The Ethereal, Ancient Art of Enamel

By Constance on February 22, 2018 at 2:09 pm

The union of chance and material. This describes perfectly the ancient process for the ethereal art of enamel. To realize our signature pieces, we work with Joan Strott Alvini, an experienced artist and one of the first women to work on Philadelphia’s Historic Jeweler’s Row. Part art, part science, the look of each drop of color is as important to us as the form.

 

Ancient, ethereal art of enamel

Contemporary Enamel: An ancient art gets a modern update.

 

Like a ceramicist searching for the perfect glaze, our enamelist experiments with a cabinet of potions to create the colors, which react to each metal differently when fired. Once the chemical combination is perfect, forming the exact shade also depends on the translucent suspension of colored glass. Then, like the metal itself, the molten liquid becomes a solid as the glass flows into our grooved, organic forms, reflecting light under the surface like a pool of water.

 

Ancient art of enamel

The Senna collection began as a single sleek black circle.

 

Though our enamel designs are modern, this process is ancient. Enameled rings from the 13th century B.C. were found during the 1952 excavation of a tomb in Kouklia, Cyprus. Believe it or not, the process hasn’t changed much in the last 3,000 years!

Enamel is glass fused to a metal surface. Most often, the glass is a blend of silica (or sand), soda, lime, and borax. This mix creates a clear, colorless enamel called flux. It can be transparent, opaque or opalescent (translucent), and an enormous range of colors can be made by adding metal oxides to the flux.

 

Ancient, Ethereal Art of Enamel

Enamel was applied to pottery and stone in ancient Egypt, and used on metal by ancient Greek, Roman, Russian, Chinese, and Celtic cultures.

 

The color range and handcrafted quality of glass enamel, aka vitreous enamel, makes it a beautiful and long-lasting choice. Because the glass binds to the metal when fired, glass enamel can only adhere to specific alloys of precious metals. When worn with care, it can last for several lifetimes. The less durable, cheaper alternative, Resin enamel– not so much. More of a fashion than a forever choice, Resin, aka cold enamel, is essentially plastic and scratches easily.

 

Ancient, ethereal art of enamel

We create long-lasting glass enamel rings, earrings and bracelets in a range of colorful shapes.

 

Alvini reminds us that many of the color we see today are made with the same pigments as those used by early Byzantine artists. Transparent cobalt blue, for example, is created from black oxide of cobalt and powdered flint glass. Opalescent colors require the addition of more oxide of tin. After the enamel is applied, the entire piece is fired in a kiln. During firing, the enamel powder melts, flows, and hardens to form a smooth and durable surface.

Enameling metal surfaces uses a variety of techniques. A few of the most common techniques used in jewelry are:

 

  • Champlevé, where troughs or cells carved into the surface of a metal object and filled with vitreous enamel.
  • Cloissoné, which uses thin wires to form raised barriers which contain different areas of enamel above the metal base.
  • Limoges & Grisaille, where enamel is painted on.
  • Plique-à-jour, in which enamel is applied in cells, with no backing, like stained-glass.

 

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Production process of a Cloissoné vase by Ando Cloisonné Company in Nagoya.

 

We asked Alvini a few questions about her own studio practices and how she works safely with substances like cadmium and barium. Most of what Joan describes are common-sense safety measures:

 

“Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in the studio. Always wash hands frequently and clean work benches with wet towels or rags. Always wear a mask when sifting powders and grind under water.”

 

Many enamelists have struggled lately with tighter restrictions on metal oxides and other substances used in the process. In particular, lead-bearing vs. lead-free enamels is an industry debate worth noting. U.S. regulations made it difficult to produce lead-bearing enamels. The last domestic supplier, Thompson Enamel stopped making them in 1990. But with this art, it’s the preferences and needs of the artist that determine the success of the materials.

 

“The important thing is to teach people how to work with these materials correctly and safely.” –Joan Strott Alvini

 

Contemporary enamel jewelry

We have two new diamond halo designs: the Senna Diamond Halo Ring and the Enamel Arc Halo Ring.

 

Another important element of working with enamels is controlling the waste stream. Alvini uses a precious metal drain trap to catch all the waste she generates while grinding wet. Along with metal dust, this is sent to a refiner to trap all waste and filter out toxic materials.

