This is a copy of an internet chat-room presentation that I made over a decade ago.

I apologise for the somewhat choppy way this reads but I prepared it this way to make it easy for me to cut and paste line by line to a chat room editor.

The original presentation took 3 separate events which explains the reference to “more next week”

Hello everyone, I would like to share with you all a few of the quirks and
intricacies involved in working for the jewellery trade.

Although my experiences are primarily with commercial jewellers in the Vancouver area I understand there is not a lot of difference between North American cities.

If you are thinking of setting up shop in your downtown jewellery trade centre there may be a few pointers in my following comments.

If you are intrigued by the commercial possibilities of gem repairs or would just enjoy working on otherwise unaffordable rare and valuable gemstones some of the following suggestions might be quite handy.

First question of course has to be….do you have the right stuff

If not where do you go to find the right stuff and how long it takes to get it.

You will need to acquire finished stones as well as rough,     this means establishing contact with several coloured stone dealers as well as rough dealers.

Surprisingly you will probably be purchasing many more cut stones than you ever thought you would.

You will also be going through a lot more of your general supplies too so you need to establish reliable sources here too.

There are a few things that you will need to learn in order to deal with the commercial aspects of our art and they are not what you would think.

The more knowledge you have as to the whereabouts and availability of     different materials is one less opportunity for someone else to steal your customers.

You have to maintain a good database/indexing system showing what terms are available to you from what dealers, most important all memo dealers    are on the top of the list or else on your ‘Primary’ list.

Of course there are other things that you have to be able to do well. A very important one is exercise restraint.

It may come as a surprise to learn that the majority of hobby lapidary and rock-hounds have considerably better gemological knowledge than most jewellery store owners, staff or even bench workers.

What you need to learn is how NOT to educate them. The temptation is great but the effort is futile.

However you do need to fully establish that you are talking about the same thing, for instance; ” I use black Brazilian agate for my ‘black onyx’ needs, is that acceptable?”


Of course you also must realise that you are now seeking gainful employment from this venture and you have to concentrate on getting the job done quickly enough to make a buck.

To these ends there are many gem cutting short cuts you should know.

Almost all of trade work is repairs and very seldom is anyone in the jewellery trade willing to take advantage of your real talents as the majority of    your customers cannot see the difference between a well cut stone and a poorly cut one.

They certainly will not spend money to recognise this difference. Repairing a rounded facet poorly polished stone with sharp flat highly polished facets will be just as noticeably offensive as the chip was.

99 times out of a 100 the requirement is for the stone to look as though it were never damaged and to cost as little as possible and lose as little weight as possible.

The answers to this are polishing laps that cut, multi cut laps and cutting/polishing ringed laps. This usually results in much less work being necessary, such niceties as facet equality, meet and order have a very low priority, many jewellers are more than happy as soon as all sign of abrasion or chipping has been removed.

Obviously you will intellectually suffer greatly as you compromise your knowledge and taste to satisfy your customers demands, so charge for it    until you feel better.

Your customer and theirs are getting a better weight return than a full recut would yield and they are paying less than a full recut would normally cost.

Just make sure you don’t make it very much cheaper and by all means allow a highly valued stone to influence your charge, it’s called care and attention.

Care and attention is worth money, and you can prove it by providing an infinitesimal weight loss, as I explain later.

time is money,
When you are in business your time is your own, it is what you have to sell, you can sell it cheap or expensive you can give it away, waste it, kill it, spend it, you just have to make sure that it     is your decision. Never allow someone else to spend your time their way unless they are paying for it, do not be afraid to offer consulting services, remember advice is worth what it costs, remind everyone.

false economies.
Beware the trap to out-cheap yourself, If you have to supply something on a cut to fit or a cut to match basis, a purchased stone can be approved if the customer isn’t supplying, it can be easily viewed for imperfections, colour, etc., usually the stone will be quite cheap maybe the rough would only be a few pennies, saying “I can do that from rough” to every cheap replacement will guarantee the least efficient and the least rewarding option. This is one of the places where your ‘where to get it’ knowledge can pay dividends. You still get to charge your cutting fees and the ‘rough’ costs are passed on to the customer anyway, plus a small handling charge of course, and you get the benefit of cutting a completely windowed rough, guaranteeing NO surprises.

