How to Choose the *BEST* Faceting Machine for Your Needs
Choosing the best faceting machine is a very challenging and very personal decision. You first need to assess the various qualities of different faceting machines and then decide which factors are most important for your faceting experience.
Let us define each of these qualities before looking at machines; Repeatability, Reliability, Speed, Accuracy, Cost, and Availability
This means that every time you cut a stone you can go through the same actions to produce the same effect. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to cut a round brilliant. This also means there is some sort of reference point to help guide you towards cutting
This means that if you buy a new machine, you will still have a working machine 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, and hopefully 20 years and beyond. Most faceting machines and have a long life if you take care of them. Reliability also includes accuracy and life of the accessories that are included with the machine.
This means how fast you can cut a stone. When we compare faceting machines we are going to see that the biggest challenge is compromising speed with accuracy.
This means how well the machine helps you to cut a perfect stone. The reason we use a faceting machine is because creating perfectly straight faces on a rock while holding it in our hand is very hard, so we have a machine to help us. Accuracy tells us how well the machine helps us.
Aside from Speed and Accuracy, cost will probably be one of your main deciding factors. Cost tells us how much money we have to pay for a new machine including shipping, import taxes, and value of the machine with its included accessories.
Some of the best machines the world has invented can no longer be purchased because they are no longer made. This will be a factor in your decision because buying used is a completely different game with a different set of risk factors than buying a new machine. In nearly all examples, this article will assume you are buying a brand new machine from the manufacturer because any other type of comparison would be unfair.
Types of Machines
To sum of 500 years of gem cutting technology, let us place the modern incarnations into three different categories:
The Mast Machine
These are the type of machines that we see coming from countries that have grown up with competition cutting cultures, namely the United States, Australia, and Russia. These machines are by far the most accurate types of machines for cutting stones and typically the most expensive. Unfortunately the accuracy of the machine is heavily compromised by speed. Mast machines are slower and less forgiving in the way they can be used compared to other machines. They are fairly easy to learn on and are great for the hobbyist cutters but are completely unsuitable for production/speed cutting.
The Jam Peg Machine
The are the most traditional types of cutting machines though not all jam pegs are created equally. These machines are the best for production because they are the fastest but they sacrifice of accuracy. Depending on the technique, jam peg machines can be very, very accurate but in general, they are less all-around useful and take a long time to master.
The Hand Piece Machine
In my opinion, the hand piece machine is the perfect compromise between the mast machine and the jam peg. Compared to the best jam peg machine, the hand piece machine will be more accurate, more repeatable, and more precise. Compared to a mast machine, the hand piece machine will always be quicker and more adaptable in operation because you can easily move the hand piece around to get the best view of your stone while cutting. Also from a production point of view, it’s very easy to take the stone out and put it back in the hand piece or to hand off the hand piece from the cutter to the polisher in a cutting factory.
If it hasn’t become clear yet, my bias over the last few years has moved from mast machine to hand piece machine as I have gotten more exposure to them because I believe the hand piece provides the best compromise between all the factors. As I go through this I will remain as unbiased as I can while reviewing each machine.
The Ultratec is probably the most well known machine in the world. It is typically regarded as the best machine though this is debated by every faceter who has ever lived. The V-5 machine contains a digital readout that tells you exactly what angle you are cutting and many people love this feature. Over the years, Ultratec has upgraded various parts of the machine while still remaining backwards compatible and upgradable. The current incarnation of the machine has a beefy mast the resists flex and, in general, lives up to it’s reputation of being a great machine. It’s also the most expensive machine you can currently buy. You can easily find many working used machines from the 1980s which tells us that this machine will probably be cutting stones long after you retire. The customer service at Ultratec can be hit and miss and it seems that every single part on the machine is proprietary which means that if something breaks you must order from the company and many of these small parts including nuts and bolts are not as cheap as other manufacturers.
Cost: $4950 (plus shipping from USA)
Availability: Order from manufacturer at http://www.ultratec-facet.com
Specs here: http://www.ultratec-facet.com/PDFs/Plist.pdf
The Facetron machine is another popular favorite for gem cutters. It doesn’t offer any of the high tech features that some of the other manufacturers have introduced but it is considered a very reliable machine. The depth gauge helps makes cutting fast and repeatable and I’ve seen some of the best stones in the world cut on this machine. The price is more affordable that the Ultratec but it has less 21st century features. It’s reliable and many cutters keep the same machine for their whole cutting life.
Cost: $3495 (plus shipping from USA)
Availability: Order from Manufacturer at https://facetron.com
Specs here: https://facetron.com/facetron/
Graves Mark IV/5XL
The Graves company is one the oldest American company of faceting machine. The machines have seen a number of improvements over the years and with the release of the Mark 5XL, it now offers a well designed digital angle readout at a very low price. Generally, the Graves machines is considered in high regard due to its cost and the fact that it works well. In recent months, there have been problems with the Graves company and many people have advised not to order from the company since they are taking up to 6+ month to fulfill orders. If you can find a new machine from a dealer, that will be your best option.
