Lapidary Equipment & Professionals

Don & All, There are two issues here. One is equipment. I repaired
equipment for resale and business for about five years. In that five
years we saw almost every type off breakdown you can imagine from
every type manufacturer. Most of the breakdowns were attributable to
poor design of the machines or to making the machine to sell at a
certain price point. Even my own shop equipment breaks down. I use
a multistation grinder made by Raytech - “the Green Monster”. My
machine runs about 8 hours a day. Up and down all day, changing
wheels and grinding belts. I cut about 150 custom cabs a week. Most
of these cabs are 30-60mm and fully polished on the back.

When I say the machine is not made for a professional lapidary I say
it for two reasons. One is that the machine is not comfortable to
use for long periods of time. The wheels are too close together and
there is not enough room to comfortably rest your hands. Lighting of
the grinding area is a problem as the frame of the machine blocks any
lighting I have tried to make. Coolant feed reliability is always a
problem. The pulley that runs the arbor is not centered on the arbor
creating unbalanced stress on the bearings which cause one bearing to
wear out faster than the other. I change my bearings about every 6-9
months. This is a good machine, but not what I am looking for in a
professional machine which is why I am going to look at the machines
made for the optics industry. If they fail to have what I am looking
for I will make my own grinders.

The second is professional versus hobbyist (amateur). Professionals
are described as people in business. People in business abide by
laws and ethics. Everyone not in business is a hobbyist or amateur.
Yes, hobbyists make some very good products, but they are not

Professionals in gem cutting come in three categories. The gemstone
artists, the production cutter, and the repair shop. You notice I
did not include gemstone dealers. The reason is that most gemstone
dealers do not cut their stones themselves, they are not gemstone
cutters. Gemstone dealers cut in Brazil, Korea, Thailand, SriLanka,
India, etc. They do not cut the majority of stones they sell with
their own two hands. They are marketers. Professional gemcutters do
not make jewelry, that is what jewelers do. If you are a gemcutter
making jewelry you have stepped across professional categories of
business. You are in a new area and I do not know how the rest of
the professional community will accept what you are doing. Many
gemcutters are now choosing this route. Money is driving the choice
as gemcutters realize that the most profit from their products is
realized at the retail sale. Complete jewelry is easier to sell
than parts, which is what a loose gemstone is.

Gerry Galarneau

Gerry, I quite agree with many of your statements about lapidary
equipment…for the most part they are not designed for production
or durability. On the other hand, the kind of effort that goes into
lapidary work is overwhelmingly “grunt” work that is best done by a
combination of cheap labor and state of the art technology. American
technology, as well as the technology of many other Western nations,
is being exported to developing nations. This advanced technology is
not marketed in America inasmuch as it is best applied in situations
where it can be combined with low labor costs. The only
justification for doing lapidary grunt work domesticaly is when the
material is super unique or precious. Otherwise the real creativity
and value is in the value of the rough or the creativity of the
design.If the design of the cut is a basis for value, the ultimate
value of the product is in the design. Therefore, it is not the
cutting of the material that is the basis for value, but, it is the
value of the material and the creativity of the design…the design
is that of the “marketer” and the quality of the cut is the product
of the producer . Oriental lapidaries are FIRST class ! They will do
exactly what you tell them to do and they will do it superlatively
AND they will do it for less !

Furthermore, when you make the statement “people in business abide
by laws and ethics” you are ignoring the fact that a great many
people in business seek ways to avoid ethics and laws. It is no
secret that the corporate ethic is one of finding ways to skirt the
law. The fact is that most people readily avail themselves of
opportunities to skirt the law. Also, persons who purport to be
upholders of the common well being and ethic, regularly do anything
which will 'line their pockets" These are the people who cynically
say anything that might sway the reader to part with their money.

Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, Ca.

Gerry, Great response re lapidary equipment and other issues. I
don’t doubt for one second that you know exactly what you are talking
about regarding equipment. After all, you make a living cutting
stones. I do not…I’m fortunate enough that my monetary support
comes from other sources…but I do cut quite a bit. Sometimes I
will cut 40 or 50 stones a week. Other times I will not cut a stone
for a week or two. Nonetheless, I love cutting and derive a nice
supplement from them. Oh, did I say I also teach cutting…both
cabbing and faceting and a bit of carving here and there. I also
know machines having cut on just about everything out there…have
also built a number of my own…some nearly 30 years ago and all
still running. Point is, all equipment will fail sooner or later.
Most occasional cutters (be they hobbyists or whatever) don’t need
the high end stuff and probably could not afford it to boot.

I think you will find that most every machine, from the really high
end models to the moderate priced ones, all have one design
shortcoming or another. I don’t know why. Maybe the manufactures
just don’t take the time to test their designs adequately. One
manufacturer I know began using different brands of wheels on his
machines and when I asked why, he told me to keep the cost down. He
said he had several ‘professional’ cutters try them and they gave him
good reports. I found them completely inadequate! I still think some
of the older machines such as the Frantom, were the best made, most
comfortable, durable and reliable. But they were big, bulky and hard
to maintain, i.e. difficult to change wheels etc. With your
experience and knowledge, you should be able to design a machine that
accounts for all these shortcomings. Go for it!

I would like to pursue the second issue because I believe there are
other Orchidians out there who may question their own status
vis-a-vis being a professional, a hobbyist, an amateur, an art
jeweler, or whatever. Some may see it as a stigma to be anything less
than a ‘professional’. I don’t. I say embrace your skills whatever
they may be and at whatever level, do the best you can at it and be
proud. This view is constantly reinforced by my students.

One reason I only cut 40 or 50 stones a week is…much of the rest
of the time I am on my bench making my own jewelry designs, or for
other jewelers who happen to be mono-disciplined, doing repairs (be
they to stones or metal), oh, did I say I teach both lapidary and
smithing? But, other than my small studio, I’m not in business and
don’t make my living at this. I have no certifications from GIA,
university (my degree is international relations), or any
professional organization. Still, last week I got a call from a
’professional’ stone setter who has been doing it for nearly 60
years…most of it in New York (he was referred to me by one of my
other mono-disciplined jeweler friends). He had bruised the girdle on
a major sapphire and asked if I could repair it for him, everyone
makes a goof now and then. When he came to me and learned what I do,
he told me that in New York they would never give me the time of day
because of my multi-disciplined habits. Interesting. I repaired his
stone, saved his behind and went back to my bench to make a setting
for a stone (which I had just recut because it had been badly done to
begin with) from one of my other jeweler friends! Who is the
professional here? Just because I’m not in business and make my
living at it does that make me a hobbyist or an amateur? Guess I am
an amateur cause I love doing it, oh, did I mention I’m adding a
casting class at the art school in March?

In summary, looks like I’m a gemstone artist (cut stones with my own
hands to my own designs), a production cutter (while small compared
to you, I cut too many just to be a hobbyist), and a repair shop
(stones, settings, doesn’t matter…used to do a lot more but will
still take problem jobs that many professionals won’t touch). I
design my own jewelry (maybe not for everyone but it is mine),
fabricate or cast the pieces and do my own settings. I also have a
specialized line of black coral jewelry and do periodic workshops in
that too. Now and then I get an article published and…oh, did I
mention I also teach?

By the way, I wonder where Chellini got stones for his masterpieces?

Sorry this got so long but maybe it will help someone understand
that there should be no limit to what you can learn to do, whatever
the field. Just go out and do it!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1