 

We made a short video of Alvini in her Jeweler’s Row workshop. Watch below to see this talented artist’s process:

 

 

Shop our entire line of enamel jewelry here. Interested in using this colorful, ancient technique in a Custom Design or personalizing one of ours? Just get in touch with your idea via our Custom Design Questionnaire.

 

 

Rethink Pink: Reclaiming the formerly femme hue

By Constance on January 4, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Millennial pink is the color of a generation. But can Pink– formerly a symbol of the saccharine-sweet or a girly-girl cliche– become a powerful statement? Umm… yes! It’s time to rethink pink as both a fashion and forever jewelry choice and we couldn’t be more excited about it.

Re-think Pink with Bario Neal RingsMany of our designs Rethink Pink using ethical gemstones like Morganite, Tourmaline and Sapphire.

 

Pink is not just all about girl-power, though embracing the feminine is empowering for everyone. People of all genders who want to feel beautiful and celebrate pink can reclaim the hue. Same with the pressure surrounding diamond engagement rings– play with pale or bold color for your wedding palette if that’s who you are every day. And as for everyone’s favorite holiday– Valentine’s Day– try to embrace it as more than just a commercial romantic cliche, but as an opportunity to show your S/O, yourself, or your BFF some love.

 

Re-think Pink with MorganiteLike the pastel pink that’s now unavoidable on Instagram and ubiquitous on Pinterest, pale pink Morganite is abuzz.

 

Found in the eastern states of Rio Grande de Norte and Minas Gerais in Brazil, Morganite is a member of the Beryl family of minerals, the same family as Emerald and Aquamarine.

Unlike Emeralds, which are often full of inclusions, Morganites are readily available as eye clean stones and thus differentiated more for their intensity of color than their clarity. Rarer than Aquamarine and registering 7.5 – 8 on the MOHS scale of mineral hardness, it is an ideal choice for jewelry, both bridal and every-day jewelry.

 

Re-think pink

People of all genders can reclaim the pink hue with both gem and metal choice.

Although emerging as a thoroughly modern choice, Morganite and its discovery are steeped in the finest and most prestigious traditions of the jewelry industry and mineral exploration.  The mineral was discovered in the early part of the last century and in 1911 was named Morganite after J.P Morgan, who sponsored the activities of legendary gemologist George Kunz, who discovered the stone.

 

Re-think Pink with a Bario Neal Stack

Morganite is known primarily as a pastel-colored gem in light, soft shades of pink, purplish pink, and orangey-pink. It looks great with opals, green and blues.

 

Associated only by name and by virtue of him being an avid collector of precious gems, Morganite mining was never a commercial interest of Morgan’s and to this day the mining of the stone is done almost entirely by small scale mining operations run by local people and not by large, faceless corporations.

At Bario Neal, we support small miners and source our Morganite through a GIA graduate gemologist who has an intimate knowledge of the gemstone extraction, processing and manufacturing cycle and who operates a multi-pronged approach to fair-trade practices and sustainability.

 

Re-think pink with ethical tourmaline

The Trillion Triad Cluster and Hex Sapphire Linear (above) rings feature our perfect pink tourmaline.

 

Next, we move to another magical pink gemstone – Tourmaline. The new Hex Linear Ring and Dyad Cluster Ring feature a striking sunset-pink variety, but the gem itself can be one (or two or three!) of 60 natural colors. Found all over the world, they are one of the most versatile and diverse gemstones around.

Tourmalines are often dichroic or pleochroic which means they show two different colors in one stone. Although this effect is less pronounced and sometimes not noticeable in pink stones than it is in green, blue or green-blue tourmaline. It is even possible to get tourmaline that shows multiple colors in one crystal. The best known of these to jewelry lovers are watermelon tourmaline which has a red core surrounded by green.

The Tourmalines that we use in our Hex Sapphire Linear and Trillion Triad Cluster Rings are recycled gemstones, in that they have already be involved in the jewelry production process and we are reusing them. This approach means that no new mining is required thus eliminating the potential for damage to ecosystems and labor issues.

 

Re-think Pink with pink sapphire

#Roseallday? Choose a Pink Sapphire Filigree in reclaimed 14kt. Rose Gold.

