I think Noel has an excellent point. We have to look at all that is
behind the production, the shipping, the work to cut a stone, travel
to and from etc, etc. As a cutter, I roil at the idea one can get
quality for nothing.
Lets follow a stone. It starts out somewhere in the world found by
someone out looking for stones (Rockhound or perhaps a miner?). It
is packed or trucked to a city somewhere and sorted....time spent?
Unknown...the stone may sit around for months or longer waiting for
an accumulation of like material to be put on the market. At this
point, there is only the value figured by the person who found it.
It may be an amateur or a large company that actually mines it.
Lets say its a very nice blue, red or green chalcedony but it could
just as well be a pretty jasper or petrified wood.
When it sells, it goes for $12 a lb. A lapidary purchases it and
adds it to his/her collection. Now, if a pro...they can't let it
set around very long ....money spent must be turned into money
earned. If an amateur or hobbiest, it might lay around quite awhile
again. Nonetheless, the pound of stone might cut out 5 medium size
slabs. The stone no longer weights a pound...probably lost 20 to
25% to the saw kerf, chipping, etc., and then there are two 'butt
ends' that may or may not yield useful material. Now there are
three slabs left...each about 3x5". From that, you can cut two
30x40 cabs each plus several smaller stones including a free form or
two totaling six 30x40mm cabs plus maybe another 10-12 smaller cabs.
First you have to trim out the stones on a saw....probably a 6 to 8
in. A blade will cost $50 to $100 and last for maybe 300 such
cuts. So you have roughed out 16 stones or about 15% of the blades
life and it took you an hour.
In cutting the stones to final polish, you use time....about an hour
for each 30x40 times 6 = 6 hrs. The smaller stones probably took
30-45 minutes each times...say 10 stones = between 5 and 7.5 hours.
You have also used a lot of lapidary wheel to cut these hardness 7
stones. The two coarse wheels will last for several hundred stones
each given they are used carefully. But the soft wheels will start
loosing their effectiveness after 50-60 stones (you already just cut
16 of them) and these wheels can cost upwards of $100 each. So you
have already used about 1/3 the life of those wheels (though they
usually can be used for upwards of 100 stones...but it takes longer
to cut with them when worn).
Now, I won't even get into the water, electricity, polishsing
powders and wheels used plus wear and tear on the machine itself
such as bearings, shafts, etc.
My conservative figure adding all this up and using a very modest
figure of $20 an hour labor equals about $287 just to cut those 16
stones or an average of $18 per stone regardless of size! This is
very conservative folks and doesn't include the slabbing time, wear
on the large blade and saw and other necessary lapidary functions
(some people dop every stone and that takes time and material as
well). Oh, and I haven't even mentioned rarity of the rough as a
factor in cost.
The point is, anytime you purchase a stone that is less than that,
you are buying something that has probably been machine cut
...overseas....possibly tumbled and usually done so fast there is no
attention to the intrinsic nature of the stone such as colors,
design, rarity or structure.
I've been cutting stones for over 30 years and sell stones from $30
upwards of $150 (or more) each. But you can bet they are carefully
selected for color, design, integrity of the structure and are
oriented to show their stuff. They are also cut here in America by
hand to exacting standards.
If you are going for quick turnover and don't care much about how
beautiful or important the stones are...buy the $5 version. But if
you want the best, you must pay the price!
Oh, did I mention that all of my stones are signed and dated? Sorry
for ranting. I understand we must serve all levels of the public
but cheap goods just aren't worth putting into a descent setting.
Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2