Summary
Question: What’s the difference in value between factory-cut and custom-cut gemstones? I was recently told that the majority of my gems were commercially or factory cut. The implication was clear: there was something inferior about them. 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?
Reading time: 4 min
Supernova ametrine

Custom-cut “Supernova” ametrine, 21.73 cts. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Ritchies Auctioneers.

Answer: Cut quality does play an important part in determining a gemstone’s value. Gemologists use the Four Cs — color, clarity, cut, and carat — to grade gemstones. Cuts are graded as follows: (A) Excellent, (B) Very good, (C) Good, (D) Fair, (E) Acceptable, and Lower than acceptable. Only custom-cut gemstones will receive Excellent cut grades.

Why Custom-Cut Gemstones Appraise Higher Than Factory-Cut Gemstones

Commercial faceting methods have evolved from what are known in the trade as “native cuts.” 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, commercial cutting quality improved. Since the principle of producing more stones per day triumphed, commercial cutters embraced standardization. As a result, all their stones, no matter the shape, seem to look the same. These usually grade out as Very Good to Fair.

A professional lapidary would have to cut a gemstone, one at a time, for it to earn an Excellent grade. Each custom-cut gem would receive a particular facet design for that specific piece of material, selected to bring out the potential beauty of that 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’re 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.

Ron Campbell, Central Coast Gem Lab

custom-cut diamond ring

Custom-cut gemstones don’t fit into the mass-production process. However, they can fit into unique jewelry designs. This hand-made platinum ring features a 2.56-ct. center diamond and custom-cut, very thin, tapering baguette diamonds only 8mm long. “Special diamonds…,” photo by gemteck1. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Why the Market Values of Custom-Cut Gems Aren’t Higher

It’s a sad fact of the gem market that it’s impossible for custom cutting, at least to “our” standards as custom gem cutters, 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 or many fascinating, lesser known gemstones. 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.

Clive Washington

custom-cut gem dinosaur bone

This 14k palladium white gold hand-fabricated ring features a custom-cut gem dinosaur bone cab. Cut and photo by Jessa and Mark Anderson. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Can You Have Your Factory-Cut Colored Gemstones 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’s 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.

Roy Kersey

recut yellow sapphire - custom-cut gemstones

The 5.13-ct emerald-cut sapphire on the left had large, visible flaws on one end. On the right, you can see it after an expert custom recut. The gem is now an eye-clean, 3.26-ct fancy radiant cushion baguette. Photos © Dan Stair Custom Gemstones. Used with permission.