Cecile Raley Designs

The Third C - Using Color in Design

The Third C - Using Color in Design

Finally, let’s get back to talking about color. In this final entry in our discussion about color and gemstones, I want to focus on how I like to use color in design.

First, a little background. When I first started making jewelry, I was using beads. I initially strung up glass beads and Swarovski crystals with base metal spacers but I very quickly graduated up to gemstone beads and wire wrapping. Since natural gemstone beads don’t come in just any pantone color, I realized that combining colors for a pleasing result could be challenging.

What helped me was mixing color “themes” either on tissue paper or a white plate. I pulled some beads off the strands, mixing until I had the right colors, the right proportions of those colors, and the right metal for spacers. (I used to have a LOT of beads). 

I still work this way. As we carry a lot of melee gems, I can lay them out together until I have a combination I like, and I can use the little sticky boxes from Stuller to make gems face right side up. But given that I’ve done this for over a decade, I can offer some shortcuts:

    1. Start with the gem you really want to use. This does not have to be the focal gem, it might be a single accent stone or a few melee. In many of my designs, the center stone is the complement and the side stones the attraction. This makes particular sense when the bigger stones are too expensive.
      Mexican Fire Opal and Ruby Ring
      Mexican Fire Opal and Ruby Ring
      Malaya Garnet and Paraiba Tourmaline Ring
      Malaya Garnet and Paraiba Tourmaline Ring
    2. Once you have your main focus, you work on complementing it. I personally like working tone in tone, meaning ombres or gems of the same variety because they always seem like they belong together. But availability doesn’t always allow for that, so another way to go is contrastive: pinks and greens, purples and blues, peach and teal, pink and orange, yellow and purple. Always keeping in mind which color should be dominant.
Pink Sapphire and Emerald Ring (Camellia Ring)
Our Camellia Ring Featuring Pink Sapphire and Emerald
Malaya Garnet, Ruby and Diamond (Camellia Ring)
Our Camellia Ring Featuring Malaya Garnet, Ruby and Diamond
Malaya garnet and Kornerupine (large Cocktail Ring)
Large Cocktail Ring Featuring Malaya Garnet and Kornerupine


All Sapphire (Kite Style Pendant)
Kite Style Pendant Pendant Featuring Multi-Colored Sapphires


Diamond, Paraiba and Hauyne (Juliette Ring)
Our Juliette Ring Featuring Diamond, Paraiba and Hauyne


Zircon and Red Spinel (Rosette Ring)
Our Rosette Ring Featuring Zircon and Red Spinel
Gatsby Malaya Garnet Kornerupine
Our Gatsby Pendant Featuring Malaya Garnet and Kornerupine


    1. Metal is a color. Here’s a link to the blog I did on metals. Rose gold blends the most with other colors, yellow gold is a totally independent color, white gold cools the temperature but can look like too much metal if the side stone gems are not diamonds.
      zircon mint garnet Camellia
      Our Camellia Pendant Featuring Zircon and Mint Garnet


  1. Don’t forget that gemstones have other properties besides color, and they matter. Gems can be transparent (aquamarine) or satiny (emerald), and it’s often easier to combine just transparent and just satiny stones, unless again you are trying to complement. Gems also range from very brilliant (diamond) to almost not brilliant at all (Paraiba Tourmaline). Combining these will be more contrastive, less complementary.
    Paraiba and Diamond (Cleo Ring)
    Our Cleo Ring, Featuring Paraiba Tourmaline and Diamond
    Paraiba and Hauyne Ring
    Paraiba Tourmaline and Hauyne Ring


  2. Natural gemstones also have hues, bi-color effects, color change, di- and tri-chroism, all of which have to be considered in the overall color scheme. For example, purple-pink sapphires often have a bi-color effect that is due to zoning in the gem. Sphene, kornerupine and unheated tanzanite often exhibit some degree of di or tri-chroism, and some garnet, sapphire and alexandrite exhibit color change. For gems like this, it’s best to complement the colors that are already there, as opposed to trying to introduce an entirely new color.
    Purple Garnet, Mahenge Spinel, Tanzanite, & Cobalt Spinel
    Purple Garnet, Mahenge Spinel, Tanzanite, and Cobalt Spinel


    Purple Garnet and color change garnet (Edwardian ring)
    Our Edwardian Ring Featuring Purple Garnet and Color Change Garnet


    Purple Garnet, Hauyne and Mahenge Spinel (Tudor Pendant)
    Our Tudor Pendant, Featuring Purple Garnet, Hauyne and Mahenge Spinel


    Elizabeth Ring with Sphene
    Elizabeth Ring Featuring Sphene

One final tip. When I first learned how to use a real camera, back in 1982, my dad’s simple advice was this: if you don’t like the way it looks through the camera, don’t take the picture. In other words, trust what you see, not what you want to see. If you don’t like a combo, don’t try to like it, it won’t work. I often used to make pieces where after an initial ever so brilliant idea, my reaction to the actual combination was “meh.” Most of those pieces had to be sold at discount. That’s not a mistake you need to repeat. ☺️

