Greetings, fellow metal benders: our blog is relocating! We’ve updated our website,, and our blog will be living there for the foreseeable future. We will be updating previous posts and posting new content at Check there for jewelry buying tips and tricks, interesting tidbits from around the studio, and more!

We look forward to seeing you!

-The Moonkist Designs Team

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Self Defense And The Art of Jewelry Buying – Chapter 2

What do you mean by “Cabochon Stone”?


8 x 6 mm Oval Opal cabochon in our Victorian filigree setting surrounded by sterling silver bezel cups and other 8 x 6 mm Oval opal cabochons.

In the world of jewelry, a cabochon is a stone that is cut with a flat or slightly domed base and a curved or domed top. Rose cut cabochons have triangular or square flats cut into the domed top. The term cabochon is often shortened to “cab”. 


Starburst Pink Ruby

A cabochon may be cut in any shape, though rounds and oval are the most common.The term comes from the French word caboche, meaning knob or small dome. Technically, cabochons are not really “cut”. Rather, they are shaped and then polished. Before the art of faceting was developed in the early 14th century, all gemstones were produced as cabochons, some with intricate carvings as well.

Certain stones are almost always cut “en cabochon”, including opal, amber, turquoise, onyx, moonstone, and star sapphire. In many cases it is because the gem has special properties that are displayed only when it is cut as a cabochon. Gems that display optical phenomena such as asterism (like star sapphire), chatoyancy (the cat’s eye effect), iridescence (like opals), or adularescence (like moonstone) are more easily seen when cut as cabochons.


6 mm Rainbow Moonstones showing chatoyancy.

Gems that are opaque are cut as cabochons rather than faceted, since they will reflect no light. Also, lower grade material of gemstone types such as sapphire,ruby and garnet can be cut as cabs. If the gem material has very good color but is not sufficiently transparent or clean to be faceted, it can still be shaped and polished into very attractive cabochons. 

It is also common to cut softer stones – like turquoise and amber – as cabs, since they can easily be scratched. Minute scratches show much less on a cabochon than on a faceted stone. Softer cabochons are also usually set in a bezel – a protective ring of metal that surrounds the stone. Harder cabochons can be set in either bezel mountings or prong mountings.

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Our Origin Story…How Moonkist Came to Be

Welcome to Moonkist

IMG_1860 copyMy name is Gena Robinson, an admirer of beautiful things and a collector of hobbies. But metalworking…that is my true passion!

I started cutting cabochons when I was 12 years old. Then, as a teen, I worked in a gallery and jewelry store for several years, and studied silversmithing with the bench jeweler. Years later, I took further classes at Earthspeak Arts in Asheville, NC. I also taught beginning silversmithing classes for 3 years.

I have been addicted to making adornment in all its many forms for as long as I can remember. I love the challenges of working with metal, and the permanence. There’s a special thrill in creating pieces that will be around to bring joy for years!

IMG_1810 HSI have to tell you, I have a muse who wanders by occasionally and demands my obedience. I’ll wake up at 3 am, flip on my bedside lamp, and grab sleepily for my sketchbook to scratch out the idea that have taken hold of my brain. Of course, I prefer her middle of the night demands to when she strikes while I’m in the shower!

IMG_1886 copy.jpgMy studio is my favorite place in the world. On the wall beside my bench, I tape up images of things that inspire me – art, architecture, images from the area I live in, nature, dancers and gymnasts, classic cars, and calligraphy. I usually have studio company as I work – we have several rescue pets that take shifts keeping a watchful eye on my activities. My friends gift me with new metalworking tools as gifts…a habit I’m completely in love with! Luckily, I just bought a new house with a larger studio space, so I have plenty of room as Moonkist continues to grow!

Moonkist Designs grew out of my love of clean, bold lines and my enchantment with all types of metal. I love the curve, shine, and textures that can be achieved with metal – so much so that many of my pieces feature no stones at all. I love symmetry, and well-balanced asymmetrical shapes. I also enjoy doing custom design and creation – I love the process of working with someone to create exactly what they have in their mind!

Gold and Silver Woven Set With Sapphire Filligree Used  08_06_15

In 2014, when I started to update Moonkist Designs for Christmas, it became obvious that it had grown into two stores that had gotten shoved into one tiny space – a wedding jewelry store and a fashion jewelry store. So, we opened a new store on Etsy, called Moonkist Creations, which gave us enough room to let some of these wonderful pieces see the spotlight, and to offer some new designs. You can find Moonkist Creations here.

Then, we opened the “doors” on Moonkist Gallery in the fall of 2015 when the physical gallery I had been showing pieces in for many years had to close their doors. This has been a wonderful experience, and has allowed me the freedom to offer some truly unique and one-of-a-kind pieces. You can find Moonkist Gallery here.

