Professional Jeweler Archive: Bead and Bright Setting Stones

July 2000

For Your Staff/Defining Quality

Bead and Bright Setting Stones

Knowing the right way to set stones with this technique demonstrates another aspect of quality in your shop

I recently had the honor of demonstrating my technique of bead and bright setting at the American Gem Society’s Conclave 2000.

During the event, an audience of highly skilled jewelers watched, questioned and offered their own setting techniques. Though the techniques we use may vary, the results should not. Our goal as bench jewelers is to create beautiful, lasting jewelry we are proud to have our name on and customers are proud to own.

It’s a rare honor for a bench jeweler to demonstrate skills in front of peers. It’s also healthy because it forces us to examine our procedures. If you have trouble setting stones, I urge you to examine your technique, try my method or seek advice from other jewelers.

Gravers: Basic Tools for Bead and Bright Setting

For centuries, hand-held gravers have been the key to bead and bright setting. They are simple and inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The three most commonly used styles are:

A. The onglette, used to frame out the seats and isolate prongs.
B. The flat (with modified beveled sides), used for bright cutting.
C. The round, used to bend prongs over a stone.

Different types of gravers.

Using Your Gravers

Things to remember about using gravers:

The most common face angles used on gravers are between 50° and 60.°

When working with platinum, a shallower face angle of 35° to 40° allows the graver to cut through the metal more easily.

A slight rounding of the heel of the flat graver helps elevate the graver’s shank above the metal’s surface, thus reducing scratches.

Graver angles.

Steps for Successful Bead and Bright Setting

1. Place or lay out the stones

Positioning the stones is important. The most common style of bead and bright setting currently used is the four bead-box pattern. This pattern calls for a space 1/2 to 3/4 of the stones’ diameter between the stones.

Place diamonds upside down on the ring.
2. Cut the seat

Bead and bright setting begins with cutting the seat to hold the stone. Precision is critical; you cannot effectively repair seats that are cut too large or too deep. The metal you cut away could become the most precious of all.

Once you’ve marked the stone placements, drill a pilot hole.

Drill a pilot hole.

Next use an aggressive cutting bur to open the hole to 75% of the stone’s diameter.

Open the hole with a bud bur.

Use a standard setting bur (having the same or slightly smaller diameter as the stone) and wiggle it to open the seat to the correct size (see both illustrations below).

Cut the seat.
Open the seat to the correct size.

3. Check the fit

One secret to easy bead and bright setting is a tight-fitting stone. Loose-fitting diamonds will cause problems during the beading process.

Diamond sits tightly in the seat.
4. Establish the depth of the seat

Rule of thumb: Seat stones of 3mm or less so their tables are flush with the metal’s surface. Seat stones of over 3mm with their tables slightly above the surface. If the stone is seated too low, the metal will appear to swallow it. If the stone is seated too high, you’ll be unable to get enough metal over it to hold it securely.

5. Cut a line

Use an onglette graver to cut and remove metal from the sides next to the stones. While cutting, lean or rotate the graver toward the outside edge. The depth of the cut should be equal to the depth of the seat.

Cut with an onglette graver.
6. Isolate the beads

Use your onglette graver – holding it straight instead of at an angle – to isolate your beads by making cuts from the top center point of the hourglass diagonally to the center point of the seat, leaving a stone-shape of metal between your stone seats. Your cuts should be as deep as the depth of your stone seats.

Isolate the beads.
7. Clean the seats

Once you’ve isolated all your beads, use the setting bur to recut the seats – not to make them deeper or wider but to clean out any fins of metal left by the graver. Thoroughly clean the mounting before proceeding.

8. Seat the stone

Now fit the stone into its seat, making sure the seat is cut to the proper depth and is level. I prefer to use a brass pusher with a concave tip I’ve fashioned and polished.

Use a brass pusher to fit the stone into its seat.

9. Raise the beads

Wrong: Loose-fitting stones. Gaps, even small ones, between the prongs and the stone will necessitate pushing the prongs toward the stone, which may cause the graver to cut off the prong or may weaken the base of the prong.

Loose stones can require you to force prongs over the stone when setting.
Right: Tight-fitting stones. Place the tip of your round graver at the base of the prong and seat the tip into the metal. Use the graver as a fulcrum to roll the prong over the stone. If the stone fits tightly, the prong only needs to roll past vertical to lock the stone in place. Set the prongs opposite each other, going from 2 o’clock to 8 o’clock, 4 o’clock to 10 o’clock.
Use a round graver to push the metal over the stone.
10. Form the beads

Beading the prongs shouldn’t require excessive force. Use a beading tool sized appropriately for the prong and push down on the prong while rotating the tool in a 10° arc.

Bench Tip

You can easily redress damaged or worn beading tools using small, round carbide burs. The tool doesn’t need to be annealed for a carbide bur to cut it, saving you time at the bench. But use a light cutting oil to lubricate the bur.

Beading tool on the prong tip.
11. Bright cutting

Once you’ve set all your stones, use the beveled flat graver to bright-cut your work. The beveled sides help keep the graver from cutting into your prongs. The steps:

  • Cut away fins or bead tool marks left around the beads.
  • Bright-cut the diamond shape between the stones, cutting away from the stones. A sharp, polished graver leaves a nicely cut facet face with very little effort.
  • Bright-cut the framing lines. The framing lines are often the most difficult to cut in a single clean, smooth pass. Repeated cuts will facet the frame lines, and you may need to use a knife-edge, hard rubber wheel to eliminate the facets. Don’t feel bad – it happens to all of us! Just be sure you don’t grind your beads away.
Use a flat graver to bright cut the ring.
Minimum polishing should be required; if you millgrain your work, do it after polishing.

– by Tom Weishaar, JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler™ ,
Shop Manager, Underwood Jewelers, Fayetteville, AR

© 2000 Jewelers of America Inc.
This information is required for the third level of the JA® Certified Bench Jeweler™ program.
Illustrations by Lainie Mann – Visual Communications

The JA Professional's Guide to Fine Jewelry Craftmanship
Bead and Bright Setting Stones

Professional Bead and Bright Cut Setting

A. The height, width and shape of the beads match.

B. There is no excess metal unformed at the base of the beads.

C. All stone tables are level, of equal height and even with the height of the metal.

D. The flashing of metal has been removed from the bottom side.

E. All stones are tight and secure in their seats.

F. All stones are spaced evenly.

G. All beads are equally sized, as are the “diamond” formations between the stones.

H. The bright cuts are even, smooth and free of tool marks.

I. There are no chipped, abraded or broken stones.

Potential Problems to Watch For

The bead sizes don’t match, and beads have been placed at differing locations around each stone. The bright cuts are rough, show tool marks and have different angles.
There is excess metal unformed or not removed from the base of the beads.
The stones are not level and are set at differing heights.

© 2000 Jewelers of America Inc.

This information is required for the second level of the JA® Certified Bench Jeweler™ program.

The installments published in Professional Jeweler from February 1998 to July 1999 have been reformatted and published by Jewelers of America as a countertop book titled The JA Professional’s Guide to Fine Jewelry Craftsmanship. To buy a copy, contact one of the following suppliers: Gesswein, GIA Bookstore, Rio Grande and Stuller Settings. Or call JA at (800) 223-0673.

Illustrations by Lainie Mann – Visual Communications

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications