How To Go From Novice To World Class Facetor
by Glenn Klein
Originally Published in the United States Faceters Guild Newsletter
Part One: Motivation and Rules
In this Part One I will be doing my best to get you MOTIVATED to compete and I will note some of the RULES you must follow in your journey up the scale from Novice level to World Class level competitive facetor. In Part Two I give my views on how you can go about winning in CASE of STONES competitions. This part will also cover ideas for the improvement of the interior of your case display. In Part Three I offer my ideas on how to succeed in SINGLE STONE competitions. This section will also include my views on how to cut a winning gem.
Should you compete? Yes, by all means do. It does take a lot of your time and work to do a good job of faceting, and then obtain and decorate a display case, but as with any task that requires work you learn from the experience. Even if you do not wish to compete, why not get together a case and just display it. Everyone can learn something by seeing another case.
Do not give up if you place poorly. We have all been there. Keep trying until you finally achieve that trophy you are after. The more people that compete or at least display the more the general public will gain by seeing new ideas on cuts, or new ways of showing those cuts in a display case. The shows themselves will be more successful, and more interest in faceting will be created.
Many people are apprehensive about entering competitions because they do not know how to go about it. With this article I hope to encourage you to get started by showing you some of the tips and trials that I have experienced in my path towards success as a "World Class Facetor".
Most competitors should begin by entering a Novice level contest, at some gem or mineral show in their area. Once you have achieved success at that level, you can try for an Advanced trophy or Special contest that may be offered, and so on up the ladder of competition levels. Your hundred steps up the ladder of skill levels begins with just one step.
Never become discouraged to the point of giving up when you see bad things on your score sheet. Just learn from your mistakes and do not do those dumb things again. Each time I enter competition I feel that I am just competing against myself. I am doing the best I can. If that is not good enough - tough!
How are we going to get more people interested in competing? We need younger people starting. Where are the women competitors? In the years I have been attending gem and mineral shows I have yet to find a woman facetor as a competitor. It would be much better to see at least five to ten competitors for each trophy. We, the public, would all benefit and learn from seeing more displays. It seems to me that about half of the total competitions offered do not even get a single entry.
By experiencing competition you will achieve a continual sharpening of your faceting talents. You will learn what is good enough, and what is not acceptable. As with any task that requires work, you learn from the experience and gain personal satisfaction.
It is a fact that soon you will not settle for second best. You will always be striving to improve your skills. No one is perfect. You won't be either. I do not believe a score of 100% is possible. But you can come close to perfection. I have never succeeded in cutting a gem to my own complete satisfaction. There is always something you would change if you had the power to do so. Just do the best you can each time. Remember that the other competitors will be having the same kinds of problems with their work.
Competition faceting is fun. It is almost intoxicating. You always want more. It helps you prove to yourself where your faceting talent stands in relation to others. It gives you a wonderful feeling when you do win a trophy. It also can give you a great feeling when Your score is higher than someone that you thought was unbeatable. Winning a trophy is one of those things you cannot buy.
Have you ever entered competition at any level? If not, you have missed something very rewarding. Do enter at least at the Novice level and get your feet wet. Even being judged second up from the worst scoring competitor is a PLUS for you. If you do compete - your improved skill, thought, and planning talents will help you enjoy your resulting gems more.
There are many areas involved in competition; such as, knowing the rules of the competition you are entering, labels, case decoration, risers, prongs, placement, color, choice of material, difficulty of cut, lighting, workmanship, etc. Some of these areas cover Case competition as well as Single Stone competition.
First, know the rules. The American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS) serves as a mother organization to the seven Regional Federations covering the United States. The AFMS Uniform Rules are the guide for all of the seven Regional Federations. But each Federation has their extra Supplementary Rules, covering certain competitions which they offer in addition to the many offered by the APMS itself. These Supplementary Rules have been added to accommodate either special types of material or exhibitor interests of that Federation. These local Federation competitions may be of more interest to you. Often there are also competitions offered by individual sponsors, lapidary manufacturers, and Guilds.
The AFMS has several publications available. Get copies of those, which concern your type of entry. Among them they have the Uniform Rules, Guidelines for Exhibitors, and Approved Reference List of Lapidary Material Names.
As one of the seven Regional Federations, the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies has more clubs than any other state in the Nation. The CFMS has approximately 200 clubs with over 20,000 members. In your area of the USA there will no doubt be a club that you may join. Find one which has interests that fit in with yours in the vast area of Mineralogy.
Each of the seven Regional Federations takes a turn in hosting the National Show (the AFMS one). To win a trophy at the AFMS National show you must first win the trophy at the Regional level. Then you may enter at the National show wherever it is being held, or wait for it to come to your area. Get a copy of Lapidary Journal, or one of the other gem publications, to see where the various shows are being held and on what dates.
