!

But it is also kind of fun. In a super-neurotic hyper-detail-oriented sort of way, which is my specialty. I acquired a bunch new tools, including lots of pokey sharp gravers, and one of those opti-visors so now I can look like a grouchy old man when I set my stones. It was a long time coming and I have to face the facts: my eyes are not spring chickens anymore. My husband has been telling me this for years.

[Another modern Faberge design. Doesn’t it look like FUN to set all those little diamonds? I’m assuming this is a ring and that it was made by a hoard of nimble-fingered fairies.]

This was also my first real introduction to engraving using actual engraving tools (I had previously only done sort of half-assed engraving using scavenged tools modified for the job and, you know, it’s just not the same). I was surprised to discover I really like engraving. Engraving = carving metal, essentially, and so I suppose it should not have come as a surprise. Unfortunately, it’s WAY harder than carving wax so my engraved attempts were totally wonky and my lines wobbly and gougey and too deep/thick/everythingelse. But with some practice, I think I’ll be able to add engraved design elements into my pieces. Hopefully engraved designs paved with wee sparkling diamonds. Yay!

[Massive crazy ruby-encrusted ring (also modern Faberge). I’m generally not a huge ruby fan but, you know, I’d totally wear this.]

lalique dog collar - reed players

lalique dog collar pansy

[Rene Lalique: top is the centerpiece for a pearl “dog collar” style choker with molded glass reed players and diamond folliage. The bottom is an enameled pansy choker centerpiece with pavé diamond accents.]

I can’t even imagine how long it took to set all the stones in some of these pieces. I used to think this sort of thing was gaudy but I have since amended my blasphemous ways. I am especially fond pavé-set stones of varying color and size, and the way Lalique uses pavé in his designs is my absolute favorite. This is pretty much what I set out to do when I started making jewelry: make stuff as cool as Lalique.

And lastly, because this is after all Portland, OR (where we love everything cephalopod), I present to you the diamond encrusted octopus:

pave diamond octopus

(Squids, shocking though it may seem, are grossly underrepresented in the diamond jewelry world. I hurt.)

back to 2011!

lalique thistle collar

[Thistle motif choker center by René Lalique. Gold, diamonds, cast glass, and enamel. Freaking amazing.]

Well, I’ve been back now for a week and I have only slowly been getting back on my feet. My brain was still on vacation, I believe. But now it has returned (to much fanfare) and Gin & Butterflies is back in business for the new year!

I hope you all had a kick-ass New Year’s. I spent mine halfway between a hard airplane seat and the baggage claim; we sort of dully noted the passing of the decade as we schlepped along with our groggy child. It’s okay though. As soon as we got home, we dosed a glass of egg nog with a slug of bourbon and lived it up for about seven or eight minutes before passing out cold.

Some exciting things coming up for me (and you, soon) is I’m going to San Francisco to take a pavé setting course at the Revere Academy. I’m terribly excited. The image at the top is René Lalique’s choker centerpiece with pave diamonds set into the leaves.

After that, I’m off to the big Tucson Gem Show! I’m so so excited and have been making my list, checking it twice, well, many more times than twice.. I’m on the lookout for rose-cut translucent diamonds and sapphires of various colors, pearls pearls pearls (as always), and great big hunks of turquoise, among other things. Plus whatever else strikes my fancy (that’s a broad boat there..).

I’ll be gone Feb 3-7th and if anyone is interested in any unusual stones for a custom piece, now is the time to get a hold of me!

faceted cigar band

Oxidized straight faceted cigar band - sterling silver

[Faceted Cigar Band, sterling silver, carved/cast, and oxidized a nice French gray.]

Faceted cigar band, tapered design - sterling silver

[Tapered Faceted Cigar Band, sterling silver.]

Hi there all! Sorry it’s been a while since my last post.. I’ve been busy.. And lazy. And we got the fourth season DVD of Mad Men. Yep, that pretty much sums it all up right there.

But of course I’ve still been working and making some new things.. I’m going to list these rings on the Etsy shop here soon.. I will offer a straight version and a tapered version, and each will be hand-carved from scratch, custom to fit each order. Here is a photo of the rings I have been wearing together lately…

18K and black rose-cut diamond solitaire and faceted silver cigar band

Yes, I only own one shirt. The gold ring is of course is the black rose-cut diamond in 18K (Victorian Solitaire) and the silver is a sterling silver carved faceted cigar band. It’s domed and tapered and surprisingly comfortable. I think the two look really great together.

18K Victorian Solitaire with rose-cut diamond and silver faceted cigar band

I know. Isn’t that festive? It’s not even December yet and we have a tree already. Until last year actually, we had never gotten a tree, or decorated in any way for Christmas (or any other holiday for that matter), but you know? My two-year-old LOVES the tree. She spends just about all her time underneath it (we even have it bolted down to a big heavy box so she has lots of space to hang out under it) re-arranging all the lower ornaments, wedging her stuffed animals in the branches. She’s been busy. Originally we had no ornaments to speak of so I went crazy and made a bunch out of fabric and felt; so far this year, I’ve made three new ones.

Here’s the typical scene:

She is in the process of shoving all the bird ornaments deep into the heart of the tree where they will be lost forever if I don’t remember to retrieve and count them all nightly before I go to bed. You can see various debris all over the floor: less tenacious ornaments and a host of stuffed friends waiting their turn.

(She has no idea that the plastic comes off those candy canes.)

i’ve been busy

First there was this:

[Nine wonderful pounds of cleaned chanterelles. Hello delicious!]

Then a week later, this:

chanterelles and lobster mushrooms

That right there is just under twenty pounds of chanterelles and a tad over nine pounds of lobster mushrooms. We also got a few hedgehogs and some bleeding milk caps (lactarius rubrilacteus, also sometimes called lactarius sanguiferous, “rovellons” in Spain; turns out that this is one of the favorite mushrooms of the Catalan). I was bouncing all over the place with excitement over this haul. The forest is freaking oozing with mushrooms right now!

chanterelles in forest

OOZING! I tell ya. Do you see them all? I about died when I did.

And in between it all, there was this:

gold and silver ring stack

Rings! Rings! Rings! I got all these rings out in the mail within two days. It feels so great to get a big batch of orders out the door all at once.

how I price my work

I’ve been doing a major overhaul of my pricing scheme this past week or so here at Gin & Butterflies headquarters (ha! “Headquarters”—makes me sound like a secret agent or something). It’s been long in the coming but basically, about two weeks ago I idly looked up the gold market price and about died because holy shit if it wasn’t upwards of $1320/ounce*. Which is SO not cool. I have to raise my prices.

My pricing scheme thus far was based on some sort of a weight/gold content/time carving/finishing scheme that I devised like a million years ago and have been estimating and adding on to ever since. At this point, pricing had become essentially arbitrary. Every time I had to come up with a price for a new piece, I sort of eyeballed it with what I hoped was a studious expression (actually, it was mostly just squinty; never check one’s studious expression in the mirror), hefted it against one of my “known” weighted pieces, measured the width and tried to remember how many hours I had spent carving it, pulled a number out of my ass and called it done. Then I realized I forgot to add in the diamonds. Then I had to go get a calculator because I forgot how much I paid for said diamonds. This is why it’s always like 10pm by the time I manage to get something listed on Etsy and I’m needing another bourbon.

In fact, I’m ready for another bourbon now.

Then, I read this post by another Etsy blogger and decided I really needed to get my act together. Come up with a cohesive and sensical pricing formula that is fair and actually compensates me for the immense amount of time I spend creating these rings (radical idea, I know).

I brought all my pieces to the studio, weighed them (most are 18K gold), figured out the formula to get weights in 14K, worked out how much I paid for 18K and 14K alloys exactly (hint: significantly more than simply 75% and 58% gold market, respectively), worked up this incredibly vague figure that tried to encompass tool wear, polishing compounds, acids & chemicals, torch fuel, wax, sandpaper, gingersnaps, polishing and grinding compounds, packaging materials, studio rent, bandaids, etc. Then I incorporated a “Pain in the Ass” factor, which is to say that though I love each and every piece I make dearly, I have to admit that some of them are a whole lot fatter of a hassle to make than others (I’m looking at you, Art Nouveau Band). Those rings with all those little holes in the carvings? I have to thread grit-impregnated strings through all those holes and saw it back and forth to sand/polish smooth. Then I do it again with finer grit/polish. I like to think it is a meditative process.

So yeah. All that plus the fact that each piece I designed, sketched, and carved from scratch. Some of the carvings took me a really long time to do originally.

