Whoops! Where did it go? A guide to finding lost stones.


Scene: A small apartment. A budding gemologist sits at the dining table, examining his new prize. Suddenly, but almost silently, the gem disappears from the tweezers. Heartbroken, our young gemologist begins franticly searching for his lost prize. He scans the tabletop. Soon, he is lifting things, looking under and behind every item on the table.

Failing to find the gem, the search moves to the floor. In ever widening circles, this young person searches his apartment. As he gets to the distant pieces of furniture cushions are lifted, hands stuck between the gaps. In frustration, our gemologist finally gets out the vacuum cleaner. A thorough cleaning of the floors and furniture evolves. The scene ends with our young person futilely going through the dust bag.

Dropping stones, or having them pop out of tweezers is something we all face. However, it does not need to be this frustrating. There are several things one can do to increase the chance of finding a lost stone.


The Environment

The room you use for gem identification, cutting, or metal smithing, should be well lit with neutral colored walls. Ideally, the floors will be flat and hard; wood, tile, or linoleum, but definitely not carpeted.

Of all the gems dropped on long shag carpets, maybe 20% have been recovered. With a short, tight pile, the percentage gets closer to 50%. On hard floors, nearly all dropped stones are found.

The reason is simple. Gems are tiny and easily slip between the fibers of a carpet. Even with the tightest pile, a stone can land on edge with just a tiny bit of its girdle above the pile. It might only be visible from one direction and quite possibly a direction you cannot get your head into. It is easily pressed deeper into the carpet, where it is lost forever.

With a hard floor, the situation is entirely different. On arriving at floor level, the first thing you notice is how dirty it is. (I just swept and mopped yesterday!) However, the entire gem is above the surface and with the help of a flashlight, brilliant reflections soon give away its location.


The Tools

While there are limits to remodeling your current gem room, with the proper tools and techniques, you can greatly eliminate the number of gems you drop. Tweezers are the most common tool for holding gems during examination, or when fitting them into a setting. They are also the tools most likely to send a gem flying into the void.

The best tweezers to use are those that lock the gem in place. That is why they are included in the “Stone Handling Kits” we offer members. By moving a slide forward, the gem is held in place with some security. Once properly set, it will not spring or fall out because of a change in the pressure you apply to the tweezers.

Beware of soldering tweezers. While they look ideally suited to the purpose, the spring tension is too strong for small gems. You will actually lose more gems with these and you may even damage some small stones.

There is a proper way to pick up gems with tweezers. First, turn the gem upside down, so it sits flat on the table. Then grasp it by the girdle. Larger and oblong stones can be picked up from other directions, but round gems will rarely offer you a good position for secure gripping, unless you turn them upside down.

Besides tweezers, you can use a stone holder for many purposes. It is excellent for examining stones. You can pick up a gem from the top or bottom and have all sides open for inspection. Since it is hard to accidentally open the holder, it is unsurpassed for handing a gem to another person.

Another useful tool is a bit of sticky substance on the end of a toothpick. Stores sell a modern material that has good adhesive properties and does not dry out. It keeps coming on the market under different names, so I cannot refer you to any particular brand. It is used to hold notes to the wall; a dab behind a picture frame prevents them from changing positions, etc.

For jewelry use, it makes an excellent “pick up stick.” Just a wee bit on the end of a toothpick is all you need. It will pick up the small stones from any position. I am fond of it for placing gems into settings. With this, you can hold the gem by the table as you set it in place.


The Techniques

When you loose a stone, the first thing to do is to come to a complete stop. Reflect for a moment on any sound you may have heard. This is an important clue as to which direction your search should proceed.

Begin looking at your desk or tabletop. Move items as needed to see under and behind them. Also, make sure to look inside any open containers.

Once satisfied that it is not on the table, look at your lap, then at the floor. If you do not see it, the gently slide your chair back. Realize that this motion can be moving the gem, or burying it in the carpet. That is why you need to do a careful inspection before proceeding.

As you stand up, watch your lap for falling gems. Inspect the seat of the chair and any folds in your clothing. If this does not produce the gem, then move your chair completely out of the way.

Get down on the floor and inspect it with a flashlight. First, shine the light down on the floor, and then hold the flashlight at floor level. This is your most useful technique for finding lost stones. Light will reflect off the gem, letting you see stones that would be otherwise invisible.

Also, use your hands to “see” in places your eyes cannot, like behind the table legs. Expand your search as needed, with the flashlight as your main tool. Also, check to see if it could have landed on top of other nearby furniture.


Knowing When to Quit

While no one likes to loose gems, it is something we need to deal with. The first step is prevention. Take the necessary steps to avoid dropping gems in the first place.

With the proper technique, you can find most gems in a matter of a couple of minutes. However, realize that some gems will never be found. If you do not find it in a reasonable amount of time, give up. There is no sense in being a stubborn fool about it!

Addendum

Here is a great tip that was sent in by one of our members.

Oh and I have been meaning to tell you about a little trick we girls use when beading. If we drop very small things on the carpet and can’t see it no matter how hard we have tried–this is a last resort—take a knee high women’s silk/nylon stocking and insert it into the hose end of a strong vacuum cleaner. Secure it at the end with a rubber band and start cleaning in the area you lost your stone/bead. The nylon stocking will act as a fine filter.

After a few swipes, pull out the nylon stocking and inspect/sift through the ingredients. If your stone/bead is not in there, take a few more swipes. The darn thing will show up eventually. It is amazing how far they can wander from where you think it fell. I lose them all the dang time but luckily have found them all so far.

Thanks, Sue

About the author
Donald Clark, CSM IMG
Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters "CSM" after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff's ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book "Modern Faceting, the Easy Way."
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