Staff pick: modern Tutti Frutti

Confection2This joyful confection of different jewels is one of our goldsmith Karen’s staff favorites. We made this ring as a custom piece for a client who was given a collection of jewelry by her mother and wanted to fit them all  into a cluster ring, along with a bunch of small diamonds. Janet developed drawings of the design with the owner, and Karen built it. This is one of her favorite pieces because it was difficult and interesting to create a three-dimensional ring from the paper-and-pencil sketches of the design. “There were all these different sizes and shapes,” she said. “To make that come together so it didn’t look corny was really a challenge.”

clay1Janet came up with the first design by embedding the different pieces in clay, but even so she and Karen had to make small changes as they went along. “There were a lot of loose ingredients and a lot of fitting, and you didn’t know how the next piece would one together with the first one,” Karen said. “I really enjoyed the technical challenge, and the result was really pleasing.”

This style is reminiscent of designs that were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, where bright colors and patterns were combined in patterns inspired by traditional Indian jewelry. Confection1


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Building a custom necklace

Artists' sketch of the necklace design

Artists’ sketch of the necklace design

It is always a joy to design a custom piece for our clients here at Alix & Company. Behind the scenes in the workshop section of our store our designer and goldsmiths are constantly collaborating to bring people’s dream jewelry into reality. This post features a delightful necklace we recently built for a man who wanted to celebrate a special birthday for his wife in a special way.Necklace_Construction-1

For every custom piece, first we start with a detailed conversation with the client about the piece they envision. Then we add our expertise about materials, strength, structure, and cost to come up with an appealing design that will suit the lifestyle of the person who wears it (is she an active sports player or gardener who rarely takes her jewelry off? Would she prefer something delicate or elaborate to be saved for special occasions?).Necklace_Construction-2

In this case, the husband wanted to surprise her with a lush necklace that would match a ruby and yellow sapphire ring that they bought from us many years ago. Our designer scoured the available stones and developed a pattern with a repeating design of inset rubies alternating with bright orange and yellow jelly opals accenting the big drop which is a hessonite garnet.Necklace_Construction-4

Once we’ve perfected the design, then our goldsmiths get to work building it–conferring regularly with the designer. It’s a time-consuming process–everything down to the links on the chain shown below were hand-made by our goldsmith Maya.

The finished piece

The finished necklace we call “Summer Sunrise”

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Staff pick: the bees knees


Nothing says summer like a bee-utiful honeybee! This is Jacoba’s staff pick of the week. She loves the elegant yet accurate detailing of the insect inlay, which is accented by a subtle yet striking setting of silver and 22 carat gold. It’s modern yet retro, outdoorsy yet urban–all at the same time. With a long chain it is perfect for showcasing against a high-topped blouse.

Our designer Janet Alix found the striking bee inlay at this year’s Tucson Gem Fair; she came back to her studio and designed the setting in an  art-deco-influenced style. We love the result!photo

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Know your diamonds, part II: is it real?


Natural diamond

In our last post, we talked about getting to know the ways in which your diamonds are unique. But if you’re a lover of this stone, you also should know how to tell whether a diamond is real.  Of course, no homespun test is guaranteed–coming in to our store and having our skilled appraiser evaluate your stone is the best way to know if it is real, and what it is worth! But here are some tips that can help you get an idea of whether the sparkler you have your eye on is genuine or not.

1. Diamonds conduct heat really fast–much faster than a synthetic stone does. This means they heat up and cool down quickly. You can use this factoid in a few different ways. The first is just to hold the stone in your hand for a few seconds, until it feels warm. Then, using tweezers, pick it up and touch it to your lip; it should feel skin-temperature. Then set it down, wait 10 seconds or so, and try again (still using tweezers). You have a synthetic if it still feels warm, neutral, or anything other than distinctly COLD; a natural diamond  would already have lost any heat.

You can also do a similar test by breathing on the stone. Hold it up in front of your mouth and exhale on it as if you were cleaning a pair of glasses. If the surface of the stone fogs up and stays fogged for a few seconds (2-4) then it is a synthetic. The surface of a natural diamond will have cleared up by the time you look at it! If you can, repeat this test on the bottom of the stone since sometimes a synthetic will be made with a real diamond surface.

Center stone is lannite (synthetic diamond)

Center stone is lannite (synthetic diamond)

2. If your stone isn’t in a setting, you can just try to read through it. Set it flat-side-down on a piece of newspaper; if you can clearly see the print through it, then you have a synthetic. Note that this only works with deep-cut stones, since a natural diamond that is shallow will also be transparent enough to read through.

3. In a similar test to the one above, place a loose stone over a thin line on a piece of paper. If the line appears to be immediately beneath the stone (i.e, where it really should be) then you have a synthetic. But if the line can’t be seen at all, or if it appears to bend, then you have a real diamond.

4. Take a close look at the structure of the stone using a magnifying lens. The edges of the facets on a natural diamond will come together in a very thin line; in  a synthetic, they will look rounded or glassy. Also, a real diamond is likely to have small, natural flaws called inclusions; these are almost impossible to include in a synthetic. If the surface of the stone is scratched, odds are that you have a fake (though there is a slim chance it is an old and battered real diamond). And of course, if your stone is set, check for stamps in the metal–a C.Z. stamp indicates it is a cubic zirconia.

