Category Archives: Gemology

things precious gems

Montana Agate

In August 2014 I took a ride on a Road King (Harley Davidson) around Flathead Lake, Montana.  See prior post on the whole motorcycle trip! I intended to visit all the rock shops in the Flathead region that I had found on the web. The route was Whitefish to Columbia Falls, south on Rte 206 to Kalispell, on to Polson and then back to Whitefish.  What I found along the way is listed here for rock hounds and others who might be interested in purchasing finished or unfinished Montana Agate.

Montana Agate

Montana Agate (from the Wiki site)

Montana agate is also called moss agate, because of the black moss-like inclusions, which are oxides of manganese or iron, usually on a milky white quartz background.  It is a form of chalcedony.  It is formed from volcanic rocks and abundantly found in the riverbeds of the Yellowstone river and it’s tributaries.

MT Agate skin_5833

Montana Agate – outside skin of the rock

MT Agate after_5839

Montana Agate (see above) cut in half.

1. Junction Rock Shop (just east of Columbia Falls).  Some really nice finished slices of Montana Agate and lots of other pieces including fossilized dinosaur bones.  Not much unfinished rock in the shop.  The owner helped me out and I bought a very nice piece: black moss in a clear to white slice with no cracks.  It is a small shop with limited selection but great customer service.

2. Montana Within Rock Shop LLC.   Sandra Dahl and her husband collect rough Montana Agate in large quantities.  This is a great place if you are looking for rough rock to cut yourself.  They collect their rocks along the Yellowstone River, which is quite far away.  They know what they are doing!  They are difficult to find as they run their shop from their home, south of Columbia Falls.  Call because you will need directions!

3. Kehoe’s Agate Shop in Big Fish MT.  Well advertised and easy to find, this shop has mostly finished rock slices.  Nice selections.

4. Meneralholics LLC, on Melita Island Rd, near Polson MT, on the south end of Flathead Lake.  Definitely call before you visit them (Velvet Philips-Sullivan).  They are hard to find.  They do mostly B to B whole sale.  They have loads of rocks in large mounds in their back yard!   I bought as much as I could carry.

5. The Treasure Outpost in Whitefish.  This is a small rock shop (in the basement of another shop) in downtown Whitefish.  They have mostly finished pieces and very few pieces of Montana Agate.  Helpful staff. Caters to tourists rather than hard core rock hounds.

6. Rocks and Things.. Metaphysical, in Whitefish. Small shop with mostly finished pieces, some rough rock.  No Montana Agate.  Nice owner who also runs a Yoga Studio next door.  As I could not find what I was looking for, she gifted me a piece of rough rock quartz. Thanks  🙂

Check out our latest pendants made with Montana Agate here!

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How to set Beach Glass

Glass is fragile. You drop it and it breaks, you drill it and it breaks, you hammer a metal setting around it and it breaks, you force it in to a bezel and it breaks…   No wonder that some of us would rather not work with glass!  There are however some techniques that are used extensively.  Here is a discussion of these techniques. I am sure the list is not exhaustive.

Wire wrapping techniques

Glue Glass Pendant

Blue Glass Pendant

Fine Silver Earrings with Intricate Wire wrapping

Fine Silver Earrings with Intricate Wire wrapping

These are really common.  They are easy.  You don’t need to work the glass itself.  Note that wire techniques are not specially good for rings or for jewelry that is likely to get banged around.  Some of these techniques are a bit flimsy and the piece of glass can come out of the setting.  There are numerous different wire wrapping techniques. I refer you to just one website.  There are also YouTube videos.  Just google “wirewrap beach glass”.  The “Blue Glass Pendant” shown here, was wrapped by myself with a homemade technique using fine silver wire, which is nice and soft.  The earrings were wrapped by an unknown artist in Cusco, Peru.

Wire solder technique

Light Green Beach Glass set with 18 Gauge Sterling Silver Wire

Light Green Beach Glass set with 18 Gauge Sterling Silver Wire

You can use thick wire that is not easily formed or wrapped.  I like to use gauge 18 Sterling silver. The idea is to create a “basket” with prongs, place the glass in the basket, and bend the prongs around the glass to hold it in place.  I have attached an example.  Here the prongs are the same in the front and the back so that is does not matter if the pendant flips over, as the front and the back look identical.

Blue sapphire set over light blue beach glass (pendant in Sterling silver)

Blue sapphire set over light blue beach glass (pendant in Sterling silver)

A variation of this technique allows for a smaller stone (blue sapphire in this case) to be set on one of the prongs!

Bezel setting

Bezel formed by hand with thin (gauge 32) soft silver.

Bezel formed by hand with thin (gauge 32) soft silver.

This is more serious.  You will have to cut your silver, solder it together and form a bezel that is shaped after the irregular piece of glass that you want to frame.  It has become my favorite method because the bezel protects the piece of sea glass.  If you shape the base of the bezel, you can accommodate a rounded piece of glass, such as a piece from the neck of a bottle.  Here are a few examples.

Purple glass from a bottle top with silver bezel and brass base formed to fit the inside curvature of the glass

Purple glass from a bottle top with silver bezel and brass base formed to fit the inside curvature of the glass

Drilling the Glass

If you really want to make a hole in your sea glass, you can do so.  Drill with a diamond bit, under cool water, carefully and slowly!  I found out the hard way: it is easy to crack your piece of glass.

One can insert a silver grommet in the drilled hole for added stability, as shown in the last picture. But you will have to tap the grommet with a hammer to close it.  That is tricky and can crack your piece of glass too! Best to use very soft and thin metal tubing for this purpose.  Have fun.

Drilled beach glass (heart shaped) with silver grommet

Drilled beach glass (heart shaped) with silver grommet

Rock Hound on a Motorcycle

On July 27th I flew to San Diego and rented a 1200 RT BMW motorcycle with 4 in line cylinders, a powerful bike with which I was going to cruise 2600 miles across California.  My friend Manu lives in San Diego with his Kawasaki Versys 650.  He picked me up at the airport and we went right to the beamer rental shop.   The next day we set out early, the first leg of a 12 day journey, all the way up to Arcata, CA, on as many scenic routes as possible and then back down along the coast.   We crashed overnight at the cheapest motels in town or at a friend’s house, but we had dinners every night at the best restaurant we could find on Yelp!

Snowflake Obsidian

Snowflake Obsidian

On our way south, in Carlotta, CA, we stopped at Chapman’s Gem and Mineral shop on route 101, also called the Redwood Highway.  This is paradise for rock hounds.  For a couple of dollars I bought snowflake obsidian, jasper, rhodonite and much more. Here are some samples.

Rhodonite

Rhodonite

We stopped in Fort Bragg, CA, and we took the trail to “Glass Beach”.  This was a dump site for local residents, until 1967.  Now, in stead of sand, the ground is composed of small shards of smooth glass, ground extensively by the sea waves.  I had read about the place.  But we found the pieces of glass to be too small to use for jewelry.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach

Rarely, one finds a piece that is larger than 2 cm.

We had passed places called ‘Topaz’, ‘Diamond Valley’ and ‘Emerald Bay’.  Each time I took note and looked for some explanation for the bejeweled name.  No success.  Not until we discovered ‘Jade Cove’ in Big Sur!  It lies protected

nephrite

Nephrite

Cliffs of Jade Cove

Cliffs of Jade Cove

within a National Forest. It is easy to get to from Highway 1.  The green cliffs are composed of nephrite (a type of jade) and also serpentine.   Nephrite is a soft stone (Mohs 6) which is easy to carve and when polished it is vitreous and has an oily luster.  It can be very elegant with white to green to grey hues.  It was  considered an imperial stone in chinese dynasties.  Here are some of my samples.  And a finished piece with banded agate, from Chapman’s Gem shop, see above.

Nephrite

Nephrite

There is more to come about other adventures on this trip, although they have little to do with lapidary or jewelry.  Stay tuned!

Before I set out on this trip, my 17 year old gave me a penguin stuffed animal – a talisman to keep me safe.  Penguino, as we called him, became a pro at riding the motorcycle…

 

Banded Agate in Silver

Banded Agate in Silver

Penguino

Penguino

Gold Ring, Diamonds and a Tatoo of a Cherry Blossom

In the summer of last year I met a young couple at an art fair in Montauk.  Anthony was an actor and Laura, an oncology nurse.  They lingered at my booth, then left… and then he returned alone.

Laura's tatoo

Laura’s tatoo

Anthony wanted to set up a meeting to discuss a custom ring and he wanted to surprise his wife!  My kind of man.

She had a full body tattoo of a Japanese cherry blossom tree. He wanted a gold ring representing a cherry blossom.  We met in the city at a coffee shop on the west side.  There were drawings first.

