One of the most interesting devices that we have available to us in the modern world has to be the jewelry loupe. These magnification devices are used daily by anyone who works with precious metals or stones, but they can be used in almost every other industry that requires a magnified look at one thing or another.
For instance, coin collectors might use a jewelry loupe to identify exactly how much wear a certain coin in their collection has experienced. This helps in grading said coin. More importantly that the grading and selling of precious objects, many kinds of delicate surgery require a jewelry loupe.
What qualifies as a jewelry loupe?
One might think that any sort of magnification device could be qualified as a jewelry loupe. This notion is patently false. While it is certainly a gadget used to enlarge images taken in by the eye, there are two specific conditions that must be met in order to properly identify an object as a jewelry loupe.
The first stipulation is that a jewelry loupe has no handle. This means it is usually held over the eye by some sort of hands-free strap, or simply by squinting and using the eyelid itself to hold it in place. While this sort of setup certainly doesn't seem ideal on paper, it actually allows both hands to be free during use.
The second requirement that must be met in order to qualify a magnification device as a jeweler's loupe is the housing. Jewelry loupes are generally housed in a protective cylinder or cone, while the really fancy ones actually fold in and out of the housing. Some of the really cool jewelry loupes might even have different levels of magnification in the same housing. Speaking of which...
Levels of magnification
Some levels of magnification will be infinitely more useful, even if your chosen jewelry loupe has all the bells and whistles with every level of magnification that can be imagined. When working with precious metals and stones the most common and useful magnification is simply 10x.
While things identifiable beyond a 10x magnification might be interesting, they are not included in the grading report of a gem. Diamond GIA certification numbers are invisible to the naked eye, and might be difficult to read even with a 10x jewelry loupe. A 20x or 30x can be quite useful in these instances.
A 30x or 40x might be used to discern specific types of inclusions in some gemstones. However, higher levels of magnification is a jewelry loupe are very niche in their uses, and obviously provide a narrower field of view. So you've qualified your loupe and made sure it's 10x... Now how do you use it?
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Preparations before use
There are two steps that professional and amateur jewelers alike should take before preparing to utilize their jewelry loupe. The first step is to clean. Both yourself and your workspace should be tidy to ensure that you are seeing the gem or metal that you're working with full precision.
Diamonds in particular are notorious for being grease-magnets, and that bit of grease that is barely perceptible to the naked eye can absolutely devastate any sort of clarity that you are attempting to discern. This sort of simple mistake can give a false report and significantly devalue your gemstones.
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The second step for preparation of using your jewelry loupe is lighting. Too much light can strain your eyes, and too little will inevitably lead you to the false reports I mentioned. There is a fine balance that must be struck. I find that fluorescent or diffused light sources work well, while more common LED lights are far too strong.
Execution and Use
Now that you have prepared a workspace, how do you go about using your jewelry loupe? The concept is quite simple. Lower the jewelry loupe over your eye until it has a snug fit. Find your focus and determine the cut, color, clarity, and carat. Judging them in that particular order.
While the concept seems easy, the execution of it can knock some amateur jewelers for a loop. First things first, when picking up the piece to be inspected never ever use your hands. This goes hand in hand (pardon the pun) with the very first point about keeping yourself clean.
Your palms and fingertips don't secrete oils, so you might be just fine if your hands are freshly washed but humans can't seem to stop from touching themselves at one point or another. So what do we use if not our hands? A pair of handy-dandy tweezers!
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It will take some time to find the right pressure for the tweezers, but generally you'll want to apply the least amount of pressure possible. This allows you to avoid chipping any piece of jewelry under your inspection, but will also go a long way in preventing your hand from becoming fatigued.
Finally, a steady hand is important when using a jewelry loupe. You might want to rest your wrist on the table of your workspace to minimize any shakiness. If I know I'll be using a jewelry loupe, I'll generally avoid any caffeine. Which isn't an easy task for me personally.
Conclusion on jewelry loupes
A fascinating device that the modern world surely couldn't do without, jewelry loupes have become a staple in our lives that not many people seem to know about outside of certain social circles. By reading this article you have opened the door to a fascinating world right under your nose.
I sincerely hope that you'll ask to look through the jewelry loupe next time you're at a reputable jeweler and marvel at how much more beautiful the precious stones we take for granted can actually be up close. If the jeweler you're at doesn't have a jewelry loupe, don't buy from them. See you next week friends.