Gem & Jewelry Industry

Setting Secrets Exposed: What Happens to Your Custom Project in Setting

Setting Secrets Exposed: What Happens to Your Custom Project in Setting

I don't know if you have noticed but the diamond district tends to be very secretive about what happens behind all those closed doors. Try googling for articles on the diamond district, you will find that most have very little content. But for a little fun and very accurate information, try this article from the New York Times on Diamond District Slang.

Jewelers rarely if ever disclose who does their work, not even to each other. I think that's a pity because there's not only much to be learned for those not in the industry. I personally am in awe of some of the skill that is exhibited by jewelers, setters, engravers, and even polishers  who are least likely to get many kudos for their work. Each step in making these little masterpieces is the result of years of experience, and in most cases, also involves considerable financial investment, both in terms of equipment needed and risk management.  

Last week I made a little video to demonstrate some of this, and provide you some insight into one of the aspects of the jewelry making process: setting. As most of you know already, Pierre Berberoglu (you'll find him on facebook if you like to make friends) has been my setter for about 7 or 8 years now. Pierre started working in the jewelry industry at 14, back in Turkey at a time when Armenians didn't have many options of what jobs to pursue. Pierre, who also owns 4 Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shops, finds the work he does both challenging and soothing. He feels in control when he's at the bench, he says. And that despite the super expensive pieces he works on, many of which require not only a steady hand but also an enormous amount of concentration.

Our Ring Models Before Setting

Pierre's office can be found on the 8th floor of a well secured doorman building, and you have to be let into two doors to get in. There's a camera at the door and if he doesn't know you he will ask through the speaker who you are. If you are new, you can say who sent you or who recommended you, that might open the doors. Or not, if he deems it insecure. Pierre's safe has to protect a lot of client's projects so it's best not to deal with anyone you don't know.


Cecile Raley Designs job envelopes for custom projects


Your Cecile Raley Designs custom project will travel through the diamond district in a job envelope like this, with all important information written or sketched on the envelope

Pierre sits at his bench concentrating hard approximately 5-6 hours a day, the rest of the time is taken up talking to the likes of me, or dropping off and picking up a project. His huge microscope is a necessity for micro pave work, which he executes with perfection even while chatting with me.  

Trays of gemstones in my safe, waiting to be set into custom jewelry

In the video, we go over a few projects for clients, including one for me. I have him explain a bit about the challenges. While Pierre has been gem setting for nearly 40 years, the kinds of gems I bring are ones even he has rarely or never heard of. So for any new gem (i.e. the hauynes I started bringing three years ago) we have to discuss how it might behave under his tools. He told me once that setting paraiba melee is like setting soap bubbles. He almost doesn't use tools at all when he presses the prongs in (occasionally he uses his fingernails). I also have him set a lot of odd shapes, i.e. small pave ovals or squares, which is rarely done.  


A Cecile Raley Designs custom CAD design with a pave double halo of gemstones

Ethan, my other setter, who is also a bit more camera shy, so you aren't seeing him here, actually practiced setting colored gems for two years before we both felt comfortable working on my projects. Before going out on his own, Ethan set diamonds for a company that almost exclusively did micro pave for Tiffany's. While presenting it's own challenges (Tiffany's is a stickler for perfection), a setter who has set diamonds for years is usually very heavy handed and has to learn to hold back the force he uses for diamonds. This can result in a lot of breakage at first. And keep in mind that almost every setter in the US sets almost only diamonds. This makes what I do very much off the beaten path.

Dozens of custom projects in my Jersey City office, waiting to be taken to the NY diamond district, or just arriving back from there 

For a little extra entertainment, here's a short clip of Pierre discussing how he's setting a diamond tennis bracelet:

Detail of Hand Cut Scoop Down Pave by Pierre

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Sapphire Treatments: What Matters and What Doesn’t  (By Yvonne Raley and Inken Krause)

Sapphire Treatments: What Matters and What Doesn’t  (By Yvonne Raley and Inken Krause)

Every month I give sapphires to my lab to certify that a sapphire is unheated, which is essential for my business, and important to my customers especially when they buy more expensive gems.  But determining that a sapphire is heated is not as easy as one might think.

First of all, what is the purpose of heating a sapphire?  Heating can improve the clarity of a gem, remove zoning, and intensify color.  With high enough temperatures (about 1700 degrees Celsius) you can also melt the silky inclusions in a sapphire.  When sapphires are cut, the friction created by the cutting wheel subjects the sapphire to some heat already (though in most cases, at that point the sapphire has already been heated) but this is rarely if ever detectable in a lab.

How do you determine heat treatment?  The first test to apply is to look at the inclusions of the sapphire under 10x magnification.  In the simplest case you see silky inclusions and fine dusty inclusions.  If those look undisturbed – read: not melted – then you can assume it is not heated.  This takes some practice of course, but in principle anyone can learn to do this (having a darkfield loupe helps because it provides nice lighting from the back). Feathers and jellyfish-like inclusions are also good indicators, it is only a bit more difficult to judge whether those are undisturbed. For a neat search engine of typical sapphire inclusions, go here:

According to Lotus, "in this sapphire from Sri Lanka, evidence of high temperature heat treatment can be found in this moiré-patterned fingerprint. The once-lovely lacy pattern of liquid droplets is now besmirched by circular “explosions,” where the pressure from heating caused ruptures in the icroscopic negative crystals,..." (Photographed by Richard Hughes)Hughes, R.W., Manorotkul, W. et al. (2017) Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist's Guide. Bangkok, Lotus Publishing, 816 pp.; RWHL*.

