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The stone cutter's art


#1

Hi Orchidians;

Just wanted to chime in on the issue of the difficulty of getting a
fair price for high quality gems which are superior examples of the
cutter’s art. There is an inherent problem with the marketing
paradigm that is at work here. The fact is, the stone dealers, and
even the cutters, are entrenched in the habit of selling “by the
carat”. Picasso didn’t sell his paintings by the square foot,
although if you go to one of those “starving artist” shows they will
do just that. Gold chain, a machine made product, is often sold “by
the gram” although I wouldn’t think of selling my gold work in that
manner (not to say that the cost of the gold isn’t figured into the
price). Potatoes are sold by the pound, works of art shouldn’t be,
so if you want to have your customers appreciate a gem in it’s
entirety, you’ll need to begin moving away from that way of selling
and locate customers who can align thier thinking with yours. In
other words, retailers who are willing to extend to the customer the
perception of value that you are trying to reach them with. What the
competition will always try to do is to convince the customer that
they have a better price for the standard components they identify
as important. They will stress the importance of something like
"carat weight" and downplay or make irrelevant anything they don’t
have. This is what has happened to diamonds. The end user is
convinced that there is competitive pricing available for the “4
C’s” and that’s all they’ve been trained to be interested in. Even
so, diamonds are expensive mostly because of a controlled supply and
decades of marketing. Try and sell a diamond on it’s “beauty” and
you will have to put considerable energy into keeping the
conversation from coming back to size and price because that is what
people believe is most important. But I can tell you one thing. If
you want to get a good price for an excellent gem, you are going to
have to sell it in an equally important piece of jewelry. People
will be less concerned with the price if the overall experience of
the gem cutter’s art is showcased in a fine example of the jeweler’s
art. And an artist in metal should have the good grace to help the
stone cutter get paid for his labor when his work goes into what is
appealing about the final product. It’s the customer that should
pay for value, not the artist. So finally, it’s going to be the
artists of the bench who are going to be both appreciative of what
you have and able to kindle that enthusiasm in the customer. Let
the merchandisers continue their race to the bottom. Distinquish
yourself and your product and good luck to all of us.

David L. Huffman


#2

We are back to the question of customer perception here, aren’t we?

Many a young woman choosing her engagement ring will opt for a large
diamond of inferior quality rather than a smaller one of first
quality, because it’s the size of the stone that matters.

My own engagement ring is almost 100 years old and is a fine Russian
demantoid garnet with diamonds. Most of the ‘expert’ valuers that
have valued it for insurance purposes haven’t even identified the
stone correctly - some think it is an emerald of odd colour and one
described it as ‘a green stone’ and consequently under-valued it by
several hundred pounds - with the result that I now make sure I tell
them what the stone is beforehand. My ring is much admired, and
occasionally the garnet is correctly identified as not being an
emerald. When I say that it is a demantoid garnet, the only word that
seems to be heard is ‘garnet’ and it is written off in the mind of
the questioner as a cheap and common stone, and by association the
diamonds ‘can’t be very good either’.

It is always going to be difficult to sell a piece which
incorporates beautifully cut fine quality stones at a good price,
except to those people who are knowledgeable enough to recognise
quality when they see it. I agree with David that it will take ‘an
equally important piece of jewelry’, but until public knowledge
improves and perceptions alter it is unlikely that the situation will
change. A fine gem in a simple setting is a piece of beauty in
itself, but how do you put a price on beauty?

Pat Waddington


#3

Along this line, I bought several very nice tourmalines at the big
sale in Franklin, NC, last summer, and have slowly been setting them.
Most people don’t know what tourmaline is, or have any sense of the
value. When they ask what is that stone and I tell them, I get blank
looks, then “Oh, that is pretty”…and on they go. I was at a show
in Raleigh, NC over the weekend and two ladies, a mother and adult
daughter came in my booth and looked at the tourmalines. The
daughter was immediately taken by them, and said “That one has
excellent tone!”. They walked on out, leaving me a bit floored,
wondering if she really knew what she was talking about (she was
right - it did have excellent tone - I’ve just never encountered a
customer who knew tone existed, much less whether a particular stone
had good or poor tone!). The mother came back later and bought the
tourmaline, and it turns out that her daughter used to grade stones
in New York ! So she DID know what she was talking about!

