I am slowly learning how to add little video clips to my blog so here is my first one. It was my practice piece but then I thought it came out nice enough to share. In this video, Pierre explains how he is prong setting 3mm diamonds into a diamond eternity band. First he opens the ring up underneath, then he drills the seat, pops in the diamond and gently pushes the prongs over the stone. They pop into place perfectly. And the end, Pierre shapes the prongs into perfectly round little “balls” for an even appearance.
As most of you already know, there are many different kinds of setting techniques, and each takes a separate set of tools and a separate skill set. Simple prong setting is the easiest, and it is least harmful to the stone. In his office, Pierre is equipped with a huge microscope, flex shafts, beading and millgrain tools, clamps of all types, ultrasonic, and who knows what else. To be fully equipped, especially for setting micro pave under a scope, you need to invest several thousand dollars.
Pierre has been in the jewelry trade since he was 14, and has decades of experience just setting stones. Still, some of my gems present unique challenges to him. Most setters set diamonds, or rather, most of what is set in industry are diamonds, and those are hard to break. Many colored gems can get scratched or chipped by the tools that are needed to push the metal over the gem and file down the prongs, so a very steady hand is needed, and gems do break on occasion. That’s why setters do not guarantee the stones they set. Too much risk is involved and insurance is crappy and expensive. It is therefore best to go over your project with the setter carefully, making sure the gem can withstand the tools that are needed for the particular setting job. Gems are inspected for inclusions or cracks which can present additional risks.
Another challenge is getting a tiny piece of jewelry to stay in place and not bend or move while the setter works on it. Rings are the easiest because you can put them into the clamp, but pendants sometimes have to be set in shellac, or setting cement, a wax like substance that melts when warmed up. To remove the shellac, the jewelry piece has to be warmed up in water and then cleaned in the ultrasonic. Sometimes stones break during that process – I once had an aqua pendant that cracked because it got overheated while the shellac was being removed.
Customers often wonder why setting costs so much. One reason is the equipment, plus there is the rent on 47th street that has to be paid (figure on maybe $2000 a month for a small office). And then it takes time. Setting a pair of earrings may take only 10 minutes, but pave setting an entire ring can take an afternoon. So if a setter charges $300 for that job he is within his rights. I generally pay gladly for good work, but for my markup it presents a problem of course. Technically, the setters I use make jewelry that goes for thousands of dollars, not hundreds, and so the setting cost can be more easily absorbed. On the other hand, I find nice setting work addictive, and I like my gems to be hugged by prongs that got filed down into tiny claws, or perfectly rounded so they look like beads (you can see how that works in the video).