Choosing a Microscope for Stonesetting

tools and equipment Nov 27, 2022

Choosing the right microscope for stone setting can be confusing, and there are many models available. This post is in response to common student questions. Rather than being a comprehensive guide to all possible options, the focus is on the models and configurations most popular and recommended for the jewellery trade.


Stereo microscopes

Stonesetting microscopes are always low-power Stereo Zoom microscopes, which is why the model numbers (SKUs) often use the letters S, Z and M. This article doesn't cover camera-and screen type digital microscopes, as they're not generally used in the industry. It's been well established by setters and engravers everywhere that if you want to work under good magnification and keep your back straight, a stereo microscope is the only way to do it.



Firstly, let's look at the different components typically needed when buying a scope. Often these parts will be bundled together as a package, however you should still check that everything you need is included.


Microscope head

This is the actual microscope part of your setup, containing most of the optics. It will have a zoom knob for changing the magnification. Some models of scope include a trinocular port, which allows a camera to be attached. Doing this isn't always simple however, and some models will redirect the image from one eyepiece to the camera, making it difficult to work while filming. I suggest doing some careful research before selecting a trinocular model of scope.

A Leica A60 head (dark), which can be mounted on a variety of different stands (faint)




These may or may not be interchangeable; often they are permanently attached as part of the microscope head. Most eyepieces have rubber eye cups that can be removed if preferred. Eyepieces are typically (but not always) 10x.


10x eyepieces 


10x eyepieces on a Meiji EMZ-5 with rubber eye cups attached



This is how the microscope is mounted to your bench. The three main types of stand are boom/swing arm, flex/articulated arm, and "acrobat" style arm.

Boom arms

These are rigid and affordable. They allow the scope to be swung aside when it isn't needed, but not easily repositioned. They suit full-time setting benches best, as they can be cumbersome to constantly move into and out of position on a jeweller's bench.

It's important to check the height of the vertical post before buying a boom stand; different heights are available and some are not tall enough to be mounted directly onto a desk-style bench. If you do end up with a post that's too short, you can screw a thick wooden block to your bench as a riser, and mount the stand to that.

Optek boom arm


Flex arms

These allow a much larger range of movement in all directions and can usually be locked in place if preferred. These suit jewellers who like to move their scope out of the way, and sometimes even reposition it over another bench. They are less suited to headrests, and a more prone to wobble when bumped or if mounted to a wobbly bench.

A Leica flex-arm stand at full extension


"Acrobat" style stands

These are bulky and provide a high degree of rigidity and flexibility at the same time, but usually at a higher cost. They are generally solid enough to be used with a headrest, although some cheaper brands are not as rigid as they appear.

A GRS Acrobat Versa stand extended


In many cases a supplier will sell a scope head and stand from different manufacturers as part of a package. 



Some stand and microscope combinations also enable the use of a headrest, which can make scope usage more comfortable by reducing neck fatigue and helping with head positioning. I use a headrest on my A60, but it isn't necessary.

Leica A60 with GRS headrest


Focus block

Many microscopes use a separate focus block that sits between the stand and the head. This functions as the main focusing mechanism; it works by moving the microscope head up or down slightly when the knob is turned. Some models allow the head to tilt, which I prefer and recommend.


 Optek tilting focus block supplied with EMZ-5 package by Meiji


Some models, such as the popular Leica A60, have the focus and tilt mechanism permanently attached to the scope head. In this case the head can be mounted directly to the stand.


Objective lens

An Objective, or Barlow, lens, is considered to be an essential add-on by most setters. It decreases the magnification of your scope and increases the working distance – that’s the space between the scope and whatever it can focus on. Most microscopes used for stone setting are industrial scopes which, by default, don't allow enough distance between the work and the bottom lens for our hands to work comfortably. An objective lens can increase the working distance while decreasing magnification by the same proportion. Which power of lens you need depends on personal preference and the model of scope, but most setters use a 0.5x or 0.63x.

Note that the objective lenses typically used with the popular Leica A60 microscope require an extra spacing adapter (GRS and Leica both make these) to ensure they work throughout the full zoom range.

Left to right: 0.63x objective lens for Leica A60, GRS lens adapter (spacer ring) for A60, 0.5x objective lens for Meiji EMZ-5



0.5x objective lens mounted on a Meiji EMZ-5 (with ring light removed for visibility)


Ring light

A ring light is an LED array that surrounds the bottom lens of your scope to illuminate the work and eliminate shadows. Some of the more expensive ring lights have diffusers to reduce glare, and most models have adjustable brightness. Personally, I like to use extra lighting behind my scope so that the ring light doesn't need to be too bright.

The ring light is the only electrical piece of your microscope setup. Depending on where you purchased the scope from, you may need to change the mains power cable to fit the socket used in your country.

My experience has been that the less expensive ring lights perform perfectly well, and last just as long as the much more expensive brands.


Optek LED ring light


Ring light as mounted on microscope


Microscope Models

The microscope is likely to be one of the most used tools on your bench, so it's wise to buy the best one you can afford. The two most popular models for stone setting are the Meiji EMZ-5 and the Leica A60, both of which are excellent choices and are in the mid to upper price range. However, there are models to suit all budgets, making it much easier for new users to upgrade their benches.


Low-cost models

Low-cost microscopes include models by Vevor, Amscope and many others available from Amazon or AliExpress. In my experience most of these models use the same head unit, which is produced by DZQ Tools in Guangzhou, China.