So every now and then you do luck into someone who does know enough
about stones, or have enough aesthetic appreciation, to be more
interested in the beauty than in the size (this was not a
particularly large tourmaline).

I think we must just keep educating the public, and hope that
gradually more and more people will look at beauty over carat weight.

Best wishes to all.

Beth in SC where it seems to think it is winter again, instead of
spring :frowning:


#4

David Huffman’s posting prompted the followin response, but before I
finished I also read Daniel Spirer’s response which I applaud. Now
back to where I left off.

Again, I think it’s a matter of education as David Huffman states
here. Having cut stones for almost thirty ( I almost hate to put
that in print) years I sympathize with the cutter who hears " you
want how much for that piece of s…t"?

Along with David I want to know the price of the stone not how much
a carat. That info can be provided also, but later. If someone gives
me a carat price on a boulder opal it sends the wrong message and
drives me up the metaphorical wall.

When I’m presented with a stone I buy it if it strikes me in some
way. I then do a quick calculation as to what that stone has to sell
for in a finished piece of jewelry. I love what I do but it’s also
business. The recent pricing of stones by the carat traditionally
not priced by the carat signals perhaps an overvaluation? But my
reponse would be something nonjudgemental not "you want how much for
that piece of …! I often buy “finished” stones at Tucson which I
then recut. It seems that many cutters have no idea of what it
takes to set a stone; otherwise why do they cut them as they do? if
you sell loose stones you should take a stone setting course to
learn what’s involved to have an appreciation of the setter’s work.

If one is selling loose stones you have to find your market just as
a designer jeweler has to find his (her) market. What we do is not
for everyone. A cutter has to educate or find those who already are
able to distinguish the good from the bad and the ugly.

Most stones are cut outside the states and the cutters are paid alot
less. the only way to compete is to do something distinctive; to
present stones that are cut properly so as not to drive the setter
crazy. I’m assuming here that we’re all after repeat business. But
enough of this, I must get back to stones and metal.

P.S. I submit these things in hope of making a contribution because
not a day passes that I haven’t learn something from this forum.

K Kelly


#5

Ok, so, Beth in SC, I’m an ignoramous, educate me! What is “tone” in
a gem? I don’t remember hearing it mentioned before. Thanks! --Noel


#6

Good morning,

Kevin made the following comment the other day:

I often buy "finished" stones at Tucson which I then recut.  It
seems that many cutters have no idea of what it takes to set a
stone; otherwise why do they cut them as they do? if you sell loose
stones you should take a stone setting course to learn what's
involved to have an appreciation of the setter's work.

He makes a good point. I have been a cutter for almost thirty
years, mostly for display purposes and freeform carving and I have to
admit that I probably do not know what types of stones setters
prefer. I will be starting to sell some of my work and I would be
interested to have some input from setters as to what they would like
to see in cut stones, i.e. type bevel, height, etc. Thanks in advance
Gerry


#7

Hi Gerry What I meant by my comment is something as simple ( maybe
not so simple ) as not to cut a straight wall on a cab because metal
has to be moved over the stone to secure it in the mounting. “What
they would like to see in cut stones”: Other than some general
parameters i.e., what i mentioned above; I want to see what you like
in a cut stone. As someone once said to me re stones “I want to be
surprized.” Personally, I don’t know what I like until I see it.

