Bead Stone Setting – Bead It!

Bench Jewelers often use different methods to accomplish the same work. I believe the end results are what is important, not the method used to get there.  And it is the same for bead stone setting. In jewelry work the ends often justifies the means.

This is not more evident than in bead setting. I know jewelers who cut the seat with round, bud, cone, setting, heart, or bearing burs. Then they cut the excess metal away with flat, knife, or onglette gravers, or they use heart, wheel, round, or knife edge burs. Some even use needle files or saw blades.

Over the years, I have taken a number of different ideas from a variety of jewelers and developed a method that works well for me. That is what I believe is important. Jewelers need to develop a method that works well for them.

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Sometimes the jewelry and stones being set dictate different techniques to use. However, the following is the method I use most often.

Layout

To lay out the diamonds, place a thin coat of wax over the metal. Then place the stones table down on the metal. The wax will keep them from falling off. You can try several arrangements of the stones to find a pattern that works best. On a curved surface, space the stones further apart. When setting down in the metal, they will come closer together.

Next, take a small tray or tin and fill the bottom with wax. With the point of a tweezers, draw the shape of the metal plate. The stones can then be placed in this tray in the same position as on the jewelry. Then, when setting them, they will fit the same way you laid them out.

Carefully lift the stones from the jewelry and place them in their position in the tray. After you remove each stone, mark the metal where the center of that stone is to be. A #50 round bottom graver work well for this. Later, when all the stones are removed, you can go back over these marks and make them deeper to center your drill bit.

Drilling the Holes

Using a small drill bit (less than 1/2 the diameter of the stone) drill a hole through the metal on each of your center marks. The more accurately you drill, the less work you will have to do later. Inspect your work to make certain the holes are all precisely where the center of each stone is to be.

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If any holes are off center, you will need to enlarge the hole to center it. Take a krause bur and place in the hole. Then cut the side of the hole towards the center of the stone. Once all the holes are centered, re-drill the holes with a larger drill bit. Use a drill bit 2/3 the diameter of the stone, and drill through the metal exactly where the center of the stone is to be.

Cutting the Seat

Begin cutting the seat by using a setting bur. Select a bur that is one size SMALLER than the stone. For example, for 2.5 mm stones use a 2.3 mm bur. Cut the seat sufficiently deep enough, to have plenty of metal to form the beads. A mistake many beginning jewelers make is to cut the seat too shallow, not allowing them to form adequate beads to hold the stones. However, be careful when cutting that you do not cut all the way through the metal. As a rule, cut the seat deep enough that the table of the stone will set just below the plate surface.

If the metal is particularly thin, the following tip may help. When cutting the preliminary seat, use a setting bur that is slightly dull. Then, rather than cutting the metal away cleanly, it will push some of the metal down. This metal will bulge down below the plate supporting the stone.

Cutting Azures

Next, turn the jewelry over and clean up the back of the plate. If the plate is thin, all you can do is scrape away any burs and polish with a bristle brush. If the plate is thick enough, you need to cut away some of the metal surrounding the holes. These cuts are called azures. The easiest method is to cut a tapered hole using a bud bur.

On finer jewelry you will want to cut a square or triangle shaped tapered hole. The results look like bright cutting on the backside of the jewelry. To begin, cut a tapered hole with a bud bur. Then, using a hart bur held sideways cut your corners in each hole. Next, use a small wheel bur to clean away the metal between the corners. Then use a polished flat graver to clean up and polish your cuts.

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With a little practice, you can easily cut professional looking azures in just a few minutes.

Removing Excess Metal

The next step is to remove excess metal from around the stones and to rough out the bright cut. First, mark where the beads are to be using a scribe or the point of a tweezers. Then using a small (2 – 3 mm) hart bur held perpendicular to the metal begin cutting the excess metal. Use the seat cut by the setting bur as a depth gauge. Do not cut below this line. First, cut the metal from between the stones. Then, cut around the outside forming a 45 angle for the bright cut. Be very careful to not cut any of the metal marked for the beads. If necessary, trim the metal left for beads and clean up the cutting with a graver.

Finish Cutting the Seats

Select a hart bur the same size or slightly smaller than the stone. Then, cut the seat for each stone by slightly undercutting the metal left for beads. By cutting the seat in this manner, the bead is already partially over the stone.

Setting the Stones

Remove the stones one at a time from the tray and lay it over its corresponding seat. Inspect it to make certain it will fit and make any necessary adjustments. Then, place one side of the stone in its seat and push it in place using a brass pusher. Repeat the process for each stone.

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Forming the Beads

Next, push the beads down tight on the stones using a graver. For most beads, place a round bottom graver at the base of the bead and push it over the stone. Where a bar of metal is left between two stones to form two beads, use a flat graver and cut straight down. Wiggle the graver back and forth forming a bead onto each stone. Where a triangle of metal is left between three stones, use a round bottom graver. Push sideways on each tip of the triangle pushing it over a stone (one tip over each stone). Then use a beading tool to form the bead down tight on the stones.

When all the stones are tight, clean up the beads with a graver. Then shape them using a beading tool.

Bright Cut

Finally, go over all the remaining metal using a highly polished flat bottom graver. Smooth out any rough places, using long even cutting strokes. This will leave the metal polished. If necessary polish with rouge only using a small bristle brush, and finish the edge with a millgrain wheel.

By Bradney W. Simon
© Bench Magazine - 2003
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BENCH Magazine is devoted to the Bench Jeweler in retail jewelry stores and small trade shops.
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