Stones are obviously one of the main characters in the story of PIA, and a huge inspiration to everything we create. I have been in love with mosaics and joinery since I was a little girl, and as soon as I started learning how to make jewelry, I became immediately obsessed with stones and how to use them to convey shapes and colors.
During the first years of PIA, the range of stones I used was small, and trial and error were my best buds. I bought most stones in the Manhattan diamond district. Most of them were bought as already cut and polished stones that I would cut again for the inlay pieces.
For a long time I dreamed of going to the Tucson gem show while at the same time I barely managed to make a living with my work, juggling jobs, not saving and continuously learning.
It was finally in 2015, when I managed to go for the first time. I went by myself, flew to Phoenix, rented the cheapest car available and drove around for a couple of days until I arrived into the most fun mesmerizing accumulation of human and rock specimens I have had the pleasure to experience.
The Tucson gem show is a bit of an understatement, It is not one show, but a series of showcases that take place in different locations across Tucson during the months of January and February. This includes museum-like shows loaded with million dollar specimens, International vendors of diamonds, sapphires, and other machine cut stones to fit standard settings, as well as outdoor parking lots covered in blankets showcasing chunks of rocks from different small vendors from near and far.
The first year was a bit overwhelming, I bought a lot of things I didn't need and was so distracted and amazed I didn't take enough notes, but it is easy to underestimate how much I learned.
Here are some conclusions that I arrived to during those early times:
If you want to see how a stone will look once polished, you need to wet the surface. For this reason many vendors of rough stone will have spray bottles laying around their booth or will have them inside tubs of water. If none of these are available, licking the rocks is the next alternative and let me tell you, it used to be a popular one.
See-through stones for the most part don´t look great in inlay, as the light doesn't shine through them and their colors tend to look dull. They are much nicer when cut into facets and set into prong settings or open-back bezels that allow them to float and get light from various angles.
Large chunks of stone in the rough are often broken into smaller pieces and then slabbed into slices. From there it is easy to draw designs and cut them to fit the designer´s needs.
Bigger chunks of stone rough are way harder to source than small ones. And commonly, the prices of stone are not proportional to their weight, but exponential (a large chunk of lapis can be 4 or 5 times pricier than another chunk that is half the size).
Sometimes stones are pulverized into dust, and then reconstructed using resin as a medium to create a stronger, more durable version of the stone. This practice is commonly applied to turquoise.
Stones with the same name can look very similar and vice versa, don't judge a stone just by its color!
Over the course of the next few years I became more familiar with the different shows, sparked lovely conversations with a lot of the vendors, and was able to give better thought to how to incorporate the beautiful materials they offered into my work.
In addition to this, I also started going to another smaller gathering of US rockhounds that takes place in January in a place called Quartzsite, on the border of Arizona and California, where I source lots of the stones I feature in my work such as variscite, turquoise and jasper.
These gems are very special as they come from pockets of rock located under private properties in the US where small family-run operations have been established. Often these are multi-generational businesses with wonderful passionate stories behind them and let me tell you sometimes it's just so nice to be in such close proximity to the origin of the materials we work with.