Cabochon Buying and Setting: 6 Things You Need to Know if You Make Cabochon Jewelry
You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it, you know? Even after years of studying gemstones, I didn’t know many important facts about cabochons that would affect how they are set and used in jewelry until the first time I tried to set a cabochon on my own.
Issue after issue arose. How can my back plate be uneven? Why is the bezel lopsided? What’s causing the bezel wire to crimp? A poorly cut cabochon, that’s what. I know types of gems, I know gem quality–but when I bought my first cabs to set on my own, I didn’t know what to look for to choose the best cabochons for my jewelry designs. Here are the six things I wish I’d known when I first attempted to buy cabs and make cabochon jewelry, by Lexi Erickson.
- When you are choosing a cabochon that will be used with a bezel, check the shape and make sure that the bottom is flat, otherwise it will rock back and forth on the back plate of your piece. Mabé pearls are especially guilty of this. A perfectly flat bottom will make it much easier to work with.
- Check the sides of the stone. Notice if the sides are straight up and down, or if they are angled toward the top of the stone. Stones angled with a smaller bottom and larger toward the top will not fit well into a bezel. Stones with the straight sides will probably need to be set into a bezel with a bit of glue to hold them. Stones wider at the bottom and gradually narrower at the top will be easier to set.
- When you find a stone that screams “PICK ME PICK ME!” first check out the angle of the sides. A well-cut stone will have the same angle all around the stone. A poorly cut stone will have different angles on each side, and though you may not notice it now, your bezel will fold down differently on the sides, and it will look like a poorly set stone, when really it’s a poorly cut stone. So hold a stone at eye-level and check the angles around the stone.
- Check the front of the stone to make sure it’s level across the face of the cab. Again, a poorly cut stone will catch a reflection of an angle, which may mar the beauty of the face of the cab. The polish, or the recent excursion into matte stones (my favorite) should be an even finish all across the face of the stone.
- A well-cut stone will have a tiny, almost indiscernible 45-degree angle cut all along the bottom edge of the stone. This is there for a very important reason. When you have a snug bezel, and you go to pop the stone into the bezel, you can accidently chip the edge of a stone without that little cut on the bezel as you snap it into place (I call it the “snap heard around the world”). That snap may result in a crack appearing on the face of your stone and the cracking of your stone all the way through. Disaster!
- Don’t pass up a stone because of its highly irregular edges. One of my favorite pieces is a petrified tree fern with a very rough top edge. I set it with prongs, so as to not block the delicacy of that rough edge. So buy that unusual cut and give your creativity a nudge. A sharply pointed stone may need greater caution and some expertise in setting. —Lexi
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