Imaginings from a Devoted Metal Bender

Pardon Our Mess

Spring Cleaning

You may have noticed some changes on our Etsy stores and on the website over the last several weeks; we're updating our look! We've been working with our wonderful photographer to update our product photography. I have to say, this new background really makes the pieces pop!

In addition to the updating our photography, we're also in the process of updating our collections: adding pieces, discontinuing pieces, tweaking titles, etc. If there's a particular piece that you loved on our Etsy shop, check the website! Some of our designs are becoming website exclusives.

We would also like to announce our Curved Bands collection! We've had so many requests for curved bands fitted to our engagement rings, or for one of our bands to be fitted to a customer's ring, that we've set up a special section just for curved bands. This collection features several of our narrow bands and we are happy to fit them to any of our rings, or to one you already have!

Nature-Inspired Curved Wedding Band

Please bear with us while we make these changes! We promise the result will be absolutely worth all the current disarray. Happy Spring Cleaning everyone!

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Mohs Hardness Scale

How Hard is My Stone?

The Mohs Hardness Scale

While shopping for jewelry, you might have heard the word "Mohs" at least once or twice in reference to a stone. This generally comes up when discussing the merits of diamond alternatives, or inset stones. Hardness, in terms of minerals, is the resistance of a material to being scratched. This a trait that definitely needs to be considered when it comes to jewelry purchases; after all, you don't want a stone that's easily scratched!

The Mohs Hardness Scale was developed in 1812 by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs. To create the scale, Mohs selected 10 minerals of distinctly different hardness, ranging from talc (very soft) to diamond (very hard). 

Mohs Hardness Scale

The Mohs Scale is a relative scale and is primarily used for quick field identifications of minerals. This is done by testing a mineral of unknown hardness against a group of 10 index minerals to determine its position on the scale. It is an exponential scale, similar to the Richter Scale for earthquakes, and not linear. 

In terms of jewelry, being familiar with the Mohs rating of a gemstone is fairly important when it comes to selecting your stone. If you work a lot with your hands, you don't want a stone that scratches easily and will need replacing in a few months. Additionally, when considering an inset stone, it is important to make sure that your stone rates higher than the steel tools used to set the stone!

So the next time you're trying to decide between an apatite and a blue topaz, remember the Mohs Scale!

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Diamond Alternatives

Everyone's heard that diamonds are a girl's best friend. Sometimes a diamond isn't the right option; you might prefer a stone with some color. Or, you might not be able to afford a diamond immediately but still want something special and sparkly. So, what to do when you want something that looks like a diamond, but without the cost? Here's some information about some of the more popular diamond alternatives out there!

Cubic Zirconia, or CZ, is a good option if you want a fairly inexpensive stone with some sparkle. The base color is more grey than white and while the Refractive Index (RI), or brilliance, isn't as high as that of a diamond (CZ: 2.177), the dispersion, or fire, is higher than diamond (0.065). CZ has a hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale and can become scratched and cloudy over time. If you're looking for a stone that doesn't require a lot of care, CZ might not be the best option for you.

White topaz has a whiter color than CZ, but at an 8 rates lower on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Of the diamond alternatives being discussed in this post, it also has the lowest Refractive Index (1.664) and lowest dispersion (0.014). White topaz also shows wear fairly easily.

If you want a stone with a good, solid white base and a decent amount of sparkle, a laboratory grown white sapphire is an excellent option. With a Mohs rating of 9, white sapphires are fairly durable and the lab grown options lack the inclusions and flaws that can be present in their natural counterparts. The RI (1.77) and dispersion (0.018) are both lower than that of a diamond and will eventually show wear over time.
One option with a lot of sparkle is moissanite. The best known lab created moissanite is from Charles and Colvard and they include a limited lifetime warranty with their stones. Moissanite has a very white color and the RI (2.691) and dispersion (.104) are both higher than a diamond, which means it has more sparkle! Moissanite also has a high Mohs rating (9.25) and is a fairly durable stone choice.

As a further point of comparison, diamond is rated at 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, making it the hardest known mineral, and has a Refractive Index of 2.417 and dispersion of 0.044. If you're really interested in a diamond, there are plenty of excellent options available in a variety of qualities!

