How to take a gem to a local goldsmith

Edward Bristol

May 25, 2005
After all the bad vibes let me try and contribute something useful.

People buy their gems online but often prefer to design a setting with a local goldsmith. This is a good way to combine the choices of the web with the touch and feel of a goldsmith’s workbench, but it often ends in discord.

These issues are reoccurring topics for us, so I wanted to share some advice:

1. Margin: Let them live.
A goldsmith used to earn from his craft and he had a margin from selling stones and metals. Today, the margin is threatened. Gold prices are public knowledge and gems sell on Ebay. Setting somebody’s gemstone is a completely different business than selling a finished product. A goldsmith who has not yet found a way around this problem will react negative to somebody walking in with his own stone. He needs to re-calculate his margin for a walk-in gemstone. Be prepared to pay more for such a job than you would on a ready-made piece from the same guy. Also, a local goldsmith will charge significantly more than a using a Chinese goldsmith factory. If you want the extra service you have to pay for it.

2. Guarantees: Cover the risk.
When a goldsmith sets his own gemstones he takes the risk and gets the profit. For a walk-in gemstone he is left with only the risk. Gems do sometimes break or suffer; stuff does go wrong. Any goldsmith working on somebody else’s gem needs to be freed of liability for the gem. Especially if you want him to set an apatite or some other sensitive animal you can not expect any guarantees. Let’s assume he does not destroy it on purpose, nor steals it; then the rest-risk is yours. Get a guarantee from your seller: If a gem breaks under normal working pressure it is the seller’s responsibility. In any case you need to take the risk from the goldsmith.

3. Knowledge: Be kind.
Do not expect a local goldsmith to know everything about cc apatite or rutile pezzottaite. If you are reading here, you are likely to have as much knowledge of colored gemstones as the average goldsmith. Most goldsmiths work regular only with the big four, some topaz and maybe a cat’s-eye. Be polite; help them along. You may print out some data on your stone, or simply let them research a small variety before you pester them about a setting.

As so often, it burns down to good old values: Be generous, fair and kind.


Sep 3, 2009
A good shot of how it looks from the other side of the bench, thanks, Ed.

--- Laurie
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