Welcome to the Academy Blog!

Here you’ll find the latest

  • gem and faceting stories
  • photos of the latest gems
  • information about faceting-related shows, classes and events
  • new faceting tools and techniques
  • new faceting designs
  • and more!

Browse the information, and feel free to contribute to the discussion. ASK ME a question, or suggest a topic!

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Paths to Excellence

Although I don’t do competition faceting, people often ask how they can improve the things on which competitions are judged, mainly meets and polish. What I think they’re really asking for is a map of the pathway to excellence.

We get good at whatever we measure. So, the first step is to define what “excellence” you’re measuring. If this is a contest, how is it judged?

The first time I heard the expression “faceting competition”, I imagined a row of guys sitting behind hot-rod machines, waiting for the start-whistle to see who could finish cutting a design first.

If you’re measuring speed, you want an accurate clock. But, faceting competition isn’t about speed; it’s usually about precision, meets, and polish.

So, the the important thing is to be able to measure – or at least compare. And, this is the real trick in faceting: We don’t have a “polish meter” or an electronic digital “meets tester” to just measure the polish or meets and give us a score – or tell us how to improve.

This means the first challenge is the faceter’s ability to detect the things they want to improve. And, assessing quality of meets and polish is a whole skill in itself. There are specific tools and techniques, and it takes time and practice to become proficient with them.

The main beginner mistake with oxide polishes is – too much polish on the lap. And, the main beginner mistake with quality control is – too much light on the stone (or facet). You don’t need or want a 100 watt bulb to check your stone. Your retina will thank you for being gentle.

Lighting a stone so a facet is in full-reflection of a light source can blind us to the finer features we’re trying to detect on the facet. This Ametrine looks fine from this angle:

ametrineBut, if we shift the angle just a bit (away from the glare), we’ll see there are actually some pretty ugly scratches on it:

faceted ametrine
Blinding glare also obfuscates facet junctions. It can make the glaring facet appear longer than it is, resulting in under-polished meets. Or, it can make the adjacent meets appear shorter than they are, resulting in over-polishing them.

The second common mistake made by newer faceters is poor magnification. This includes low-quality, cheap-o loupes, dirty optivisors, and poor loupe technique. Make sure you get a good-quality loupe like a nice Belomo 10x. Keep optivisors clean. And, learn the right way to hold and focus the loupe.

Nobody can create sharp meets or crisp polish by making corrections based on an image like this:

how to facet gemstonesIt’s important to learn how to focus the loupe well – and to know where you have it focused (surface or inside the stone). Many a faceting hour has been wasted chasing “scratches” like these:

garnet faceting

Rutile needles INSIDE faceted garnet

Deciding what to measure, and getting good at measuring it is almost half the battle of moving toward excellence. Then, comes the discipline part…

My Dad was a NASA engineer. So, I grew up with an attitude and a way of thinking that helped me enjoy things like music, photography, martial arts, firearms, aviation, and later, faceting. In each of these disciplines, all of the top professionals I know have three things in common:

  1. They never get bored with the fundamentals. In fact, they remain fascinated enough with the small details that they will repeat them almost infinitely – and NOT in a rote manner, but with rapt attention and full care, every time.
  2. They approach that infinite practice of fundamentals in a serious and very structured way – but also an enjoyable one. They have the skill of finding (or installing) playful novelty in every repetition. The best instructors of these disciplines might even talk about “disguising repetition” – both for their students and in their own practice.
  3. They manage to do the first two things through the third: They self-assign challenging projects – from the experimental to the repetitive. And, if you examine the works of any artistic master carefully, you will find the evidence of this.

Competition faceting is a good excuse to commit to such projects. But, it’s not necessary (or desirable) to wait for a competition to apply the approach. Masters become masters by applying the approach – by holding the competition (with themselves) – all the time.

Start with a metric a metric to focus on. It can be time, polish, meets – or something more complex, like best presentation of bicolor material. Every step and aspect of the art lends itself to detailed, playful – and repetitious exploration. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Given a design to cut, how small can you cut it?
  • How quickly can you cut it?
  • What are the different possible ways to sequence the design, both in cutting and in polishing?
  • How does each way of sequencing affect the final precision?
  • How does each way of sequencing affect the time required to do the cut?

