Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flush-setting at last!

These days I look a lot at my left pinky. Not that it’s something special, but it holds a small ring that I just created – and in the ring I have flush set two light blue sapphires.

So? You may ask.

Well, this is my first flush-set piece and I’m terribly proud of it! I have been wanting to learn this technique, that I constantly see used very elegantly around me, for ages. Look for instance at some of my favourite designers Vibes amazing rings:

- Impossible to create without mastering flush-setting. To me this is a very professional way of setting stones and hence is something you do, when you are a “real” jeweler. Needles to say, that I felt somewhat inferior being unable to perform that technique.

I actually tried once with a piece of copper and some glass stones and broke both, which didn’t help mending my feeling of inferiority. Since I have been asking quite a few very talented goldsmiths how exactly they do it. The variations in their directions were very small, but in this way I slowly saved up courage and knowledge to give the technique another try.

I have just created a stunning ring made of her own old whitegold rings for a customer with quite a few flush set diamonds. I had to hand it over to a professional setter in order to finish it properly.

It annoyed me not being able to do it myself and when my customer picked up the ring, she asked, before leaving why I didn’t just learn the technique myself?

That was the last straw. I decided, there and then, to give it a go as soon as I was alone in my workshop again. I couldn’t find my practice stones made of glass and decided to jump straight to the real thing and pulled out a cast silver ring which I had previously made and two light blue sapphires of 3 and 2,5mm. I chose those stones partly because I happened to have quite a few of them and partly because sapphires are very hard (second after diamonds), so I figured they would be able to take some abuse.

And here is how I went about it:

I drilled a hole of 2 mm where I wanted the first stone. This part is debatable. The usual reason to do so is, that it will let more light in. Actually I think this is bullsh*. If you wear a ring, no light can penetrate from below – at all. I have seen plenty of flush set stones with no holes drilled through. However, I chose to do it here, because it seemed to me to be the easiest solution for a beginner and because it made it possible to check if it actually stuck (by pushing in a needle from behind).

Then I took a round burr which was a fraction smaller than the diameter of the stone = 2,8 mm and drilled until JUST a bit over half down. This is the critical part. Drill too deep and you end up with a well where it’s impossible to push enough material down. Drill too shallow and you won’t be able to collect enough material to form the edge. Practice is the name of the game I assume – and going slowly. As mentioned before: You might as well go straight to the ball burr-part, so you only switch burr once.
Then I switched to the setting burr – the one that looks like a house from the side and which creates a good edge for the stone to rest on. Choose one of the exact same size or a fraction bigger – no more! Now I had a hole that was ideally fitted for the stone. Well, obviously I ended up swapping burrs around a lot, because I went slowly and carefully and had to adjust and take out more silver than I had initially done, but I ended up learning how to achieve the right depth.

In went the stone. What you are looking for is that the “table” – the flat top of the facet-cut stone – is absolutely flush with the surface you are attempting to set in. Hence the name of the technique.

I then chose to work a bit like when you are bezel setting: With my point burnisher (it looks like a short awl or pricker, just with a bit more rounded point) I pressed in the edge north, south, east and west to roughly secure the stone before starting to follow the edge around, slowly pushing it down upon the stone. In the end I just went round and round, tilting the burnisher more and more vertical as I went.

And all of a sudden, it was done. The stone didn’t move any more. I tried to hit it loose - it didn’t come loose. I pricked through from the backside with a needle (though not full force) and it stayed. I had flush set my first stone! Okay... the surface had taken quite a bit of abuse, how fortunate that I had gone for a design with a coarse surface, but still... stone was stuck and that was the main thing!

Immediately I went for the 2,5 mm stone and repeated the process with the same good result.

Surprised and happy I sat back and admired my work, awed by the fact that I had finally done it and even succeeded in my first attempt!

All of a sudden I feel like a ”grown up” jeweler and a whole new range of designs opened up to me. A big design-limitation has been removed. Yesyes, I will have to practice some more etc., but the ice is broken and the way to tiny glittering diamonds flush set in my designs is paved. Hooray! I am looking forward to sharing those designs with you in future.

(There are many more instructions on flush setting on the internet. If you would like another one, check out the one from Ganoksin: )

A last comment on the hole-drilling-issue:
I was so enthusiastic about my new ability that I decided to throw myself into creating a new version with more, but smaller stones - this time without the holes behind the stones. Again I went for sapphires, but various shades of pinks. Here is the result together with the first try:

And solo:

I think it came out quite nice and when reconsidering the hole-or-no-hole-issue, I took a closer look at the first ring. Turns out that I can see the colour of my skin shining through the biggest of the blue stones when I'm wearing the ring, which isn't necessarily a good thing. I don't think I'll drill through again, or if I do, use a very small drill, but what do you say? Hole or no hole?


  1. Congratulations! Beautiful work. I vote for hole if you're setting diamonds and the design makes it possible. Even though the light doesn't penetrate from below, I believe the free space below the diamond enables it to better reflect the light back.

  2. a hart bur is the one used to undercut the channel for the stone (I guess that's the 3rd step). I always remind people learning to STOP THE DRILL before lifting up the bur, then lift it out gently, as the most important part is the integrity of the "lip" (metal you will use to push over the stone). if you mess up the lip, you can always try the same setting with .25mm larger stone... it's a good idea to have multiple bur sizes & multiple stone sizes on hand for learning this technique. GOOD JOB!

  3. I go with the hole - for one simple reason: you can make sure the stone is propperly set by pinching it form the back. You dont need to make such a big hole, just for a needle to be stuck trough. Flush settings can otherwise be diffucult to know, if they have enough material pushed over.

    I know flush settings as "gipsy settings". I use it a lot, its a nice way of protecting the stone, but its of cause more difficult to modify later - the stones are difficult to take out.. Pro-cons, pro-cons. =)

    And hey - your first "tries" looks great - nice work! =)

  4. Thank you and... hmm.... still confused, but on a higher level. When I delivered the white gold ring and all the diamonds mentioned above to the setter, they asked if it was okay that they drilled through. I said yes.
    However, when I picked the ring up, they had not drilled though and the sparkle was definitely not diminished!
    So I'm thinking: If the highly professional setter does not drill through, there must be a good reason, right?

  5. True. But im just a happy amateur ;-) and I always check that the stone is propperly set by pinching it from the back. I could not live with my costumers loosing their stones. I guess, when I start to get settings where the stone doesnt fall out after pinching it, ill stop drilling the hole trough... Or at least I will feel safe with making the choice. It could be that i'm just playing it too safe, but it helps me sleep like an angel. =)

  6. has anyone ever considered that when the stone is secured and checked via the setting hole that it would be easy to fill in the hole with solder?

  7. Hi, nice job with the rings, they are very beautiful. I believe the reason for drilling the hole is so that the stone can be cleaned from behind. Even if the stone is very well set, over time micro particles of dust and dirt will accumulate and if there is no hole, it's impossible to get them out. This is especially relevant for rings which are exposed to lots of wear, water etc.

  8. In the very top pictures of the gold rings with oodles of flush set stones in the gold on earth is that done? Meaning, how do you think they are soldering all those little pieces onto the curved surface of the ring? Sweat soldering?
    This has perplexed me for a long time!

  9. hey there, who is the designer for the top 2 rings? Vibes? Please link if possible. Thanks!