Drawings

Drawings

Then I set to work on a wax model.

wax model in the making

wax model in the making

A 5 karat black diamond in the rough was placed in the center and 5 trillion (triangular) diamonds were placed between the petals of the ‘flower’.

wax model with diamonds

wax model with diamonds

Anthony was involved at every step.  There were more meetings at the coffee shop.  About a half dozen meetings.

The model was approved and a gold ring was cast.

ring cast in gold

ring cast in gold

Then the stone setter went to work.  My Russian friend Oleg did this part.  His work is excellent.  Finally, the “finish”, a polished exterior and a roughed up organic interior representing the cherry blossom.  See the image of “The final product”.

Then came the suspense.  He would surprise her on a special occasion.  Would she like it?  I was nervous….  A week later the report: she was happy! And so were we!

The job took 4 months.  Great customers!  A fun experience.  This is how we do custom work.

The final product

The final product

Memory Lane

A trip down memory lane is mostly a personal thing.  But this one seemed worth sharing.

Bregaglia Valley

Bregaglia Valley

The excuse for the trip was a high school class reunion in Zurich (Switzerland), 45 years after graduation!  But the first leg of the journey was to Soglio, a mountain village in a steep, somewhat claustrophobic valley called Bergell (in German), Bregaglia (in Italian) or Bargaja  (in the local tongue).  It derives from the Latin ‘Prae-galia’ , literally the land ‘before the Gallic provinces’.  It does not take long to understand that this valley served as a passage from Italy to Austria (via the Engadin) or to Germany/France, called Galia in Roman times, via the Julier pass road.  This road was built by Caesar’s armies!  Given the strategic importance of the Bergell, it’s inhabitants charged tolls to those wanting passage.  Generally these ancient border patrol people were heavily armed to control the valley and impose their tolls.

The valley has a mystic scenery and is known for producing some famous artists like the sculptor Alberto Giacometti from Stampa and the painter Giovanni Segantini, who lived in Maloja for a while, where I spent summers as a boy. We stayed in Soglio, a small village perched on the flank of the valley, in the Hotel Palazzo Salis, built 1629, that once housed the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (ca. 1919).  He lived for a while in room 15.  I stayed in room 16 with a view of the garden in the back.  The hotel also exhibits the arms used by the Von Salis family, the local rulers, who inhabited the building for centuries, including wicked looking swords and spears, ‘Hellebarden’ or halberds, and ‘Morgensterne’ or morning starsIMG_2799I took pictures of swords with beautiful inlay work: brass (I think) embedded in the steel blades, see the title picture!  They were displayed just outside my room as if I might need them to defend myself!

Soglio is remarkable for its age-old mountain homes and beautiful views of the steep mountains on the opposite side of the valley.  This includes Piz Badile, a very steep peak with a north-east face thought to be among the most difficult climbs in the Alps.  In case you want some thrills, check this filmed ascent of the Cassin route!

Piz Badile

Piz Badile

After Soglio there followed visits with old Swiss friends from 50 years ago!  And reunions of long-lost family.   There was a new generation of children I had never met!

A visit to the Chagall exposition at the “Zurcher Kunsthaus”, with my childhood friend and current author, Daniel Suter, was well worthwhile.  It features a review of his life’s work.  It is a temporary exhibit, open until May 12, 2013.  And, finally, we met at the Hotel Storchen in Zurich for the ‘Klassenzusammenkunft’ which means ‘class reunion’.  Even the Latin teacher was present!  Sheepishly I raised my wine glass to toast him and uttered the first latin words that came to mind: in vino veritas est.

Diamond Bee Pendant

Diamond Bee Pendant (Tiffany)

Over dinners with friends and family I grew to admire several pieces of jewelry. They are featured here.  Zurich is a place where there are always plenty of nice things!

Aquamarine Gold Ring

Aquamarine Gold Ring (Gabriele Krack)

For example this stunning 20.67ct aquamarine, set in an 18K gold ring crafted by Gabriele Krack.  Or a Bee Pendant, made of diamonds set in platinum (Tiffany).

BACK IN DOHA (QATAR)

In 2009 I wrote about a visit to Doha.  The Museum of Islamic Art had just opened.  It’s a jewel of a museum and they feature a lot of antique jewelry. I am back in Doha for my 6th annual visit.  Some things have changed. The license plates on cars now display Western numerals rather than Arabic numbers.  The finished skyscrapers now outnumber the cranes in some parts of the city, but the building boom is still ongoing.  This is still a place of unbelievable contrasts.

