It happens to us at CRD all the time: a client with a low budget asks for raw castings so that they can set or glue their own stone. And we tell them: you can’t set anything that way, there will be no beads to push over, there’s no millgrain, sometimes no hole for the gem. The casting will just look like a piece of metal with a shape. You have to cut the seat, file the claws.
Clients also get castings to have their own gems set locally. Before I do that, I usually ask if their jeweler has experience in working with colored stones. I have to make sure because it’s a specialized skill and pave work requires a $3000 microscope. I’m happy to just sell gems but I also I want to protect my client. Many colored gems scratch more easily, and one has to apply less force when setting them. Colored stones cannot touch in pave setting because they can crush each other.
Our CAD Designs contain a lot fewer details than standard CADs because the setting is all done “by hand”. We also make designs with super-long prongs so that colored gems with a deep “belly” can fit – of course long prongs are wasted metal if you set diamonds, which is one of the main reasons most commercial settings do not have them (they are also manufactured by the thousands, and ours are not). With longer prongs you can also set a stone that is a touch larger than the official “fit”. The stone will now sit a little higher, that’s all, or the prongs are opened up more, or both. You can also set a stone that is smaller. In that case we millgrain the edge of the halo so it looks intentional. The millgrain, therefore, is also not in the CAD and therefore has to be done by hand.
Colored gems have characteristics that challenge both the jeweler and setter, and commercial jewelry techniques have to be adapted: they often vary more in size so the holes drilled cannot be as uniform – and they vary in color too, but that’s my job to work on when separating out parcels. Colored stones are deeper than diamonds and can poke through the back of a wedding band so we had to design our own, which are deeper. They can push through the side of a bezel, so again, we had to design our own stacking rings and taper the bezel in a more rounded way (the rings also interlock very well because we designed them that way). Colored gems are soft, which makes it difficult to set them with corner vee prongs, or in princess cut bezels if the bezel walls are too thick, or in hard metals like 18 kt white gold. The tools for holding them have to be adjusted, or even made. Ultrasonic has to be avoided at times.
For instance, diamonds for eternity necklaces are set by soldering the settings to a penny and then setting the diamonds, then unsoldering it. But colored gems cannot take that heat so the setter has to find a way to hold a minuscule bezel somehow and still exert enough force to push metal over the stone.
I was always more fascinated by gems than by jewelry, and so I start with the gem, not the design: What can I make with this shape or color, and what kind of setting will this gem need me to provide? As my little company got bigger, we made more and more CAD settings, because we realized we couldn’t make our colored jewelry designs the same way as diamond jewelry was made.
But its not just the gems that make our jewelry different. Its also the fact that we love a hand made 1920’s look which you cannot get in CAD because castings are generally more chunky and less detailed than hand fabrication; but at the same time we love the versatility and price advantage that a CAD design offers. While at CRD we can provide both wax modeling and fully hand fabricated jewelry, both are pricey and rarely are they needed. There are two other less expensive ways of setting the jewelry apart and capturing the feel of timelessness and hand fabrication:
- Hand Engraving as opposed to engraving that is built into the CAD: Alex P., our engraver (and that of Buccellati, but that’s ok), gets the silver model, pre-polished, and I tell him “some here, some there, not so much here, and make it Art Deco-ish or Art Nouveau-ish and you know what you think looks good.” If Alex wasn’t Alex, this lack of “vision” on my part would perhaps leave the engraver without much guidance. But Alex knows better because he’s done this since he was 14. And I know he knows! So why mess things up?! We offer many of our pieces engraved and non-engraved. An additional plus of this is that we can make a slightly bigger looking piece that still doesn’t require a lot of extra gems.
- Hand setting as opposed to putting beads and millgrain into the CAD where the setter just pushes prongs and/or beads. Pierre B. and Ethan S. do all that work themselves. They clip down the prongs to the needed size, they can split bigger prongs in half, they file them into balls or claws, small or large, roundish or pointy as you wish. They drill the holes where the gems go (on occasion we do guide holes for proper spacing of the drill). They do that based on the size of the gems and whether I throw them a curveball by asking them to set a pear shape into a kite, or an oval, or some such time-consuming thing. This allows for more size and also some shape variation in one and the same CAD design. Then, the setters can make a bright cut, cut out beads or scoops or vee’s depending on how best to hold the stone but also improve the overall look. They fill gaps that look too metal-y with a second row of millgrain, or some extra beads. They millgrain the inner halo, they lengthen the engraving or invent something if they think it looks good. Sometimes they also reinvent my color arrangements. Mostly that’s by accident but if I don’t give specific instructions or say, do what you do best, they get creative. All my setters tell me they like the work because it’s not like other work but they don’t like the time it takes to do it.
That, of course is one of the upshots here: the most expensive part of our manufacture is setting, sometimes that costs more than the gold and gems. For silver jewelry, I think the added setting cost – which can be 2.5x that of preset castings, even in NY, is not justified for the buyer and so I counsel against it. I prefer to sell things where there is a good balance between metal and labor, and of course, some rarity to the gems, which are, as you all know, our main passion.