How to learn professional stonesetting - Part 2: Define your goals

learning Jan 04, 2023

If you’re like most of the jewellers reading this, your goal is probably to do great setting. That’s an excellent goal to have, and there’s plenty of opportunity out there for those who achieve it. But to actually make it happen, we need to pick it apart and work out what that really means.


What is great setting?

First of all, let’s look at the attributes that successful setters have.

  • Quality
  • Speed
  • Adaptability

We’re aiming to improve in all three areas.

Quality and speed can each be achieved at the expense of the other; you can increase your quality by working very slowly, or you can increase your speed by lowering your standards. While every setter has to find their own place on this scale, your goal should be to improve both at once. Successful setters can consistently produce good quality work at a profitable speed.

Being adaptable means being able to achieve whatever is needed when the circumstances are different. Even if you’re not attempting all setting styles, real trade work will throw variations and challenges at you that you’ll need to tackle. For example, many setters are comfortable with regular bead setting, but run into serious problems when the work involves large stones, fragile stones or tight spaces. An adaptable setter can find ways to solve these common issues without too much impact on their quality and speed. One of the main factors for becoming adaptable is to properly learn the underlying principles and variations of a style, not just the basic process.

Let’s look at how to develop and improve all three of these necessary attributes.


Define your goals

The first step to developing professional setting skills is to define your goals as clearly and specifically as possible. Which styles of stonesetting work will have the greatest impact on your business and career?

Some common types of setting work learned by bench jewellers are:

  • Bead/grain
  • Pavé
  • Split claw
  • Shared claw
  • Bezel
  • Flush/pressure
  • Claw/prong
  • Channel
  • Star
  • Illusion

(Note that the names of setting styles aren’t universal - one style may have many different names)

It takes many years to become proficient in all styles, so aiming for the wrong target here can cost a lot of time and money.


Split-claw setting is one of the most in-demand styles of setting, and one of the easiest to learn


There are some common mistakes that jewellers make when learning to set:


Too Many Things

One mistake is trying to learn too many things at once. This could be by attending a setting course that teaches “a bit of everything” over a few days, or jumping from one YouTube video to the next without a clear plan. This “chase many rabbits but catch none” approach typically wastes months of effort and only gets slow results.

 While full-time contract setters need to be extremely versatile in the work they do to cater to the needs of various trade clients, jewellers often have the luxury of being able to focus their learning on the types of setting that they most often need, and to some extent steer their customers to what they know they can deliver. By tackling their learning goals one at a time, busy jewellers can make progress much more effectively.


The Wrong Things

Another mistake is spending time learning skills that aren’t a priority for your business. If your current workload doesn’t involve much star setting or advanced pavé, and you don’t intend to move in that direction, you’ll be better off leaving those until you can set your mainstream work profitably. Stonesetting schools (including mine) will appeal to their audiences with glamorous images of their most impressive samples, but always ask yourself if those skills are the ones you personally need for the types of work you want to do.


This variation on an illusion setting was an excellent solution for this particular remodel, but wouldn't be a priority for most jewellers to learn.


If small-stone setting work such as beadwork and split-claw is one of your goals, I strongly recommend skipping the traditional hand-push classes and jumping straight into the microscope and pneumatic methods. This is a controversial view that many traditionally trained setters disagree with, but I’ve taught it both ways and have seen the microscope method get much faster results. A skilled setter should always strive to understand the principles that were developed by their traditional predecessors, but spending months learning to hand-push gravers is unnecessary. Yes, the modern tools cost a lot more, but the fastest way usually proves to be the cheapest way when you price in the value of your time.

"The fastest way usually proves to be the cheapest way when you price in the value of your time."

When you understand the perils of learning too much at once, or learning the wrong thing altogether, you’re ready to take aim at the right target.


Take Aim


Consider these factors when deciding which styles of setting work to learn first:

  • What type of work do you encounter most, that you could practise on regularly?
  • Which jobs can’t already be done for you by a contractor or employee?
  • Which styles suit your available tools or budget?
  • Which styles are easiest to start with?
  • What do you most want to learn?

The more carefully you consider this, the more focused you'll be in your execution, and the more success you'll have. It also enables you to later evaluate if you’ve succeeded or not, then work out why.

In the final part of this series, I’ll look at the three essential ingredients that accurately predict your success or failure when learning to set.

This is the second of 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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