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High-quality gemstone faceting is the way of the future

The commercial realities of gem-cutting means there is little emphasis placed on high-quality gemstone faceting. VICTOR TUZLUKOV discusses why this is detrimental to the industry and its future.

Today there are not many well-faceted gemstones on the market. Aiming to obtain as great a carat yield as possible from an irregular piece of rough, using various methods to squeeze one of several classic cuts out of the gemstone while bypassing visible inclusions at the expense of symmetry, a gem-cutter aims to give a gemstone a finished look.

Since each carat is real moey, gem-cutters and sellers shut their eyes to optical defects. As a result, most gemstones that leave the hands of these gem-cutters have a ‘window’ in which any objects in a gemstone become visible. The area around the window looks dark, hence it reflects the surroundings, and the angle of the side facets near the girdle is too big. Such an approach to gem-cutting has become the norm.

This is curious because the main task of a gem-cutter is not to make a gemstone more beautiful with a desire to save its weight but to make it heavier with a desire to save its beauty; however, the high price of gemstones is caused not just by their rarity but mainly by their beauty – a commercial component always prevails over aesthetics.

Pricing segmentation of gemstones

There was a time when the status of a person was characterised by the weight of gold hanging on him or her. Sometimes, even now, simple gold jewellery is sold by weight; however, wealthy people are drawn to the refinement and the originality of the design, the harmony and beauty of jewellery, the perfection and the accuracy of its craftsmanship.

"The high price of gemstones is caused not just by their rarity but mainly by their beauty."

There are four main price categories on the market: low-quality (mass) manufacturing, high-quality (luxury) industry, famous brands and exclusive masterpieces. Prices increase by some five to 10 times from category to category.

We live in interesting times; improvements in faceting equipment enable us to make a qualitative leap in gem-cutting and advance from the level of handicrafts to art. It is no secret that each step is not easy to undertake. One of the biggest obstacles is the barrier in the public consciousness.

To be precise, the step from just a ‘jewellery insert’ that will vary from a brooch or a ring to the high-level term ‘gemstone’ for which the same ring will serve as a mounting underlining its beauty and magic. In other words, the most important aim of cutting is displaying the beauty of a gemstone.

In Asia, we hear about names such as Nomad, Yavorsky, Leopard Gems and so on. In Europe, masters from Idar-Oberstain traditionally set the pace and they are followed in the New World by the bright masters, among whom we find John Dyer, Michael Dyber, Jeff White, Dalan Hargrave, Tomohiro Karino and Stephen Kotlowski.

Brands do not appear from nothing, especially when appearing in different parts of the world simultaneously, and their appearance reflects market tendencies. In this case, we can speak about the much higher growth of prices for well-polished gemstones in comparison with commercially-faceted gemstones.

Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich

When this price difference exceeds the cost of rough losses as a result of high-quality polishing then faceting becomes profitable. All gemstone market participants know that it is becoming more difficult to sell commercially-faceted gemstones – badly polished, to put it bluntly – and often it is becoming necessary to recut ‘barrel-shaped’ gemstones that have a bulgy pavilion.

You may hear the following opinion: if a gemstone is precise, symmetrical, perfect, it becomes faceless and that some small defects are necessary to bring the charm of peculiarity to a gemstone. I consider that the originality of a gemstone is a combination of material, colour, clarity, size, polishing and optical characteristics… but defects?

No way. It is hard to consider a face with a squinting eye or a droopy nose charming. These are excuses for those who don’t want or cannot make high-quality gemstones and those for whom it is convenient to use what the market offers.

Advantages of faceting properly

No matter how convenient it is for dealers and jewellery manufacturers to use outdated standards to justify low-quality faceting, higher prices are demanded for the best-quality faceting and there are always buyers who are ready to pay more.

Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov
Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov

So what is the value of high-quality cutting? First of all, high-quality gem cutting ensures the perfect flatness of facet surfaces that increase a gemstone’s ‘fire’ due to virtual prisms formed by the facets. I have actually observed good fire even in pieces of quartz if they are faceted with high quality.

Fire produces inimitable sparkle – light patches of colour different from the main colour of a gemstone – and is one of the most considerable advantages of a faceted gemstone.

The second advantage that is directly bound with the first one is sharp edges between facets. When edges such as a knife blade don’t reflect light, the gemstone looks ‘wet’ – each facet reflects light in its own way and the shining edges don’t attract attention.

