Our Story

Dedicated to Those Who Left Us

Dedicated to Those Who Left Us

Sebaj died from metastasized colorectal cancer on November 20th, 2023 at 10 a.m.

The 4th Hour

Right now, you are dozing. The T.V. that belongs to bed A is rattling off gory news about the war in Israel. “Horrible,” I think to myself. But I’m only thinking it, I’m not actually feeling anything. It doesn’t matter to me. My eyes are on you, my worry and my sorrow, all you. Slowly and inescapably, I watch the clock tick away the Dilaudid. I will have to watch for signs soon.

Your eyebrows always tell me first. The overgrown, white bushy whisps are more prominent than ever, now that your temples have sunken in. Like a watch dog, I am fixated on what your face is telling me.

When you raise your brows, you look like you are asking yourself an interesting question, wherever you are in your morphine-laden dreams. Maybe you are fixing a bicycle again. I have to smile. All your hallucinations seem to involve bikes. Your happy place.

I can see it starting now, the eyebrows are beginning to furrow, the crease between them deepening. Sometimes this lasts just a few seconds, and you sleep through the flash of pain.

“A six,” I think. My heart rate ticks up. I should start checking with the nurse to see where you are in her evening queue. Timing is everything.

Your legs are trying to twitch. Insofar as you can twitch your legs at this point. It’s more like they are moving slightly, pointing to something you want to do but cannot. There’s not enough muscle left for you to command, and the constant fatigue is doing the rest. I see the pain building up now, travelling down the length of the sciatic nerve into your right leg. You are rubbing your arms with your hands to self soothe. Your subconscious is starting to work your bag of tricks. Years of toughness have taught your brain what to do.

Your eyes open: “What time is it?” you whisper on the exhale.

“Another 45 minutes,” I say, because I know what you’re asking anyway. We’ve been here many times before, it’s Groundhog Day every four hours. Every day. Every week. Not sure what week we’re in exactly, but it did get cold out and the leaves fell. It must be at least six weeks by now, I think to myself. I’m not sure. It’s hard to think about those things. Extreme stress gives you tunnel vision. I read that somewhere.

But now I have to focus.

I grab the heating pads and dash out the door. I dash on the inside anyway, because I’ve learned that my rapid movements increase your anxiety and that dials up the pain. So I try to walk leisurely until I get to the door, then gun for the microwave down the hall. If I put one heating pad on for 90 seconds, I can bring that one back while the other one cooks. That’s the most efficient and I need to be efficient. We are probably already at an 8 with the pain.

I say “we” as if this were my pain, too. I should deny myself that, it is your pain, I am not the one hurting. I am the one trying to fix this. You are in the one in a bad place, you are the one who got sick. I shoo my feelings back into their straight jacket and look for my happy face.

I place the pads next to your stomach and lightly on your back – I know where they go. I move gently because I don’t want to burn your skin or add unnecessary pressure anywhere. You can push them away or point to where you need them. I don’t want you to have to have to speak, and you don’t want to have to ask.

Your blanket has rolled itself into a lump and your legs feel cold. You are often cold now, but you don’t want weight on your skin. It hurts. That’s why I bring the little red comforter from home every time we come here. It’s lighter but fluffier than the blankets from here and easier for you to move. It warms you up fast. I lightly drape it over your lower half.

I rearrange your pillows in a futile effort to make something better. I lower the overhead lights to reduce stimulation, turn on the T.V., looking for something funny or an action film. Not more stuff on the war in Israel. I want to ask you what you want to watch. You like to be the one deciding. But we’re sort of past that, aren’t we? It’s not like you’ll make fun of my choice at this point. It just has to do the job.

And the job is simple. If it gets the pain down just one point, this is good. Every little bit helps. Because, I’ve learned, that is how pain works. Almost never does it go away, it’s really just waves in a large and ever swaying ocean. Bigger waves, smaller ones. Small waves are 3s, 4s, 5s. We ignore those at this point because they are constant anyway. They just grind you down, affect your will power. We have resigned ourselves to those.

But then there are the gigantic waves, the 10s, the ones we have to try to bring down in bits and pieces with distractions as we ride out the hour of the Dilaudid low. And what we really want to avoid are what I call the “athlete’s 10s,” the 12s of any normal human being, where people like us just jump out the window and call it a day.

“35 minutes” I tell you. Time for me to get the nurse ready to fire the meds on time. This takes at least 10 minutes, because the opioids are under lock and key so nobody can give more than what’s prescribed, or earlier than prescribed. Not even by a minute. This is a real problem when you need more, or when the prescription didn’t come through yet, or when the nurse hasn’t finished studying your long file at the start of her shift.

Once she has the meds, the nurse then has to document that she has filled the order in her file. For all this to happen on time, she has to be done with the previous patient 15 minutes before.

That leaves 20 minutes for me right now. But I have double duty. Check on you, check on her, report back to you to let you know how much longer. Check on you, check on her, report back. You can’t lose hope and you need to know how long to keep up the deep breathing. My obsession with repetition as a way of coping with stress is at an all-time high. And I am letting it fly loose, at my own peril.

I try to keep the voice down that repeats itself in the back of my head. It says: “this is your twilight.” I am so scared I have to slow my own breathing to stay focused. In for count of four, hold four, out four, hold four. “Please let this not be for nothing,” I whisper. As if someone’s listening, but I know we are alone here.

