Joseph Carroll Photographers (

My slogan, “Inherit the Earth,” means we inherit the power, beauty and history of the earth by wearing her gems and metals, and we pass those jewels, now infused with our life energy, onto others. The wearer of a piece of jewelry adds to its story, and I help clients personalize jewelry, perhaps by simply engraving the inside of a ring with a message. One hopeful fella popped the question with an engagement ring inscribed, “You Lucky Gal!” Three kids and a decade later, they more deeply know the meaning of lucky. Someday a child will hold that ring, read the engraving and glimpse their grandfather’s humor and get a peek into their grandparents’ union.

Wear your jewelry so your children will remember you in it. Tell stories about it. That piece won’t just be a ruby ring, it will be “Mother’s ruby ring – the ring Dad gave her on my second birthday to remind her of my curly reddish-brown hair that he’d pet as he tucked me into bed and sang, “I wed the saucy little redhead”and powerfully talismanic. In this way, regular jewelry transforms into “Family Jewels” and a jewelry box becomes a treasure chest.

Sharing my own jewelry stories with clients shows how my life experiences have imprinted the jewelry I’ve made, bought and been given. The same is true for my clients adding earthy, bright meaning to their lives and to the lives of those who cherish them.

Joseph Carroll Photographers (

I took photos of our young daughters with my jewelry hoping their children will one day revere the jewels and the photos of their mothers as babies with grandma’s jewelry. My jewelry collection is a message in a bottle to those who come after me.

I also document, in words, my wearing certain jewels and encourage my clients to do the same. For major, full-custom projects, I’ve written books for my clients documenting the making of the jewelry. I compose the books leaving clues about the jewel’s first owners and the occasion for its creation, then weave in earth and human history, literature, music and the technical details about the crafting of the gems and jewelry. My mother inspired my interest in genealogy, and I think of my clients’ heirs reading the books, firming a connection to those who came before them.

Click on the thumbnails above to start reading “My Life in Jewels.”

Communication Brooch

Brownies sing a song about keeping a great big smile in their pockets. Look on the pocket; see that pin? An official Brownie pin, signifying I was “in the club” and had a lot to smile about. That’s not a cell phone attached to my belt but a Girl Scout jackknife. Do they still sell knives to Brownies? Outwardly, I belonged. Internally, I was shaky. The accessorized Brownie uniform helped me boldly go despite my doubts.

Brooches are power pieces stating “Here Am I.” Depictions of early rulers and royalty worldwide often show brooches signifying their family affiliation or leadership standing. Today’s leaders, mostly male, have dropped the brooch – it calls too much attention to itself on a dark suit with a conservative tie. But, Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote a book, Read my Pins, about how she used her pins to communicate the status of diplomatic negotiations.

Thirty-five years after that Brownie pin disappeared, I made myself a new one.

Photo by Robert Weldon

I call the golden rooster “Local Girl Makes Good.” It symbolizes my past (I was Chapter Sweetheart of the Future Farmers of America-it was an elected PR position, really!) and where I was in 1996, at a point in my career where I felt good after a lot of trudging, hurtling, and climbing. This is no docile hen. No longer a brown sparrow, “she” is a rooster, taunting cockily, gripping with a gem with her beak. It’s a collector’s gem – a Spanish sphalerite, alluding to my geology background and my brother who lives in Spain.

Like my Brownie pin and jackknife, the rooster-sister brooch was an important communication device linking me to my world and borrowing some of its symbol energy in return.

Happy Halloween

Growing up, I was happiest dressed like a gypsy in vibrant colors that swooshed around my body as I walked.  Lying on my bed after school one afternoon, I heard an abrupt knock on the door.  My mother answered, giving me a clue it wasn’t a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses determined to save our family before Mother prepped dinner.  Straining, I tried to decipher the animated conversation between Mom and another woman, muffled by the car engine idling in our driveway.  Before I could Ninja-creep down the hall to eavesdrop, the front door shut, high heels bik-bokked down the sidewalk, and the car’s engine gunned into reverse.

Mom stood in the entry-way poking through a lidded box covered with a creamy quilted fabric, her shoulders shaking in laughter. “Kids!” she called, and I ran to see what Mother found so funny about the box in her hands. “Happy Halloween” was written in black felt pen across the box lid.  The flamboyant script was unmistakable:  Aunt Frances.  Inside were oodles of the most irresistible, brightly colored, fashion jewelry.  Frances must have cleaned out her drawers, piled the jewelry discards in an old silk stocking box and quickly dropped them off on her way home from the racetrack.  My first experience with the gravitational pull of a burgeoning jewelry box-mysterious, exotic, entrancing jewels to drape, hang and tinkle as I walked.

