We take it for granted that the stones in high-end jewellery will always look magnificent and stay in place. This is only possible due to the expertise of a team of highly skilled artisans who work behind the scenes.
Without the specialised techniques of stone cutting and gem setting, the valuable stones in a piece of jewellery would not have the dramatic impact they do. The artisans’ skill is integral in presenting the stones in the most flattering way, using minimal materials to secure the gem, while providing maximum durability. It’s literally what holds the piece together.
At diamond specialists Graff, for example, each setting is crafted by hand to highlight the nuances of the diamond, while the ring mounters ensure the stone is perfectly positioned to optimise the light reflecting off its facets.
“The process of becoming a Graff master craftsman is akin to being entrusted with a book of secrets − gaining access to skills and techniques that simply could not be learned elsewhere.”
Each of Graff’s masterpieces is crafted in the London atelier in Mayfair. From design concept to final polishing, by the time some of these pieces leave the workshop over 100 hours have been devoted to their creation.
Once a piece is designed, the diamonds are selected to complement the design. The craftsman jeweller then creates the mount (the settings that hold each diamond securely in place) according to the precise requirements of the design. They must remain as tucked away as possible, allowing the diamonds to shine – literally and figuratively. Intricate mechanisms or articulations are hidden within the mount, placing the diamonds in such a way that they derive maximum benefit from the play of light.
The final step is polishing. The piece is pre-polished before the diamond setter adjusts each stone, while the final polish of each part of the completed mount involves several stages, using a series of different compounds.
The creation of the Cartier High Jewellery collection, which is lavishly set with pearls, diamonds, and other gems, is also a long and intricate process. “It takes two years from the moment the stone is first selected by the designer to the completion of the creation,” says director of High Jewellery Creation Studio at Cartier International, Jacqueline Karachi.
“At first, the selection of the stones is conducted together with a gemologist, the buyer and the designer who travel together to trade shows or visit the dealer,” she explains. “The designers work in close collaboration with the technical experts so as to create achievable pieces. Then come the sculptors for the animal and figurative pieces, the jewellers who design the pieces, the stone setters, the stonecutters and the polishers. It takes at least a year in the workshop or more.”
Director of High Jewellery Creation Studio at Cartier International, Jacqueline Karachi.
A feat of engineering
The opal used in Piaget’s Limelight Gala High Jewellery had to be cut to match the design.
“At each step of the process – cutting, machining, gluing − you have high risks of breaking the opal.”
Cynthia Tabet, global product marketing director for Piaget.
It’s a rare and difficult trade. “You need to have very skilled artisans who can pass this passion into the jewel.” says Bulgari’s head of high jewellery, Giampaolo Della Croce.
“It’s a work of art, but also a feat of engineering.”
Bulgari’s head of high jewellery, Giampaolo Della Croce.