In addition to all the touchy-feely stuff, there are Etsy fees, Paypal fees, shipping fees, blahblahdeblah. I whined a bit at how coooommplicated it was all getting but then Joshua introduced me to the wonders of the modern spreadsheet. Which was SO COOL because you can like make all these formulas and stuff to calculate each cell based upon what is in other ce.. You already know this, don’t you. Anyway, to make a long story short, once I figured out what I was doing I was able to build a very complicated spreadsheet of every single piece I’ve ever made that spit out a very precise cost in like 13 minutes.

I updated my Etsy prices accordingly. Surprisingly, I would say that I came really close. Some things were way underpriced (FIXED! ahem!) and others were a bit over, but for the most part, I was within usually $50 of where I needed to be (for now: see * below).

My formula is still not perfect and is missing bits and will need to be further tweaked. Plus there are things I feel like you just can’t adequately (or fairly) charge for. I spend an amazing amount of time answering convos and emails to people who are interested in a custom piece; 2/3 of these I would say that after 2-10 rounds of question/answer, I never hear from again. The process of making a custom piece for someone can become very complicated, requiring much back-and-forthing of emails, photos, sketches, weighty decision-making, etc. Then there is the design time. Some designs sort of flow out very freely but others I grapple heavily with, stress about, and stay up late procrastinating over. I don’t mind it—and I feel like it is good exercise actually, but it does take a bit out of me.

How can you possibly charge for these things? It’s easy enough to figure out how much gold is in a piece, but all that other stuff? And I haven’t even broached the subject of research and design sophistication. Do I charge more for what may technically be a better design? Maybe when I’m rich and famous I can but I only have a handful of designs. Well, a couple of handfuls.

I think Rosy puts it well: We have to love what we do or else we would explode in a flaming ball of frustration, handily taking out your average city block (I paraphrase..). I’ll say it this way: I DON’T sit at a desk fidgeting in my business casual while tweaking someone else’s Powerpoint presentations for a living; I make my own jewelry! Out of gold and diamonds! And more amazingly: people want it!! It’s really gratifying and exciting, and it makes me very happy.

Anyway hopefully this was worth reading because it was way longer than I though it would be. Yeesh. Just be happy I don’t price in the amount of time it takes me to figure out how much I should charge for my work..

* Okay so today it’s at $1350/ounce. CUT IT OUT YOU CRAZY RICH GOLD-BAR-BUYING HOARDERS!! I HATE YOU!

lee mcqueen’s last collection

I’ve followed fashion peripherally; mostly I just want to seem some pretty pictures and if I’m lucky, there’s some neat jewelry too (but usually not). Lee Alexander McQueen killed himself this past February and here are some images from his last collection (which was shown after his death).

They are downright breathtaking. Like jewels.

The random but nicely symmetrical scattering of design is something I can fall to pieces over. This is what I love most about people like Renee Lalique (and there is a lot to love about the dude, my link is but one paltry example; do a google image search and be blown away).

All models had these austere head-dresses covering their hair and ears. This one has a feather mohawk (I have a complete picture of the mohawk down below) but most were just the head covering.

Pretty textures. I like the scrunchy rough texture of the gauzy translucent bunched fabric (I’m sure it has a name) and then the smooth silky weight of the outer layer (look at the veiny texture). I have an affinity for crazy contrasted with constricting. (No alliteration intended.)

O. M. G. I Love This. Are they real feathers painted gold? I would love to think they were actually gold feathers. Or even real feathers sprayed with real gold paint… From a jewelry standpoint, they have a look like gold (14K or maybe 18K) patinaed with age. You so rarely see gold patinaed but I love the look and have been experimenting with it myself.

I’m freaking out over the print of skrinkled drapey fabric over perfectly smooth silhouette. Funny that it makes even real folds and shadows incorporated into the art. (You see the wings?) This is where I start to flail over which one is really my favorite…

…because oooh oooh oooh oooh ooh! How cool is this?!?

Holy cats! Or this?!? The dress goes on to be light and foamy and fluffery through the full-length skirt.

Heavy pomegranite silk. With intricate gold embroidery. I love this. Seriously, this would take me a zillion years to make (…if I knew how to sew and embroider and all that).

Here’s that headdress I was talking about. A golden feather mohawk!

And right at the point where I get super excited about this artist—I do the same thing when I discover a great new-to-me author, and go to search out what other books have been written and enthuse over what is to come… And then I remember that the man who created this is now dead; there is no more coming. It’s a sad, depressing thing, and makes you wonder what goes on in the minds of brilliant people. I don’t often get choked up over people I didn’t know personally who have died (there are very, very many, after all). But it happens.

All images and many more (plus greater detail) from here.