Not too long ago, a potential customer asked me if I could take a piece of jewelry from her late grandmother and reinvent it into something else. The piece in question was a beautiful piece of Larimar that had been created into a large brooch. The request was to take the stone out of the setting, cut it down to a smaller size and make a simple ring. Upon looking at the brooch, I knew right away based on my training that I would be rejecting this commission.
Does your jeweler know for example, that Larimar is a soft stone and that once it is cut, you don't then recut it down to something smaller? The risk is just too great with a soft stone and the piece in question for me was a large stone that needed to stay that way. Does your jeweler know that Larimar only comes from one place on the planet, namely the Dominican Republic? Does your jeweler know that when setting it, it needs to be handled very delicately just as when setting an opal?
I rejected the commission work because not only was this brooch gorgeously designed and constructed, but it was a beautiful piece from a beautiful era in a time that must be celebrated, not destroyed. The integrity of the piece and the artist who created it also needs to be honored by not touching it. Sometimes, reinventing the wheel is just not worth it.
Now a sales person in a jewelry store may not know, for example, how to solder a jump ring closed. Nor, how to use a jeweler's saw for sawing out an intricate design for a beautiful pair of earrings. An experienced bench jeweler or metalsmith will know. There is a long list here too numerous to mention, but here are just some of the things that this metalsmith/jeweler has learned over the years of working in the profession and from training as a gemologist at the renowned Gemological Institute of America.
1) How to determine if a "ruby" is the real thing or not by looking for specific inclusions inside the stone that indicate real versus lab grown.
2) How to determine if a sapphire or emerald are the real deal or lab grown again based solely on the inclusions.
3) How to create a braid from two pieces of wire and then properly solder them closed and hide the solder seam.
4) One more example: how to tell if a colorless stone is a cubic zirconia or a diamond and when it is necessary to send it to the GIA lab for testing and a lab report.
As a metalsmith and a jeweler, I am faced with choices every day from selecting the right type of solder, hard, medium or easy depending on the project, to determining when a gemstone can take the heat from a jeweler's torch such as a diamond, and when it cannot. Larimar definitely cannot.
When selecting a jeweler, here are some tips to follow:
Is there a graduate gemologist from GIA on the staff?
Do they have a certified bench jeweler on staff?
How many years experience does the bench jeweler have?
Is it possible to meet and talk with the bench jeweler? Look at their hands. That will tell you volumes.