On this same general topic Derek felt people were “dissing” him
because they didn’t appreciate what he was doing. We all have to
accumulate a little scar tissue on our egos. When I look at stones
presented by dealers it takes me about five seconds per stone. It
either gets me or it doesn’t. If I get the flash I set it aside and
then at the end look more closely at the “maybes”. It’s not that
anything’s wrong with the others; it’s just that they didn’t speak
to me. There’s one person who often shows me what he thinks I would
like; and as I said I don’t know what I like until I see it. Hope
that in some way this is helpful. K Kelly


#8

Here are things I don’t like:

  1. Very thin cabs. This is a problem for me especially when the cab
    is large. Besides, I like the looks of a thick cab that sits more
    proud in a bezel.

  2. Uneven doming so that the bezel has to be filed so irregularly.
    (Although sometimes I like the look, it takes more time to get the
    bezel right. I would say to the cutter to have doming even unless
    the customer asks for it.)

  3. Needle-sharp corners on soft stones–too easy to crumble when you
    set them.

Here are things I like:

  1. A slight bevel on the back edge to prevent chipping. It also sets
    easier in the rare case where the solder left a little thick area
    along the bezel if it didn’t flow completely.

  2. A very good polish.

  3. I like the cab to have at least a 1.5mm-2mm straight up edge
    before doming begins. It’s easier to form the bezel.

J. S. Ellington


#9

Just to demonstrate how different all we jewelers are :-), here’s my
reaction to J.S.'s likes and dislikes in stones:

  Here are things I don't like: 1. Very thin cabs. 

The thinner the better for me, in most cases. Thinner means lighter
(which I prefer) and also means less (ridiculously expensive) gold
bezel to buy.

  2. Uneven doming so that the bezel has to be filed so
irregularly. 

Even is better, but I’ll take an unevenly domed cab any day if the
shape, color and pattern “speak” to me. However, if the uneven
profile is the result of sloppiness on the cutter’s part, rather than
having been dictated by the rough, then it’s not okay.

  1. Needle-sharp corners on soft stones–too easy to crumble when you
    set them.

Agreed, but I can relieve the edge of a soft stone in a second using
flex shaft tools.

Here are things I like:

  1. A slight bevel on the back edge to prevent chipping.

Agreed – with the emphasis on “slight”!

One thing I really hate are domed backs. Why do so many boulder
opal cutters dome the backs of their stones? Don’t tell me it’s for
greater stability: I know it’s not necessary because I flatten all
the backs myself, add a slight bevel and have never had a problem –
and I use a lot of matrix opals. In fact it’s easier to
accidentally break a round backed opal than a flat backed one because
the seat is not stable (and who wants to spend unnecessary time
stabilizing the seat with sand, epoxy or some other filler??).

  2. A very good polish. 

Of course! And with no scratches or dull spots left in one little
depression over near the edge.

  3. I like the cab to have at least a 1.5mm-2mm straight up edge
before doming begins. It's easier to form the bezel. 

What I prefer is a thin stone with a barely domed top that begins
where a not-quite-perpendicular, 2mm side leaves off. Instead of a
smoothly rising arc, the profile of the stone would show a corner at
a soft oblique angle.

Different strokes! Beth


#10

This is actually very helpful for cutters JS. Thanks. From the point
of view of increasing understanding and in no way as criticism of
what you said I’m responding from what I see as a cutter. I am
replying point by point (in color) to further the understanding of
each other’s situations. I speak here only for myself, but I suspect
many cutters find ourselves in similar situations. Your statements
are in black mine in pink. In all the responses, I’m assuming a good
cutter. Many poor stones are obviously as a result of poor
workmanship. Those stones I would hope are also likely to be cheap.
I apologize in advance to people for whom this may be boring.

Very thin cabs. This is a problem for me especially when the cab is
large. Besides, I like the looks of a thick cab that sits more
proud in a bezel. 