It’s easy to come up with lots of experiments. And, if you do them with curiosity, you’ll progress very rapidly. No matter the discipline, all the best performers I have ever met – and all of the artists I’ve ever studied – used this approach to achieve their excellence.

There’s a course designed specifically for learning – and making habits of – the patterns of excellence. It’s designed to coincide with committing to building a high level of skills in a short period of time, while also teaching a set of skills called “Motivational Literacy“. You might want to check it out.

“Excellence is the Result of Caring more than others think is Wise, Risking more than others think is Safe, Dreaming more than others think is Practical, and Expecting more than others think is Possible.” – Ronnie Oldham

May you care, risk, dream, and expect more. And, may that bring you the excellence you desire.

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Four Truths about Polishing Faceted Gems

The most-frequently-asked questions about faceting are about polishing: What polish and lap to use; how to charge the lap; how to solve the inevitable problems, even when you use the “right recipe”.

If you asked me how to bake a cake, and I just gave you the list of ingredients, what’s the chance you’d mix them the right way, in the right order – and then cook them at the right temperature for the right amount of time – and then handle the cooked cake in the right way so it wouldn’t collapse?

This is what I think about every time I hear or read stuff about how to polish such-and-such material – in the frame of a lap-and-polish “recipe”.

THE FIRST TRUTH ABOUT POLISHING FACETED GEMS is that there are far more variables than just the “recipe” (lap and polish combination) – and that the variables the faceter controls in real-time with their TECHNIQUE – are the things that really make the magic.

These variables include how much (or little) polish you’ve got on the lap, lap speed, the amount of pressure against the lap, the width of your sweep, and the rate of sweep relative to rate of rotation – and more. It’s about what you’re doing at the tips of the fingers that makes the difference…

And, if you’re using oxide polish, there’s a whole additional set of variables that include: how much water you’re providing
how you’re providing it, and the PH of the slurry – as well as other things, like the amount of swarf that’s collecting in your polishing medium.

The dynamically changing factors are shifting the entire time you’re trying to hit the right “window” of the combined variables to get the magic of polish to happen – before the variables shift outside the window, leaving your nicely polished facet with cat hairs – or drag-marks, or even furrows fit for a cornfield.


When you have problems polishing, instead of blaming the recipe, or going on the Internet asking people what recipe they’re using, imagine all the factors you’re influencing and changing with your own fingertips. Start to modify those factors individually and methodically, watching the facet to see what your changes create. Unless the problem is outright contamination – or something like failing to provide water to your oxide – you will gradually find your way to that window…

THE SECOND TRUTH ABOUT POLISHING FACETED GEMS is that you not only have to learn to “find the window” where all the variables are close enough to “right” – you also have to learn to do that consistently enough to overcome the frustration that polishing will otherwise become. Some polishing recipes (lap and polish combinations) have relatively wider “windows” (where the variables are suitable for getting a polish) than others – for any given material.

Diamond polishes have fewer variables to manipulate while trying to get the polish to happen – which is one reason they seem to have a wider window of success.


First, to the extent possible, use a polish and lap recipe that provide you a WIDE window of polishing success. For example, Linde A on a Tin lap isn’t one of the wider windows, while something like My Voodoo Magic Polish on a Matrix lap offers a near Grand Canyon of a window. Again, these things are not “magic bullets” – or special “recipes” – to sell you. The point is to get you to think in terms of *window* of variables within which you’ll get a polish. The point is to help you seek combinations of tools that give you a wide window to try to find – and then to encourage you to do the FINDING – which is the real skill in getting a polish.

THE THIRD TRUTH ABOUT POLISHING FACETED GEMS is that most of the “polishing problems” we see are really pre-polishing problems. The 600 cutting lap is hitting the gem with hunks of diamond around 35 microns in size.

