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Setting stones into stainless watch case

Still trying to set stones into stainless watch case…

I’ve been trying to set into stainless steel since october but took
a break until now. I use carbide drills and round burs to make the
holes and seats. I ordered carbide c-max gravers and was able to set
into stainless steel plates but the watch case seems to be work
hardened 316L. I’m sure that i can form the beads, but cutting down
the border is a different story. I’ve read a few websites and
received some advice on here about cutting little at a time but the
carbide gravers keep chipping. btw i’d like to thank those who
previous responded to my questions in october regarding this topic. I
believe they were pat and les. I’ve seen some people use cobalt/hss
gravers while engraving stainless steel knives so maybe i’ll give
that a try. I was going to take the grs class with alexander sidorov
but don’t have the funding right now. I just started jewelry a
little over a year ago and have been pushing hard to better my skills
ever since. I’m 22 and live with my parents and make money from small
time repairs on the side. Whatever money i do make goes to tools, and
more tools! There can never be enough tools. Jewelry to me is not
about money, but more about the beauty and passion i have for it. If
anyone has experience with setting in stainless and has any advice to
offer i’d greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

  • Sincerely, Jimmy

Hi Jimmy,

I work as a diamond setter, and in 14 years I’ve only been called
upon setting diamonds on a steel watch a couple of times. This is to
say that I’m no very experienced setting on steel. However, I can
remember that it wasn’t a particulary painstaking task. I don’t know
what kind of steel were those watch cases made of, but I completed
the task using normal tools: not very expensive round steel burs, and
HSS gravers. When drilling the holes I didn’t dare to use the normal
twist drills I use for go gold, so I drilled the pilot holes using
small round burs with plenty of lubricant. I have to say that I went
through many normal round burs, both at drilling the holes and at
enlarging the holes for the stones to fit.

I completed all the graver work before setting the stones -mainly
with an onglette graver-, trying to forget a bit about the concept of
"bright-cutting" at the sides of the row of stones to give the work
a sort of machine-done look, and also because I thougth it might be
rather difficult to get a good bright cut in steel, so I cut straight
lines with the onglette at a rather steep angle, leaving the "walls"
almost vertical.

As I said before, once I had all the holes done, I did all the
graver work before setting the stones, leaving two micro-blocks of
metal between the holes, micro-blocks that will be split in two with
a sort of small wedge once the stones are placed in the holes, those
two parts acting as beads and securing the stones (each stone four
beads). I think this is the best way to set stones in a watch, since
first putting the stones in the holes, then raise the beads with a
round or onglette graver, and finally clean all the metal and bright
cut (with onglette or flat gravers), in steel, in my opinion is a

As for finishing the beads, I remember that in one watch I used a
normal beading tool to round the block-beads. But in the other watch,
since the customer wanted a real machine-done look, I just used a
small burnisher to brighten the beads a bit, get rid of any burr, but
leaving the beads with a visible square look (this was

However, and once again in my opinion, the most importan thing to
consider when setting stones in a watch, or in any other flat
surface, is that the table facets of the stones are all in the same
plane, all of then reflecting light at the same time when moving the
piece. Many times we setters pay too much attention to the perfect
setting of “each” stone -no burrs in the beads, the bright cut, etc.-
and tend forget abotout the “whole”, about the final result, the
final aspect of the piece: few customers -even jewellers- may notice
those small defects without magnification, but the table facets not
being all in the same plane, that is noticeable to almost anyone.

Well Jimmy, I hope this could be of any help.
Bye, and Merry Christmas.

Thanks for responding Fernando. I tried the normal hss round burs a
few months ago and they just shredded while i was trying to cut into
the stainless steel. I switched to carbide and they sliced through
like butter. I used a carbide drill bit and it cut through fairly
well except it was kind of brittle. I used a square c-max carbide
graver from grs and was able to slice through the metal easily using
the foredom powergraver. I’m going to order a few v-point c-max
gravers to see if I can make the border a little nicer. I’m also
going to order a carbide wheel bur to cut the metal between each
stone in order to isolate the beads. Then hopefully i can push the
beads just enough to secure the stones with the carbide square
graver. I’ll let everyone know how it goes once everything comes in.
i appreciate everyone’s help!