Lastly, we turn to another gorgeous, natural, forever gemstone: the Pink Sapphire. Basically, a Ruby that’s not red, (Bonus points for anyone who already knew that Rubies are technically Sapphires) Pink Sapphires get their color from containing chromium. Rubies must contain at least 1% chromium to exhibit a deep red color and if the chromium content is lower, the stones are lighter and classed as Pink Sapphires. Ours come from a small mine in Madagascar. Our Pink Sapphire Filigree Ring is also set in reclaimed 14kt Rose Gold– to help us all (millennial or not) maintain a rosy outlook.

Want to see them blush at a bespoke beauty? We can create a custom design in a range of rosy hues, like this gorgeous stack, featuring white diamonds, deep garnets and a variety of ethical pink gemstones:

 

Re-think pink with a Custom Bario Neal design

Rethink Pink with this crazy beautiful stack of recent Custom Cluster rings in a powerful palette of Whites, Pinks and Reds.

Want to dream up a way to reclaim pink from “blush and bashful”? Check out more new custom work featuring ethical diamonds, rubies, garnets, sapphires and tourmaline, then design your own concoction using our Custom Design Questionnaire.

A New Signature Setting: The Lash Collection

By Constance on September 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm

In an ode to playful minimalism, we’ve re-imagined The Lash into a new collection featuring ethical Diamonds, Sapphires, Garnets and Andalusite. These bright and colorful gems shine when showcased in our subtly asymmetric, surrealistic, signature setting. An instant classic for modern celebrations calling for equally expressive, interesting jewelry.

 

New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Garnets
This season, we refined and evolved the Lash into a shiny fleet of endearing, enduring options.

With a wink and a nod, the Lash setting debuted last year with our simple studs. Created to showcase our collection of ethically-sourced Emeralds, Andalusite, Champagne Diamonds and Iolite, with a twist– moving beyond an ordinary setting. The Lash’s unexpected, balanced asymmetry shines as a solitaire, grouped into a linear design or mixed with other settings for a brilliant cluster.

“The Lash setting grew out of a desire to move beyond the classic prong or bezel settings and to innovate with something that plays to BN’s proclivity for balanced asymmetry.” -Anna Bario, Designer and Co-founder

The story behind the collection’s origin matches the luster of these incredible gems. We’ll begin our new favorites for wedding season– Lash Dyad, Triad and Linear Cluster rings feature ethically sourced, neutral-toned gemstones in fresh, energetic combinations. These sparkling jewels, harvested from beautiful locales with the utmost care and intent are ready to ride high as you as you toast to your new forever.

 

New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Andalusite

Our Lash dyad, Triad and Linear Cluster rings include Champagne diamonds from Australia, Half moon Sapphires from Sri Lanka and Andalusite from Madagascar.

 

Kimberley in Western Australia was once so abundant in diamonds that it is the only location in the world where Ant Hill Diamonds have been observed. (Yes, diamonds were once mined by ants!) After these early discoveries and prospecting, a human-sized mining operation was installed and today the Argyle diamond mine is famous for producing the most prized diamonds in the world.

 

 

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Known the world over for its unique pink and red diamonds, the mine produces many shades, including the champagnes we use in our Lash Diamond Cluster Ring.

 

The Argyle mine is close to the end of its commercial life, due to close in 2020, the diamonds produced from the mine are bound to become even more prized and valuable. Because the mine is in one of the world’s richest, most developed nations, it is subject to strict working and environmental standards and regulations. Traditional families and elders retain genuine control and empowerment over the exploration and development process, with the future of the land always in mind. As of 2011, all mines in Australia must follow a mine rehabilitation program for creating another use for the area when mining has ceased.

As for our other sparkler, Sri Lankan White Sapphire, we did a deep-dive into the story of the Sri-Lankan white sapphire in a recent feature with Catalyst Wedding Co. In a nutshell, these are the most-diamondy-diamond-alternatives you can get straight from the earth and cut into these cool half-moon shapes, with close to no environmental impact.
New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Andalusite

We use Pleochroic Andalusite from Madagascar for its hues of red and green, sourced from an ethical jewelry pioneer who spent time in Sierra Leone developing a traceable diamond supply chain.

 

We segue from the diamonds once mined by ants, to the only gemstone still mined by those cute, tiny workers– Ant Hill Garnets. As the name suggests, these garnets from the Four Corners Region are brought to the surface by ants building new colonies. The ants dig out the stones, carry them to the surface and then deposit them at the top of their ant hills. They are then washed down to the bottom of the pile and cleaned by rainwater, ready to be collected by gem hunters. Generally small in size, because the ants dig around the bigger stones and leave them put, ant hill garnets are rarely more than 1ct in size when cut.