Mom had five kids in seven years.  She was busy.  Yet a mother’s love also has a gravitational pull, and my mother became an alchemist turning her love into time spent creating my Halloween costume.  I watched currents of purple dye waft around the white shirt as it soaked in a bowl of water on the tiled kitchen counter.  I’m not sure where the skirt came from, but I bet she hemmed an old dance skirt from my older sister.  Maybe the green sash came from Mother’s own clothes. That gypsy costume became my all-time favorite, even influencing my adult style.

Eight years old, dressed in mother’s love, flowing colored fabrics and Aunt Fran’s jewels, I set off to meet my date with destiny.  That, and a full bag of candy.

Fifth Grade Jade

This is my fifth grade school photo. I was nine, and my mother cut my hair like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby to keep it out of my eyes. I didn’t much like that, yet I still wear my hair short. What’s important, here, though, is the jade bead pendant I’m wearing. My Aunt Frances, world traveler and high-strung Auntie Mame, who lived in San Francisco and went to Chinatown, gave me the pendant. She remembered me!!!

The bead pendant was so beautiful, yet not sparkly. My love for the jade prompted Dad to bring me a piece of raw, green serpentine, a classic rock from the California Coastal Range. That got me interested in reading John Steinbeck (the Coastal Range’s “sun-drenched California earth” often played a role in his novels), further fanning my interest in the land around me. Sift, stir, bake at low temperature for twenty years and – viola – you have a geologist.

Do it Yourself Beads

I learned shorthand, typed 120 words a minute and got an A in Bookkeeping Fundamentals. Make way world – here comes nineteen-year-old Cynthia! I was singing another tune after two years as a legal secretary. I thought, “This is for the birds; if I’m going to do this, I’m going to law school. But…if I’m going to spend the time to do that, why not do what I really want to do: become a geologist.” So I did.

I quit the lawyers and found a job where I could more easily go to night school. Shopping a local rock shop on my lunch break, I saw this strand of sodalite beads, lapis’s very distant cousin. I looked into those dark perfect spheres and thought, “I must have these.” I could wear my avocation, a strand of blue beads carrying secrets from the earth. They cost $125, and I put them on layaway, making payments for several months until they were all mine.

A decade later, I had started Cynthia Renée Company and was doing colored gem trunk shows at jewelry stores around the country. Twenty-something girls would look at my gems, then sigh and lament, “Oh, well – guess I’ll have to marry a rich man.” Holding their wrist, I’d tell them, “Don’t you dare deny yourself the pleasure of working hard for something and achieving it.” These beads became most precious when I worked for them.

Photo by Barclay Kamb

Himalaya Grrrl

I was twenty-six and guiding a group of geology professors through the Himalaya Tourmaline Mine where I was doing my undergrad thesis. One of the professors was Dr. Brian Mason, a geochemist who authored the mineralogy text most universities were using, including mine. Also in the group were Cal-Tech professors George Rossman, a mineralogist studying the causes of color in gemstones and Barclay Kamb, a structural geologist who was one of the first scientists to study glaciers in Antartica.

I was excited, and nervous about leading this group of geologic super-stars and wanted some extra sparkle. I felt very sophisticated and unstudent-like in my little 6-mm amethyst studs in 14-karat yellow gold.

Back at school, it was hard to get people to believe I had met these guys, let alone led them through my thesis project.

Jewels for Junior Miss

I worked my way through school as a part-time secretary for a company that did gem mining, wholesaling, and jewelry retailing. The company produced an annual promotional event, bringing various gem experts, artisans, researchers and curators from around the country to lecture for their customers. I knew just the dress for the occasion, and bought it from a local store, “Sophisticated Lady.” Working that weekend, I felt so part of it all-refilling customers’ cups, driving the experts between venues, being an all-around-go-fer.

The day I saw the photo I learned to beware of small-town stores called Sophisticated Lady. I had thought I was so sophisticated and with it, yet I looked like a schoolgirl, a “junior miss”–the “I’ll get my girl to do it” girl. The Lake Biwa freshwater pearls I stretched my student’s salary to buy looked lost and insignificant, disappearing in a sea of polyester.

“Junior miss jewelry” is what I call overly dainty jewels that don’t suit the scale of the wearer. Overlooked and out-of-proportion, they are the elevator music of the gem and jewelry world. To radiate the zeal I felt inside, I should have worn bolder jewelry. I was learning.

Now, the photo brings a motherly compassion for the young woman who made her way through the challenges she set for herself. At the time, I held the photo in my hands and wondered, briefly, if I wasn’t significant enough to get what I wanted from life. So, I set a bold goal: I would someday be a speaker at one of those events. Can’t hit a bull’s-eye without a target.


My sister and I used to meet in Washington, D.C., for weekends during the late eighties. We match the hotel walls, but think anything’s flattering since we’re in skinny phases. It’s the beads, though–they’re a large eighteen-mm, naturally colored, banded red and white agate. I strung them plain, with no gold beads, and with a simple clasp.

By then, I’d put on a lot of miles visiting jewelry stores around the country and had seen a lot of jewelry. I liked the aesthetic sense of a customer from that time, Gump’s, in San Francisco. They used luxe materials with minimal ornamentation – no distraction from the gem. Before then, I had been taught that all gemstone beads needed lots of shiny gold accents to spruce them up.

“The material” became a guiding light for my aesthetic sense. When you use fine gem material, you don’t need to distract with unnecessary gewgaws. I began seeking craftsmanship that was simple, yet impeccable. Let the gems speak to encourage a simple, true dialogue between wearer and gems.

Later, I did something about that hair and belt.

Photo Credit: Taken by the waiter

Don’t Lose Your Head

In 1990, soon after I started Cynthia Renée Company, I met some friends to celebrate an engagement. I wore a small, yellow gold brooch of Marie Antoinette hand-painted on ivory accented by natural pearls. I was in the office of an antique jewelry dealer friend when I told him I was starting my own business. “Here – take this; it will remind you not to lose your head,” he said, handing me the brooch. It was the first piece of jewelry I’d been given as an adult; I’d even bought my own wedding rings

Years later, I lost the brooch, and the friendship, and just ached. I learned a jewelry secret, too: Snip a small piece of rubber band. Insert the brooch’s bayonet through your fabric, then stick the rubber band piece on the bayonet and finish clasping. Even if the clasp lets loose, the bayonet will still hold by the friction of the rubber band.

Cynthia Appleseed

I was crisscrossing the country, bounding to build my business. I felt like “Run Run Rudolph” in the Chuck Berry song, tearing up the highways and “reelin’ like a merry-go-round.” When I became too frazzled from the frenzy during those years, I gave myself the pep talk, “You’re Cynthia Appleseed, traveling the country, planting seeds for future business.”

All the travel necessitated developing a clothing and jewelry wardrobe that was multi-purpose. I knew a woman who made St. John-type knits and had her make a lapis-blue and malachite-green coat to wear over a matching blue shell and skirt. I requested the green collar because I also had a dress in a matching green. Then, I’d wear different pieces for different looks.

I wore lapis beads with the beautiful blue enamel, diamond, and citrine cabochon ring my friend Frank Lowe had made me. It looked like the Boucheron perfume bottle, my perfume at the time. The citrine in the blue enamel ring coordinated with the yellow gold in the lapis beads. Ring and beads went with the yellow gold and citrine earrings in the photo below.

Citrine earrings are a jewelry wardrobe cornerstone piece. I could wear the same citrine earrings with the pastel gem and pearl necklace and a group of cream and khaki clothing. I had pink tourmaline stud earrings that I’d sometimes wear with the pastel necklace or with several strands of baroque saltwater pearls.

I began teaching jewelry wardrobing to jewelry store salespeople and to the public. I loved designing a plan, an entire look and coursing through the chaos. I loved exploring all the choices among color, brilliance, texture and size, then showing people how to get the most from their jewelry. I was a girl with a plan.

When designing custom jewelry, I build in as many wearing options as practicable helping my clients maximize their enjoyment, wear and investment. The Pillow and Orchid necklaces show what creative vision and technical virtuosity can create in full-custom, bespoke pieces. The interchangeable Progressive Pearls give my client a workable earring wardrobe with a few easy pieces. They can also be adapted to work with many of a client’s existing pearls and gem studs.

Blackberry Youth

This necklace was the first “important” necklace I designed for myself. I represented a German lapidary firm, and they made exquisite beads. They weren’t just beads; they were engineered by angling the black onyx ends so a series of straight tubes could curve into an arc. The amethyst rondels on each side of the faceted red tourmaline beads are concave-shaped so the bead snuggles in nicely against the rondel without abrading. Everything was considered.

