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Specialized ProfessionWe are the gemcutters/jewellers of Reddit. Want to avoid getting ripped off on Christmas/Valentine's gifts? Interested in learning how to cut gems? Ask us anything!

Dec 14th 2016 by cowsruleusall • 17 Questions • 484 Points

Hey folks! We're the gemcutters and jewellers of Reddit. Ask us anything!

The season from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day is a very busy one for the gem and jewellery industry, and nagivating the industry can be confusing at best. "What the hell are the "Four Cs" of diamonds? How is anyone supposed to tell if a sapphire is cut well, or if it's cut in a way to rip you off? How can I learn to cut gems?" We're all happy to help answer these questions and any others you might have.

/u/diamonddealer - Dan Moran, owner of Concierge Diamonds in LA, a high-end private jeweller and wholesaler; also has a presence at some of the higher-end parts of the Tucson Gem Show

/u/flameswithin - Phil Lagas-Rivera, owner of Alternatives Lapidary, a gemcutting studio in Raleigh that specializes in lab-grown gems

/u/stagandfinch - Bryan Wiebe, owner of Stag and Finch, a gemcutting studio in Manitoba that got started here on Reddit

/u/AtelierVieuxPont - Trevor Vipond, a jeweller who does custom work, and also happens to cut gems; a frequent poster to the gem and jewellery subreddits

/u/cowsruleusall - Arya Akhavan, one of the directors of the US Faceter's Guild, the certifying org for gemcutters; also designs modern gem cuts

Proof here and here.

We've also got some folks who'll be floating in and out all day. /u/lse138, /u/bugabob, /u/greenstrong, /u/letstalkaboutrocks, and /u/druzyq are all involved in the industry to some extent.

Edit: left a few things off of the bios, added them in

Q:

Considering diamonds are sold by weight and not dimensions. What do you say about the claims that you can get the same price of a diamond, but by cutting it with a wider crown and lower point you're getting a shinier diamond for the same price as "Any old regular cut"?

A:

Oooooh, this is a good question. Diamonds are sold by carat weight, with listings frequently including the millimeter size. Coloured stones (all transparent faceted gems other than diamonds) are sold by both carat weight AND millimeter size.

You bring up a good point; two stones can have the same carat weight, but one can be shallower and therefore wider. The problem with this is that changing the height-to-width ratio significantly affects the stone's end appearance. The crown (top part) can be changed without much issue, but the pavilion (pointy part) is much more sensitive to changes in height. If you start going too thin and too wide, your stone will become less fiery ("dispersive"), and once you pass a critical threshold the stone will basically die. All the light will leak out the bottom and cause a "window" or "fisheye", and that can actually be mathematically calculated out given the refractive index of the material.

When you cut with a mildly wider, shallower stone, you're getting a more brilliant stone that looks bigger face-up, but it will have less fire. If you go too wide and too shallow, you'll get something that looks like glass.


Q:

I've heard it said that there's no such thing as a diamond that isn't a blood diamond. How would you respond to that claim?

A:

/u/diamonddealer has some valuable points. A few other things I'd add in - there are diamond mines in regions that don't have active conflict. Russia and Canada have active diamond mines without slave labour, and if you're going for hardcore there are some even more stringent certifications that include not only the Kimberly Process, but additional requirements for environmental friendliness.

"Blood diamonds" are way less common now than they were in the late 90s and early 2000s, and with the advent of the internet it's much easier to find diamonds that avoid the problem entirely.


Q:

What are your thoughts on moissanite? How does it compare in the 4 Cs to diamonds? Any concerns with them?

A:

I'm not the diamond person, but I'll chime in because I love the lab-grown "exotic diamond-like materials". We can ignore carat weight, because we're assuming comparison between two stones of the exact same size and shape. We can ignore clarity, because moissanites are almost all entirely flawless unless you're getting the "bottom-barrel" stuff from China or India.

For colour, moissanite comes in blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, brown, and now comes in extremely high-quality whites ("F" equivalent). For cut...diamonds and moissanite from chain jewellers will have the exact same cuts. However, moissanite is something that a custom/precision gemcutter can work with, and can cut the material into a unique cut that you'd never see anywhere else.