The California Federation of Mineralogical Societies show will be held at Riverside, California in the year 2000 (next year). In addition to that, there will be a Faceters Symposium held during this show. I am honored to he Chairman of that Faceters Symposium. The Symposium will also offer several competitions. Here is an opportunity for you to enter competition at the Federation level, or the Symposium level. You can enter as a Novice, Advanced, or Masters facetor.
If you have won at the Novice level, you must now enter for higher levels such as Intermediate, Advanced, or Masters. Once you have decided which competition you wish to enter, you will need to get a copy of the entry rules for that competition. Most are judged based on the AFMS Uniform Rules. Get a recent copy and look over them as they pertain to your entry. I read over the Rules each time I enter. It is very easy to forget something that can disqualify your entry or cost you many scoring points. If you do not understand the Rules, find someone that can explain them to you. The judges have no heart when they call out a feature like size, and you present your entry at some other size. You will be disqualified without further judging.
If you follow the AFMS Uniform Rules you will satisfy most requirements, but you cannot count on it. Individual Sponsors may have different requirements for their trophy. Read and understand what the judge's want. When you reach the level of the International Faceting Challenge which is judged in Australia, you will need to follow the rules as published by the Australian Facetors Guild Limited. Those particular rules are precise. If you vary from them the slightest, you are sure to have a score placing you in the bottom one third of the entries.
Any trophy received in a local club show competition does not affect Regional or AFMS eligibility. While each Federation normally holds a show once a year, anyone wishing to enter in competition must be a member of a society that is affiliated with that Regional Federation. If you are entering competition at a local show, follow the instruction for registering your entry as provided by the host Society. If you are entering competition at the Regional Federation show, follow the instructions provided for this registration. When entering competition at a Regional Federation show, you are further required to have an officer of your Society certify that you are a member in good standing with your Society.
When your Regional Federation show is host to the American Federation show, all other Societies and members of Societies are eligible to compete under the same conditions applying to members of the host Regional Federation. Eligibility for AFMS Trophy competition must have been earned in the class entered in a Regional Federation Show using the AFMS Uniform Rules during the 12 years preceding competitions. In other words you have to wait until the AFMS Show comes back to the Regional Show near you, or you travel across the Country to the Regional Show that is hosting the AFMS Show.
Once you have won the AFMS Trophy you may not compete for the same trophy until after the 3rd annual AFMS competition. The AFMS Trophy awards that concern facetors are: Trophy 19 FACETED GEMSTONES I - given for exhibits from Uniform Rules Classes CF-1 CF-2 CF-3, and Trophy 20 FACETED GEMSTONES II - given for exhibits from Uniform Rules Classes CF4 CF-5.
Your entry will not be allowed until you have requested and received an application form for exhibit space and registration from the Host Society, filled it out properly, returned it, and received hack confirmation that your entry is accepted. Allow plenty of time for this, because sometimes the deadline for form acceptance is far ahead of the Show date. The host people need time to plan properly in arranging for the judges, facilities, and trophies. I have experienced three occasions where the Trophy was not at the show at ShowTime. One arrived weeks later, the other two I never received. There should be some penalty when sponsors do not do their part of the job.
A surprising thing for me to discover was that competition at AFMS shows is a relatively new thing. The Uniform Rules were completed and first used at the Miami, Florida AFMS show in 1961.
The competition levels are rising as the years go by. At my start in competition (approximately 20 years ago) the thing to do was just to enter. Some competitions only drew one or two entries, some none. If you entered and your score was over the minimum required, you won the trophy. But many times I was competing against six to ten other facetors who did very good work. I can tell you that it is hard being third place with a score of 99%! But tears dry fast. I kept trying.
The Novice level which you enter may require a minimum score of 70%, which you would have to have even though your score was better than everyone else. The Intermediate or Advanced level may require a score of at least 80% to win the trophy. Most Master level competitions require a score of 90% or higher. When it comes to the International Faceting Challenge you will NOT even place in the top ten facetors of the World, unless your score is ninety-eight percent or higher for the three required stones.
At the start of my years in Competition I learned that the real test at that time was to compete at the Faceters Fair, which was held some 400 miles north at San Jose, California. I won my very first trophy there in 1979, competing in the five faceted stone contest. This made me feel very proud, and got me started in what continues to be a very rewarding experience. I never entered a Novice competition, although that is the thing to do to get started now. I just tried from the beginning to compete with the Master facetors of the day, and there were some tough ones.
