Tag Archives: Jewelry

How To Do the Tucson Gem Shows

It’s time for the 2016 Tucson gem show! As my husband says, it’s my Disneyland. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since I attended my first one.

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To be accurate, I should say “shows,” because Tucson is not one show. Or two. Or three. Or four. It’s more than 40 shows each year — 45 for 2016 — held during the period from late January through the middle of February.

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Tourmalines by Gustav Caesar at the Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show; he exhibits at the AGTA show as well.

Tents, hotel rooms, ballrooms, parking lots, fields — virtually anywhere large enough to display rocks, minerals, gemstones, tools, and equipment is covered in just that.

Are you thinking about going to Tucson, but feeling overwhelmed? Have you ever wondered how to “do” the shows? I searched for information before my first trip, but found little with the specifics I wanted. Hopefully, this article will help in your planning!

I was so excited to attend my first Tucson show, I made all my travel arrangements seven months in advance — admittedly excessive.

Lodging can be quite pricey, especially as the shows take place in the peak season (winter), but in addition to oodles of hotels and resorts, there are houses, cottages, apartments, and rooms for rent from central Tucson all the way to the far suburbs, and at virtually every price level.

Most of the shows do not run the entire period, so it’s important to verify dates when planning your trip, and there are numerous websites that list the full schedule.

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To get around the city, I rented a car, which I booked in advance, and picked up from one of the several rental car companies located at the Tucson airport. If you prefer to fly into Phoenix, it’s only two hours via car to Tucson.

Personally, I don’t think it’s very feasible to move around Tucson beyond the shows without a car, as the city is quite spread out.

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More tourmalines from Gustav Caesar.

The great news is that you can definitely move between the shows without a car, however, because the City of Tucson offers GemRide, a fantastic free shuttle service. The GemRide shuttle vans run non-stop during show hours on pre-set, color-coded routes, and maps are available at many stops, as well as online.

If you don’t want to rent a car, or are concerned about navigating the city or finding parking, GemRide is a great option.

Even though I had a rental car, my first day at the shows I parked my car at one of the largest parking hubs, and hopped on the GemRide to “get the lay of the land.” I picked one of longest shuttle routes, and rode the whole way. This helped me learn where many of the shows were, determine which were within easy walking distance of each other, and gave me a general understanding of the city’s layout. If you’re planning to self-drive, and have the time, I definitely recommend using the shuttle this way.

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Even more tourmalines by Gustav Caesar.

An added bonus: the shuttle drivers are some of the friendliest, most patient people you’ll ever meet, and they know where everything is. They’re a great resource, and wonderful representatives for their city.

The city’s Sun Link streetcar system is another option for getting around downtown, and stops near some of the shows, as well as close to some of the GemRide shuttle and parking hubs.

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Carved gemstone bowls.

A note about driving in Tucson: I had been warned that getting around the city during the gem shows would be a nightmare; that traffic is terrible, and parking impossible. To be honest, I found that to be far from the case.

If you live in a large metropolitan area, and are accustomed to driving in heavy traffic, Tucson may well seem like a driving paradise. The city is built on a grid, with only a few major east-west and north-south roads.

The sun is typically shining, and the city is ringed with large mountain ranges, making navigation easy for all but the most GPS-addicted drivers. I also had no trouble finding parking, though I did start out early each day, arriving to the shows 30-45 minutes before they opened.

I focused on parking in the parking hubs, which are large lots on the edge of the show areas, from which I walked from show to show. If you have health or mobility issues that prevent you from walking longer distances or standing for a long period of time, park at the hubs and catch a shuttle.

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Quartz spheres

Some shows, like JCK, have special shuttles running between limited locations, so check the websites of the shows you want to attend to see if they offer any special transportation.

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Czech glass beads from Raven’s Journey at the G&LW show at the Gem Mall.

With so many shows and show sites to choose from, and with some of the venues measuring as much as 100,000 square feet, a little advance research and planning can make your visit far more efficient and less exhausting.

Each show has a different focus, such as: gemstone rough, minerals, fossils, finished (cut) gemstones, jewelry, tools, or a combination of several of those categories. There are also lectures and many classes to choose from, including in mineral science, gemology, and jewelry design.