Moonkist has been an adventure, and our family continues to grow. We look forward to introducing everyone to you in the weeks to come!

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Self-Defense and the Art of Jewelry Buying – Chapter 1

What is Sterling Silver and Why is My Finger Turning Green?


Sterling Silver (Oval) and Fine Silver (Round)

Sterling silver is made up of mix (an alloy) of at least a couple of different metals. It is always 92.5% fine silver (by law), which doesn’t tarnish but is very soft and doesn’t hold its shape very well. A variety of different metals can be used in sterling, including copper, zinc, platinum, germanium, silicon, nickel or boron. In our studio, we use an older sterling recipe that uses copper to make up the balance of the 7.5%. The copper helps harden the fine silver and is more friendly to people who have metal allergies than nickel.

This can have some trade-offs, however. Copper can be reactive, especially to acids. This includes anything with chlorine in it, like swimming pools, or cleaning chemicals, and some beauty products, like lotions. We include a more complete list on the jewelry care sheet you received with your jewelry from our studio.

Depending on what it has been exposed to, copper can turn black, purple, blue, green, or reddish-orange, and change the color of your silver. This has some positive uses: the antiquing solution we use is an acidic solution that is applied to the surface of the metal, neutralized, and then partially polished off. It also means that sterling silver can develop a natural patina that is very lovely.IMG_0157

However, occasionally, a run-in with the wrong chemical can turn your jewelry a decidedly unusual color…green, orange, purple…and this stain can then transfer to you. So what do you do then?

The first thing we recommend is to place your jewelry in a cup of warm water with 3 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in it for 20 minutes, then take it out and rinse it well with dish soap and water. This basic solution will stop any acidic chemicals currently reacting with your ring.

Then assess the damage. Try a polishing cloth, but not a silver dip (more chemicals aren’t really going to help…). If you need your ring cleaned and re-antiqued, a trip to a jeweler may be in order.

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Our Vote for Most Unusual Engagement Ring

original coin

So, you start with a 115 year old coin and end up with an engagement ring…

An over one hundred years old, twenty cent silver Newfoundland coin, turned into a ring? Sounds odd, and who would destroy such a coin from history? Can such a coin even become a ring?

Well to answer these questions, a man wrote to us at Moonkist Designs wanting to know if we would undertake the project. He had looked for months for someone willing to take it on so he could give his beloved (and coin collector) a one-of-a-kind engagement ring. Second answer, a ring can be made out of a coin if large enough, the process is the same as our Mokume Gane, and our answer?


We were apprehensive of course, these coins, though stamped with twenty cents, vary in price within the collector community, from forty dollars to the hundreds depending on the quality and mint of the coin. That, and there would only be one chance to get it right! Our brave production supervisor and trainer to all new employees bound for the bench, attacked this project, and he did so with minimal ‘sighs’ of apprehension.

As we noted before, the process is similar to our Mokume Gane ring, measuring the diameter and circumference to know what punches to use,


Annealing the coin before we started to soften the metal.

as well as the thickness of the coin. Vintage silver coins are rather thick – just over an eighth of an inch – and normally when we make a ring from flat metal in this way we want five eighths in width for the band to hold strong. So, as shown in the picture, our brave leader did just that, taking all the necessary measurements, then went to work with

coin punch

The tool that we use to hammer out round shapes is called a Swanstrom Disc Cutter.

a punch and mallet. (Took several good whacks too!) Now given the coins age, the metal had been handled many times. That and the initial casting had work-hardened the silver greatly, so before we could move on, annealing was necessary. This process requires the use of a torch, heating the metal to loosen the crystallized formation of the silver itself, making it malleable and easier to shape. The task completed, our brave leader moved onto the next stage in the process.


Using a ring sizing mandrel, a mallet, and PVC tubing to preserve the coins outer design, the ring slowly begins to take form.

coin sizing

Starting to hammer out the form.

This process can usually be adjusted at the start, having cut out the outer and center for a given size range, however with a coin you are sort of stuck. Slowly working the metal to take form, the coin becomes a ring, tapering the metal and stretching it from the center hole punched out, up the sizes one by one. With no choice at all if we were to preserve the pattern and the coin’s original diameter, our brave leader hammered the coin to a size eight. Unfortunately we need a six and this next step shows us why he is so brave.

hammered coin

Hammering the coin out to the right size and shape.

