Tag Archive | gems

Through the Loupe with….Grant McSweeny

We’re really delighted to be able to bring you an interview with the brilliant and down to earth Grant McSweeny who very kindly spoke with us last year, and what with one thing or another it’s taken a while to get caught up and blogging again!

Grant is a gem setter and also makes his own jewellery, he comes from a family of gem setters so has a very good pedigree!

Tell us a bit about what you do and how you work

It all started in about 1985/86 my dad and uncle were both diamond setters and it just seemed like the natural thing to do.  Even before I left school I was always up in the workshop and would watch him work so when I left school I did a 5 year apprenticeship with my dad and that was how I found myself where I am today.  

[wow FIVE years!!!]

I started off with mundane tasks such as running errands to polishers and dealers.  I learned how to carry jewellery and gems and only then did I get to start practicing cutting, filing and using the tools.  I started out working with 9ct gold and then once I gained skills and confidence I moved onto more valuable metals.

Are there different processes depending on what you’re working with?

For some pieces it does make a difference what you’re working with, for example you would only set emeralds into softer metals, preferably yellow gold because it’s softer than white gold, because they are fragile and you try and reduce the risk of breaking the gemstone by working with the metal that will work better with the characteristics of any particular stone.  Similarly certain types of setting are better for certain stones.

[I had no idea there was any difference between yellow and white gold except for the colour!]

 

How involved do you get with the design process?

It varies, some people want an engagement ring and have no idea what they are looking for – I take them through books and put together a drawing of what I think they are after.  I also tend to send them away to look through jewellers windows so that they can get an idea of what sort of styles, shapes or colours they like.  Once they have an idea in their mind of what they like it makes it easier for me to incorporate that look into a design.

 

Unless the person has a gem they want setting I would then usually source the stones and show them to the customer before they’re set into jewellery because I think it’s more personal and you get to see what they really look like before they get set.

Do you have a favourite gemstone?

It would have to be diamond because of their natural beauty; I’ve seen some beautiful coloured stones but I just think diamonds are lovely whatever size they come in, but I had a 2.5 ct diamond recently and it was great to see because of it’s size.  I really like the fact that they’re just carbon and have been underground for years and years, then they get pulled out as a rough and suddenly after polishing you have a beautiful stone in front of you, and they look so amazing sat on someone’s finger.

I like lots of different cuts too, but my favourites are princess cut and trilliant, because you get so much light coming through them.  My favourite type of setting is a nice and simple calibre for princess cuts and squares because I like the look of it when it’s finished, you have to take your time and get it all level so that the light hits each stone as you turn it, it’s really satisfying when it’s finished.

Are there any gems you don’t like to work with?

Emeralds and fire opals are so fragile that they would probably did my least favourites!  You get taught not to break them and how to treat them but they can be difficult to work with and you have to explain to the owner the risks of working with them, fortunately it doesn’t tend to go wrong!  Tanzanite also marks very easily, so you do have to be more careful with them.

What’s your favourite piece of jewellery you ever made?

When I was working with my dad I did a suite of jewellery in emerald and diamond with tapered baguette cut and princess cut stones.  It was very art deco and the value at the time was around a quarter of a million pounds.  The centre emerald on the necklace was almost 8ct and that alone cost around £90,000!

[I am so jealous, that sounds like my idea of heaven]

It’s not just the joy of making great jewellery though I get real pleasure from seeing the person picking it up and seeing the finished item.  I made an engagement ring for a friend of a friend and when they saw it they said “wow” and when you have comments such as it looking nicer than the customer expected or once a customer burst into tears you just know they’re walking out of the door happy and that’s a great feeling.

 

Is it a long process to set a gem?

The large emerald and diamond suite I mentioned earlier took about 3 weeks, but that wasn’t working on it every day.  A straightforward six claw single stone can take as little as 10 minutes, but a pave set will take longer and depends upon the size of the stones.

In terms of time it does depend on the setting and the type of stone, so something more fragile or fiddly will take longer so they all have their own timescale really.  The process is very traditional, my workshop hasn’t changed much over the past 50 or so years and this sometime surprises people when they come to look.  I have some modern technology such as microscopes but the majority of handheld tools haven’t really changed.

How difficult was it to set up in business and do you have any tips?

I started out working with my dad which was helpful for my apprenticeship, but after that I moved out into my own business, my dad is still in the trade but does less setting now.  It is hard when you start, there are quite a few setters and getting your foot in the door with customers is hard because people have tried and tested setters that they work with and don’t want to risk giving their work to another person.  You have to keep trying to show them what you are capable of and persevere, it’s a lot of hard work and I think you just have to keep going…even up to the point where you start to irritate people so that they give you a chance!

Do you wear jewellery?

I do have a wedding ring and a bangle, I’ve noticed that more men now do go out and treat themselves, even down to cufflinks.

 

You can find out more about Grant’s work at his website http://www.mcsweeneyjewels.co.uk/our-work.php

 

If you would like to be featured on our regular “Through the Loupe” pieces do get in touch with us: adventuresthroughtheloupe@outlook.com,

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The colour of love?

As it’s July we thought we should do a quick shout out for July’s birthstone today (particularly as one of us is a July baby!)

Ruby spray

Ruby is a gem quality variety of corundum, and is essentially a red variety of sapphire.  Fine rubies are actually rare as they are formed when a soft limestone rock was put under extreme heat and pressure within the Earth’s crust, but more than that the limestone then had to come into contact with just the right elements, including chromium, which makes them relatively rare.