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Demo’ing seed beads

Before attending, I studied the show schedule to maximize my time on the ground, and see as many shows as possible that were of interest to me. Each night while I was in Tucson, I strategized my plans for the following day, making a checklist of start times, show locations, and parking availability.

Until I got there and started walking, there wasn’t really any good way for me to know how much I could get through in a day. Having a plan each day enabled me to thoroughly explore more than twenty shows in a week (including doing the enormous Gem Mall & Holidome twice), as well as attend industry events, and spend time with colleagues. For the record, walking the aisles of that many shows in that period of time requires a level of stamina that might be more than some people can handle.

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Copper bezels & findings from Patricia Healey.

With so many gorgeous and fascinating items available, it’s easy to go over your intended budget. Make a list of what you’re seeking, and try to stick to it. I tried to keep to a daily spending limit, but that was virtually impossible since it was my first time at the shows, and I didn’t know what I was going to find; subsequent years should be easier. Many vendors accept plastic (credit/debit cards), but some do not, so bring a little cash. There are certainly plenty of ATMs in Tucson, but primarily those of the larger US banks.

Some of the shows are wholesale-only, others are retail-focused, and some are a mix of wholesale and retail. The wholesale shows require credentials to attend, and they don’t take digital. Make sure you bring multiple photocopies of your tax ID or resale certificate, business license, some business cards, and a photo ID.

Even at the retail shows, you can frequently buy wholesale, if you have the proper documents, and buy a sufficient quantity of goods. Do not expect to get a “wholesale” deal/discount if you’re only buying one or two of an item; like many things, the more you buy, the better the price. If I’m serious about a particular dealer’s products, and don’t have a lot of time to spare, I typically cut straight to the chase and ask how much I have to buy to get their best price. They can usually tell I’m not messing around, and readily tell me. Likewise, some dealers will give a better price if you pay in cash, so it’s always worth asking. The worst thing that can happen is they say no.

In addition to the standard business documents, some shows require that you either be a member of the Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT), or present recent (less than a year old) itemized invoices showing jewelry-related purchases; typically, if invoices are required, the show registrars want to see purchases totaling a minimum of several thousand dollars. Check the requirements for each show you want to attend to ensure you have all the required documentation.

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Large amethyst geode “wings” from Michal & Company  at the Rapa River show. The crate was nearly six feet tall, and it was fascinating to see how they’re packed.

When buying in Tucson, things can get extremely hectic, especially if the dealer is popular, well-known, or has material that everyone wants. Sometimes, if the dealer is busy, and you’re buying quite a bit, it can take the dealer more than an hour to write up your order. Being prepared can greatly help this process.

Numerous websites suggest having extra business cards on hand, so the seller has all of your information in one spot. It’s a good suggestion, but business cards typically lack quite a bit of information that the dealer needs and wants, such as your tax ID/resale and license information. One of the best things I did last year was to create labels with all of my business information on them. I made them myself very inexpensively with a basic word processing program, and printed them on 2×4 inch (5×10 cm) labels. Each sticker included my:

  • Name, title
  • Business name
  • Tax Resale Number with State & Country
  • Business License Number with Jurisdiction (county)
  • Business Mailing Address
  • Business Phone
  • Cell Phone
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Kino sports complex show.

Dealers absolutely loved these stickers, because every bit of information they needed was on them, and all they had to do was peel it off the backing and stick it on their copy of the sales receipt/invoice. Easy, done in a flash, no tape/stapler/paperclip required, and nothing to misplace. I highly recommend making labels. They really speed up the checkout process.

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One of the many show tents.

In one case, in which I purchased a substantial quantity of goods, and the dealer was very busy writing orders, I left my goods with the dealer, and continued walking the show while the dealer wrote up my invoice. That took a bit of pressure off the dealer, and kept me from wasting precious time standing around waiting. If it’s agreeable to both of you, it’s an option to consider if the dealer is exceptionally busy.

Tucson has a desert climate, and even though the winter temps are lovely, typically in the 60s-70s Fahrenheit (mid 10s-low 20s Celsius) during the day, you can get very dehydrated walking the shows. Carry a small bottle of water with you to help avoid this.