I used to do a lot of work with the Nordstrom stores in the Seattle area. My father grew up in nearby Tacoma, and our family took berry-picking trips there, stuffing ourselves full of berries, then taking more home so Aunt Ruth could make pie. To me, blackberries evoke family.

Photo Credit: Kathleen King Photography (

In 1995, I had this photo taken to promote my trunk shows; I was trying to look older or like Isabella Rossellini in a Lancôme ad from the time. On a break at Nordstrom Tacoma, I sketched the red tourmaline clasp that had a berry feel for this necklace. Feel was important to me, particularly then. The clasp can be removed, to hold pleasurably in the hand and each section is backed with a sheet of platinum for an inner glow. My idea was also to wear that clasp on a gold chain, but life intervened and I’ve yet to do that.

Gannett Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming; photo by Doug Grady

Rainier Ring

I wanted to go beyond the wild blue and find out how much audacity and courage I really had. So I started climbing mountains.

Inside a glacial crevasse on Washington’s Mt. Rainier, learning crevasse extrication rescue, I posed as the “rescue dummy.” Hanging on a rope inside a crevasse, a rescue team set up lines to pull me out.

Glacial ice isn’t like the ice in your tea; it has ethereal icy blue hues. Hanging on that rope was like being on the upper turret of an enchanted ice castle with rooms, overhangs, and banisters of blue and bluish-green reflecting ice around and beneath me. Heavenly. Deadly.

Photo by Robert Weldon

Once home, I realized I had a tourmaline with the frost-blue light of glacial ice and used it to make my Rainier Ring , the first ring I designed for myself. In profile, it has the broad mountain shape of Mt. Rainier; the fluted ribs on the front and back of the ring represent the crevasses. The blue tourmaline, from Golconda, Brazil, represents the blue ice where I hung pendant for some time. A pair of Colombian emeralds represents the green pines. Ice, Ice Baby.

Photo Credit: Kathleen King Photography (

Hope for Wonder Woman

Purchasing these bracelets was a huge leap for me. Antique, French, 20-karat yellow gold, hard and heavy, they also had a softness. Their edges curve. They have been worn and the patina shimmers. The property of an antique jewelry dealer, they hadn’t sold as their wrist size was quite small. Luckily, that dealer was my friend, and my wrists are unusually small. Those bracelets were my ruby slippers; once they were at my wrists they had to be mine – I couldn’t go without them. My friend told me to take them – “It’s an omen they fit you” and “Pay for them when you can.” I posed for the photo like this because I felt my life had a lot of strife–always working, fighting to make it, never backing down and getting up again with hope that I would eventually make it.

"Hope" by G.F. Watts

Growing up, a family art book illustrated the painting “Hope,” by G.F. Watts. A blindfolded woman sits on the earth, picking away at the remaining string of her lyre. At eight, I didn’t understand-the lady looked like she was being punished. “Mom, why do they call this Hope?,” I asked. Much later I realized Hope was playing her music to the end. No matter she only had one string left, that’s how she’d make her music. The painting stuck with me and that’s what came to mind as I posed with the solid gold Wonder Woman bracelets, hoping to flourish through life’s bullet rains.

Now I watch “Wonder Woman” DVD’s with my daughters. One day, Hallie was feeling a little bereft by being the youngest. Kneeling next to her, we locked eyes as I said, “Hallie, you’re old enough now that I can show you something.” She looked grateful following me to my jewelry box using the body language and facial expressions of a young child trying to be grown up. I ceremoniously opened the drawer and retrieved these gold bracelets handling them as if the Holy Grail. “I am Wonder Woman,” I said as I handed her the bracelets. She quickly put them on as I told her, “Since we all have power and responsibility, we are all secretly Wonder Women.” Hallie’s eyes widened-she knew I was right.

Photo by Clare Kittle

A Trip to Bountiful

Visiting Seattle on business, I escaped for a picnic with my friend Clare. I borrowed another friend’s barn jacket, and we took the ferry out to Bainbridge Island. The spur-of-the-moment picnic was an easy moment in life: bread; jam; coffee; dear friend, ocean air. I felt relaxed and bountiful.

I had just set a pair of stoplight-red Burmese spinels in what became Cynthia Renée’s “Doughnut” earrings: a rounded handmade coil of 22-karat yellow gold surrounding a gem “jelly” center. I liked the tension of setting luxe gem into gold using a method that required skill, only appearing simple. The earrings are luxe and simple; I dress them up or down.