My second and GREATEST satisfactory Competition entry was in 1986, when I was part of the United States team which was the first team from any Country to win the International Challenge (now called the International Faceting Challenge). This Competition pits the top five facetors from any Country against the other Countries teams. This is judged in Australia every two years. This is the Olympics of faceting. It draws the best facetors. In the last IFC there were entries from the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Finland, and Denmark. Here there is no room for any errors in workmanship.
The third of my trophies that I treasure the most was won in 1988 at the Faceters Fair where my entry won over what I consider the top group of Competitive faceters of the day, Vern Johnson, John Alden, and Charles Hettich.
OK, enough of the blowing of one's own horn. This shows the ego part of the total satisfaction you will experience if you enter Competitions. You will win some, and lose plenty of them. Sometimes happiness comes without warning. There will be times when you do not deserve the trophy. Maybe the judges were too forgiving. Or their eyes just are not good enough for judging stones any more. Judges are humans (I often think so). They have a tough job and not much time in which to do it. Most Competitions state that the judging will be done with ten power hand loupes, which most facetors use when they do their work. We must resist the use of higher power in judging, or the use of microscopes. Both would kill off competition I feel. After all, if the judges are to rule with ten power, and most facetors are using ten power to do the work, we cannot allow the judges to lower points for something that they see at higher powers, things that the cutter did not even know were there.
In conclusion, I want to be sure to implant in your mind the idea that you will enjoy competitive faceting. I encourage you to begin to compete. You will sharpen you cutting skills and turn out beautiful works of art. Some would say it is just an ego trip, but what is wrong with that? It certainly is not for the money. After all, we take twenty dollars worth of facet rough, put two thousand dollars worth of labor into finishing a gem that MAY win a trophy. And then your Wife or Mother will say the trophy is just a dust collector. But Wives and sometimes Mothers are wrong. So get started with your planning for that Competition. Then work to your plan the very best way you know how. It will be worth all the effort.
Part Two: Case of Stones Competition
As part of your journey from Novice level competition to a World-Class level you will learn about the various skills required in presenting a good case of stones to the judges.
If you count the Host Society of the competition you wish to enter, they will provide a case for your use. But, if you wish to have your own case so as to really show your gems at their best, you should consider building one yourself.
Initially I intended my case for just one competition (what a dreamer). I had not planned on entering anymore after that. Possibly I would just show my case in the future, but not compete for trophies. Somehow I became more interested in competition once I had started.
Take some time to plan well before you begin to build a case. Look at lots of cases at the shows. Incorporate those ideas you like. Consider the weight of your case. Will you be able to handle the completed case? Do you want it to be sturdy and all assembled, or do you want to dismantle it and store it in a small area?
My case was beautiful. I made it out of 3/4" mahogany, and gave it a furniture quality finish. However, I made it too heavy, too big for my car, and too big to store. It was approximately 4' x 2' x 30" high. It took two husky men to lift it up onto the show tables. All joints were glued like a piece of fine furniture. That helps keep out the dust and dirt, but you cannot dismantle such a monster. I should have planned better in the beginning.
Maximum case exhibit area at Federation shows is 12 square feet of floor space. That could mean a case up to four feet wide, three feet deep, and three feet high (inside measurements). That is a large area. You do not really need that much space to show off faceted gems unless you plan on putting forty gems in your case. Make your case smaller.
A lot of the competitions call out just six or twelve stones required. But there are Federation competitions which call for a case of minimum twenty to maximum forty stones required. Use the minimum required. Use twenty. It is difficult for all facetors to assemble twenty GOOD stones. Do not fill your case with other stones, which are of poor cutting quality. More is not better.
Most shows offer tables which are about 30" high. The display cases are set upon these tables. After looking at ten or twenty cases you will probably have a sore back from leaning over to view the contents. Why not consider making the floor of your case about six inches up from the actual base of the case? That way a person of average height will not have such a hard time seeing your winning stones. I realize that small children could have difficulty seeing, but if you go to a few shows you will realize that the majority of viewers are not children.
Your case should have two screened openings of four inches square. Locate them in the center but towards the right and left sides of the case ceiling. This will allow convection currents to draw cool air in and hot air out, with a minimum amount of dust and insects entering your case. Fans draw in smoke, dirt and lint. Do not use fans.
You do not want your case to just look like a box. You want to draw interest by decorating the back and sides of the case interior. The floor and risers also require attention.
Risers are steps or platforms which raise parts of the display. White covered risers reflect more light and also brighten your case. Imagine the risers covered in purple, or chartreuse. Boy, would those risers draw attention away from your main subjects, the gems.
Risers must be neat and logical in shape. They can be interesting if contrasted with the case background. But the risers should be white, not off-white. This will show the true colors of your gems the best. Cover the risers with velvet or one of the stretch fabrics. Do not use a shiny fabric. The velvets have fine texture and work well when you want smooth wrinkle-free corners on your risers, Printed fabrics or paint would not be good choices for the surface of the risers.
