Professional Jeweler Archive: Final Finishing of Karat Gold

April 2001

For Your Staff/Defining Quality

Final Finishing of Karat Gold

Taking the time to properly polish and buff gold jewelry demonstrates another aspect of quality in your shop

After prefinishing an article of jewelry with abrasives, just two main steps remain for final finishing – polishing and buffing (for prefinishing with abrasives, see Professional Jeweler, March 2000, pp. 93-96). The goal with the final steps of finishing is to achieve a bright, mirror-like polish free of any visible abrasions, dents or irregularities. Here’s a brief overview of the steps involved:

Polishing is the final abrasion or smoothing of karat gold before buffing. It leaves a dull finish and is typically accomplished with Bobbing or Tripoli compounds, which cut and smooth the metal’s surface and remove visible traces of sanding or other abrasive procedures.

Lapping is a step in the polishing process for karat gold jewelry that has sharp corners or flat surfaces. It involves using condensed felt or wood laps with Bobbing or Tripoli compounds.

Split lapping is similar to lapping and is done with a hard wheel that has radial slits cut into it faced on an angle toward the user. The slits allow you to see the jewelry being polished on the underside. The top side of the wheel is painted black.

Buffing causes little or no metal to be removed and is the final step in the professional finishing process.

Professional Polishing Overview

Hold the item being polished at the lower portion of the wheel. Move the piece as it comes in contact with the wheel. Keep the polishing wheel lightly charged with polishing compound. (Remember to always wear safety glasses.) Then cross polish (see below).

“Paper Laps”

Jeff glues a paper dot onto the head of a flattened nail-like mandrel. He uses abrasive paper to roughen-up the paper then charges it with the appropriate polishing compound to polish very hard-to-reach areas and maintain edges and shapes. He prefers to work with brown Tripoli compound because it’s greasy and clings to the paper.

Cross Polishing

As with filing and sanding, cross-polishing ensures smooth, even finishing through the final polishing. Simply polish in one direction (1) then turn 90&Mac251; and polish in the other direction (2).

Flat Laps

Flat lapping is part of the polishing process, and Tripoli or Gray Star are the compounds of choice. Holding the piece against a hard felt wheel while it’s being lapped is best accomplished with a soft jewelry cloth.

Wheel Selection

Many different types of wheels are used in polishing, and all have a particular application. Here are a few:

  • Solid wool felt and wood wheels. For retaining corners, edges and flat surfaces through a lapping process.
  • Muslin- and treated-muslin stitched wheels. For general use.
  • Brushes – Available in a variety of natural and synthetic materials and in many diameters. They are used to polish difficult-to-reach areas.

The type, diameter, width and material of the polishing wheel in combination with the speed of the polishing motor as applied to a certain alloy are all factors for successful polishing. Laps are typically run at lower speeds, while stitched wheels are larger and used at higher speeds. Dedicate polishing wheels to specific alloys and compounds. Do not store wheels for different compounds together; if you do, they will become contaminated.

Professional Polishing Process

Jeff uses Magic Green in his ultrasonic cleaner. It’s supplied by Roseco of Dallas, TX, and is available in powder form. For the best results, Jeff always cleans the article of jewelry between the polishing and buffing steps. He also washes his hands to remove all traces of Tripoli that would contaminate the buffing process. He stores his polishing and buffing wheels in separate drawers so they don’t contaminate each other.

Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Buffing
Professional Buffing Overview

Buffing, the final step in the finishing process, is accomplished by using fine, unstitched polishing buffs with rouge. The type of rouge depends on the alloy being buffed. Check your supplier catalogs for suggestions. As with polishing, hold the item being buffed at the lower portion of the wheel.

© 2001 Jewelers of America Inc.

Illustrations by Lainie Mann – Visual Communications

The JA® Professional’s Guide to Fine Jewelry Craftsmanship

Final Finishing of Karat Gold

By Mark B. Mann
Director of Trade Programs
Jewelers of America

Professionally Polished, Buffed and Finished Karat Gold Jewelry

A. Flat areas are dead-flat with no indentations, raised sections or obstructions.

B. Corners are crisp and sharp (not uncomfortably sharp) and without distortion.

C. The original thickness has been maintained evenly and has no thick and thin areas. because of poor polishing techniques.

D. The surface reflects light evenly and has a smooth appearance.

E. The piece has been cleaned of all buffing compounds and lint from the polishing wheels.

Potential Problems to Watch for
There should be no dents or visible abrasions.
Divots and indentations in a flat surface are due to poor techniques and errors in workmanship.
These prongs have been seriously overpolished – an error in workmanship that has removed years of potential wear.
© 2001 Jewelers of America Inc.

This information is required for all levels of the JA® Certified Bench Jeweler™ program.

For information about the JA® Certified Bench Jeweler™ program, call JA at (800) 223-0673 or visit

Illustrations by Lainie Mann – Visual Communications

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications