Discover The History Of Gem Cutting

Posted in News   |   By

Liljana Tomova

Aug 24, 2017 2:36:49 PM

When looking at your dear jewelry pieces, is the shape of the stone the primary detail that captivates your attention? We bet it is. In jewelry, we refer to the various shapes of diamonds and gemstones as “cuts” and for us, cuts and facets play the most important role in jewelry making. The fascination felt by the beauty of a certain ring, bracelet or a necklace inevitably arouses the big question: How could anyone ever come with this brilliant idea of giving a precious stone a particular shape in which it will seduce long distance and sparkle with outstanding brilliance? The answer lies in the magic of lapidary, popularly known as gem cutting.

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Lapidary is believed to be one of the oldest crafts developed during the Stone Age. Many people, especially young generations are not familiar with this term.  “Lapidary” is not only the name of the craftsmanship, but also the name of the artisan who transforms mined, rough gems into finished products that are ready to be used in jewelry.



The etymological roots of lapidary or gem cutting are in the Latin word “lapis”, meaning “stone”.  There is a similar word in Old French dating back to the 14th century - the word “lapidaire”, which is used to refer to someone that has the skills to work with precious stones.



It is not a mystery that primordial people used stones and rocks to make tools that were essential for their everyday life. The basic understanding that today we define as the concept of relative hardness was that certain stones are harder and stronger than others, so they can be used to break, chip and scratch the less harder stones. This is how the drilling method was developed, which is indeed the earliest lapidary method that has a history of one million years. The second most popular technique at the time was brutting, used to shape stones and minerals by rubbing them one against another. Drilling and brutting were extremely slow and tedious methods to perform, but they were the only ways of gem cutting until more refined techniques were developed later in history.

Another important fact that cannot be omitted is that these primitive forms of lapidary were present in all ancient civilizations, regardless of the period or territory they were living. There is a real treasury of historical books that include authentic pictures of beads, amulets and scarabs that help us visualize how people started the process of fashioning items out of stones and continued modifiying it with time. According to the records, the bead is the very first “product” of gem cutting and it represented the must-have element in jewelry ornamentation.


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Europe, the oldest continent in the world is also the place where lapidary itself was “shaped and polished”  to set the grounds of contemporary jewelry making. Historical sources say that the first team of diamond cutters appeared in 1375 in Nuremberg, Germany. This is where various types of brand-new cuts were invented, including the square and the oval cut as the most prominent ones. European gem cutting was very important because it revived the connection with the East where best-quality precious stones are coming from up to the present day.

The transition continued and other countries started to enjoy the fruits of the trade between Europe and the East, such as England, Spain and Netherlands. All of this brought a lot of wealth and influence to the continent that became the main diamond trading center. Other significant world centers of diamond cutting and overall processing are Surat (India), Guangzhou (China), Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and New York (United States of America).

If you are asking yourself when lapidary became a sought-after profession in the United States, the answer would be – the late 1980s. Once the gem-cutting fever reached the American soil, the American lapidary market began to emerge as the leading lapidary force in the world. One of the reasons is the raised awareness of the energy and healing properties of precious stones, which increases the interest in buying them.


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Here is what a mined, rough gem needs to undergo in order to be ready to find its use on the jewelry market.

  1. Planning (maximizing value, weight and color retention, turnaround minimization)
  2. Cleaving / Sawing
  3. Bruting
  4. Diamond polishing
  5. Final inspection


Did you find this article engaging and useful? Leave us a comment and delight us with your presence on the Kobelli Jewelry blog. Cheers!


Written by: Liljana Tomova

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