Justin Prim from the Institute Of Gem Trading has kindly written this article on Recutting Gemstones for Profit. This article follows his thoughts and experiences with creating a gem school in Thailand that centres around this principle.
Over the last few years of teaching and cutting gems in Bangkok, one of the things I’ve started to focus on is recutting gemstones as part of my business model. Thanks to a more educated awareness about gem cut quality, the demand for well-cut stones has increased, not only in American and European markets but in Asia as well. I see regular customers in Bangkok that are specifically asking for well-cut stones. Due to the large amount commercial quality cut stones in Bangkok as well as the many trade shows around the world, a unique niche exists in the gem trade for recutting services.
The art of the recut is not for the faint of heart. It’s a skill that requires an experienced eye and an experienced cutting hand. The first thing a customer will ask you is “How much weight will you lose?” If you don’t have enough cutting experience to answer this question then don’t take the job. Recutting takes a lot of practice to learn the technique, to understand the various issues that come up during the recutting process, as well as seeing what your final carat yield is over the course of dozens, if not hundreds of recuts.
The foundational skills are able to be learned. As part of our Cutting and Recutting for Gem Business course at the Institute of Gem Trading, we teach you how to approach recutting in an easy, systematic way. The first thing you have to do is get the cut stone on the dop in a way that is oriented correctly to lose the least amount of weight. Before you can even get to the actual cutting though, you need a plan. This is where the experience comes in. When you look at a cut stone you need to be able to identify what problems the cut is giving the stone and if it’s possible to solve them in a reasonable way. This is another one of the skills we teach in the course. If the stone belongs to a customer, they usually have an idea on what they want to change… maybe they want to close a window, fix the proportions, change the shape to something more pleasing to the eye, or change the faceting pattern to transmit more light and color. There are many reasons to do a recut, but there are as many times when recutting doesn’t make financial sense.
Recutting always involves a lot of math because you need to understand how much your stone is worth before the recut and how much it’s going to be worth after you lose 10–50% of the stones weight to fix its problems. If you don’t understand these numbers then don’t take work from a client. Practice on cheap stones to start to get an idea on how much weight you lose when you repolish, when you close a window, when you have to touch the girdle. You can’t responsibly accept a client’s stone if you can’t tell them (with some degree of certainty) that you can fix the problem within a certain percentage of the original weight.
As I said, recutting is not for the faint of heart. If you have only ever cut from a diagram, then get some practice without the diagram before recutting. There is no diagram in recutting. You need to be able to judge the original facet angles and figure out how to adjust them to make better proportions. You need to know how to adjust angles on the fly. The original cut is probably not symmetrical to start with, so you will have to deal with different facets at different angles. Depending on the value of the stone, it’s not always possible to cut all the angles around the stone to the same angle. You need to be able to improvise and adjust as you go. That’s part of the fun.
I have to admit though, the best part of recutting is when you finish the stone and compare your work to the original cut. There is nothing like it. Cutting from rough never gives you the same feeling because you never quite know what the potential of a stone is until it’s been at least preformed. With a recut, you can clearly see what the potential was for one cutter and then you get to see the upgraded potential from your own hands and skills. It’s a great feeling as an artist and it’s an even greater feeling when you sell the stone and realize that its value has increased, despite the fact that it’s carat weight decreased.
Justin K Prim is an American lapidary and gemologist living and working in Bangkok, Thailand. He has studied gemcutting traditions all over the world as well as attending gemology programs at GIA and AIGS. He is currently working on a book about the worldwide history of gemstone faceting. He works as a Lapidary Instructor for the Institute of Gem Trading as well as writing articles, producing videos, and giving talks about gem cutting history.
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