When we talk about the basic appearance, moissanite is substantially more fiery, more than double that of diamond. Some people think it looks more "interesting", while others think it looks "weird" or "fake". That's more of a matter of personal preference.


Q:

Like /u/lse138 said, look for local rock/gem clubs. That's how I got my start, as well as many more who end up in the business. My first gem was an abhorrent mess, but it sparkled, and it was mine. I was hooked immediately!

I'm a bit of a tool nut so I withheld for a while to buy a decent setup, but there are lots of lower cost options available that will do a great job.

A:

The absolute least expensive? First, learn as much as you can from free sources. The best would be the Gemology Online forums, then my "Faceting 101" video series on YouTube (which is already obsolete! dammit), then the "Just Ask Jeff" blog that might still be floating around (author died a few years ago).

Once you've read up as much as you can, then, try and find a local rock club, gem club, etc. The US Faceter's Guild should have some more information about clubs nearest to you. The clubs usually rent out machines for a nominal fee per day, as long as someone's seen that you're not going to accidentally destroy the machine. They may have classes for a fee as well.

That's probably the least expensive way. If you decide you like it, you can start out with a used machine from Craigslist, which could be as low as $500 with all the (used and outdated) equipment.


Q:

Haha no worries! Good tip on the sunlight, I'll give that a go!

A:

Hahahah Trevor, Bryan, and I are all Canadian. Lisa is a close personal friend of mine, and she helped me get started in faceting :)

My big turning point was starting to write my own designs, and getting proficient in that. Not only did it help me squeeze a much higher percent yield from stones, but it so got me "deeper" into the industry and gave me better theoretical knowledge. The other thing that gave me a boost was starting to teach, since I needed to know enough about gems, gemology, and faceting to be able to help other people troubleshoot.


Q:

Definitely. Selling stones you have cut is that way! I'll respond better off another one of your comments.

A:

Sell some more stones, but save all the money you make from them. Pool it all together and spend, let's say, $500 on a single piece of rough. You don't have to justify funding it if all the money is coming from gems anyway.


Q:

did u/flameswithin cut that rutile?

A:

Hell yes he did. :D


Q:

Is rutile still a pain to source?

A:

Unfortunately yeah. Outside of a few precision cutters, it's not really available as a gem material and it's primarily used in optics. I have a giant stash, /u/flameswithin had a few pieces left...and I can't think of anyone else offhand who has any.


Q:

Do you really have a giant stash?! Can I add a piece of rutile to my shopping list for when we meet up Tuscon? I'd love to cut something that can poop rainbows.

A:

I am the proud owner of almost a kilo of rutile. I buy it whenever it's available because it's such a pain in the ass to get. Yes I'll bring some.


Q:

I want to try carving amethyst. What basic tools can I use? Are there simple, basic how-to guides online?

A:

Oof. I don't think any of us do carving. Your best bet is to ask on the Gemology Online forums.


Q:

Not difficult! Like any other hobby it requires lots of practice and patience but can absolutely be learned from reading and internet sources.

The Gemology Online forums are an amazing resource with a huge number of very knowledgeable people that are willing to help beginners. Tom Herbst's Book "Amateur Gemstone Faceting Volume 1" is also basically required reading, and really helps with not making disastrous mistakes off the bat (or not too many at least!). Watch out for the older books, they have a lot of outdated information that will do more harm than good.

Interest is what got me into the jewellery trade, and ultimately how I became a goldsmith. The best thing you can do is taking local gold/silversmithing classes (or gemcutting classes!) to nurture that interest, and see where it takes you. Gemcutting was the logical progression so I could indeed cut the stones, make the rings, and set them myself.

A:

/u/AtelierVieuxPont is recommending all the right sources. I'll also shamelessly plug my low-production-value YouTube series, "Faceting 101", if you're much more of a visual learner.

As for apprenticing...if you find someone to practice with or to show you the ropes, it'll make your learning curve much faster, but it's not necessary. The fastest I've ever taught someone is 6 hours from start to finish, and damn his finished stone was good.