The shows are large, and involve a significant amount of walking, sometimes on gravel or uneven ground, so comfortable shoes are an absolute must. While the weather is generally pleasant and dry, Tucson can experience rain, as it did at the start of the 2015 shows. Traveling with a small umbrella and shoes that can handle rain and mud will prove advantageous if the weather is wet.

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Hammers from Bill Fretz at the Pueblo Gem & Mineral show.

A comfortable bag is key for carrying your purchases (unless you’re buying a table-size specimen, of which there are many), and some buyers use rolling backpacks or even carry-on suitcases to haul their purchases.

I was thankful I carried a small snack with me each day, as I never seemed to have time to stop for a proper meal until dinner. Food is not available at every show venue, and what is for sale often falls under the category of “snacks,” so plan accordingly.

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Delicious elote (grilled corn) at Penca in downtown Tucson.

If you’re fortunate to be able to bring family with you to the shows, but they don’t share your interest in gems, minerals, or tools, there are lots of things to do in Tucson and the surrounding areas.

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One final note: if you have a fitness tracker or pedometer, bring it. It’s quite fun to keep track of how much you walk during the shows.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Have a great time in Tucson, and thanks for reading!

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Fabulous ICE Resin® Classes in Tucson

Heading to the Tucson gem shows in a few weeks? Don’t miss the fantastic ICE Resin® workshops and classes being taught by ICE Queen Susan Lenart Kazmer, mixed media guru Jen Cushman, talented artist John Creighton Petersen, and jeweler-gemologist me!

New to ICE Resin®? No problem. Prepare to have your mind blown. Experienced with ICE Resin®, but want to kick your jewelry construction techniques up a notch, or more successfully incorporate mixed media techniques or non-traditional materials into your work? These classes are for you!

My classes include Ombré Effects with Iced Enamels(TM), Extreme Layering in ICE Resin®, and two sessions of Intro to Gemology. The gemology class is not an ICE Resin® class, but a highly regarded, engaging lecture on gems.

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All classes will be at the To Bead True Blue show, at the Doubletree hotel located on South Alvernon Way at Reid Park. Classes start on January 31. For full details, class descriptions, and to sign up, click here.

See you in Tucson!

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How To Keep Your Jewelry In Optimal Condition

As a jeweler and gemologist, people often ask me to examine their jewelry. Sometimes they want to know if their gems are real or as good as they were led to believe. Other times they’re concerned about whether the setting holding their stone is secure. The reasons someone wants their jewelry examined can vary as much as the sky in spring, but there’s one nearly universal characteristic that I find: at the most basic level, their jewelry is not in optimal condition.

When I say “not in optimal condition,” I’m being polite. In more direct terms, it’s filthy. I’m not saying that it’s caked in garden mud, but under the magnification of a jeweler’s loupe or microscope, the dirt of daily life is readily visible, and often it’s enough grime to affect the appearance of the stone. Of course, rings suffer this fate more often than necklaces, earrings or even bracelets, because our hands take far more abuse than other parts of our jewelry-adorned bodies.


Juicy tourmaline, loved for its many colors, is susceptible to scratches. While popular for rings, incorporating it into necklaces or earrings is a more carefree option. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

The normal wear-and-tear of daily life can wreak havoc on jewelry. Sweat, body oils, and salt stick to gemstones. Exterior substances like cooking grease and household cleansers can leave deposits on stones; some cleansers can scratch soft stones, or alter enhanced colors. At this time of year, when so many of us are dealing with cold weather and constant hand washing to avoid the dreaded flu, our hands get dry. Those lovely lotions that bring such relief to our chapped and irritated fingers make a mess of rings, as the lotion fills the tiny crevices of the setting, clogging the spaces between the metal and the stone. Once there, they dry and stick, dulling the appearance of the gem.