The nurse is still taking notes on the patient next door, and I go out to talk to her about you. This is when I can create the emotional grip. To get her to care for you more than the person next door. This is when tell her about who you and your cancer and your pain - you hate it so much when I talk about you like this but I don’t listen to you. I was always going to ask for forgiveness later, I really was. But now I listen to your pain like it is my only master. And your pain is a powerful motivator. More powerful than my judgment that it is wrong to try to get you ahead in the queue. All the nurses are overworked, and tonight their sickest patient might be the person next door. I take note of the fact that I really don’t care. To ask myself at a later point if I will then agree with myself now. Or if the compulsion to ease your pain has gotten the better of my moral compass.

Tonight, though, I might be in luck. The nurse is compassionate and understanding, interested in hearing about your athletic prowess, and how I saw it vanish in front of my eyes in a matter of weeks. The Dilaudid will come on time. Good.

“10 more minutes,” I report back to you. But you are not in a good place, you want to move to escape the pain. You used to get on your knees and elbows and rock, that helped a little. I propped you up and held your hips in place when your muscles started giving out. And I would ease the fall when you collapsed. Tried to rearrange your limbs back into place.

Now you can no longer work with me and I have to think about what else I might try. I go for the massage, rubbing the sciatic nerve from the leg up into the hip flexors. Though I generally think I am competent at this, I know it really doesn’t work for you, I go too deep and too hard. But you have asked me a few times to just try something, because you might be too tired to ask or too weak to think. If you don’t like what I try you will just push me away. So I am trying something.

The second hand of the clock above the door ticks away and the nurse is running late. “Shit.” I hope you don’t sense my anxiety in addition to yours. If animals can smell it, then humans can too. “I’ll go check again,” I say.

I go, begging, “please come quickly, you don’t know what it’s like. He would cry if he could, he would scream if that were his thing but the athlete in him will not let him do this, not even now. Plus he’s just too tired, too worn out, too resigned. Please.”

You want to end it, I know it already. And I am against it. I just want a little bit more time with you.

And I want a win, even if it’s just for now!

“Five minutes behind.” But not more than that. I am sure. Remember when you used to set the timer on your phone and admonish the nurse when she was late? That was in the early days, when you were more your bristly self and could fend alone for a few hours. Now it’s just me here, I think. Between your brain, your needs, and the outside world. It’s the place of promise I put myself into, never to leave you alone in your suffering, and always knowing what you need when you can’t say.

Five minutes late is not really bad, it’s been 30-60 minutes before, that’s been hard. One night it took 4 hours because the script wasn’t there, and the docs had gone home, the backup docs were trying to save some dying person in the ER, the new nurse thought you might just be an addict. Now that it’s late in your game, they don’t do that anymore. You often get prioritized, but I know what that means too, and I don’t like where that thought leads.

The shot comes 10 minutes late. I tell you that this is a win. I don’t think you care about a win, though, you just want relief. The oral meds, the ones we have to take at home where there’s no IV, those are the real problem, they take 60 minutes or more to catch up to the pain, and if the pain is too strong at that point it will take hours more. Hours of darkness for you, hours of fear for me.

But tonight, we are here at least, where the IV is. We are here to treat the pain, not the disease. In the beginning, I didn’t know that that was the real disease, the real enemy. I get it now.

You are wide awake as the nurse comes in. You muster the rest of your strength and make a kind remark. You are trying to be grateful. But you follow her every move with your eyes, which say, “please hurry.” She pushes the IV. A couple of minutes, and all the muscles in your face relax. It’s better.

We chat a tiny bit, then you get tired again and doze off. I want to talk more, ask you things, tell you things. But I let you sleep. You deserve it, you worked hard. The point of serious conversation between us is anyway in the past. Whatever I can tell you now will only add to your burden. When you open your eyes and look at me, I give you an encouraging smile and pitter patter about something unimportant. Deep thoughts are painful now, and we have enough of that going for us already.

It is dark out now. My co-pilot arrives from work to take over the night shift. Because it takes two navigators to guard your hurt if one wants a win. And I feel safer knowing someone shares my obsession and my grief.  

My co-pilot sets her timer for the meds, just in case. But like me, she never really sleeps when she is with you. Her eyes interlock with yours, you are pleased she’s here. And that is where her eyes will stay for the night, just like mine, looking for signs of pain, trying not to miss anything.

Tomorrow at 8 a.m. it’s back to battle stations for me. I will come replenished to get through the day for however many more there are. But any day other than the day I am in is far in the future for me now. I’m too focused on the 4th hour.

And you? You are without respite until you take your last breath. We both know that already. We just pretend otherwise. Until its lights out for you and I go into free fall.

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Is Etsy Worth it Anymore? A Comparison to Shopify...

Is Etsy Worth it Anymore? A Comparison to Shopify...

A very long time ago I wrote a blog entitled “Can You Live off Etsy?” It was one of my first blogs, and back then one of my most widely read ones too. But Etsy has gone through a lot of changes since we started there, and so have we. Soon you will be able to buy most of our product on Shopify as well as Etsy, use our new filtering functions to better find what you are looking for and match gems against our custom offerings. We will have our own page organization and templates so that each place you visit on our site, you see our brand reflected, and so you won't get it mixed up with someone else’s shop – a common occurrence these days.

So what’s different about Etsy 10 years later that makes us feel as if it’s no longer enough to just have an Etsy shop?  Here are our most important observations but we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

MONEY (Yes, that’s the most important topic because we are, after all, a business and this is my sole source of income!)

- Taxes: All marketplaces (such as eBay, Amazon, and Etsy) are required to collect sales tax for most US states as well as Australia and the EU. Individual sellers only collect for their state because anything else would be a logistical nightmare. Buyers are obligated to file Use Tax instead, but we cannot and do not oversee this. Now that Etsy is charging all these taxes, people request us  every week, if not every 2 or 3 days, to be billed outside of Etsy. We are mirroring our product on Shopify so that we can do that easily. 

