Gem & Jewelry Industry

Logistics for the Longer Haul: The New Normal at Cecile Raley Designs

Logistics for the Longer Haul: The New Normal at Cecile Raley Designs

I could probably make this a one-line blog: where we are at right now is where we have been over the last 6 weeks, and where we are going is “nowhere fast.” This, in any case, has been my takeaway from my latest addiction: the daily Andrew Cuomo press briefings.  

This week, Cuomo challenged New Yorkers – and I count myself as one of them – to rethink their business structure, at least for the near future.  That’s nothing new for me, because I’ve been rejigging things since week one. Here’s a back stage view of our New Normal.

For now, New York is only a paradise if you enjoy biking the empty streets.  According to the news, the mayor will open 100 miles of streets for pedestrian and bike traffic to ensure social distancing.  Reading between the (obvious) lines, that means no cars.  No cars, in turn means fewer people commuting, or going in and out of New York on business, to see Broadway shows, eat dinner, or shop.  The subways are empty and packing them back up is in nobody’s best interest right now.

Ladies & Gentlemen, The Diamond District is CLOSED

What this means for us is that New York won’t be my destination for pickups and drop offs for some time to come.  We’ve switched to working remotely, using overseas services, shipping orders in production back and forth between artisans, and personal drop offs & pick ups via car – one benefit of near-zero traffic in New Jersey!  Here’s where we are at, in order of production.

Gems: several of my vendors go to NYC once a week to check on their offices and mail out the orders (that are now down to a trickle) now that the local business is gone for the moment.  To respect social distancing ordinances, some of these vendors alternate with their staff so that the office just has one person in it on any given day, while other vendors just pay their staff to stay home and have applied for funding to cover their losses.  This means I can still get most of the gems that I want, but I need to have the vendors do some of the picking.  They all know my taste so they can send me a selection, and then I just return what I don’t want.  Some of the smaller buildings are completely shut until further notice, but the larger ones have a security guard stationed so there’s a small trickle of people going in and out.  Police cars guard the street.

Findings and Parts: bails, posts, pushbacks, jump rings, and chain are among the items I would source as needed in NY.  I’ve taken to ordering them online, mostly from the same suppliers, as they are working with a reduced staff in the back offices, not allowing any sort of foot traffic.  This means I have to stock more parts here at home.  Karen and I have made a list of things we should have on hand, and items are coming in as we speak.  But, of course, many of you are used to my getting all kinds of little specialty items.  That’s not fully operational yet, but we now have an account with Stuller, and they are up and running, including manufacturing! Feel free to check with them for any other items you’d like to see that I could use for your orders.  They ship fast and I can get anything mailed directly to my house.

CAD and Design: up and running!  I have two people working on CAD and I can offer a fairly quick turnaround time.

Castings: I’ve been doing castings for new custom orders in Australia.  The turnaround time from sending in the file to literally having it here in JC is about 8 business days.  It’s super-fast and the casting is excellent.  The hitch with this, however, is that I don’t have access to my molds, which are all at Taba. And I can’t send a mold to Australia anyway, as it’s too expensive.  Rather, I send in the CAD file to get printed "down under," and that’s an additional $30-40 per piece (and $40 for shipping so I usually combine 3 orders in one shipment).  Small pieces cost less in printing fees but there’s still some cost.  This means I am not casting any silver, and I have to be careful about small parts if I want to keep a profit margin.  Obviously, we are absorbing the additional costs right now.  Rings I can do without a problem, as well as pendants, but I’m not yet casting a lot of small parts like stud earrings. I suspect that my casting service will figure out a skeleton crew to go in and do minimal work so they can pay the rent, but given social distancing measures, they won’t be fully operational for some time.

Assembly / Jewelry work: This refers to adding jump rings, posts, bails, or soldering together chain.  Joanne and Johanna are helping with pre polish and they can do final polish also.  Assembly I have to keep simple, so for instance, adding jump rings is not an issue but soldering chain parts together for a bracelet means being super careful with not applying too much heat.  Soldering miniscule stuff is not for the uninitiated but we are slowly making it work.

Setting: Ethan is working from home but he babysits the little one during the day while his wife goes to her podiatrist’s practice.  Pierre has borrowed a microscope from someone and built himself a bench at home in the basement.  He went to NY and picked up some tools -- but not the laser.  He may get the laser machine if this keeps up, but for now it’s just sitting in his office, unemployed.