For me, if I cut a thin cab, it’s because that’s the only thing that
the rough allowed. It may be because that piece was slabbed by
someone else or the broken off sliver was thin to start with and
this is what’s left or there was a crack or other imperfection in
the stone that showed up only after cutting began. In fact, many
times interesting parts of stones are because of imperfections so
you’re going to be near them all the time. That means the useable
portion of the rough had to be pared down. I think most cutters
would prefer to do cabs of full thickness if they have the chance
but we only get to cut beginning with the rock we have since we can
only reduce from the whole. So if this rough seemed like a nice
interesting stone, it seemed better to have a thin cab rather than
just having to pitch it in the trash, especially after having done a
fair amount of work just to find out. In general I’ll try to salvage
what I’ve got. But there is almost always more waste than useable
material., unless you buy only high-graded rough, if that’s
available, One other possibility here was that the back of the cab
was a mess and cleaning that up has removed much material. Finally,
I think there is one basic misunderstanding here that metalsmiths
have about what stonecutters begin with. Now I’m speaking of cabbing
rough here. I’m guessing that when you’ve looked at rough at all,
you’ve probably seen nice even slabs laid out on a table. Those
require a large regular piece of rough to begin with. Most often
that’s just not the case. What cab cutters often start with is some
irregular piece of stuff that looks like a splintered rock you’d
kick on the ground. It can take a lot of time to recognize if there
is something in there worth saving, and to get to that point
sometimes we have to do quite a lot of work just to find out if
there is something cuttable.

Uneven doming so that the bezel has to be filed so irregularly.
(Although sometimes I like the look, it takes more time to get the
bezel right. I would say to the cutter to have doming even unless
the customer asks for it.) 

This is probably from one of two reasons, the first is the
likelihood of poor cutting. The first question I’d want to ask is is
this cab a cheap piece? If so that’s why it’s so irregular. The
second possibility is that after having nearly completed the cab,
the cutter suddenly discovered a crack or other imperfection on an
edge. You grind that off, and what have you left? A well shaped cab
that has a different thickness on one edge. Reshaping that whole
thing will require practically recutting the entire stone. Now the
question arises, is the price you’ll likely to be getting for that
stone worth another hour more or less to recut and repolish?
Getting it back into balance is sometimes harder than cutting it
that way to begin with. “So what do I do with it now?” That is the
all too frequent question we have to ask ourselves.

 Needle-sharp corners on soft stones--too easy to crumble when you
set them. 

There is no good reason for this except lack of attention on the
part of the cutter. It would be good to know what would be ideal for
setters.

 A slight bevel on the back edge to prevent chipping. It also sets
easier in the rare case where the solder left a little thick area
along the bezel if it didn't flow completely. 

I think the back of the cab is the part of the process least
understood by setters. If you want to get more affordable stones,
here is the place you might save money. It’s important to understand
that cutting and polishing the back of the cab is about the same as
cutting and polishing the front. In fact it can be even a bit harder
because polishing a flat surface is more difficult and time
consuming than a dome. Also, as cutters when we are starting to work
a stone, we’re obviously taking the better side for the front. That
means there are frequently imperfections of various kinds on the
back.

Now, in order to get this bevel you speak of, it’s going to be
necessary to redop the stone. If you try and do this bevel holding
the stone by hand, it’s unlikely to be even all the way around. The
dopping is done either with a form of shellac or wax which requires
heat, or with glue. The latter is better but takes time. Even
then, once you’ve got it dopped, because many people want a
perfectly finished back, as a cutter you’re going to spend quite a
lot of time working the back and trying to work around the
imperfections you were avoiding in the first place. I don’t know
about other cutters, but I find that polishing a part of the stone
that no one will ever see once it’s set feels like a waste of time
and certainly increases my cost of production. Of course there are
many stones in which the back will show, like anything translucent,
but there are very many in which it won’t. As I mentioned earlier,
there are imperfections of lots of kinds on the back. Those setters
who demand a perfect back on their cabs are often asking for far
more than they want to pay for. If you metalsmiths want to reduce
the price of your stones, and don’t mind imperfections which will
never be seen, you can get a great deal more. Also a slightly uneven
bevel on the back will save much time for the cutter too and I’m
talking about nothing that will be seen or affect the setting. You
can have a far better chance of getting the front of the stone that
does show at a much more reasonable price.