The typical diamond polish begins around 1 micron and goes down – with particles often smaller than .5 micron. And, alumina slurry usually has particles around .3 micron.

Polish-level modifications on a facet won’t reach the bottoms of valleys gouged-out by 600 mesh diamond that are between 35 and 105 TIMES larger than the polishing particle you’re using …

So, appropriate pre-polish particle size is really KEY to getting the good polish. 3000 mesh diamond is around 6 microns in size. Though this is still between 12 and 18 times the size of the polishing particles, it’s about the right-sized step – at least for most materials in the typical sizes. The larger the facet you’re polishing, and the harder the material, the smaller-sized steps you want to take between particle sizes.

When you’re deciding how to sequence your grits, remember that facet surface area rises with the SQUARE of the linear measurement of the facet (e.g. a facet that’s 4mm on an edge has 16 square mm of area, compared to a facet that’s 2mm on an edge having only four square mm of area).

It’s really important to have a range of pre-polishing grit sizes, because some gem materials (or even individual facets) will behave poorly when worked with some particle sizes. When this occurs, it’s useful to be able to shift particle size readily to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Remember this when you’re thinking about stepping your grits. It’s the reason Voodoo Magic pre-polish comes in particle sizes of 9, 6, and 3 microns.


Don’t use junk pre-polish laps like cheapo-toppers. These things round facets and offer a generally bad preparation for the polishing process. Cheap-o pre-polish laps cost way more in time and aggravation than they could ever save in money.

Also, don’t use metal-plated pre-polish laps: They always leave more sub-surface damage than is really appropriate for pre-POLISH. Again, there’s no savings to be found here.

Instead, put lots of quality into your pre-polish step – a step with the lots of opportunity to save you time. Good-quality pre-charged pre-polished laps include the Nubond by Raytech. Just don’t use it on stones harder than Topaz, and remember to use it gently (no pressure, low speed, lots of water).

For harder stones, or if you’re really serious, invest in a really good pre-polish lap that you can charge yourself and keep it cutting rapidly and smoothly all the time. I recommend the Zinc+ and BATT laps for this. You can charge them with my Voodoo pre-polish.

THE FOURTH TRUTH ABOUT POLISHING FACETED GEMS is that you can’t polish-out defects that you can’t see. And, seeing small defects in the polish is trickier than it at first appears. It involves proper lighting and magnification, proper manipulation of light on the facet, proper optical focus, and proper focus of attention. You need to know what the defect will look like when it appears in front of your eye. This is something students at our live training events learn how to do very well – and quickly. (This photo is from one of our events.)


First, you need good lighting – which means not too strong or weak – and not multi-pointed, but single-pointed.

Second, you need to learn to position the light properly to do the right kind of illumination.

Third, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for…

I have a growing collection of polishing videos available on the Faceting Academy site that will answer many of the most common questions and demonstrate some techniques of trouble-shooting.

Check out the “Polishing Videos” menu under the “Faceting Videos” menu on the site. I’ll be adding new and detailed content there as time goes by.

For now, check out the videos that are already there and explore your way to better polish by keeping in mind these four truths about polishing. They may help you discover the answers to an increasingly excellent outcome.

Benedictus de Spinoza said: “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare”. This is certainly true of a fine faceted gemstone.

However, I hope the four truths on this page will help you achieve a great polish more easily. For those who want to learn these things in a fast, fun environment among other passionate gemstone artists, attend live event intensive training at the Faceting Academy. See you here!

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Answers: How to Cheat

Here’s another quick video answer – this time about how to cheat.

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Tucson Show Report 2014

tucson show report

Welcome to the Tucson Show Report 2014, and our sharing of the adventure and my take on the event, the locations, the market, and more. Hope you enjoy.

This year, we went even earlier than usual, and took advantage of the “quiet before the storm” that is usually the Tucson crowd. Only this year, that storm didn’t appear to ever really get thick. Even by Feb 3, the crowds weren’t as thick as usual, IMO.

This may have contributed to what seemed like a more casual and comfortable atmosphere – and a much more friendly one from every stripe of vendor and hospitality worker we encountered.