- Fees: Etsy always had fees but it used to be 3% and now it is 6.5% of the sales amount per transaction. This doesn’t include listing fees and ad fees; the latter are automatically deducted from any sale where the buyer also clicked on a Google ad for our shop within 30 days of purchase. This goes for any kind of sale, even if it’s a payment plan or custom listing - it doesn’t matter as Google simply charges because you clicked. In Shopify it’s up to us to choose to buy our own Google ads or not, whereas in Etsy ad participation cannot be turned off. Etsy does have the advantage that it refunds all fees when orders are returned or cancelled, meaning they also eat the non-refundable PayPal and Credit Card fees of 3-4%. That is nice if you have a lot of returns, but we hardly have any!


- Brand awareness: On Etsy, the brand is Etsy, not any shop on Etsy, and this shows on every page. We have no ability to change page layout or organization to reflect our brand except with the banner and the small avatar icon. We can also choose how to sort our items but the rest is fixed.

- Blog Placement: There’s no place for the blog, nor can we link to it. You may have noticed that on Etsy, you can link to your website on the about page, but you cannot enter links anywhere else. This is so that buyers cannot so easily navigate away from Etsy and end up spending their money elsewhere.

- Variations, filters: On Etsy we can add two listing variations (such as ring size or color). But filters (such as price filters) are always applicable for the entire site on the search page, you cannot add filters inside the shop. You can use the search function but if you don’t search in the subsection of our shop, you will be presented with listings that have nothing to do with us. We get questions about the items we have every other day because buyers cannot find what they are looking for in our shop. In Shopify, you will be able to filter for colors or price, for all floral or scroll designs, and if you want to know which designs take a 4mm center stone, the search function will kick out a list.

- Suppression of listing information in the app: This change in Etsy is the bane of our existence. Ever since the listing description has been put all the way at the bottom of the listing page (past shipping) in the app we get almost daily questions about the very details we put there: how big is the stone, how many gems are included in the purchase, is it treated etc. Our descriptions answer all those questions and in the past, buyers rarely asked because these descriptions were easy to see. Answering these questions with cut/paste is a LOT of work.

I know, you might say that people also don’t read, but this is not the main problem here: when we copy the listing description into a convo or email for convenience, or repeat the details, people often apologize for not seeing them sooner. In other words we are teaching them how to navigate the app and that shouldn’t be down to us. It discourages buyers! Perhaps the description details are not all that relevant when you make a small purchase but when you are about to spend a few hundred dollars, you want all the details you can get, especially regarding origin and treatment! For us, having to answer all those questions is time consuming and it is completely unnecessary because we already put all that information down! In Shopify, by contrast, everything is easy to see. We don’t even have to design that part, the product information is simply more up front.

Finally, let’s open the biggest can of worms - The Others – by which I mean the other sellers on Etsy.

- Much of the competition sucks. Now, believe me, I love shopping on Etsy and there are a lot of wonderful Etsy shops, including shops that have gems and custom jewelry that I would highly recommend, such as Brett Kosnar whose stones I love working with. But then there’s all the rest. When we first started to get questions like “is your stuff real?” or “is there a certificate of authenticity for this $1.50 ruby?” or “how do I know what you sell is legit?” in around 2021, I really got offended and often gave snippy responses. We never got questions like that before, so I thought: what are we doing wrong? Then I found reviews for other shops like this: 

Well, it turns out I was asking the wrong question. The question was really this: how did our environment change? And once I started to do Etsy searches with the tags we use (“rare Grandidierite” for instance), I saw the problem. Some shops (but more than you'd like!) just flat out lie about their product: 6 Carat Grandidierite, natural from Madagascar, for $119.99. Huh?

As one reviewer put it very aptly: “Should have listened to my voice telling me if it’s too good to be true…..” (this is directly lifted from a review on Etsy). I saw one buyer asking “why are they even on Etsy?” in a review as the shop was of such low quality. So it's no wonder I have to distinguish myself from the rest. I hadn’t thought about the company I keep, and how it affects the way I am viewed. (Sidebar. Sometimes other shops also steal your photos, like this one here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Luckystargem?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=1313325610


    Yes, one should consider the “buts.” Etsy does a lot of advertising, and this brings us new buyers, no doubt. It provides way more advertising than we could purchase on our own. Isn’t that worth it? Depends. First of all, we are also bringing buyers to Etsy when we are found based on recommendations, and these buyers may buy other products, not just ours. Secondly one has to ask: Are new Etsy buyers the right kind of buyers for CRD? Do they turn into repeat buyers, for instance? Etsy tells us where our buyers came from, i.e. from Instagram, or an Etsy search. But it does not tell us which of these traffic sources are our biggest source of revenue (i.e. Instagram or Etsy search). I would need to know that to know if I am bringing business to Etsy or Etsy is bringing business to me.

    What we do know is that Etsy prioritizes items over $35 that ship free, in all searches. Luckily, we do not sell heavy things so we can often pay for the shipping. But sellers of furniture or heavy objects who need to charge for shipping are at a disadvantage.

    Another potential issue is that Etsy provides seller badges to highlight shops that ship quickly, which is a drawback for what Etsy is known for: customization. To get the star seller badge, you have to ship all items within your listed deadline. Easy right? No. If you buy a stone that says it ships in 1-2 days, but then tell us to hold shipping because it goes into a custom order, our shipment will be considered late. We can change the shipping date, but only ONCE, and only for 3 weeks out. This is not enough. For custom jewelry, we can change the shipping profile but this is limited to 6 weeks and will then apply even if you are buying a gem that you want shipped right away, thereby confusing buyers. There are shops on Etsy that manufacture furniture from scratch, and they take 6 months. They will be flagged as shipping everything late, even though they do not; they ship exactly as advertised.

