Polishing on Water

by Glenn Klein

It was at a Faceters Fair in northern California, many years ago, when I found myself as part of a four-person panel, answering questions from the audience. Questions were being asked as to how each of us went about the task of cutting and polishing various gem materials. I made the statement that most of my polishing is done with just the use of WATER. Specifically, the minerals that are included in the water were doing the work for me.

My statement got the attention of one of the other panelists, John Alden. For years later, John could not figure out if I was kidding or if I really meant what I said. Well, I did mean what I said. Yes, I really do polish on water!

John lived in northern California, and I was living in southern California. As many of you know, most of the drinking water in the south comes from the mountains and streams of northern California. Now, john took this as an insult! Here this ungrateful guy (me) from the south not only is not appreciative about taking all that good water away from the north, but he has the gall to complain about the quality of the stuff.

What I meant about polishing on water was that, with most materials and laps, I use so little polish powder or agent that I end up polishing on the minerals that are in the water. The scum that the dishwasher does not quite get rid of, the residue left in my drinking glass MUST be what I am using as my polish powder. The only thing I add to my water, is a few drops of Palmolive dishwashing liquid. This helps in keeping things clean. I know there are small mineral particles in the water too, when I see a scratch suddenly appear clear across the facet. It is time to squirt some extra water across the turning lap, to clean away the large or unusually hard mineral that is contaminating my lap.

Of course, I am talking about polishing gems that are being done for competition. I am the slowest faceter in the West (probably including the East). I spend two to two and a half months of my spare time per stone. I do not know how to facet quickly. I once entered, almost was forced into a competition, to see who could facet a brilliant cut the fastest, with the best quality gem as the end result. Well, I came in last on that competition. I hated the effort.

I will never again rush a stone through in just an hour or two. That is not my thing. What I want as the finished stone is the BEST that I can create. Needless to say, most faceters will not spend the time required to turn out a competition stone. It takes the will to want to spend a lot of time and hard work to achieve the Trophy.

I encourage all faceters to continue with what brings them satisfactory results. Turning out two or three stones per day will bring many compliments, because most likely the gems will be of far better quality than those that most jewelers have in their showcases. Certainly, the end results will be better than the native cut stones that come from the Orient. And, jewelers sell those every day. So, if that gives you satisfaction, continue to cut for quantity instead of quality.

I have had two Australian competition cutters tell me, at two different times, that they can turn out a competition quality stone in just two and a half hours. I cannot prove them to be wrong, but I do not believe them! Such claims will not change my ways. I need plenty of time to get the quality that I want in my competition stones.

Most books on the subject of polishing talk about using a slurry (thick or thin), which is applied to the lap through the use of brushes or other applicators. This is garbage talk to me. Unless you are talking about polishing cabochons, or are in the business of turning out gems fast, brushes and slurries have no place in the competition cutting world.

I polish with my lap turning at a reasonable speed, not fast. Have the lap turning too slowly if anything. I adjust the water drip to be steady, like one drop per second or every two seconds. I first wet down the turning lap with a squirt from a plastic bottle of water, which I keep for just that use.

Basically, I am talking about my tin lap, because that is what I use for many gems. With it, I get flat facets and control of things. The lap is scored, but has been used to the point of being almost smooth. I have not rescored the lap in a couple of years. Fresh scoring leaves polish marks.

Quartz has always given me the most trouble. With quartz, I use a Cerium Oxide adhesive-backed Ultra-Lap. The resulting facets are not flat though, especially as soon as you start rushing things, and apply too much pressure on the stone.

With my tin lap, if I need a polish powder added to speed the polishing process, I add that powder with the tip of my right index finger to the turning wet lap. No slurry and No brush are used. The amount of powder that is applied is about as little as I can get on my fingertip. That small amount is spread on the wet turning lap, to dilute it further, before my stone ever touches the lap. I work the stone in just a narrow area on the lap…maybe three-quarter of an inch wide. This removes some parallel polish marks. Certainly do not sweep your gem back and forth across the entire lap!

The very hard materials like CZ and Corundum are polished on my typemetal lap, or my ceramic lap. With those laps I use spray 100K diamond. Years ago, Italdo had a very good 100K diamond spray, that did not have as many contaminates in it, which other brands of 100k had. In recent years, Italdo has had to change their solvent or formula, because of the environmental crowd. So it is not as good a spray as it once was. It does remain as the best 100K spray available, in my experience.

The point that I want to make is that, even though water is not involved with polishing these harder materials, my method is somewhat the same, in that I use next to no polish agent.

In starting a new facet, I will not add any 100K diamond unless it is really needed. Then, I have the lap turning slow to medium speed while I shoot the shortest burst from the 100K diamond that I can possibly apply. My finger is thinking go up, as I start downward in touching that spray trigger. Just as with the water on the tin lap, I am using very little powder or polishing agent. I am polishing on tiny 100K particles, using friction, and taking plenty of time.

The point cannot be over-stated. To get a competition quality gem, you must be ready to spend a great deal of time. You cannot expect to do a great job of cutting the facets, and then quickly polish them to perfection. It is the other way around. You have to make up your mind to do a good job of cutting the facets with a very smooth pre-polish lap. The proof in the pudding is what you do with the polishing of your gem. Go slowly with your polishing, because that will give you the quality and end result that will win the trophy for you.

None of us can walk on water, but we certainly can polish our gemstones on it. Get started on your next competition stone. To those of you who have not entered a competition before… I say get interested in it.

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