Cost: $1795 (plus shipping from USA)
Availability: Slow shipping from at gravescompany.com
Specs here: http://www.gravescompany.com/Mark-5XL-Faceting-Machine.html
This machine gives the Ultratec a run for it’s money. The Scintillator boasts a digital display to show you a precise cutting angle as well as the depth gauge similar to the Facetron that helps you to cut a whole tier of facets to the same depth quickly. The mast is beefy and the quick release button on the mast head means that if you want to jump up and down the mast to go from girdle to crown angle, you don’t have to crank it for 5 minutes to get there. The whole machine has a strong industrial feeling and is well made. The company is very easy to deal with and reasonably priced if you need parts or maintenance. Due to its nearly all-metal construction, this is probably the most heavy mast style faceting machine available which means if you need to travel with it, it’s more challenging.
Cost: $3995 (plus shipping from USA)
Availability: Order from manufacturer at http://www.polymetricinc.com
Specs Here: http://www.polymetricinc.com/scintillator88.htm
Facette Gemmaster II
It’s hard to talk about the Gemmaster II at this stage because the machine has become discontinued and now the company has a new owner and the machines are getting ready to become available again. The Gemmaster II is like the holy grail of faceting machines. They are rare, unusual, and seem to imbue their users with a certain spiritual enlightenment that allows them to cut very nice stones quickly. The Gemmaster is hardly a mast machine with its unique radial arm that the quill slides along. Along with this arm the machine has a electric depth gauge (similar to a BW Meter) that tells you how close you are to your desired angle. The machine is said to be very fast, easy to use, and many who have learned on them refuse to use any other type of machine. When the new version of the GMII comes out, we will see if the reputation lasts as being an amazing machine. Until recently these machines have only been available in the used market but very soon you will be able to order the new incarnation from the manufacturer.
Availability: Coming soon to http://www.fac-ette.com/index.php
Specs here: http://www.fac-ette.com/index.php/precision-gemmaster/precision-gemmaster
VJ Faceting Machine
These seem to be Australian equivalent of the Gemmaster II. I haven’t used or seen this one so I will copy from their website: Used by the most discerning faceters around the world. A different concept offering unparalleled and repeatable accuracy and ease of operation. Suitable for all levels of faceting experience from Beginners to Commercial and Competition Faceters. No moving columns. Direct reading angle scale to one-tenth of degree without vernier. From girdle to table without moving the dop from the hand piece. Minimum vertical movement of stone when changing angles. Will take 6” or 8” laps
Cost: $? (plus shipping from Australia)
Availability: Order from Manufacturer at http://www.vjfacet.com
Specs here: http://www.vjfacet.com/Products_VJ_Facet.html
Jam Peg Machine
The French developed this type of jam peg (known as Évention in French) with the mechanical stick and this is their latest version. The machine boasts an electric motor (as opposed to the traditional hand crank). The head has 17 or 33 notches, giving you a wide range of preset angles to choose from. If you need to go in between the present angles or “cheat” slight left and right, there are knobs on the head to move to peg holes in both directions. The strength of this machine lies in it’s speed due to the mechanical stick that allows you to cut your facets very very quickly. The manufacturer also offers cutting courses to help you learn the method of cutting that this machine requires. Once learned, this is the fastest machine you can buy and a master will be able to cut facets very very exactly though becoming proficient can take years instead of the months it might take on a mast-type machine
Cost: €3290 (shipping from France)
Availability: Order from manufacturer at http://taille-pierre-precieuse.com
Specs Here: https://translate.google.fr/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://taille-pierre-precieuse.com/metier.html&prev=search
This is the Thai version of the French machine. The benefit of this machine is that it’s dirt cheap. The accuracy is lower than the French-made one and the machine is very heavy due to the fact that it’s built into a table and requires a separate free standing motor to run. The index wheel that allows for quick cutting is made of plastic instead of the French metal one but the price seems to make up for it.
Cost: $250 (head+stick is $25 if you put it on your own home-made table)
Availability: Purchase from Manufacturer in Bangkok at www.somsit.com/
Specs Here: http://www.somsit.com/product/detail/73/18
The Israeli’s took the French jam peg and took it to the next level of innovation. They made the whole head beefier and they took the mechanical stick and added 64 teeth to it so you can very quickly cut 8 facets against the index on the mechanical stick and then very accurately move the stone 1–4 teeth around the index to quickly cut star or girdle facets.
Cost: $? (shipping from Israel)
Availability: Purchase from Manufacturer at http://www.bhandasa.com
Specs Here: http://www.bhandasa.com/2040%2DFaceting%2DStraight%2DGirdling%2DCut%2DPolish%2DMachine.html
Hand Piece Machine
Imahashi was the originator of this style of desktop hand piece faceting machine. The machine uses a well designed hand piece to allow the cutter to control angle, index while also allowing “cheating” by adjusting the height of the feet of the hand piece. This machine has a great reputation and is easy to learn and use. They have two different types of hand piece, one which has a cam built into it for perfect preforming and a normal one that just cuts at angles. The metal plate that the hand piece sits on rises up and down to control the depth of cut by turning the brass knob at the top of the riser plate handle. The downside of this machine is the price.
Cost: approx. $4000 (shipping from Japan)
Availability: Purchase from Manufacturer at http://www.imahashi.net
Specs Here: http://www.imahashi.net/e-img/FAC-8.pdf
The concept of this American-made machine is similar to other hand piece designs but executed a little differently. This machine sits sideways from other hand piece bases. The hand piece is the lightest of any that I’ve seen. The tradeoff is it also seems a little less substantial and industrial. I have heard complaints that after the machine has seen some use, the dop starts to wobble inside the quill causes problems with flat polishing. This might only be with certain machines though. On the machine, the riser plate goes up and down via a spinning wheel underneath the riser plater so there is no pole to potentially hit your stone against.
Cost: $1949 (shipping from USA)
Availability: Purchase from Manufacturer at http://www.raytechshaw.com
Specs Here: http://www.raytechshaw.com/features.html
The Sterling machine is the latest development in hand piece machines from Sri Lanka. They offer different hand pieces for different purposes; some with cheaters, some for small hands, and some just standard. This is a workhorse of a machine and can easily run in a production environment all day for decades. The machine is heavy duty and well made and has the ability to cut stones quickly and with great accuracy. Cutting perfectly accurate stones is not as easy as with a mast style machine, but once you master the art of cheating by adjusting foot height, you can match mast accuracy. This machine will cut light years faster that any mast machine I’ve tried. I have seen 5 20ct precision cut stones cut on this machine in one day by a master cutter.
Cost: $1200 (shipping from Sri Lanka)
Availability: Purchase from Manufacturer at http://sterlinggemland.com
Specs Here: http://sterlinggemland.com/products.php
If we are talking about best machines, I couldn’t resist putting this on the list. Lets get the cons out of the way first. The machine costs around $10,000 used (including accessories and laps) and isn’t available anymore. It’s also incredibly heavy and uses its own special laps and dops which are also incredibly heavy. Now for the Pros: This is the best machine ever made. I’ll leave it there. Swiss precision made for cutting big and small stones with tight tolerances for the watch industry. The vertical lap means that the stone is right in your face all the time so you can see it easily. Separate cutting and polishing wheels mean that you never switch laps and save time. The hand piece design is amazing and light and can do anything including cheating and doing girdles and tables with no adapters. The machine is so well made that the manufacturer basically put themselves out of business because once you buy one it never breaks so they never make money again. If you ever see one of these just buy it and practice. You will not regret it.
Cost: $5000–10,000 (shipping from Switzerland)
Availability: Purchase used in Geneva (Manufacturer doesn't produce anymore; http://www.bunter.ch)
Specs Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJA1rusGjS4
The real question is not which is the best machine but whats the best machine for your needs. I think most people asking this question are only considering mast style machines but I included orher types in hopes that it broadens the minds of new cutters.
One thing that hasn’t been made clear is that each machine has its own traditions and techniques and they aren’t always that interchangeable with each other. Sometimes if you don’t understand the technique of one machine you might think it’s not a good machine so I guess the final question a cutter must ask is “Who is my teacher and what techniques can they show me ?”
I currently use a Polymetric Scintillator and a Bunter machine at home and a Sterling machine at work. I have cut a stone on most of the machines listed here. My conclusion is that a hand piece type machine is the most fun to cut on and it’s also faster which means you can cut more stones per week. I also think you could win a competition with a hand piece machine though it might be a little bit more sweat.
I have gone from using an Ultratec to using and loving the Polymetric to using and adoring the Sterling machine. It’s a great machine to use and an especially great machine to learn on because its simple and easy to use.
About the Author
Justin K Prim is an American gemcutter. He has studied gemcutting traditions all over the world as well as attending gemology programs at GIA and AIGS. Justin has taught gemology and gemcutting at AIGS and IGT in Bangkok and he has recently published his first book, The Secret Teachings of Gemcutting. He is the founder of Faceting Apprentice, an online gemcutting school, and he also writes articles, produces videos, and gives talks about gem cutting history.
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If you have any suggestions for me in my recommendations, please contact me. If you like this article please check out some of my others.
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