    Alternatively, an Etsy shop can get a bad review because it is marking items as shipped that have not yet gone out in the mail, sometimes they do this by making and then cancelling the label after they have lifted the required tracking number and copied it over into Etsy. Such as this review here, for which I cannot fault the shop but would rather have faulted Etsy itself (but you cannot leave a review for Etsy, can you?):

     What's going wrong? In a nutshell, it's that Etsy wants to be like Amazon but there's a problem with being like Amazon in that Amazon does not aim to support service-oriented businesses. In Etsy, engaging with the shop owner was always front and center, because its original aim was creating hand made custom products. This is in conflict with free and quick shipping and their current one-size-fits-all business model. Perhaps Etsy is not the right place for luxury anymore.

    What do you think?


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    2020 Kicks the Bucket. A New Year, a Fresh Start

    2020 Kicks the Bucket.  A New Year, a Fresh Start


    Well, I can say this much: 2020 has decidedly been the most bizarre year of my entire life. Granted, I haven’t been through a war; I grew up in, and live in a wealthy country, so maybe that doesn’t say much.  But BOY, do I not want to repeat these past 12 months, despite the fact that I finally had time to redo my basement.  Let’s hope for better years ahead for all of us!

    While I cannot offer you a vaccine, I do hope to provide you with some distractions until the latter kicks in for everyone.  CRD starts off the new year with a new Logo, designed by The Brand Shop “The White Zebra”.  And there’s more to come: new graphics, newsletter design, banners, packaging materials, and eventually, a revamped website.  We hope for your input along the way, as we are in the midst of finalizing a questionnaire that will ask you to help us with your thoughts.  Our next newsletter will fill you in on the details.

    Here are some new packaging drafts.  

    After that, Tucson.  Well, kind of, as there will not be any actual Tucson shows.  Not yet anyway.  A number of the organizers are trying to put together some shows to take place later this spring but amidst uncertainties about travel, new shutdowns, and more virulent mutations of COVID, I’m not holding my breath.  But later rather than sooner, it will all be back on track. 

    In the meantime, I’ve made arrangements to get some stuff shipped to me for a gem sale starting mid-January.  Having skipped the semi-annual sale so that I could go to Germany to see my mom (she was VERY happy), and so that we stand a chance of Priority Mail NOT taking 3+ weeks to arrive, we are now starting to stock up on fresh gems for your perusal.  Listings are starting to roll out this week.

    Rosette Pendant — zircon, sapphire & kornerupine

    Also, for the first and perhaps the only time ever, we will have a Valentine’s jewelry sale in February.  We usually don’t have that because we are too busy with Tucson.  But this past fall, we created a lot more finished jewelry than in previous years and we were surprised at how well it sold, so we will make a push for more stud earrings which had record sales in November and December, more stacking rings, more pendants and statement rings.  New designs are on the way, and we continue to grow our Stuller collection in particular, with stud earrings that include shapes for which we have no proprietary designs.

    Spinel Baguettes in Stuller Prong Settings

    So. What new gemmy stuff can you expect?  Well, there have to be some surprises, but let me give you a hint.  One will be a type of spinel you have not seen on the market from an old find that has been freshly cut, and the other will be a gemstone cut you have not seen, at least not in colored gemstones (hint, the cut does exist in the diamond world).  Both will be an exclusive to my shop, both are Limited Editions. 

    Second, I’m calling the Cecile Raley Designs colors for the year: green and lavender.  You’ve seen a lot of those colors already but you will see more.  More emeralds, from Russia and Afghanistan and Colombia, and more lavenders and purples (spinel, sapphire, and anything else I can dig up).  I will also offer some additional jewelry designs in those colors.  From what I have heard, the color of the year in the gemstone industry is a buttery yellow.  Eww.  Sorry.  I love butter, but it’s not going to work for me as anything but butter.  And we don’t sell that.  Green and lavender it is.

    Custom Design, Emerald and Sapphire
    Custom Design, Tourmaline, Emerald and Sapphire

    In further developments, I’m negotiating a fresh batch of Benitoite, hoping for larger pieces but with prices being rather unpleasant, I will see what I can offer.  Same with more Burmese spinels.

    More Paraiba melee are on the way to me as well, and some smaller single pieces, though I can’t offer many larger gems.  Demand continues to outstrip the measly supply, and those vendors who still have fine quality pieces are charging through the nose.

    While I haven’t had much luck with selling diamonds, I want to continue to dabble in offering them because there’s so much interesting stuff out there that’s not, well, round and white.  I love the different available cuts, especially rare ones, and I love naturally colored diamonds. 

    Any suggestions on your part?  Please don’t hesitate to let us know!

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    You may have noticed, the blog looks a little... different?

    You may have noticed, the blog looks a little... different?

    Announcing Changes to the Blog

    Not to worry; all of the good stuff is still here, we've just shifted it around a bit so that our previous posts are better organized and easier for you to find!  As the blog continued to grow, we noticed a lot of really good info was just getting buried. So now, we will have the most recent posts right up front for you to read, and then all of the older posts have been sorted for you, by category, into easy-to-navigate folders! 

    Find all of your favorite posts (or find some new favorites) by visiting any of our new blog-by-category sections (which are also selectable by using the dropdown menu at the top of the page!)


