Price and Value: Factory Cut Vs. Custom-Cut Gemstones
I’m confused about the effect of faceting on a gem’s value. Specifically, what’s the difference in value between factory-cut and custom-cut gemstones? Is that something you can calculate? I was recently told that the majority of my gems were commercially or factory cut. The implication was clear. There was something inferior about my gems. I’m quite proud of my collection and have been very particular about my purchases. Most of my gems have been appraised with no negative comments or deductions for their cut. Yet, I can clearly see that custom-cut gemstones of the same type as mine are more brilliant. So I’m confused. How (and how much) does “custom cutting” affect a gem’s value?
Why Custom-Cut Gemstones Are Priced Higher Than Factory-Cut Gemstones
Cut quality does play an important part in determining a gemstone’s value. The Four Cs – Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat – are the qualities we use to grade gemstones. Cuts are graded as follows: (A) Excellent, (B) Very good, (C) Good, (D) Fair, (E) Acceptable, and Lower than acceptable.
Commercial faceting methods have evolved over the years from what is known in the trade as “native cut.” At one time, most gems were cut locally where they were sourced. Today, a gem referred to as native cut will usually grade from Fair to Lower than Acceptable. With the addition of better equipment and computer-aided cutting machines, the quality of commercial cutting improved. Since the principle of producing more stones per day was upheld, all of a sudden the commercial cutters had standardization. As a result, all their stones, no matter what the shape, seem to look the same. These stones usually grade out as Very Good to Fair.
To achieve Excellent grades, stones would have to be cut one at a time by a professional lapidarist. These custom-cut gemstones would be cut with particular facet designs in mind for each piece of material. Each design would be selected to bring out the potential beauty of the individual stone. A stone like this can truly be called a jewel, a term I’m afraid you seldom hear any more.
The custom process takes time and a great deal of effort. Custom-cut gemstones don’t fit into the mass production process that retail outlets demand. For commercial jewelers, time is money. This is the main reason you won’t see these jewels at any chain jewelers. This is also why these gems demand a premium price. They are rare indeed and worth much more in the short and long run. Custom-cut gemstones usually appraise 40%-70% higher than similar factory-cut stones.
I hope this helps answer your inquiry.
Ron Campbell, Central Coast Gem Lab
Why The Market Values Of Custom-Cut Gemstones Aren’t Higher
It’s a sad fact of the gem market that it’s impossible for custom cutting, at least to “our” standards, to be an economically viable activity. Since the cost of labor frequently exceeds that of the stone, the only time we can justify spending several hours of skilled time on a gem is if the stone itself is potentially worth significantly more. (For example, if the stone is unusually large or a rare rough). I recently spent about 8 hours cutting a pink tourmaline of approximately two carats whose market value is about $60 per carat. That’s a poor return for my time. The reason for this is that factory cutting costs very little and, by and large, provides a product which satisfies the vast majority of the market.
Millions of factory-cut stones are sold every year, compared to the few thousand custom-cut gemstones that we “connoisseurs” buy and sell. We have little leverage to increase the market value of quality-cut stones, despite their obvious attractions. The overwhelming majority of jewelry owners have never seen a well-cut stone. They’re amazed when they see one compared to the shallow, windowed, badly polished things in their own collections. They just were never aware that it was possible to achieve such results.
Can Your Factory-Cut Colored Gemstones Be Recut Into Custom-Cut Gemstones?
For colored gemstones, color and clarity are more important than cut for evaluation. Cut does influence color to some extent. However, there is a limit to how badly the color can be affected by cut. If your stones have excellent color, they might benefit from a custom recut.
You would need to have your gems examined by a lapidarist and get a price on custom recutting. If you can find someone knowledgeable who does good work, offers a reasonable price, and can recut without much weight loss, your gems may go up in value.
If you’re planning to sell these now custom-cut gemstones, keep in mind that anything custom is a high-end product. Finding a buyer who appreciates the finer things then becomes a necessity. Seller beware. The end result may be more difficult to sell at the premium it deserves.