Have your risers slightly elevated at the rear so as to show off all gems equally. This gets the light in and out of the tables of your gems for better viewing.
If the panels on the sides and rear of your case are to add to your display, cover them with fabric as well. Another color could be used here, but white might be the best choice.
One of my gripes about shows is that most gems are displayed in ugly boxes. Often nothing has been done to enhance the gems, not even a little fabric on the floor of the case. I do not see why it has to be this way. Make your whole case beautiful, not just the gems. Judges feel that the gems are the stars. Nothing should distract from them. I would like to see that changed a little. But keep in mind when you are competing, you are going to have to satisfy the judges. Use fabrics and colors with caution!
To enter a case you must not use more wattage than that called out in the rules. Usually this means 150 Watts total maximum. Try to get even lighting throughout the case. Keep shadows to a minimum. Do not use colored lights. They would affect gem colors. Do not use fluorescent lamps. They are a cold light which reduces brilliance and dispersion in your stones. Clear, unfrosted light bulbs seem to be the best choice. Tungsten lighting gives your case a warm look, and along with white covered risers shows off the colors of your gems at their finest. The bulbs do get hot. Allow space around them so that there is no fire hazard.
I donated my case some time back. It had a row of bulbs near the top front of the case. They were hidden from view. They were angled slightly to the rear of the case, not just downward. This way the light was directed towards the tables of the gems, and the gem tops were angled slightly towards the viewer. Greatest brilliance and dispersion was seen this way. The ceiling of my case had a mirror (plastic version) attached. Holes were cut in the mirror to allow for the bulbs and two ventilation openings. This helped spread the available light around the case. Paint your case ceiling white or a light color at least. Remember that the viewer is to see an even lighting throughout the case with no hot spots or bulbs showing.
Prongs holding the gems in a case have been a problem for me. Judges would often put remarks on my score sheet that the prongs were too high, casting long shadows on the risers, or that the prongs were not uniform and neatly made - they were distracting.
Well, my advice is to FORGET PRONGS ALTOGETHER. Unless the rules state that prongs are to hold the gems, just place your gems directly on the white velvet risers. Prongs also are a problem when you go to attach or detach them from the gems. You are sure to damage the girdle or some facet as you handle metal to gemstone. The gem may even pop out and hit the concrete floor. Prongs will keep you out of the running in the Masters and International Faceting Challenge competitions. If you do use prongs in your case: have them short, neatly made, and angled slightly towards the viewer.
Labels are critical in judging. Go over the Uniform Rules to be sure of what is required for labels in the division that you are competing in. They do vary. Use the sources they recommend for correct spelling. There is no excuse for errors in spelling. There is no excuse for giving a name to a gem when it is really of some other species. I lost a chance of a trophy one time because of a label error. I called the gem out as it is known by anyone taking the G.I.A. colored stone course. But that was not what the Uniform Rules required. You have to watch things like your gem faceted of GGG which must be labeled as G.G.G., otherwise you will lower your score.
I think the label area is one that the AFMS should do some new work with, to make clearer what it is that they want, so we can all follow their wishes. As it is now, you will have to pay a lot of attention to what you put on labels.
Have your labels typed neatly, with borders cut to just clear the typing. This means that the labels will be of different sizes. Use a paper which is thick enough so that the labels do not curve from heat inside the ease. Do not put additional information on the labels because it will be judged. Be sure you do not miss-spell words. Just put on the required information. Have the lettering readable. Do not use script style lettering. I would avoid outlined borders or unusual edges on the labels.
I have experimented in the label area a lot. I have come to the conclusion that white is the best color. Be sure to carefully proof read your labels for accuracy, and for goodness sake, do not put them in front of any other gem but the correct one. When you do place them in the case do so by laying them flat on the risers. That way they will not get out of line if the case gets bumped.
Use just the GROUP name for a gem. Or, if none, use SPECIES. Forget the VARIETY. This is unless the rules in your entry require more information. Forget CUT NAME or other unnecessary information that you have the urge to include.
Your display can concentrate in a particular area such as all natural stones, all synthetic stones, or all colors & varieties of one species. The possibilities are wide. Just be sure you are displaying exactly what the judges want to see in the particular type of competition you are entering. In general, it is wise to show a variety of colors, cuts, sizes, and gem materials. The judges will appreciate the fact that you have worked with such a variety. They also like cuts of your original designs.
Set up your display at home when you have plenty of time to experiment with different arrangements of the stones. Lay out your labels as well. Make a sketch of the set-up when you are totally satisfied. Use that sketch to rapidly set up at ShowTime. Number your labels on their backside so that they can be laid out properly when your time is limited.
When you have vacuumed out the case, polished it, and cleaned the front glass, stand back and be your own critical judge. Look at every detail to be sure it is the way it should be.
When you go to enter a show, take along a few extra stones with their labels in case you damage some in setting up your case. Take a tweezers with which to place the mounted stones into the display case. My tweezers have a rubber-like coating on them so that the gems are not damaged in handling. I purchased a dip called Plastidip from ACE hardware and coated all my tweezers with this. Have an extra bulb or two in the event that a regular one is not burning. Have a lock for your case along with two keys - one for you and one for the judges.
In Federation competitions the faceted gemstones in your case may be of any size: with exception that at least one gemstone shall be 3mm or less in its maximum dimension, and at least one gemstone shall be 20mm or more in its minimum dimension. The case must hold a minimum or twenty gemstones or a maximum of forty gemstones. Some competitions require just twelve gemstones. Check the rules for your entry. Supply the minimum number that you can. All could be judged, you know. Use the best examples that you have. Remember that the judges WILL take several gemstones out of your case for close inspection for quality of material and workmanship. Workmanship will account for most of the points allotted in case competition. You will he impressing no one with too many stones in a small case.
Clean your gems at home. Dip them in alcohol and wipe with a lintless tissue. Then, blow them off with a syringe or canned air. Nothing looks quite so bad as to look at a display case and see gems which have finger prints all over them.
Decide ahead of time whether you want all of the same color gems on one side of the case. Would it be better to scatter the colors? You decide each time. Should all of the same outline shape be together? Think about it. If you have some rare materials the judges will certainly make note of that.
Have your case suitably arranged so that a viewer out in front will find all elements balanced - with your best and main stones more or less in the center of the case. That is the area that will get the best all around lighting and attention.
Allow plenty of time to set up your case at the show. There is always a lot of pressure there, with many other people running around like chickens. It is easy to damage your gems or to feel that you have to do everything at once. Have everything ready ahead of time. Avoid adding to the pressure.
Now stand before your case. Look at the whole unit. You are now the judge. Do the colors, labels, gem locations, and lighting show off a spotlessly clean presentation of your stars, the GEMS? Have you created a display that will attract and hold the interest of someone who walks by during the show? Be sure your case succeeds.
Your work is done. Walk around and take a close look at the other cases. See what you like and do not. Make notes to yourself so you can use the information you have learned.
No name or symbol can identify your competition case until after the judging has been completed. Exhibitors must stay away from the judges until completion of their work. Their word is final. Do not even think about trying to sway the judge's decision.
The score cards are attached to the cases after the judges have done their job. Learn from those card remarks. Read the cards on other cases, and you will learn even more. See if you agree. See if you see other faults in a case. See what the judges wanted and did not want. Make yourself some more notes.
I have a couple of examples of my many goofs. One time I had labels in my case which were far too large, and they were all YELLOW! This really lowered my score because all you could see when you neared my case was a sea of yellow labels. You could hardly notice the gemstones - there were twenty-five of them. On another occasion I grew tired of seeing row after row of just boxes being displayed. Some did not even have risers or fabric on their floor. Well, I can do better than that, I thought. I made my case beautiful, I thought. I had risers of one color, with the back and side panels of my case covered in a gathered lace fabric of a greatly different color. Well, the judges thought my case was terrible. One noted on my score sheet that my case looked like a "coffin"! He was correct.
Work for a CASE center of interest, simplicity of arrangement, and subdued background. Your gems represent the Boss: all other elements are the workers. Keep focused on the gems. The final score you receive will be primarily based on workmanship, but quality of material, variety and difficulty of the cuts, neatness of the case, design of the risers, and background will all have a bearing.
Well, there you have some of my ideas about case competition. I hope you are interested in giving competition a try. Millions of people never get the chance. I wish you good luck. May your den rapidly fill with trophies.
Part Three: Single Stone Competitions
Cutting the single stone is the real heart of faceting competition. As you progress to higher levels you try to cut a more perfect individual stone than you did before. You cannot accept cutting faults which were acceptable in lower level competitions.
In the past each competitor more or less went along doing his or her best while keeping secrets as to what worked well. Since the International Competition began there has been much better teamwork. We United States facetors are exchanging solutions to cutting problems. Of course we are not about to help the other Country's team, but are glad to do what we can to help our team. If you have a good idea to share, your idea can become meaningful once others know about it.
The various Guilds have newsletters which offer articles by many facetors. These articles often show procedures or products which worked well for the Author. These suggestions may work for you, or they may not However, all of the input is beneficial.
Most competitors start by entering those competitions which only require one stone, or possibly up to three stones. After all, it takes years to assemble good stones in large quantities like twenty to forty stones for a large case. You may sell gems, give them to your friends, or give them to your spouse (where the gems end up in mountings to wear). In any case, having twenty very well cut loose stones for a competition is not easy to come by.
I wish we could all go to shows and see more full cases of faceted stones. However, in the last six or seven years I have seen a trend where some shows have one case or none at all.
Get a good book on Faceting so you will he able to refer to it from time to time as to how light travels into-through-out of your particular gem material. The book will also give hints on cutting characteristics of the various materials.
Every facetor should have a copy of FACETING FOR AMATEURS, by Glenn and Martha Vargas. I feel it is the best book ever written about our hobby. I have two copies; the first one is worn out from use.
I am a very slow facetor. I check a gem often while I am cutting. I strain my eyes for a perfect meet on each facet junction. I usually facet for about two to three hours three times a week. The longest time I have spent on a single stone is 110 hours on a Kunzite. I have never finished a gem in one day. The worst competition experience I have had happened many years ago, when I was talked into entering a "who can cut a stone the fastest" contest. Needless to say I was the one with the worst score that time. I hated every minute of that attempt.. Cutting fast is not an art in my mind. You can see why I am not in the business of cutting for money. I am too slow.
I try for a perfect job at ten-power magnification. But I have never succeeded in cutting a stone to my complete satisfaction! Maybe a ten-power stone with perfect meets, good polish, excellent alignment, all at one time is not possible for me. I do the best I can each time, and hope that it is very good work in relation to the standards set by the judges.
The number of those competing with you may be two or three facetors, or it may be fifteen. That does not matter. What matters is that you are trying to do your best each time.
With each new material that you work with, try a small inexpensive piece of it first so that you will get a feel for how it cuts and polishes. You might try just four or five facets, with a variety of polishing laps and powders. When you find the best combination that works for you, make a record so that you will not have to experiment on the same type of material when you cut it in the future.
It seems that no two facetors agree on what powders or laps are best. Just find a combination that works for you. On your record sheet you should also make a note of the combinations that did NOT work for you.
The choice of rough is very important Use only excellent rough for competition stones. Poor color, included material, or fractured pieces will not get you a trophy. If a colored material is called for, use a Very light shade of color. The deeper the color the more light is lost in traveling from facet to facet. If you must submit a colored Topaz, do not choose a deep blue one. Find a very pale blue or a golden one. You will get a much brighter gem. I feel that natural Ruby & Sapphire are ugly gems. The light is absorbed in them, and cannot result in a winning gem. Laser Ruby yes, natural Ruby no.
Most natural material that we get has inclusions. These inclusions give us trouble in polishing when they reach the surface of our facets. You are not going to score well with a piece which is full of surface faults, and which has many inclusions that are stopping the light rays as they bounce around inside of the gem. So, do not waste time on poor material. Do buy the best grade rough you can afford.
Each mineral has a Refractive Index or R. I.. The higher value R.I. material results in brighter gems. Quartz has a RI. of only 1.55; Cubic Zirconia has a RI. of 2.18. You know ahead of time that the design cut in CZ is going to be a sparkler compared to the same design cut in Quartz. Consult your books to find the R.I. values of the other minerals.
I seldom use my saw to shape the gem rough. I have found that I usually waste more material by trying to save little corners, etc. Often I have gotten a fracture started even though I use a very fine saw blade with plenty of coolant. About the only time I use the saw now is when the rough has a fracture, and I want to cut right through that fracture.
I also do not pre-form on a grinding wheel. In fact I do not even have a grinder. All the grinding wheel would do is allow the possibility of shocking the rough. A fracture would just start or an existing one would be enlarged.
The place to do your shaping or pre-forming is right on your faceting machine. I use my 325 Crystalite sintered lap. It shapes materials fast enough for me, and it leaves a smooth finish too. On sensitive materials or small pieces I start with a diamond bonded 600-mesh lap, nothing coarser.
By doing the pre-forming on the faceting machine, you give yourself a chance to see flaws that you might have missed earlier. You may decide to re-dop the stone to a different position so as to get a better gem. Try to get the worst inclusions under the crown facets near the girdle. Do not place them directly under the table. Try to get areas of desired color into the culet. That will distribute the color more evenly throughout the gem. Small inclusions will not noticeably affect brilliance or dispersion.
You cannot cut until all inclusions are gone, so you have to get down to the point at which you feel the gem will be acceptable. Once that first main facet reaches that point, you can then go around the gem so that all mains are about the same depth.
I usually end up with a finished gem that weighs less than 25% of the weight of the original rough (3/4 of the rough is lost). You can end up with more if you use a step cut design or even more if you do a free-form cut of your own design.