Low-cost models are sometimes quite useable and can be a good introduction for a beginner. The cheapest versions are often said to have poor quality control meaning that some units may not have good optics, but but because of the ambiguous re-branding this is difficult to confirm and could be untrue. Some users complain of eye fatigue and headaches, whereas others happily use these models for years with no problems. Typically the cheaper scopes have a thinner depth of field, making it more difficult to keep the work in focus.


A budget microscope and stand combination on a traditional jeweller's bench. This isn't an ideal solution but can be made to work.


The ZQ Stereo Microscope is a low-cost microscope head made by DZQ Tools. It is similar to the more expensive Meiji EMZ-5 but with a plastic casing and cheaper-feeling mechanism. I've spent some time trialing this model on my own bench and was surprised at the acceptable quality of the optics, convincing me that this is a viable choice for many people. The ZQ is rebranded by a number of other companies and configured with various stands, lenses and ring lights.


The Vevor "Micro Inlaid Mirror Multi-Directional Microscope" is a re-branded ZQ-1 (see above) with an acrobat-style Maxset stand. The model offered in my region didn't include a ring light but was otherwise ready to go for setting work. This is the cheapest (new) setup I've seen on the market, and has perfectly acceptable optics. I found the Maxset stand to be solid but not as enjoyable to use as a GRS Acrobat or basic boom stand - the focusing mechanism is particularly unrefined - but for the price it's pretty hard to complain. This is a good entry level scope for someone on a budget.

Vevor stereo microscope with Maxset stand


Amscope SM745

Amscope microscopes sit on the boundary between "budget" and "mid-range". The build quality is not as refined as the more expensive options, but most users say they can work comfortably and find them comparable to Meiji. The Amscope website offers a large range of scope configurations based around their workhorse SM head, so you can choose the right stand, light, lenses and eyepieces. I believe the SM head is the same DZQ ZQ head (see above) used by Vevor, OttoSetters and many others, but I asked Amscope about this and they were unsurprisingly evasive about it. Even so, I think the value in Amscope is not just the optics but also the accessories, range, service and availability, so I would give them serious consideration if I were shopping in that price range.

Note: Amscope's website can confuse people by offering many identical looking scopes with wildly varied zoom ranges, such as 3.5X - 180X, each with a different model number (SKU). This is because the scope head is often bundled with a collection of different lenses and eyepieces that theoretically give greater zoom range when swapped over. For most setters, the SM745 with a 0.5x objective lens is sufficient.


Midrange models

Mid-range microscopes are very popular with professional jewellers and setters. The price of a unit can vary significantly depending on the type of stand and ring light selected.

Available models include Leica A60, Meiji EMZ, Diamax, Durston.

Leica A60

This is probably the most popular microscope in its price range, and for good reason. Despite its all-plastic casing it has good build quality, excellent optical quality, great depth of field and many accessories (thanks largely to it being supported and promoted by GRS). Its main drawbacks are that it has a lower maximum zoom than many competitors (30x, compared to 45x on the Meiji equivalents) and there is no trinocular model for attaching a camera.

Package should include:

  1. Head unit (focus mechanism and eyepieces are built in)
  2. Your preferred stand (GRS stands are common but the basic Leica boom is also good for fixed-position use)
  3. 0.63x objective lens (0.75x also acceptable)
  4. Lens adapter ring (Leica or GRS branded)
  5. LED Ring light
  6. Headrest (optional)
Meiji EMZ-5

This is a popular microscope that has been around for decades. It's cheaper than its nearest competitor, the Leica A60, and actually has a greater maximum zoom. The optical quality isn't quite as good as the A60's but it's still more than good enough for high-end work. I measure the depth of field to be about three-quarters that of the Leica A60, which is perfectly useable once your focusing skills are developed.

Note: Occasionally people find that the distance between their pupils is less than the Meiji scopes can accommodate. If you think your eyes may be spaced relatively closely together, please check the specifications on the Meiji website and confirm that it will work.

Package should include:

  1. Head unit
  2. 10x eyepieces
  3. 0.5x Objective lens
  4. Your preferred stand, (I use Optek boom stand as packaged by agent; remember to check the height of the vertical post)
  5. 84.5mm mount tilt focus block
  6. LED Ring light
Meiji EMZ-8, EMZ-10, EMZ-13

These Meiji scopes are less common than the much-loved EMZ-5 but have similar construction and should be configured in a similar way. They generally offer variations in working distance and zoom range compared to the EMZ-5, so you may need to use a different objective lens. The EMZ-8TR is a trinocular model that can be used with a suitable camera without disconnecting one of the eye tubes. The EMZ-10 and EMZ-13 have slightly different magnification and working distances.

Olympus SZ51 and SZ61

These models are much-loved by some, but they haven't been as widely adopted in the jewellery industry. I haven't tried them and would recommend sticking with the better-known choices.


High-end models

These models are the best quality scopes but usually for a much higher price. They all provide a greater zoom range and/or trinocular camera port, as well as optical improvements that may not be noticeable compared to the mid-range models. In most cases these models are chosen by experienced setters who are upgrading from a mid-range model. If you're considering buying one of these, I recommend visiting a supplier showroom and trying them in person. 

Zeiss Stemi 305
Zeiss Stemi 508
Leica S7
Leica S9



The information in this article is based on my own experience and research. There could be errors, and your own unique situation could make your needs and preferences different to mine. I can't guarantee that what works for me will work for you, or be liable for problems caused by acting on the information and views given here.

If you spot an error or missing detail, I would love to hear from you. I always give credit for significant contributions. Please contact me here.


Hopefully this post has answered some of your questions about stonesetting microscopes. By subscribing to our mailing list below, you'll hear about new setting tips as soon as they're available!

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