I’m going to create some new content for my website and social media. Sharing how I make some of the diamond and gemstone set jewellery that we have in our online shop. So before I do that I want to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a little while. Make some changes to my jewellery bench. So I have a more old-school simple stone setting set up.
So I thought I’d share you with the story as to why and how I backdate my stone setting set up.
My Stone Setting Jewellery Bench
My jewellery bench that I use to make most of my jewellery was made here in England. Manufactured from solid beech wood by a brand called Emir in Ashford in Kent.
They didn’t invent this style of bench. This is the traditional style. A jewellery bench design used for centuries. They differ a little bit depending on the manufacturer. Also the wood will differ from country to country. But the basic design is always the same.
Jewellers benches have the top at around chest height. A bench pin which you work at. Also there’s a D cut out from the top. And then I have a tin underneath to collect any falling precious metals and keep my tools in. You can also use a leather hide underneath the bench. Traditionally it’s a pig skin which is a very soft leather.
The advantage of leather
The advantage leather has according to the textbooks is that it’s very soft. So if you drop something it doesn’t damage it. However in practice I find the tins better as they’ve got more space and more storage for your tools. If you’re really worried about things hitting it you could put a leather mat in it. I haven’t had any problems with the tin damaging anything I’ve dropped. Also invariably even with the leather everyone puts their tools in the leather. So if you do drop anything it doesn’t hit the leather it hits the tools.
Over the years since I started making jewellery I’ve made some more modern additions to my bench. Specifically for stone setting. My bench came with a fixed bench peg that screwed into position. So like most jewellers I cut a big V in the bench peg. And worked with the original peg for many years.
With a standard bench and peg you can do all the metalwork you need. Filing, sawing and manipulate metals. Also with the V you can press into it ring clamps or a stick with wax on it. So you fix pieces in to the wax and then press them into the V.
Stone Setting & Setters
Jewellers that are just setters would cut a semicircle instead of a V. You get easier motion of the clamps your using.
I upgraded to a removable bench peg that can pop on and off. The GRS benchmate system. The benchmate replaces the bench peg and has a fixed position ring clamp. The reason it’s fixed in position is because the other addition I’ve had is the microscope. The microscope replaced the head band which I still use. But for really small intricate stones setting jobs the microscope in conjunction with the benchmate gives you better vision and control.
The reason I upgraded to these and I’ll give you some context. The reason I upgraded to these from the more basics set up and the reason I want to go back. Back to being able to switch between the old and the modern.
when I started in the jewellery industry it was the late 1990s. Just over 20 years ago. And that doesn’t sound like that long ago. But the world was a different place. And not just the jewellery industry of the entire world.
When I first started I remember with one of my first paychecks I wanted to get a mobile phone. I remember my boss at the time who was a 60 year old man running a multi-million pound business. He was trying to convince me that I’d regret it. That I should buy a landline instead of a mobile that I would find people being able to contact me wherever and whenever an inconvenience. He was trying to convince me that a mobile phone would be an inconvenience. But obviously I got one and I’ve had one ever since.
Subsequently I’ve got a landline too. The mobile didn’t replace it. I don’t need to sell you the benefits of a mobile phone and a landline. If you’re fixed in one position if you’re a business then the landline is better and cheaper. If you’re mobile it’s impractical but most people have both.
Back when I started in the 90s mobile phones had been around for a long time. But they were just becoming popular here in London and in the whole of the Western world. Many people were on the fence. Still relatively new and so not everyone was sold on them.
And it was the same with the internet. When the internet came along, the internet had been around for years prior to the late 90s. But the internet was just becoming popular and accessible.
I remember at school going to a friend’s house whose older brother had the internet. So we sat there and watched him go on the internet. It made this crazy noise. And so slow compared to the modern internet. All that was there was chat rooms. You needed the exact web address. So you had to get the address from a magazine. So all you could do is chat to Americans. Which was fun but not that much fun so we just went out and left him to it.
When I started work I remember having meetings with the people running the companies. And suggesting we should have a company website. and it being dismissed as a fad, a toy. And an expensive toy at that. So when I suggested we should have a transnational website known as a web shop just being laughed out the room.
The world changed so their opinion eventually changed. So what’s all this got to do with stone setting. Well the mobile phone along with digital technology, digital cameras and the Internet all combining affected everything.
Many said it’s all very well people buying books on the internet but it won’t affect us. It did, it slowly but surely effected every industry. And any industry it hasn’t affected yet it will. So imagine taxi drivers 20 years ago or the takeaway they would have said it would never affect us. Then along comes uber.
Working with old people stuck in the past when I started work was frustrating from a technology view. The one thing I was grateful for in hindsight. Being taught to make jewellery by people who were from the past. Skilled craftsmen who had been doing it for decades. And they were very much stuck in the past in an in a good way.
The very traditional way
So I was taught the very traditional way of doing things. The way things have been done for years probably for centuries. But with all this modern technology things changed. And they’ve changed at a very rapid pace. I think the history books will probably show the era that I’ve started working in is probably the most rapid change since the industrial revolution.
So the reason I started upgrading all of this equipment was to keep pace. When I first started making jewellery and when I was taught to set stones it was still the 1990s. When you made a stone set piece of jewellery it went in a shop window. So people looked at it with their with their own eyes.
Today when I make the piece of jewellery it goes on the internet. I take a photo of it with a multi megapixel camera. So customers aren’t just looking at it with their naked eyes. You can go onto a tablet or a phone on the internet and zoom right in. So every piece has to look not just good to the naked eye but good good under magnification.
This is where the microscope started to come in. When I first started making jewellery microscopes were available but they weren’t widely used. They would have been excessive. Then with the microscopes came GRS benchmate clamps.
It wasn’t just the technology that changed. Also at that time the Chinese were turning technology they previous used for creating costume jewellery to fine jewellery.
Creating fine jewellery
Creating fine jewellery using mass production techniques. Instead of using base metals and crystals they were using a high karat gold and precious gemstones and diamonds. Also making the metal part of the ring using computer aided design to make it as light as possible.
Also pave setting lots of tiny gemstones to give pieces sparkle at a fraction of the material costs of traditionally made jewellery. The Chinese made jewellery really flooded the market because people loved the price.
However nobody could fix it or replace it. Because you needed a microscope to be able to see the stones. Also initially buying those size stones was actually quite challenging.
So I upgraded because technology changed. And also the market changed. So what I had to make changed.
I was quite happy making all that crazy micro pave stuff. And repairing it for other companies but I don’t really want to put my name to it. So the pieces I will be making myself for my own brand will be a little bit larger. The kind of pieces I was taught to make.
The microscope is very handy but some instances it will be quicker and easier to use the old-fashioned way of doing things. I want to remake my original old school stone setting set up. So I can switch between the old and the new way of doing things.
So I’ve produced a new bench peg with a semicircle cut from it. And a new wax stick for holding pieces of jewellery securely while I’m stone setting. I’ve also made them interchangeable with my bench mate replaceable bench peg.
So my new setting peg will now slot in the GRS bench peg holder. Also the whole thing is also removable. So the peg can still be replaced with my GRS benchmate ring clamp.
I’ve also made a new wax stick from a wooden broom handle. And I will be using a very traditional style of hard wax to hold pieces in position.
To see how I made the peg and wax stick in detail you can watch the video at the top of this post.
To see Some of our gemstone and diamond set jewellery visit our store
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