 

Ant Hill Garnets

Our new Lash Linear Garnet, Lash Solitaire Garnet and Garnet Cluster Rings feature Arizona’s Ant hill garnets.

 

While we can’t vouch for the working conditions of the ants involved in this process, (we assume most colonies enforce rigorous health and safety protocols and workers are paid fairly) we are able to tell you exactly how these stones make it from the moment they are collected to when they are set here in our studio.

Being from inside the US, the stones are free from any issues surrounding conflict minerals and you won’t find a more environmentally friendly, less invasive mining process. We source our Arizona Ant Hill garnets from a true innovator in the field of ethical gemstone sourcing and production. Once collected, the stones are sold to gemstone cutters and polishers, otherwise known as lapidarists, to be prepared for the jewelry market.

 

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Meet our new Signature Sapphire Solitaire- it plays well with everything and can be personalized with almost any gemstone!

 

Another gem proudly mined in the USA features in our new signature solitaire, the Lash Blue Sapphire Ring. Discovered by gold prospectors 150 years ago, these Sapphires are a sought after dark blue from Rock Creek, Montana. We adore working with different sapphire colors and shades, Montana is such an exciting ethical source, given it has the widest variety of color of sapphire anywhere on earth.
2017_Fall_LASH_Sapphire_Garnet_Jewel_Tones_C-4200

Our Lash collection is colorful, playful, minimal and classic. Have fun mixing and matching it up!

 

In addition to being designed as suites or companions, the Lash Collection is designed to show off almost any of our ethical gemstones. Want to create a Lash Diamond Solitaire, a Blue Sapphire Lash Dyad Cluster or a Lash Linear Emerald Ring? Just fill out our Custom Design Questionnaire with your idea for Personalization and we’ll get back to you right away.

Positive Design, Perfect Packaging

By Constance on July 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm

The power of positive energy is a core company belief– infusing every one of our handmade items with thoughtful, responsible intent. Naturally, our packaging design will follow suit.

 

Bario Neal Packaging Porcelain Box

We strive for our beliefs to shine as bright as the ethical diamonds in our Diamond Cluster Ring.

 

We want the protection offered to our meticulously crafted, handmade jewelry to be every bit as conscious of a positive impact as our pieces. That’s why we are so excited to announce a new way to present and display our finest, modern heirlooms. Our exciting new exclusive porcelain boxes are hand cast by a small studio in Portland, Oregon, and arrive enclosed in our signature paper box.

Designed right here in our Philadelphia studio, each handmade box fits one ring or pair of earrings. The fine, white porcelain box and display is stamped with a subtle Bario Neal logo, indicating that every one houses an object of lasting value, with minimal environmental impact.

 

Bario Neal Packaging Porcelain Box

Contemporary craft and a positive ethos are at the core of every Bario Neal design.

 

The reveal of an engagement ring or special gift is a big moment and carries with it a lasting story. We think this beautiful, minimal box adds a tactile and thoughtful touch to make the memory perfect. And because we care about the future, our positive design ensures that story will continue to live on as an heirloom and home for your beautiful, one of kind jewelry.

 

Bario Neal Packaging Porcelain Box

Our handmade enclosure protects your jewelry, through shipping and reveal, to everyday use and display. 

 

If you choose not to purchase the porcelain box, you will still find your item perfectly packaged in our new signature paper box– also thoughtfully designed for minimal environmental impact and manufactured in the U.S.A.

 

Our signature paper boxes are made in North Carolina from recycled materials.

Our signature paper boxes are made in North Carolina from recycled materials.

 

It was no small feat to find a domestic, small-scale eco-friendly manufacturer of paper packaging. We’re happy to say our signature paper boxes are made in North Carolina with eco-friendly, recycled paper by a small manufacturer. Also, though most are manufactured overseas, we found small businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to make the fabric, foam, and paper that goes inside our boxes. These may seem like small details, but it matters to us.

Shop our new Porcelain Box here or add it to any Bario Neal piece in our “Packaging” section, when building your item.

 

How to Get Involved this Earth Day

By admin on April 18, 2016 at 11:14 am

outdoor_work02

 

Earth Day 2016 is fast approaching and if you are like us, you might be looking for ways to spend the occasion helping the environment. If so, all week in Philadelphia Earth Day volunteer opportunities abound. Consider one of the following:

Tuesday, April 19th:  Delaware River Clean-Up at Pier 68 at Pier 70 Blvd, hosted by United By Blue

A Philadelphia outdoor lifestyle brand, United By Blue gets us hype with pride for our city. Their flagship store in Old City and two other locations feature their environmentally conscious apparel and accessories and serve their edition of locally roasted Reanimator Coffee. For every product sold, UBB removes one pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways- what a deal. They host clean-ups year-round and not just in Philadelphia- in states around the country.

Friday, April 22nd:  Hunting Park Clean-Up hosted by the Philadelphia Science Festival

The annual nine-day Philadelphia Science Festival is back with a ton of awesome events and activities for all-ages. Check out their site for more info on special exhibitions, lectures, and this clean-up in Hunting Park on Friday.

Saturday, April 23rd:  Darby Creek Clean-Up hosted by the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Tucked down by the Philadelphia airport, the Tinicum Marsh is a natural landscape of freshwater tidal marsh, mudflats and woodlands that support hundreds of animal and plant species.  The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge settled beside the marsh in 1972 to preserve and develop this natural area within its urban setting of oil refineries, industrial sites and city life.  The refuge operates sustainably in its management of the wildlife habitat and focuses on providing environmental education on location in their classroom facilities and in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties.  They consistently involve the community in their cause, through events such as the Darby Creek Clean-Up on Saturday.

Saturday, April 23rd:  Naturepalooza! Family Earth Day Festival hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

Hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, this Family Earth Day Festival will be an all-day outdoor event with fort-building, an animal show, two hikes and a pond exploration.  In partnership with the Philadelphia Science Festival, it’s bound to be fun and full of information.

Also, check out this great list of Philadelphia-area Earth Day events for the whole family at Metro Kids

 

Consider volunteering at Penn treaty park this Philadelphia Earth Day

Philadelphia’s Delaware River could use your help this Earth Day. 

More than just upcoming Earth Day events, this list features some of our city’s amazing environmental organizations to keep the charge going year round.  These orgs employ and engage hardworking people committed to improving the environment and helping others get involved here in Philly. They hold events and classes to educate us, remediate our water and land, improve animal habitats around us and are always looking for more hands on deck.

If you can’t help out this week, there will always be more opportunities. You can easily work a clean up into your daily routine, taking an afternoon off to volunteer along the Schuylkill with United By Blue. Or just get outside any weekend, spending a Sunday on a bird walk or taking a hike in Fairmount Park. If you just can’t find the time, consider making a monetary donation to support existing efforts. Whatever you choose, celebrate Earth Day by supporting those working hard to clean our environment right here in Philly.

This is Part 1 of our Earth Day 2016 series. Stay tuned for Part 2 this Friday.

 

Big News for Your Monday Motivation

By Constance on March 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm

SCOTUS Unanimously Reverses Alabama Court’s Refusal to Recognize Same-Sex Adoption

The Alabama Supreme Court. Image from the Human Rights Campaign’s website.

Mondays can feel a little… meh, but with spring weather finally imminent, we turn to those breaking new ground for fresh Monday motivation.

First up on the docket, the unanimous decision from the Supreme Court of the United States reversing the Alabama Supreme Court’s refusal to recognize an adoption by a lesbian non-biological mother. From the Human Rights Campaign Statement:

“Any attempt to deny legal rights to our families is reprehensible, and this ruling establishes that bias and discrimination cannot be allowed to undermine the bond between LGBT parents and their children,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The nation’s highest court today ruled in the best interests of these children, setting a firm precedent for others across our nation. These children have two parents, and should have the security that comes with legal recognition.”

Though it may appear to be a small affirmation, the decision could affect other states that challenge or deny same-sex adoptions– a big victory in the fight for same-sex couples to stand on equal ground.

 

From left, Anna Bario and Page Neal. Anna will be speaking this weekend at the Jewelry Industry Summit.

Next up, we turn to an even more personal motivation, that of welcoming back BN co-owner and new mom (!), Anna Bario, who marks her return with a special event she has been planning for a long time, the upcoming Jewelry Industry Summit.

