One of my favorite shows is “How Do They Do It?” I’m so curious and intrigued by how things are designed, engineered, and made. One of my favorite episodes was about how ballet pointe shoes are made. My daughter has danced since kindergarten and I was intrigued how these shoes are made. It was fascinating. Then I saw a video about gemstones, lapidary, cutting, and polishing. My curiosity was peeked enough to learn more about the journey a gemstone takes from rough and unattractive to exquisite.
Just like every profession, gem cutting has its own terminology. Yup, another language to learn — add it to the slang our teens are using!
Gemcutter is also called a lapidary. I know you’ve always wondered!
Gems are cut and polished with different types of abrasive tools. These depend upon the hardness of a stone. For example, a diamond (the hardest) takes a kick-ass tool to cut.
So What Does This Lapidary Do Exactly?
A lapidary takes a rough (natural state) stone, uses a variety of tools and techniques, to shape and polish the stone. Pretty simple, right? Find a hidden treasure, give it some love, and the result is a thing of beauty.
The most common techniques in lapidary:
Sawing – Extremely dangerous start to your project! Using a circular saw with a specialized blade, the stone is used to cut the rough stone into its smaller pieces. Watch your fingers!
Grinding – Again, watch your fingers! Using specialized diamond-grit wheels, the grinder shapes the stone into it’s beginning shape.
Sanding – Once in its basic shape, the stone is smoothed with different grits.
Lapping – An unusual word for something a little ordinary. A flat disc called a lap is used to create flat surfaces on a stone, called facets.
Polishing – Depending upon the stone, different tools are used to polish its surface to a mirror-like shine. Some tools use fine grade diamonds, metal oxides, felt, leather, or other polishing solutions.
Drilling – As it suggests, one of more holes are drilled into or through a stone. Often it is done with a rotating tool that is either machine powered or by hand.
Tumbling – Rough stones can be tumbled in a drum with liquid and fine abrasives. This helps smooth and polish a stone. The barrel rotates for an extensive time until the desired finish is achieved. Tumblers are handy to polish metal components too.
Stones are cut and shaped into different forms. Cabochons are typically domed on one side and flat on the other, faceted cut with many flat surfaces, beads (round or other shapes), inlays, mosaics, and cameos are some of the commons shapes.
Faceting is perhaps one of the more popular and common stone shapes. Typically done to clear or transparent stones, faceting focuses on the entire stone not just one side.
The stone is attached to a metal stick that helps with control while cutting. Using a cutting tool, the lapidary will change the angle and number of cuts. Once cut, the stone is polished and smoothed. The number facets, their placement, and angle will decide the degree of shine and sparkle in the finished stone.
After all the hard work to uncover the natural beauty of a gemstone, the lapidary ends with a variety of stones. It is within the lapidary’s power to create faceted stones, cabochons, beads, spheres, inlays, cameos, or sculptures. It all depends on the type of stone (some are better for faceting than others), the project, and what the lapidary believes will expose the stone’s highest level of beauty, clarity, and brilliance.