I was in a new romance with a man I thought was Mr. Right, and felt life was sweet. And, it was for a while.

Pietra Ring

I learned geological field work in the rugged backcountry of San Diego. Large bodies of molten rocks crystallized beneath the earth’s surface, later forming mountain chains along the state’s notorious faults. The rocks I roamed were sliced by series of “cracks,” called joints. The rocks weathered along those joints, eventually opening enough so the sky could be seen between the cracks.

Photo Credit: John Parrish Photography (

I made the Pietra Ring (rock, in Italian) to call to mind my backcountry field work. The sides of the ring are textured and curved with a feeling of the granitic boulders. The side-view of the V in the middle, where the gem can be seen, represents the glimpses of sky seen through the cracks in the rock.

Chief Earrings

I told my friend Clare I was going to Sri Lanka to explore; that by going “something would happen.” I was feeling drained, missing my softness, the juiciness I needed to nurture creative life. Traveling someplace new sometimes shakes things up providing fresh viewpoints.

Through a serendipitous series of events, I ended up “Chief Guest” at the Facets gem show during that first visit to Sri Lanka. My friends took me sari shopping so I could dress for the honor.

Shopping for saris rekindled my childhood joy in dressing like a gypsy in flamboyant shades. A long-limbed woman dressed in bright silks led me across the room to a raised platform, her jewelry tinkling like wind chimes moving to her gazelle gait. She began unraveling saris and draping them around me as my three male friends reclined on pillows drinking Ceylonese tea.

I picked an orange sari, and the earrings I happened to bring were citrines set in yellow gold. The citrines are cut in the “buff top” which reflects intriguingly next to the similarly colored gold. “Where does the gem end and the metal begin?” one wonders. Citrine earrings are a jewelry wardrobe basic; I was glad I had packed them.

As Chief Guest, I was a rock star in a gem venue. A conch shell trumpeted my arrival, escorted by a parade of musicians and dancers. I cut the ribbon opening the festivities, lit the lotus candle, and gave a short talk on the increasing economic influence of the female who purchased gemstone jewelry for herself.

I was guided through the exhibit, stopping for a photo in every exhibitor’s booth. The Colombo Daily News printed an article saying, “Despite running her own firm, Cynthia Renée, and with all her knowledge and experience in her glittering world, she little knows that she is the rightful owner of a priceless gem – her radiant thoughts which constantly send out rays of peace and serenity making her chronological years sit so very lightly on her charming face.”

My trip couldn’t have been better. This was the first of many life-changing experiences in Sri Lanka.

Uncorking the Genie

I spied a yellow gold “urn” brooch at my hometown pawn shop in Fallbrook, California, “The Avocado Capital of the World.” I suspect it’s Turkish; perhaps a souvenir brought back from a trip to the Mediterranean. I just loved the thought of letting I Dream of Jeannie out of the bottle, i.e. uncorking my inner caprice.

In Sri Lanka I had fun dressing in the native style of bright sarong, blouse and shawl. People would come over to me and say, “Madam, you look just like Princess Di.” I’ve heard that about a hundred times. I’d lower my head, raise my eyes to look up at them through my lashes, smile Shy Di’s smile and demurely reply, “Oh, thank you!” They would clap their hands, laughing at my imitation of the people’s princess.

Top:24-kt cuff bracelet with chasing and repose handwork made in Nepal. Below:24-karat gold leaf covered Buddha in Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha

High Karat Luster

Why have humans, from their earliest times, reached for gold? One reason: it’s beautiful. You want to touch it. It looks like honey. It glows like the sun. It puts the lust in luster. Exposure to different cultures burnished my desire for high-karat gold jewelry.

One fall, my sister Paulette went with me on a gem-hunting trip to Thailand and Sri Lanka. This was during the Asian monetary crisis in the late 90’s, when gold was $273/ounce and a high dollar fueled some serious shopping for both of us. A friend took us to a ratty building in Bangkok’s Chinatown; inside was the most extraordinary jeweler. I bought a 22-karat handmade chain with granulated beads.

A few days later, I was touched by a Buddha amulet, made of yellow, white and rose gold and hung it on the chain. On that trip, I wore the necklace to a party in Sri Lanka. I love the necklace, but I can’t wear it now. It’s a Thai religious image, and I cringe as if wearing it advertises an ironic sanctimoniousness I don’t feel – an anti-Buddhist “my- God-is-better-than-yours” statement. Instead, I hang it on my bedpost, keeping the memories, and beauty, near and in my dreams.