Now, even though the ring will be given a mount, we want to get the pattern as close as possible for consistency, and the littlest details are what make a ring either, ‘ok’ or ‘wonderful’ , ‘blah’ or a ‘beautiful work’. This is why our brave leader took on the task, he has an eye for matching patterns on bands that need to be downsized so that it looks like there was never a cut at all. Again he measures and finds just the right area that will help both the outer and inner patterns (for both the front side and back of the original coin) then carefully makes his cut.


Soldering the ring back together.

This done, now he has to solder the ring whole once more, and with the intention of a mount being placed later, he uses Hard Silver solder to get the job done. With flux, a compound that cleans and allows metal to flow freely when heated close to a melting point, and hard solder to join the two ends as one once more, the ring is placed into a pickling compound to remove oxidization and clean off any flux that may be left behind.

With some cleaning and shaping done after the pickle the ring is sized on the mandrel once again, bringing this unique piece to the proper size needed. Now it is time for the mounting! Our very romantic client has a specific sized stone in mind, length 7.61mm width 5.70mm height 3.54mm and to make it last and hold using a prong mount, platinum or gold is often best, and he chose white gold for his mounting. After cleaning the surface areas with a file for the best hold using solder, the mount is placed and soldered with medium white gold solder, and after ensuring everything is centered, double checks and the like, pickling ensues once more.


A diamond barrel makes smoothing the edges…less difficult.

All that was left our cleanup and polishing process. John used a flexible shaft machine to clean the ring, taking away any rough spots or sharp edges. Then, the ring was placed within the polisher to work harden the metal and give it a shine. Finally, when it was removed from the polisher, we used a hydochloric acid mixture to darken the surface of the ring in a process that mimics silver antiquing and polished off the details.


The ring ready to be sent and waiting to have a stone set in it.

Unfortunately our client was not able to mail the stone, so we crafted the mounting for him and sent it to his location. Then, he was able to have a local jeweler set his stone in the mounting that we had crafted.We were happy to do this, and he was delighted with the result, so much so he has a matching coin for us to make into his band for when they marry.

Just to clarify, of course she said yes!


Our generous client even sent us the wedding announcement, a photo of the final outcome once the stone was set, and a wonderful review that you can read here regarding his experience with Moonkist designs.

We all look forward to working with him again to create more unique and challenging works of art!

Our vote for most unique engagement ring: A 115 year old coin ring with a beautiful yellow diamond!

By John Friend/Moonkist Designs, LLC 2015

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From the 2009 exhibition: From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith

Art Smith wrote in the 1969 catalog of his one man exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Craft: “A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a ‘what is it?’ until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are.  Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to work with.  It is one of the basic inspirations in creating form.”


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A Custom Piece, From Start to Finish


Sterling silver sheet and wire, fine silver bezel strip

The beginning of any fabrication project always looks about the same…wire and sheet, maybe some bezel strip, and the idea of where you want to go. When I was asked to do a custom piece for Nicole Wakelin, podcaster and core contributer to several delightfully geeky publications, my mind immediately started designing. I knew she liked pieces that were smaller, and that she is an active mother, so I wanted something that she could wear comfortably, but that suited her individual personality and needs.


Sterling silver sheet, brass mallet, steel round hole punch, polyeurethane pad

Since I knew I needed to make a custom bezel, the next step was to punch out two 24 gauge sterling silver disks, and to make a bezel the correct size from the bezel strip. Since the stones would be round, this was easily done by wrapping around the stones to get the correct size.


Sterling silver stamp, sterling disk, polyeurathane pad, hammer

I use a .925 stamp to mark all the sterling silver that I use. I know from experience that stamping the plate before soldering it to the bezel is MUCH easier than trying to do it afterwards!


Bezel strip, Sterling plate, Solder and plenty of heat…

In my studio, I use propane and oxygen to solder, and my trusty “Little Torch,” which is a truly magnificent piece of equipment. This torch heats up to almost 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that it is so hot that my dear husband will occasionally announce “The Fire of Mount Doom” when I light it up!

Soldering the plate and the bezel together takes even, steady heat from the bottom. Too little, and the join will not make it all the way around the bezel. Too much, and you will have a lovely ball of molten metal!


Sterling silver bezel, Bench Snips

After soldering the bezel, I use a sharp pair of bench snips to trim the excess metal. The excess metal is reused in other projects, like granulation, or recycled when I send off my scraps to the refinery.


After trimming out the bezel cups, I use a barrett file to rough out the shape. Then, I use 400 grit sandpaper (in the easy to use form of an emory board) to smooth out the shape. By the time it is finished, it is impossible to see the solder join.


14 gauge sterling silver wire, graduated steel ring mandril, leather hammer

Using a graduated ring mandril, I start shaping the 14 gauge sterling silver wire into rings of the correct size. My best trick for this is to start on the end of the wire, two sizes smaller than I want to end up, and then to use the leather hammer and my fingers to round out the shape.


