Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Colored Gemstone Beads

Do you use colored gemstone beads in your jewelry? Have you ever wondered what the gemstone bead ratings actually mean? Do you know the difference between an A graded gemstone bead and one with a B or C rating? Why are some beads classed as AAA or A+?

Look no further! Over the last four weeks we have been discussing the criteria on which fine high-end colored gemstones are assessed, and this week we turn our attention to beads and explore the characteristics of the different grades of colored gemstone beads.

Beads From left: B Grade Natural Peridot, C Grade Dyed & Heated Carnelian, A Grade Natural Lapis Lazuli

The first thing to say is that - as with cut colored gemstones - there is no universally acknowledged system for grading colored gemstone beads. Occasionally suppliers will use the same systems as for assessing the cut stones (see last week's article). However most use a scale of grades from A to C, where an A rated bead is the highest quality, and C is lowest.

Some suppliers such as The Curious Gem will generally only sell high quality A rated gemstone beads, so they use codes like AA and AAA to indicate relative quality within a grade. Other suppliers may use + or - to describe the relative superiority of beads within a particular grade. Yet other suppliers, such as Fire Mountain Gems, allocate grades from A through F to their colored gemstone beads, although E and F are rarely used.

Beads From left: C Grade Heated Citrine, B Grade Natural Aventurine, B Grade Heated Tanzanite


Because of the varying standards it can be really difficult to compare like with like, but as always price is a very good indicator of quality. When comparing bead prices between suppliers, the most important things to look for are the same as with cut colored gemstones - Three Cs - that is the color, the clarity and the cut of the beads.

Don't forget that the rarity of the gemstones themselves, and the skill of the cutter, both play a significant role in determining the price. High quality, expertly cut beads with good color and clarity are much more desirable - and will always be more expensive - than lower quality beads. All things being equal, carat weight will play a part in the price, so larger beads with the same rating will cost more than smaller ones.

Beads From left: A Grade Enhanced TurquoiseA Grade Natural MalachiteB Grade Heated Yellow Sapphire

Of course, there is a world of difference between the one-off, painstakingly hand-cut specimen gemstones we looked at last week, and the plethora of strands of colored gemstone beads we're talking about here. But then, there is a huge difference in price too! Jewelry designers will want to bear in mind that it's extremely unusual for the very best quality gemstones to be cut into beads, because they can fetch much higher prices as faceted gems destined for setting in fine jewelry. Yet while A graded colored gemstone beads may not be the same fabulous quality as priceless cut gemstones, they can still look gorgeous in your designs!

Machine Cut versus Hand Cut?

Machine cut gemstone beads will have more precise and uniform facets, and should be well polished and well drilled. Because of this they will be more sparkly and brilliant, and their color will appear to be better. By contrast, many gemstone beads are hand cut, with far fewer facets, and by their very nature they will not be absolutely uniform in shape and size. Their color is unlikely to be as radiant as machine cut beads, and they will not display as much brilliance. Similarly, the size and position of drill holes may vary.

Beads From left: B Grade Heated Sapphire, B Grade Oiled Emerald, C Grade Dyed Ruby

The following is a very general guideline to the grades applied to colored gemstone beads:

A Grade

A is usually the highest grade, given to high quality beads that are suitable for use in a wide range of very good quality jewelry designs. Depending on the gemstone, light inclusions may be present, but generally speaking a strand of A rated gemstone beads should display very good color and clarity, be very well cut and evenly drilled, and be uniform in color, shape and size. If you see an AA or A+ grade, this may mean that the color, clarity or cut is even better than usual, while AAA graded colored gemstone beads should be eye clean and as close to perfect as you can get.

B Grade

B rated gemstone beads should still be of good quality, and suitable for use in many jewelry designs, especially stringing applications. However, their color, clarity and cut will not be as good as A rated beads, and their lower price will reflect this. All the beads in a strand are likely to vary from one another in color, shape and size, and internal and external flaws will be visible. It is advisable to factor in a certain amount of wastage, as you may find the quality is such that you cannot use all of the beads, or they make break or ship when you attempt to string them.

C to F Grades

These are the lowest rating colored gemstone beads, and because they are much less desirable than the higher grades they will have the lowest price tag. They will have very obvious flaws, inclusions and surface imperfections, and are likely to be very variable in shape and size. Beads in this category will probably be poorly drilled, or drilled off center, and may be brittle. But depending on what you want to use them for, they may still be a good value purchase - just check the beads very carefully before buying and make sure that they are suitable for your intended jewelry project.