    Gem & Jewelry Industry

    Gem Show Shopping


    Gift Guides

    Other Musings

    Our Story




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    On the Meaning of "Family" in the Gem Trade...

    On the Meaning of "Family" in the Gem Trade...
    In the gem trade, the word “family” has a very specific meaning, not too dissimilar from what it has for the rest of us, it’s just not a biological one.  I don’t know if you’ve heard it said this way, but I have heard gem dealers say it here and there: “I have a "family" in Sri Lanka, or Madagascar, or Vietnam,” by way of explanation for why they can offer reasonably priced goods for that area...
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    The Story of Cecile Raley Designs: Tucson, Africa and Colombia

    The Story of Cecile Raley Designs: Tucson, Africa and Colombia

    Tanzanite RingThe year was 2013. I was driving to work, and just as I turned off the highway, a huge billboard came into view.  It read: “Mineral and Fossil show, Secaucus NJ.” Hm, I thought, I should check that out.  I went right on opening night.  As I strolled through the aisles, my eye fell on a really neat pile of tanzanite slices, and in typical fashion, I started to sort through them, not even looking up at the salesperson behind the table.  “Tanzanites,” a voice said, “no treatment, from my last trip to Tanzania.” The accent was clearly German.  I looked up and saw a tall bearded guy sitting lazily behind the table.  “You’re German?” I asked. We started talking.  And talking.  And talking.  For the whole evening.  I came back on the last day of the show and spent the entire afternoon at his booth. 


    This engaging encounter turned into another life changing experience.  The tall bearded guy was Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals, who had started traveling around Africa when he was 14, back in the early 1960s. He crossed the Sahara three times, and has, in the past 60 years, visited over 90% of the African continent.  He once worked in the mines in Mali, trekked across central Africa with a broken engine to find a replacement (and trekked back to fix his vehicle).  He once had a breakdown in the Sahara and had to wait three weeks for another car to come by to give him a ride.  Jochen has been digging for minerals and purchasing rough nearly everywhere, including all of Europe up to Norway; Turkey and parts of the Middle East; South and North America, and has recently added Sri Lanka to his list.

    In 2014 Jochen and I met up at the Mineral and Fossil Show, which had relocated to Edison, and we subsequently spent a lot of time together during my first trip to Tucson in 2015.

    TucsonIt was actually Jaimeen Shah of Prima Gems who encouraged me to go to Tucson.  “You have to,” he said, and because I was short on funds, he paid for the hotel, trading for some part time work at his booth, although I admit I worked precious little - thank you Jaimeen! Weirdly, it was also in Tucson where I bought my first paraibas, even though the paraiba sellers are actually all located in New York. 

    It started with a photograph on Facebook of a few gems that I hadn’t even finished paraibas
    purchasing, and my FB page went nuts with people asking me to get more for them.  I had spent my $4500 budget on the first day (typical) and spent the rest of the week buying and selling paraibas, increasing my budget three-fold and spending it again before the show ended.  I think I was one of the first people to sell goods in that way - immediately via Facebook and PayPal - while still standing at the seller’s booth.  Now everyone seems to be doing that…. I even see people on Instagram now selling goods that they borrowed, telling the seller that they are considering buying them, not negotiating an official memo for resale – yes the industry talks about it and it’s not liked but it happens. Sometimes you see several sellers on eBay advertise with the same photos, or advertise the same gemstone (and not one they necessarily even have available). 

    Tucson was so successful for me that I immediately booked my trip to Las Vegas as well, doing the same thing.  Nowadays we prefer to take pre-orders because the volume has increased since then and we have to pick our battles.  But I still love the opportunity to search for rare goods. 

    Another positive outcome of these trips was my ability to forge connections with international sellers that would contact me with new goods or shipments.  Nowadays much of this happens in between the shows.  I get texts, emails, or WhatsApp messages when people have new shipments or are planning to visit New York.  Making these connections takes sizable initial purchasing of course, and prompt payment.  By now many of the vendors know what goods I am looking for and I get pitched when weird stuff shows up, like special spinels, paraibas, hauyne etc.  Sometimes it’s hard not to get overwhelmed.

    By 2015 Jochen and I had become good friends and we even did a show together in Springfield, Massachusetts. I sold exactly one necklace in 3 days but had a blast – this is also the show where I met Dudley Blauwet, incidentally. Much later, Jochen told me that this short trip was actually a test drive of sorts, because he had considered asking me to come to Africa with him but wanted to make sure that we would travel well together.

    Obviously I passed the test!  Jochen and I went to Tanzania and Madagascar together in 2016, and then again in 2018.  Sourcing there is not an easy thing.  In Tanzania you need connections because most of the brokers sell to the larger dealers to uphold continuous and fertile relationships.  What they sell on the street is often low value or overpriced.  But I made a few connections through Jochen and I also met Jaimeen’s uncle Bimal, who in turn introduced me to a few people.  In Madagascar it was easier, but the problem for me is that in those places I often need to buy small lots.  Since I prefer to curate special gems, I don’t buy many lots unless they are very small.  It then takes me years to sell down those lots, and much of my cash flow is tied up. 

    Rather than retell the story of these trips here, you can read up on them by following these links.

    Tanzania and Madagascar 2016

    Tanzania and Madagascar 2018

    And of course: Colombia 2019

    And what lies ahead for CRD in the future?

    Next year, we are planning another trip to Colombia as I am almost out of gems purchased from there.  I’m not sure yet about Africa so we will see what finances can permit.  I would also love to go to Sri Lanka, so I may do that trip instead, and more than two trips is beyond our size right now.