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Happy Valentine's Day!

From everyone here at Moonkist Designs,

Happy Valentine's Day!

May the rest of your day be full of love, joy, and happiness!

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We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Here at Moonkist Designs, we are thankful for many things, including (but not limited to) our wonderful customers. As we move further into the holiday season, we want to encourage everyone to consider what they're thankful for and to spread some holiday cheer!

Happy Holidays!

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Melting Silver

Heating Stages of Silver: A Photo Journey

Last week, we discussed annealing, what it's used for, and the easiest way to tell if you have heated the sterling silver enough that you can resume working with it. Well, you might be thinking to yourself, what happens if I overheat it? This is an excellent question! It is important to be aware of the various heating stages involved when working with sterling silver so that you can tell when you need to back off and don't accidentally melt the piece you're working on.

To start off with, you want to make sure that you’re heating evenly. This is what it should look like when you first apply heat

As you carry on heating, you may notice the color of the metal change slightly and start to go white (approx. 1100 Fahrenheit). It can even look gold-toned for a bit and eventually will start to darken to black

When it starts looking salmon-ish (approx. 1300 Fahrenheit), you may want to consider backing off your heat a bit

This is the bright orange stage and you really need to back your heat off at this point. A pitted texture known as ‘orange peel’ will start to form on the surface of the metal, and while it’s fairly easy to clean up, it’s still annoying

And now you’re in for it. At this point you’ve hit optimum melting temperature (1640 Fahrenheit) and there’s really no coming back from that

You really might as well just carry on and melt the thing the rest of the way at this point. At least you can save the melted blob of silver and turn it in with the rest of your scrap!

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Have you ever played at straightening a paper clip? You’ll notice that after a while the metal becomes a little more difficult to bend and eventually, if you carry on, it’ll break. This is work hardening. Work hardened metal will become brittle, which is what causes the breakage. When creating jewelry, there is a time and place for work hardening, but certainly not when you’re still working on the piece.

It’s a good idea to anneal the metal when you begin to notice that it’s becoming more difficult to work with. Annealing heats the metal enough that it becomes pliable and easier to work with. When annealing, you don’t want a focused flame, you want it to be large and what Gena describes as “bushy.” After all, you just want to heat the metal a bit, not melt it! 

One way to tell if you’ve heated your piece enough is to mark it with a sharpie before heating it.

 Once the sharpie mark vanishes, you’ve annealed it enough and can let it cool.

You should let annealed metal cool gradually, as quenching can weaken the metal, causing microscopic cracks that can weaken your final piece!

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This is what you get...

Why Moonkist Designs?

We occasionally get customer questions regarding our pricing, especially when there are similar jewelry pieces available on Etsy at lower prices. Here are some of the things that our customers should expect when purchasing from our studio:

A free resizing within 30 days of delivery

Polishing cloth and jewelry care instructions

Lifetime jewelry repair under normal wear. Just return all the pieces and we're happy to fix your Moonkist Designs jewelry for nothing more than the cost of shipping. Lose a stone? We're happy to source a new one!

Ready-to-gift packaging

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Reticulated Silver

wanted: texture

One of my absolutely favorite materials to work with is reticulated silver. This silver alloy is 80% fine silver and 20% copper, which gives it some unique properties. First, through a process called depletion gilding, you can create a layer of silver on the top and bottom with the reticulated silver in the center. When you heat it up, it acts much like an ice cream sandwich--the middle melts before the top or bottom does and the surface of the metal draws up into a completely unique and very natural crinkled texture that can be used to make jewelry.

Depletion gilding, which is the key to this process, actually takes quite a while. For each piece you want to reticulate, you have to use a torch to heat it completely to the annealing point. Then, you put it in an acidic bath (usually called pickel) for several minutes, which pulls the extra copper molecules on the surface loose, leaving only pure silver behind. Then, you remove it from the pickle and scrub it with a brass bristle brush (try saying that 3 times fast!), front and back, to create a solid surface. 

This process is repeated, over and over, until you build up a good layer of fine silver to make your "ice cream sandwich." At that point, a large torch and a torch with a fine, direct flame are used at the same time to bring the entire piece up to melting temperature so that the reticulation process can take place. To find out more about the depletion process, check out this post on Rio Grande's blog.