5. If you have an ultraviolet bulb handy, look at the stone under that light. A synthetic will almost never glow blue under the UV light, whereas many diamonds will. The catch is that the best quality diamonds also won’t glow blue. So if your stone doesn’t fluoresce then you know you either have a fake, or a natural diamond of excellent quality–one or the other!

6. Cubic zirconia, a common synthetic, will nearly disappear if you submerge it in water, whereas a natural diamond remains clearly visible (this test doesn’t work with other kinds of synthetic diamonds though).

7. Moissonite, another common synthetic diamond, is extremely sparkly in sunlight, but fairly dull when indoors under incandescent light.

8. DO NOT test your stone by scratching glass with it! A real diamond will indeed scratch a window pane–but so will some synthetics, so it’s not conclusive. But more importantly, glass can abrade the surface of the stone, dimming the sparkle of even a real diamond–and it’s even more likely to damage a synthetic, which is valuable in its own right.


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Get to know your diamonds

A woman came into the store recently with a beautiful diamond that she had inherited. It was an example of one of our favorite moments here at Alix & Company as we talked with her about different things that she could do with the stone that suits her personality and lifestyle. We got to hear a little bit about her family, and watch her face light up as she looked through the magnifying loupe and saw the dancing, glittering sparkles of her diamond up close for the first time.

cert copy

Sample diamond cert

Diamonds truly are a special stone, both for their hardness and their incredible shine. Their rich history and cultural significance only add to their value. But one thing that most people don’t know is that every diamond is unique. Because they are natural crystals, they very often will have tiny markings, or inclusions, embedded deep within the body of the stone, which go by names such as feather, crystal, cloud, and pinpoint.

It can be fun and rewarding to take the time to get to know the special marks within your own diamond–which will let you identify it whether it is in or out of its setting. If your diamond comes with a certification document those inclusions will be mapped and described for you, but most stores (including ours) will have a microscope on hand so you can take a look for yourself!

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Gem carving: a timeless skill

There are many ways to transform a gem from raw stone into a finished piece of art. Here’s a great video made by the Getty Museum describing how gems can be carved into shapes or engraved with images.

Though modern craftspeople use electric tools, the basic process remains unchanged from ancient times. What can–and can’t–be done is usually limited by the properties of the type of stone you are working with; moonstone and turquoise are soft but not brittle which makes them excellent candidates for carving. Of course, the properties of the individual piece you are working with also matters–its size, shape, and structural integrity all dictate the final form.

The photos shown below are examples of pieces designed by Alix & Company that incorporate carved stone. The two turquoise stones were both carved by Charles Kelly.

Sleeping salamander carved in turquoise

Sleeping salamander carved in turquoise

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The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival

We’ll be pouring wine and open until 8pm on Friday October 5th in honor of another year of awesome programming at the Mill Valley Film Festival.


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Musical jewelry?

What if you your MP3 player looked like a pretty, matched set of earrings with a matching bracelet? Well that is just what showed up in this blog post from Fashion Indie. We aren’t sure if the product exists or not, but we predict that it will some time soon!

Photo from Fashion Indie

MP3 jewelry photo from Fashion Indie

Alix & Company did a little research to try to find out if something like this is already on the market – but we came up empty-handed. There was no information on the designer (Lee-Won Jun) or on how the product actually would work. We assume it would have to be bluetooth or some other wireless technology, so who knows how good it would be for your health, but meanwhile we’re taking bets on how long it will be before someone you know has a pair!

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We love our men

Actually, we love all our customers. But the men who come into our store are usually choosing – or designing – jewelry for the women in their lives, whether they are mothers, daughters, girlfriends or wives. We are consistently impressed with their thoughtfulness and consideration as they work to match up woman, gift and occasion. And of course we love the guys who sport their own bling as well. Hip, hip hooray for you gems of masculinity!

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Filed under About the store, Community, Custom design, News & views, Romantic

To take flight

Here is an amazing intersection between art and decoration, concept and design. Dukno Yoon is an artist and designer of “kinetic jewelry.” His finger wings are what first caught our eye – these mechanistically elegant designs would be difficult to wear to a cocktail party but are stunning to behold. Lightweight scaffolding of stainless steel, sterling silver and bird feathers is built so the winglike feathers flap up and down as the wearer flexes his finger. Go to Yoon’s website to see some videos of the wings in action – they are really something else.

“Although the recent series, segmented wings have been focused on the formal challenge to engineer an intricate movement that simulates bird wings, these works are intended to be a series of poems in which I develop my own formal language, interpret the nature of wings, create various structural forms with movements, and share the metaphor, imagination, humor, with viewer/wearer,” Yoon writes on his website. In addition to the wings, Yoon also creates “measure rings” which look like nothing more than a sculptural stack of tiny gears – but in fact, when the wearer rolls the ring along a surface, the length is recorded and displayed by the ring in a purely mecanical (non digital) form. Beautiful, complicated, and very, very cool.

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