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Too Soon for Tucson? The Reality of Gem Buying in 2022

Too Soon for Tucson?  The Reality of Gem Buying in 2022

I either have antibodies already, or I am the luckiest person on earth, having traveled to Germany 7x since Covid started, having to test incessantly to get into my mom’s home, always coming up negative.  I was in Colombia, Denver twice for gem shows, and in Tucson in April.  Yes, I am very careful, I am triple immunized, and one of the most tested people outside the health care industry, but still!  Last week one of my closest friends got Omicron (3x immunized) and several of my more distant ones did too - all independently of one another. 

Hence, I say this with a great deal of caution: in two weeks I am going to the Tucson gem shows - not to one, but to several super spreader events.  I am going to self-test every single day both for myself and for the sake of everyone else that I am going to see.  

But I SO want to go, even if I have to hole up in the hotel every night and get room service.  I am really hoping to meet some of my long missed vendors from Bangkok – four in total – all of which are going to be there if they don’t test positive beforehand.  My budget is small but my appetite for gems is high, especially for multi colored and blue sapphire melee, emerald melee, benitoite, and spinel


4x3mm Blue Sapphire Oval
4x3mm Blue Sapphire Oval



Loose Pink Burma Sapphire Rounds, 2.1mm
2.1mm Loose Pink Burma Sapphire Rounds



I am also on the lookout for specialty cuts.  The ones in the lower price range often sell out quickly.  Two years ago I saw some lovely zircon hexagons and long kites, but when I went back to GJX on day two to get more, they had all gone.  Also, while I can get sapphire melee shipped from Thailand, the reason MY stock of blues, purples and greens, even yellows is always so well matched is because I do this myself at the show and it takes hours, yielding only small batches.  I cannot get anything matched down that well when it’s shipped to me.  Nobody in NY has these melees, at least not for the prices I get them for in Tucson.

Of course, I am also curious about what vendors are managing to bring.  Vietnam is still difficult to access, so my favorite location for spinel, other than Burma, is not likely to have much of interest.  I have asked around for cobalt spinel, but so far, no luck.

Madagascar, as a source, remains problematic as well.  I had hoped to get my shipment this winter, but the Mining Office, which provides the export documents, remains closed.  A large Sri Lankan smuggling operation was outed late last fall, which led to arrests of Madagascan custom’s officers, several people from the Mining Office as well as the director of the Ilakaka mine.  The director of the Mining Office, meanwhile, has vanished without a trace, and a new one is being trained.  Until that’s sorted, they are not reopening.  This means, in turn, that there will be zero exports of gemstone rough, faceted gems, and collectors’ crystals.  Only commercial goods such as decorative and ornamental stones (i.e. tumbled calcite that you can put into a bowl on your table) are allowed as those are handled by four other local mining offices located in other towns.

Ergo: my grandidierite, color change garnets, sphene, aquamarine and a small production of a new find of gems that I am excited about is stuck.  My friends are keeping everything at their house and I know I will get it sooner or later, but if any other gemstone dealer hoped to have Madagascan material for Tucson, those hopes are dashed at this point.  It is simply too late.

Color-change garnet lot in Mada waiting for shipment
Color-change garnet lot in Mada waiting for shipment


Sphene lot sitting in Madagascar waiting for shipment
Sphene lot sitting in Madagascar waiting for shipment


Finally, I am going to switch out several sets of memo gems, which I usually do toward the end of the AGTA show, when vendors are winding down and are offering them out to me for a few months to work with.



For this reason, you’ll see a flash sale of last chance memo’d items offered at 20% before Tucson (January 26-29), and then the rest will go on sale on the 30th of January for two weeks. I wish I could offer a steeper discount on memo gems but much of the profit of gems on memo is not ours, so there are limits to what we can do.  That said (and if you read that far), if you contact me directly you can get 25% off because I pay 5% to Etsy anyway, on top of any advertising fee should you have clicked on a Google Ad for my shop within 30 days of your purchase from me.  If I sell direct, none of that applies and I am happy to pass it on, as well as save you taxes outside the state of NJ. 

In addition to the gem sales, all jewelry (with the exception of custom) will be on sale as well.  We have never had a Valentine’s Day sale because we are always in Tucson, but now that we are selling more jewelry again, we think we should.  So it’s all gonna happen at once.  I hope you will keep us busy!

So, fingers crossed, Tucson is going to happen as planned.  If not, I certainly won’t be the only one not going... and I will find a plan B, as I always do. 

Here are a few of the "Last Chance" gems, disappearing from the shop after January 29th, but available from January 26th-29th at 20% off:

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