Even hotel housekeeping seemed a little less grumpy, though a tip was still welcome – and cause for even greater service.

High-end rough was very scarce, and prices were insanely high – particularly in Tourmaline and Aquamarine – with asking prices often double what they’d been just a few years ago. That was when you could find these materials.

aquamarine faceting roughThe asking price for this Aquamarine (at right) was $40 / gram.

And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, dealers were asking me if I’d brought anything to SELL.  However, there was plenty to be found in middle and commercial-grade materials.

Check the mountains of Amethyst, Green Amethyst, and Citrine in these two photos:

faceting rough amethyst citrine

tucson gem show 2014

The same vendor from Brazil had a nice selection of very-good-grade Citrine and Amethyst inside, along with quantity-priced Garnets, and more:

faceting rough

…as well as a good selection of … something I acquired for the Advanced Academy course on “Artistic Inclusions” – something every student will get one of this time around…

faceting rough

Once you get rolling at Tucson – with roomfuls of fossils and pyrite punctuated by high-end Kunzite like this:

tucson report 2014

… and, you walk up and heft pieces from 20-liter bins full of chunks like this Topaz, the juices really start pumping.

tucson gem show report

We connected with some old friends:

farooq tucson gem show report

tucson gem show 2014

Check out the fist-sized Rubellite that Niran is lighting up in my hand – and the one he’s got in his hand!

These kinds of connections aren’t just fun. They’re also especially helpful when the market is thin. And, these friends helped make the trip productive with stuff like the photos that follow.

tucson faceting rough 2014

Rhodolite Garnet

faceting rough tucson 2014

Mixed color Sapphire

tourmaline tucson show 2014

Rubellite Tourmaline
(yes, it really is this color)

The selections started to open up:

faceting rough tucson 2014

And, there were some good selections of commercial and intermediate material – with the occasional nice find – all around the shows. (Haven’t I seen that guy somewhere before?)

tucson show report 2014

We looked outside – where we found some really fun included materials:

crystals quartz faceting tucson

We looked inside:

tucson 2014 show report

And, spent time hand-selecting:

tucson faceting rough report

To find some Aqua the Academy Students will be cutting in May:

faceting rough aquamarine tucson

And, there’s stuff of every color, shape, and size:

2014 tucson show report

…until you get cross-eyed, and have to get some relaxation time and see the sights from a new perspective. You can’t just look at pretty rocks all the time. Sometimes, you have to look at the pretty desert sky.

tucson paragliding trip

This is John just off the lower launch at Box Canyon, only 40 minutes South of Tucson. What a beautiful way to spend the day, and we got to have a view like this:

paragliding tucson

This part of our trip was facilitated by Aaron Cromer of FlyingLizardParagliding.com in Tucson. What a way to see that beautiful basin. If you live near Tucson and want to learn to fly free like this, contact Aaron.

The next day, and back on the hunt, we found some nice Winza Ruby:

tucson 2014 ruby faceting rough

Spent some time pondering over the few nice clean Tourmaline we could find:

tucson show report 2014

Here’s a close-up of this one:

tucson report 2014 faceting rough

And, here are some more, from Brazil:

brazil tourmaline faceting rough


Some of our old friends introduced us to some new friends:

tucson report 2014

They showed us some very pretty new material:

2014 tucson show report

It looks like this close-up (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who sight-ID this from the photo):

faceting rough report tucson 2014

Keep the trusty kit handy for checking the rough. Here, I’m confirming the flawlessness of a nice Heliodor:

tucson show report 2014

Looks like this after I get it home:

tucson faceting rough 2014

I scored a nice ingot of material suitable for student projects in the “Value By Design” course:

faceting rough tucson

And, visited with Bruce White – the cat whose Corian laps I use and recommend:

tucson show report

It’s easy to get distracted by something like a nice handful of Ruby faceting rough:

tucson ruby faceting rough

… to the point you don’t really notice the time – or other things going on…

tucson show report

Did I mention that the dealers are fun and friendly?