    For our website, we’d like to come up with a better and more interactive catalog system, because most of our sales are driven by the custom pieces we offer, and our current catalog is pretty “meh.”

    Sales are going to continue taking place via Etsy for now, but the website will get more organized with photos of past designs and design inspiration, blog sorted by subject and better resources.  Suggestions are welcome!

    As you’ve noticed I’m sure, I am starting to list more high end goods as well.  We were always able to source them but I had not really made any attempts to market that aspect of CRD.

    On a more personal note, while my mom is still hanging in, I will keep up regular trips to Germany, perhaps putting Idar Oberstein back on the list to find more hauyne.

    Lucy the CatAnd last but not least, we are in the process of adopting another kitty.  “Maria” – who will get renamed “Lucy” once we are past the fostering phase, is a 7 year old Tabby who lost her home due to a move.  She was an only cat so she’s still getting used to Toby, but the introduction is going well so far! Fingers crossed...


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    Wish You Were There: Cecile Raley Designs Celebrates 10 years

    Wish You Were There: Cecile Raley Designs Celebrates 10 years

    It’s odd to have a celebration that has to be virtual as much as physical because most of our clients are too far away to just “pop” by the New York Diamond District for an evening soirée. But we think we pulled it off, and to the many, many, many of you that I have made virtual friends with over the years: I wish you could have been there!

    Instead, I'll try to give you a little taste of the event with some photos and videos. We rented an art-deco themed penthouse lounge for the event, and because the space was so gorgeous, we kept décor to a minimum: Cecile Raley Designs napkins, some balloons and a welcome drink designed for us by Orkan Meral of Pearly Gates bar in Frankfurt, Germany. We had to adjust it somewhat from its original recipe because it called for kiwi juice, which, as it turns out, cannot be purchased anywhere and we didn’t have a full bar set up.  We substituted with a mix between pear juice and a mixed green juice from Los Organic, mostly for color.  We stayed true to the rest of the ingredients – vodka, Italicus (a bergamot-flavored liqueur,) elderberry syrup, and lemon juice – and got loads of compliments!  The music was of course from the 1930s and 40s, at least in part because yours truly grew up on grandpa’s old records of big band sounds.  I only realized when I got to the first grade that this wasn’t the kind of stuff any of my peers listened to.

    My guest of honor was Jaimeen Shah, owner of Prima Gems and Board Member of the American Gem Trade Association, who, in his welcome speech, reminisced about our beginnings together.  Other trade guests included Josh Lents from the Gemological Appraisal Laboratory, Brandy Belenky - our CAD designer, our polishers Claire and Ricardo from Nautilus, Inc, Sergio Baez - President of Taba Casting, and Bhavik Ghandi our diamond supplier and owner of Om Color Diamonds. I introduced them all to you in my little video.

    I personally took delight in the fact that my setters Pierre and Ethan got to meet face-to-face for the first time!  I caught them on camera in a long discussion (which I would have loved to listen in on.) 

    I was also pleased that several of my Price Scope clients could make it, among them Sungura & Limosun, who have purchased from me for a long time.  Everyone got to take home one of our swag bags filled with goodies like diamond shaped chocolates, a polishing cloth, and our new branded jewelry cleaner that is safe for our gems (the latter of which will be available in our Etsy shop soon!) 

    It was also fun for me to look back at my own beginnings and the various Etsy shops I have collaborated with over the years, such as Johanna, from Metal Cloth and Wood, who actually did some of my very first beaded designs and helped me learn how to make bezels (which she always did better than I).  Joanne, from Silver Sculptor (who is also an excellent photographer and took many of my jewelry shots,) also joined us & brought along with her some delicious cupcakes from Whole Foods.  Inken Krause, from Enhoerning Jewelry (elegantly decked out in Cecile Raley Designs for a change!) helped entertain my international guests.

    True to CRD being eco-friendly, Debbie and her husband Randy took our extra foods to a homeless shelter in Jersey City.  Thank you Debbie!

    And while I am on the subject of thank yous, you know how so many award winners are concerned that they may forget to thank someone in their speech?  Which is why they write all the names down?  Well I didn’t want to give a speech with flash cards, and so in my haste, I forgot someone, too.  So we turned the camera back on once I came to my senses, and I got to tell Karen how much I appreciated her being the silent and strong backbone of the event, keeping all of the details on a spreadsheet.  Without her, it wouldn’t have been the smoothly functioning and enjoyable evening that it turned out to be!

    Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from Pierre, who texted me his thanks the next day, which brought me almost to tears:

    “I’m so proud of you and your achievements.  I can safely say that some of your success is from the designer inside you, but mostly from your personality and character of being honest, ethical, and a person of integrity…. Although everyone is racing to the same goal, with you, it’s about building on the way to your success and not demolition. My hat off to you.”


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    Ten Years of Cecile Raley Designs, who would have thought?

    So you’ve heard us talk this up for a few weeks now, our ten year anniversary on Etsy, which was actually in August (so we are fashionably late).  We’re having our cocktail party bash on the 3rd of October at an art deco themed place in the diamond district, with our staff, former and present, makers, vendors and clients. 

    But let’s dial it back by, oh, say a decade, and look back at how this all began.

    I have to say, myself, that this entire jewelry and gem selling thing was a complete accident!

    2007: I took a trip to Montreal and Quebec City with my mom, and that’s where I saw the necklace I wanted to make in a museum store.  It was made of cubed glass beads, very colorful.  My taste has always been colorful I guess.

    After the trip, I told my friend Diana about the necklace.  Diana, in turn, took out her bead box and said, “let me show you how you can make that yourself.”  Then we went online, found cubed glass beads, and, in my usual overdrive, I made about a dozen necklaces.  Diana still does beading for us today, and helps out with odds and ends as her time permits.  Many of you have bought her designs. 

    One of Diana's Beaded Necklaces

    After that I went into a beading frenzy and all my colleagues at Felician University had to buy beaded necklaces from me at cost because I had them coming out of my ears.  By then I had discovered that in Manhattan you could buy beads made from real gemstones instead of glass and I loved those way more.  At the time, you couldn’t get those online, really, so I spent any free afternoon and some weekends on 6th Avenue and 47th Street.

    In 2008, I joined the Jersey City Craft Mafia.  (Yes, that was the name, and it still exists in a morphed version).  For a few years, the Craft Mafia did a lot of craft shows together, and my friendships with Johanna from Metal Cloth and Wood, and Joanne from Silver Sculptor, have lasted ever since.  Both of them have in fact worked for me from time to time.  Johanna does our social media now, and Joanne did many of the photos as well as my runs in NYC.

    Now, one of the requirements of the Craft Mafia was that we all had to have an Etsy store. “What is an Etsy store?,” I asked.  Back then, Etsy was a much smaller outfit, and I think not much known outside of New York City.

    So in August of 2009, I opened an Etsy store.  I made a few listings, and I sold… nothing.  Well, I sold one piece between August and December. 

    Enter Patty, who became a real fan in January of 2010, and had me make at least half a dozen necklaces for her and I felt encouraged.  A friend asked me to have a jewelry party at her house, and a local shop asked for my Jersey City Twig line. 

    Another craft show friend, Annick from Annick Designs, told me that to be successful on Etsy I needed at least 100 listings.  A great challenge for someone who knows only two speeds: “overdrive,” and “off.”  I created 100 listings in no time. 

    Of course, to make all those pieces, I needed parts, which are easily bought in, you guessed it: the New York Diamond District.

    So, in fall of 2009, I started buying silver, pearls, and beads on 47th Street.  I also went to the Whole Bead Show, which is still a great bead resource for New Yorkers.  I went to the JA Show at the New York Javitt’s Center, in the fall of 2009, and bought even more beads.  And yes, I incurred a bit of a credit card debt.  I know you’ve all been there!

    The JA show is where, for the first time, I saw vendors with unset gems and started to ask myself how one gets those into jewelry.  My curiosity was peaked.

    The NY Diamond District

    I also made my first notable purchasing mistake, without which I wouldn’t be where I am today.  I got a ruby strand with gorgeous ruby beads to be used for earrings.  After the show, I did some research online and became concerned that they weren’t real.  I asked my silver vendor who could help me find out and she pointed to a guy in one of the booths at the 25 West Exchange (which is closed now), and said, that’s “Dino”, he would know. 

    And I went to Dino, a short, quirky and laid back Indian guy who patiently explained to me that the beads were ruby material but glass filled and what that meant, showing me the indicative bubbles under a microscope.  I bought a tiny sapphire to show my appreciation. 

    Dino, typical pose

    The next time I bought silver, I stopped by Dino’s booth.  And I did that again and again.  And again.  I kept looking at all his gorgeous gems I couldn’t stop thinking that I really wanted to use them.

    Dino also had a large tray full of very old unsorted emeralds (I imagine about 2000 carats), which, he said, he was too lazy to grade.  They were his father’s he said, and bought in the 70s.  I asked if I could grade the pile.  “That’s a lot of work,” he said.  “Ok,” I said.  And I brought a tray full of gem jars the following week to get started.  And from there on, each Friday afternoon, I brought a tray. I sorted the emeralds, then the aquas, then the rubies, and all the rest, 60 trays all in all, until the entire booth was revamped.  I got paid in emeralds.

    The entire process lasted about 6 months, and these months were absolutely invaluable to me.  As Dino commented on my efforts and observations, I got to listen to dealers and buyers come to his booth, buy and sell wares, haggle, ask advice, or just discuss business.  And in the evenings, we went up to Jeffrey’s, a diamond cutter, had beers and watched them repair diamonds.

    In that time I also sat with Avo, a setter that Dino recommended, and met Arman, a polisher.  Through Arman, I met Vasken, and I sat and observed, and learned basic soldering, not so much to make jewelry (because as it turned out, that was really hard) but because I wanted to understand the process.  I made bezels and set cabochons (the latter was not a success).  Johanna ended up making the bezels for a while, she was much better than I was.  I dabbled in wax, too, and made a series of “melted rings”.  They sold pieces at a moderate pace. 


    Avo, my first setter

    Arman, my first polisher, and my friend Cea's Dog Cornuts

    But it seemed that what really attracted my clients was the gems, however.  In particular, the fact that they were real, and untreated.  As Dino explained when we met, there were so many enhancements, and nobody understood them, so people bought pieces at too high a price.  I.e. glass filled rubies.  And at the time there were no real rules that required disclosure.  All that happened just after.

    So I was kind of a first.  I was on Etsy, I was selling gems, some loose, some set, and sourcing them for clients.  I was explaining treatment to clients, location of origin, and value.  I learned how to get stuff checked in the lab, with Josh, around 2011.  I met more gem dealers and drilled them about treatments, trying to learn more.  Most knew their stuff very well but weren’t yet used to those questions.  The AGTA started imposing rules a couple years after the Glass Filled ruby scandal with Macys, and since then there’s been considerably more disclosure.  What a difference a nice little scandal makes.