Other economies to avoid are concerning supplies and equipment, the costs of these are a very important consideration to the hobbyist but are readily sacrificed by a professional.  I have dops and laps that have become extremely limited application devices due to their ‘misuse’ to perform a cutting ’stunt’.

The value of the job exceeded the value of the equipment, just don’t forget to use that ‘replacement’ money to replace the equipment. When the meter is running is when you can’t afford to scrimp on supplies If you need to cut in a hurry a fresh charge of diamond is what it takes. This is no place to test economy cutting techniques.


next week

How trade cutting differs from reality. …who is your competition anyway.

Cutting to match,   Not an alternative to cheap stones….how to say NO


Trade cutting requirements have no relationship to any of the gemmological knowledge that you have.

Fit and finish have main priority and correct angles and brilliance, flat facets and tight meets are treated as almost irrelevant.

This generalisation is based on my experience with commercial jewellers, of course there are exceptions, for which I am very grateful.

Surprisingly your competition isn’t anywhere near you, however many cutters live in your town they are not your competition.

I know and have an informative repartee with all of Vancouver’s cutters, an attitude that is shared by all rock folk but rarely among jewellers.

The North American commercial gem cutting community is to all intents and purposes nonexistent.

It’s safe to assume that any coloured stone found in any class of jewellery has been cut outside of North America.

These native cutters are your competition, they are pathetic by comparison to any of you, but considering what they are paid……

European cutting houses are touted to be amongst the finest quality    producers of gemstones, however they generally can’t compare with any of our local rock and lapidary club presentations.

Once again these people are being paid by the stone weight and not their brilliance.

Most of the time you are asked to repair these stones and you have to copy the cutting finish in order to disguise the fact that the stone     had ever been repaired.

Non-flat facets and sporadic polishing are not necessarily the easiest thing to duplicate and they do require a technique in the same way that doing it properly does.

That and a few     cheap tricks. I have a few.

A successful repair is when your customer has a sale-able gemstone and you have executed the repair in a minimum of time and you have been well rewarded for your efforts.

Your customer has been satisfied with the quality of service, the minimal weight loss, the invisibility/match of the repair.

Their satisfaction with your pricing is of limited interest to you.

Estimating weight loss can be a little tricky until you have experience to draw on, there are some simple estimations though.

Not quite trial and error but close, educated guessing for the most    part until you can rely on your notes to enable a more accurate estimate.

There are few crown repairs that should exceed a 2-5% loss if abrasion is the problem.

There are ways to bring this under 1% and there are customers willing to pay a premium for this service.

Pavilion repairs are usually mandrel chipped or a depth reduction for clearance and weight loss though great, 25-35%, this is usually  not a consideration.

You MUST make it clear to the customer when pavilions are hacked away that  the apparent colour and brilliance could change.

Recutting a pavilion for brilliance can also be a huge weight loser sometimes almost as much as a reduction cut and rarely less than 20%.

It is always safest to overestimate the possible loss and then show up a bit clever

Sometimes it’s important to recut with minimum weight loss.

Really clever seeming minimal repolishing losses can be achieved on abraded crown stones of value; Rubies, Emeralds and Sapphires.

By chasing and cheating the stone for each facet and polishing in each and every one of them with a polishing lap that cuts.

This can take as much as 3 times as long as simply recutting and polishing the crown.

When the difference in comparative weight losses enter the $100’s of dollars there is often little reluctance to the possible 4 times price difference for the repolishing job.


When you’re set up for business and are anxious to please and reluctant to turn away business remember you are NOT an alternative to cheap stones.

You have to learn how to say NO. Beware of price bullies though, what is it worth to you not them, is what determines your price.

A friendly refusal to compromise your prices accompanied by polite suggestions for cheap alternatives, is your only choice.

You will not lose any useful business by refusing cheap jobs.

You will soon realise that almost all of your income will come from a small proportion of your customers.

You will also realise that there is mutual admiration here, keep these ones happy but also keep their invoices as high as possible whilst providing superlative service.

Never compromise on the quality of work to this small group and always let their jobs take priority.

As for the others….

You will be asked to supply and cut stones for some customers who get quite indignant with your charges.

Pointing out that various parts of the world can cut for a tiny fraction of your charges.

Pointing out that when available the finished stones also are a fraction.

These are not your concerns, they only would be if you lived in these places.

Beware to never drop your prices to accommodate people, in extreme circumstances you may do things for free but NEVER ‘cut a deal’.

It will return to haunt you.

If you lose any customers because they think you overcharge, be happy that you have one less ‘cheapskate’ customer to deal with.

Then there are the customers that will promise you huge quantities of work if you would only be more ‘competitive’ in your pricing.

You don’t want lots of business if it all loses money.

Another favourite is a refusal to understand that a    synthetic doesn’t mean easy.

Admittedly there can be no surcharging for care and attention but a Sapphire is still a Sapphire and will resist your efforts equally whether it is made by nature or man.

You do not need to justify your prices.

You will be tempted to defend yourself when questioned on your pricing policies, resist this temptation.

You do not need to justify to anyone how you arrive at any of your prices.

The sole exception would be ‘rush jobs’ which carry a ‘rush jobs’ premium


next week…conclusion

Just because your name isn’t on it….maintaining integrity
when and what to compromise

How to set prices…the difference between giving away your time
and charging like a wounded rhinoceros,


Good evening and welcome to part III the final chapter of my presentation on cutting and repairs for the Jewellery Trade.

Because you are cutting for a Jeweller the ultimate customer knows nothing of you and most likely assumes that their jeweller did your work.

Because your name isn’t on the job you are still capable of maintaining integrity and indeed you should.

You now have to decide when and what to compromise, but you must first accept the fact that you are selling your cutting skills.

This factor is now no longer a part of the equation.

At times you will be faced with a cutting job that questions your integrity on some level or another.

It may be biting your tongue and copying a native cut….and polish or ignoring critical angles and cutting a huge window.

If you take on the job then the customer is right and you should do your best to accomplish what they want.

This doesn’t mean that you have to accept each and every cutting job that gets offered to you.

Obviously you have to decide what you are prepared to do and where to draw the line.

Obviously if you are asked to do stuff that you think is devious or deceptive then it could possibly be so and rather than risk regretting it, pass on the job and immediately forget about it.


Setting prices that are fair to you and fair to your customer can be one of the biggest headaches in store for you.

There is a big difference between giving away your time and charging like a wounded rhinoceros.

Hopefully I can help you to determine what is a job worth.

Possibly about the most difficult thing an artistic type can be asked to do is to put a price on their own work.

Obviously if your charges are too high nobody will use you, if they are too low you will indeed be ‘used’ but you will also be hungry.

There are many factors that have to be considered when coming up with a price list and pricing policy.

First you have to know what YOUR costs will be, how much YOU have to pay to do the work, your rent, electricity, supplies etc.

Then you get to add your remuneration for the job,  the profit to your ‘company’ for contingencies and growth.

Finally there is personal greed and reimbursement for being dreadfully clever.

This total would have to be moderated by the market value of what you are offering and enhanced by what you think your market will bear.

When you think you have it figured out and it’s fair to everyone, especially you, then stick by it faithfully, don’t compromise price for anyone.

You will be approached for requests for workshop time by the hour and once more it’s time to resist.

You aren’t a machine you probably don’t have a factory, at best you might have independent workspace.

You have gone to the trouble of working out a fair price list, employ it, enjoy it.

If there is multiple or quantity cutting work being offered and you think that it can be quicker because of the quantity then guess at what the reduced amount of work might be and reduce your fee by 1/2 of that.

You could still come up a bit short.

Like it or not you are probably going to have to give credit if you want trade work.

Unfortunately refusing to give account status could deprive    you of what could be quite possibly your best customers.

You will probably have a few slow payers and be tempted to give some discount to ensure prompt payment.

Never give payment discounts although you can make it appear that you have by adding a credit surcharge to all invoiced jobs and reducing it for speedy settlement.

There is no reason to give everyone account status immediately, this means you are giving credit.

This also invariably means that some of these people will abuse the privilege.

Let your customers earn your trust and until then let them pay for any credit you are asked to give.


I guess this presentation can’t really be closed without some comment on how to attract customers, how to sort out the good from the bad and how to hang on to the good ones.

Obviously in order to take maximum advantage of trade work you need to put yourself amongst all of the jewellers.

If you have any kind of jewellery industry in your town at all you will discover that they will find you.

Being there when it easy for them too will also ensure your popularity.

Make your hours useful for those who have normal shopping hours so that they can get to you and attend to their own business as well.

This means that you will definitely be more appreciated if you are available either before 8:30 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m.

Getting other trade people to accept ‘drop offs’ for you is not professional except in dire circumstances.

Although I always prefer to give someone the benefit of the doubt it is my experience that customers with payment problems will show their nature early in the relationship.

To this end I always prefer to have one account settled before more credit is allowed on additional work.

This practice won’t endear you to some customers but the thoroughly honest ones will not have a problem with this.

You will discover your preferential customers fairly quickly and these people should be dropped from any discounted surcharging that you are using.

Make their billing as simple as possible and certainly go out of your way to accommodate them.

By all means shuffle the order of your jobs when necessary, just don’t compromise on any pricing.

Be as professional in your dealings as you are able.

This doesn’t mean being unfriendly but it does mean you aren’t at your local rock and lapidary club meeting so don’t treat your customers like club members or friends.

To have your entire income come from gemcutting to the trade is fairly ambitious unless you live in a city of a few million people.

This is of course directly proportional to your appetite too.

This is not a high income pastime, no matter how much fun you’re having, you will need to have something that provides a supplemental income.

The relationships you foster through your interactions might just provide this in the form of your new found ability to ‘master’ jewellery manufacturing extremely cheaply.

You will discover that all of the jewellery making processes are available to you at wholesale or below, depending on who’s life you’ve saved recently.

Wax carving, casting, finishing, setting and presentation are all separate and purchasable services that if done right can provide you with jewellery ofttimes cheaper than doing it yourself, assuming you could.

It is a little upsetting to realise that the sale of your cut gems may not necessarily fill the requirement of income supplementation as easily as you might think, remember your competition?

You are in an ideal position to get LESS than great prices for your cut stones, you will get an occasional realistic priced sale and that oh so rare, full whack retail.

What you can get well paid for is custom cut stones. When a stone of specific size or cut is ordered this is a sale of cutting service and a unique product. Even synthetics will command a very good price in these circumstances.

There is a saying that either a good sale or a good buy means you have done good business.

To those ends you are in a position to make some very clever and amazing purchases.

Yes, treasures will indeed walk in through your door, be ready for them.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that it may seem that I harbour a certain amount of hostility towards my chosen customers.

Nothing could be further from the truth as many of my customers are also friends now.

This is not to say that they understand the economics and mechanics of what I do, neither do they appreciate the losses that I suffer as a cutter.

I don’t think it is professional to mention failed attempts to my customers but someone has to pay for crawling on the floor looking for 2mm stones, inlay that got too small, or broke.

Many of a cutters losses are unrecoverable unlike those that a jeweller might suffer, I don’t want sympathy, but I will take cash.

Your income must cover these contingencies and losses which is one of the reasons I have stressed diligent adherence to your pricing policy.

My final words on losses are probably the most important of this presentation.

Contrary to your customers opinion and belief, that $X,000.00 stone isn’t. Now that it has been abraded or damaged the value is no longer there. If offered for sale it would garner very little more than similar sized piece of rough. They have to be made aware of this before you accept the job.

When a stone is brought to you for repair you must carefully check it for damage, possible problems ( cracks and inclusions ) size, weight and id.

This information should be placed on the receipt/work order along with clear and precise requirements of all work needed.
The identity ought to read “stone said to be: whateverite, X x X mm X depth X.XX cts” Never accept a customers identity of a stone nor assume you know from just looking what it might be, however obvious.

Your work order should also include a limitation of liability and a refusal to accept responsibility for a failed stone failing further.

Finally you are there to help your customers solve their problems but you will find that many are eager to make their misfortune your problem. That’s because researching solutions can waste an awful lot of time, let them do it.

That’s all I can think of to say, except thankyou for reading this and I hope it has been useful or at least, not boring.

Any questions?