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JEWELRY REPAIR Q's & A's
a n  i n t e r v i e w  w i t h  K a t h y    R e s e s k a

by Martha Trachtenberg
I've been taking my jewelry to Kathy Reseska for repairs and opinions for many, many years.  She would come out of the back room at the jewelry store where she worked, take a look at what I'd brought, and tell me swiftly if the repair I wanted was doable, if the stone was what I thought it was, what she thought the piece was worth; she'd answer just about any question I asked.   The store closed at the end of 2010, after more than thirty years of doing business. 

Kathy opened her own establishment, Kathy S Jewelry Repairs, in East Northport, New York, in January 2011.  The sigh of relief from the people (like me) who count on her could be heard all over Long Island. In August, I dropped by her store with a list of questions, some mine, and some provided by members of SilverForum, an online group of silver jewelry enthusiasts who run the gamut from beginners to the people who write the reference books. 
 

Martha's Questions
________________________
Kathy's Answers
_________________________________________________________
How many years have you been repairing jewelry? Thirty-three.
When you started, did you take courses somewhere?
 
I went to the Gemological Institute of America.  But itís very basic, because everything is different, every job that comes through the door is different.  They teach you how to solder, they teach you how to size a ring, to repair a chain, but after that everything is . . .
So how did you work it out as you went along?

 

I worked with a very talented guy when I first started out, and then Ė trial and error.  Pick up a job, ďyesĒ the customer Ė sure, I can fix it, I can fix it Ė and then sit down at the bench and figure out how to fix it.  Gold is really my forte; silver is actually more difficult than gold.
Why?

 

 

 

 

Way more heat.  I can size a gold ring with a stone in it; I canít size a silver ring with a stone in it.  The heat conducts over the whole piece; you have to heat the whole piece to fix a piece of silver.  I could size the gold ring with a stone in it, because Iím only heating in it the back. Thereís more cleanup Ė silver is way dirtier.  It oxidizes, you have to clean it up before and after you work on it.  Itís much more work.  Everyoneís thinking, ďOh, itís just a little silver piece, let me get it fixed; how much could it be?Ē  Well, it should really be more than gold.  The thing that makes it not quite as much as gold is if youíre using parts.  Soldering a silver chain takes me longer than soldering a gold chain, because of the cleanup.
But the actual material costs less.


 

 

That Ė youíre just talking a piece of solder.  Thatís why I say it really costs more because it takes longer.  If Iím sizing a gold ring and adding gold, that costs more than adding a little piece of silver, but again, the silver ring is more work. People say, ďWhat do you mean, itís $30 for sizing a silver ring?Ē  And nothing with stones, or the Indian inlaid jewelry.  I will try anything as long as the customer understands thereís a risk involved, but it is way more difficult to do a lot of silver stuff than gold, and thatís why a lot of people donít want to do it.
Iíve read that people are making repairs now on silver using lasers.  Is this something youíve looked into yet?


 
There is a laser welder, which is an absolutely fabulous, fabulous machine.  Itís $20,000.  At this point in my new venture, I canít afford it.  But yes Ė ten years from now, laser welding will be the only way that jewelry is repaired.  I have access to people who do laser welding; if Iím in a pinch to get something done, I can get it done. Cost-wise, Iím hiring someone to do it for me, but itís the way to go.  Hopefully, ten years down the road, the machines wonít be that much, but right now theyíre $20,000 and theyíre out of my realm.
Now, how long has this shop been open? Iíve been open since January 18.
And before that, how many years were you at Gemport? Thirty-three.
So you spent your whole career there. Yes, except for jobs after high school, itís the only place I ever worked.  I started out at Gemport doing whatever-had-to-be-done kind of work, including waiting on customers, and I hated it.
How are you handling it now that you have your own store? I love it.  Back then, the only way I was going to stay there was if I could get in the back.
And now the front is okay? Yeah.  Thatís the best part of the job now.
Let me start with some questions that were sent in by members of the Silver Forum.  One person wanted to know if thereís any way to identify the silver coming in from Asian countries (that's not silver or a lower grade of silver). Testing.  Again, Iím not really familiar with it; itís all how itís marked.  Sterling silver is 925.  I can do an acid test, which doesnít give the precise silver content, but it tells you if thereís more or less.  I can tell silver instantly with an acid test. If (the acid) does anything other than what Iím familiar with, I know thereís silver, but not how much.  Iíll repair it as long as you understand that I donít know exactly what Iím working on.  Can it be tested somewhere else with more exact results than an acid test?  Yes.
When do stones have to be removed during a repair?