However, this method is insufficient if the original gem is too clean to have enough inclusions in the first place: not every sapphire has enough inclusions and you need those to make your determination.  

A loupe clean gem therefore requires further testing.  A common second tool is a spectral analysis.  Heating a sapphire at high temperatures removes water from it.  A spectral graph will show the water content as a peak, and if this peak is lower, this is interpreted as the water having been eliminated by heat.  (


There is a human factor here, however, as the strictness of interpretation here may vary from lab to lab.  In most if not all reputable labs, several people will look at the same gem and only if all conclude that they do not think they see evidence of heat will the gem pass as unheated.  GIA and Gubelin are examples of labs that always have 2 gemologists assess a gemstone 100% independently from each other, before examination results are compared and discussed, before potentially seeking advice from additional colleagues; at those two laboratories, the examining gemologists also do not know the client's identity.

Now, let me turn back to the original question, does it matter if a sapphire is heated or not?  Generally, 99% of sapphires on the market are heated, and heat treatment is standard.  According to AGTA standards, however, this must be disclosed on the invoice – in part because it can and usually does affect prices.  Heated sapphires can be up to 30% cheaper than unheated ones.  Sapphires that do not need heat treatment are much rarer than sapphires that do – or rather, sapphires that can be improved with heat treatment are the most common. 

In terms of integrity or safety for setting, however, it doesn’t matter that a gem is heated.  The treatment is permanent, durable, and does not otherwise affect the gem. (Inken and I actually differ a little on this assessment but I think this is the most common view).

As to our own shop, we try to carry mostly unheated gems, to which we have very good access.  Cecile Raley Designs specializes in the unusual gem – not the run of the mill stuff – so it makes sense for us to seek out unheated sapphires whenever possible.

Before closing let me add a quick note here about beryllium heated gems (industry calls this “Be-heat” and according to newer standards, this must be disclosed during a sale): this type of treatment requires heat treatment with beryllium, which reduces the blue tones in a sapphire, therefore it is used on yellow, orange or padparadscha like colors, but not on blues or pinks.  To detect beryllium, a 10x loupe is usually also sufficient since Be-heat leaves characteristic inclusions that are not like the natural inclusions of a sapphire – they are described as “little blue halos” in industry. 

Beryllium Heated Sapphire


Here’s a quick link to a very interesting article on a synthetic Padparadscha sapphire:

(Inken Krause sells antique jewelry at  She specializes in unheated ruby and sapphire.)


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A traveler's report on the world of gems

A traveler's report on the world of gems

Michael Schmidt is a guest blogger with an honest inside look into the world famous "Diamond District" from a tourist perspective. He is an accomplished writer and has been my friend for over 30 years.  -  Yvonne Raley

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What does “recycled metal” really mean? What we do and don’t do when it comes to recycling

What does “recycled metal” really mean?  What we do and don’t do when it comes to recycling
This blog entry is prompted by a couple of recent questions about working with recycled metals.  For Cecile Raley Designs, “recycled” means something fairly simple: the casting service we use works with recycled metals.  They don’t use “only” recycled but they use them whenever they can.  That means, concretely, that the metal refinery that Taba Casting, our casting house, uses to purchase its casting grain, supplies mostly cleaned recycled metals.  Continue reading

Pave Setting - Hand Set versus Pre Cut

I thought I'd devote this blog entry to my why my setter Pierre has lost his hair.  Or so he says: by hand setting my tiny little and very soft glittery colored stones into hard metal castings that aren't ready made for the fast setting type that is the standard nowadays.
Let's first talk about how stones are set for commercial jewelry production. With most rings and other pieces nowadays being...
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What Does "Recycled" Metal Really Mean?

I advertise in my shop that my castings are made from recycled metals.  Recently I got a question about what this really means, which made me realize that there is quite a need for me to clarify.

First off, here's what it doesn't mean: it doesn't mean that I re-purpose old clasps or chains or any other jewelry parts. All the items I use, unless they are antique (that is rare) are newly purchased...
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Eternity Band 101, Melee Gems and - YES - Las Vegas

Recently I'd been asked by customers to offer eternity bands for some of the melee gems I've been selling on my site. The paraibas and hauynites especially lend themselves to those, and I hope to get more of both at the JCK and AGTA show in Vegas in early June. I'm totally psyched already, this time I want to take a little more advantage of the glitz in between gem purchases - I bought new dresses... Continue reading

Stone Carving with Sonny Grant at the Tuscon Gem Show

As I'm sure you know, not many thing are made in the US by hand any more, especially small arts and crafts. It doesn't pay the rent, things can be made cheaper elsewhere. So you might imagine my delight when I came across soapstone carver Sonny Grant at the Marty Zinn show in Tucson. I was just strolling across the lawn of the Inn Suites hotel, where the show was hosted, to get a cup of coffee at...
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What is Your Jewelry Worth?

I've been wanting to revisit the topic of jewelry appraisal for some time, especially since I see a lot of people now selling their gems and jewelry on Loupe Troop and other websites for "pre-loved" items. Most of the time the items are being sold for less than their value.

So as you probably all know, valuing gold is easy. You just need an accurate postal scale to weigh it, and most online... Continue reading
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