Let There Be Pearls

Posted by Rebecca Stone on March 2, 2011
Mar 022011

Spring is getting closer. I can smell the blossom scent in the wind — unless, of course it’s a Santa Ana wind that visits from time to time around here and can nearly rip the hair out of your head. But I digress.

pearl and crystal necklace
Cream and rose freshwater pearl combine with fuschia Swarovski crystals and a smattering of sterling silver in this Springy necklace. A wild rose cloisonne bead sits at its heart.
(Want it? Click it.)

For some reason, I recently felt like doing something with pearls — freshwater pearls to be exact. They’re just so darn creamy and, well, Springy-looking. They called to me, saying, “Put us together with some sparkly Swarovski crystals!” (As if Swarovski crystals could ever be anything but sparkly. But these are pearls talking…) Anyway, it sounded like a good idea. So I did.

Pearl, Swarovski, black onyx and sterling silver necklace
This time, I paired the same pearls with black onyx, black Swarovski crystals and sterling silver for a high-contrast look. After all, Spring is full of contrasts! A black cloisonne bead with a mallow type of flower resides dead center.
(Want it? Click it.)

I threw in a touch of sterling silver here, and a touch of gold-fill there. And I had perfect little cloissone beads, that added just the right touch dead center. Each necklace reminds me of a little whisper, a gentle touch, a delicate bouquet from the Spring that will soon arrive (even for those of you in the Midwest, East Coast, and — right now — Pacific Northwest). Take heart! Take a necklace! Be happy! And be sparkly!

Pearls with Swarovski and red
Finally, I had to try the deep red (Siam) Swarovski side-by-side with the delicate pearl shades. Punched up with gold-filled beads and the central cloisonne pink and red “hibiscus,” I think the piece has a kind of noirish playfulness — if that’s possible.

The Hole Truth

Posted by Rebecca Stone on September 21, 2010
Sep 212010

OK. I am starting to design earrings in earnest, and — well — I have a confession to make. I don’t have pierced ears. And, yes, I realize that as far as jewelry designers go, I’m probably in the minority here.

It’s not that I don’t like earrings. I do. Very much. I just like my ears more. Why should I subject them to disfigurement? While I realize that many people go for piercing to better keep track of their earrings, I guess I’ve always been willing to risk the occasional loss in favor of avoiding the unfortunate elongated hole look some women develop as they age. And as far as comfort? It’s true that clips can pinch, but it’s been my experience that you can find ways to adjust them in order to eliminate this problem, while keeping them fairly secure. And I’m talking about more than “walk-in-the-park” secure.

Hooks or clips? Many earrings can go either way, and I think everyone (whether pierced or intact) who wants to should be able to wear beautiful earrings.

Hooks or clips? Many earrings can go either way, and I think everyone (whether pierced or intact) who wants to should be able to wear beautiful earrings.

As a former belly dancer, I can claim a lot of experience in the non-pierced earring department. Earrings are a major component of a dancer’s costume and, back in the day, when I could still recognize my waistline, I wore some whoppers: big, bangly hoops, draped in coins and lots of dangly sparklies. I danced my way through college, after college and into graduate school without any serious earring mishap. True that I occasionally lost one (why always just one?? Like socks in a dryer, I guess). But it’s not like it flew off in the midst of a shimmy-spin into some guy’s drink or anything. And I sure never put anyone’s eye out with an earring launch. They would usually just mysteriously disappear — sometimes only as far as my dance bra or harem pants (this was the ’70s and early ’80s — I don’t think they wear harem pants anymore).

But I was just glad to avoid the fate of friends who reported infections or the horrors of torn ear lobes when their earrings would snag on some immovable piece of costuming. And then there was the friend whose dance partner, a rainbow boa constrictor, decided to take a little detour through the loop of her PIERCED earring and got stuck. She couldn’t take the earring off and had to hold the snake and earring against her head LEST HE RIP HER EARLOBE IN TWO. The more stuck he got, the more he tried to squeeze through the hoop! Meanwhile, we had to scramble around the mall where we were performing to scavenge a pair of nippers small enough to cut the loop to free him. So much for that earring, and my friend’s ear was very sore. It could have been worse. Now, if it had only been a pair of non-pierced earrings….

Yeah, I know, most women wear a wondrous range of fishhooks and leverbacks that will never grace my lobes unless I submit to the hole punch, needle or whatever skewer du jour is au current. And, let’s face it, the designs available in pierced earrings are way more plentiful (and usually more beautiful) than you’ll find among their clip-on or screw-on cousins (it seems sort of unfair). But there’s just something about putting holes in my body that bothers me. Call me a coward, but I know I’m not alone.