Odds and Ends: Ring sizing, small repairs, and any items that require low heat solder form a cluster of things that need to get done on nearly a weekly basis. Those items require the above named laser machine, which costs over 20K and nobody I know has one at home.  Laser machines don’t like traveling either, as they are sensitive to being jiggled around.  Another challenge is some of the chemical treatments required, i.e. rhodium plating.  You need a license for that stuff because those are environmental contaminants unfortunately.  But asking around and exchanging information with others in my industry yielded one shop that’s partially functioning with a larger home bench and equipment in Staten Island.  This is a medium sized shop doing mostly CAD, but the owner goes to NY once a week to pick up mail, do some casting, laser soldering and plating.  So what I’m doing is collecting a few items as they come in and then putting them together as one shipment so he doesn’t go in for just one thing.  I’ve given him a couple of medium to large orders to complete with casting.  He’s good friends with Pierre and they coordinate brief stops in NY so Pierre can set.

Other than that, yours truly drives the orders around as needed, and you can’t imagine how lovely it is to drive around these days with practically no cars on the road! On the nice and warm spring days, I get to hang out on Johanna’s stoop or outside Joanne’s ground floor window, or last Saturday, in Pierre’s garden (6 feet apart), fulfilling my need for social contact, seeing my friends, and encouraging them to keep going, as they encourage me.

The Diamond District, During COVID-19
A Very Empty 47th Street
Times Square, All Lit Up For an Audience of Zero
A Very Empty Times Square
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Setting Secrets Exposed: What Happens to Your Custom Project in Setting

Setting Secrets Exposed: What Happens to Your Custom Project in Setting

I don't know if you have noticed but the diamond district tends to be very secretive about what happens behind all those closed doors. Try googling for articles on the diamond district, you will find that most have very little content. But for a little fun and very accurate information, try this article from the New York Times on Diamond District Slang.

Jewelers rarely if ever disclose who does their work, not even to each other. I think that's a pity because there's not only much to be learned for those not in the industry. I personally am in awe of some of the skill that is exhibited by jewelers, setters, engravers, and even polishers  who are least likely to get many kudos for their work. Each step in making these little masterpieces is the result of years of experience, and in most cases, also involves considerable financial investment, both in terms of equipment needed and risk management.  

Last week I made a little video to demonstrate some of this, and provide you some insight into one of the aspects of the jewelry making process: setting. As most of you know already, Pierre Berberoglu (you'll find him on facebook if you like to make friends) has been my setter for about 7 or 8 years now. Pierre started working in the jewelry industry at 14, back in Turkey at a time when Armenians didn't have many options of what jobs to pursue. Pierre, who also owns 4 Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shops, finds the work he does both challenging and soothing. He feels in control when he's at the bench, he says. And that despite the super expensive pieces he works on, many of which require not only a steady hand but also an enormous amount of concentration.

Our Ring Models Before Setting

Pierre's office can be found on the 8th floor of a well secured doorman building, and you have to be let into two doors to get in. There's a camera at the door and if he doesn't know you he will ask through the speaker who you are. If you are new, you can say who sent you or who recommended you, that might open the doors. Or not, if he deems it insecure. Pierre's safe has to protect a lot of client's projects so it's best not to deal with anyone you don't know.


Cecile Raley Designs job envelopes for custom projects


Your Cecile Raley Designs custom project will travel through the diamond district in a job envelope like this, with all important information written or sketched on the envelope

Pierre sits at his bench concentrating hard approximately 5-6 hours a day, the rest of the time is taken up talking to the likes of me, or dropping off and picking up a project. His huge microscope is a necessity for micro pave work, which he executes with perfection even while chatting with me.  

Trays of gemstones in my safe, waiting to be set into custom jewelry

In the video, we go over a few projects for clients, including one for me. I have him explain a bit about the challenges. While Pierre has been gem setting for nearly 40 years, the kinds of gems I bring are ones even he has rarely or never heard of. So for any new gem (i.e. the hauynes I started bringing three years ago) we have to discuss how it might behave under his tools. He told me once that setting paraiba melee is like setting soap bubbles. He almost doesn't use tools at all when he presses the prongs in (occasionally he uses his fingernails). I also have him set a lot of odd shapes, i.e. small pave ovals or squares, which is rarely done.  


A Cecile Raley Designs custom CAD design with a pave double halo of gemstones

Ethan, my other setter, who is also a bit more camera shy, so you aren't seeing him here, actually practiced setting colored gems for two years before we both felt comfortable working on my projects. Before going out on his own, Ethan set diamonds for a company that almost exclusively did micro pave for Tiffany's. While presenting it's own challenges (Tiffany's is a stickler for perfection), a setter who has set diamonds for years is usually very heavy handed and has to learn to hold back the force he uses for diamonds. This can result in a lot of breakage at first. And keep in mind that almost every setter in the US sets almost only diamonds. This makes what I do very much off the beaten path.

Dozens of custom projects in my Jersey City office, waiting to be taken to the NY diamond district, or just arriving back from there 

For a little extra entertainment, here's a short clip of Pierre discussing how he's setting a diamond tennis bracelet:

Detail of Hand Cut Scoop Down Pave by Pierre

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