The other day a customer came in to get her ring sized. She was amazed and somewhat alarmed to learn that our bench jewelers would be cutting her ring with a saw blade in order to size it. Her beautiful ring–a piece of art–subjected to the saw! But jewelry is more than art and more than an expression of sentiment. It’s also a piece of engineering. It’s built with shanks and prongs, bails and bezels, and many other findings. It’s adjusted or repaired with the use of tools like saws, hammers, and torches. Using rings as our example, let’s explore the Anatomy of a piece of jewelry.
MOUNTING: This is the general name for the metal that holds the stone(s) in place and encircles your finger to keep the ring on your finger.
SHANK: This refers to just the curved part of the ring that goes around your finger. Shanks can have profiles(or cross-sections) that can be quite flat to very round. The width of the shank can also vary. And the shape of the shank, while usually circular, could be oval or even rectangular. A EURO-SHANK is curved on the sides but has a squared off bottom. There are adjustable shanks, too, which operate with hinges, allowing more room for a ring to slide over the knuckle.
SETTING: Sometimes a synonym for mounting, a setting probably refers more to how the stone(s) are held in place. Setting techniques include prong or shared prong set, bead set, tension set, channel set, bar set, flush set, bezel set, pave set, and invisible set.
PRONG: Tiny metal wires that suspend the stone, holding it in little “claws” (HEAD), so that light can enter the diamond from all sides.
BEZEL: A frame of precious metal that surrounds the stone, bezels can be thin like a wire or wide so that the side of stone is unseen.
FINISH: Whether the metal is shiny or more dull depends on the finish. You can have a polished finish, which is shiny or a matte finish, which is smooth but less shiny. Other finishes like satin, hammered, engraved or stone can give texture to the surface of the ring.
MILLGRAIN: This is a common embellishment on the shank of a ring. It’s a border of tiny beads that acts as a boundary or edging.
I could go on–there seems to be about ten- thousand terms that bench jewelers use. I learn a new one almost every day. Instead, let’s re-cap with a picture and save Anatomy 102 for another day. The important thing to glean from today is that jewelry is a designed and constructed piece of art. It’s engineered to be art that you can wear.
Engagement Ring with an Engraved Finish
What’s the difference between carats, karats, carrots, and carets? They all sound the same, but they have very unique meanings. And two of them, carats and karats, are commonly used words in the jewelry industry.
Used to describe the mass of a diamond and other gemstones, a carat is a measure of weight. One carat is equal to 0.2 grams or approximately 0.007 ounces. The name, carat, comes from ancient times when carob beans were used on a balancing scale to measure the weight of light objects like gemstones. A carob bean doesn’t weigh much but, more importantly, carob beans are very consistent in their weight and size. Each one weighs about 0.007 ounces (about the same weight as a paperclip). Another way to think about it is that it takes about 142 beans to make one ounce.
1 carob bean = 1 carat diamond
Historically, weighing light objects wasn’t done consistently. The carob bean was used throughout the Middle East and Europe. Grains of wheat or rice were used elsewhere. And the carat was used to weigh other things besides gemstones. There wasn’t a standard carat weight that was used in all countries. But in 1907, the 4th General Conference on Weights and Measures adopted the “metric carat”, equal to 0.2 grams or 200 mg, as the official and world-wide measurement for diamonds and gemstones.
The term, karat, is usually used to indicate the fineness of a gold alloy. It is a measure of purity. Twenty-four karat gold signifies 100% pure gold. So, using your knowledge of fractions, you can determine that 18 karat gold has 75% gold and 25% other metals. (You can also see my previous blog on metal alloys.). Fourteen karat gold has 58% gold and 42% other metals.
Interestingly enough, the measure, karat, came from the German carat. The Germans had a gold coin, called a “mark”, which weighed exactly 24 carats (4.8 grams). The purity of the gold in the coin was expressed as the number of carats of gold present in the 24-carat coin. Somehow, the letter was changed from “c” to “k” and the karat was born.
So, what about “caret” and “carrot?” Well, a caret is a wedge-shaped symbol indicating the place where something is to be inserted. And a carrot? Well, I’ll let Bugs Bunny explain that one.
Garnet and Diamond Pendant
Garnet and Diamond, Vintage Style Ring
Garnets have a lot to offer those of you born in January or with loved ones born this first month of the year.
1) Wide Selection of Colors
One important quality of a garnet is the wide selection of colors it comes in. Traditionally, the January birthstone has been a deep red color, almost brownish red. Not everyone likes that brownish hue, although Pantone has named “Marsala” as the 2015 color of the year. The term, garnet, however, refers to a whole group of minerals with many species and varieties. If you like a softer red with a purplish hue, try a Rhodolite garnet. If you want a bright spring green, go for a Tsavorite (sah-vuh-rahyt) garnet. And, if orange is your color, there’s always a Spessertine (sometimes called Mandarin) garnet.