From the Summit’s website:

Though a number of responsible sourcing programs exist, there’s never been an industry-wide consensus on what constitutes a vision ALL stakeholders can support. At the Summit, the group discussion will include all viewpoints, representing every category and all levels of the jewelry industry.

And a recent article featuring Anna in Rapaport:

“One of the biggest challenges the KP (The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme) faces in expanding its scope to include human rights abuses is getting the various member countries to agree that it is a task worth undertaking. ‘I’m excited about the Jewelry Industry Summit in 2016,’ concludes Anna Bario, co-founder of Bario Neal, who is on the planning committee. The summit, an open forum on sustainability and responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry, will be held in New York City and is crowd funded. ‘I’m looking forward to the possibility of having a really open conversation about the challenges in the industry regarding responsible sourcing.'”

The forum is taking place at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City March 11–13, with an opening reception on the evening of March 10. Register here.

 

We are looking for a full-time Administrator for our Philadelphia location.

 

Lastly, if those two were not enough, we would like to announce an exciting opportunity to help us lead our growing team! We are looking for a full-time Design Administrator for our Philadelphia location. The position will require the candidate to work directly with our founders to promote and advance the ethical sourcing and marriage equality mission of the company, develop and oversee budgets, research industry trends, manage internal systems, develop and implement growth strategies. Other responsibilities include the management of the flagship Philadelphia store,​ book-keeping support, ​maintaining communication between the​ production, marketing, and customer service departments ​and ​assistance in organizing the bi-monthly staff meetings.

Skills required:
  • Strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills
  • Self-motivated &  ability to multitask
  • Ability to handle detail effectively and accurately
  • Ability to organize and prioritize tasks
  • Excellent communication skills, including ability to write clearly
  • Command of google calendar system, Excel, Word
  • The ability to research and learn new programs quickly

Sound like the perfect opportunity for a fresh start with a groundbreaking company? Please send a cover letter and resume to inquiries@bario-neal.com.

12 Days of Gifts, Collection Classics: Sapphire Slice Pendant

By Constance on December 13, 2015 at 11:19 am

Sapphire Slice Necklace

On the sixth day of our 12 Days of Gifts, we highlight one of the coolest classics in the collection, the Sapphire Slice Pendant, a shield-shaped pendant inlaid with an ethically sourced sapphire slice on a delicate chain and a handmade toggle clasp. Every sapphire slice is hand-shaped and has natural variations in color. Available in 14kt gold or sterling silver, this necklace also makes a perfect set with a pair of our large or small Sapphire Slice or the *brand new* Ruby Slice Earrings.

 

 

Sapphire Slice Necklace  and Earrings14KY

Sapphire Slice Pendant shown in 14kt gold with handmade large and small sapphire slice earrings.

 

Donate an art supply in store to qualify for 10% off these gorgeous statement-making-staples and 25% off the entire boutique line. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Malawi Dzone development project, which creates advancement in the education and health of communities surrounding the Chimwadzulu Mine, a major source of our sapphires.

 

art supplies under the tree

The art supplies go to help out Philadelphia’s Congreso after school program

 

Stay tuned to for a new gift idea daily! BNGood Sale in-store only through 12/23.  See locations page for more info about our extended Holiday hours.

 

Iquira-ARM Fairmined Workshop: Part 1

By Alyssa on May 11, 2015 at 10:16 am

Anna Bario, co-founder of Bario Neal Jewelry, attended the Cooperativa Multiactiva Agrominera de Iquira–Alliance for Responsible Mining Workshop in Colombia last November, 2014. Iquira is a gold and silver mining cooperative that was formed in 2004 in collaboration with the coffee farms in the town of Iquira—in fact, many of the miners and their families alternate seasonally between artisanal gold mining and coffee cultivation. The goal of the cooperative was to create a platform for community organization, enabling the development of safe and environmentally sustainable mining and cultivation practices that also yield a fair and livable income. Iquira has since achieved Fairmined certification. Anna will recount her experience at the workshop in three posts, first giving an introduction with an inside look at Iquira’s Fairmined practices, followed by a walk through the mining tunnels, and finishing up with a look at the processing plants. Each section will finish with a quick Q&A. We hope you enjoy!

