What does an apprentice lapidary do all day?

Posted on the 20th July 2017

What does an apprentice lapidary do all day?

Our apprentice lapidary (this means someone skilled in cutting and shaping gemstones and gem material) started their course in September 2016 and we were all curious about how she was getting on….she really does do so many interesting things so we thought we would start sharing her experiences with you!


Apart from learning the skills needed to become an accomplished lapidary, our apprentice will ultimately become a Freeman of the City of London. From the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, the Freedom was the right to trade, enabling members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft in the Square Mile.

Being a Freeman has age old rights such as being able to shepherd sheep and cattle across London Bridge! Privileges such as this are purely symbolic these days….not sure our apprentice will be doing that any time soon!


What does she like the most about being a lapidary apprentice?

There is something different every day just by the very nature of the material being natural means that even if you have worked on a material before, each piece will be different. There are always different skills to master such as restoration work, cutting, shaping, creating…Even our Head lapidary learns something new most days!


What do you find tricky?

Trying to get the stones I am cutting to be equal and even is very challenging! I am actually very good faceting and the more complicated stuff, not sure why! Having to visualise the final product from a piece of rough material is difficult; you have to be able to see the 3-d finished article in your head to work towards it. Then you have to work on producing that vision with technical accuracy.


Any material you have/haven’t enjoyed working with?

Lapis leaves you covered in a blue film of pigment…you can end up looking like a smurf!

Mother of pearl is really stinky to work with! As it warms up it releases a sort of rotten egg smell…it’s pretty bad…

Amber releases a lovely perfumed smell as it warms up. I really like working with that!


What have you worked on so far?

Graduated round beads shaped and polished in various gem materials ranging from lapis to rutilated quartz. It took a lot of time and patience to achieve a fully round article. The beads are yet to be drilled but I am handing this over as I need more practice! Drilling is very hard to do especially with clear material since you can see if you haven’t managed a completely straight line.

Cabochon stones – it’s actually really tricky to make a lovely evenly rounded top!

Faceting – I really enjoy this and am pretty good at it already, I have to say! It’s all about placing the facets in the right places around the stone to let the gemstone really sparkle at its’ best. The way the light comes out of the stone makes a huge difference.

Trillion/marquise shaped gemstones. I like all the different shapes you can make with gemstones.


What do you do at the Goldsmiths then on your weekly visit?

CAD (computer aided design): bringing my hand-drawn designs to life on a screen so I can see what it would look like if I made it.

Wax carving: carving out rings and pendants out of wax which could eventually be cast into a metal piece

Technical drawing: drawing jewellery pieces to-scale either for a Goldsmith to make or to be transferred into CAD. I then paint them up to show what it would look like in metal or other material.

Business: alongside my hands-on skills I am also learning how a business is run, employment law, how to price work and general knowledge of the industry.

I am working alongside students learning how to be diamond mounters, polishers, setters….even the traditional skill of spinning which is the art of making/shaping items such as bowls in various metals. It’s a very interesting and prestigious place to learn!