 

 

For the most part with silver, all the time.  If someone wants a silver ring a half size up, Iíll recommend that it be tapped up, if the shank is strong enough.  No stones take heat except for diamonds, rubies, and sapphires; theyíre the only stones you can apply heat to.  You usually donít find them in silver jewelry.  So Ė if I have to solder a post on an earring, the stone has to come out.  Same thing with sizing a ring.
Is it possible to do a repair involving soldering without polishing the piece afterward? Not really.


 

Why?

 

 

 

You can polish it a little bit; there are different types of polish where you wouldnít get as high a polish.  Silver oxidizes, and then you have to clean it.  Basically, silver changes color when you heat it up; it actually gets very white-looking.  If you donít polish it, itís not very appealing to the eye.  They make liquid oxidizers, so if you have an old piece of silver, after Iím done, I can re-oxidize it.  It never gets back to that natural patina, but just wear it and it will go back to the way you remember it in no time, depending on how much you wear the piece.
That was actually the next question Ė is there a way to restore patina quickly?

Yes. Thereís all different kinds; mineís called Silver Black.  You apply it, you heat the piece; it turns everything black, and then you polish it off where you donít want it.

Is it something that a nonprofessional could do, just by following the directions? I donít know, ícause I donít know where you can get it.  I get it at jewelry supply places that usually just deal with the trade, so I donít know if a nonprofessional can get it somewhere.
Say it could be ordered Ė They need a heat source. 
Is it practical or possible to do a repair like sizing on a ring on a vermeil piece? (Vermeil is a gold wash over silver.) No.  You canít put the vermeil back on, and as soon as you touch it, it comes off.
 
The next question was, if yes, does it always involve replating?






 
Yes, but I donít do plating here in the store.  Itís a whole process that I donít want to get involved in.  Plating doesnít just stick to silver.  White gold jewelry is all rhodium-plated; you can take a piece of white gold jewelry and rhodium-plate it. A lot of the manufactured silver jewelry that you buy from the big silver manufacturers is also rhodium-plated.  You have to first copper-plate it Ė the rhodium wonít stick to silver.  If you have a silver piece thatís rhodium-plated, I tell you that it is, I tell you where I size it, Iím going to interfere with it, and back here will no longer be rhodium.  The top still will be; I can do it without interfering with the top of the ring.  But the back will no longer be rhodium and it will tarnish.
When did they start doing the rhodium plating?

 
Rhodiumís been around for a long, long time.  Itís a metal in the platinum family and itís all electronically plated.  Silver jewelry has only been plated in, say, the last ten years.  Not the western, Indian jewelry, for example; just the stuff from a manufacturer.
What is the purpose of the rhodium plating? To keep it from tarnishing.
This goes back to something youíve already discussed Ė ďIíd like to know if a jeweler can repair silver without taking the patina off of it.Ē Not silver, for the most part.  There are rare instances when you can do it; it depends on how far away the repair is from the patina.
Hereís a broad question:  Is there some kind of litmus test to help you decide if youíre better off just scrapping a piece, as opposed to fixing it? Iím sure that sentimental value plays a big part in that.








 
Not when it comes to silver, no; there isnít much scrap value (in a small piece of jewelry).  With gold, yes, with the price of gold having gone so high.  Thereís no dollar-value on ďsentimentalĒ Ė if something is extremely sentimental, you put in the money to get it fixed.  If someone is standing in front of me saying, ďThis is Great-grandmaís ring, and if anything goes wrong . . .Ē I donít want to work on it.  Iíll write something on the receipt, because the older the piece is, the more delicate, the more worn, the more apt that somethingís likely to go wrong, which is usually melting.  If something is worn very, very thin, it will melt much more easily than a strong shank.  Anything that has a lot of filigree Ė thereís risk involved.  But getting back to the question Ė if you like a silver piece and youíre going to wear it a lot, the repair will probably cost more than the piece is worth.  But if youíre hell-bent on getting it fixed, youíve worn it for forty years and the shank is paper-thin, itís going to cost you probably $100, $150.  Is the ring worth it?  No.  Is it worth it to you?  Yes.
Whatís the best way to determine the gold, silver, or platinum content of an object, and is there a method thatís nondestructive?


 
As I said, I used an acid test, a scratch test, and the way I do it, youíd have a hard time seeing it.  Itís not 100 percent accurate because it is only an acid test.  And yes Ė you can bring any piece of metal to a refinery and theyíll tell you exactly what you have.  And there are some things you learn over the years Ė if you give me two rings and oneís platinum, oneís gold, I can tell you right away which is which.  Most jewelers will have the acid for testing, but not the machines that do the analysis.
Whereís the best place to get replacement stones when one is missing or damaged?






 
Good luck.  Itís one of the biggest problems; it depends on the stone.  Itís easier for me than for the average Joe because I have access to all different kinds of stone places.  A lot of the time you can get close.  But a lot of stones change color from natural body wear.  I had two people in last week with pearls; they needed length.  I said, ďThereís no way Iím going to match your pearls.Ē  They were old, and pearls take on your body oils over the years, they take on a different color, a tea color, they call it.  Iíll never match it.  I can add pearls to the back of a necklace so that you can wear them, but it wonít be a perfect match.
What about a hard stone, a diamond or sapphire Ė one of the faceted stones? No sweat.  For the most part, itís no problem to match something like that unless you have something thatís highly unusual.  If someone comes in with a ruby ring and one rubyís missing, I can match it.
Whereís the best place to get those stones?


 
I canít answer that, because I worked in a gem and mineral store for thirty years!  We had a great inventory of stones.  Now, I have access to all the stone places in Manhattan and I go in every other week.  Can a customer come here and look through stones to find a match?  No; I can go get one and bring it in for their approval before I install it.
When you fix a piece and sell it, do you always tell the buyer that itís been repaired and repatinated? I donít handle much of that, but absolutely Ė of course, you have to disclose that.
 
Do you have some advice for people who have silver jewelry, the care and feeding of silver? What would you recommend for maintenance and care?










 
Polishing cloths.  Sit down and watch TV and try to keep it as clean as you can, because the more tarnished it gets, the more work it is to clean.  Somebody comes in with a gold ring and wants it polished, Iíll do it in seconds.  Someone comes in with a silver ring, leave it with me and Iíll charge you on it, because itís so much work if you want it clean and shiny.  People with silver beads Ė you donít want a strand of silver beads tarnished, okay?  You want it looking like that. (Points to a gleaming strand of beads nearby.)  If somebody bought that from me, Iíd give them a polishing cloth with it.  If you have a lot of silver jewelry and you want to keep up with it, this is a new thing; itís an anti-tarnish product.  You cut the corner of the plastic around it and put it in with your jewelry.  (We looked it up in her catalog, as she couldnít recall the name offhand)  ďStatic Intercept Nonabrasive Anti-tarnish Strips and Tabs.Ē  The catalog says it ďprovides tarnish protection for up to twelve months, does not leave deposits on items it protects, nontoxic, nonabrasive, will not harm metals or gemstones; before placing in pouch, make sure item is clean, dry, and free of fingerprints and deposits.Ē 
Would someone be able to buy that online or would they have to go through a jeweler? I have no idea Ė I have access, so Iíve never looked online.

 
This is from the Stuller tools catalog. Itís open to the business.  You can go on the Stuller website and look, but youíll have to go through a professional to order.
Are there any differences in doing repairs to new, vintage, and antique jewelry, apart from the rhodium plating on some of the newer pieces?




 
Thereís more risk with older things, just because theyíve been worn . . . Youíre talking more about silver today, so no, not really.  When you get into white gold, thereís a big difference because of the rhodium finish on all white gold jewelry now.  If I size a ring from the sixties, it doesnít have to be replated, because the alloys they used then were better, they covered --.  Gold comes out of the ground yellow, and the alloys they used back then were way better to cover up the yellow color.  Now if you buy a white gold ring, itís 14 parts gold, 10 parts alloy, and the alloy isnít strong enough to cover up the yellow color.  So after a little bit of time, you look at your ring and say, ďWow, it looks yellow.Ē  Itís four parts more gold than white alloy.
Is there anything else youíd like to say about silver repairs?



 

Just understand that silver is harder to work on than gold, and donít be thrown by the prices for a repair.  Some jewelers donít want to work on silver.  Why should I take two hours and fix a silver piece for thirty dollars when I can spend that two hours fixing a gold piece for three hundred dollars?  Thereís more involved with silver.  People have a silver piece and think, ďOh, how much could it be?Ē  The average person doesnít understand the work involved with silver.

I remember I once brought you a ring and you said you couldnít work on it because there was lead solder on it.

Lead solder is a jewelry repairpersonís nightmare.  Lead solder melts at the drop of a hat; you can melt it with bad breath . . . I donít want it in my tools, I donít want it in my polishing wheels; it will just clog up everything, get embedded in it. 
How can a layman tell if something has lead solder on it? Usually the color.  Iím probably saying that because Iíd know it in a heartbeat.  The average person might not, but . . . If it looks like a plumber did it, itís lead solder, if it looks like a jeweler did it, itís silver solder.
Thank you, Kathy! You're welcome.

_____________________________________________________

Kathy Reseska's business is called Kathy S Jewelry Repair
 and is located in Northport, New York.

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Interview by Martha Trachtenberg
Martha Trachtenberg is a jewelry collector and eBay seller (copy editor and professional musician!)
from Long Island, New York. 
She sells on eBay under the name of marthapt18
She is co-moderator of SilverForum and assistant editor of MODERN SILVER magazine.
 

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