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Faceting On A Shoe String Budget

I'd like to talk to those folks who are thinking about taking up faceting, but are afraid that there's just not any material available that's worth cutting. Most of those arguments are oriented around the fact that most hobbyists won't be able to afford to purchase high quality sapphire, ruby or emerald rough. True, most of us will never be able to afford a $4,000 per carat crystal of Columbian emerald, but there are many alternative materials to cut, both man-made and natural. I'd like to talk about a few of them. While they might not be as valuable, they are very much desirable. If you keep desire in mind, you'll have many more possibilities for cutting materials that will appeal to a broad range of folks.

There are several man made processes that will yield emerald rough that's very hard to differentiate from that perfect natural Columbian emerald. I've heard some cutters (faceters) say that they refuse to cut lab grown materials. They consider the material second rate. Is the lab material worth as much? No! Is it still desirable? Yes! I can't think of any female that I know of that would refuse to wear a beautiful ring made from hydrothermal emerald (some of it recrystallized throw away mine run natural emerald). Never underestimate the bling factor in anything that you might cut. The lab grown emerald isn't worth as much as the natural material, but it still has some value. I've seen that material go for as much as $400 per carat. There are also many other species of man-made materials, such as sapphires, rubies, and garnets that won't have a lot of value, but will be very desirable.

To give you an example...I don't really care that the center stone of my ring is composed of synthetic YAG (Yttrium Aluminum Garnet). My 'desire' in creating the ring was to have something with emerald green flash that would be very durable. YAG met those requirements with a hardness of 8.25 (diamond is 10) and a refractive index of 1.83 (quartz is 1.54). True, I won't have to take out an insurance policy on the ring, but it'll cost you a little bit if you like it enough to want to talk me out of it. In fact, a good bit more than it cost me to make it!

Regarding natural faceting rough, it is true that it is becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. Many mines are closing or have closed, and much of the rough being found is being kept close to the source for the native cutting houses. I read where the Chinese are especially buying large quantities of natural rough. Suffice it to say, that as worldwide demand for jewelry grows, the availability of quality natural rough will decrease. Natural rough is less available and more expensive, but not impossible to get.

New sources of emeralds, tourmalines, sapphires and rubies are being found in Africa and in Vietnam, and they are on the market in small to large quantities. Of course, some of this material isn't considered to be top color, but it still cuts a very desirable stone. Top quality material is available at a top price but it is generally more affordable than material from Sri Lanka or Columbia. Sapphires are available in good quantities out of pay more for top quality, but it's more affordable. This Australian material tends toward blue-green in color and will yield some beautiful and desirable stones.

There are sources of relatively new gemstone species on the market that give us faceters a new niche or two to trod. Take for instance, Oregon Sunstone which is gem grade feldspar. It ranges in color from champagne clear to cherry red. Sunstone is one of my favorite cutting materials, and it just pops with sparkle when it comes off the dop. It's just now gaining some notoriety on the market and will only grow in value as others find out about it. The rough is relatively inexpensive, especially if you can afford to take a trip to Oregon to mine it yourself. I've seen top quality faceted cherry red sunstone go for $500 a carat. This particular stone was over 10 carats! Do the math. My bag of sunstone rough is just going to get more valuable over time.

I've gone all this way to say that everything you cut as a faceter will be desirable and hence valuable. All of it will be beautiful and will make someone else's day. Hopefully one day you'll cut that Ceylon sapphire, but until then, there's a lot of material out there, both natural and synthetic, that can be cut....just the mere fact of cutting it renders it valuable.

by Bill Harbour via Cabber Gabber, 12/08