Where to start
Take this scenario, you have just come from a local Gem and Mineral show and everyone looked like they were having fun so now you want to join in. Your itching to start a new hobby and you want to make your own cabochon and make it into jewelry. You have an inkling of what it is you will need but your in the dark about how much and exactly what kind of tools and equipment are required.
Building a list.
If you know absolutely nothing about this hobby you might need help from your local Gem and Mineral club, hopefully one that has a work shop. If they don't have a shop, contact them anyway to see if they have someone that can at least give you some good advice. If you can, join your local club, it's not going to cost much and the experience you gain may save you a bundle and get you going down the right path.
After awhile you will understand what is required and needed to build your own shop. Set some goals, do you want a small trim shop with equipment to make designer cabochons, do you want to become a metalsmith and make designer jewelry or maybe wire wrapped jewelry. These are things that you may want to do once you gain some knowledge and skill required in these areas. Usually all gem shops have training in all areas of lapidary.
Costs will probably play a big part on what you do down the road. The initial costs for diamond saws can run you $300 to $3000, new or used. Then there is the grinding and polishing units that you will need. A small unit unit would run about $600, there are many different types available and learning these in a shop will be the best way for you to start. There is also a long list of small supplies that you will need, grits, polishing compounds, etc.
After a short time, and of course after you have cut out your own cab and made your designer cabochon and maybe even received some instructions in jewelry making you can start thinking about building your own shop. Make a list of what you think you will need and and keep an ear out for someone selling used equipment. A request for equipment on your shop bulletin board may get you some action. Below I will provide you with a list of lapidary supply companies, they carry supplies almost at wholesale prices. Not only do they sell supplies, they sell training videos which may interest you.
I would have never been able to experience the joy I've had in making cabochons and jewelry if it wasn't for the hands on help I got from my local Gem shop. Not only was that invaluable just for learning how to use the saws and grinders, I also learned about different types of raw material that can be made into cabochons.
All my training at the club shop, and reading a lot of books helped pave the way for me to build my own work shop. I needed my own shop so I could work at my hobby whenever I wanted to. Most shops have special hours and most of the time it didn't work for me. Even after I built my own shop I still used the club's shop to cut large rocks that wouldn't fit in my saw. Joining a club is also a place to find out what's new, meeting club members that share mutual interests, and most clubs do have monthly outings where you may get a chance to find your own rock in the field.
Selecting material for cabochons
Much of the rough material I use in creating designer cabochons are from slabs. I've either purchased them already sliced by someone else or I cut them in my 8 and 10" saws. Once I have the slab I can either use a template to draw a cab outline or I can free hand scribe an outline of the cabs I want from the slab. Generally I will pick out an area that doesn't have any fractures and maybe even a scenic or extraordinary picture, leave something in that makes it unique. After you have scribed what you want out of the slab use a diamond trim saw to cut out along the lines you have scribed. Make sure you stay outside the scribe line or you may end up with a smaller cab than you want.
Fractures, cracks and pits: These are not what you want to see on the face of your cabochon. How do I prevent this from happening? Never buy a slab that is wet. Always dry the slab with a towel and let it sit for a few minutes. You will be surprised at how many fractures and pits show up after the water is removed. I have learned over the years that I have to look closely at the slab, especially in the areas I want to use for cabochons. My eyes are not as good as they were 18 years ago so now I use a good light and a 10 power magnifying glass. Even the faintest of fracture lines are going to show after the polishing stage. This sometimes is not acceptable, it really depends on where it is and if the material you are working with is inherently prone to pitting and fractures. Some material is so rare, a small fracture or pit is normally acceptable.
Your going to hear about filling in fractures with epoxy in order to hide them. I do not condone this because I resell what I make. I don't know about other states but in California it's against the law to sell an altered cabochon and not tell the customer what you have done. If your planning to sell what you make you may have a hard time convincing your customers it's ok to use an epoxy. It's best to try and cut a cabochon without the fracture or pit.
Many times nature has a way of filling fractures with other natural material. When you view these fractures they will be smooth but still look like a crack. Sometimes these are not acceptable when they interfere with the beauty of the cabochon. I try to leave them out of the scribed areas to start with because you really don't know how they will look after you finish the cab.
There are many ways to wire wrap a cabochon but the end result should make the person feel good about wearing it. I don't wire wrap but I believe that you have to use the right colors of accent beads to compliment the cabochon your working with. This just isn't our own taste but our reviews show it to be true. I believe the back of the cabochon also has to look as nice as the front, it has to be flat, sanded and polished. Using scarce or rare material is also a plus, why put a lot of effort into your jewelry with a cab you can buy for a couple of dollars. Click on wire wrapped jewelry above to see what one person has done to make unique and beautiful jewelry with her own wire wrap techniques.
List of supply houses
There is an endless supply of jewelry supply houses on the Internet. The ones listed below are ones I have been doing business with for some time. They have a wide range of supplies..
Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Indian Jewelers Supply, Gallup, New Mexico
Santa Fe Jewelry Supply, Santa Fe, New Mexico