I love this necklace as a sign of that time – searching for gems with a sister I treasure through the sweltering alleys of Bangkok and in the gem-laden rice paddies of Sri Lanka.

The Jewels of Brotherly Love

My brother lives in Barcelona, and for a time, I visited him once a year. I was always on the hunt for textiles, and on one visit in an antique textile shop I fell for an unusually large, fringed black silk shawl, hand-embroidered with boldly colored flowers. Flamenco dancers wear this type of shall, but this one is much larger and a hundred years old. The shop owner and I spent several days going back and forth over the price.

Once the shawl was in the bag, my brother and I stopped at an outdoor café inside a plaza to celebrate the moment. Diamond-shaped windowpanes formed the upper stories of the colonial buildings enclosing the square; Roman-style arches lined the lower levels. I peeked open the bag to look at the shawl, and I set it on the table beside me. A luminous moment: my dear brother and I; the shawl’s vibrant flowers; the arches and the diamond-shaped windowpanes. I felt lucky to be there with my brother so I captured the moment in my ring.

The shanks of the ring are textured like the arches; above the “arches” is the twist of the silk fabric wrapping around a vibrant green emerald; the side gallery has the diamond-shapes of the windowpanes, and the colors of the ring are the hot pink and green in the shawl.

Here I am wearing the shawl the night I met my future husband:

Holy Night

Holy to Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, pilgrims of all faiths ascend 7,359-foot Sri Pada in the darkness of night to pray as the sun dawns above the Indian Ocean. In December of 1998, I was unusually lucky in assembling an elegant suite of unheated Blue Sapphire and trekked up the hallowed mountain as a prayer of gratitude. I wore a simple pair of South Sea pistachio-colored studs. Pearls, the most womanly of gems, luminously reflected the full moon we hiked under.

I made the trip with a family of Sri Lankan friends. To assure an early start, we left the coastal capital of Colombo in the late afternoon, had a light supper at a guest house along the way, and made a base camp of sorts in a crumbling hotel not far from the mountain. The father and the driver sat sentinel in the truck outside our room. The mother, their two children, and I curled on an unsheeted double mattress. The mosquito net over the bed was ripped and torn, ineffective against the insects zinging through the open windows in the concrete block walls-wholly, holey yet holy. “Let’s see what this is all about,” I thought.

Sleeping with so many, so intimate, was new to me. I listened to my friend soothe her children to sleep, petting their curved limbs, humming low and rhythmically. One of the kids spooned into me. I warmed and softened around the child’s body, surprised by my instinctual response-how right it felt. The full moon dipped the leaves outside in silver; a lone dog barked. Few adults slept before our 4 am wake-up.

Fueled by anticipation, bananas, and biscuits, we took the early part of the trek in an easy walk through a darkened landscape of tea plant and rubber tree silhouettes. The full moon illuminated our path. The last half of the seven-mile hike was a strenuous series of narrow cement and rock steps that grew steeper and steeper as the trail wound towards the top. First the mother and children dropped out, eventually the father, leaving the driver and me to ascend together. From December through April 100,000 people make the trek, but I don’t remember seeing anybody else until I reached the top.

On the summit I could hear prayers offered up in different languages and religions. Language was no barrier though, all of us expressing in warmth the common experience of beauty and reverence. You might think sharing prayers in such a setting at sunrise was “The Moment” for this trip, but I was undergoing another awakening.

Under that tattered mosquito tent on a small bed with her children, my friend Anagi let me experience the holy love of mother and child. With the sunrise came the dawning that I was at a fork in the road. At 40, married to my business, I was already a short distance down one of those paths. Could I turn back? Could I cut over to the other road?

Those were the thoughts that began reflecting beneath the full moon as I trekked up Sri Pada. What began as a grateful prayer for some sapphires dawned into another era in my life. And, again, I wore classic pearls: simple, round, glowing like the mother moon. The cycle of full moon setting, earth turning, moon passing off to a rising sun marked another cycle’s turning in my life.

Some Warps in the Mirror

If not gems, I would work with textiles. I collected them: handmade quilts from the Amish of Ohio, colorful hammocks woven by Mexican net fisherman; centuries-old lace from Spain; shell and raffia loincloths from the Amazon, embroidered pillowcases from Midwestern wives of the 1940’s; antique kimono and ikat weavings.
Naturally, I was attracted to an Indian-cut bead necklace of variegated colors of spinel and tanzanite. It looked woven, like the sinuous lengths of Cambodian silk I draped over my shoulders.

