Most experienced gem cutters will recommend quartz as a good choice for beginners. It does have two major advantages over other stones: it’s both inexpensive and easy to acquire clear material. In addition, most commonly available gem faceting designs have cutting angles already optimized for quartz. Personally, I would recommend novices try either quartz or pale or colorless beryl for their first gemstones.
By Jeff R. Graham 2 minute read
goshenite (beryl)

Goshenite is the colorless variety of beryl. Goshenite, 16.61-ct, Brazil. Photo by DonGuennie. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

First Gemstones: Beryls

When pale colored or colorless, beryls are also inexpensive and fairly easy to find. (This excludes the more celebrated, colorful, and expensive varieties, such as aquamarine, emerald, morganite, and red beryl).

Either quartz or beryl would make a good place to start learning.

More Options for Beginners

Garnets and tourmalines also make fine first gemstones. However, these usually cost more than quartz or beryl. Thus, most instructors don’t recommend them to novices. Nevertheless, I feel it’s important to cut something worthwhile, even if you’re learning. After all, you’ll spend many hours faceting a stone. Your garnets and tourmalines will be worth something when you’re done cutting.

tourmaline - first gemstones

Elbaite tourmalines, set of nine rose red and light green tourmaline crystals, total weight 28 grams, 2.3 x 1.2 x 1.2 cm (largest), from Aracuai (Arassuai), Jequitinhonha Valley, Minas Gerais, Brazil. © Rob Lavinsky, Used with permission.

Natural or Synthetic?

I prefer my students start practicing on a natural stone. However, if you really want to cut synthetics, laser glass makes a good starting point. Avoid cubic zirconia (CZ) and lab-created corundum and spinel. These are much harder to cut and polish, especially for beginners. In addition, these synthetic gems require more laps and additional time.

amethyst quartz rough

Sawed, natural, “Rose de France” amethyst (quartz) rough

What Size Rough Should I Cut?

I recommend you start with a moderate-size rough stone, from 5 to 20 cts (1 to 4 grams). This gives you room to make mistakes and correct them. (You’ll most likely need it).

garnets - first gemstones

Garnets, rough and cut stones. Photo by Ville Koistinen. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

What Type of Gemstone Should I Cut Second?

If you started with quartz or beryl, try a garnet next. After that, try a tourmaline.

When you’ve cut at least one stone each of quartz, beryl, garnet, and tourmaline and feel more confident, move on to topaz. Light colored or blue topaz is inexpensive. Due to its perfect cleavage, you’ll find topaz a bit more difficult to work with. It also takes more effort to polish.

topaz- first gemstones

Topaz crystal. Photo by Roy Goldberg. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.