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.09.47 AM Continue reading Iquira-ARM Fairmined Workshop: Part 1

Top Notch Faceting’s Jean Noel Soni

By admin on September 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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Jean-Noel Soni is the mastermind behind Top-Notch Faceting. Jean creates award-winning, precision cut gemstones that are ethically-sourced, cut by hand, and created without the use of computer-aided design . In his words, the unique facets in his gemstones are “all figured by man.” I had the opportunity to take a peek at his notebook and the degree of detail and geometry that goes into every gemstone is remarkable. Speaking with Jean, it’s clear that he is incredibly knowledgeable about the materials he sources, and is passionate about his process and unique perspective on the industry.

Jean-Noel Soni’s interest in gemstones began at an early age. Raised by his mother, a collector of antique jewelry, Jean was surrounded by intricate vintage trinkets as well as his mother’s talented jeweler friends. His introduction to gemstone cutting started in 2009, taking a once-a-week class at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. The curriculum was solely in cabochon cutting, or stones that are polished and shaped without facets. Jean’s interest in gemstone cutting took off.  Jean states that cabochon cutting is very precise and this experience aided his understanding in creating the dimensions for a stone.

Since Randall didn’t offer classes in facet cutting, Jean decided to take matters into his own hands. Saving money to spend on gem cutting equipment every few months, Jean turned to how-to books in gemstone faceting, including a vintage German book his mother owned from 1896.  At this point, it seemed clear that gemstone cutting was Jean’s calling. Jean picked out other books from the library, paying close attention to the detailed diagrams, illustrating interesting facets and techniques.

16.10ctOregonSunstoneBefore

16.10ctOregonSunstoneAfter

More or less self-taught, Jean’s work is precise and thoughtful.  He strives to create heirlooms from gemstones with the understanding that the material is finite. Never creating the same stone twice, Jean takes the needed time to design each stone. “For me, I really enjoy the challenge of taking whatever shape is presented to me and changing that into a gemstone. It can be challenging depending on the shape of the stone.”

Browsing through Jean’s instagram he is clearly prolific. “I love to work. I love the challenge and the ritual.” He was kind enough to send us a few before and after shots of stones, as well as a few shots from his studio. The transformation of a rough stone into a gem is quite magical and even sculptural.

17.46ctRhodoliteGarnetBefore

17.46ctRhodoliteGarnetAfter

4.82ctImperialGarnetBefore

4.82ctImperialGarnetAfter

1.87ctBenitoiteBefore 1.87ctBenitoiteAfter

1.79ctNigerianSapphireBefore

1.79ctNigerianSapphireAfter

“I use an older faceting machine. By machine, it is only a motor that spins round grinding wheels in different grits, horizontally. Each facet on every stone is ground down in finer and finer grits until each is polished. The trick lies in keeping all the facets at the proper depth and keeping symmetry. [This is] all done by eye and hand. There is also a whole other slew of things that go into cutting a gem including orientation of the crystal, dopping (attaching) the stone to a quill with wax so it doesn’t fall off and polishing, which is it’s own science by itself. I do not use any computer programs for my work at all. The materials are all very different and I feel that computers can only account for so much. Besides it’s more fun to figure out the stones with my own head.”

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I asked Jean about his views in the gemstone industry and appreciated his honest and critical approach. He mentioned that often in the industry, gems are cut for optimal weight, rather than precision cutting, which brings out natural beauty of the stone. “In the commercial gemstone cutting industry, it’s business as usual.” Jean notes that in the industry, people source cheaper materials rather than the quality of stone, but notes that a few people, such as himself, are searching for high quality products.

Jean prides himself in his ethical sourcing, saying the best way to ensure that a stone is ethical is to work small and stay local. Jean works directly with miners, traveling to places as diverse as Romania, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. His stones are  vibrant, clear, and untreated. Some of his favorite stones to work with are garnets and zircons. Every once in a while, Jean will find a zircon stone with a phenomena called double-refraction, which creates an almost double-vision effect. “You’re essentially watching the molecules vibrate.”

Please join us at NextFab Studios for a discussion with Jean-Noel Soni about his practice on September 24th, from 5-7PM. Please sign up here: https://nextfab.ticketleap.com/jewelry-lecture/dates/Sep-24-2014_at_0500PM

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Custom Allium Ring in Progress

By admin on June 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Here are photos of one of our jewelers, Jen, working on a custom ring last month. The customer has already proposed and is now happily engaged!