The art of selecting and setting stones

Credits: Gem-setting © Vacheron Constantin

The essence of a Fine Watch is the extreme care afforded to each detail and the harmony and coherency of the whole these details form.

To set a Fine Watch with precious stones and diamonds is not merely a "finishing touch" intended to further increase the value of the piece in question. On the contrary: from the very beginning, every detail that constitutes a Fine Jewellery Watch is conceived with the jeweller and stone-setter in mind, for precious stones are there not simply for decorative effect; they are an integral part of the watch and dictate as much its form as its functions.

The first task is to select the precious stones. The utmost severity presides over this choice. The stones must be of the utmost purity, but also perfectly matched in size, cut and colour as they will be clustered together on the small surface of the watch. The least impurity, the slightest difference in colour would be immediately evident and undermine the beauty of the whole.

Gemmologist and designer work hand-in-hand. Their choices and the cut of the stones (full-cut brilliant, emerald, baguette, etc.) will directly influence the shape of the case, horns and strap. Working to the designer's drawings, craftsmen fashion the case which, on completion, will be prepared for setting according to the chosen technique. Either holes will be drilled in which to mount the stones, or metal will be carefully filed away for a pavé setting. The brilliance and transparency of the stones depend on the absolute precision of these preparatory tasks. The case, or any other part to be set, is then polished again to erase any trace of filing or drilling. Now it is ready to be set with stones.

Among the many types of setting, some of the most frequently encountered are:

  • the prong setting, where metal prongs (or claws) hold the stone in place;
  • the grain setting, where small shavings of metal are bent around the stone to form beads that secure it;
  • the closed setting, in which the stone is gripped inside a circle; the channel setting, where the stone is held in a grooved channel between metal rails;
  • the invisible setting, where the stones appear to hold each other in place.

Any part of the watch can be set with stones: case, winder, hands, bridges, plates, and of course the dial, which is usually fully paved.

Each stage in setting the stones is crucial. The successful outcome hinges on the expertise, dexterity, some would say genius, of the stone-setter. The least error can be fatal, and sometimes even irreparable.

Setting stones is a science of precision. It is also an art: to illuminate a Fine Watch with the sparkle of precious stones.

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