Custom Stone Settings: Give Your Gem the Setting It Deserves

When you have yowza-wowza cabochon material, you want it cut into a really yowza gem and put into equally wowza jewelry. Which pretty much means you need to design and construct custom stone settings for these stones one at a time, because no two are quite the same. Its facets precisely directing light inside and out to maximize a transparent gemstone’s spark and sparkle potential, a faceted gem is usually highly symmetric. Faceted stones are also likely to be calibrated into standard sizes and shapes. The most dramatic translucent or opaque cabochons, by contrast, are cut to display their visually exciting, often irregular surface patterns. Therefore, these stones are more likely to have irregular dimensions.

ABOVE: Detail of Lexi Erickson’s Wavellite Pendant; photo: Jim Lawson

It’s not hard to find manufactured settings for a predictably shaped and sized gem. But that one-off will need a custom setting or it’s not going to get used. Once you can build a setting for a stone that marches to its own drummer, you’ll discover you can also create the setting as an integral part of your jewelry design, too.

Wavellite’s Lively Starbursts

Wavellite specimen from Arkansas, 7.5 cm; courtesy and photo: J.S. White

Wavellite specimen from Arkansas, 7.5 cm; courtesy and photo: J.S. White

In a project that first appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2011, Lexi Erickson designs and constructs a setting for a wavellite cabochon. Wavellite is a mineral best known for its variable green color and a tendency to form in spherical aggregates. So what, you say?

Wavellite specimen from Mauldin Mt., Arkansas; 7cm wide, courtesy of Weinrich Minerals, Inc; photo: Jim Lawson

Wavellite specimen from Mauldin Mt., Arkansas; 7cm wide, courtesy of Weinrich Minerals, Inc; photo: Jim Lawson

These little clusters of partial spheres display the distinctive radial patterning that wavellite is “famous” for — if you’re in circles in which people have heard of wavellite, that is. The long, thin crystals that produce this pattern also play with light to produce a shimmering chatoyance. In the best examples, the total effect is a sensational starburst — or bunches of them.

This patchwork cabochon reveals starbursts of wavellite; courtesy the Unconventional Lapidarist, photo: Jim Lawson

This patchwork cabochon reveals starbursts of wavellite; courtesy the Unconventional Lapidarist, photo: Jim Lawson

For a gemstone, you’d never want to cut away one of these circular bursts but take advantage of them all, and show each in the most dramatic way possible. That translates into a cabochon that is irregular in outline, perhaps of an unusual thickness, with an area of intense visual interest that is more likely to be offset than dead center. This is a good one, in other words, for custom setting.

Lexi’s Wavellite Setting and Pendant Design

You’ll never find a setting like this one in any catalog: Lexi Erickson’s Wavellite Pendant originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2011; photo: Jim Lawson

You’ll never find stone settings like this one in any catalog: Lexi Erickson’s Wavellite Pendant originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2011; photo: Jim Lawson

“The wavellite cabochon I started with has a slight curve, two partial radial patterns, and a lot of depth,” Lexi says, describing the approach she took to her wavellite pendant. “For the piece, I wanted the elegance and repetition of curves as well as some depth in the metal, and a graceful, feminine sensibility. I also wanted to provide the challenge [to readers] of some prongs. Because I’m known for my earthy colored, larger pieces, designing a dainty piece with this soft green color made this project a challenge for me, too.”

Drawing of her final wavellite pendant design with the finished piece; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Drawing of her final wavellite pendant design with the finished piece; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Partial Bezel

Lexi created a partial bezel using flat wire longer than she needed for the side of the stone she wanted to hold. Then she bent the extra length into a spiral that lies to one side of the top of her stone as she has it oriented. She cut out the back plate not to match the cab alone, but the cab plus spiral plus a small faceted orangey-peachy sapphire that provides a contrasting accent. She didn’t arrive at that precise design right away, so she played with drawings first.

Lexi knew how she wanted to set the wavellite early on, but tried different accent stones in different positions; drawings courtesy Lexi Erickson

Lexi knew how she wanted to set the wavellite early on, but tried different accent stones in different positions; drawings courtesy Lexi Erickson

“Every wavellite cabochon (like many other kinds of cabs) is going to be a little different,” she says. “Draw several designs and play with your piece — try using repetition and emphasis.”

Extend the Radial Patterns into Metal

The spiral and round accent gem both echo the spherical structure of the wavellite, but she went further with that idea. “I textured the metal using a Fretz sharp texturing hammer, creating marks that radiate from the inside of a graceful spiral to repeat the radial lines in the stone. I played with the idea of using a small faceted stone or pearl set in a tube for emphasis.” Lexi continues: “I decided I liked the look, even though I hadn’t exactly decided which I would use.”

After cutting out the back plate, she carries her idea of echoing the stone’s characteristics beyond the bezel/spiral and into the rest of the metal.

Lexi creates texture with hammers; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Lexi creates texture with hammers; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

“Texture the metal. Take care to create a radial pattern of hammer marks to repeat the design in the stone.”

Two-Pronged Approach

When she creates the prongs for the wavellite, she even suggests turning a newbie-likely accident into a decorative touch that would be another wavellite-related accent for this piece.

Making prongs: wires with balled-up ends; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Making prongs: wires with balled-up ends; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

“Cut two lengths of 3/4″ long 16ga round wire for the prongs. Holding the wire with extra long nose pliers, heat the bottom of the wire until it balls up. This is called ‘drawing a bead.’ You don’t want a large bead, just something that will fit over the cab and gracefully hold the stone. Watch carefully because this can happen fast. If you wind up with just a large ball of silver, try again and use any ‘mistake’ balls for decoration somewhere else. Pickle and rinse.”

Manufactured Tube Set

Back plate, spiralling partial bezel, two prongs, and a tube set all assembled: just add a bail, finish, and set the stones; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Back plate, spiralling partial bezel, two prongs, and a tube set all assembled: just add a bail, finish, and set the stones; photo courtesy Lexi Erickson

Lexi adds a manufactured tube set for her calibrated orange sapphire accent. She could make her own setting for this stone, too, but there’s no need. This one is quick, easy, and perfectly round — just the right shape for the stone and the piece’s spherical theme.

Undulating Bail

 

Even the invisible (when worn) bail on the back of the piece reminds us of the curves that mark this special pendant; photo: Jim Lawson

Even the invisible (when worn) bail on the back of the piece reminds us of the curves that mark this special pendant; photo: Jim Lawson

Design a graceful bail that reflects the front of the piece, keeping repetition in mind as a design principle,” advises Lexi, and gives us one more solid piece of advice. “The back of the piece should always be as nice as the front.”

Lexi Erickson lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and is a Contributing Editor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Interweave Jewelry. Her passion is teaching jewelry in her home studio and designing pieces that look like they came from a long-forgotten civilization.

Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

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