January 27, 2009

William Murdoch ~ the process of making natural turquoise rondelles

William Murdoch is a rock hound and a professional bead and cabochon maker. He put together a pictorial documentary on his process and was kind enough to allow me to post it here for you. He walks through the process of making a natural Ithaca Peak rondelle necklace. Gorgeous.

I first got interested in turquoise when I was about 4 years old. I was born in Phoenix and then when I was two we moved to Michigan. My parents had turquoise jewelry and I was always fascinated by it. I was nine when we moved back to Phoenix, and on the way we stopped at a trading post in Tucumcari New Mexico. My sister got lightweight, linked concho belt and my dad wouldn't spring for the kind of concho belt I wanted to get, so I got a beaded belt with lots of turquoise color in it. My brother got one too but his had a lot of red.

In 1974, a friend of my fathers found turquoise south of Ajo, Az. Tom invited my dad and I and a couple other of my dad's friends to come down. We all went down there and Tom took us up the mountain and we all laid out individual claims ( but we all worked as one). We sent the rock in to a testing lab and it came back turquoise, however after many years experience I'm not sure what we were mining was turquoise, nor do I think it was variscite (way to hard), the only thing I can say to call it is Varicoise! But that was basically the start.

I've been working with turquoise on and off since 1974, whenever I could. I spent 16 years in the Marine Corps so I wasn't always able to work with turquoise. After we started mining it then we tried to sell it but in the 70's if it wasn't blue it wasn't turquoise and ours was green. Just after that I got into silversmithing and started putting my rock in jewelry (I'm doing that again too).

(More of my interview with Bill can be found at the bottom of this pictorial documentary.)

Here is the process for a hand rolled bead. This is natural Ithaca Peak. Start with turquoise flattened on both sides with a 2mm hole and dremel arbor.

Put the pin through the 2mm hole.

Screw the pin into dremel arbor.

Grinding will tear your skin off so you need a lot of finger protection.

First I apply cheap bandaids to my fingers.

Then I tape four layers thick on grinding hand.

I start by grinding off the edges on 60 or 80 grit wheel.

Then I continue to grind edges into a round form.

I work until I have a rough circle.

I keep working the rough circle into a finished circle.

I lightly grind until the thickness is the same around the pin.

The desired circle is completed when both sides of the bead are even.

The round bead is now in heishi form.

Here I am grinding the edges for a rondelle form.

Lightly grind both edges on the bead.

This is a side view after the rough grinding is over.

Finished rough grinding - top view. All of the steps then are repeated with sanding with 220, 400, 600, 1200, 3000 grits or more before polishing.

Here is the completed Ithaca Peak graduated rondelle necklace.

..... continued interview .......

There is a lot of loss in beadmaking. I figure a 30% to 40% loss just in cabbing. With bead making, depending on the material (stabilized vs. natural) the loss can be as much as 70%.

Depending on the material it can take anywhere from a week to 6 weeks from start to a finished necklace. Some people could do it faster but I just cant sit that long so I do it in spurts. Stabilized turquoise is a lot easier then natural (in most cases).

The creation and trade of high grade turquoise is a passion of mine. I hope that by showing the process a few more people can understand why it is important not to support unscrupulous turquoise sellers that sell turquoise without telling people exactly what it is. As long as the seller is honest about what is being sold then the fake stuff has it's place in the market just like stabilized turquoise does.

North American Turquoise is all beautiful but I think my top choices would be all top grade; Lone Mountain, Paiute, Bisbee, Morenci, Godber/Burnham and Gold Acres. Although I'm very stirred by multi-colored Carico and lime green Orvil Jack and anything that I find in the ground.

I've recently been doing some digging at my Taubert Hills claim and eventually will have some really nice turquoise from that mine.

William Murdoch

Keep an eye out in the store for some of Bill's hand rolled beads. They will be going in soon if I can part with them. http://www.magpiegemstones.com/

January 17, 2009


At times when the world is changing people get jumpy, scared, nervous. It is natural and normal. A new President is coming in. The economy has everyone talking and some worrying.

