What's the next jewelry-making technique you want to master? For me, it's setting stones. I want to master the whole process–cut the stones, make the settings, and then properly set the stones. I've done it before but not with enough regularity to feel I've mastered it, so that's next on my list. Here's a great piece to start with, from the Jewelry Making Daily archives, about how to set up a properly outfitted bench for setting stones.
Beyond Bezels: Try your hand at other stone settings
By Helen Driggs
Stone setting is hard work. It takes a lot of precision and patience to get it right. You need good eyesight, strong hands, and nerves of steel. Most importantly, you must fabricate a good setting that both protects and enhances the stone, especially when it is an integral part of the design.
Practice Makes Perfect
I once took a four-day beginning stone-setting workshop, and we did nothing but practice different types of settings for ten-hour days. It was mind-bogglingly difficult. The first day included an introduction to all of the specialized tools, including burs, drills, handpieces, the all-important Optivisor, clamps, beading tools, and setting punches. I filled two notebooks with diagrams, notes, and information, and three years later, I still have questions. You can build an entire career around stone setting, mostly because every individual stone is a new opportunity to learn something. If you are committed to really learning how to set, I'd suggest purchasing a range of inexpensive stones in different shapes and sizes and investing the time in regular daily practice. It's really the only way to learn.
There are some tools that are essential to have when you want to learn stone setting. I'll list them here, in order of priority:
Optivisor: I know you hate to admit you need one, but get over it. Stone setting is about precision. Don't kid yourself and just get whatever magnification you need to clearly see what you are doing. We all look really silly wearing them, but they do make a great difference in the quality of your work. If you aren't used to the Optivisor, you might get a headache the first few times you wear one, so put it on for 15-minute bursts a few times through the day, do some precision work, and then take it off and do something else. Gradually increase the time you wear it, and eventually, you'll get used to it.
Author's update – CraftOptics Telescopes: Since this article first appeared in 2010, I've discovered a great new tool, CraftOptics. It's amazing how BAD your eyes can get without you even realizing it. I am eternally grateful to the Jeff Caplan and the great people at CraftOptics for changing my life at the bench. These telescopes were custom ground to my eyeglass prescription and included my bifocal script, so I don't have to hold my head at a funny angle to see out the studio window when I am working at the bench or squint when I am trying to read something that's more than a foot from my nose. They did take some getting used to, and I did feel a little seasick the first few days I used them, but now, I wouldn't work without them. They have some tremendous features–you can flip them out of the way; the glasses can be customized to your prescription; the frames are titanium and really sturdy; you can make adjustments to the positions of the telescopes; you get a pouch and zippered case; and best of all, you can REALLY SEE what you are doing.
Flex shaft and handpiece: If you can afford a quick-change handpiece, go for it. You'll be switching back and forth between hart and setting burs, drills, and grinding/polishing bits. It's really a pain to have to reach for the chuck key at every tool change.
Burlife or other lubricant: The key to a clean cut for a setting is good lubrication. It will save wear and tear on your burs, your cuts will be sharp, and your handpiece will struggle less. Work slowly, and please, don't make the metal scream as you cut it.
Setter's wax: A blob of this makes a great handle for a gem while you test-fit a setting. Just press the softened wax into a cone and touch the point to the table of the stone. You'll be able to insert it into the setting easily as you check your work, and most importantly, you won't drop the stone and waste hours on your hands and knees looking for it in the nasty gook all over the studio floor. It's also great to knead it as you ponder the task at hand, much like a worry stone.
Setting punches: I made a copper one from 6-gauge wire for tapping stones into their channels. Copper is soft, and it won't shatter stones the way a steel punch might. You'll also need a steel setting punch for hammer setting after you have seated the stone, filed a bevel on the setting, and are ready to bouge (compress) the metal tightly against the stone. –HD
(Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, January 2010. Read on for part two of Helen's Beyond Bezels, Meet Tube, Gypsy, Crown and Bead, the Four Types of Nonbezel Stone Settings.)
Making Bezels with Stakes and Mandrels
Helen's essential tools are a great place to get started setting stones, but as my grandmother used to say, there's more than one way to skin a cat! I'm fascinated by the stone-setting techniques Bill Fretz shares in his newest DVD, Expert Bezel Forming, Settings for a Variety of Cabochon and Faceted Gem Shapes with Stakes and Mandrels. Using miniature stakes and mandrels (the larger versions of which already caught my attention in his bracelet- and ring-making DVDs), Bill shows you how to craft perfect bezels and set faceted stones and cabs. Pre-order Bill's newest DVD Expert Bezel Forming–or download yours instantly in standard or HD) if you just can't wait!