Sourcing a Precious Gemstone
We have mined the earth since prehistoric times – gemstones being an especially prized find. Precious stones (including Diamonds) are mined internationally, but they are most abundant in central and southern Africa, Brazil, Russia, parts of southern Asia, Australia and Canada.
The source depends on the specific stone and quality sought, and the best known source for diamonds is South Africa. The enormous demand for precious stones has led to the production of increasingly sophisticated synthetic (man-made) stones here. They say that the closer to the mine you go, the more synthetics you’ll come across, so always buy your stones from a trusted source.
The largest rough gem-quality diamond found to date is the Cullinan Diamond, found in South Africa's Premier Mine in 1905. It weighed 3,106 carats and was presented to King Edward VII on his birthday. It was then amalgamated into the 1661 Sceptre of the Cross, part of the British Crown Jewels.
In addition to following the traditional route of buying gemstones directly from an established retailer, you can now opt to order online. However, if you choose to buy stones this way it’s essential to do thorough research, or enlist the help of a specialist, in case you are unsure. Nothing, however, beats seeing a stone with your own eyes. Each gem is unique, and your personal connection with the stone and the story behind it cannot be underestimated.
The trade is keen to combine new methodologies such as CAD/CAM with traditional techniques and create a harmonious design process that pushes the boundaries of jewellery and embraces the scope of jewellery making.
Jewellery, allowing you to experience the process of Rock to Ring, pearl and bead re-stringing,.
How to Commission Bespoke Jewellery
When you order bespoke, you are ordering an item designed and made to your individual specification. By trusting and nurturing the relationship you have with your jewellery designer/maker, you will reap the rewards of seeing the most exquisite, unique and remarkable pieces come into being.
As a first step, the designer will draw to-scale images of the project that you envisage, as understanding size and scale is important. You might have a particular stone in mind or you may just have an idea of how you want the piece to look but whatever your vision, the bespoke route is an excellent way of realising your creativity and becoming part of an extraordinary process.
There are now more advanced routes to realising your designs such as CAD/CAM (computer aided design & manufacturing). This technology allows you to produce fantastical designs that would be otherwise virtually impossible to create by hand.
Technology in Design
Working alongside bespoke designers and goldsmiths, CAD designers help turn hand-drawn jewellery designs into a three dimensional reality, however complicated or intricate. The role of the CAD designer is somewhere between bespoke jewellery designer and wax carver.
Sitting down with a CAD designer to discuss your idea, marvel at how it is then interpreted into a three dimensional object on a computer screen. The model is viewable from any angle on and any distance from the computer screen, and with the help of 'rendered' snap-shots of the virtual model, you can also see how your idea will look in precious metal and with gemstones before its even been made. Your designer will then help you make any revisions to the piece before it gets cast; such is the fantastically flexible nature of CAD.
Once you are happy with the design, it is transferred onto a rapid-prototyping machine that transforms the image into a wax model, ready for casting. The cast metal piece is then passed on to the goldsmith to be spotlessly finished, polished and have any stones set.
CAD designers are not only required to understand CAD software and CAM hardware, they must also have a good practical understanding of traditional jewellery manufacturing — a rare combination. CAD/CAM makes the impossible possible!
The art of goldsmithing is integral to the process of ‘Rock to Ring’, the key skill here being able to interpret a design concept into a beautifully crafted article of precious jewellery. An experienced goldsmith will be able to advise you on your chosen design and ultimately produce the piece that you dreamt of. Achieving the finesse this requires comes only from years of practice.
Taking a sheet of metal, your goldsmith will shape, bend and solder it into almost any design, as well as incorporate stone settings. The most popular metals are 18ct yellow and white Gold Platinum and Palladium. Every metal has different properties and so is different to work with.
Britain has an impressive international reputation for offering exceptionally high standards of craftsmanship. Meticulous attention to detail, the instigation of metal assaying (hallmarking) and a reputation for cutting-edge design make British goldsmiths world leaders in the trade. Training usually means working as you learn - sitting alongside a goldsmith combined with college study. An expert goldsmith has a very precise eye, a steady hand and the ability to problem-solve, as well as a good understanding of the properties of different metals and stones.
Polishing and Finishing
For a piece of jewellery to be ready for market, the casting must be finished and the handmade piece polished. Designs often return from castings with minor flaws – uneven parts and sprue marks – that need filing and shaping. This process is called finishing. Once finished, the piece will be polished, removing any scratches caused by emery paper or files. Polishing essentially involves integrating very fine scratches into the metal. You can choose different finishes, such as a mirror shine or brushed satin.
If a goldsmith is constructing a particularly intricate piece, they will finish the piece as they work on it, as this may not be possible once the piece is complete. Finishing and polishing must be done before any stones are set, since you may not be able to reach certain parts of the mount afterwards. Finishing properly is essential to ensure the quality of the final result, and a piece of jewellery will always be finished with a polish to show it at its best.
Stone setting is the penultimate stage in the process. When designing a piece, it is important to consider the nature of the stone itself in relation to the setting, for example, emeralds are brittle and therefore generally not used in settings where the stone is held prominently.
Setters are specialists in the jewellery field, and it takes years of experience to be considered an expert. A good setter will dedicate themselves purely to the task of setting, mirroring the work ethos of many of the other specialism such as lapidary, polishing and engraving. Your setter will ensure that the loose stones for the piece you submit are fitted and secured properly. If a setting is not undertaken correctly, stones can fall out, crack or look uneven. Some experts use what is called the ‘blind man test’ – rubbing their hands over the piece with their eyes closed. Generally speaking, the smoother the setting, the higher the quality.
Once the setting is complete, the last stage involves giving the piece a final polish, and if white metal has been used, a plating of rhodium.