- uk facet cutters' guild -
To help you decide on your ideal machine, UKFCG member Justin K. Prim has written and very kindly provided this article below. It gives a run-down on the different types of faceting machines, approximate costings and links to some of the suppliers.
Choosing your Ideal Faceting Machine
Choosing a faceting machine is a highly personal and possibly location dependent choice that every new faceter has to make. There are a lot of factors that need looked into, with possibly the main one being ease of learning. If you only have mast cutters around to teach you then a mast machine might be your best choice. If you can learn the handpiece machine from a teacher, then the handpiece becomes a very nice option. If you are desiring to enter a long apprenticeship and learn cutting in the style of the old masters, then a jamb peg is probably what you would learn. Once you’ve decided on the style of the machine you want, the next task is to assess the various qualities of different faceting machines available 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 have a long life if you take care of them. Reliability also includes long term 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 need 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 budget for a new machine including shipping, import taxes, and accessories.
Some of the best machines ever invented can no longer be purchased because they are no longer made. This will be a factor in your decision because buying a used machine 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 five-hundred 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 into gemstone competition cutting cultures, namely the United States, the UK, 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 usually unsuitable for production/speed cutting.
The Jam Peg Machine
These 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 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.
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 its 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. Recently Ultratec has released the VL Classic which seems to be a budget friendly version of its traditional machine.
The Facetron machine is another popular favourite for gem cutters. It doesn’t offer 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 a staple machine and many cutters keep the same machine for their whole cutting life.
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
This machine gives the Ultratec a run for its 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.
This is a newer machine on the international faceting machine market. Coming from Vietnam, the Vesta is an American-style mast machine with a budget friendly price. This is another machine that I haven’t seen but only heard good things about. I have friends in Vietnam who are doing really nice precision cutting on these machines. A little info from their Facebook page where you can buy the machine tells us: The Vesta Facet Machine-VFM1 is designed with all function of a modern faceting machine, precision but simply, easy to use and ability. Almost all parts are made of anodized aluminum alloy or stainless steel. The machine is not only aesthetic, but also durable by the time. However, it is so compact that you can put it on the desk or on a wood base according to option of buyer.
Cost: $1446 (plus shipping from Vietnam)
Another new offering from the world of international faceting machines. Coming from India, KMT, who also manufactures jam peg machines and handpiece machines, is selling a mast-style machine with a digital angle gauge. This is another machine that I have heard about but haven’t tried. The price point makes it very interesting and I know from personal experience that the manufacturers are friendly and customer-focused. The machine includes all the features we’ve come to expect from a modern mast machine. Digital angle readout, speed control, fine height adjustment, and more.
Cost: $1600 (plus shipping from India)
Availability: Order from manufacturer at http://kmtjaipur.com
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 an 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.
Hand Piece Machines
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.
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.
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.
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 it’s simple and easy to use.