Cabs and Stones: Like Candy for Jewelers

Helen Driggs
is the Managing Editor
for Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist
.

What's Your Favorite Color?

This Royal Sahara Jasper brooch was an interesting design challenge. I didn't want to obscure the raw edge on the lower right of the cab, so the tube set sapphires served as a security "prong" to support and protect that region of the stone.

I love stones. Faceted, cabbed, rough, smooth, raw, finished, matte, or polished, any color any size. Stones are like candy for jewelers. Whether you cut them yourself or buy them, most of us can admit the reason we fell in love with jewelry making was because of the allure of some fantastic stone we saw in the distant or not so distant past.

There are things to consider when using cabs and stones in your work. Here are tips for choosing stones to make your time at the bench easier, rather than harder. And the same tips apply no matter which side of the grinding machine you are on–even lapidary artists should keep the final use of the cab they are cutting in mind as they grind!

Shapes and Colors
Funky shapes are cool and interesting, but sharp direction changes or very pointed corners are a fabrication challenge and will often dictate how you must set the stone in a piece. A bezel may not always work, so if you don't want to make prongs or something more challenging, watch those corners.

And, sure, that blazing, electric blue drusy is just fantastic, but will your customers think so, too? Just because you like certain colors doesn't mean everybody does; so if you plan to sell what you make, try to purchase stones in many colors and shapes to offer choices to your customers.

Odd or raw surfaced stones require a different setting strategy than the typical calibrated oval. Plan the piece carefully if you are using materials like this geode from Mexico or schist with a raw garnet in it.

Workmanship
Is the back of your cab flat? If it isn't, you'll have to adjust your design to support the irregularities on the back of the stone. That will add to your fabrication timeline and the cost of more metal. And, if you are cutting your own, make your life easy–get thee to the flat lap!

Raw Material
Is the material you want to use brittle or delicate? Trust me–buy an extra one or enough rough to cut a replacement stone. You really never want to break a stone, but it happens at the grinding wheel and the bench–and always at the endgame. And does the cost of the stone fit your budget? Will it fit your customers' budgets when you're done making a piece with it?

Make Room for Friends

If you cut your own stone and you fabricate jewelry as well, you really have the best of all worlds when it comes to acquiring material. Here is some sweet ruby in zoisite rough–fantastic green and purple all stacked up and waiting to be slabbed. Juicy!

Don't forget to buy smaller accent stones. I know it might seem boring to get a bunch of plain round, 10- or 12mm stones, but at 3 a.m. when you decide you need an accent stone to finish a pendant, you'll be glad you have them on hand. It often pays to purchase stones in quantity. If it's a cut or material you love and your customers love, buy enough to get a price break. Ask the cutter how much that is and go for it.

Skills
Do you have enough experience to set the stone confidently? By all means, buy it if it's a good price, but realize practice makes perfect, and you might hold a cut stone for a while before you use it. You'll know when you're ready.

Size Matters
Big, giant, gorgeous stones are beautiful. But that means weight. You'll need a lot of metal around a big stone to support it. Thick or deep stones equal deep bezels, so you'll end up fabricating those from sheet instead of ready-made strip.

No Regrets, No Prisoners
If you see something so fantastic you have to have it, you can afford it, and you will make a piece from it, buy it. The funny thing about gem material is that it is a limited commodity. You may never, ever see that kind of stone again, and regret really is a terrible thing. If you think you'll be "haunted" by a cab you love, buy it, and make a present for yourself.

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