Due to the way they are formed all natural rubies have imperfections which include colour differences or markings, and silk, although this silk is an imperfection it is important to enable natural rubies to be distinguished from synthetic rubies.

Rubies reach 9 on the Mohs scale, which

The majority of us will identify a ruby simply because it’s red, but there’s actually more to this gem’s colour than simply one word.  As they are part of the sapphire family different countries take a different approach to colour identification, for example in the United States a minimum colour saturation must be met before a “ruby” becomes a ruby rather than a pink sapphire.  The ICA takes a more liberal approach, but it’s something you should certainly turn your mind to the issue of colour.

DSCN0366

 True or false?

Synthetic rubies are relatively common and were first created in 1937, by 1910 the annual production of synthetic rubies had reached 1000kg.  The fewer imperfections in a ruby the more likely it is to be treated with suspicion and identified as synthetic.  In addition to its use in gemstone jewellery synthetic ruby has use in industry as they can be used to make lasers or other production where it’s hard nature is useful.

What is interesting is that in addition to having to detect synthetic rubies, a number of imitation rubies are often found in the form of glass, or the genuine gemstones such as garnet and spinel.  The confusion between ruby and other gems has been a long standing issue, sometimes not helped by the use of some trade names such as rubellite, but one of the most famous examples of this confusion can even be found in the Crown Jewels!  A stunningly large spinel can be found on the Imperial State Crown, known as the Black Prince’s Ruby.

Myth & Legend

Back in time, as with many precious stones, people used to believe that ruby had powers to preserve the health of the wearer.  Particularly ruby was seen to help the wearer by changing colour when danger was close at hand, protect from poison and plague and even make the wearer invulnerable to steel weapons.  Ruby is absolutely surrounded by acres of legend, particularly stemming from the reverence it was given in South East Asia. and it’s definitely worth a read as some of the stories are interesting.  Star rubies were even more highly prized, it was believed that the star was formed by three benign spirits which had been imprisoned in the stone for a misdemeanour, the spirits represent faith, hope and destiny and it is thought that this type of stone can bring good fortune to the wearer.

Treatments

Due to their nature and the naturally occurring imperfections the overwhelming majority of rubies are treated before coming to the jewellery market.  The most common treatment is heating, but other treatments include colour alteration, fracture filling or dissolving silk defects within the ruby.  Heating can improve both the colour and silk within the ruby.  Fracture filling does what it says on the tin, essentially using lead glass (or similar translucent) to fill the cracks within the ruby, which improves the translucency.

Unlike with some gems the treatment can be observed through a 10x loupe, and the majority of treatments are acceptable due to the nature of natural ruby.

Ruby pendant

If you do manage to find a natural, high quality, untreated ruby then snap it up as they are extremely rare!  However you should be warned that you will need deep pockets (far beyond our own means sadly) to keep hold of it!

 

Am I a Jewellery Maker?!

When we saw this opportunity we just couldn’t say no – Jewellery Maker are offering bloggers the opportunity to win a strand of gemstones by writing a post about our top 5 choices from the site under the hashtag #blog2win.

This is rather appropriate for us, as one of us has a small addiction to the Genuine Gemstone Company Ltd, the umbrella company who run Jewellery Maker and sister channel Gems TV, and a burning but unfulfilled desire to create her own pieces of jewellery (I’m not telling you which one of us it is….)  Having only recently discovered Jewellery Maker it was a good opportunity to explore the website, so here are my top 5 Jewellery Maker gemstone strands:

  1. 65 carats of Smokey Quartz graduated drops – anyone who knows me will know why I’ve picked this!  Aside from being one of my favourite gemstones (I have a fabulous smokey quartz ring which is one of my most prized possessions) the graduated sizes of this strand mean that it would make a very straightforward yet striking necklace.  I would probably team this with a brightly coloured wire such as this purple coloured copper wire – although I can’t tell from the website what thickness would be best for these drops…a quick call to the freephone number should resolve that though!
  2. 140 carats of multi-colour fluorite diamonds – I love the unusual shape of these and the mix of colour.  I feel I should probably pick something more expensive as this is a particularly cheap strand!  But I just couldn’t skip over this strand, I am a great one for crochet and I have been aiming to start my creative journey with some jewelled cuffs and these would be the perfect thing.
  3. 480 carats of red jasper puffy coins – these look amazingly tactile, I can imagine lots of them on a layered statement necklace (although I fear they would end up spending far too much time in my son’s mouth) or think what great earrings they would make.  I can imagine them really standing out against even the chunkiest of winter clothes.
  4. 140 carats of labradorite graduated plain drops – labradorite is such an amazing gem and often overlooked so I couldn’t resist these huge pieces.  The labradorescence given off by this gem means it looks fabulous in pretty much every light and is sure to attract attention.  I also think this strand is great value – you could get several pieces of jewellery from one strand.
  5. 75 carats of amethyst graduated plain marquise – I am a huge fan of amethyst and chose this particular strand to highlight the unusual cuts available.  It’s not a cut I would usually go for, so it’s a bit of a risk, but I think these would make amazing earrings.  If you, like me, enjoy amethyst do check out the cabochons and puffy coins which look good enough to eat.

Well, there you go, my top 5.  I wish it had been top 10 because I didn’t get to tell you about the larimar pearls, green aventurine, real blue sapphire, slabs of chalcedony and ruby nuggets to name but a few (moonstone, agate, turquoise coins, sunstone rondels and crackle quartz to name a few more…Jewellery Maker, you may have created a monster!)

I promise if I do #blog2win I will do a blog about creating my first piece of jewellery…although I may have to enlist the help of my favourite co-blogger/jeweller/gemologist!