Really enjoyed working with these guys and will look them up as a priority next time around…

There was more Tanzanite of reasonable size in the market than I’ve ever seen. Here’s a piece that decided it wanted to live in Oregon (at least until after it’s cut):

faceting rough tucson

And, what’s Tucson without a photograph like this?  (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who tell me why I took this photo.)

tucson show report 2014

We connected with more old friends, including Elayne Luer and well-known faceting great Ernie Hawes. I sure wish I’d have had more time to visit with these folks.

tucson show report 2014

We did manage to make a few more new friends:

zircon faceting rough

… like this guy, who cooks Zircon the old fashioned way:

zircon faceting rough heat treating

He had some nice stuff:

tucson show faceting rough report

Here’s what it looks like in good light:

tucson faceting rough report

We rounded our haul with a broad sampling of materials for both the Basic Training and Advanced Academy courses in May, where the students will be cutting stones from these parcels (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who sight-ID this from the first photo):

facet rough report tucson

tucson show report faceting rough

faceting rough tucson show report

tucson facet rough gems report

2014 tucson show report

That’s the fun, games, and photos part of this post.  Here’s the business end of the Tucson Report for 2014:

The show had, as I mentioned, lighter traffic than usual. High-end rough was harder to find, and prices were stratospheric. Commercial to medium rough was still available. We found some things we don’t usually see much of, like Sphene and Tanzanite (more on the Tanz in a bit). Socially, the town seemed more friendly than in the past.

Trends in the Gem Market

I’m hearing from everyone in the trade – from old friends, new friends, vendors at Tucson and vendors I know only on-line. And, the stories are all consistent – and consistent with what the market is showing.

Downward pressures on production (supply): I’m hearing everything from restrictions on necessary resources like explosives, to increased environmental regulation, to increased government control and corruption (costs for bribery, etc). Everyone wants a piece of what they perceive as easy-come windfall. The war in Afghanistan is problematic, as is the increasing terrorist activity in Africa for these issues. I’m also hearing some stories about land-use pressures – like growing food instead of digging a hole.

Upward pressures on prices (demand):  I’m hearing about prices going up at the mines faster than at the consumer end of the production stream. Some gem-producing locations are sending representatives to aggressively buy-out production in places where production is cheaper – and where the new production locality may threaten the old market (Sri Lankas in Africa). Some emerging markets are tapping supply closer to the source, paying premiums to do so.

World-wide fears about stability of fiat currency – and the desire to store value in durable, portable, stable ways – as well as the bubble in gold – are leading people (back) to a traditional strategy of precious stones.

The middle class in China is ballooning, and accelerating for the next decade, with consumer confidence rising and a culture that’s adopting some of the West’s appetite for conspicuous-consumption:

tucson report 2014

These throngs of people are competing for durable, value-storing, conspicuous-consumption goods. And, precious stones are part of that.

As the U.S. Dollar is weakened, and the Chinese and other markets become stronger – and more hungry for precious goods – we’re going to see a long-term run-up of prices in the finer grades of goods, with the big buyers doing business in cash and at mining localities.

The U.S. based faceter isn’t even going to see the quality of goods we used to – except for those who travel to the mines, or have contacts who do. If then.

So, for the foreseeable future, keep the rule about not passing any potential to find quality rough – and remember to ask. When you see something in the market, grab it. This is particularly true of Tanzanite in sizes significantly larger than 1 gram. If you don’t understand why, then do some research…

All of that seems to be “bad news” for U.S. cutters. And, combine it with the way U.S. manufacturers of high-precision faceting equipment are shipping overseas in greater quantity than ever before.

Not only is the rough going overseas (following strong currency and demand), but the machinery and some of the know-how to cut it. I just learned about a trend in the specific index gears being requested that tells me they are catching-on to some of the technology we teach in our “Value By Design” program. This also seems to be “bad news” for U.S. cutters.

Evolution does not favor “survival of the fittest”, but survival of the most adaptable. U.S.-based cutters need to be paying attention to the aspects of the trad that we control – as well as those over which we are losing control.

In recent months, there has been new production at some U.S. gem mines – in Maine, in particular. There has also been increasing interest in production in Oregon’s mines of Sunstones in the Rabbit Basin and Fire Opal on Juniper Ridge. We have some great domestic gem materials – and some that are not available elsewhere on the planet.

American cutters can focus more on domestically-mined gem rough, emphasizing to the U.S. market the socially and environmentally responsible and “made in America” factors – while emphasizing to the growing foreign market the exotic attractiveness of things American, and the kitsch of mined-and-cut-by-the-artist. (Means, do some fee-digging every chance you get)

I think American cutters are going to need to learn stronger yield/recovery strategies to go along with our “modern” optical notions. We’re going to need to learn better color management through design components (the Value By Design course material). The days of getting away with brilliant-cutting medium Aquamarine and still turning a profit are long gone.

Americans are good at innovation and our culture is generally open to free expression – things other cultures, and particularly the most growing of target markets – can not claim (for now). We need to take advantage of that, and follow in the footsteps of artists like Dalan Hargrave -with new styles, new expressions, and even new technologies for maximizing yield as well as presentation. We cannot sit on our hands and expect the economically-based cultural shifts coming to the most powerfully-growing economy in the world aren’t going to overtake us if we sit still.

The GOOD NEWS is that perhaps the biggest market for precious gems and gem art is about to explode for the next decade. And, for the moment, American technology, creativity, innovation, and even some great raw materials – are still out front.

American cutters need to GET QUALITY TRAINING that goes beyond the raw mechanics. They need to get good tools; source quality rough in America; and get creative with their art, branding, and value-added presentation.

We also need to work in unusual or new materials or techniques – and especially if the primary value in the finished product is the ORIGINAL artistic presentation. Pretenders to innovation and copy-artists are going to do less well in the coming years because they will be competing squarely with people who are also good at copying, have better access to rough, and reside where the cost of living is low. Real innovators, whose knowledge exceeds basic mechanics, and who can create distinctive presentations are going to prosper.

At the Faceting Academy, we focus on building these things by teaching far more than gross mechanics. We focus on fully understanding the science, unusual materials and methods, applied technology of using design to influence color, and an eye toward innovative artistic presentation with certain kinds of rough.

I’m going to do my best to contribute to he bright future that awaits the prepared.

See you there!

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Private Faceting Instruction

Another faceting question from the Mail Bag:

Do you do any one on one facet instruction? 

- Joseph

Hi, Joseph,

Thanks for asking.

I can do one-on-one coaching for people to learn faceting. But, for two reasons, I don’t do much of it:

Learning to facet is pretty time-consuming. People who attend the Resident Training Academy will spend 60+ hours of immersed training time. And, for the vast majority of total beginners, that will be enough to get from zero to cutting most any material or design they want to cut, as well as understanding why they’re using the selected design, being able to select rough skillfully, and being able to make sound business decisions to keep their faceting sustainable or profitable.

My rate for faceting services is $150 / hour, and my rate for business and personal performance coaching is twice that. So, getting me to leave my usual work in order to teach privately would cost something like $9,000.

And, here’s the real thing: Learning in an immersion training group is much faster than learning one-on-one.

That doesn’t sound like it makes sense – Wouldn’t one-on-one mean more private attention?

That’s because, in private training to learn faceting, the questions that come up and problems that must be resolved are only the questions and problems that arise or are thought of by that one person in their small number of training stones. But, in group training, you get exposure to the questions and problems of everyone in the group.

Having helped people learn faceting for some time, I keep my classes VERY small in order to optimize the amount of personal attention, balanced with the amount of questions that arise and problems that I teach students to solve. And, there’s just nothing like being in a live situation where the guy next to you hits a problem you didn’t think of – and you see it solved in real time. That’s one of the main values of attending a live training – seeing problems resolved and learning the strategies for doing that.

When I survey graduates of the Resident Faceting Academy, that group dynamic is usually one of their most favored aspects – one of the things they felt most contributed to their high-speed of progress in learning to Facet.

