From Jennifer: I love buying gemstones, particularly gemstone cabochons. When I look at a beautiful gemstone cabochon setting, I feel as though the wonderful natural colors and patterns are just asking for me to turn it into a piece of spectacular beaded jewelry. Over the years, I've collected a king's ransom in gemstone cabochons, but I'm always on the lookout for new beauties to add to my collection. If you're like me, you'll be thrilled to read Lexi Erickson's tips for selecting gemstone cabochons for jewelry-making! Enjoy!
||Lexi Erickson is a contributing author to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
pass up the bizarre and unusual, such as cut cue balls, pottery shards
that have been shaped, and reflectors from a 1930s kid's tricycle--those
should be fun!
Do you suffer from sleepless nights because of your jewelry-making
addiction? Are you still awake at 3 a.m. because your mind can't stop
designing something elegant for that gorgeous new triangular Rain Forest
jasper you just bought? If so, you are a true jewelry artist, and welcome to my world.
Here it is, 2:37 a.m., and I know that in three days we will be having the Rocky Mountain Bead Society 2012 Bead Bazaar
here in Denver, and I'm already eagerly anticipating seeing Gary
Wilson, one of my favorite cab cutters. I will be there standing in line
when the doors open at 10 a.m. There will be eager enthusiasm among
many who will sprint toward the booth of their favorite bead or cab
seller. I'm guessing that the anticipation of these doors opening is
something akin to the 4 a.m. Black Friday sales that I'm always too
sleepy to attend (and I don't need anything that badly), as
several hundred women head to one spot or the other during the opening
minutes of a bead and jewelry show. Does this sound familiar? Of course,
it's all good natured--and I haven't heard of any tramplings or
deaths--but still, we have an urgency in our steps to be the first to
see what new faceted gem and cabochon treasures await.
If you are in the blush of your first months of jewelry-making
ecstasy, you may just rush to buy the prettiest color cabochon . . . but
as an old timer in this business--well, maybe not that old--I'd like to share a few tips about buying cabochons for your jewelry.
One of the first things you must realize when choosing a stone is, not all stones are created equal. Just because someone is a stonecutter
does not mean that his stones are easy to design around. I've learned
this the hard way. There are several cutters that are my favorite
because of the ease of designing with their stones. While a stone may be
pretty, it may not work well with your style or designs. I still have a
blue agate I bought twenty-five years ago because it was pretty, but it
doesn't go with my style, so there it sits, in my Riker box of pretty
stones, which I will never use.
How to Choose a Cabochon
1. When you are choosing a cabochon that will be used with a bezel, check the shape
and make sure that the bottom is flat, otherwise it will rock back and
forth on the backplate of your piece. Mabe pearls are especially guilty
of this. A perfectly flat bottom will make it much easier to work with.
2. Check the sides of the stone. Notice if the sides
are straight up and down, or if they are angled toward the top of the
stone. Stones angled with a smaller bottom and larger toward the top
will not fit well into a bezel. Stones with the straight sides will
probably need to be set into a bezel with a bit of glue to hold them.
Stones wider at the bottom and gradually narrower at the top will be
easier to set. Faceted stones will need special treatment of a step
bezel or special setting techniques requiring some expertise and special
3. When you find a stone that screams "PICK ME PICK ME!" first check out the angle of the sides.
A well-cut stone will have the same angle all around the stone. A
poorly cut stone will have different angles on each side, and though you
may not notice it now, your bezel will fold down differently on the
sides, and it will look like a poorly set stone, when really it's a poorly cut stone. So hold a stone at eye-level and check the angles around the stone.
4. Check the front of the stone
popular Sonoran Sunrise, cut by two different cutters. The stone on the
left is a $5 stone; the side angles are different and the face has a
wrong angle cut. The color is muddied. The stone on the right is a $20
stone and is beautifully cut.
to make sure it's level
across the face of the cab. Again, a poorly cut stone will catch a
reflection of an angle, which may mar the beauty of the face of the cab.
The polish, or the recent excursion into matte stones (my favorite)
should be an even finish all across the face of the stone.
5. A well-cut stone will have a tiny, almost indiscernible 45-degree angle cut all along the bottom edge of the stone.
This is there for a very important reason. When you have a snug bezel,
and you go to pop the stone into the bezel, you can accidently chip the
edge of a stone without that little cut on the bezel as you snap it into
place (I call it the "snap heard around the world"). That snap may
result in a crack appearing on the face of your stone and the cracking
of your stone all the way through. Disaster!
6. Don't pass up a stone because of its highly irregular edges.
One of my favorite pieces is a petrified tree fern with a very rough
top edge. I set it with prongs, as to not block the delicacy of that
rough edge. So buy that unusual cut and give your creativity a nudge. A
sharply pointed stone may need greater caution and some expertise in
7. You will probably be given a small tray or plate to put your treasures in while you shop at a certain booth. Always keep that tray in your hand,
because if you put it down, someone will start high-grading (shopping
in) your tray. Trust me on this one; it's happened more than once to my
8. If you see something you absolutely cannot live without, buy it now.
Don't put it back and think, "I'll come back later to get this,"
because I can almost guarantee it will be gone. If you liked it that
much, so will someone else.
As you work with stones, you may develop a specific color palette,
and that's natural and okay. I love Chinese writing stone, matte red
jaspers, petrified palm wood (both the black and the tan), serpentine,
and dino bone. The only blue I buy is turquoise. Confession: I'm
colorblind (yes, one of .002% of the women in the world), and I can't
match colors very well. I use browns and greens (which I sometimes call
"breen" because I can't see exactly what color it is). I stick with
earth tones. I also wear a lot of khaki and green or black for the same
reason. (People ask me if I make jewelry to go with my clothes. No, I
buy clothes to go with my jewelry.) These earth tones have become my
trademark, as much as my "ancient-contemporary" design sensibility. It
may take a while, but look at your stone collection now and you may
start to see patterns in your own buying.
|These are some I just couldn't let get away, even though the shapes may present challenges to set, and they are pretty large.
When I get home from my excursion, I immediately catalog my stones
I group them according to whom I have purchased them from. This may
seem strange to those of you who put all your blacks together, greens
together, etc. But as an archaeologist, I learned to group pot shards
according to their pueblo, which showed a characteristic style. So now, I
group all my stones according to cutter, and each has his own
characteristic style. That way, if I need another particular shape or
stone, I know who I got it from. I also keep a sketchbook (or it can be
done on a computer) of when I purchased it, who from, the name of the
stone, price, and the outline of the stone.
And no, I don't have an exact design in mind when I buy a stone. I
may have an idea, but the exact piece is rarely in my mind, though it
has happened a few times. I buy stones I like.
So Saturday morning as I start out to the gem show, my husband will
say, "You really don't need any more stones. You have a lot in your
inventory," and I gently explain to him, "Dear, I must buy some for my
inventory. What I have is my collection."
So go pick out the best, the pick of the litter, for yourself, and happy hunting. --Lexi
If you want to learn more about working with cabochons and the gorgeous gemstones and materials that they can be made from, you'll want to make sure you subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine and see all of Lexi's great tips and insight! You'll also find great jewelry-making projects, information on the latest and greatest in jewelry-making tools and books, and expert advice from some of the most trusted names in jewelry-making.
Do you have a tip for buying gemstone cabochons? Leave a comment here and share it with us here on the Beading Daily blog!
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