 A very good polish. 

A poor polish again, can be for at least two reasons. One is just
poor workmanship. Two is material that just refuses to take a good
polish. There are pieces that have soft spots etc that just won’t
polish well. But if the stone is interesting is it better to dump it
or try to sell it?

I like the cab to have at least a 1.5mm-2mm straight up edge before
doming begins. It's easier to form the bezel. 

This again may have to do with the shape of the rough.

That’s if for me. I hope people will just skip this if they’re not
interested. And again I say thanks to JS for the insights. This is
what I had in mind when I started this.

Derek


#11

Again, with regard to JS’s post

  1. Very thin cabs; Agreed, they are not the optimum. Sometimes the
    limitations of the rough dictate a thin cab, but they are largely
    the product of eithe cheapness or bad cutting, or both. You can pad
    a thin cab in the bezel to create the illusion of substance, but
    what you can’t bet away from is the fact that thin cabs are weaker
    at the bezel’s edge, and therefore more prone to chipping and
    breaking during the setting process. True, it takes less gold to
    bezel set a very thin cab, but give me a break, even 22K bezel is
    not that expensive in comparison to the labor and time involved in
    creating a decent piece of jewelry.

  2. Uneven bezels. This means that the lapidary screwed up, unless
    the uneven bezel is due to the nature of the material. Some
    material, notably fire agate and some matrix opal, really demand an
    uneven bezel if one is to maximize the beauty of the stone. Consider
    uneven bezels a necessary evil at best.

  3. Needle-sharp corners on soft stones: even needle-sharp corners on
    hard stones, if cut well, present setting challenges for many
    metalsmiths. Many lapidaries are not intimately familiar with the
    issues involved with setting a cab with sharp corners, and hence do
    not cut a uniform shoulder on such cabs. I have seen cabs on E-Bay,
    which, while pretty, had no bezel shoulder, and which would draw
    blood if you pricked your finger with them. There is not a good way
    to set such cabs, and I would avoid them, even if they were cut from
    hard material. If they were cut from soft material, you also have
    the issue of breakage during the setting process, but that is in
    addition to the fact that the cab would probably look bad when set
    even if it was from hard material.

  4. The polish. Unless you are setting beach pebbles or slate, better
    polish = better stone. Duh!

  5. The shoulder of the stone, i.e, the bezel. First, the underside
    should be relatively flat, but should have a slight shoulder ground
    in, both because it protects from breakage during cutting, and
    because it allows for a solder filet around the inside of the bezel
    when setting. The shoulder itself should not be straight up, but can
    be around 75 degrees. A slight angle on the shoulder facilitates
    setting. As to whether there is a sharp demarcation between the dome
    and the shoulder, that is a matter of choice. Try both and see what
    you like. A sharp demarcation, along with a bezel slightly higher
    than the shoulder, creates an edge which flips over onto the dome
    and which creates the illusion of a much wider piece of bezel stock.
    Still, different strokes.

I make these observations as one who cuts the stones he sets, and
sets the stones he cuts.

Lee


#12

I dislike domed backs too, Beth. The reasons I have heard from
Australian cutters for doming the backs are simple – the dome adds
weight, and thus value, to the stone! And, they tend to set them
using step-bezels, thus making them appear even thicker (and heavier)
than they are.

Margaret


#13

Derek, I have stayed out of this one, preferring to just see what
everyone else has to say. I enjoyed reading your last post which, I
believe, pretty much sums up a cutter’s views on most stone cutting
subjects. However, there is one area I would like to add a comment.

JS mentioned leaving at least a 1.5 mm to 2mm straight up edge
before the dome. We call this a ‘bezel collar’. Bezel collars are
quite difficult to cut…i.e., they require a very steady and
consistant method to address the wheel. I have rarely found a
lapidary who can cut bezel collars of a consistant height without
somehow changing the level of the dome. This means, when set, the
metal bezel will still be slightly off level and…may even
exagerate any existing unevenness! As both a cutter and setter, I
prefer the dome extend directly to the girdle line at the bottom of
the stone. This makes for much easier and consistant cutting and
setting and, if properly set, will produce a beautiful bezel line. I
also prefer about a 3 to 10 deg angle from the girdle on thicker
stones but, if cutting thinner cabs, this has to be adjusted
accordingly. As an aside, I used to have my students cut bezel
collars on their stones when starting out but gave that up years ago.
Students just have no way to properly control the stone to produce
an even and consistant collar.

Also, to save time when cutting, I rarely dop a stone unless cutting
a specific geometry to a calibrated size or, maybe something under
8mm in size. Even then I prefer to do as much as I can without a
dop. Dopping costs lots of time!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2


#14

Hi Derek,

It's important to understand that cutting and polishing the back
of the cab is about the same as cutting and polishing the front. 

Understood, but neither J.S. nor I said anything about polishing the
backs of cabs (though I know there are jewelers who prefer them that
way).

In fact it can be even a bit harder because polishing a flat
surface is more difficult and time consuming than a dome. 

Not on a flat lap, I don’t think.

Now, in order to get this bevel you speak of, it's going to be
necessary to redop the stone. If you try and do this bevel holding
the stone by hand, it's unlikely to be even all the way around. 

I completely disagree. All that’s needed is to break the edge
slightly. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it can be done easily
by hand, without dopping, in seconds (unless you do polish the
backs of stones but you seem to indicate that you don’t). I’ve done
it many times. I’m a jeweler by trade but cab cutting is a hobby.
In addition, I frequently have to do this with the cabs I buy from
professional cutters, so I have plenty of practice :-).

Beth


#15

I actually prefer not to polish the back and I find the bevel quite
easy to do as long as the person buying doesn’t expect the depth of
the bevel to be perfectly even and polished all the way around. But
many many metalsmiths seem to think that the polish on the back and
the bevel is necessary. They seem to believe that the entire stone
should be perfect. Every time I suggest to someone that it makes
more sense not to polish the back from an economics point of view
they balk.

It would be interesting to know how many people on orchid expect the
stone to be polished on the back. I’d appreciate feedback on that.

As to dopping. I usually don’t for larger stones but do for smaller
ones. But again we’re speaking here solely of flat backed cabs. In
my original post I was also referring to irregularly shaped stones
that require other than a standard bezel setup. As to a rounded
bottom, I can’t see the point in opaque material. I do find that
chatoyant or highly translucent material can be enhanced as far as
light transmission by a curved or domed bottom.

One other thing that’s come out here is that people have very
different preferences as to what they like to work with. I also
wonder if all these same people consistently find what they have in
mind. How many times does someone see a stone they like that doesn’t
meet with their preferred shape requirements. Or how many times do
they see a shape that doesn’t fit with their color desires, or
patterns or figures in the stone.

For the person who preferred the flatter, thinner cab, do you have
trouble finding those? For the people who like higher domed…?

Would a medium dome make sense or would both people be unsatisfied?

I come back to my original statement. It would seem better for
everyone to coordinate with people so that you could consistently
get the kinds of shapes you like and the stone cutter could make the
shapes most convenient for the individual metal person.

One other thing, each person being able to describe fully what you
want, it seems could result in both being better satisfied. It’s
back to the reason I brought this up. I don’t know about anyone
else, but the communication we’ve had here has been useful. Were we
able to continue that, I think it would be productive. But maybe I’m
just naive.