Q:

Not necessarily. See my video (posted below) on the 4 Cs. In my opinion, color and cut are much more important than clarity, so long as the stone is clean to the naked eye.

A:

From the non-diamond side of things, I totally agree. As long as the stone looks clean from a normal viewing distance, there's no major need to go obsessively over clarity. For non-diamonds, colour can be very strongly affected by cut, but there's so much variation in personal taste that I don't really make recommendations anymore other than "go with something custom".


Q:

You can buy it made out of Jade right now, not a gemstone, but it's green and tough as fuck.

A:

Well, I can't help you on a Green Lantern ring made out of solid gemstone, but if you want a gemstone with the GL Corps insignia in it... Check out the gem cut "The Oath" on the Gemology Project. Genrrally, solid gemstone rings are recommended against because of the risk of catastrophic finger injury if they break.


Q:

I'll drop by to say hello! I didn't have time to finish my faceting lessons here, hoping to finish 'em next semester

A:

I'll be running around like an idiot from Jan 30 to Feb 5. Send me a PM around then! Or you could come on one of the tours I'm leading (facet rough tour), but if you're from Tucson you probably won't get a lot of value out of it.


Q:

Hey, this might get buried, but it's worth a try _^ I'm planning to propose to my girlfriend at some point in the near future, looking for a nice blue gem ring. This is my first experience buying expensive jewellery, so how do I know if I'm getting ripped off/are there any insider tips I should use? Thanks for the AMA Btw!

A:

Good question! Buying expensive jewellery for the first time can be scary.

Some brief advice - for an engagement ring, stick to Mohs 8 or harder. That limits you to topaz, spinel, sapphire, YAG, CZ, moissanite, chrysoberyl, alexandrite, and diamond. Among these, all of them can be found in blue colours except for alexandrite, which by definition has a green-to-red change in different lighting conditions. YAG and CZ will be the cheapest, topaz will be the cheapest natural stone, and sapphires are probably my preferred option for blue.

First, figure out what your girlfriend likes in terms of jewellery. Then, check lots of different sources, online and in person, to get a good sense of what the general pricing will be. Don't buy into the "3 months' salary" myth. Remember, you're trying to buy something she'll like and wear, not something at a certain price point.

Once you're actively looking for things, read through some of my posts on how to recognize good gemcutting. I'm about to go to bed so I'm feeling kinda lazy with respect to writing a full explanation out, but if you search through my posting history on /r/jewelry, you should find plenty of in-depth guides.


Q:

I notice sapphires and rubies that are unheated / untreated cost a premium. Are they worth it? And are some treatments worse than others?

A:

This is really a point of personal preference, not anything else. Rubies and sapphires are comparatively uncommon. They usually have at least some amount of random shit in them, with the most common stuff being needles of rutile "silk". That means that rubies and sapphires that are naturally incredibly clear are comparatively very rare.

You can heat rubies and sapphires to dissolve the rutile "silk". This enhances the clarity of the stone, but can also change the colour (can either lighten the really dark sapphires, or add blue to the paler "milky" sapphires). Heated sapphires are cheaper because they weren't naturally found in that condition.

There are other treatments, like taking beryllium or titanium, vaporizing them, and diffusing them into the stone. These are more sketchy treatment methods and unless there's 100% full disclosure I don't like these. You can also take really shitty ruby and "heal" the fractures by filling it with a specialized lead glass. This is crap and these stones are super fragile - stay far away from them.


Q:

As a fellow Reddit jeweler, diamond setter, and cad designer this ama makes me so happy to see.

Have any of you ever collaborated on a project or worked together?

A:

Hehehehehe funny you should ask...

I just cut a garnet, then had /u/flameswithin make a custom piece of jewellery to set it into. /u/stagandfinch just cut an Oregon sunstone in a design I wrote up. And I'm meeting up with most of these guys at the Tucson Gem Show in a few weeks anyway.

There are some of us that collab all the time. I create a lot of unusual modern gem cuts, and /u/flameswithin and /u/stagandfinch test these out for me since I don't have a lot of time anymore. They'll ask me for designs, and I'll write up new ones for them. Stuff like that.