Going to a Gem and Jewelry show?
What are the pro's and cons of Natural Stones and Man-made Stones?
How you tell the difference?
Recently I went to a gem and jewelry show and not only was it fantastic, but it was overwhelming because there are so many choices and suppliers, that it became difficult to keep my head. Thankfully I know what I like to work with, but it was still sometimes hard to sift through it all and not get to excited to pay attention to budget and quality, even with my favorite stone specialist and good friend by my side.
Personally I am a huge fan of natural stones. But I do like a few specific man-made stones. There are so many options out there and for many it is hard to tell the difference. Plus there are wonderful reasons to use both, and fall backs to both as well. So I am hoping to give you a better understanding of these differences and options to help you decide what you want to look for before you go to a gem and jewelry show.
First though I wish you to understand that my definition of ma-made stones is referring to those made of plastic, not glass. Natural stones I am referring to here are not colored through dying, or heat.
Let's talk about some of the differences between natural stone and man-made stones. Natural stones will give you a wide variety of colors and character to each and every stone within the same type of stone, even front and back of each stone will have it's own design, this can be a good thing to some like myself, or it can be a true bothersome issue with others. If you love the look of a uniform piece of jewelry this may be very difficult to accomplish with natural stones and it can get costly to try to do so. However if you love that each piece is different and unique then this will not hinder you but inspire you. Some man-made stones do strive to look natural, in which case it is more factors that will make your decision in purchasing one over the other.
Natural stones can also be found objects, or can be purchased in a multitude of ways. They come raw and untouched right off the beach and they come cut, polished and drilled in a mind boggling selection from suppliers and lapidary specialist. Man-made stones come in a huge selection of shapes and cuts as well. They are not limited by restriction and can be shaped into anything imaginable much more easily for a much lower cost than a natural stones. Also the weight of a natural stone vs a man-made stone is going to make a difference in your designs. Natural stones usually weigh more than there counterparts, which can come in to play when using large or multiple pieces in a jewelry design.
Now how about color selections? Man-made stones come in a much larger selection of colors because they can be dyed to any color imaginable, so if you want a bright neon pink, then man-made is perfect. Natural stones can be dyed as well, so you will have to be very aware of this when looking. Dyed stones, whether natural or man-made can have issue, the finish can flake or scratch easily, it can look very inexpensive if not dyed well, and the color fade quite fast. Natural stones come in a large selection of colors and combinations, they are usually a more subtle pallet than man-made. This is not to say you can not find a bright colored stone in nature, it only means the majority of them come as the name implies, in natural tones. Color of a natural stone can also fade in the sunlight or with age just like man-made stones. The difference in fading is that it is generally more uniform and more subtle as it happens. It can also be avoided, or slowed, if the finished jewelry kept out of direct sunlight when not being worn.
Natural stones also come in a large variety of hardness of softness, so this must be taken into consideration when using them in your jewelry designs as well as when they are cut and shaped. Man-made stones do not have this issue, so you can use them in any way you wish and made into almost any shape imaginable. Natural stones will also have a variety of shapes and characteristics to there look because of it hardness, which to me makes it that much more unique. However you may prefer a man-made stone for this exact reason. Uniformity may be very important to you and your design, but man-made stones can also chip or break, just like some natural stones so keep this in mind as well.
The last difference between natural stones and man-made is simply price. Any stone that is natural will be more expensive to its man-made version. This may or may not be an issue for you. The difference may be so slight that it makes no difference at all, or it can be so huge that it becomes impossible to even consider the natural stone over the man-made. But as is said, you get what you pay for, a man-made version will surely be of lesser quality when the price is so different from a natural stone.
Now how can you tell the difference between them? There are a few things you can do to find out if they are not labeled. Begin with what you all ready know about the differences. Use your eyes and look for a whether or not the shape and color are very uniform. Does it have chips in the dyed finish or is the color very bold and bright or more subtle? Turn it over to see if it has natural waves or variations. Feel the weight of it in your hand, natural stones are heavier than man-made. Does it's surface feel super smooth or does it have dips and curves? Sometimes you can even smell, and taste(if you dare) the difference. A man-made stone will actually smell and taste like plastic as opposed the earthy scent and taste(sometimes salty) of a natural stone. Also the difference between it's heat can be a clue. Normally out of the heat of the sun, a natural stone will be much cooler to the touch than a man-made stone. Lastly the price may be a very big clue as to whether it is a natural stone or a man-made one. If it seems to inexpensive to be a real stone then it probably is a man-made one. There will also be some sellers that exclusively sell one or the other, ask around to other customers for who is reputable in there experience, or even go on-line before the show to do a little research into who will be at the show and what they carry.
I hope this helps you to understand your choices better. Many factors come in to a jewelers design, and sometimes they all get thrown out the window because, well, you just have to have that stone no matter what kind it is or what the price in the end. However next time I go, I will be better pre-paired to make informed decisions on my own. And my friend will still help me stay focused, on budget and share in the fun of all that bling. I also know that I will have a list of what I really need for my supply budget and another budget for what I just can't live without.
Happy shopping everyone!
Wire Gauge and What to use when.....
As you begin to learn about wire wrapping and jewelry component making, you will realize that often the sizes of these materials is measured as gauge. If you re anything like I was in the beginning this will be a "What the Mackerel does that mean?" moment.
Let me explain. Gauge is the measurement used to define the thickness of a wire. The Larger the number the smaller the thickness. For Example a size 12 gauge wire is quite thick and a size 26 gauge is very fine. Gauges are usually seen between 26(super fine) to about 16 (thick) in most local craft stores in the jewelry wire section. You can get wires in an even larger range at wholesale on-line craft stores such as Rio Grande and Fire Mountain Gems as well.
So what does this mean to the making process? Well it can depend on what type of metal you are using as well as what you want to do with it. What I mean is if the metal is soft you may need a thicker wire to do the same or similar job as what a harder metal can do with a thinner gauge. That is why, when you go looking for what gauge is for what situation, sometimes you find lists that show a range of gauges for the same jobs. But let's start with the basics.
According to one of my favorite inspiring how to books, The Earring Style Book by Stephanie A Wells the break down looks like this for size and use.
26(super fine)- Single and double wrapped loops, teardrop loop and wrap, wrapping single beads and attaching beads to frames.
24(very fine)- Eye pins and head pins, single and double wrapped loop, teardrop loop and wrap, wrapping single beads to frames.
22(Fine)- Eye pins and head pins, loops, teardrop loop and wrap, attaching beads to frames.
20(Medium)- Ear wires, jump rings, eye pins and head pins, connecting frame pieces.
18 -14 or larger(thick)- Frames
I used this guide often, when I was first learning the art of wire wrapping to decide where to begin on a project. However as my experience has grown I have found that softer metals will need to be at least one size thicker in gauge for the same results of strength. That being said it is only comfortable to go up to a size 19 gauge at the largest, for ear wires. Anything thicker can be heavy and cause irritation on the wearer. Another way to get around this is to gently hammer the ear wire, at the u-shape part, to strengthen it.
As you begin to work with wire, you will find your own comfort for different operations. I find that I do not like the very fine wires to work with because most of the wrapping I do involves ends that are never tucked under. When using the fine wire this in usually suggested because they are too soft to stay in place otherwise and will unravel during polishing(at least this has been my experience with dead soft metals, copper and aluminum) So for my designs I usually will not use a wire smaller than 19 gauge or 18 gauge for attaching beads to frames and wrapping stones. I also find that the finer gauges are too soft to hold as jump rings, unless tempered, or hammered, if the metal is dead soft. I also work with much larger sizes of aluminum because it is extremely soft and even gentle hammering can only harden it slightly.
Most of the wire I work with is either dead soft or soft, what this means is that it will shape much easier. I love the look of the hammering effect so I prefer it over the hard wire in most cases. I also believe that when you start learning it is a better choice so you can get your technique worked out before trying the harder metals. Copper is fairly inexpensive to work with and will give you a chance to experiment with your learning. I also suggest starting with just two sizes to begin, and from my point of view 20 gauge and 16 gauge is a great for many of your first projects.
I hope this helps to clarify the gauge matter and gets you to the wire isle soon. Have fun and see what works for you.
Feel Free to visit my Gallery/Shop to see examples of different jewelry pieces made with different gauges and metals.
My latest love affair may get me into trouble with my husband. But that is only because I am running out of places to put my jewelry supplies and I have been confiscating some of his tools from the man cave.
He did a plumbing and electrical home project recently and gave me the old pipe and the left over wire, so technically it is his fault I have a new addiction added to my current jewelry making obsession.
I had to clean the pipes quite a bit, with believe it or not sea salt and lemon juice. Worked terrific and the copper shines like crazy. Then I removed all the wire from the electrical plastic coating, well worth the effort. I got some 12 and 14 gauge wire in all different lengths.
After all the prep I began experimenting with all of it. After hand sawing the pipe into workable pieces, I hammered some completely flat and shaped it into a cuff bracelet and added some of the 12 gauge wire to it as an accent. I also wire wrapped a few pieces that I left round but shaped a bit into a pendant and necklace center piece. Then for the last couple of days I have been shaping and hammering the 12 and 14 gauge wire into earrings, rings and bracelets. It is so much fun and looks amazing!
I love the look of the shiny warm copper so I have been coating it with a product called Ever brite. It looks terrific and is easy to use. It keeps the color and I do it on the finished pieces to protect it. Of course if you like how copper gets a patina you can leave it alone.
I am totally hooked and will continue to hammer and shape it into all kinds of new things. I am very much enjoying my new found recycle adventure. You never know what will inspire you, so keep your eyes and mind open and look at that pile of junk in a different way.
May you find a new recycling obsession of your own.
I am a self taught jewelry designer and artist. I studied fashion design and come from a very creative family.
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