Derek


#16

This message is for Derek, among others…

I have just returned from a short trip to Barbados, where I met up
with some of my jewelry designing friends. They are lampwork glass
artists, and I am primarily a designer, though I make a signature
line of ceramic beads which I use in most of my designs. Anyway,
these gals are dear to me, and for several years we have worked
together on designs–I use their glass beads, and they like my
ceramics. Between us we have always shared design ideas, materials,
etc. I told them about Ganoskin (raved actually) and brought up the
tread I have been following about stone cutters, metalworkers, and
the bridge (or gulf) between the forms of artistic expression and
collaboration between the two. We had a nice little summit on the
subject…

I am always thrilled to discover and work with stone cutters,
beadmakers and metalworkers. Unusual stones are the focal for most
of my designs, and my lampworking cohorts constantly derive artistic
inspiration from fabulous polished stones–in fact my sister’s
organic lampwork “riverstone” beads are often inspired by the cut
stones we buy at shows, etc. We also love to meet and work with
precious metal folks–I am a rabid fan of Bob Burkett and have been
drooling for days now over sites I have discovered through this list.
I guess what I want to say, is that from my perspective–and most of
my jewelry designing friends–collaboration in design is one of the
most rewarding aspects of creating finished pieces. A fantastic
bead, or pendant, or finding for that matter (of any material), will
completely inspire and drive the finished product. I feel my
completed pieces tell a story, which I love sharing with my
customers. I have recently begun a dialogue with Derek regarding
focal stones, and I can’t wait to see what we come up with and,
believe me, that will be a part of the “story” I will share with
anyone that buys the finished product. I have such respect for all
you “creators” and without the skills of the beadmakers, the cutters,
the metal workers, I would be out of business. I like knowing who
made what componant of my design–and especially HOW it was made. To
me that is what the value of the piece is all about. I respect and
value the effort, creativity, and overwhelming talent that all of you
have. My jewelry tells a story with all of you as the main
characters.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw this in the mix–

All the best,

Karen McGovern



karenmcgovern@rarespecies.org


#17
    It would be interesting to know how many people on orchid
expect the stone to be polished on the back. I'd appreciate
feedback on that. 

Hi Derek, Personally, I like the backs of my cabs polished with the
edge slightly rounded to get rid of an easily chipped knife edge.
The stones can otherwise be slightly domed on the back or fairly
flat. The height and curve of the cab depend on the size, shape and
type of stone so I can’t give any definitive measurements that would
be universally applicable.

I like my backs polished because I usually design pieces with open
backs. The customer gets to see the actual depth of the stone and
knows that there aren’t any fillers or color enhancers hidden under
the stone. My former “master” had a thing about not hiding the
backs, sort of a “full disclosure” philosophy. This point of view
has rubbed off on me. Besides, I find it easier to clean the pieces.
If any crud gets behind a closed bezel translucent or transparent
stone, you have a problem.

Donna Shimazu


#18

Derek, I agree with you about the bevel…it is most easily done by
hand and usually takes about 20 secs on a 600 diamond wheel. As I
set many of my own stones…I have never had any problem with a
small bevel cut to roughly 45 deg. And, I also agree with you that
it is unnecessary that they be perfect bevels. The purpose is simply
to prevent chipping, especially when being bezeled as the metal
sometimes pushes against the edge of the stone, and to provide a
cleaner more even edge to those who use step bezels.

Re polishing the back…I like to at least smooth my backs
…insuring they are flat and all saw marks are removed. I normally
take an opaque stone through the 280 course sand (on diamond) while
anything translucent or transparent I’ll go to 14,000 dia. But you
are 100% correct that many jewelers don’t understand we cut and
polish the tops of stones as well as can be done but the backs often
have imperfections. Its simple…we use the best part of the stone
for the top while the bottoms often are the areas with vugs, veins,
holes, pithy areas, etc. That is the best use of the material. I
tell my students that what they do with the back of the stone is up
to them though, it should be at least smoothed.