Ring Setting

The settings on rings are full of openings and crevices that can become filled with dirt. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

A few years ago, someone asked me to examine their diamond ring. The owner mentioned repeatedly that they had paid quite a bit for the stone, and they were obviously very proud of it. To the naked eye, the stone appeared to have an enormous, unattractive, dark inclusion – something foreign inside the stone – that in this case would negatively impact the value of the stone, and possibly even the durability. The stone was not particularly sparkly, nor pretty, and I was concerned about the news I might have to give the client. Most gems have inclusions; that’s not unusual. It is much more unusual, however, to see a large eye-visible inclusion in what is purported to be a high-end piece of jewelry.

When I looked at the ring under magnification, I nearly cringed, but not because I found a value- and stability-impacting inclusion. What I found was gunk, lots and lots of gunk. Like that technical term? “Gunk?”

The ring was completely covered in heavy, caked-on debris. It was so thick, all the openings in the metal setting holding the diamond were completely blocked up with a substance resembling dried toothpaste. This paste-like material prevented light from reflecting in the gem, and was the reason the stone looked so dull and dark.

Back of ring setting

When cleaning a ring, it’s important to spend just as much time on the inside of the setting as the parts that are visible to everyone else. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC

As it turned out, the client rarely took the ring off, even for a moment, wearing it during all activities. That large, dark inclusion? It turned out to be an illusion caused by dried hand lotion, and it disappeared once the ring was properly cleaned. In the end, the stoned turned out to be a gorgeous gem. But who would have known?

Sweat and body oils can wreak similar havoc, and while they are natural and can’t be avoided, jewelry should be cleaned periodically to remove their effects. Some other common hazards are chlorine (swimming pools), saltwater (ocean), household cleaning chemicals, abrasives, and acids, including common liquids like vinegar. Even when stones are arguably strong enough to stand up to these substances, mildly corrosive liquids can wear down the metal settings. I always advise clients to leave their jewelry at home when heading to the pool or beach, and that’s before even considering the impossibility of finding a stone that comes loose from its setting while swimming.

For rings and bracelets in particular, bumps and bangs are a frequent threat. I have some clients who love bracelets above all other jewelry, but they can barely make it through a month without breaking a piece. Many activities can break stones and scratch softer gems and metal settings. Digging in the garden? Lifting weights? Hammering? Not ring- or bracelet-friendly. Be safe; take them off.

Blue Topaz

Blue topaz is a beautiful and popular gem, but it requires care due to its particular cleavage and fracture traits, which make it susceptible to breakage when struck or dropped. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Many of these issues may seem obvious, but others are lesser known. Sunlight can fade some gemstones. Kunzite is famously sun-sensitive, and can lose its pink hue quite quickly. Amethyst is another stone – and far more common – that’s susceptible to sun fading, so try to store amethyst pieces out of the range of direct sunlight. Stones whose color are enhanced by dye are also highly susceptible to damage from sunlight, as dyes are not stable sometimes, so store dyed pieces away from the sun. If you’re not sure whether a stone is dyed, err on the side of caution.

Dyed Chalcedony

This is strand of dyed chalcedony beads, as the color appeared when they were first dyed. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Faded Dyed Chalcedony

Here are the same dyed chalcedony beads, after the dye-enhanced color faded. In this case, the dye color changed over time without exposure to sunlight, heat or chemicals. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Another “oddball” threat to stones is thermal shock, or dramatic change in temperature. I have many international clients who travel frequently, so I’m always preaching about the hazards of airplane baggage compartments, which are notorious for significant temperature fluctuations. Keep your precious bits and bobs with you in a carry-on bag if at all possible. One of the more common stones susceptible to thermal shock is opal, which is sensitive due to the composition of the gem.

Ethiopian opal

An Ethiopian opal with its natural play of color, all those colorful, sparkly-looking bits. Opals can be damaged by sudden changes in temperature, even while they’re being cut and polished from their rough state. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Another stone that can be damaged by thermal shock is fluorite, which is susceptible due to its cleavage; it can break easily in two different directions. I lost a strand of fluorite beads to thermal shock; they literally broke apart all on their own due to a temperature change. When I first put them away, they were lovely, pillowy rectangles.

Fluorite beads

Fluorite beads, in their normal condition before being subjected to thermal shock. They were like pretty, fluffy pillows. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

When I retrieved them, they looked like a bag of broken glass. It was quite a rude surprise, made less painful only by the fascination I had in studying what had happened to them.

Fluorite Beads Shattered

Here’s how the fluorite beads looked after experiencing thermal shock. Many of them shattered cleanly along their cleavage planes, leaving sharp, straight lines where they broke. These beads broke without being dropped or touched; it was simply an extreme change in a temperature. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Fluorite bead broken

Closeup of one of the fluorite beads. Breaks don’t get much cleaner than that. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Jewelry can be damaged simply through careless storage. Any material can scratch substances that are equally soft or softer. Diamond, being the hardest natural material on the planet, can scratch literally anything else in your jewelry box, including metals and other diamonds.

Gold wedding band

Wedding bands often have many scratches, as they are frequently worn daily, during all types of activities. Personally, I think it’s sweet to have minor dings in a wedding band, as it shows the passage of time. If you have too many scratches, a jeweler may be able to repolish your ring to eliminate light surface wear. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

The hardest common gemstones after diamond are sapphire & ruby, spinel, cubic zirconia (manmade CZ), topaz, amethyst and citrine. Other common, but softer gems like peridot, tanzanite, opal, and moonstone are fairly easily scratched, but still less susceptible to scratches than the softest gem materials, like pearls, amber, turquoise and coral, which have no chance when rubbing up against metals or the harder gemstones. Store your pieces carefully, keeping them separated or wrapped individually, including earring pairs, as one earring can scratch its match.

Humidity – or lack thereof – can negatively impact jewelry and gems. Vaults and safes are notoriously dry environments, which pose little or no issue for mineral-based gems like diamonds and sapphires, but can cause organic gems — such as pearls — to dry out, destroying the beautiful nacre that creates their gorgeous glow. I’ve had clients retrieve jewelry from a vault, and the gems were so dried out, they literally fell from their settings as they removed the jewelry from its storage boxes. If you are fortunate enough to have your own vault or safe, consider carefully placing a tiny container of distilled water in the vault, which could provide a humidity boost to help protect your pieces that are at risk of drying out. On the other hand, a storage environment that’s overly humid can cause fiber-based stringing materials to mold, so take care if you live in a humid climate.


Store and wear pearls thoughtfully to ensure they maintain their glowing luster and overall surface quality. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

One of the best ways to protect organic jewels, like pearls, is to wear them. A pearl’s appearance improves with normal wear, because the body polishes the gems. Locked in a vault and never worn, the luminosity of a pearl’s nacre can diminish. With pearls, it’s best to follow the old adage: pearls are the last thing you put on, and the first thing you take off. This helps protect them from substances like perfume, lotions and hair styling products, all of which can damage pearls. To keep them clean, simply wipe gently with a soft, clean cloth.

Like pearls, turquoise is another gem that is easily damaged by foreign liquids. Turquoise is both soft and porous, which is great if you’re a gemstone producer and want to dye poorly-colored turquoise a prettier blue. For the jewelry owner, this porosity means that care must be taken to keep turquoise clean, so that it does not absorb liquids and oils – including natural body oils – which could change its color. Like pearls, put on turquoise last, and take it off first; wipe gently with a soft, clean cloth after wearing. This will help keep it looking good as new.

Turquoise Stabilized

These stabilized turquoise beads have been impregnated with a polymer material to improve their durability and help protect them from foreign substances. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

If you have a habit of removing your jewelry or watch and tossing them into your handbag, perhaps keep a small pouch or re-sealable plastic bag in your purse, into which you could more safely store your jewelry until you get home to your proper jewelry box. This will help prevent scratches, tangles, breakage, and a host of other hazards. Tangle-prone necklaces can be kept perfectly by simply leaving the clasp held just above the “zipper” part of the resealable bag.

