Professional Jeweler Archive: Fine Jewelry Gemstone Inlay

January 2005

Bench / Defining Quality

Fine Jewelry Gemstone Inlay

Knowing how jewelry with inlaid gemstones is professionally crafted demonstrates another aspect of quality in your shop

By Mark B. Mann & F.E. Lainie Mann
Technical contributions by Stavros Eleftheriou, president of Kabana Inc., Albuquerque, NM, and his staff

Inlaid gemstone jewelry offers a stunning and unique look. “Inlay does not limit the design process, but enhances it,” says Stavros Eleftheriou, president of Kabana Inc., Albuquerque, NM. “The smoothness of the ground metal and gemstone material offer a visual and tactile experience and is comfortable to wear.”

Kabana has specialized in fine jewelry inlay for 32 years and is known for its classic jewelry-making techniques combined with cutting-edge technology. Crafting these small works of art is meticulous and time-consuming work, calling on the skills of the designer, wax carver, manufacturer, stone setter and gemstone carver.

These rings feature solid gemstone inlay. Solid inlay is more rare and expensive than other types because gem material isn’t always available in this size.

The wire inlay technique allows use of vivdly colorful gems that may be available only in smaller pieces. In the designers’ hands, the look can be of a solid inlay or a unique pattern consisting of various gemstones.

Kabana’s “corn” inlay allows the stone carver to incorporate fine gems in smaller sizes and gives designers more freedom in the layout and use of color.

New designs are created constantly to showcase the beauty of inlaid gemstones in striking patterns. Gemstones of the finest quality – including opal, turquoise, onyx, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl and malachite – are used differently, depending on their unique characteristics. Turquoise, for example, may be used in large areas, is softer and is easily shaped. Opal, intense in color, isn’t found consistently in large or thick pieces, so it’s used most effectively in smaller design components. Malachite’s patterns vary with cutting, so designers may incorporate shapes that echo or complement the patterns.

Kabana designers often pair inlay work with round or oval diamonds or other gemstones to accent the shapes and colors of their signature patterns.

The finished design is approved and turned over to the wax carver, who then creates a model. The cavities that will accept the gemstones are called channels. These must be 2.5mm to 3mm in depth. Channels for curved forms need to be deeper. Eleftheriou inspects carefully because it’s important at this stage to ensure the model will work for the designated inlay piece(s) as well as for any calibrated stones.

The original master model is cast and finished to perfection. From this a rubber mold is made and expertly cut to yield multiple injected waxes. At this point, models are cast in designated finger sizes. Most inlay work can’t be resized after it’s made. Rings are clipped, filed and prefinished before being sent to the gemstone-setting department. This ring includes diamonds; they will be set first.

Melee diamonds used in such designs are either channel- or bead-set. The settings are carefully prepared in the original wax and by the stone setter so they always remain at a lower level than the gemstone inlay work. The reason? When the inlay work is ground and polished on the surface, the settings and diamonds will remain protected and unaffected.

Kabana designers Paul Menke and Remy Rotenier submit their painted jewelry designs for approval. This ring features solid Australian opal and channel-set diamonds.
The wax carver shapes the model to specification. It is important to keep the integrity of the design and to calculate for the type(s) of gemstone the final piece will receive.
The side diamonds are set; the ring is ready for inlay work.

The Art of Inlay

Ninety percent of the cutting and fitting of gemstones for inlay is done by eye and hand. To ensure a secure fit, the gemstone material is thicker than the channel that will receive it.

The inlay craftsman’s skill and experience enables him to work in the colors and shapes of the designer’s rendering and to use the gemstones most effectively in the prepared channels.

The prefinished mounting and rough gemstone inlay material are measured for a precise fit.
After careful measuring, the gemstone material is cut then ground to fit the channel.
With the ring constantly in hand, Kabana inlay craftsman Arturo Perez shapes and fits the center opal to the ring. He checks the dimensions of the inlay piece from all angles with the channel. A tight, secure fit is imperative. There is fractional tolerance between the channel wall and gemstone, which are both at 90&Mac251; from the base. It’s also important the gemstone contacts the bottom of the channel.
When the perfect fit is achieved, the inlay work is ground to the surface of the metal. Perez continues to grind and smooth the metal and gemstone for a completely smooth finish. This also brings out the colors and character of the black opal in this ring.
The completed piece is a uniquely beautiful collaboration by designer, jewelers and craftsmen. The ring is polished and finished inside and out. After cleaning, the inlaid gem(s) is set into place using high-tech epoxy adhesives. Final inspection is made before packaging.

Servicing, Alterations and Care

For ring sizing, Kabana advises that pieces should be returned to the factory for minor alterations or replacement. The company advises retailers to educate consumers who buy opal inlay jewelry as they would with any other jewelry containing opal.

Stavros Eleftheriou and his company, Kabana Inc., have 32 years of experience in the art and manufacture of fine jewelry with inlaid gemstones. They also design and manufacture other fine jewelry. For more information, contact Kabana’s customer service department at (800) 521-5986.

llustrations by Lainie Mann
Photographs by Mark B. Mann

© 2005 Visual Communications, Inc.

Professional Fine Jewelry Inlay

by Mark B. Mann

A. The gemstone and precious metal materials are even and smooth with high polish and luster.

B. The gemstone and precious metal materials are free of tool marks, scratches and abrasions.

C. The gemstone inlay fits precisely into the channel. No gaps or filler materials are visible.

D. The gemstone inlay is appropriately thick, solid and substantial. It has no cracks and is in full contact with the channel walls and bottom surface.

Potential Problems

The gemstone inlay was not fit precisely. Filler or adhesive materials are easily visible.
The gemstone cracked during normal wear because it wasn’t thick enough and didn’t come in contact with the bottom of the channel.
The ring was sized down unprofessionally without maintaining the integrity of the channels. The inlay became dislodged.

Illustrations by Lainie Mann

© 2005 Visual Communications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications