Learn the Best Techniques for Stone Setting

So you’ve bought a gorgeous gemstone. Now what? Choosing the best stone setting for your stone can be essential in your jewelry design.

ABOVE: Small or large, the right stones in the right settings can make a lovely piece of jewelry extra special. Noël Yovovich’s Starlight in Her Hair Argentium Sterling Silver barrette with prong-set iolites. Photo: Jim Lawson.

In the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January/February 2019 issue, you’ll find projects and demos that teach you awesome stone-setting techniques.

Michael Cheatham, Bezels and Bails. Photo: Jim Lawson.

Michael Cheatham, Bezels and Bails. Photo: Jim Lawson.

Bezel Settings

In “State Your Findings,” Michael Cheatham discusses how to make a basic bezel for your stone. (He also teaches you to make bold bails. Win, win!) Michael says, “A bezel is not only a way to attach your gems. It can be a statement as well. It can accent a gemstone, live as an integral part of your design, stand out as a focal point — as well as protect your gemstone from damage.”

Cut a silver strip long enough to circle your stone with a bit of overlap. Photo: Michael Cheatham.

Cut a silver strip long enough to circle your stone with a bit of overlap. Photo: Michael Cheatham.

To create your own sturdy bezel, Michael gives these instructions:

“Using a sheet of 20- or 18-gauge fine silver, cut or saw a strip wide enough to fit the height of the stone, and long enough to go around it completely and overlap just a bit. (I used 18 gauge.)

“Even though you’re using soft fine silver, anneal your handmade bezel strip to make it softer before you size it around your cabochon. Depending on your experience making bezels, you may have to anneal the strip more than once, being careful not to overheat the metal. After annealing, cut or saw off the excess silver and solder the two ends of your sized bezel together, like you normally do with standard gauge bezel wire.

“After soldering your bezel strip ends together, resize it around your cabochon and solder it to the bezel plate. Here I used 20 gauge. Trim the excess silver away from your bezel or leave a little of the plate for effect. Sand the bezel/plate assembly to remove as many scratches as you can. It makes for quicker and easier clean-up and polishing at the end.”

Prong Settings

Noël Yovovich, Prongs Illustrated Pendant. Photo: Jim Lawson.

Noël Yovovich, Prongs Illustrated Pendant. Photo: Jim Lawson.

In “Prongs Illustrated,” Noël Yovovich shows you how to go beyond bezels to use prong settings. For this pendant project, Noël uses prongs to set lovely iolite and sugilite. And she discusses why she made the setting choices she did for this stunning piece:

“At its most basic, a stone setting has some metal that extends up the stone far enough to hold it down, and does that in enough locations to keep the stone from slipping out.

“Sound simple? It can be — but happily it doesn’t have to! If you want to set a stone on a piece of jewelry, you have a lot of choices in how to do it.

“Bezels, settings that completely surround the perimeter of the stone, are beautiful and secure. For me, they are generally the preferred method. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of Tiffany or other standard prong settings — at least not on their own.

“It is also one of my oft-stated principles to avoid doing anything by hand that is done better by a machine. There are many times when a purchased prong setting is a great choice. Manufactured prong settings come in a wide array of styles, sizes, and materials, and many come prenotched and ready for you to pop in your stone. If you want a great guide to setting stones in existing settings, I highly recommend Alan Revere’s comprehensive book, Professional Stonesetting.

“There are, however, many situations where commercial settings are not going to help you. This project presents two.

“One of the stones I chose for this necklace is a shield-shaped faceted iolite. It’s a really beautiful stone I wanted to show off, but this shape isn’t available in commercial settings. So we are going to construct a gold prong setting for this gem in the simplest way I could come up with. The other main stone in this pendant, a gorgeous piece of African sugilite, has its own challenges that seem best solved with a partial bezel and two simple prongs.

“If you are going to set a beautiful and special stone in prongs, even if you buy a setting, you really should set it in gold. Silver is not really stiff enough to make a secure setting unless you make the prongs quite bulky, and that will largely defeat the purpose of using prongs. White gold is good and stiff, and 14K yellow is a close second. But even 18K yellow, which I prefer and use here, is much stronger than silver.

“I prefer 18K because I like the deeper yellow color. It is easier to work with because of its higher melting point. Once you are accustomed to working with gold, this advantage is far less important, but if you are used to silver and just venturing into gold, I urge you to start with 18K. When you heat gold, unlike silver, the heat pretty much stays where you put it. So the technique is different, and until you have some practice, it is far too easy to melt your project, especially if you are using 14K.

To get complete step-by-step instructions for making your own version of Noël’s pendant, check out the project in the issue.

More on Stone Settings

Mary van der Aa, In Orbit Pendant. Photo: Jim Lawson.

Mary van der Aa, In Orbit Pendant. Photo: Jim Lawson.

The January/February 2019 issue includes even more terrific information on stone setting. For a very unique and complex stone setting, take a look at Mary van der Aa’s “In Orbit” pendant. Mary uses a bezel with a spectacular abstract shape to show off a mookaite cab in all its glory.

And Helen Driggs’s Cool Tools & Hip Tips column brings you the latest must-have tools and products for cutting and setting your stones.

So get set! And happy stone setting.

–Karla

Managing Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist


Learn about stone setting and more in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist!

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