Warp and weft weave the life of a fabric. Warp threads are the lengthwise strands of a fabric through which weft threads weave back and forth. The warp gives strength and structure; the weft creates pattern, color and depth. Woven too tightly, the fabric buckles and is repellant. Too loose, threads can turn to tangle. Thus, weaving also is an art and a science.

The threads of my life had become too tightly bound. At 42, I had to loosen the warp and weft if I wanted room for anything else in my life. I wrote a new vision for my life, one that included love and a family of my own. It’s one thing to ask God for the goodies, but you have to climb your own way out of the pit. I helped my staff find new jobs, quit writing articles and said “no” to trunk shows and seminars. Then I went about my life – watching more wind in the leaves, cooking more meals for myself, hanging out with my parents, reading, and slowing down. I even took up belly dancing. This unwinding, though wanted, was a dismantling of what I had built my life and ego around. It was unnerving.

Yet my life was calling and I had to make room for something new.

Taken at my 25th high school reunion, July of 2000

Blue Pearl Moments

A friend of mine was leaving the pearl business, so I bought these pearls from her at the Tucson show in 2000. Then I met Clay at the show and had the pearls to wear a few days later on our first date to a sushi bar where he surprised me by speaking Japanese to the chef.

Later that night, I wanted to see his reaction to one of my favorite spots, the El Tiradito shrine in the Old Barrio section of Tucson. My pearls reflected the light of hundreds of candles burning on metal stands, in colored votives and set on the narrow ledges of a crumbling brick wall, waxy and blackened from thousands of candles over the years.

I have always found El Tiradito a place of deep feeling: prayers written on paper are pressed into the wall’s cracks; memorial flowers are left to dry in the desert air. The shrine is dedicated to healing broken hearts because a man was buried there after dying while fighting over a woman he loved. Lost-and found-in a Blue Pearl Moment, we shared our first kiss at that shrine.

You know the fleeting moments in life where it’s like God pulls open a curtain and you experience great unexpected intimacy, insight, and beauty? I call these luminescent moments Blue Pearl Moments. Like a parting of the sea, surface distractions retreat and we can see with a profound clarity, feel oneness and compassion, or share a deep intimacy. Then, the seas roll back together and these moments where our ship hits bedrock fade away into time past-our world goes back its mundane business once more.

You can gather those moments and string them with care to create the truest jewel there is: your own strand of the Blue Pearl Moments of your life. The strand of Blue Pearl Moments is a divine garland of life experiences with which you adorn your spirit every day, no matter what your body is wearing.

With my clients, I create actual jewelry commemorating these moments-as I did for myself with my Rainier and Spanish Brother rings. A piece of jewelry can capture the story or feeling of a luminescent moment you can return to again and again by means of memory.

Photo by Robert Weldon Photography (

Cynthia at 43

I had a deal with myself. I could fall in love with my gemstones if I worked as hard as possible to sell them. If my true-love gems were still in inventory by December 31, I could choose one or two and make a piece of jewelry for myself.

January 2001 was an odd one. Blessedly pregnant at 43, our baby was due in August and I had only some amorphous sense that I had passed through a door into a new life. I wanted to mark this point somehow, even though I didn’t understand quite what I was marking. I selected a five-carat unheated Blue Sapphire from Madagascar and flanked it with a pair of hot-pink Sri Lankan Sapphires. Platinum and a small accent of diamond baguettes completed the ring.

I inscribed in the shank, “Cynthia at 43,” my message in a bottle – a note from someone I used to be. Our daughter was born on September 1, not in August, and sapphires are the birthstone for September. The two pinks in the ring, I see now, represent our daughter and me whereas the masculine blue is for Clay.

Joseph Carroll Photography ( Cynthia and four month old Mathea

A Band of Gold

Clay and I didn’t give each other directives about what rings we’d bring to the altar. Working in the jewelry industry, it would have been easy to make me a bling ring. Instead, he brought a simple circle of gold, representing the things that cannot be bought. I continue to feel quietly grateful that he saw into me so well, and so early.

The ring is handmade from 22-karat yellow gold. Straight from the earth, such pure gold isn’t strong enough to withstand the rigors demanded of matrimonial jewelry. Much like the bride and groom, it has to be “worked on.” That ingot of gold was hammered, pulled into a rod, then pounded into a circle. Through the labor of “work hardening,” the gold achieves the competence and integrity to withstand a lifetime of loving work.