Hodge podge of styles: (from L>R) local traditional, modern (Sheraton pyramid) and base of an ugly tower with a metal laced exterior which we call the ‘corndog’ building because it looks like a corndog!

Hodge podge of styles: (from L>R) local traditional, modern (Sheraton pyramid) and base of an ugly tower with a metal laced exterior (see below; Burj tower), which I call the ‘corndog’ building because it looks like a corndog!

First there is the architecture.  I think this is a city with some of the most unsightly and strangest skyscrapers I have ever seen.  But, also, with one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Museum of Islamic Art designed by IM Pei.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

It is truly mesmerizing.  The Museum was meant to look like a veiled woman who’s ‘eyes’ are keeping watch over the city.

Perhaps the most striking contrast is in the wealth distribution.  Qatar is considered one of the richest countries on the globe. Qatar has a resident population of 1.7 Mio according to the 2010 census.  However only 1/5 are Qatari nationals.  The rest are ‘guest workers’, a euphemistic term.  They get a resident permit when they enter the country, being invited by their sponsor, the business that employs them.  Most have a single exit visa.  Their sponsor (or employer) dictates when they exit the country and often they confiscate the employees passport.  If fired, you are simply brought to the airport by your employer, end of story.  Some guest workers are luckier and have multiple exit visas usually valid for one year.  Some guest workers (but not all) also get a Health card, which gives them access to government subsidized health care.  They may also acquire a liquor license but they have to be non-Muslim, a resident of Doha and earn over QR 4,000 per month.  Most recently, those with liquor licenses can now also purchase pork products!

Guest workers or expats come in different types.   Top echelon expats are technical advisors, engineers, consultants, scientists and doctors.  They are well paid.  Their employer covers the rent and the school tuition for their kids.  These people can make money here and save money, but they can never become citizens or start their own business.  So most of them ultimately plan to move back home. More commonly expats do all the menial jobs.  They come from all the countries around the Indian ocean.  I try to speak to them.  They are maids, hotel employees, cooks, cab drivers or personal drivers, and droves of construction workers.  Their salaries are meager compared with western nations.  My driver from Nepal makes 1,000 rial per month (US$ 275), that is 30 rial per day (US$ 7/day).  Construction workers may make even less (700 rial/month), and a housemaid, depending on her employer, (700-2000 rial/month).  Never the less, these salaries are a step up from what they could earn at home if they found a job.  They are often able to send some money home and even support their families.  One house keeper put her daughter through school, at home in the Philippines, with $250/semester while making about $400/month here in Qatar.

Construction workers or... 'guest workers'

Construction workers or… ‘guest workers’

My driver has lodging provided by his company: 14 men in 7 bunk beds in one room.  Three are from Nepal and the rest are from Sri Lanka and India.  Three are Hindu, the rest are Muslim.  Life is not cheap in Doha and their salary is just sufficient for some food.  He and his co-workers from Nepal are eager to return to their home country even if that means less money and possibly no work at all.  It is interesting to draw this comparison: my driver makes 30 rial per day and my hotel room costs 1,100 rial per night!  Is this human exploitation?  It sounds like a medieval society. But am I not taking part in this?  I come as a teacher and I share my knowledge in the hope that it will better the human condition, but ultimately I also come here because I am paid!

By contrast, the new found oil and gas wealth of Qatar, deemed the richest country in the world for 2012, has also been used to do some amazing things.  Related to my line of work, the Qatar Foundation invited several western universities to establish a campus in Doha.  This started in the 1990s and now there are at least 7 campuses in Doha representing an unrivaled center for education in the Arab world.  They include the campuses of Northwestern University (communications, journalism, liberal arts), Carnegie Mellon (business administration, computer science), Virginia Commenwealth Univ. (design, arts, fashion), Georgetown Univ. (foreign service, politics), Texas A&M (engineering), Weill Cornell Medical College (medicine)  and University College of London (museum curation, archeology).  The vision and origin of the Qatar Foundation comes from the Emir himself and particulary his wife, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.  It’s mission is to further education, science and research, and community development.

So much for contrasts.  Back to jewelry.

Chinese fisherman

Chinese fisherman

I took a long walk just yesterday from the hotel to the museum along the Corniche.   I met a few fishermen.  One man from China had caught 10 fish.  The gulf is actually rich in fish and Doha has a very old history of fishing trade.

Palm tree on the Corniche, Museum in the distant background

Palm tree on the Corniche, Museum in the distant background

From afar you can see the Museum of Islamic Art built on a man made peninsula.  From close up the contrast of old fishing boats (dhow harbor) and the modern art museum are striking!  There is an extensive review of shipping and ship construction in the gulf at catnaps.org – where there is plenty on  Islamic design and traditional boats.

Boats in Dhow harbor, museum in the background

Boats in Dhow harbor, museum in the background

Highly recommended reading!

The entrance to the museum is a long drive way lined with palm trees, with water flowing down a central trough made of black marble. It is a stunning approach.

Here are some pictures I took at the museum.  These are items that belonged to royalty of course.

Necklace make of red spinel, pearls and diamonds set in gold bezels.

Necklace make of red spinel, pearls and diamonds set in gold bezels.

A bazuband to be worn on the front of a princess, made of large diamonds set in gold with a spinel drop in front.

A bazuband to be worn on the front of a princess, made of large diamonds set in gold with a spinel drop in front.

The original owner of much of the jewelry in the museum was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal. He is depicted here on a cameo in sardonyx stone on a bloodstone mount (ca. 1630).

The original owner of much of the jewelry in the museum was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal. He is depicted here on a cameo in sardonyx stone on a bloodstone mount (ca. 1630).

On my way home, evening views of Dhow harbor with ancient boats and modern high rises in the background.

Dhow harbor with ancient boats and modern high rises

Dhow harbor with ancient boats and modern high rises

And as I approached the north end of the Corniche I walked right past the ‘corndog’ building again, past a black glass building that reflects the neighboring ‘monster’ buildings, and past the Qatar World Trade Center…    Not sure what to think of this city.

Corndog building

Corndog building (lights up at night) also goes by other less flattering names, but is really named Burj tower.

Reflections of neighboring buildings in black glass

Reflections of neighboring buildings in black glass

Qatar World Trade Center

Qatar World Trade Center with crown!

Teen Jewelry

If you are a parent of a teenager, like myself, you must sometimes be wondering about the complete discrepancy in artistic tastes between your teen and yourself. I have tried to understand.  It’s as if they are a different species. They speak differently (no full sentences), they have a different vocabulary (chillaxin) , they use abbreviations that are meant to be obscure to adults (AYSOS = are you stupid or something), they don’t use telephones or even email any more.  They are considered “digital natives” by those who study societal trends and by those that are interested in marketing of on-line businesses.  I find myself asking my teen whether to sign up for Skype versus Oovoo, or whether to buy an I-phone or an Android.  In both cases it’s clearly the latter.  With such strong opinions and with tastes that differ from those that are just 5 years older, it’s clearly important to study teens because they are the customers of tomorrow. The following is a quite unscientific study of teen fashion tastes.

First,  a sense of color coordination is very pronounced it seems to me:

Blue Sweat Shirt and Matching Blue Android

Blue Sweat Shirt and Matching Blue Android

Note the bright colors, the matching blue sweat shirt and cell phone, but the contrasting red nail polish, and purple hair dye.  Note the snake ring (definitely cool) and the LOVE mood ring which changes colors depending on your mood (so they say).   Colors need to be shocking and full of contrast.

Teens sense of shocking color contrasts

Teen’s sense of shocking color contrasts

Second, jewelry accessories for piercings are BIG.IMG_1985

IMG_1992

I was referred to a website called bodycandy.com.  Although body piercing is an ancient practice in different human cultures, there is perhaps a new worldwide trend that is gaining traction. In particular the prevalence of body piercings in young teenage girls has increased and is now often over 25-50% in countries like the USA, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Australia according to numerous publications.  Is this the future?

Third, accessories that have a special or personal meaning are in.  Woven wrist bands as symbols of friendship, often handmade for someone special, are popular.  Plastic bangles reading I LOVE BOOBIES or SAVE BOOBIES are in.  They mean to increase awareness for breast cancer.  Similar bangles for different causes (or just for fun) are popular, in part because of their low cost.  Low cost is really important for teens.  Wearing a large number of bangles on the same wrist is trendy too.  While some of these accessories will no longer be popular when these teens morph in to young adults and have more money to spend, I think the principle of wearing a statement that has a special personal meaning, or a message, may remain important.  In deed, silver and gold jewelry with inscribed comments or insignia, or names of your children are already popular with young women and mothers. IMG_1986 IMG_1987

Never a dull moment with a teen in the house!