Beads From left: B Grade Irradiated Blue Topaz, A Grade Natural Labradorite, A Grade Natural Fluorite


It is important to choose your supplier carefully, and only buy from reputable and, ideally, qualified sources. Beware of internet sellers who describing their gemstone beads as AAA, AAA+, or AAAA as their claims may be subjective and not based on genuine assessment, and certificated gemstone dealers do not as a rule apply grades in this way. If in doubt, before reaching for your wallet, ask the supplier to show you their GIA (or equivalent) certificate of assessment for the beads.

Real or Fake?

If you're buying on the internet, don't be fooled into thinking you are getting a bargain, when you may be being ripped off! There are minimum manufacturing costs associated with the production of all gemstones, and you really do get what you pay for. And beware of fakes: in a random search on Etsy I spotted a strand of "AA grade" aquamarine beads on sale for $10. Think about the Three Cs for a moment - unless someone has made a typo, genuine AA quality natural aquamarines are going to be much more expensive than $10 a strand! Having said that, those $10 beads may be exactly what you're looking for - just don't expect them to be top quality gemstones.

Beads From left: B Grade Oiled Emerald, B Grade Natural Tourmaline, C Grade Heated Aquamarine

Gemstone or Glass?

I quite often see glass beads being misleadingly sold as gemstones, especially quartz. It is difficult to tell the two apart without a microscope, but genuine quartz has a very distinctive crystalline structure which is not present in glass. If you have a loupe, check to see if there are any perfectly round air bubbles. If so, it's glass not quartz. Also, a genuine quartz bead is harder than glass and will scratch glass easily. I was once advised to wear an old watch when buying gemstones, so you can run the quartz gently over the glass watch face. If it leaves a scratch mark, the bead is quartz. If not, it's glass. However, I wouldn't recommend doing this without the consent of the supplier - you might end up with more than a scratched watch face!!!!!

Finally, remember that if the price of a gemstone bead seems to good to be true, then it probably is!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


I don't know why, but dots just make me happy. I don't wear dots, and don't have any dots in my house decor - at least I don't think so! But when I see dots I just smile! Here are some lovely, handmade designs I found on Etsy that might make you smile too :)

Dots and Dogs

Dots for You

More Dots

Susan of cserpent

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Kitchen - Chocolate Cake

Welcome to another Wednesday Kitchen, featuring favourite recipes from members of the JET Team! Today our team member Jennifer, of WearableByDesign, takes a break from creating amazing jewelry to share an amazing cake recipe with us!

This is a low carb, gluten free recipe for chocolate cake... a seriously delicious, dense and chocolatey cake that will satisfy any dieter's cravings!

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Almond Flour
  • ⅔ Cup Dark Cocoa
  • ⅓ Cup Coconut Flour
  • ⅓ Cup Unflavored Whey Protein Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Baking Powder
  • ½ Tsp Salt
  • ½ Cup Butter, Softened
  • ¾ Cup Swerve Sweetener
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 10 Pkts Splenda
  • 1 Shot Espresso plus Heavy Cream to make 3/4 Cup

Frosting Ingredients

  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese Softened
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • 1 Cup Powdered Swerve Sweetener
  • ⅔ Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 8 Pkts Splenda
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla

To Make

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Combine your dry ingredients into a bowl

  3. Cream your butter and sweetener

  4. Add eggs

  5. Mix half the dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture, then add the espresso mixed with cream

  6. Stir in remaining dry ingredients

  7. Spread evenly into a prepared 8 x 8 inch square baking dish

  8. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out dry when inserted into the center of the cake
  9. Cream together the cream cheese and the butter

  10. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth

  11. Frost the cooled cake

  12. Enjoy!!

Jennifer of WearableByDesign

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Assessing Colored Gemstones, Part 4 - Cut

In this final part of our JET Team discussion about assessing fine colored gemstones, we look at the importance of cut in grading the stones. All gemstone images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Cut refers to the manner in which a stone has been cut - such as emerald-cut, step-cut, brilliant-cut - rather than to its overall shape. The skill of the cutter is demonstrated by the quality of cut, which can have a big impact on the overall color. Thus the way a stone is cut not only determines the final beauty and brilliance of that gemstone, it also affects its grade and value.

