Before and After - Rough and Finished

24. February 2017 13:00

Rhodolite garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsI usually don't take photos of the rough gem material. However, because I had a few questions about what it looks like before it is faceted, I did remember one day to get some pictures of parcels I had recently acquired. Now that I have cut some of those pieces, I have a group of "before" and "after" pictures of few garnets.

Obviously in these photos, the scale is not consistent. However, you can see some typical rough garnet and what was done with it. Most of the garnet rough I have encountered is similar to water worn pebbles rather than a nice geometric crystal.

Malawi garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsIn some cases, a very fine saw may be used to split the material or remove excess material. However, the bulk of the faceting work is done by grinding off the excess to create each facet of the gem. The faceting process involves first removing flaws in the material and shaping the stone with a coarse grit. Then with a finer grit, each of the facets is cut. Often a very fine grit is used to produce a "prepolish" on the facets. Then each facet is polished with an extremely fine grit or an oxide to produce essentially a mirror finish. It is not unusual for two thirds or more of the original rough material to end up as sludge in the bottom of the splash pan of the faceting machine. 

Malawi garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsMost faceters in the US try to do precision cutting -- angles chosen are to maximize the light return and all facets properly shaped meeting its neighbors exactly according to a predetermined pattern. Another approach to faceting is what is often labeled "native cut". In that case, the material is cut to maximize the weight of the finished stone, often at the expense of the brilliance. The facets on native cut stones also tend not to meet nicely, they are misshaped and do not line up with each other. One other major difference between "native cut" and precision cut, is the polish.




Wind and Rain and Falling Trees

20. February 2017 22:48

Some of the larger trees along the roadThe last storm to pass through this part of California brought lots of rain, but also serious wind. The result was that quite a few in our area spent two or three days or President's Day weekend without electric power.  Huge (non-native) eucalyptus trees were toppled over by the storm taking out power lines and poles. Smaller ones blocked neighbors' driveways and / or broke fences. The road leading to ours was blocked for hours due to the many eucalyptus trees which had fallen across the road. For some time, the only exit from this street was to drive past a road closed sign and under a branch which went over the road to lean on the top of a power pole on the other side.

Unlike some of our neighbors, we had taken precautions for a prolonged power outage. When the house was built, the design included a way to use an external generator to power most of needed items. In addition to keeping refrigerated and frozen food items from being ruined, this is really important since we aren't on a city water supply. It was easy enough to get by without using the electric oven for a few days, and we could have managed without the heater, but without water pressure, things would have quickly become annoying. 

smaller trees downAfter almost two and a half days, we were back on the power grid again and enjoying the quiet of the countryside without noisy generator. There is another wave of rain and wind scheduled to come through shortly, so the quiet could be short lived. Alongside the road water is running through what has dry creek throughout the drought years. There are many more large eucalyptus trees along the creek's edges which could meet the same fate of those which disrupted things a few days ago.

Malawi Garnets for Girls' Scholarships

11. February 2017 01:48

Malawi GarnetThe short version: Like a number of others who enjoy turning rough into sparkling gemstones, I have found a way to give something back to one of the areas where the gem rough originates. All the money from the sale of the Malawi garnets I have cut will go to the K.I.N.D. fund to provide scholarships for Malawian girls' high school education. See for the background on the fund.

The longer story...

I have had a soft spot for garnets since I started faceting. Perhaps it is because they cooperated in the polishing stage better than many other types of material. Or maybe it is because the material I had was the common red variety of garnet and red goes well with my favorite color, green, to make the traditional Christmas colors. Probably it is because when I was very young my mother told me that garnet was her birthstone -- and she never had a real garnet.

The second factor in picking this project has been that education has been a huge part of my life. My dad found his vocation as an educator. For a number of years my mother worked as a secretary in an elementary school. And when circumstances allowed her to obtain her college degree, she became a special education teacher. A great many of our family friends were folks they knew from the schools where they worked. Furthermore, the importance of education for girls is something with which I had much personal experience. As a female baby boom child, the world I found had many doors closed for girls. It was just assumed that after high school girls would get some clerical job, or perhaps enter nursing or teach elementary school children or work in a retail store. And generally that career was going to be just long enough to land a husband. Even recreation focused on the boys. Our neighborhood had little league baseball games for the boys all summer long.  There was no sports in the community for girls. Because my parents cared so much for the value of education and were willing and able to make the  sacrifice needed for the tuition, I went to a private school. There I was exposed to much more than what would have been the case for the girls who went to the local schools. That led to the high school experience and eventual college degree -- an opportunity that many of the girls of my generation never had. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been without the education I was lucky to have received. 

rough Malawi garnetThe third piece in this project was the Lawrence O’Donnell show on MSNBC. Around the holidays he talked about his experiences in Malawi and the K.I.N.D. fund. The lack of opportunity for girls to get even a high school education is something that would likely keep them and their future families in poverty. Those stories and the images of the young girls stuck with me.

Thus when I came upon a rough dealer's page of garnets with many from Malawi, the pieces came together. All money from the sales of gems I facet from Malawi garnet rough will go to the K.I.N.D. scholarships for the Malawi girls.

A Bit of Sunshine

2. February 2017 03:55

daffodils and clementinesThe forecast indicates that more rain should be here again shortly. It was nice to have a week to dry out with several days getting out in the sunshine to do some of the winter garden tasks. According to our weather station, in all of 2015 we had less than 7 inches of rain and last year, not quite 17 inches fell despite "el nino". The total for January 2017 has been just shy of 13 inches of rain. After years of drought in this area, no one has been complaining about getting wet.

Most of the garden is inactive. However, several of the citrus trees (actually closer to bushes because they are probably no more than four feet in height at this point) are loaded with fruit. Mandarins seem to like our climate and so I harvested some of the Clementines to enjoy over the next few days. 

I also found that the daffodils were starting to bloom and brought a handful of those in to brighten up the kitchen. The bulbs were planted within the "drip line" of the fruit tree groups so they add some color to the "orchard" before the trees come into bloom. As it turns out, daffodil bulbs are not bothered by gophers, so we should be able to look forward to more daffodils with each year.

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