Designs and Designing: Tools

There seems to be a lot of questions out there about gemstone designs and designing. Here are some common questions and answers about designing tools and more.

Is there one set of angles that will work for all materials?

Frankly NO. It is basically a myth that was perpetuated by old faceting books, like Vargas and others.

That being said the old books and faceters did have quite a bit correct. Remember those old authors and faceters did not have the modern computer tools we do now so they did it by trial and error. A sweet spot of pavilion 41 degrees, crown 38-42 is pretty close on a lot of materials, which if you look in the old books is basically the averages they all recommended.

But there always is one. While these angles (pavilion 41, crown 38-42) are a pretty decent average guess for a lot of materials, they are just averages and are often not ideal. There are all types of factors that impact design performance like shapes, styles, L/W, refractive indexes, plus many others. Also many materials have different or multiple sweet spots. So one set of angles for everything will obviously not work, at least if you want good performance.

The best advice I can give is use quality modern designs and you will almost always be happy with the results. Sorry no magic bullet. If you use old designs (pre computer) you will find your results much more mixed, some good, some bad, some uncuttable.

What are the best designs?

I think that after cutting a while you will find you prefer some styles and designers more than others. You will find some designs are outstanding for certain sizes, types of rough, and saturation’s. Ask other more experienced faceters you will find they have favorites. Ask around and save your self a lot of trouble. Look at other faceter’s cut stones, you will often find a new design you want to cut and better yet, you have seen the design already cut so you know you will like it when you cut it.

What about slope and angles and all of that stuff?

Most of this information while some times relevant, is not some thing the average faceter is interested in or cares about. Most faceters want to facet, not design. My advice is to facet.

Note: By some times relevant I mean some times interesting to the faceter. But if you like a design and that design performs well, who cares about the slope?

If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of understanding and creating designs. Then by all means have fun. But do not worry about all the hot air regarding “angles/slopes” if you are not interested. Like I said, some times slopes/angles apply to designing, but some of it is just smoke and mirrors.

By that I mean that there are only so many things a designer can do and other factors besides “slope/angle” come into play depending on the goals for creating the design.

Designs are constrained by all types of factors and limitations like refractive indexes, index gears, shapes, and so on. What I mean is that because of limitations (physics) designs often have to be a certain way to work. You can talk about “changing slopes” all you want, but because of physics, changes cannot be made and still have the design work and/or perform well. Hence my smoke and mirror statement.

Want an example? OK if you are cutting a diamond which has a very high refractive index, slope/angle combinations can be an important consideration.

Why? Well mainly, because diamonds have a high refractive index and because of that, they have a large sweet spot(s). Having a larger sweet spot basically translates into a wider range of choices for various slope/angle combinations. More degrees between tiers and more choices of angles for those tiers and their combinations.

Note: It is important to realize that all stones (refractive indexes) have a particular spot, angle, and tier combination where they work best. That is why there are “Ideal Cut Diamonds”. Yes there is some times a range, but there is always ultimately an “Ideal”.

Lower refractive materials have “Ideal” areas also, they are just proportionately smaller and fewer as the refractive index is lower. The lower the refractive index of material you are designing for, the smaller the sweet spot(s) and the fewer choices for slope/angle combinations. That is one reason I said “smoke and mirrors”.

In natural materials that most faceters have access to like Quartz, Beryl, Tourmaline, and Topaz, there is not a lot of refractive index to work with.

So obviously there is not a lot of “slope/angle” combinations that will work well and be effective. The choices are very limited and people can yammer and yap about slope/angle all they want but it’s basically irrelevant hot air because the low refractive indexes and physics set the boundaries of what will work and the margins are very small. There is just not many combinations of slope/angles that will work in low refractive indexes.

Have modern tools helped gemstone design?

Yes, you bet. Gemcad and computers have helped gemstone designers make huge gains in performance and plain old cuttability of designs.

But. You knew I had one didn’t you? Programs and modern gemstone designing tools, while they are powerful and beyond a doubt very beneficial, they have no art and soul.

As far as I am concerned designing is mostly art (beyond the mechanics) and programs do not give you that. A person has to have art ability. Art ability does not mean going to art school any body can go to art classes, that does not make them an artist. I am talking about talent. Some people have it and some do not, simple as that.

Can the average person learn to design?

Of course they can. My point here to use an analogy is that everyone can learn to play golf and enjoy doing it, but only a few can play like Tiger Woods or Arnold Palmer. Same applies to designing and most other things in life, it does take talent to become the best at some thing.

The other key ingredient in designing quality gemstone designs (besides art) is experience. I do not mean experience with the tools and computers, although that helps. I mean experience with cutting/faceting and the actual real gemstones. There is just no substitute for experience and actually cutting stones.

Have the designs been cut?

The answer is YES on my designs and I have the pictures to prove it. In most cases the designs are cut by me or a friend(s) that is helping me proof cut. I have several people that I have helped and taught to cut over the years and a lot of them are making a living faceting (what I would call pros) and they often proof cut new designs for me. Actually they generally are in a hurry to get the new designs to cut.

What about other peoples designs and claims that they proof cut them all?

On this subject I have no real opinion. However I do have a few observations and questions.

First Observation

I have never seen any pictures of cut stones (some times hundreds) that some people are claiming they have designed and cut. I have not seen a single picture of these stones, and certainly never pictures of hundreds of stones and designs.

If you have cut them all why no pictures? I certainly try to photograph any design I cut, so would most people. In other words if they have really been cut? Why no pictures??? Cameras are cheap and easy to use to at least get a basic snapshot.

Note: I unfortunately do not often get a picture of a proof cuts by some of my friends that help me. They are usually a long ways away and often sell the proof cut stone before they call to tell me they really liked the design. Or they say some thing like “Hey, that stone sold right away… I love the design…” But by looking on my website you will in fact see hundreds of pictures of my cut stones.

Second Observation

Fred Van Sant had a life time design library of about 600 designs more or less. He freely admitted that he almost never cut his designs, he just liked to design and spent almost 40 years doing so. I have been cutting all my life and have done so for a living full time the last 20 years or so. I have a library of about the same quantity and of course am working on more.

There are people claiming 250 and more designs proof cut in just a few years. All I can say is they are a heck of a lot faster than Fred or me… If they are in fact designing and cutting all they claim. Show me the pictures guys, I hear the talk I would like to see some actual proof. Maybe they have cut them, but maybe not, until I see some pictures or stones I doubt it.

Third Observation

Anybody that has learned the basics of Gemcad can sit down and design hundreds of variations of a round brilliants (I have seen them do it). Or knock off other peoples work by changing a few facets or tiers. There is nothing wrong with some one having fun and doing it, but that does not make the designs original.

People need to realize that there are major differences between a design just banged out on Gemcad and a design that is well thought out, well designed, unique, and proof cut with a picture to prove it.

One last thing about all this design talk. If that is your interest, have fun. But you can talk about slope/angle and all types of other arcane subjects all you want. Most of it is boring to the general public.

But the bottom line is:

  • A design works or it does not.
  • A design performs or it does not.
  • A great design can be created on any index and a great design is a great design, no matter what gear or who did it.
  • A great design can be made by anybody, on purpose or by simple first timer luck.

The hard part is making quality designs and cut stones consistantly. That is the mark of great designers and faceters. The proof of a design is in the cut stone. On whether the designs were actually cut? A picture is worth thousand words. Like they say in Missouri … “Show me…”

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About the author
Jeff R. Graham
The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.
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