Thirdly, strict symmetry makes a gemstone more harmonious and pleasant to view. One gemstone amateur expressed it thusly, “I buy beautiful gemstones to admire and enjoy them but when I notice inaccuracy instead of happy contact with the gem, I think to myself, ‘How could a negligent gem-cutter spoil such beauty?’”

Fourthly, the main colour of the gemstone is better seen when there is no window in it as the background doesn’t interfere with the perception. Finally, the fifth advantage, which may influence gemmological characteristics together with the fourth one, is the absence of a grey compound of colour appearing when light diffracts on surface defects. This factor may increase visible colour saturation up to one grade on the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) scale.

The last statement needs explanation because it is very important.

Sample of author’s certificate with cut grading by Victor Tuzlukov
Sample of author’s certificate with cut grading by Victor Tuzlukov

Polishing leaves scratches on the surface of a facet comparable with the size of used abrasive. The density of such scratches is usually high and the surface becomes ‘glossy’ when light goes away from it. The explanation is partial light diffusion reflected by the uneven surface at different angles.

The more the surface is uneven, the more diffusion it produces. The surface is not lit regularly under such deflection of light waves because the dark surrounding objects are visible in the light background of reflection in some microscopic areas.

I used to hear, “Who needs perfect polishing and exact meeting points? Nobody will see it anyway!” This is not correct. The human eye is a perfect optical instrument that sees many details our brains don’t realise but which influence the level of sub-consciousness to create an impression.

It may happen that one of two similar gemstones would not attract attention while the second is one you would like to take in your hands and never leave. This is the way we respond to a gemstone’s harmony. Harmony and its consequence – the impression – are sufficient reasons for increasing the price.

Boosting value through better certification

Let’s look at the difference that faceting can make to a gemstone’s price. At a gemstone show, one may find wonderful pieces of citrine or amethyst for just US$2-US$3 per carat. The same size, colour and clarity gemstones faceted by John Dyer, for example, will cost US$20-US$30 per carat. If the price of the first one is close to the cost of the rough gemstone then we can subtract it from the cost of the second one and get the difference. 

Even if half of this amount is due to the brand name then another half is the cost of work – this is neither more nor less than triple the price of the rough! Certainly, for the very expensive gemstones, the ratio will be different but the cost of faceting will depend on the price of a gemstone – it’s the charge for responsibility and the risk of dealing with an expensive, rough gemstone.

Nowadays the quality of faceting is not shown in gemstone certificates. Though GIA and other gemstone laboratories have developed systems of grading cuts, they prefer not to draw attention to it as they don’t want to reduce the appeal of the gemstone to customers. As far as I know, only the IGE (Spanish Gemological Institute) states the quality of faceting in its certificates.

"A gemstone contains one or several symbols in its pattern, either in graphical or numerological format. These symbols provide the ‘key’ for opening the row of associations."

All of us realise that the best-quality and most-expensive gemstones that usually undergo certification are faceted and that they are of much lower quality than masterpieces by real gemstone artists. It is necessary to understand the criteria for evaluating the quality of faceting.

I will not explain the existing cut-grading systems as readers may know them even better than me but I would like to identify the main principle common to all of them: cut-grading systems are based on comparing items with certain characteristics accepted as standard to find deviations from the norm.

Such characteristics include gemstone shape, proportions, symmetry and finish. The possible variety of faceting designs provided by the shape of the crystal or the creativity of the cutter are not taken into consideration.

If we speak about unique faceting designs that have nothing to do with standard forms, another approach is needed to evaluate the quality of gem cutting. Let’s look at an example to understand this better.

Some readers may be already familiar with the trend of gem-cutting in which I took my first steps: ‘Philosophical stone’. Its essence is developing special, unusual faceting designs followed by explanations that become the bearers of philosophical ideas, creating a row of associations in the consciousness. A gemstone contains one or several symbols in its pattern, either in graphical or numerological format. These symbols provide the ‘key’ for opening the row of associations.

There is a pattern in the ‘Drop of Compassion’ gemstone. It has the shape of a wide drop limited by spirals of the golden section from both sides. At the bottom of the gemstone, there is a triangle showing the way to the infinity, a point where the selfishness of a man disappears in the Great Compassion to all beings. Rays coming from all sides to this point support the optical perspective.