So, when you get both better and faster learning – and you get to cost-share the time involved in my dedicated attention and teaching – the group option is superior to personal one-on-one training.

Another thing to consider is that Resident Faceting Academy students all receive free temporary membership to the Mentoring Group – personal and customized coaching by phone, e-mail, and Skype to – for a period after their resident training. Membership to that Mentoring Group is available on an annual basis, with alerts, conference calls, personalized coaching in faceting, business, and effectiveness – provided the person has basic faceting skills to begin with. (I don’t try to teach basic beginner faceting by e-mail).

All that said, I would teach one-on-one to a student who wanted that, and who could afford it.

I hope you find this answer useful, and I welcome any further questions or requests for details.



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Mail Bag: Rolled Girdles?

More faceting questions from the Mail Bag:

I enjoyed the videos. I just knocked a small Sunstone off the dop 
while working on the crown, and superglued it back into the molded 
epoxy. Like you superglued into the dop wax mold in your video.   

I believe that alone was worth the price.  And I intend to buy 
some dop wax, which was not covered in the class I took at the 
Rice Museum. I wish you had more videos, as there is so much to 

What was the reason for the rolled girdle as opposed to 
a faceted girdle?


Hi, Eric,

Thanks for the review on my videos. I’m really glad you are getting full value from them. Stay tuned-in – there are more coming soon!

I believe it is important to learn to dop and transfer with wax and superglue at a minimum – and that practicing with epoxy is also a good idea. The different properties of these things makes them useful in different contexts. And, learning to use them in combination – like superglue with wax – allows some advanced techniques for handling delicate stones.

As far as the rolled girdle, there are two reasons to do rolled rather than faceted:

  1. A rolled girdle is less easy to chip. So, jewelers usually prefer them.
  2. They are less work. And, a faceted girdle on a round isn’t really adding value. So, it’s a responsible thing to do with a client’s stone, and a smart thing to do on one’s own rough.

I hope this helps. Please write if you have other questions.

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Mail Bag: Which Faceting Machine?

More faceting questions from the Mail Bag:

I have been looking at the Graves Mark I and noticed you use a
Facetron. What is your opinion of the right machine for a newbie 
that will allow me to use gemcad and cut precisely? 

I don't want to spend a fortune so any advice would be 


Hi, Catherine,

Thanks for writing.

This is one of the most common questions that I get – which faceting machine to buy. And, nearly everyone says they “don’t want to spend a fortune”.

It’s difficult to know what “a fortune” may seem like to someone else. When I started out, almost any amount of money was “a fortune” to me. However, one thing I can’t stand is trying to learn or be productive working with crappy tools.

It’s important to realize the value of three things:

  1. Time – the value of a learning curve.
  2. Learning good habits – compared to getting bad ones.
  3. Enjoyment – actually liking doing the activity.

It’s a bit silly to go half-way on equipment if that causes a huge dent in the learning curve. When you could be cutting – and potentially making money doing it – but are still tearing hair and fighting with bad equipment, that’s not really a good strategy. Likewise fighting with bad equipment – that tends to create bad habits. Then, you get into really inefficient ways of doing things, and productivity is hampered for the long-term. And, if you don’t enjoy the process, what’s the point? Faceting is challenging enough to learn without compounding the inevitable frustrations.

By this point, you can probably predict what I’m going to say?

I recommend machines from any of the big manufacturers that are in business and have been for some time, producing high-precision machines. I do not recommend any machine that isn’t in that category, especially if you want to work with GemCAS and do modern high-tech designs (where you need accuracy to 1/10 of a degree).

While it’s possible to cut on a Graves – and do great production of simple designs, I would not find cutting modern Barion ovals, for instance, a fun experience on such a machine – not even with years of experience.

So, I recommend Facetron, or Ultra Tec primarily (not just because I sell them). They’ve been around forever, and the guys who make them are fanatical about their engineering – and about having their customers taken care of. I know them both personally, and I’ve been to both manufacturing facilities. They really stand behind their work. And, in my years of helping people get started they’ve both gone the extra mile to help my students who had problems.

I’ve got stories about the Jarvi guys turning things around overnight and shipping parts, and stories about Joe Rubin taking my calls on a Sunday to talk me through a repair of one of his machines that went down during a class. I like working with people who are actually into what they do…

I also do not recommend used machines because you never know how one may have been abused or neglected. And, a beginner hasn’t the skills necessary to trouble-shoot. If you find a used machine, contact the manufacturer and ask them about doing a refurb / update / calibration for you. They are usually very reasonable, and you’ll be certain to have a tight machine to work with. If you are in the market for a used machine, join the nearest Faceter’s Guild or group and keep an sharp eye on their newsletter.

You can regularly find used equipment in FACETS – the newsletter of the Columbia Willamette Faceter’s Guild. Just remember to do that refurb thing.

When I started, despite being broke, I bought a new machine on advice very much like what I’ve written above. I now give that same advice, and in hindsight I’m grateful that I didn’t compound my newness with sub-standard machinery or worries about whether the machine was sound.

I hope this helps. Please write if you have other questions.

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Faceted Girdles

This question came in from one of the Mentoring Program members this week:

Many of them (jewelers) dislike faceted girdles, because those hard
 sharp edges make setting the stone difficult, especially
with Sunstone.

I think this is true, if the girdle is THICK and/or if the jeweler isn’t really that skilled.

My ideas on this are:

  1. Look for a (more) competent jeweler.
  2. POLISH the girdles so they aren’t ugly – and polished ones chip LESS easily than those left at 600.
  3. On higher-end stones, facet and polish them if that’s your creative expression. I usually do, and I don’t think a jeweler worth his file is likely to reject them out of squeamishness to set.
  4. Or, roll the girdles if you like. I use a pre-polish lap and roll them by hand, then finish them on a polish lap. You’ve got to make sure, not to roll them too thick, though. Meaning, you’ve got to make a VERY thin girdle before you roll it…

Hope this helps!

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Polishing Sunstone Cleavage Problems

This just in from the e-mail bag:

I started to facet this piece of Sunstone yesterday and  when I used the 600 lap this strange surface appeared on this particular facet and it wouldn’t polish away, any idea what or why? What amazed me was that it only happened on this one facet, the stone is approx, 10 x 14 mm.

polishing sunstone with cleavage problemsYou usually see this sort of thing on Sunstone at the pre-polish level if you’re really close to a cleavage plane. Often, a sensitive faceter will detect this potential while cutting because these facets will feel softer than the rest – will cut faster, and over-cut quickly. The solution to getting a polish on them is:

  1. Reverse lap attack direction across the facet – either by reversing the lap itself, or by taking the stone to the “back” side of the lap.
  2. You may like to try a finer pre-polish before going to polish. Sometimes, that’s helpful.
  3. Use Voodoo polish – and in extreme cases, the 50k may be less prone to allow the scaling of the cleavage than the 14k.

Usually, a combination of these things will let you get a good polish – though we must sometimes settle for an over-cut facet in the process.

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Diamond Faceting Laps Question

This question came via eMail today:

As diamond laps are very expensive and their diamond surface is
a thin layering, have you heard of major producers of these laps
offering any kind of reduced price to resurfacing worn laps.
I use the Crystallite steels and it just seems like they would be
one that would be a re-surfacable item. Your thoughts?

I am not aware of a re-surfacing operation by any of the major manufacturers. I’m not an expert on the diamond plating process, so I don’t know if there’s a reason this could be more costly than starting fresh. I assume there are contamination issues, and that producing a quality product would require stripping the old diamond away – and that may be problematic. That’s a guess.

In my experience, there’s seldom a need for high-quality precision laps in grits more coarse than 600. And, good working with the 260 and lower (more coarse) grits will minimize the wear and tear on the 600 metal bond. And, treating the lap nicely (water, not too much pressure, etc) will also invite it to last a long time.

My Crystallite 600 laps last me years of pretty heavy use.

Hope this is useful.



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