“I want to buy a cheap or used faceting machine”
The official guide.
There are several ways to cut a gemstone but all of them require some sort of tool. The faceting machine is essential for any would-be gemcutter. Many people want to learn to facet stones but stumble when it comes to purchasing their machine because the entry barrier for faceting is quite high. You don’t know if you will like faceting, so you don’t want to spend too much. It’s the number one question asked in internet message boards which is why I am writing this brief guide.
The best thing to do before considering to buy a faceting machine is to try faceting. If you are lucky, there is a lapidary club somewhere close enough to let you travel there once or twice and try faceting. There are lists of clubs here and here. If you can’t find a club near you, the next best thing would be to find a faceter with a machine at home who can give you a lesson. You will need to go on message boards to find them. The most populated groups to ask would be on Facebook; Faceting Finds, Faceting Technical, and the USFG. If you aren’t on Facebook, there is also the message board on GemologyOnline. Go on there, introduce yourself and your location, and ask if there is a cutter near you that can help.
If you’re lucky, you will try it and love it and then you will likely buy whatever machine you learned on. If you’re unlucky, there is no club or faceter within a million miles from you and you will have to buy something to try with. Whatever path happens to you, there are decision to be made.
HANDPIECE OR MAST?
This is a personal choice and you will probably have been swayed by the person you learned from or things that you’ve read in books or on message boards. Both choices are good choices if you choose a good machine. The top brands for masts are : Ultratec, Polymetric, and Facetron. The top brands for handpiece machines are Sterling, Raytech-Shaw, and Imahashi. No matter what you choose, there is a serious financial investment in buying a machine. The cheapest mast machine is the Facetron starting around $3500. The cheapest handpiece machine is the Sterling about $1300. On top of the machine you will need about $600 worth of accessories to actually use your machine.
Things that you will want to consider when selecting a machine: how much is the shipping, can you have it repaired, can you buy parts, is there support from the company, how will I learn on this type of machine.
I have made a video to help you consider the differences between handpiece and mast machines:
DONT BE TEMPTED BY THE CHEAP MACHINES
So, you are going to need to spend about $1900($1300+$600) for a handpiece setup or at least $4100 (3500+$600) for a mast setup. Notice that I didn’t include any machines from eBay or Amazon that costs $300 or $400? There is a reason for that. Almost everyone that has bought one agrees that they are trash in all regards; bad design, bad manufacturing, no resale value, frustrating to work with, terrible for the beginner who is learning at home.
Faceting is hard when you are beginning. Later it becomes pretty easy. You need to cut and polish many stones before you really understand what you’re doing and get good at it. If your machine doesn’t work and you have no teacher present, you will never know if you are doing something wrong or if the machine is not working correctly. When the stone goes wrong, many people get frustrated and throw the stone away and either start a new one or just stop faceting. Don’t be the faceter the gives up!
Buy a good machine to start with and then you can learn properly. Later, if you want to upgrade to a better machine you can sell the one you started on. Good faceting machines have great resale value. I’ve bought many used machines, used them, and sold them for more money later. This is realistic. If you buy a super cheap machine, chances are that you will realize it doesn't work, you will buy a more expensive one, and then that cheap one will sit in your basement in a cloud of buyers remorse. Just skip that step.
NEW OR USED?
The next big question is determined by your budget. Everyone will advise you to get a new machine, but sometimes $2000 or $4000 or $6000 to get a hobby started isn’t possible. The next best solution is to buy used. This is risky because some old machines are in very bad shape and need work. Luckily there is a great community of people that will help you (see the above facebook groups). Repairing your machine will teach you a lot about the machine, but takes time, some more money, and patience. I have owned three used machines. Two were ok, and the third was great and I still have that one today. Used can work if that’s your only option. The best places to find used machines are your local craigslist, facebooks groups here and here, and eBay.
THE CHEAPEST PATH THAT WORKS ($2200)
We started a faceting school (RIP) in Bangkok in 2016 and I had to think a lot about this. We needed 9 machines along with all the tools and accessories needed. We had a limited budget and I knew that the students would also have a limited budget. If you learn on a $5000 machine, you are going to want to buy a $5000 machine to use at home. This is a problem for many people. In the end we opted for the $1300 handpiece machine from Sri Lanka and have had great results. Over 50 students graduated from our two-week course and many of them have bought the same machine and are cutting at home for their businesses today.
Personally, I switched from the mast-style machine to the handpiece-style machine because I fell in love with the flexibility and ergonomics of the machine. Since the pandemic, I have been teaching many students online and have come up with a shopping list of all the tools that you need from the faceting machine to the laps to the accessories. The total is around $2200 for the cheapest option though there is also the option of an upgraded machine, which ends up making the total around $2600 plus shipping.
BENEFITS TO THE CHEAPEST PATH
- It’s affordable!
- There are now a lot of resources for handpiece-style machines (see my youtube channel for tons of handpiece videos, as well as a facebook group for handpiece users)
- There is now an online school for learning handpiece-style faceting.
ONE THING TO REMEMBER
After you buy your machine, you still need to buy rough gemstones to practice with and this can also be very expensive. Eventually the price you spend on stones will be much higher than the cost of your machine, especially if you are selling your faceted stones to customers. At first you will learn on inexpensive stones like garnet, topaz, and quartz which are cheaper, but can still be a big investment if you’ve spent all your money on a machine. Don’t forget to budget for rough stones plus the shipping and import duties on your machine.
GOOD LUCK in your faceting journey!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin K Prim is an American lapidary and gemologist living and working in Bangkok, Thailand. 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.