Another great aspect of garnets is their affordability. Compared to other birthstones, like April’s diamond, May’s emerald, July’s ruby, or September’s sapphire, garnets are an absolute bargain! Why is this so? Well, it’s partly because there is an adequate supply that meets demand. Garnets are mined in many places including Sri Lanka, Madagascar, East Africa, India, China, Australia, Brazil and the U.S. I also think garnets suffer from a lingering bad reputation they acquired from their common use in Victorian times. The Bohemian jewelry that was so popular then looks dark and dated to us now. Over a century later, the deep red garnets are less expensive than other colors of the group.
3) Not Enhanced
Finally, for those of you who are concerned about the enhancements done on many fine gemstones–whether it’s heat treatment to improve color or fracture filling to improve clarity–rest assured that garnets come to the market without such common enhancements. Their color, high refraction, and lack of eye-visible inclusions are all natural.
If you think of gemstones as kids in the classroom, Garnet is the easy-going, good-looking one who never asks for special treatment. Why wouldn’t you want to make friends with a garnet? Above are some of the pieces we have in stock at Dearborn Jewelers. If you’re interested in a green, orange, or any other color of garnet, just let us know and we can order it for you.
Pantone Institute Introducing Color of the Year–Marsala
Chemistry or Cooking?
Remember Chemistry class and the periodic table of the elements? Science wasn’t my favorite subject, but, as an adult, I’ve grown to love gemstones, and they’re usually set in metals found on the periodic table. Gold (Au), silver (Ag), and platinum (Pt) are the primary metals used in fine jewelry. You’ll see titanium (Ti) and tungsten (W) used for men’s wedding bands, and rhodium (Rh) often plates white gold and silver jewelry.
Much has been written about the pros and cons of each metal. If you are in the market for engagement and/or wedding rings. I would encourage you to ask questions and even do your own research on which metal(s) is right for you. The knowledgeable staff here at Dearborn Jewelers is happy to answer your questions, and we often share our favorite metals chart with customers.
But jewelry uses alloys (a mixture of two or more metals) rather than pure gold, silver, or platinum. Gold, which needs other metals to provide hardness, reduce malleability, and add color, often has a complicated recipe that includes combinations of nickel (Ni), palladium (Pd), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), silver (Ag) and, possibly tin (Sn) or manganese (Mn). Sounds like cooking, doesn’t it? Much more fun than chemistry.
What’s interesting is that there isn’t a set recipe for making, for example, 18 karat white gold. The only major requirement is that 18 of the 24 parts, or 75% of the alloy, be gold. What about the other 25%? Any good cook would say that’s way too high of a percentage to be ambiguous about. For one thing, not all the potential ingredients are equal. Approximately 1 in 10 women are allergic to nickel. Some women are allergic to copper. Palladium, being another metal in the platinum family, is a rare, white, hypoallergenic metal, making it a good substitute for the white nickel. But it’s much more expensive than either nickel or copper. Nickel and copper sell for a few dollars per pound, while palladium sells for hundreds of dollars per ounce!
Another interesting fact about white gold is that much of it is rhodium-plated. While the plating makes the jewelry whiter and shinier, and it provides some protection from an adverse nickel reaction, this plating will wear off of rings worn regularly. It needs to be re-applied every year or two. If you want to know exactly what’s in your white gold ring, what’s underneath the rhodium “frosting”, you’ll have to ask. I saw recipes that range from 75% gold, 20% palladium, and 5% silver to 75% gold, 10% copper, 8% nickel, 4.5% zinc, and 2.5% silver.
While I’ve used 18 karat white gold to make my point, this variation does exist in the making of other alloys as well. At the same time, platinum alloy is 90 to 95% platinum and sterling silver is 92.5% silver. So there’s not as much variation. In the end, choosing the metal that’s right for your engagement or wedding ring depends, in part, on the recipe.
After thirty years of marriage, my husband knows me, my love of gems, and my path towards the
jewelry industry. He actually likes jewelry, too, and, over the years, has bought me some
beautiful pieces. But he said to me, months ago, “I really can’t surprise you with jewelry
anymore. It doesn’t make sense when you’re the one with the knowledge and
Instead we did something I’d highly recommend to any couple. . .we designed our
anniversary ring together, following a few basic steps.
We pulled out the post-it notes and some wine and brainstormed about what our marriage meant to us.
Big things and little things. . .no answer was refused. . .until our brains felt empty of ideas.
We organized our multitude of post-it notes into broad categories, trying to see the bigger picture of what
our marriage meant. The goal was to consolidate to one or two broad themes.
Taking our themes as inspiration, we began to design our ring. What design elements
would best portray those themes? We drew. . .not very well, mind you. . .on our post-its
instead of writing on them. But, after several iterations, a ring began to take shape.
4) COMPUTER MODELING
Then I took that sketch to Dearborn Jewelers. With their Computer-Aided Design
(CAD) program, Countersketch, they can help you make your drawing into an actual
model that can then be cast and finished into a ring you can wear. . . .well, for at least the
next 30 years. Every time I look at that ring, I see the symbol of our life together.