    2011. Another JA show comes around, and there’s a (very) young Indian guy all the way in the back, a proper looking and polite kid (from my perspective) with a beautiful booth, and beautiful gems. His name? Jaimeen Shah, owner of newly minted Prima Gems. We talked and talked, mostly sharing the same concerns: people didn’t understand, or sufficiently appreciate, untreated gems.  It wasn’t their fault either, but simply a lack of public education, and that was our job, not theirs. 

    Jaimeen also introduced me to several lots of bright pink gems that nobody seemed to know much about.  Spinels, he explained, from Mahenge, Tanzania.  I bought a few (and then a few more later, and more and more and more over the years…).  What started as a gem show friendship led to another but shorter sorting enterprise as I helped Jaimeen prepare for his first Tucson in 2013 at his house in Jersey City, and then to just about weekly visits since he’s opened his office on 48th Street.

    Jaimeen Shah in 2015

    Early Mahenge spinels

    2012. Enter Brandy, another Jersey City local who I was introduced to at our park by the Craft Mafia organizer Luca. Brandy had worked in the diamond district for a high end manufacturer for five years, until the latter relocated and she decided to go on her own with CAD designs. She introduced me to our current polisher, Nautilus, Ethan the setter, and many others.

    brandy belenky

    Brandy Belenky

    Brandy also introduced me to CAD, of course, and she’s since designed almost every one of my pieces.  Together, we created my line for colored gems, and solved the challenges that came with it: wonky deeper cuts need longer prongs, heavier gems need sturdier designs, and on the other hand, our desire to make things affordable presented the challenge of creating light weight yet wearable pieces that don’t fall apart within a year. 

    Oh dear, it seems I have run out of space (twice, given the suggested length of a regular blog entry).  So let me stop here, and tell the rest next week or the week after, about meeting Debbie and Karen and Jochen, my first Tucson, Las Vegas, my trips to Africa, South America, and then I can also tell the tale of the event!

    Toby in 2004 (Mostly, Toby's Ears in 2004). We all have to start somewhere!


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    Our Own Christmas Story

    Our Own Christmas Story

    In the spirit of this season of giving, we would like to dedicate this blog to our friends in Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya and express our gratitude for the support and hospitality they have offered us.  They have opened their doors and their hearts, freely sharing what they have in spite of their less fortunate circumstances.  My life has changed forever as a result of meeting them.

    Our Family in Madagascar

    About 15 years ago, my travel partner Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals decided on the adventure of traveling to Antsirabe, Madagascar in the hope of finding interesting minerals.  In the local gem market, he stumbled upon a then just over 20-year-old Ando Antoniania and her little daughter Maria whom she was trying to support by selling gem crystals, cabochons and ornamental rocks.  Their friendship flourished over the years, and in 2016 Jochen brought me with him for the first time.  Ando now has three children, and Maria has two.  They live on a little property made possible by consistent gem trading with Jochen, they now have running water and electricity, and last year, with the help of a small loan from Cecile Raley Designs, Ando was able to buy a cutting wheel and hire some help to mine and cut the calcite on her family's land.

    A happy reunion in 2018, a big hug from Ando, and a relaxed smile from Jochen.

    Her cousin Gael is our driver, his father owns one of the few cars in the extended family. Gael has a degree in computer science, but unfortunately, there are few to no jobs available in computing, so he's trying to figure out what else he can do.

    Gael and Yvonne

    When we come to visit, we are always surrounded by the entire family - brothers, sisters and cousins.  Someone is by our side to translate, keep track of our purchases, make sure all transactions go smoothly and take us wherever we need to go.  

    Ando and Maria (right and second right) watching over our transactions in Antsirabe.

    Our Family in Tanzania

    In Arusha, our thanks go to Wilson Laizer - aka Moustache - and his family.  His cousin Benuel is our driver and.00000 the van we use belongs to extended family as well. Moustache has been a broker in Arusha for a couple of decades, but with the new government no longer allowing any export of gemstone rough, they've been experiencing hard times.  Despite this, his family invited us to dinner at their house and cooked for us, and Moustache, who belongs to the tribe of the Masai, took us to Masai country for local barbecue.  Moustache translates for us into Swahili and the Masai language from morning til night and accompanies us on every trip.  

    Moustache (far right) and some of his Masai friends taking us out to Goat Barbeque

    To show our thanks, Cecile Raley Designs has decided to sponsor the college education of Moustache's 18-year old daughter Brenda, who now studies finance at the University in Dar El Salaam. 



    My friend Doreen in Kenya

    While not directly connected to the gem trade, I sort of 'adopted' Doreen nearly 20 years ago when she was still in high school and trying to figure out how to pay for her education. Her aunt, a Catholic sister that belongs to the Franciscan order, was a student of mine at Felician University, and it is through her that my then department met her family.  When I visited Arusha in 2016, I invited Doreen to come and stay with me in the hotel.  The bus ride from Nairobi is only about five hours, and this was Doreen's first trip abroad in her life.  Doreen and I frequently talk on email or WhatsApp.  She is now the sole provider for her son Immanuel, but thanks to her college education she has a job that pays for the basics.  Cecile Raley Designs sponsors the nanny that is needed to keep Doreen employed.  Thank you, Doreen, for the lovely dinner you prepared for us during our all too brief visit to Nairobi.  I will come back as soon as finances allow.

    Doreen and Immanuel (left)

    Happy Holidays to all :)

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    The Trouble with Photos

    One of the criticisms I hear the most regarding my shop is that my pictures, well – suck.  Ok, nobody puts it that way and that’s really nice.  But they could be much better.  Or maybe they couldn’t.  I kind of think they can’t but I’d love to be convinced otherwise!  Comments are welcome.
    Let’s start by talking about light. There are nice daylight lamps on the market, most color gem dealers have...
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