The union of a gem with a metal is called setting or inlaying. Up until recently, it was common to encrust all gems on precious metal using the inlaying technique, regardless of the gemstone or its particular qualities. However, the procedure for inlaying a stone obscures some of the main characteristics of transparent or semitransparent gemstones. Lapis lazuli was traditionally inlayed in this way as well. A good example is that of the lapis lazuli inlay on Tutankhamun’s golden mask, made by the Egyptians during the age of the pharaohs. This technique is no longer used for lapis lazuli.
Jewelry manufacturing has been perfected with time, along with the application of the proper mounting method. Setting or inlaying the stone both have the same ultimate goal – to emphasize the appearance of the gems in an aesthetic or artistic point of view. However, now it is recognized that the inherent qualities of each stone will dictate the proper manufacturing method to be used.
Setting fastens the gems over the material so that they can be seen from different angles, even the bottom. Inlaying fastens gems by inserting them into the material, so that they can be seen from above encrusted on it. Through inlaying it is only possible to see the surface of the gem in the final product since the bottom and sides are covered with metal. The only exception is in the case of a pendant for which a metallic cap with a ring and link are used to fasten the stone by its edge.
If the craftsman is setting the stone, the gemstone is prioritized above the metal. A finished gemstone is taken to be mounted on the metal, but the final metallic structure is then determined based on the form and dimensions of the gem. Once the metal piece is finalized, the adornment is designed. The gem is then adjusted onto this structure and fastened by molding the metal around it. No adhesive is used. The final step, as usual, is to polish the piece and make it shine!
When it comes to inlaying a gem, the metal is selected first. The metal is chosen based on the inlaying characteristics. If the ornament is fine, alloyed silver is typically the first choice. If it is relatively cheap, nickel silver or bronze is used. When forming the metal structure, the craftsman must be aware to leave simple lines, curves, or empty boxes where the stones will be set in the final product. The stone is selected based on how well it will fit into the metal and is mounted accordingly. Finally, the piece is polished!