I also find people get upset if there is a little imperfection on
the surface of a stone. I try to explain that Mother Nature put that
there to remind us of our place in Nature. If she wanted it perfect,
she would have made it so. Its up to us to cut it out or accept it
as a natural part of the process. After all…there are not that
many perfect/flawless diamonds out there either and many other
’precious’ gems have some sort of flaw in them. Personally, I like
to cut stones with small crystal filled vugs in them. I try to
position them on the surface so they will be accented.

I agree, there is no reason to cut a rounded or bellied bottom on a
cab except in the case of a fickle star stone or a translucent stone
that can sometimes be accented with some additional thickness of
material. Of course, that doesn’t include lentil (double sided) cuts.

Just my 2c. Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL
where simple elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2


#19

Hi Derek,

    But many many metalsmiths seem to think that the polish on the
back and the bevel is necessary. 

If they set their cabs with open backs, then it makes sense that
they would prefer a polished back. I don’t, so it makes no
difference to me.

How many times does someone see a stone they like that doesn't
meet with their preferred shape requirements. Or how many times do
they see a shape that doesn't fit with their color desires, or
patterns or figures in the stone. 

I have the advantage of knowing how and having the equipment (a
Pixie) to recut stones where necessary. So if I see a stone that I
absolutely love but whose shape is unappealing, I’ll buy it and recut
it. Conversely, if I see a shape I like that’s done in unappealing
material, I might cut a stone in that shape myself; but I’d be more
likely to ask one of the cutters I regularly deal with to do it for
me (providing he has the right material). I have done this a few
times.

For the person who preferred the flatter, thinner cab, do you have
trouble finding those? 

That was me. Although I prefer flatter, thinner cabs, I certainly
don’t use them exclusively. As I said before, if it’s really too
thick, I’ll take it down myself.

And no, I don’t really have trouble finding such cabs. Greg King
(in Albuquerque) is a superb cutter who specializes in this cut and
there are others who do it as well.

Would a medium dome make sense or would both people be
unsatisfied? 

We’re talking about preferences here, not absolutes. I have no
problem with a medium dome, I just prefer the thinner variety.

I come back to my original statement. It would seem better for
everyone to coordinate with people so that you could consistently
get the kinds of shapes you like and the stone cutter could make
the shapes most convenient for the individual metal person. 

There are times – when I need something very specific – that such
collaboration is useful. But in general, there are enough good cab
cutters around, who offer a variety of cuts and/or specialize in a
particular type of cut, that it isn’t necessary. Of course I have
the advantage of living in LA where there are at least a dozen gem
and mineral shows; and I can also attend the Tucson shows without it
costing an arm and a leg.

I don't know about anyone else, but the communication we've had
here has been useful.  Were we able to continue that, I think it
would be productive. But maybe I'm just naive. 

That’s what Orchid is for … these types of discussions. You’ll
find that this thread will go on for as long as anyone has anything
to contribute. That could be a day or a month or longer. Enjoy!

Beth


#20

Hi, Derek,

You asked for feedback–

I like stones to be completely polished on the back, especially
large ones, because I like to cut out part or all of the backing
material, on pieces other than rings, for weight, and to create
interest on the back as well as the front of the item. This goes
primarily for opaque materials, though not exclusively. (Back when I
was a potter, I would often carve a tiny decoration inside the foot
of a bowl, jar, etc. It was my way to convey that every part of my
work is important, every part has received my attention.)
Transparent stones pretty clearly (so to speak) need to be polished,
too.

As for dome, I’m open to anything from flat to high, depending on
what I’m going to do with it. As you may recall, I like to use
scenic material, and need those to be fairly low domed or flat, as I
often set them with sawed-out overlays.

The only thing I generally avoid is sharp corners. I particularly
object to pieces with sharp corners that come to a true point, as
opposed to a point with a shoulder beneath it. It is very hard to
make the bezel look right on such stones, though they look very nice
in the hand. Plus, of course, that skinny point just begs to get
knocked off.

It is good that this thread has made it clear to me that I should
expect to pay more for a good polish on the back. To me, though, it
is worth it.

Noel