How to learn professional stonesetting - Part 1: Jump the gap

learning Dec 28, 2022

Professional jewellers know the value of good stone setting work. When your stone setting is good, everything about your jewellery is better - it looks better in photos and Instagram, it's more profitable because you can set it efficiently, and it can be more distinctive because you can adapt your skills to suit different styles and designs.

For many jewellers, the stone setting stage can be a real bottleneck in their business. Contractors are often over-booked and unable to deliver on time, while doing it yourself can seem slow and unrewarding.

In this 3-part series I want to look at the things that are likely to be holding you back from doing your best setting work, and I'll explain what strategic planning it takes to really lift your skills to a professional standard.

This approach isn’t for everyone. It works if you're already in the jewellery industry, you have good bench skills, and you've got access to some sort of setting workload that you can take on when you're ready.

And a quick promise from me – the conclusion to this article isn’t “buy my courses!” or a sales pitch of any kind. I believe the principles here can help people far outside my own market.

Without a doubt, one of the best ways to make your jewellery stand out from the crowd is to have better stone setting - and it is possible to learn to do this yourself if you go about it the right way.

In this article, I’ll be looking at how the “the gap” is the place where good intentions die, and how to make sure that doesn’t happen for you.


The Gap

In my 24 years as a professional stone setter and teacher, I’ve spoken to countless jewellers who’ve unsuccessfully tried to learn to set their own work. While their individual circumstances vary, there are some common themes that keep coming up, and it’s possible to draw some interesting conclusions from their experiences.

In all cases, these jewellers failed to “jump the gap”, and their stone setting ambitions either faltered or died a slow death.

So what is the gap, and why do so many fail to jump over it?

Let's plot the setting journey on a graph.

When you first start to learn setting, your work is slow and untidy and you have a limited repertoire. There's an upfront cost for your tools and training, but if all goes well and you practice regularly, your work eventually becomes neat and profitable, and you’re versatile enough to set whatever you need to.

But why do so many jewellers never reach this goal?

Somewhere in the middle is another milestone - and that's when your skills are good enough that you can start setting some basic real work (see the orange arrow, below). Before this point, you were spending time on practice plates and mounts - you still weren't producing anything that could be sold, so the cost of your time was high and your return on investment was low.

This period between when you start to learn and when you start to earn is called “the gap”.

For those who are able push through this stage and reach the minimum standard for quality setting work, everything starts to change, and things get easier. Because you can earn as you practise, your costs go down, your motivation goes up, your opportunities increase and after a few months, you're doing your setting work faster, neater, and more independently than ever before. It's more rewarding and more fun.



The problem for many people is they never jump the gap; they can't get from the practice plate to the real work. This happens for either of two reasons:

  1. They’re not progressing fast enough
  2. They’re not learning the skills they actually need

If you imagine the gap as a creek you literally need to jump over, the principle is the same. You need to be moving fast, and you need to be moving in the right direction (in physics this is called velocity). If you jump too slowly or at the wrong angle, you’re less likely to make it across!

Suppose you’ve invested the time and money into learning stonesetting, then you do some practice, but it's slow and inconvenient and you get busy... so you stop practising. It could be that the skills you’ve been working on aren’t what your real work requires, or that it’s just taking too long to get to the standard you need. At this stage it's also quite common for a person to leap into difficult work too early in the journey, then have a bad experience and get disheartened.

If you never make it to the real-work stage, you may have learned some interesting things but you haven’t achieved your goal, and your investment has been wasted. If you want to succeed, you MUST have a plan for bridging this gap as quickly as possible.

Firstly, carefully consider what your goals are, so you can put all your efforts into the skills you really need.

Secondly, make sure you have all the ingredients you need to be able to achieve these goals within months, not years.

By properly considering and planning these two things in advance, your likelihood of doing neat and profitable setting work will already be much higher.


A soft landing

Once these factors are in place and you’ve taken the jump, it also helps to have a soft landing. This is done by choosing the right types of real work to do first, so you can be practising on the job without unnecessary setbacks. 

Plan ahead and create some opportunities if possible. You may be able to make some pieces for stock, or start with lower-cost items that can be remade if things don’t go to plan.

The ideal “real work” to start with is:

  • Similar to the exercises you’ve already done
  • Easy to hold when working
  • Not too fragile, expensive, or sentimental
  • Not required in a hurry

Real work presents its own challenges each time, so your confidence will increase with experience. You’ll have to go slower at first but it’s an important step.

In the next post in this series, I'll take a detailed look at how to set your goals correctly and the common mistakes people make when doing this. Then in part 3, we'll look at the three essential ingredients for success and how to get them.


This is the first in a 3-part series on how to learn professional stonesetting. By subscribing to our mailing list below, you'll hear about new posts as soon as they're available!

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