Why gemcutting?

Why gemcutting?
Photo by Conscious Design / Unsplash

I'm a serial hobbyist. My interest in some strange new activity spikes for just long enough to buy a bunch of equipment, and then… I lose interest. A few real life examples in chronological order:

  • Sushi
  • Hand-poured beeswax candles
  • Cultivating Bonsai trees
  • Oil painting
  • Rare coin hunting
  • Creating stained glass

Some of the gear for these hobbies never even made it out of the packaging. I'm not proud of this.

So I'm afraid. I'm afraid to kick off this new gemcutting hobby so publicly. I'm afraid that I'll lost interest once again.

But something feels different this time.

Looking back on my "failed" hobbies with the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that I've been circling for a long time. I've been searching and I've been getting closer. So I took a moment recently to try to distill what it is I loved about the ideas of these past hobbies, to help my understand what I'm really looking for. Here's what I came up with as a checklist of sorts for the holy grail hobby:

  1. Tangible – I deal in ones and zeros for my day job as a software engineer. Digital work is great for instant gratification, but I miss working with my hands. It feels special to create something that you can touch and feel.
  2. Timeless – I love the idea of creating something that will outlive me, something I can pass on to my kids.
  3. Beautiful – I want to create something that people value and love to look at. I want my work to be a work of art.
  4. Precise – Even though I want my work to be artful and creative, I don't want the work to be too open-ended. I enjoy striving for perfection, and the idea of "perfect" doesn't make sense for every art form.

One or two of my past hobby attempts could check all the boxes above. Maybe Bonsai, maybe stained glass? But I also have some practical constraints to consider. I'm a husband, a dad, and a full-time engineer. If my hobby stands a snowball's chance, it needs to be something I can pick up and put down half-finished without losing progress. I need to be able to neglect it temporarily and come back to it. There goes Bonsai!

So what about stained glass? Sure, sounds good!
So why is the gear collecting dust?

I think the missing bit is:

  1. Passion – I need to love it! I have to be excited to learn it. Otherwise what's the point?

I'm not counting stained glass out for the future but for now, I don't feel the passion. So what does that leave?

Enter: gemcutting 💎

About a year ago, I watched a video on YouTube of someone creating one of the most beautiful objects I'd ever seen. And here it is. You should absolutely watch it start to finish:

The video shows the creation of a 20-sided die out of a single chunk of amethyst by a person named Doug Christensen of Hedron Rockworks. The stunning photography and the simple, explanatory narration stuck with me, not to mention the beauty of what Doug created. Then, months later, I realized I was still thinking about this video.

So what about gemcutting? It's got everything. It's all about creating a timeless piece of physical beauty which is achieved through its precise geometry. Be still my heart!

But there was a problem. Did you see all the fancy equipment in that video? You did watch it, right? After a little digging, I learned more about the little machine Doug was using. It's the Ultra Tec V5 Classic Faceting Machine and it would set me back $5,590 (as of this writing). And I don't exactly have that kind of cash burning a hole in my pocket.

But you know who does? Microsoft. Years ago, Microsoft acquired my employer, GitHub. Now GitHub offers an extremely generous annual learning and development allowance to every employee. Every year, they set aside $2,000 for every employee to expand their skillset. The best part is… what you choose to learn doesn't need to have anything to do with work! Classes and their necessary equipment are eligible for reimbursement. I was in business!

A few DuckDuckGo searches later, I found Faceting Apprentice, which offers online gemcutting courses taught by Justin K. Prim of Magus Gems. Justin teaches using the slightly-more-palatable-but-still-expensive Sterling ST-08 faceting machine, coming in at ~$2,000. Hey, just like my learning and development allowance!

Justin K. Prim holding a Sterling ST-08 hand piece
Justin K. Prim of Faceting Apprentice

So right before my 2023 learning and development funds expired, I bought the Faceting Foundations 1 course for $300 and placed my order for my very own Sterling ST-08. I also bought Justin's Faceter's Tool Kit for $375 which includes nearly all of the tools and accessories used in the course.

The ST-08 won't arrive until later this month, but my Faceter's Tool Kit has already arrived.

Is it love? ❤️

Will I love gemcutting? I don't know. I'm a little afraid that I won't! But I'm going to give it a try.

I'm encouraged by the fact that I enjoyed watching the Faceting Foundations course so much, even though I couldn't follow along with my own gear yet. It seemed like it might be fairly easy to get started but extremely difficult to master. And I love that balance because I can pour myself into learning the craft as much as my time and energy allow.

So will I love it? I really hope so.

What's next?


At the moment, I have some constraints and some barriers to getting started with gemcutting.

First, I have four kids, the youngest of which is seven months old. We have a busy house right now and free time is scarce! This a constraint that will let up over time. I expect I'll be able to carve out a little free time to properly explore gemcutting as spring rolls around and we cross our youngest's first birthday.

Another constraint is shop space. I have a dedicated office for my day job but it's small, not quite big enough for a 6'×9' rug. We have a garage and I might be able to commandeer some bench space in the back but it's not climate controlled and it gets hot and (very) cold where we live. I'm not sure that will play nicely with all of the faceting equipment. Half of our basement is unfinished storage space. If we do an epic cleanup and reorganization of that space, I might be able to find a corner where I can set up shop. To be determined!

Then there's the barrier of not having a faceting machine yet! The machine is ordered but it ships from Sri Lanka and hasn't shipped yet. I'm hoping to hear a timeline update this week.

In the meantime, I do have the Faceter's Tool Kit and I plan to unbox the kit on YouTube soon, so stay tuned for that!


Having clear and measurable goals is an important motivator for me. I'm a runner but have a very hard time finding and maintaining the motivation to run if I'm not training for a race. So what kind of goals can I set for gemcutting?

Since this is all so new, I'm not going to set anything in stone yet (pun intended). Off the top of my head, I'd love to cut and polish a stone that I'm proud of.

I found that during The Faceting Foundations course, I could see the minor imperfections that Justin pointed out in his own work. Sometimes I could identify them before he did. I think that eye for detail will be a blessing and a curse. It will set a high bar for the level of skill that I can achieve. But it also has the power discourage me while I have the eye to see the problems and don't have the skill yet to solve them.

I've also asked on Reddit how I might more objectively qualify my own work and that thread has some great suggestions that I'll follow up on, including entering a faceting competition. Sounds fun!

Stay tuned…

This is all very early and I expect to ease into my exploration and writing around gemcutting over the coming months. Subscribe here and on YouTube to follow along with my progress.