From left: Very good oval pink spinel, 5.97ct
Very good enhanced octagonal emerald, 4ct
Good oval blue zircon, 6.32ct

The most important factors here are the proportions and symmetry of the cut, and the way a stone has been polished. The cut should be neither too shallow nor too deep, and there should be a sharp and well-defined difference between the top part, or crown, of the gemstone and the lower part, or pavillion. For the highest grade the facets should be expertly cut and well-proportioned, and should be polished so that the finished gemstone reflects and transmits light evenly, giving it a bright and glittery brilliance.

From left: Very good oval golden beryl, 60.50ct
Excellent octagonal step-cut natural sapphire, 20.21ct
Excellent oval natural yellow-green tourmaline, 4.89ct

With pearls, lustre is what gives them their pearly quality, and is the way they reflect and diffuse light. Thus more lustrous pearls will be graded higher than less lustrous examples. Unlike other colored gemstones, pearls are also graded according to their shape and size. So, for example, round pearls should be as close as possible to perfectly round with the naked eye. Natural, saltwater pearls are valued much more highly than cultured pearls, while freshwater pearls are generally less valuable.

From left: Very good enhanced pear-shaped paraiba tourmaline, 1.24 ctExcellent oval-shaped pink sapphire, 2.54ctVery good natural saltwater conch pearl, 6.40ct

We hope you've found this discussion helpful! If you're considering purchasing colored gemstones, Gemfields has a useful online Buyer’s Guide.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Whats on My Bench

Hello and welcome to another edition of Whats on My Bench with the JET Team. This week Mollie of RoughMagicCreations tells us about the gorgeous necklace she made for a recent jewelry swap...

Several years ago, when I first started thinking about selling my handmade jewelry online, the first thing I did was search for "jewelry making." And the first thing I found was a lovely online forum where jewelry designers were chatting about their projects and plans, asking questions and offering advice, and sharing photos of their work.

After several weeks of lurking, I took my heart in my hand and joined that group. And before I knew it, I found myself a welcome (and contributing) member of a circle of jewelry making friends. These wonderful people soon became "family," and it was through them that I found my way to Etsy - where Rough Magic Creations was born. That lovely online platform has since fallen victim to the ever evolving cybersphere, but the "forum family" has held together through an active social media group, and we have continued our tradition of semi-annual swaps.

This spring a group of jewelry designers, friends who met on a now inactive online forum, organized a themed swap called "Sprummer" - a combination of Spring and Summer, with each participant contributing five pieces to be sent to five other participants. For my part, I decided to create a brand new design - a rustic, primitive copper flower pendant on a leather cord.

First I drew very rough sketches of three flowers in graduated sizes, which my husband Joe used as templates for cutting the components for the pendant from a repurposed sheet of industrial copper. I then made another sketch, again very rough, of the assembled piece as I envisioned it.

After hammering the three pieces for texture and a slightly concave shape, I punched holes in the centers, removed any burrs or rough edges, and tumbled the pieces until they were smooth and shiny.

The next step was treating them to a color enhancing flame bath, after which I stacked them and ran sturdy 12 gauge head pins through the holes to secure the pieces. The ends of the pins, folded upward and brought forward though holes in the larger flowers, formed bails.

For the 18 inch long necklace cords, I chose natural tan leather, wire wrapped at both ends and closing with my own hammered copper hook and eye clasps.

When this new design was finished, I liked it so much I made another one - just for me! And one day soon, I'll be adding these made-to-order necklaces in my Etsy shop.

A few days after putting my 5 pieces in the mail, I received five wonderful items myself, each one a lovely surprise - handmade by a special jewelry making friend.

Thank you very much, Mollie. See you all next week!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Finds - Mixed Metals

Mixed metals are a really serious jewelry trend right now - so throw caution to the wind and mix 'em up! The mixed metals jewelry handcrafted by talented members of the Etsy JET Team is super stylish, and perfect for a truly trendy and glamorous look - and it's also great in the home. There really is something for everyone in today's Friday Finds!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Favorite Tool

Today the JET Team leader Judy, of JemsbyJBandCompany and JemsbyJBWeddings, is going to tell us all about her favourite can’t live without it jewelry tool!

One of the neatest tools that I ever acquired is the looper plier. Last Christmas I put a list together of beading tools that I wanted to purchase. My "better half" loves it when I provide a list so he doesn’t have to come up with ideas for me!

At any rate, this tool proved to be a real find! It allows you to make eye pins and loop them from wire, and you can use it with precious metal, brass, copper or craft wire from 18 gauge to 26 gauge in thickness.

You simply place the wire into the tool and squeeze the handles. The "looper" creates a loop which measures approximately 1.5mm at the end of the wire. You can then trim it to whatever length you desire.

This tool is great, not only for making your own eye pins, but you can make loops on purchased headpins too. The loop looks professional and saves a lot of time over using your needle nose pliers or other tool of choice.

The looper that I use is the Bead Smith 1-Step Looper Plier (above). However, there may be others out there. This is one tool that "I absolutely cannot live without!"

Judy of JemsbyJBandCompany

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Kitchen - Boundary Waters Wild Rice Soup

This week on Wednesday Kitchen, the JET Team is cooking up a family favorite soup recipe - in fact, it's everybody's family favorite!

I'm just unsure what to call it, or who deserves the credit! If you grew up in Minnesota, you knew Dayton's, which then became Dayton Hudson, which was then purchased by Marshall Fields, which was then purchased by Macy's. So at this stage, Macy's is taking credit for this recipe from the 1960s, and all I can tell you is that it is soul satisfying and heartwarming, and good in all seasons!

Photo: daiseyjaney.com

This is a very healthy dish. Ok, so there is a little heavy cream. You could always modify and use a fat free milk but really....... why would you do this to such a wonderful bowl of goodness?!


  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 small leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed well and thinly sliced
  • 1½ cup sliced button mushrooms
  • ¾ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup flour
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1½ cups cooked wild rice
  • ½ roasted chicken, skin and bones removed and meat chopped (1 to 1½ cups)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp dry sherry
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds, toasted, for garnish

Photo: chow.com

To Make

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
  2. Add onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until translucent
  3. Add leek, mushrooms and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally
  4. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally
  5. Whisk in chicken broth
  6. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes
  7. Add remaining ingredients and cook for about 5 minutes, until warmed through
  8. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary
  9. Ladle into bowls, garnish with almonds and serve hot

Photo: gettystewart.com

Note: To toast almonds, spread nuts in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until almonds are lightly browned and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes. From The Marshall Field's Cookbook


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Assessing Colored Gemstones, Part 3 - Clarity

In this third part of our JET Team discussion about how fine colored gemstones are assessed, we look at how clarity contributes to the overall gemstone grade. All gemstone images shown are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Clarity is the second most important factor in grading colored gemstones, and describes any inclusions (flaws) within or blemishes on the surface of a gemstone. The higher grades are usually given to gemstones that are "eye clean", with no flaws visible to the naked eye. However, flawless colored gemstones are very rare indeed, and will therefore command very high prices.

Thus, unlike diamonds, unless the flaws are very large and/or numerous, or likely to affect the durability of the stone, minor inclusions don't usually affect the price of colored gemstones. Indeed, with some gemstones they are regarded as acceptable - these include sapphires, rubies, garnet and peridot. Star sapphires, for example, aren't star sapphire unless they exhibit needle inclusions!

From left: Very good oval kunzite, 17.31ct Very good oval paraiba tourmaline, 4.15ct Fair black opal cabochon, 7.24ct

Other stones, such as emeralds, beryls and tourmaline are very rarely found in nature without inclusions, and a long-established and industry accepted way of improving the clarity of emeralds, for example, is to fill them with oil or resin to make the inclusions less visible.

Because of the clarity differences between different types of gemstones, the untreated stones themselves are usually classified as Type I, Type II or Type III gemstones:

  • Type I coloured gemstones usually grow with no inclusions visible to the naked eye, including aquamarine, morganite, tanzanite and blue topaz
  • Type II coloured gemstones usually grow with some minor inclusions visible to the naked eye, including garnet, peridot, ruby and sapphire
  • Type III coloured gemstones almost always have inclusions visible to the naked eye, including emerald and tourmaline

From left: Very good pear-shaped citrine, 59.36ctGood round-cut demantoid garnet, 3.67ctVery good oval colour changing alexandrite, 5.36 ct

Opaque gemstones are graded differently again since by their nature they do not transmit light, but they should still reflect light well. they should not have any cracks or fissures, or feature undesirable inclusions. But as always there are exceptions! For example, inclusions such as veining can be acceptable - and sometimes even desirable - in certain types of stone, such as lapis lazuli.