Alasdair Craig, 22, is an apprentice diamond setter for Cellini, a jewellery designer and manufacturer based in Cambridge.
How do you set a diamond?
It's my job to fix precious stones into metal mounts on pieces of jewellery. I have to be very careful that the stone doesn't catch and break in its setting. Diamonds are very hard, but they can be brittle, especially at their corners, as in a square princess cut, and other stones are surprisingly soft - you might break an emerald by dropping it on the ground. Once I've cut a setting, I put in the stone and push the metal around it so it won't fall out.
What's a typical day at your workshop like?
I work in a workshop with five other people, and while we're working we sit around, listen to the radio and drink tea - it's really nice. We use a lot of equipment, like polishing machines, tiny chisels and drills, and big magnifiers that you wear on your head, making you look like Robocop. The stones arrive in a packet with a picture of the finished piece of jewellery so you know how it should look. I can set a simple pair of earrings in half an hour, but a ring with several jewels in a complex setting might take me up to eight or nine hours.
What's the greatest thing about your job?
I like the creative aspect of the job. People often come in wanting something made that's individual - a plumber once asked us to make a tiny gold spanner as a pendant. It's really fun when you get a commission like that, because there are no rules about how to do it. I could set a million different diamonds and still learn something new, because each one is different. It's like working out those little puzzles you get in Christmas crackers - each time you set a jewel, you have to think how you're going to get the stone to fit, and how to make sure it stays in place.
What's tough about it?
I get frustrated with myself if I make a mistake. There are so many things that can go wrong at any stage - you might get to the end of the job and then accidentally drop the stone down the polishing machine extractor fan. That's where all the dirt goes, so fishing it out again is not very fun.
What skills do you need to be a diamond setter?
Being patient is really important, and it definitely helps to be creative and hands on - it means you have more of a natural affinity for the job. I've always done art and painted, and enjoy making things with my hands. In terms of practical training, the best way to learn is by actually doing the job, and practising different techniques.
What advice would you give someone who wanted your job?
I think you've really got to throw yourself into it. There's so much to learn, so it helps to be open-minded, learn as much as you can, and find ideas where you can. I work with craftspeople with 30-odd years of experience, who are still learning new techniques. Talk to people who work in the trade, and find out how they got into it and whether they'd be willing to take you on as an apprentice. You could also contact colleges running specialized jewellery courses.
What's the salary and career path like?
I started off on £8,000 a year in my first year as an apprentice. It's not glamorous at first - you clean the loo and make the tea. But you learn a lot on the job, and can progress to earning a lot more with experience. You could specialize in a particular area, like setting or mounting, or become a self-employed jewellery designer.
Alasdair won an Outstanding Young Learner award from Edge, an educational foundation supporting practical and vocational learning. See www.edge.co.uk.
For information on careers in diamond setting, see the Jewellery & Allied Industries Training Council website, at www.jaitc.org.ukReuse content