Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making Sure Your Gemstones Are Genuine

One of the things I've been able to do as I've been recovering from bronchitis is catch up on some online shopping and stocking some new materials. I made the decision to invest in some higher quality, more expensive, gemstones. I wanted to know how I could be sure of what I was purchasing when there are some misleading trade names and vendors that may not ask as many questions of their supplier as they should.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones
Maybe you're stronger than I am, but when faced with the decision to invest my whole budget on these or let them go ... they needed to be mine! I have SO many ideas for these!

The problem with some of these gemstones is that they look SO perfect it can be hard to trust that they're real. Certainly, there's a chance that they're manmade rather than natural. I wanted to be sure, however, that what was labeled as sapphire wasn't garnet, or something labeled quartz wasn't actually glass. As I was looking up the properties of different gemstones and looking at forums discussing how to identify real gemstones I came across a property of gems called specific gravity.

The idea of specific gravity comes from Ancient Greece. The mathematician and inventor Archimedes was asked to confirm whether a newly made crown was really made of gold. This resulted in the infamous Eureka! moment when he realized, when immersing himself into one of the public baths, that he could determine the composition of an object by weighing it then determing the amount of water the object displaced. Every gemstone has a known specific gravity. Taken along with easily observable characteristics like color, dichroism (if color depends on the angle you look at the stone), and luster, measuring specific gravity can help you confirm the identity of a gemstone sample.

There are several methods of finding the specific gravity of gemstones. I did a Google search and found some more complex than others. When in doubt I like to turn to the Ganoksin Project website. Singing the praises of the Ganoksin Project, established by Charles Lewton-Brain, could take a whole series of blog posts. I'll encourage you, if you haven't already, to go see for yourself what an amazing resource it is for jewelry artists. It turns out that there is a fairly simple and inexpensive method you can use(under "Other Balance Methods").


gemstone sample
digital miligram scale
10ml graduated cylinder with 0.1ml divisions
distilled pure water

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones
My miligram digital scale and graduated cylinder.
The links for these exact items are above (for which I am not being compensated).

1. Turn on your scale, make sure the pan is in place and, if it isn't already, make sure the scale is zeroed. If not, and the scale reads some positive or negative number, push the button that says "zero" or "tare," which will reset the scale. Carefully place the gemstones into the weighing pan and record the weight of the stones in grams.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones
The digital milligram scale on and zeroed. That 'O' to the left of 'g' means that the scale has settled and is ready for the gems.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones

The weight of my gemstones is 12.020 grams. While it takes a moment to reappear, the 'O' to the left of 'g' now means that the scale has settled and you can record the reading. The third decimal place on the scale represents milligrams. Fun Fact: there are five carats in a gram.

2. Set the scale and gems aside. You are now ready for your distilled water and graduated cylinder. Carefully pour about 5ml of water into the cylinder. Take care not to get any water on the sides that may drop down and change the water volume. We need to be as precise as possible with our readings of the measurements to get results that are as accurate as possible.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones
My graduated cylinder and water. The green thing on top of the cylinder is to protect the glass should the graduated cylinder tip over, so keep it there and keep it at the top.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones

This is the volume of water I actually poured. The graduated cylinder is marked to tenths (0.1) of a milliliter (mL), but we can (and should) guestimate to the hundredths place. Using photoshop I found that ten 4-pixel squares conveniently filled the space between the tenth-of-a-milliliter lines. To properly read the measurement you'll need to get your eyes down to water level. If the water level is near a whole number, look for the line in the front of the cylinder to merge with the line in the back, as if it were one line; that will tell you you're at the right level. Reading at the bottom of the meniscus (the concave curvature of the water), we see that the water level is approximately two-hundredths less than 5.10mL, so our water reading is then 5.08mL.

3. Carefully place the gems, one at a time, into the water as to minimize splashing. As each gemstone falls the water will begin to push the air out of any bead holes that are present. Carefully tap the glass to help those bubbles escape. If they are still too small, drop in another gemstone. Often the air from another gem will add to the first and it will be enough for the bubble to rise.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones

The picture above demonstrates why we don't just want to dump them all in. The air bubbles get trapped under the gems and creates a falsely high water volume reading because there's now a lot of little air bubbles where there should only be water. As I mentioned above, we do need to be as careful as possible using this method because there's more room for error using this method than other methods, but it's significantly less expensive. Make your own judgement, but I think the care is worth it.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones

4. Once the gemstones are in, the bubbles are all out, and the water has settled, take a reading of the new water volume. If the water level is between whole numbers it will be harder to tell if your eyes are at the right level for reading the measurement. If, like in this example, the water is between two whole numbers, I like to get at a height so the elliptical shapes of the upper and lower numbers are the same; that's a pretty good way of telling you're right in between.