My pre-forming is not much more than getting the gem somewhat to size in girdle diameter, and then getting the main facets of the pavilion in. This gets most of the unwanted material out of the way.
I usually cut the pavilion first because I want to be sure to have enough material to get proper angles s0 that I do not exceed the critical angle for the material. Proper light reflection and refraction will then take place. You can skimp on crown height and angles, as well as the size of the table if necessary.
Each mineral has an angle, where if you cut below it you will leak light instead of bouncing it around the interior of the gem, and then back out of the crown to your eye. This CRITICAL ANCLE depends upon the R.I. of the mineral. Quartz has a critical angle of 40 degrees; Cubic Zirconia's is 28 degrees. Be sure to cut the pavilion mains or closing facets on the culet at least two to three degrees higher (Quartz 43 degrees and Topaz 40 degrees). Otherwise you will have a window down through and out the bottom of your gem. Your gem will be one that will not reflect the light back to you in the form of brilliance and dispersion. That is UNPLANNED light leakage.
What we want is for the light to enter the crown and be reflected off of the pavilion facets, then emerge as brilliance through the table and crown facets. The light will also emerge through the crown facets as dispersion. This is all PLANNED light leakage.
If you want more color in your gem, choose a step cut or a free-form cut. They are deeper designs: more material means that the light rays are absorbed resulting in a greater intensity of the color. If you want more brilliance, choose a Brilliant or Barion design. If your material is very dark like most Garnets, choose a type of cut which has a shallow pavilion, one that may approach the critical angle, or choose a cut which has a large table size. If you have to make a choice on crown or pavilion angles, be sure to choose correct angles for the PAVILION. You can adjust the crown angles quite a bit, without a great loss of light. Be sure to consult at least one good source such as Vargas' book as to the recommended main (culet) angles for your material.
I like to use a 96 tooth index on my faceting machine whenever possible, then I am able to adjust to a lot of in-between settings without having to use much cheater control.
I usually go from my 325 pre-forming lap to my copper lap, which I have charged with 1200 grit diamond compound. The lap cuts slowly, but this is when I am really getting serious putting in the facet meets exactly.
I finish re-cutting the facets with my Crystalite diamond bonded 3000 lap. Some of the smallest facets of the design are now put on with this lap. This is a well-worn lap. I use very little pressure, letting the lap do its work. With this lap I fine-tune all meets with the use of my ten-power hand loupe. It saves time in polishing if you do an exceptional job with the 3000 lap. Do not expect to polish facets into the desired shapes 1ater.
Anytime you change a setting such as index, angles, cheater, etc., touch lightly when the gem reaches the lap. Listen for a smooth sound. Touch the lap for only a second, and then take a look at the facet If it looks good touch the lap a bit longer this time, and inspect again. It does not pay to he in a hurry. A slight error like one tooth off on the index, and you may have hours of work correcting all the facets. And, occasionally you WILL make a mistake, especially if you are tired, upset about something, or if you have finished that glass of wine. Competition faceting requires a clear head on your shoulders.
I keep a record sheet for each gem that I cut. I keep them in a binder. My record sheets are elaborate. You probably would not be interested in half of the things I have listed. But identifying characteristics of minerals are always interesting to me, along with laps used, powders used, etc. The information is all there including index settings, angles, cheater amounts, and so on.
Now we come to the last step in the cutting process. The polishing of our gem is the most important step. POLISHING IS THE PROOF OF YOUR TALENT. I do not mean we just want a shiny finish on our facets. Someone else might achieve a better shine than you. No, I mean we want facets which have a reasonably shiny finish, are flat all across the facets from comer to corner, and meet precisely where they should at junctions with the surrounding facets. The sum of all of these things is POLISHING.
A gem might be cut to perfection. However, if not polished to perfection the cutting does not matter. The judges will be grading your finished polishing,. not all that other stuff.
When I polish a gem I do not use any brushes or sponges in applying powder to the lap. It seems to me that would just be a way contaminating the lap, resulting in scratches on the facets.
I keep a plastic container filled with fresh water next to my container of dry polish powder. I dip my fingertip into the water to be sure that I do not carry any dirt into the polish powder container. I get just a little bit of powder on my fingertip, and apply that to the turning lap. Then I spread it somewhat before touching the stone-to-lap. The powder will help to speed up the polishing process, but it can also leave tiny scratches which are seen by the judges. So, I let the powder get well diluted by the steady drip of water from the faceting machines water storage reservoir. Very often I finish up a facet by using medium pressure on the stone, with very short movement back and forth on the lap (1/2" area), and lots of water. I am polishing on water. The scratches are then gone.
