A Piaget employee puts together a Fountain
ring in sapphires, diamonds and white gold.
The finished product, $57,880
According to William Lam of Canary Diamond Company,
there are two main ways of making jewellery. The
first is by way of mass production, where a master
craftsman creates the first piece which is then
cast so that copies can be made, explains Mr Lam,
who has some 35 years of jewellery design experience
behind him. This method involves minimum workmanship.
So when one talks of good craftsmanship, it applies
mainly to individually designed and handmade pieces.
He estimates that in Singapore, no more than 30
per cent of jewellery are handmade, with the latter
costing at least 30 per cent more. Handmade jewellery
is available mostly at smaller, boutique-type jewellers.
'With mass production, the product is consistent
but it lacks character and you can't say it's a
unique piece. Some customers don't mind it because
they pay less, and there's nothing wrong with that,'
he says. 'However, if you have an unusual stone
and it's handmade, then it's a really unique piece
The gold used in mass produced pieces may also
be weaker. This is because when gold is melted down
and poured into the mould, there may be bubbles
trapped when it cools and hardens. 'The piece of
jewellery won't be so durable,' he warns. But when
it comes to handmade pieces, the gold is hammered
to remove all the air bubbles.
In mass-produced pieces, some parts of the jewellery
may not be so perfectly executed because the mould
loses its shape after being duplicated many times,
says Mr Lam. In contrast, the jewellery made in
the 17th and 18th centuries by master craftsmen
are still very valuable today because of the immaculate
workmanship that cannot be replicated.
'These are unique pieces of work which the craftsmen
made with inspiration,' explains Mr Lam. 'And it's
not just about how the gems are set, but how the
whole piece turns out.' Collectors will bid for
such jewellery at auctions since 'like a Van Gogh
painting, they can be copied, but will not have
the same spirit as the original'.
Until as recently as the 1970s, most workers were
trained in every aspect of the craft, from designing
to setting to polishing, says Mr Lam. 'One person
handled the same piece from start to finish.' But
because that is a slow, painstaking process that
requires years of training, few such handcrafted
pieces are made today. Instead, work is divided
up for greater efficiency - one person makes the
piece, another sets the stones and a third polishes
it, he explains.
A well-made piece should have a secure setting
and not be too flimsy. But that does not mean the
work isn't finely finished. 'The setting for jewelled
watches, for instance, is so fine, you can hardly
see the gold,' says Mr Lam. This high level of workmanship
is expected because diamond-studded watches fetch
very high prices. 'So the setters must spend a lot
of time to produce top workmanship. And that's why
they are always paid the most. For very high-end
jewellery, gem-setting should be of the same standard
as those seen in watches.'
If the workmanship is poor, the gold holding the
gems will be uneven and may affect the appearance
of the piece.
Turn the jewellery over to see that the back is
as well-finished as the front. Also, check that
the jewels don't catch on your clothes.
At Bvlgari, which is well-known for flawless finishing,
good workmanship boils down to a high level of technical
skills. 'As far as Bvlgari is concerned, each product
is created and examined according to strict quality
control criteria,' says a spokesman. 'From the best
materials, to the perfect setting and a clean finish,
both in the front and reverse of each piece, every
aspect of a Bvlgari product testifies to its unique
craftsmanship.' Even a small imperfection will not
pass the quality control check, he said.
At Chopard, the emphasis is on quality rather than
quantity. 'Good workmanship is based on meticulousness
and precision,' says Chopard's vice-president and
creative director Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele. This
means the jewellery must be well-designed, well-proportioned
and precisely finished.
Piaget achieves good workmanship by keeping skilled
workers with long years of in-house experience.
'For instance, you need four years of diamond-setting
experience before being given the authority to set
baguette-cut diamonds,' says Jean-Bernard Forot,
Piaget International's jewellery marketing manager.
Says Alain Bernard, managing director of Cartier
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia: 'Good workmanship
is a mixture of old skills and experience, with
a perfect choice of materials. Teamwork is also
very important, because jewellery-making involves
designers, setters, cutters and so on, with many
different jobs and skills.' One also has to look
at the quality and size of the stones used, he says.
'The originality and taste of the designer is, of
course, very important. But because everyone can
find good stones now and can find or copy good designs,
the quality of the setting is very important, especially
when you mix different materials.'
In addition, you should know the origins of a piece
of jewellery - such as where the stones came from
and who designed and made it, he notes.