Basic stone cuts: cabochon and faceted

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Wearing jewelry is an ancient vanity. Cave men during the Cro-magnon era wore bones, shells and teeth as necklaces and bracelets using animal sinew to tie them around the neck or the wrist. Jewelry making as an art form came much later during the time of Ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamian civilization. The Eyptians were partial to gold; the Mesopotamians preferred both gold and silver. In both cases, the jewelry sometimes included colored gemstones. Turquoise and lapis lazuli were already popular back then.

Modern stone cutting (or the practice of cutting large stones into exact measurements and configuration) originated in the 14th century. A hundred years later, Louis de Berquen, of Bruges, Flanders (dubbed the Father of Modern Diamond Cutting) invented the scaif, a polishing wheel that used diamond dust and oil, and diamond cutting was revolutionized forever. Along with the scaif, De Berquen introduced the concept of the absolute symmetry in diamond cutting.

Today, in jewelry-making, there are two basic stone cuts: cabochon and faceted. Cabochon is domed, smooth with a flat back. Faceted means the stone is cut with angles to make it reflect light better to make it more attractive.

Some stones are traditionally cut cabochon-style. Jade, star rubies and star sapphires are rarely ever cut with facets. In the case of the star ruby (pictured above) and the star sapphire, the cabochon cut is the only way to make the star visible in certain lights. I remember a star sapphire ring that my mother had (she gave it to my brother a long time ago) and how she would show us the star by lighting a match above the ring. As children, we thought it was magical. Much later, she would give me three star rubies and I had them made into a ring and earrings.

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Among the facet cuts, the brilliant cut is probably the most familiar as it is a term used in describing the most popular cut for a diamond engagement ring.

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Above, the Princess cut, invented in the 1960s, is the second most popular diamond cut.

All faceted cuts are used not only for diamonds but for other gemstones as well.

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Above, a ring with a pearl center flanked by marquis-cut rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

To date, there are more than a dozen faceted styles used in gemstone cutting but some are considered old-style and are no longer in use. Among the more modern styles, some are labeled according to the shape of the cut stone. For instance, heart or pear shaped.

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In most cases, a stone is cut in such a way to avoid whatever impurities there are so that the resulting jewelry-grade cut stones can command a good price. A master stone cutter would take his time studying a rough stone, marking and re-marking it before cutting to get the best yield.

But whether a stone should be cut cabochon-style or facet-style is not dictated so much by the nature of the stone but by the preference of the owner or the jeweler. For instance, while jade is almost always cut cabochon-style, it is possible to cut it facet-style. The center stone in the ring above is jade. My mother bought a huge rough jade the size of a golf ball then found a cutter to cut it into smaller pieces. She wanted faceted so the stone cutter cut the jade into oval shaped faceted pieces. I don’t remember anymore how many cut stones there were but my mother gave me two, and Speedy and I had them made into matching rings.