Calculating Specific Gravity of Gemstones

Again, using the power of Photoshop, I was able to divide up the space again to help me estimate the water volume to the nearest hundredth. The water volume appears to be one hundredth more than 8.5ml, giving us a new water volume of 8.51ml

So here's what we know:

weight of gemstones:12.020 grams
volume of water with gemstones: 8.51 mL
volume of water without gemstones: 5.08mL

From the Ganoksin website I know that the formula relating these numbers is:

                     weight of gemstones                     = Specific Gravity
water volume with gems - water volume without

      12.020 grams        = Specific Gravity
8.51mL - 5.08mL

      12.020 grams        = Specific Gravity

3.504 g/ml= Specific Gravity
Note: one mL is equal to one cc

I was very pleased with these results. Anyone want to take a guess what I bought?

Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate it!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 REVEAL!

I know you want to see pictures. They're here. But they wouldn't be here if it weren't for, first, the indomitable Lori Anderson who planned the Bead Soup Blog Party and assigned us all partners, and second, my amazing and awesome partner, Kristin Oppold, of Yay! Jewelry. Thank you ladies so very much. No less significantly, however, is you - you're here sharing our experience and your time to see what we've made. Thank you so much for stopping by!

We've all had challenges in creating our designs for this Blog Party. I've been following along with Kristin's admirable struggle to find a way to use the focal bead I sent to her and still be true to her style. My struggle has been one of health over the last three weeks - trying to fight off acute bronchitis - along with my usual task of keeping my preschooler, Sawyer, from creating too much chaos. It's been frustrating because I sketched out designs for everything Kristin sent six weeks ago. It's just been a matter of finding the time and energy to get it all done.

The most important piece - the one using Kristin's focal and clasp - is done. The piece using the silk and pearls she sent - the piece that was a true divergence for me - is also done. I also finished matching earrings for the bracelet, and another pair using some of the lovely faux beach glass she sent. Five designs I planned for the other wonderful things she sent are, frustratingly, still on my work table. They will, however, be done soon. Everything she sent, even the things that made me scratch my head a little, were too great not to use. Let's take a look!

As a reminder, this is the focal she sent and the clasp:

raw materials

What I did with them was this. Inspired in no small part from one of my most favoritest jewelers ever, Michael Boyd, I did a lot of metalwork on this. All of the metal in this piece except the small chain started as sheet silver and fine silver wire in my studio. I made the lampwork beads myself after sketching out the necklace design. No glue whatsoever on this piece. Just the miracle of Material Science and elbow grease - about 15 hours worth - in action. The cabochons and metal accents you see on the stones are all riveted into inverted conical holes I drilled in the stones; nothing comes through the back.

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - Steampunk Necklace

When I sketched out this necklace I was looking for a way to use the stone focal heart that Kristin sent. I had, of course, been compelled to look at all of Kristin's work and saw that she had created a necklace using a pendant similar to the one she sent to me. So, of course, having that in my head, I felt a fierce compulsion to try and ignore that vision in my head. Consequently, I felt like where she had fostered natural warmth in her design, I needed to go with mechanical and cold. In order to accomplish this in a way I felt did justice to the focal, I dug deep and pushed my skill set to its limits. That's when I decided to implement some of the stone stacking techniques I've loved in Michael Boyd's work for so long. I didn't intentionally set out to create something that could be called "Steampunk," but I think that in the end that's where the design went.

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - Steampunk Necklace

I can't deny that I am outrageously snobby when it comes to what designers call "Steampunk." I think that most people would agree that Steampunk is the marriage of Victorian aesthetics with modern technology. To me that means a little more than adding gears to a design. One of my favorite Steampunk designers is Richard "Datamancer" Nagy, who designs Victorian-inspired casings and keyboards for very modern computers. If I could afford his work, it'd be all over my house. Hard as I think that it is to create true Steampunk jewelry, the reason that I began to identify this necklace with the Steampunk philosophy was because of the way it combined primitive, matte stones, embedded with "modern" shiny fine silver; the way the gemstone fringe softened the aesthetic in a Victorian way; the chunky links of the main chain with fine wire coil embellishments, and the lines of the embellishment chains. Others may well disagree, but regardless of how you'd classify this piece, I love the way it turned out. You can see several other images of this necklace on my Flickr page.

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - upcycled silk and stone bracelet

Kristin has a Boho style aesthetic. I knew that, coming from her stash, that she'd send me the ingredients I needed to make my own attempt at a Boho style design. I come from a background in Physics and (then later) Archaeology and History, so the philosophy behind my designs strongly considers the concepts of permanence versus impermanence, strongly prefering techniques and materials that show characteristics of permanence. Thus, I do a lot with metal, stone, and glass. Boho, with it's organic, soft, fiber-based designs is at the opposite end of the spectrum. This was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a try.

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - upcycled silk and stone bracelet

The design started with the drilled stone that was in my bead soup, and figuring out how to combine it with the silk and cording. Me, being me, I had to also find a way to include a lot of beaded fringe. Threading the silk through the holes on the stone hid too much of the stone for my taste; I wanted more separation between the silk and the stone. I soldered two silver loops, threaded each through one of the stone holes, and used a simple hitch knot to connect the silver loop to the stone; then I twisted the excess wire on either side of the stone, leaving loops on the ends for the fiber. This let the stone stand out as well as leaving me a place to connect the fringe. The wire frame around the stone came as a solution to the dual problem of containing the fringe and adding more emphasis to the stone. I absolutely love the softness of the fringe and fiber and the way it contrasts the stone and wire. This isn't something I'd ordinarily design, but I think it turned out great! I made some matching dangling earrings, too ... because dangling is the only way I do earrings!

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - upcycled silk and stone earrings

In general, I love making earrings, so when I was thinking about what to do with the faux beach glass that Kristin sent, I wanted to combine it with a new wirework design I developed to use with my lampwork discs. This one ended up being more Mod, inspired by some hoop earrings with black and red coils that I got when I was in middle school. Man, I loved those earrings! I wonder if I still have them ...

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - Mod earrings

As I sadly reported before, not everything I designed is done yet. Here's my pile of shame:

Bead Soup Blog Party 7 - the-still-in-progress

Here's what it's supposed to be:

upper left - bracelet using the coral and faux beach glass Kristin sent, to which I'm adding some lampwork of mine.

upper middle - necklace using the rhodonite Kristin sent, along with some of my lampwork. The design I planned uses the wirework motif I used in the red and black Mod earrings I finished.

Middle - for earrings using the coral Kristin sent, along with some of the gemstones from my stash.

Right bottom - peach bracelet using the glass beads, gunmetal spacers and caps, and peanut seed beads that Kristin sent.

So, there it is. There are more photos of these designs, of course, on my Flickr photostream. What do you all think?

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bead Soup Blog Party Reveal

So impatient! :-)
The pictures are uploaded on Flickr and I'm writing the post as you read. Soon, soon, soon. I promise!
You want to know who's posted (the blog she wrote before going on a <envy> Caribbean vacation </envy>)? My amazing and awesome partner, Kristin.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ode To Bronchitis

It may seem like you're imagining it, but I'm here. No, really. Well, most likely, anyway.

The upper respiratory infection that took hold after the Bead Bash has evolved into a lingering case of acute bronchitis. The wheeze emanating from my lungs is almost musical. Gross.

Despite that, I've been working on finishing up my reveal for the Bead Soup Blog Party. I'm pleased that the deadline has been pushed back a week because it gave me some time to order some new dichro to make beads that are a better color fit for the design of my main piece. Look for the reveal here on April 13th.

Last Tuesday evening I had a class with Jean Campbell, of Beadwork and Interweave fame, about creating project proposals for magazine articles and books, which was fun and really informative. That day I wrote up a blog draft about the crazy dreams I had the night before, which I may have to post as a retrospective, which I thought stemmed from the fact that a) I was miserably sick, b) that I had three competing plans for who would be watching my son and how he'd get there while I was at the class, but wouln't know until just before the class which one would work, and c) a long history of I-have-a-final-exam-for-WHAT-class-? dreams that have haunted me since college. I'll be sure to post more about that class once I clear my Bead Soup from my table.

The Sunday before that we had both sides of the family up for Sawyer's 4th birthday party. Normally the motto, "the only thing I hate worse than a dirty house is cleaning," applies to me pretty well, so there was a lot of housework to be done for that. It was great to see everyone, though, and Sawyer had a lot of fun.

I have two lampworking classes scheduled at The Studio at Rush Creek in Maple Grove, MN this Saturday, April 6th. They're pretty inexpensive, so in you're looking for something to do, want to learn about lampworking, want to brush up on the basics, or learn about more advanced, layered and pressed focals, check those out!

Oh! And this week I also got the prize I won from Kerry Bogert from the Art Bead Scene drawing from the beginning of March: a copy of her newest video on coiling, some of her lampwork beads, and a spool of silver filled wire. I'll post about that in more detail later, but it was all pretty amazing. Thank you, again, Kerry!

Kerry Bogert Prize from Art Bead Scene

Anyhow. I just thought I'd catch you up. I hate being sick. Fortunately, I'm starting to feel better, so I should be up in your face again soon :)

Be Well, Everyone!