Do not use great sweeping motions across the entire lap for any polishing. Your lap will not be exactly flat all the way across. Any misalignment of your machine will cause trouble here.
Try to get flat on the facet right at the start. Do not try to work your way across the facet. You will save time and get better meets if you start correctly. You want the facet edges sharp where they meet.
Sometimes you will have to finish a facet by running your lap counter clockwise, or you will have to use different areas of the lap to remove those final little scratches. Inclusions which reach the surface often cause this problem, or the crystal structure of the material is showing itself. The amount of pressure applied stone to lap may have to be varied as well.
The Quartz gems give me some of my biggest problems in polishing. Most books recommend a Lucite lap and a slurry of cerium-oxide powder.. This has never been satisfactory for me. I say forget that process. Use an aluminum lap with an Ultra-Lap cerium oxide ADHESIVE-BACKED disc. This gives you a fast and excellent polish. It does round the meets, however. It takes a light touch because the more pressure you apply, the more the facets will be rounded. If you have a Lucite lap make a Frisbee out of it. Sail it off a high cliff somewhere and forget it.
Gas, liquid, and solid inclusions which reach the surface can give you fits when it comes to polishing. Most of these you will not even see in your cutting. Sometimes they appear just from shock that you have given the material, whether it was heat in dopping or too coarse a pre-forming lap.
Most materials have facets that vary greatly in hardness, depending on direction. This is due to the crystal axis directions of the material. Often you will find that one facet polishes fast as if it were butter, yet the very next facet to it will be much harder - taking five times as long to polish properly.
Make experiments. Find out which lap, polishing agent, speed of lap, direction of lap, or area of lap works best for you. Make notes. Go by your past experiences until a better way comes along. What works for me may not work for you. Experiment.
I have found that a well-worn Tin lap is a good polishing lap. If the lap is scored it must be well used before trying for a competition finish. I have not re-scored any of my laps for ten years. Scoring is supposed to hold the powders, but all I get are tiny parallel ridges on the facets. My process of a used Tin lap with plenty of water and very little powder is a very slow process - but it works.
My newest method of polishing some gems is with the use of a Typemetal lap, along with the machinist tool called the Norbide Dressing Stick. The Typemetal lap is good for polishing the harder materials like Corundum and Cubic Zirconia.
The most difficult facets to polish to good meets are the ones on low crowns, or the types that are long and narrow. Often these facets are from thirty degrees down to just five degrees. I do the job with the very flat Typemetal lap along with the Norbide Dressing Stick, and 100k spray diamond. The Norbide Stick looks like a piece of slate, like a school chalkboard. It is only 1/4" x 1/2" x 3" in size. It is an expensive tool, which will chew your home garage grinding wheel as if the wheel were made of butter.
Here is the procedure I use on facets, especially the ones with low angles. Wipe the turning Typemetal lap with a tissue wet with alcohol (the kind you get at the paint store, not your Martini). You want the lap to be perfectly clean. Spray a short burst of the 100k diamond on the turning lap, the shortest burst you can. Hold the 3" long EDGE of the Norbide stick onto the turning lap. Use a fair amount of pressure as you go back and forth across the lap from center to outer edge. This forces the diamond into the lap, you are charging it. Stop the lap. Set the facet angle needed to work against the Stop of your machine (if it has one).
Lower the gem until it just reaches the highest part of your stationary lap (where you have marked the lap with a felt pen). Now start the lap turning at about one third up from the slowest RPM possible. With just light pressure on the dop which is working against the stop, try a one or two second period of polishing. Inspect the gem for the desired results. I use a Q-tip slightly wet with alcohol to clean the greasy surface of the facet (too wet will run down and soften your dopping wax). Then wipe with tissue. Listen to the sound when the facet touches the lap, it should be quiet. A high-pitched squeal means it is too late, you goofed!
Now try longer periods of polishing, but look frequently. No big sweeps, just a small 3/4" area of the lap. A little diamond goes a long way. If you saturate the lap you will have all kinds of troubles. Your gemstone will just ride along on top of a greasy lap surface. Finish the day's polishing session by again wiping the turning lap with an alcohol tissue, and press across the lap again with the Norbide tool. Now put the lap into its own clean plastic bag for storage until next time.
For success in the higher levels of competition you will first have to conquer the art of polishing. You can shape the stone, put in all the facets to ten-power perfection, but it all is useless if you do a poor job of polishing. This is why so many articles are written about polishing methods. Spend most of your time in getting as good a polish on your facets as you can get. Get facets that are flat and which have precise meets with the surrounding facets. This is what Single Stone competitions are all about. Take one facet at a time, or you will go out of your cotton-pickin mind.
P.S. Someone said you should reach for the ring, because you only go around once.