Stone Setting Workshop at New Approach School

In February I took a week off from my studio work and traveled to Tennessee to attend the Stone Setting Comprehensive workshop at New Approach School. I had heard great things about this school, the teacher Blaine Lewis and especially this class. I really needed a refresher for stone setting. I do it daily but always suspect there are things I could do easier, quicker and just better. I am fairly good, I would think, at bezel setting but always struggle with prong settings, have good and bad days when trying flush setting, rarely do channel settings and never even tried pavé or bead setting. 

Plus I needed a change of scenery for a couple days. So taking a workshop in location I have never been was a great excuse to leave Los Angeles for a few days. Kind of like a tax deductible mini-vacation. Although this type of "vacation" does not involve lazy beach days, it is packed with lot's of new experiences and learning possibilities.

Even better about this whole gig was to finally meet some online friends from our Etsymetal team. I spend the week with Shirlee Grund and Sarah Hood. We had a blast. It was great knowing a few people in class already. We also met a few other students, some locals and some who traveled to this class from various locations in the US.

Full week's work at stone setting class
All the practice rings finished during Comprehensive Stone Setting Class at New Approach School

The class is intense but somehow even beginners managed to keep up (more or less). I was glad I took this class and did not jump to the advanced setting class. Even if some setting techniques taught are things I do day in and out, I still learned a lot of new tricks. Some settings techniques I did similar (maybe because I learned it from his bezel and flush setting video some years ago). Other setting tricks were really an eye opener (prong tightening via vector approach!!!! Duh, why did I not think about that one). I learned that I need to open my funnel holes way more than I did before and seats don't need to be that wide. Lot's of proper tool use, tips like which bur to used first, how to hold the flexshaft and get control over the bur, the proper height to cut the seat... It's all just packed with little eye openers and "secrete" tips.

Bead setting practice
practicing bead setting for the first time

Blaine's way of demonstrating techniques is great and really understandable. Loved seeing everything he did in so much detail on the large screens via his super magnification. I took lot's of notes and referred back to them ever since coming home and jumping right back into setting stones in my orders. Since returning and in the months afterwards I definitely saw an improvement in my settings and the time it took to get them finish.

Some photos I took during the week showing settings and the tools we used can be found on Flickr.

It was a intense week of learning. The class started at 8:30am and went till 6pm or 7pm most nights. Blaine stayed long some night since we just could not get enough of his wisdom and wanted to finish our tasks before going home.

Channel setting exercise
Channel setting practice run with brass blank and CZs. With some amazing tips  it's actually not that much of a mystery anymore.

The practice pieces during the class were all done with his pre-made brass mountings setting cheap CZ's. It's a great way of learning without having to fear to damage expensive mountings or stones.
  • Day 1 was flush setting and round stone prongs
  • Day 2 was bead setting, which drove us all crazy. I think that was the hardest for us all. Kind of strange he did that so early on in the week but I guess the purpose was to teach us working with gravers. That really made a huge difference after that day. We also did a channel setting in the afternoon.
  • Day 3 we started grinding gravers and learned how to sharpen them, then jumped into an oval thick wall bezel setting. He showed us how to do milligrain on settings. And more custom tool making.
  • Day 4 we did princess cut prong setting and then a semi-bezel setting with round stone
  • Day 5 last day was really intense: short prong basket setting, Gypsy setting with a round Cabochon and then another type of channel setting with tilt in stones
I might get the days mixed up a bit, there was so much going on.

Stone setting Practice pieces at end of day 2
End of Day 2.
    What this class does not teach is fabricating settings. That's probably covered in other classes and for sure his 8 or 12 week programs. There is absolutely no designing and no fabrication going on in the Stone Setting Comprehensive class. He just hands out blanks and stones and you set the stones in the blanks. Simple as that :) What one will learn is setting various types of stones (mostly faceted) in any type of cast, die-stuck or commercial setting. Of course once one knows the generic rules for stone settings it can be applied to about any other setting type too. After all stone settings all comes down to making a seat for the stone and holding the stone with metal. It will make fabricating settings a lot easier too when one knows already how the stone will be set in there.

    I really loved that we made custom tools and learned graver sharpening. 

    Stone setting tools, gravers and custom tools
    Gravers and custom stone setting tools
    It was possible to purchase new GRS graver blanks during the workshop and learn to properly shape and sharpen them right there. I came home with a whole new set of stone setting tools, all properly prepared for immediate use. I love new tools!!!!! Those graver's and tools have been used every day ever since I got home. Makes such a difference!

    The class is well worth the money. It certainly adds up quite a bit with tuition, lodging, car to travel around, food, flight from LA,... But I am really glad I finally did it. It will pay for itself in no time. I think I might be interested to go back to the advanced class in a year or two.

    All these long demonstrations were great, packed with lot's of stories from his many years in the business. I really liked that he did a few little "screw ups" too during his demonstrations like braking some CZ's when channel setting. Not sure if those were intentional.  But he turned it around as a teaching point in how to fix these things. And that breaking stones happens to the best. Kind of made me feel a bit better about breaking a few CZ's myself during the class too.

    During our visit in Franklin, Tennessee we ate great southern food, heard some nice county music performances, did some sightseeing since we stayed for the weekend and met with Carrie Nunes who showed us around in Nashville. Beautiful city. I bet it's really nice there during non-winter times. It was a great winter getaway for me, a nice break from the oh so tough LA weather. In a way I loved the cold and rain for a couple days after spending my time in 80 degree Fahrenheit the week before in LA.  I came back with lot's of new knowledge to try and practice immediately since I got lot's of orders to finish.

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