Many different metals can be reticulated, including brass, gold, and silver. This particular reticulated silver pendant was created for a recent custom order and is set with a rainbow moonstone. 

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Handmade at Amazon

Moonkist Designs is now on Amazon!

It's been an exciting year for Moonkist Designs! We've re-vamped our website, we hit 10,000 sales on Etsy, and, drumroll please, we've been invited to Handmade at Amazon!

Handmade at Amazon has been gaining traction since its launch in 2015 and is an alternative to selling on the Etsy marketplace. We were lucky enough to be approached to sell our jewelry on the Wedding store a few months ago, and why turn down that gleaming business opportunity? 

The specifications for selling handmade jewelry on Amazon are pretty stringent. In order for the item to be considered “handmade,” it needs to have been created by you, one of your employees (providing the company has less than 20 employees), or a member of your collective (less than 100 people), and should not be assembled from a kit or be the product of another individual or company that you are reselling. When they say “handmade,” they really do mean handmade. This particular marketplace is juried, so there is an application process. You can find the link for the application at the Handmade at Amazon homepage here. If you're considering submitting an application to Handmade at Amazon, Etsy Alternative has a fairly comprehensive review of the marketplace.

In order to be considered, you need to be able to prove that the items you are intending to sell as “handmade” are handmade. This is done by having photos of your product, your work space, and your production process. It definitely makes things a lot easier if you have these photos prior to submitting your application! If you're in the habit of taking photos of your work space and production process for social media, you've got a good start. For product photos, Amazon prefers simple, neutral backgrounds that really highlight the product itself, so a lot of props aren't necessary...or encouraged.

We recommend taking a look at Tara Reid's (of Starletta Designs) ebookThe Full Guide to Handmade at Amazon. She's put together an astoundingly comprehensive guide on how to proceed once your application has been accepted and approved by Amazon. She also includes some very handy tips for the application process, especially regarding the photography! You can check out her blog here. Rebecca Pitts of Hudson + Daughter also has a blog post that covers a few useful questions to consider when thinking about applying for Handmade at Amazon.

Don't forget to check out our new storefront at Handmade at Amazon!

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Rolling Mill

Pasta rollers...for metal?

The best description I have heard of a rolling mill was an observation made by one of my students who, after watching me roll out a piece of metal exclaimed, “A pasta roller for metal! Cool!”

Although it can have a reputation as finicky and hard to maintain, this wonderful tool allows a metalworker to pattern sheet, make custom wire, decrease the thickness of plate and wire, and make amazing fold-forms shapes.

Here’s a couple of things to remember when you run out and buy your own…

1.  The rollers must be protected from rust, so they need to be kept oiled and wrapped in paper or cloth when the rolling mill is not in use.

2.  When using the rolling mill, a brass plate (mine was cut from a brass kick plate for an outside door) will help protect your rollers from being imprinted during texturing and help give a nice, clean impression.

3. All metals should be annealed, pickled, and rinsed before they are rolled.

4. Always wipe your rollers after use to clean any metal residue or grit.

5. Rule of thumb – the handle should turn with effort, but never tighten it down to the point of having to use so much force that you could damage your equipment.

There are many wonderful texture plates commercially available. Also, many unusual textures can be embossed on metal using common everyday objects like sandpaper, lace, feathers, or leaves. We use our rolling mill constantly. Its been an enormous addition to our studio!

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Today, with metal prices soaring, jewelry artisans can’t afford to ignore the scrap that they generate at the bench. By carefully fitting and measuring, jewelers try to create as little scrap as possible, but there is always something left over. The first option is to send scrap to the refiner to be melted down and recreated as wire and sheet, recyling it to a usable form once more.

We often reduce scrap ourselves by using tools such as drawing plates and rolling mills to make finer (and longer) wire or sheet.

But, it is always fun to try to work broken and unused pieces into other work. Thus, we reuse our scrap into other jewelry. This pair of earrings was created with a pair of copper shields cut from half a copper disk left over from a previous project. A broken ring with a leaf and grape motif provided a beautifully contrasting sterling focal point. Once they were soldered together, a pair of earwires created from 20 gauge wire left over from a beading project made an elegant finish.

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