Citrine ‘drop of compassion’. Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Citrine ‘drop of compassion’. Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich

From above, three descending arches symbolise three stages that a man who has chosen this way should come through one by one. These stages are common for all devotees of spirit: Cognising, Renunciation and Transformation. This is the way of Christ, the way of Buddha, the way of all teachers of humanity.

We can talk more about philosophy but now let’s turn to evaluation of faceting quality by the GIA grading system. Having the qualification of GG – GIA Graduate Gemologist – I’ve attempted to do this myself. There are three criteria – brilliance, proportion and finish – and everything is clear with two of them. We’ll examine the most complicated one, consisting of numerous sub-criteria (proportions).

The shape of the Drop of Compassion resembles a pear but how many deviations has it from a standard form? Ratio length/width, absence of table facet, position of culet, wings and bulges are a few. In short, strictly following the approach of the GIA, I had to grade proportions of this gemstone as Fair. The general grade turned out to be: Excellent – Fair – Excellent. What do you think of it?

When I make my author’s certification, I use another system of cut grading that I have developed myself. It does not pretend to be the worldwide standard of tomorrow but it is an attempt to eliminate limitations in the shape of the gemstone, concentrating attention on the quality of the faceting itself. This system examines the gemstone not as a whole but mostly as a complex of separate pattern points, including facets, edges and meeting points of four or more facets.

It certainly takes account of any undesirable optical effects produced by the faceting, such as ‘window’ and ‘extinction’, as well as the symmetry of facets specified by the design. The result is expressed in a 100-point scale to within the fourth decimal digit.

Sample of marking by Plasmamark Technology. Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov
Sample of marking by Plasmamark Technology. Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov

In addition to numerical grades, I have divided faceting into quality classes: 0-60 is Commercial; 60-95 is Quality; 95-100 is Elite Class. Each class is divided into three sub-classes and the highest cut quality of Elite Ideal should receive a grade of more than 99 points out of 100 possible.

Gem cutting of the Elite Class is almost absent on the market today. Not because there is no one who buys it but because of the high price. Most markets, including jewellery, have niches for products of different price categories that may look almost the same.

The compliance of a gemstone with any one quality class may be proved by traditional methods – reports and certificates – as well as uncommon ones like marking the surface of a gemstone. This technology has been developed by our specialists recently. Unlike other methods such as the ForeverMark, in which a part of the surface is graphitised by the ion beam then etched to leave a relief image, particles of plasma in our technology penetrate into the surface layer of the gemstone to leave the surface undamaged.

This process simply changes the optical density locally. Therefore, the reflective index is changed and the image becomes visible when the facet reflects light from an external source. The brightness of the mark depends on the plasma activity – it may vary from visible to almost invisible, meaning it can be seen only by breathing on the surface.

The weak point of certification is the impossibility of proving that a certificate belongs to a certain gemstone, especially where standard cutting is concerned. Photos in the certificates are not appropriate for identification as well as to confirm dimensions and carat weight. Hence, an almost invisible mark that does not cause any damage to the gemstone and does not influence its gemmological characteristics may become the most convenient means for identification of a certified gemstone.

What is left to say in conclusion? Evolution is inexorable. We may ignore its laws or even try to move against them but we won’t withstand long in the conditions of tough competitive fighting on the developing market; however, a player of foresight takes into consideration these laws and forecasts further market trends. We live in a unique time when all faceting conditions have matured. Today there are not many well-faceted gemstones on the market but tomorrow, gemstones with the highest cut-quality will occupy a market niche.

I dare say that those who are brave enough to pursue quality in faceting and grading will make history.

Edited from original article courtesy of InColor.



Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov
Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov

Citrine ‘drop of compassion’. Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Citrine ‘drop of compassion’. Image courtesy: Dmitry Stolyarevich
Sample of marking by Plasmamark Technology. Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov
Sample of marking by Plasmamark Technology. Image courtesy: Sergey Pryanechnikov

Sample of author’s certificate with cut grading by Victor Tuzlukov
Sample of author’s certificate with cut grading by Victor Tuzlukov

Victor Tuzlukov

Victor Tuzlukov graduated from the GIA Moscow branch with a diploma of Graduate Gemologist and has been a member of the United States Faceters Guild since 2006. Tuzlukov founded the Russian Faceters Guild in 2010 and he is currently engaged in the creation of new faceting designs. He also participates in national and international faceting competitions and won the International Individual Faceting Championship in Australia in 2010 with a score of 299.17 points out of 300.

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