It used to be fairly easy to find nice-looking non-pierced earrings in stores, but this seems less the case these days (especially since May Company bit the dust). Any that I have been able to locate tend to be rather gargantuan monstrosities that seem destined to become victims of gravity. The other day I was in a Nordstrom’s and didn’t see any non-pierced at all. Curious, I asked the salesperson behind the counter if they ever got requests for clip-ons. She said that actually they did all the time, but wasn’t sure why they didn’t carry any. It seems to be easier these days to find non-pierced earrings online than in brick and mortar shops. A look around the Internet reveals more than a handful of shops that specialize in this market as well as what seems to be enough of a demand to support them. Some of these stores sell the usual types of non-pierced fare in a wide array of designs (i.e.: crazy4clipons.com and cliptomania.com) while others offer less traditional solutions (check out lisadora.com, harrymason.com and earwrap.com).

Of course, many pierced earrings can be converted onto non-pierced findings. To be honest, though, as I make earrings to go with my necklaces and bracelets, I do prefer the look of them as they dangle demurely from delicate hooks rather than from big metallic buttons (though not so much that I find myself reaching for a needle and an ice cube). Ready-made sterling or gold-filled hook earring findings are also much less expensive, and they are easy to handcraft out of wire. In contrast, aside from ear cuffs, wraps or hooks that hang from other places around the ear, non-pierced findings are rather high-tech jobs, involving small springs, magnets or screws, that would be much more difficult to make. And the price of ready-made sterling and gold-filled earring findings is stratospheric.

But earrings are becoming a new mission for me. A rediscovered passion. Sure, I’ll cheerfully offer pierced earrings. I’d be a fool not to. And I’ll try the designs out on my pierced-earred friends. I’m a believer in test driving designs before offering them for sale. But I will also offer non-pierced versions of everything (via simple conversions onto silver- or gold-plated findings, until I can figure out an alternative). It’s the only way I can personally test out (and enjoy) my own creations.  And I think it’s only fair.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’d welcome comments on this.

Aug 162010

Shooting jewelry is sort of like shooting the moon. Sometimes the shot captures something spectacular. Other times, not so much. It’s crazy. I mean, what could be easier: You don’t exactly have to chase it around to snap a shot. While I do not consider myself a “PHOTOGRAPHER,” sometimes I get lucky. I used to shoot some basic product photos for the magazine I worked on in my pre-recession life. Nothing too technical, mind you. But, heck, I have been able to pull off some spread-worthy photos of boats planing across the water at 50 mph as I bounced around the deck of a photo boat. But put a piece of sparkly stuff on black velvet — or pretty much any other kind of surface you can think of — and you’ve got a real head scratcher in the making. Light, background and focus are often the three big players in the conundrum. THE LOW LIGHT As is often suggested (and, I think, rightly so), the sun is the go-to source when it comes to good lighting. I have tried indoor illumination from lamps, but much prefer the effects of natural light. This, with my Canon EOS in hand, I have pursued all over the house (and even onboard my boat, back in the day). About the only place I haven’t yet tried is the roof (although as the sun was sinking behind the tree branches the other day, the ladder was starting to look real good).

Hanging crystals away from a backdrop can produce magical results. One caveat, though: When an image is this tack-sharp, if you make your images clickable for enlargement, any imperfections that you may have overlooked in your piece will be brought into sharp focus (tool marks, off-kilter wraps, etc.). It's like putting your piece under a microscope and is actually not a bad way of double-checking your work — before shooting the photo you want to post to your site.

Hanging crystals away from a backdrop can produce magical results. One caveat, though: When an image is this tack-sharp, if you make your images clickable for enlargement, any imperfections that you may have overlooked in your piece will be brought into sharp focus (tool marks, off-kilter wraps, etc.). It's like putting your piece under a microscope and is actually not a bad way of double-checking your work — before shooting the photo you want to post to your site.

Of course, where light is concerned, time of day plays a leading role. Most photogs I’ve known in the boating industry (any industry, really) live for “Golden Hour” otherwise known as “Magic Hour.” This occurs at either the beginning or end of the day, when the light is low, bathing everything in a soft syrupy glow (although one pro I used to work with loved to wait a little longer to shoot cars at twilight).  Necklaces and the like are, of course, not motorized vehicles, but they still benefit greatly from this gentle light. I’m finding the low light can create striking images of jewelry on the right background. Even when it comes to black. I’ve found that strong, direct light — like what you find in midday sun— hitting crystals or faceted stones can really flare in such a high-contrast situation. Put these same pieces on white in the same light and it’s a different story, although be sure your white balance is adjusted. Live and learn. Strong light also seems accentuate the nap and weave in fabrics to the point at which a soft velvet ends up looking like your Aunt Millie’s old wool blanket. Again, soft light appears to be the ticket. BACKGROUND CHECKS Most seasoned jewelry shooters seem to agree that uncluttered and simple backgrounds are best. This makes total sense to me. As intricate as jewelry is, you certainly don’t want the distraction of a busy background. Color also enters into the equation. Thanks to a trip downtown to Michael Levine’s, where you can buy scraps of fabric by the pound, I have tried multiple colors of velvet. Certain pieces just pop against green velvet while others spark to rose backgrounds. Everything seems to ignite against black or white. But again, with black velvet, I’m finding that lighting is key. In every single one of my shots on black velvet under direct or even somewhat diffused light, the jewelry flared. In truth, it looked radioactive. But in afternoon shade or muted, indirect low light, the images were golden.

