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Jewelry and gems The Buying Guide
Looking for a gem that is a “cut above”.
One of the most important things to learn is how to look at a gem, even if you won’t see all that a gemologist will. Let’s begin by making sure you understand the terms you will be hearing and using to describe what you want, especially terms pertaining to the stone’s “cut” and the names for the parts of a cut stone.
It’s important to be familiar with a few general terms that are commonly used when referring to faceted stones. The parts of a stone can vary in proportion and thus affect its brilliance, beauty, and desirability.
The girdle is the edge or border of the stone that forms its perimeter; it is the edge formed where the top portion of the stone meets the bottom portion, its “dividing line.” This is the part usually grasped by the prongs of a setting.
The crown is also called the top of the stone. This is simply the upper portion of the stone, the part above the girdle.
The pavilion is the bottom portion of the stone, the part from the girdle to the “point” at the bottom.
The culet is the lowest part or point of the stone. It may be missing in some stones, which can indicate damage, or, particularly with colored stones, it may not be part of the original cut.
The table is the flat top of the stone and is the stone’s largest facet, often called the face. The term table spread is used to describe the width of the table facet, often expressed as a percentage of total width of the stone.
The Cut of the Stone
The most important, and least understood, factor which must be evaluated when considering any gem is cutting. When we talk about cut, we are not referring to the shape, but to the care and precision used in creating a finished gem from the rough. There are many popular shapes for gemstones. Each shape affects the overall look of the stone, but if the stone is cut well its brilliance and value endures no matter what shape it is. For the average consumer, choosing a shape is simply a matter of personal taste. Some of the most popular shapes are listed below:
Make makes a big difference
The Shape of the stone may affect the personality it displays, but it is the overall cutting that releases its full beauty. A term used by professionals to describe the overall quality of the cutting is “make”. Having a “good make” will sell for much more than one with a “fair make.” The difference in price between a well-cut and poorly cut diamond can be as much as 50%, or more. Even more important, careless cutting, or cutting to get the largest possible stone from the rough, can sometimes result in faults that may make a stone more fragile and vulnerable to breakage. Such stones should sell for much less, although the fault may not be visible without careful examination by an expert.
How to know if a stone is well cut.
The precision of the cutting dramatically affects the beauty and value of any stone. This is especially true in faceted stones, those on which a series of tiny flat planes (facets or faces) have been cut and polished. (Non-faceted stones are called cabochons.) By following some general guidelines and tips for looking at the faceted gemstones, you can better determine both the quality of the stone and quality of the cut.
The first thing to keep in mind is that any stone, if basic material is good quality, the way it is cut will make the difference between a dull, lifeless stone and a beautiful, brilliant one. In diamonds, the cutting and proportioning are greatest influence on the stone’s brilliance and fire. In colored gems, the perfection of the cut is not as important as it is with diamonds, but proportioning remains critical because it will significantly affect the depth of color as well as the stone’s brilliance and liveliness.
Look at the stone face up, through the top (table). This is the most critical area to view, since this is the one most often noticed. If looking at a diamond, does it seem to sparkle and dance across the whole stone, or are there dead spots? In a colored gem, does the color look good from this direction? Is the table centered and symmetrical?
A quick way to check the symmetry of a round diamond is to look at the table edges. The lines should be straight, regular, and parallel to one another. The table edges should form a regular octagon, with the edges meeting in sharp points. If the lines of the table are wavy, the overall symmetry is not good, and the symmetry of the adjoining facets will also be affected.
Next, look at the stone from the side. Note the proportion of the stone both above and below the girdle.
The stone’s proportion, whether it is too thin or too thick, will have a marked affect on its overall beauty. With colored stones, the relative terms of thickness vary greatly due to the inherent optical properties of different gems. As a general guide when considering colored stones, keep in mind these three points:
If the stone appears lively and exhibits an appealing color when viewed through the table, no matter how the proportion appears (thick or thin), it is usually correct and acceptable proportioning for that particular stone.
The depth of color (tone) will become darker s the stone is cut thicker, particularly if the bottom portion (pavilion) is deep and broad.
A stone’s depth of color will become lighter as the stone is cut thinner. This is especially important when considering a pastel colored stone. A pastel stone should always have fairly deep proportioning.
The effects of cut and proportioning will be discussed in greater detail in future articles, as the factors affecting cut and proportioning are somewhat different for diamonds and colored gems. It is an important first step, however, to become aware of general views and begin to have a feeling about what looks “right.”
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Bijan Aziz is the owner and Web Master for The Jewelry Hut.
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