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Cutting small gems

Cutting small gems can be an intimidating task if you’ve never done it before.

It is a little more fiddly than cutting a larger gem but, with practice, you can master the few techniques I’ve learnt to make cutting small gems second nature.

How do I cut smaller gems?

I’ve got four small opal pieces (two semi-rubbed and two rough) to work with today. Some people put their smaller gems straight on the dop stick but I recommend taking the time to learn how to use your fingers. It’s a matter of patience but, as you’ll see at the end, it pays off to be able to cut and sell the smaller stones.

You’ll wear your fingers away a little more working with smaller stones but hey… my career as a hand model wasn’t really taking off anyway.

Let’s take it to the wheel…

Make sure you rest your hands on an arm rest when cutting for stability. This is especially important for cutting small gems or if you’re downing your third cup of coffee for the morning.

Don’t use the rough wheel for small stones, stick to the fine wheel as it won’t wear down your opal as fast. You can wear away too much too quickly, otherwise.

The trick with small stones is to hold it with one hand, two fingers, and slightly turn the gem in constant movement to smooth and round the edges. If your fingers are grabbing they might not be oily enough; wipe your (sanitised) finger on your face to pick up some oil and the stone will start to slide on your fingers easily.

To flatten the face of the stone, keep using two fingers and press the stone into the fine wheel with your thumb. You can get slight inclusions out on the dop stick. At this stage, you want to focus on getting a nice shape and even surface.

The process is the same for each stone but the idea is to repeat, repeat, and repeat until it feels natural.

After cutting and pre-forming the opal, it’s time to put these four little opal rubs onto dop sticks. If you’re a seasoned viewer of my channel, this is a process you’ve seen a few times. To cut smaller gems you’ll need a smaller dop stick with a little less wax to make the opal sit nice and even.

The final opals after a polish, clean, and dry…

  • Our small cushion cut opal comes in at 0.68 carats and would be a perfect ring stone for a delicate look
  • The beautiful crystal opal came in at 0.95 carats and is bright with color on color
  • The crystal with the higher dome is 0.90 carats and has lovely rolling flash pattern
  • The black crystal opal is 0.71 carats with gorgeous green and red color which has already sold!

You have to learn to be quite nimble with your fingers when working with small stones but the outcome is so worth it. Small stones add up over time and they’re a great way to better your opal cutting skills.