Black can really add drama to a piece.

Black can really add drama to a piece. This one came out pretty good, though a bit softer than I'd like on the upper part.

I’m also learning the wisdom of keeping a lint roller handy wherever I’m shooting. Cat people, especially, will understand why. I find that I roll the fabric between every couple of shots. I also keep a couple of tweezers in a pocket to finesse my arrangements (keeps nap ruffling to a minimum and is just plain easier when a crystal dangle needs straightening out). Of course, velvet isn’t the only background choice. Several jewelry designers report that they prefer some type of matte paper stock. In certain situations I, too, reach for this option. You can get artists’ sketch pads in multiple shades that make perfect backgrounds if you don’t want to mess with fabric. An added bonus I discovered is that you can create impromtu light boxes with them. You can also use them to make seamless backdrops by placing your piece on top of one sheet and curving it up in back to meet another like-colored sheet, which is standing upright, supported by a wall.

It’s fun to experiment. Pieces often go well with similarly colored backdrops, but contrasting colors can be super dramatic. Reflective surfaces can add great depth. I have yet to try this, but like the look of it. I have heard that black acrylic tiles can be used to this effect. I also love the look of hanging necklaces in mid-air, so crystals light up against the blurred color of background. Props are another possibility. Rena Klingenberg and others have suggested using rocks, flowers, etc. as accents in photos. I’ve been playing with incorporating some bouganvilla blossoms into my shots. I’ve also tried some faux greenery (at least it doesn’t wilt). My favorite adventure lately has been to take my pieces into the garden, where I’ve been using my plants in a “supporting” role. The basil, chives, lavender, petunias and Russian sage, in particular, are among the cast of characters.

A white background in low light can be quite nice.

A white background in low light can be quite nice.

FOCUS POCUS While a ton of fun, my garden experiences have led me to deal with the third challenge in shooting jewelry: Focus. Many of my photos end up too soft, and there’s only so much sharpening you can do in Photoshop. But enough of them have come out OK, to allow procrastination in solving this nagging problem. Yes, I am guilty of too much hand-holding. Chalk it up to laziness or a free spirit, but there’s something about being tethered to a tripod that bugs me. But, you know what? The damn thing works. Due to the fact that my pieces, while not actually making a break for it, did “dance” when I draped them on my petunias, thanks to a soft breeze, I was forced to break out the tripod (holy smokes, even when draped on a stationary object, they would sometimes jump into action — or was that me?). Anyway, while I can’t claim that every shot was in the running for photo of the year, most were crisp. Good enough to eliminate a ton of Photoshop time.

Look out! It's trying to escape! Or explode! I can't decide.

Look out! It's trying to escape! Or explode! I can't decide.

Apparently, the other thing to decide when shooting jewelry is what you want to focus on. This, I thought, would be a no-brainer. I was wrong. There’s the long shot, where you capture the whole piece. This is good for seeing what the whole thing looks like, but not particularly dramatic. It can also be a challenge to get the whole thing in sharp focus. This leads me to arrange a necklace in curves and shallow drapes. There’s the detail shot, where you might focus in on the focal bead or pendant. In my case, I spin the dial to the setting with the picture of the flower on it (macro setting) so I can get in fairly tight to pick up as much detail as possible. This works well unless the light is so muted the flash automatically activates. Because I don’t want to use the flash, I’ve found that if I shoot at the auto-depth setting, I get pretty good results. This setting is also good for ensuring that everything is in focus. The AV setting is another favorite of mine. It lets me focus on a certain part of a piece and leave the rest of the image softly out of focus. Nice effect. On breezy days, I’ve tried using the freeze-action setting, which seems to help. Thank God for digital cameras and the dial. And, yes, I am dial-dependent these days. We can’t be good at everything!

Much better, despite a slight breeze.

Still a bit soft, but much better, thanks to the tripod — despite a slight breeze.

Photography for me has always been a challenge. It seems that if there’s enough light, the focus is off. If the focus is perfect, it’s underexposed. Once in a while, all the stars align, the clouds part, the angels sing and I get a really good shot. But, while perfection continues to elude me, I think I now have a fighting chance to up my odds of getting great shots. This weekend, I finally found not one, but two sweet spots with just the right kind of light. This should last me until Fall, when the arc of the sun will change and my quest will begin anew. But change is good, right? Happy shooting! Helpful sites I’ve run across: http://www.mkdigitaldirect.com/tips/jewelry_photography_tips.html# http://www.home-jewelry-business-success-tips.com/

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