Marriage has worked on me in much the same way. Clay is a lapidary, and I have a rock-tumbler theory of marriage. Thrown together with life’s slurry of abrasive grit, our jagged edges are worn smooth; our inherent cracks flake away or stabilize. We become luminous and translucent over time. The right mate helps us get there. I think of these things when glance at my ring as I’m driving down the road or clicking the keyboard.

We didn’t choose a China pattern. There were no chapel bells ringing at City Hall. But standing under the palm trees of San Diego Harbor with this ribbon of gold, Clay said, “Come on. It’s me and you.” Simple as that.

Mama’s Day

I made carrot cake to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday. We all lined up for a taste of sweetness fed by her little hand. I received the necklace four months prior, a gift to mark my first Mother’s Day.

Though being a mother was enough–enough of everything but sleep-Clay gave me this pendant featuring a silver coin of ancient Athens, minted between 449-413 B.C.

Athena was the patron goddess of the city of Athens, and her helmed head is on the coin’s front. Athena was the daughter of Zeus, the most powerful of the Greek Gods, and her mother was Metis, the ancient goddess of prudence. Thus, in Athena, there existed the optimal and harmonious balance of both power & wisdom.

On the coin’s reverse stands an owl. Athena was always accompanied by an owl. She was a warrior goddess and often too occupied to get out and see the larger world. Instead, she sent her owl. Every night the owl flew around the world, returning in the morning with news of the previous day. That’s actually how the owl got associated with wisdom.

Clay saw that my life had changed drastically. With a little baby, I was not going to be traveling around the world as often. So the owl could fly around the world each day and bring me the news from the outer realms. I loved the humor and depth of Clay’s empathy represented in this gift.

By the way, it was three years since I wore those pistachio pearls trekking up Sri Pada for sunrise. Our jewelry weaves together all the days and nights we are granted, wherever we are around the world.

I Hear You

In four weeks, Clay and I went from dating long-distance to being married with a baby. Marriage at mach speed called for a few adjustments. “You just don’t listen,” I accused over and over. I didn’t think he was listening to that either.

On our third anniversary, I was astonished when Clay gave me a white and rose gold floral bell pendant. Engraved on the side is, “I hear you.” The joke is that he’ll hear me coming and not startle when I suddenly appear behind him.

The larger meaning is that he really does hear me. When I get frustrated, I put on the bell and remember that I am seen, and heard, and calm down.

Jan Balster, JB Photo (

My Three Lights

Our daughters were seven and five when I went to Thailand one summer on a gem errand. They’ve always known me to travel, and we all recite the mantra, “You can still miss somebody and have a good time.” Having a family has put a damper on solo travel for me. They’ve become the North Star around which I orient; without them, I’m a bit lost, aware of a void. This trip, I particularly missed them.

I saw a parcel of four unusual Burmese moonstones, not the usual gems I work with. I couldn’t get my mind off their light, and had three cut into a domed shape reminiscent of the Thai Buddhist temple domes, or stupas, then made a ring from 22-karat yellow gold and platinum. I call the ring “My Three Lights” – the three moonstones represent Clay and our daughters; the gems’ shape reminds me of being in Thailand missing them…but, still having a good time.


“A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out.” Korean Proverb

Clay and I stepped into spring, opening our studio in 2010 after four years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Combining our experience, an award-winning gem cutting studio, jewelry design salon, extensive reference library, design and fashion archives, and our collection of fine colored gems, we built a destination for the advanced gemstone collector or the novice jewelry aficionado. Like a turtle pulls in its limbs, our clients tuck away their worldly concerns and visit for an hour, or days, immersing themselves in the world of colored gems.

We adapt to you – technical or lighter and inspiring. Watch the gems being cut, sit in a corner reading a book from our library, look through our gem collection, or share a cup of tea and see what projects that sharing may spark. Whatever your interest, we can guide you through the intricacies of the colored gem market and the creative process of transforming rough minerals to faceted gems to jewelry. We offer something unique, that isn’t found anywhere else.

I received the Edwardian Demantoid Garnet turtle brooch as an anniversary gift in July of 2010. I saw it at a customer’s store a few months before, and it reminded me of the time our daughter and I rescued a turtle from a busy highway. It also brought back memories of an interesting Russian Demantoid experience Clay and I had last winter.

Like the turtle, steady and determined we’ve build something special. Gems and jewelry are what we built our lives around. We live what we do.