14 gauge sterling silver wire, jeweler’s saw

A jeweler’s saw has a thin, sharp blade and is one of the most commonly used hand tools on my bench. A bit like a sewing machine, the saw works best going straight up and down, perpendicular to the metal. However, since it is a fine blade, you have to be careful not to torque it to the right or the left – it will snap easily!


Barrett File, Sterling Silver 14 gauge wire

The secret to getting a good clean solder join isn’t really a secret. Mostly, it is a matter of good preparation. Solder joins must be flat and well aligned before they will be truly unnoticeable, and that usually involves filing.


Sterling silver 14 gauge wire, solder pad, paintbrush with flux (Handy Flux)

The other component to getting a good solder join is that the metal be clean before you add the solder. The easiest way to do this is with a flux, which traps and cleans the oxides and dirt on the surface of the metal. The flux is painted onto the area you will be soldering, then heated with the torch until it bubbles, turns clear, and then flows over the surface of the metal. Then you are at soldering temperature.


Titanium solder pic, Gentec Little Torch, 14 gauge sterling silver wire, solder pad

The technique I use to solder most often is called pic soldering. You heat a small square of solder to melting, then use a titanium pic to move it and place it where you want it. I find this a much more precise method than melting chips to my piece and hoping that the solder will go where I want it!


Sterling Silver bezel cup and ring shank, Gentec little torch, Solder pic, Third hand tweezers

Soldering requires holding the torch in one hand, the solder pic in the other…so when I need a third hand, this set of cross lock tweezers on a heavy stand get a lot of action. In this case, I use them to hold the ring shank even and level while I solder it down to the bezel cup.


Acid bath in a small crock pot

At some point, the legend goes, Italian jewelers figured out that the citric acid in the juice left over from the pickles in their lunches was good for cleaning the jewelry that was dirty from soldering. So, ever after, the warm acid bath that sits in the corner of the jeweler’s studio is referred to as pickle. Plus, after it gets really dirty, it turns pickle green from the excess copper.


Steel Graduated Ring Mandril, Sterling Silver Ring, Small Jeweler’s Hammer

After a long hard look at the rings, I decided that the bands needed a little bit of detailing. Using a small jeweler’s hammer, I add a hammered texture to the bands so that they have a sparkle once they finish polishing.


Foredom Grinder, Sterling Silver Rings

Before you polish a piece, you first pre-polish…carefully removing any tool marks, scratches, or dings that might keep the piece from looking its best. Although there are a whole range of abrasives available, most often, I turn to a flexible abrasive rubber disk that doesn’t remove metal too quickly. No good to take out the scratches, just to have nothing left!


Sterling Silver Rings

The secret to a good final product is working slowly and carefully, and making certain that all of the pieces work well together!


Vibratory tumbler, sterling silver rings

Once pre-polished, the rings go into a vibratory tumbler. The tumbler is filled with different sizes and shapes of steel shot, plus a soap-based burnishing solution. By tumbling for several hours, the sterling acquires a high shine, plus the surface is hardened so that it will stay bright longer.


Circuit board, round punch, polyeurathane pad

All good jewelry needs to be interesting…but who says it always has to be a gemstone?


SRS Graver’s Ball, Sterling Silver Ring, Circuit board

A few years ago, I began to have problems with my wrists, which were being made worse by the stress and strain of setting stones. So, with some trepidation, I spent an inordinate amount of money on an SRS Graver’s Ball – a 25 pound cannon ball that holds the piece perfectly still while I set the stones. Honestly, it was one of my best investments. Not only do I use it every day, but it cut my setting time in half and has made my settings a consistently better quality!


Glass Cabochon, Circuit Board, Sterling Silver Ring, Graver’s Ball, Setting Tool

After placing the circuit board in place firmly, I added a glass cabochon, both to protect the board and to magnify it. Then, using a steel setting tool, I began to lay the bezel over the edges of the glass cabochon. Always work from opposite sides, so you don’t end up with the stone unbalanced in the mounting.


Sterling Silver Ring, Rose Cut Citrine Cabochon, Graver’s Ball, Setting Tool

The final stone I had to set was a rose cut citrine cabochon. These are a little tricky to set, since you work around each of the facets to make certain that the bezel is laid down.


Sterling silver stacking ring set – 12 mm Circuit Board under Glass, 6 mm Rose Cut Citrine

And there you go…start to finish! Did she like it? Well, I’ll let you know – she is supposed to interview me in the next few weeks for a spot on the D6 Generation. Stay Tuned…

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