Professional Jeweler Archive: Classroom in a Box

June 2001

Precious Metals & Bench/Metalsmithing

Review: Classroom in a Box

Goldsmith Blaine Lewis produces gem-setting videotapes that take close-up instruction to new heights

Several years ago a friend who is a medical researcher invited me to his lab to see his equipment. Working under his sophisticated microscope, I engraved a few lines and then examined a few textures I had made. The effect must have been similar to what Captain Nemo felt when he first went under the sea. I was immersed in a world I’d known only slightly. It was exciting, daunting and strangely reassuring. This kind of experience is now available on videotape thanks to a heroic new effort by Blaine Lewis, director of the New Approach School for Jewelers, based in Virginia Beach, VA.

“Classroom in a Box – Bezel & Flush Setting with Diamonds and Fragile Colored Stones” is a two-tape set that combines the author’s years of goldsmithing experience with astonishing close-up views to create a new level of instruction in the jewelry field. The tape wastes no time getting down to business. Within the first few minutes, we’re involved in flush setting. It’s not an exaggeration to say the view on the TV screen exceeds common experience.

Lewis’ careful step-by-step description of the process will enable even a novice goldsmith to repeat the process. The detailed photography takes the mystery out of descriptions that might otherwise be vague. When we see the relationships of stone shape, bezel height and tool location at this magnification, the logic of the process is crystal clear.

Lewis designed the instruction for the videos around a gold ring with a faceted oval amethyst, three brilliant diamonds and a triangular diamond. This arrangement allows us to see several kinds of settings, provides consistency and addresses the subtle issues that can arise when setting multiple stones. Voice-over narration is accompanied by clear on-screen animations that clarify details such as the purpose of each tool and the impact of specific tools when used in certain orientations.

The two tapes move logically through four settings on a single ring, then they shift to another ring to demonstrate setting a marquise diamond in a bezel.

From here we’re led into a goldsmith’s Dream Studio, where Lewis demonstrates a few top-end tools – such as the GRS pneumatic tool – and also shares some of the homemade tools he’s developed over the years. This section alone justifies the cost.

Value-Added Innovation

If the tapes were only a matter of clear instruction through close-up photography, they would be valuable enough. What makes them stand out, though, is the innovation that flows beneath each technique. Lewis is clearly a master of conventional stonesetting, but he’s gone beyond familiar techniques to invent some tricks of his own.

Evidence of his enthusiasm for these techniques is shown in the bundle of prototype tools that comes with each tape. By providing clear on-screen images and real handmade models, Lewis goes the extra mile to ensure that any serious goldsmith with a desire to master stonesetting can do so.

And to cinch the deal, he has devised a 21st-century follow-through program. Each tape is registered with an access code that allows the owner to visit a restricted section of his Web site. There, stonesetters will find updated information and have a unique opportunity to seek personal help from Lewis.

We all know that some tools are luxuries and others justify their cost by improving our skills and making us more efficient. “Classroom in a Box: Bezel & Flush Setting” will confirm itself as one of the best educational investments a jeweler can make. Lewis deserves credit for single-handedly taking instructional videotape to a higher level. Interested jewelers are encouraged to visit to learn more and preview two excerpts from the tape.

“Classroom in a Box – Bezel & Flush Setting with Diamonds and Fragile Colored Stones” is available in VHS format, runs about 21/2 hours and costs $179.

• New Approach Video Inc., Virginia Beach, VA; (800) 529-4763, www.newapproach

Tim McCreight, a resident of Portland, ME, is a teacher, metalsmith and author of 11 books. He also is a trustee of the American Craft Council and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications