The process involved with creating a finished piece of jewelry from a lump of gold or silver to the unknowing eye is a sight to behold. Unknown to most gold nuggets recovered from a mine or river are rarely “pure 24kt gold,” there can be other minerals or metals included. The refining and smelting process involves removing the metals or impurities; it is then alloyed to different karats to become ingots for investors or stamped into precious government coinage for collectors and of course in my case… jewelry. In today’s larger jewelry manufacturing factories, they can resemble a scientific laboratory if they do the refining and alloying.
Alloying is making pure 24 karat gold into different karats (the other spelling of “carats” pertain to a diamond and precious stone weight system), it literally boils down to both ancient recipes and modern improvements in metallurgy to improve the malleability of gold, especially “white gold” that in the last century was mixed with the metal nickel that tended to make prongs jewelry settings brittle and crack resulting in stone loss. Presently, I can do the same thing in my humble island workshop where I can create various karat gold’s in really bright yellow gold or even soften the yellow color; I can also create rose or green gold that is sometimes requested. The most popular color in the U.S. is still white gold. I also make jewelry pieces with the other white metals; platinum or palladium is a little more difficult and expensive to work with and yet still in demand.
The majority of gold jewelry manufactured in the states is 14kt gold, although 10kt may seem popular, it is not sold in my shop. I’m a jewelry snob, and rightly so. 10kt gold is mostly brass with only around 30% precious metal in the piece, while it is a harder metal than better quality 14kt or 18kt gold, it tends to discolor and tarnish quickly if worn in the gulf or swimming pools, this warm and humid climate only accelerates the tarnishing process. It’s a fact in Europe that many countries consider 9kt or 10kt gold jewelry “Costume Jewelry.”
A work in process is the perfect terminology for what a goldsmith does, a person bending some gold-plated wire around a shiny pebble at the local farmers market or art fair is by no means close to or in the same league to be called a goldsmith or a jeweler. It is an artsy kitchen table craft (there I am being a jewelry snob again), paramount to making a gimp bracelet, belt or a key chain for Mom and Dad when you spent most of your out of school vacations in a New Hampshire summer camp… sorry I get carried away when speaking from my personal experiences.
A custom made (I said “custom” not “costume”) or hand-crafted piece of jewelry is usually of the best quality and weight and cannot be compared to the lightweight mass-produced factory line bargain jewelry product you find on TV or on many internet jewelry websites.
This I know from way too much experience, and now that I am tiptoeing down my pre-retirement yellow bricking road I refuse to repair most of those “bargain basket cases” that come in for repair or missing half the gemstones after only days or weeks of wearing them. I’m tired of fixing the same un-repairable junk from the same people who continue buying the same garbage and bring it in over and over again. Maybe now they get my message? I call it the “New Age of Disposable Jewelry… Wear it once throw it away!
I just finished a made-to-order gent’s yellow gold diamond pinky ring—remember those days guys? A classic diamond gypsy set ring; he wanted the best of everything. A high “F” color one and a quarter carat round diamond, the whitest color for diamonds in the world is “D” the average white diamond out there in the world is below “H” or “I” color. Diamond color grades by G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America) standards do not begin at “A” “B” or “C” but at “D.”
The hand-crafted gypsy mounting was of a nice solid construction with the diamond flush set in a gleaming white gold bezel. It wasn’t cheap to do; nice solid hand-made jewelry never is. And this ring is something he will hand down to his son and eventually to his grandkid. Something out of nothing, a lump of gold, forged and molded into a beautiful ring and a simple carbon crystal mined out of the ground, then cut and faceted to a finished gleaming diamond.
The Holidays are here and my shop is humming with activity and custom orders and I barely have the time to write these columns; so forgive me if I miss an issue or two. I’m happy that there are still some people out there that really appreciate nice jewelry and know what I do for a living is truly an art form and a tradition in my family for four generations. Enjoy family, friends and Happy Holidays!