Chain necklace

Delicate chains are particularly vulnerable to tangling — horrible, frustrating tangling — but there are multiple ways to prevent tangling. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

Chain storage

If you don’t have a way to store chain necklaces without them getting tangled in knots, store each necklace individually in a resealable plastic bag, and leave the clasp hanging outside the bag. This will prevent the necklace from getting knotted on itself or on other pieces of jewelry. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

So what do you do if your jewelry needs extra TLC? If it’s a piece you purchased from a jewelry store, they may be more than willing to provide you a complimentary basic cleaning with their specialized equipment, such as ultrasonic or steam cleaners, if those are appropriate for your particular piece. The jeweler will want your jewelry to look as good as possible, too, because it’s a great advertisement for them, and they want you to be happy and come back to buy more! If your setting is loose or broken, take the piece to the jewelry store where you purchased it for repair; you might be surprised at how many jewelry stores have their own craftspeople on staff and can handle the repair in-house. If that’s not possible, seek a trained custom jeweler or bench jeweler.

Besides heading to the jewelry store, there are things you can do yourself, but only if you know exactly what you’re dealing with. A gentle wipe with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth is safe for most jewelry, though even this could remove special patinas and finishes, especially on sterling silver, copper, brass and costume or art jewelry, so take care with those pieces. The dark bits you love on your silver jewelry? That’s patina from oxidation. If you like it and want it to stay, don’t rub it with a cloth or anything else!

I myself have been known to clean a diamond or sapphire ring with a good soak in water and dish detergent, and a gentle scrub with an extra-soft toothbrush.

Sapphire ring

A sapphire and diamond ring often has numerous options for cleaning, due to the nature, structure and durability of the gems. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

In both cases, however, we’re talking about stones that are hard and not easily scratched, nor were the stones treated with treatments that could be impacted by detergent or water, and I knew that for certain. You can be just as certain that there are plenty of experts who would cringe at the soak-and-brush “technique.” Why? For one reason, in some cases, detergent can ruin your stone. Emeralds are frequently treated with oils to improve their appearance. This is a technique dating back many centuries, and is considered an “accepted” treatment so long as it’s disclosed to the customer. But just as detergents are great at removing grease from dishes, they’re also really good at drawing out the oil from an emerald. You would likely have a very unpleasant surprise at the appearance of your oil-less emerald, though the good news is that emeralds can be re-oiled by qualified practitioners, so it would be possible to restore the emerald’s formerly treated appearance.

Emerald ring

Emeralds are frequently treated with substances like oil, resin or polymer to improve their visible clarity and overall appearance. These treatments require special care, especially during cleaning, and should be disclosed at the time of sale. image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

As with emeralds, there are numerous types of gems that have natural characteristics – or are treated – that could be negatively impacted by detergents, ultrasonic vibrations, the shock of steam, scrubbing brushes, or any number of other cleaning processes. So tread carefully, and seek professional guidance – a trained jewelry appraiser, gemologist, or gem lab – if you’re unsure about what you’re dealing with.

For jewelry that is strung or knotted, as pearl necklaces commonly are, the simplest way to fix a piece that’s gotten stretched, broken, frayed or dirty, is to have it restrung. As with other repairs, the first stop should be the shop or artist from whom you bought the piece. If that’s not possible, seek another jewelry store or a local bead shop, which might offer restringing and knotting, or could refer you to someone who does.

Pearl Necklace

Worn frequently, knotted necklaces, such as pearls, may need to be professionally restrung every year. The advantage of knots is that even if the cord wears through and breaks, you likely won’t lose many beads, as the remaining knots will hold them in place. Image copyright HUWBijoux, LLC.

If your gemstone has been scratched, chipped, broken, or is just plain ugly, all is not lost. Scratches can be eliminated through repolishing. Chips or breaks can be modified through re-cutting. Stones that are unattractive due to their proportions or inclusions might be able to be re-cut. There are limits, however to both repolishing and re-cutting, and both require expert analysis beforehand, as well as highly skilled artisans for the actual work. Gemstone treatments and the unique qualities of each stone will determine whether a repair can be done at all, and quite likely the stone will have to be removed from its setting for the analysis to happen. Don’t give up hope simply because a stone is scratched or chipped or unattractive!

I hope you’ve found this information helpful. Take care of your jewelry and you’ll have it in all its fabulousness for many, many years. So open your jewelry box! Take the family jewels out of the vault and put them on! Because, honestly, pretty jewels locked away and never enjoyed is just sad, sad, sad. If you don’t like a piece, give it to someone who will, or sell it, or melt it, or have it redone! But get it out and do something with it!

Bisous, HUWB

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