Is it ok to tumble a bezel settign prior to setting the stone?

by Aaron
(Seattle, WA)

I will soon be entering the world of setting some stones in bezels for pendants earrings and such and was wondering if I should complete the piece first and then tumble it with the stone inside, or if I should tumble the setting prior to setting the stone? I will not be using any obviously porous stones like turquoise but I am not 100% positive they will not be.

Would tumbling then ruin (bend and kink up) the bezel if there is not a stone set in it?

Would a vibratory be better than a rotary for this?

I will be getting the stones in cabs prior to setting so I don't need to use a tumbler for the stones themselves.

Thank you for you help

Stacy's Answer:

Hi Aaron!

The answer to your question is - it depends! Tumbling will not damage your bezel - just polish it and.........harden it. As long as the stone you're setting can safely tumble-polished in a rotary-style tumbler with stainless steel shot/water/dish soap, set the stones first, then tumble to finish. But as you said, some cabs cannot be tumbled as it will damage the them. (even many jaspers will loose a bit of their glossy polish when tumbled) If that is the case, I'll either set the stone and then finish by hand using different polishing wheels and a flex-shaft or I'll use a buffing machine. You can put a bit of blue painter's tape over the cab to further protect it while setting or using rotary tools near it.

If the silver work is intricate and cannot be buffed in that manner and tumbling would be best but I'm using stones that can't be tumbled, then yes. I'll tumble, add a patina and get the piece completely finished before setting the stones.

The draw back to tumbling first is that while it polishes up the piece nicely, it also work-hardens it, making it more difficult to move the bezel over the stone. Fine silver bezels are much easier to work with than Sterling silver ones - especially when tumbling and thinner gauges of bezels will be easier for you to manipulate too. But for me personally, I do not care for super thin bezel wire like 30 gauge and prefer 26 gauge and even 24 gauge.

When you know you'll be tumbling prior to stone setting, try using a thickness like 28 gauge. It's heavy enough to look good, but not so heavy that you'll find yourself hammer-setting the stone. If you find yourself wanting to re-polish the cabochons you're buying, there are different wheels and compounds you can use with your flex-shaft. Just ask a local rock club what they recommend.

The more you do, the more you'll learn and yes, you will make mistakes along the way. Those "learning opportunities" are just that Aaron. Tuck the information away to help you in the future. And cut yourself some slack too! You are just starting out and have a lot of learning to look forward to! (big grin) Like anything else, with practice comes experience. You'll find the whole process getting easier and easier as you become better acquainted with the quirks of the many different gemstones available today and those of different metals too.

Comments for Is it ok to tumble a bezel settign prior to setting the stone?

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Jun 02, 2014
RV Wire
by: Shiwani

I just want to say that It is really amazing post thanks for the sharing and just keep up the good work.

Jul 14, 2015
great info, question
by: Anonymous

great info, one question will an onyx cab lose its polish in the rotary tumbler?

Jul 14, 2015
Tumbling Onyx
by: Stacy

That's a good question. I have had softer material loose some of its high polished finish after tumbling using Stainless steel shot, etc., but not onyx. Or, at least not onyx that has not been coated. That being said, there is a lot of "black stone" material out there being passed off as onyx. Some of it has a high gloss coating much like a lacquer and that does come off!

Gem and stone material with hardness's of 5.5 or higher should have no problem with being tumbled. Tumbling the item by itself will also help prevent damage to a stone that could be caused by other items in the barrel. Even some softer material will be OK if tumbled for a short time, including pearls. However, if in doubt, test a piece of the material in question before adding a finished product to your tumbler.

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