Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Pansies

Sterling silver pansy pendant with a bezel set 5mm faceted white topaz stone on a sterling silver chain. $128.

March is a crazy weather month in Pittsburgh. Mild one March, a foot of snow the next. No matter what the temperature though, you can count on it being gray and gloomy. Not this March. It's sunny and warm and downright glorious.

I'm not sure how long this warm streak will last so I am savoring every last bit of it. Life has moved outdoors. Yard work, car washing, and sitting down with a glass of iced tea and a good book on the patio. Ahh.

The crocus and daffodils are in full bloom, the yard is framed by the bright yellow of forsythia, and flats and flats of pretty pansies in a riot of colors have arrived at the local garden centers.

Pansies are one of my favorite flowers, their cheerful little faces greeting spring. So delicate looking but hardy enough to survive cool weather that other flowers cannot. A lovely source of inspiration so I'm welcoming spring with this petite pansy necklace.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Aquamarine and Sterling Silver hand wrapped 72 inch chain
with a hand forged Sterling Silver leaf toggle. $215

I have really been into making these chains lately. Gemstones linked together by hand wrapped silver loops. Long enough to wear doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. The addition of a pendant that functions as a toggle clasp not only adds to the design but increases its versatility by allowing the piece to also be worn as a lariat too.

Versatility is something that I always like to take into consideration. My favorites are those pieces that look fresh but classic at the same time. When working in natural material and precious metal timeless should be the goal. The trendy looks that last for only a season of two are the realm of costume jewelry.

This chain is my interpretation of an updated classic. The pale green of the aquamarine is one of the 'it" colors for this year but the variations in these particular aquamarine beads include a palette of neutral colors. Shades of honey, taupe, cream and charcoal allow it to be worn with almost everything. It can be worn long, short, lariat...whatever the look of the day is. A piece that I think will still be wearable a decade from now.

And aquamarine just happens to be the birthstone for March. Perfect.

Now don't even ask me how long it took to hand wrap a 72 inch chain...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mellow Yellow

Textured Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet with a bezel set Owyhee Sunset Jasper cabochon. $182

I love when I come across interesting gem stones and this one was a real find. The first thing that drew me to it was the unusual coloring...honey beige but with some definite buttery and lemony yellow streaks. There are whispers of steel blue and green throughout as well. I also like how the lapidary cut it- with it's simple lines, this rectangle is the perfect shape to highlight the movement in the stone. When I find something this striking it is best to just do a simple design that let's the beauty of the stone shine.

It was labeled as Owyhee Jasper but it looks nothing like other stones I had ever seen in that material. After a little research, I learned that it is a special variation called Owyhee Sunset Jasper. First discovered in the 1960's, it is a domestic stone mined in the Owyhee Mountains which run along the border of Idaho and Oregon. The word Owyhee is an early spelling of Hawaii and the area was named so to honor two Hawaiian natives who were killed there during a fur trapping expedition in 1819. Legend says that jasper can drive away evil spirits and protect against snake bites.

True yellow is a color that I have rarely seen in opaque stones. I love the look of it's warmth against the cool crisp color of the silver. Yellow and gray just seems so modern and fresh to me.

This stone is 100% natural and absolutely untreated. Mother Nature is definitely the most talented artist...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Been Too Long

hand forged sterling silver "Magnolia" necklace on a double strand of
pink keishi pearls and glass seed beads $189

This piece felt like a huge accomplishment. It is not something new or different or even technically challenging for me. It is merely a more petite version of the Magnolia pendant that I have made and sold many times before. However, it is the first piece I have made in almost four months.

2011 was a very difficult year to say the least. It began with my mother being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and it ended with a week of hospice and her passing in December. In addition to a whole bunch of chaos, the time between was filled with months of crises, ups and downs, multiple ICU stays, arduous treatments, surgeries and about 150 days at the hospital. She was only 65 years old so her illness came as a surprise and her decline was shockingly swift. She was also the caregiver for my father who has dementia, an unfortunate side effect of his own cancer battle many years before.

As ugly as the months leading up to it were, my mother's death was actually quite beautiful. In fact, life affirming. She spent her final days in a local inpatient hospice that was homelike. So much so that all of, my sister, our husbands, all our kids and even the dogs basically moved in. As difficult as that week was, we were witness to many miraculous things and I believe that we all left there comforted by the knowledge that there is indeed something wonderful after life in this world. In many ways the experience was a gift.

After everything was settled...the funeral, moving Dad to a wonderful assisted living facility... all I could think of is getting back to the flow of my former life and working at my bench. It proved to be much harder than I ever imagined. Apparently stress dries up creative juices. Just looking at my boxes of stones and pearls annoyed me. I used sit for hours in the hospital making wire wrapped pearl chains and beading strand necklaces for my pendants. For months there was a complete lack of motivation, attention and focus. So I stepped back from a lot of things, directed all of my attention toward my family and took the time to process everything.

Last week, things started to change. New designs popped into my head and a notepad and pencil are back on my nightstand, at the ready when I wake up with a head full of new ideas. So...a corner has been turned and life goes on.

Yesterday, I happily spent the day in my basement studio and enjoyed every minute of it. The result was this hand forged magnolia pendant on a double strand necklace of keishi pearls and glass seed beads. The photo doesn't show the true beauty of these quirky little pearls. They are the most spectacular golden pink color and their size/shape remind me of Fruity Pebbles!

Everything we experience shapes us, changes us, shifts our perspective. I'm curious to see what impact this will have on my creative process. I'm hoping that this is the first of many new pieces to come in the next few weeks... just in time for spring.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Local IS Better!

72 inch hand wrapper Sterling Silver and Labradorite necklace with a hand forged Sterling Silver "Leaf" pendant/clasp. $210

Locally made goods of better quality for less than the big retailers with all their "buying power"? Absolutely!

For the past couple of years, one of my staple pieces has been a long hand wrapped chain with gemstone beads, usually pearls. Given my affinity for neutral tones these chains are most often a combination of golden and gray hues. They are a go with everything piece, so versatile, worn several ways alone or layered with another piece.

I had been kicking around the idea of taking it up a notch and including a hand forged pendant that could also act as the clasp. Not only would this enhance the necklace with an additional design element it would allow the necklace to be worn as a lariat, making it even more versatile.

While flipping through the channels a couple of weeks ago, a necklace on HSN caught my eye.

A 72 inch hand wrapped sterling silver and labradorite chain for $249. Those idea stealers! Hundreds of people ordered this very pretty necklace during the few minutes I tuned into the presentation. I loved the look of all that labradorite and it got me thinking...

So I went searching and found these pretty labradorite beads at a gem show over Halloween weekend. Not faceted like the ones in the HSN necklace, but equally striking and actually of much better quality with lots of that wonderful blue and green "flash" that labradorite is famous for. What I created with over 100 carats of those beautiful stones is this piece. A 72 inch hand wrapped sterling silver and labradorite necklace with a hand forged sterling silver "leaf" pendant/clasp. It can be worn as one long strand, doubled or tripled or fashioned into a lariat.

The price? $210. And no shipping. Nearly $40 less than the one without a one of a kind solid sterling silver pendant. A pendant of any sort would have increased that price by at least $25 if not more. The material for the stones was not mined here, of course, but unlike the necklace from TV everything else, including the manufacturing and design, are completely domestic. I didn't even cut the normal wage I pay myself. Those big retailers might be able to buy in bulk and hire workers on the other side of the world for barely nothing but I have very little overhead. That is the beauty of buying local. In addition to all the the other reasons buying local is encouraged...being green, keeping jobs here, supporting the local economy... one of the most practical reasons is that you can often get better stuff at a better price. Now who doesn't like that?

Best of all, only one woman will be walking around with this original necklace which I think makes it all the more special. Will she buy it at Gifted Hands, our local artisan market or at one of the local vendor shows I am doing this holiday season? We'll see.

Maybe there will be two women actually. I am really liking this necklace and it just so happens that I bought two strands of those labradorites....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lapidaries Rock!

Tiger's eye, unakite, glass and sterling silver necklace with a hand forged sterling silver
paisley pendant with a bezel set cabochon. $196

I am always on the hunt for an unusual and unique stone to use in my work. It has to be the right stone... an interesting specimen, an eye pleasing balanced shape, a good cut to aid in setting, rich color. I attend gem shows and constantly scour the internet for these little treasures.

Quite often it's the stones that provide my inspiration for a piece. In fact, I see the stones themselves as small works of art. I have seen rough slabs before and it amazes me how a lapidary can take that huge rock and turn it into pretty finished cabochons. To optimize the beauty of that natural material- with all of its imperfections, veining, deposits and other peculiarities takes not only skill but a good eye for design.

I found the gorgeous faceted tiger's eye briolettes in this necklace at a show last year. I had intended to use them individually in earrings but discovered that they were drilled with holes too small to use with silver wire. So these pretty little gems hung above my workbench for months unused.

The Owyhee Jasper cabochon that is set into the pendant was a recent find on Etsy and I purchased it thinking that I would set it into a cuff bracelet. When I opened the package and saw that the veining in the stone was the same color as the tiger's eye I immediately knew that I needed to use them together. I have never seen a stone cut into a paisley shape like this before so logically it made sense to incorporate that into the necklace.

Here is the result of my "collaboration" with this unknown lapidary... tiger's eye, unakite, glass and sterling silver necklace with a hand forged sterling silver paisley pendant with a bezel set cabochon. It's a little Bohemian, a little South West and a little glitz all at the same time.

I'm curious if lapidaries ever wonder how their creations end up being used.