I love inlay jewelry.
If you don’t know what inlay (or inlaid) jewelry is, take a look at the pictures.
Inlay is basically taking gemstones and setting them flush into the mounting to create a smooth, beautiful, elegant look with no prongs, heads, baskets or beads holding them in place.
It’s clean and simple. What more could you ask for?
There are a couple of huge problems that exist with these types of jewelry:
Let’s take a closer look…
These types of mountings and rings are difficult to size. Jeweler’s can’t open the ring up or expand it like a normal ring because it puts too much stress on the stones (like channel setting). Trying to bend the rings so you can size them bigger or smaller can crack the stones or shatter them.
Don’t get me wrong, these types of mountings can be sized, just not easily. Most rings, depending on the mounting, can be taken up one size or down one size, but not much more than that. Sizing the ring larger could be a nightmare for your gems.
There’s usually only 2 real ways to size inlay rings:
- Remove the gems, size the ring, then reset and re-glue the stones again
- Make the rings oval (what jewelers usually do). The top portion of the ring stays put, it doesn’t bend (so the stones don’t break), while the bottom part of the ring is altered to fit your finger. They bend this portion up, making the ring oval in shape (instead of round). Don’t worry about the ring being oval, no one will notice this once it’s on your finger
Inlay gems are held into place partly from the mounting, but mostly because they are glued into place. The stones are carved to fit the open slots, then glued in with a special jewelers epoxy to hold them securely.
The problem is… This glue can come apart or dissolve if you put the jewelry in an ultrasonic cleaner or add too much heat to the item (like jeweler’s torch heat). You have to be ultra careful when it comes to gems that are glued.
Glue is not the most secure way to hold gemstones, and overtime, the glue tends to dry up, get brittle and chip loose. Make sure you take your rings in often to have your stones checked for tightness.
Stones that sit flush in the mounting are protected by the mounting, but only slightly. If you hit the stone directly, it could cause the stone to smash and bust out of the mounting. The mounting offers little protection if the stones are hit dead on. If there were prongs or baskets or another form of metal holding the stones in, they would be more secure, but this is not the case. Inlay gems are open and vulnerable and one good whack could cause the stones to snap.
Black onyx is one type of inlay gem that tends to chip often (guys are always breaking them). Black onyx looks great (see black stone in the picture above), but it’s a softer, more fragile stone that can crack easily. Once these types of inlay gems crack or chip, there is no way to fix them. The stones will have to be replaced.
The biggest problem
Replacing the stones is the biggest problem there is with inlaid jewelry.
Because it’s nearly impossible to find another stone that fits that cavity. Usually the only route is to have another stone specially cut to fill that slot again. And depending on the gemstone, shape and size, this may not be cheap.
Plus, the results may not be ideal. There may be gaps and glue showing. It’s like carving a whole new puzzle piece. It’s not perfect.
No matter what, I love these types of jewelry. They are sharp and stunning. You just have to be careful with them. Don’t wear them everyday. Be more protective of your mountings and try not to hit the stones.
Clean inlay jewelry by hand. Don’t put them in ultrasonic cleaners because the cleaner will dissolve the glue and make your stones fall out.
Inlay jewelry creates some of the most fascinating and artistic pieces there are, but it does no good if your stones are always chipping, breaking or coming loose.
Care and caution will hopefully keep these gems exactly where they lay.
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