I do not fear what will come because there is no point to fear. It will not stop what will come and it may just get in the way of me being able to respond, response-able, if you will. In thinking about that and the interesting things people do when they become fearful of their future I remembered a poem by Mother Teresa.

It brings me peace and brings me perspective on the human condition. It helps me to forgive those who lash out in fear with their words or actions. It gives me the energy to keep taking risks, keep trusting new humans, and to keep going.

Just thought I would share.
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

Mother Teresa

January 2, 2009

Interview with Mike "Revluc"

I asked Mike, a client and someone I have been watching, if he would allow me to do an article on him. He has a genuine love for rocks, lapidary, and shows a real knack for putting his work into settings that are unique and creative. I think he will be someone to watch as his career takes off. Enjoy the article and the pictures of the beauty he creates (and go pick up some of his beautiful cabs on his etsy site).

My life with rocks

I’ve been asked by Szarka to write a short bio of my life in lapidary and jewelry.

I’ve always been intrigued by rocks and grew up in Wyoming hunting fossils, arrowheads and Sweetwater agates. We literally had cardboard boxes full of the agates. I still have some of arrowheads, but everything else got lost over the years.

During my early teens, I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah and then moved to Seattle, Washington where the rock hunting got put on hold for college (University of Washington, Washington State and Seattle University) and a career in teaching mathematics (Kent School District, department chair at West Seattle H.S. and Seattle Pacific University). Teaching mathematics, more school, marriage, skiing, music (guitar & singing), and back-packing did a good job keeping me busy.

There were a couple of exceptions though. I cut and polished blue tiger eye buttons on my Brer' Brian’s equipment for a suede leather coat I gave my wife for Christmas one year. I also did a little soap stone carving and, though I am a big time animal lover and didn’t even think about what I was doing, carved some ivory an art teacher had given me. Some of it was mastodon, but some was elephant ivory. That all occurred in the seventies.

I now consider myself semi-retired from mathematics. I have moved to the coast of Washington and live on the outskirts of a small (3000 +) town called Montesano. When I first moved here, I taught at Grays Harbor College, but now only pick up the occasional evening class.

Rocks and jewelry making are now a kind of obsession. I spend my summers in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and, of course, Washington collecting rough material. I love it. I have my trusty rock “hound”, Maggie (half yellow lab and half golden retriever) who comes with me. My garage no longer stores my car, but is full of rock and metal smithing equipment... 3 Genies, 2 expanding drum machines, polishing wheels, 3 saws, tumblers and a work station for soldering and casting.

I have attended a couple of silver smithing “boot camps” to learn the basics of metal work and supplant that with what I’ve learned from books and the internet. I’m big on experimenting and trying unusual things... some good and some not so good. I’ve screwed up quite a few times, but learn from the "screw-ups".

One of the things that I’ve done people seem to like is the backing of cut out silver coins (silver dollars, bullion, etc.) with disk of stone and mounting as you would a cabochon. I think this is original although everything has been tried before. A numismatist would probably hate me because I only do nice coins.

It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. My yard is a rockhound’s dream. When it rains, I often find myself picking through what I have and setting pieces aside to cut. I love what I call the “Wow” moment when a stone comes to life under the grinding and polishing wheels. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction so I’m always looking for that one magical elfstone.

I’m partial to stones that have visual impact... picture jasper, opal, chatoyant stones, plume (a favorite), star garnets and sapphires, moonstone, etc. I have grown to like the faceted color stones too. My favorite is the Oregon sunstone with the schiller effect since I can find it myself. I have to have the stones faceted overseas since I don’t facet as yet... someday.

That’s it.

The mathematical left-brain is being phased out with the jewelry/lapidary right-brain activities. Instead of appreciative and successful students, I now have tangible pieces of jewelry that are being worn by people all over the world. Both are very rewarding.

I have this vision which occurs 20000 years in the future where an archeologist is digging up something with the name “Culver” stamped on the back.