How A Gemstone Gets Its Shape

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When I think about the breathtaking gemstones in my personal jewelry collection, I am reminded about how old the jewelry business is. From ancient times, we have been cutting gems to put into beautiful pieces to wear as adornments on our fingers, wrists, necks, and ears. It is very interesting to take a look at the different ways gemstones are cut today and how we've accomplished so much over the years.

The History of Lapidary

A lapidary is someone who crafts a raw gemstone into a decorative gem suitable for wearable jewelry pieces. This has been done since prehistoric times by using methods that were available during that period. This process was done by using a harder stone to break apart and chip another, softer stone, creating a desired gemstone as the end result. People developed lapidary skills so that they could create tools along with stones used for decoration. At this point in time, stones were used to make beads, seals, amulets, scarabs, and bowls. More developments came around the 14th and 15th centuries, when people began using wheels for grinding. People also began polishing the stones, shapes became more developed, and faceting began. Idar-Oberstein, Germany, was the main location for cutting gems and lapidary. Several gem shops starting popping up in this town during the 1700s and even more during the 1800s. By the later 1800s, there were more than 150 gem-cutting shops in this one town. Lapidary was not hugely successful in the U.S. until the late 1980s, when it became widely popular to invest in gemstones. Today, the U.S. is one of the leading countries for the lapidary market.


Bruting is an older process in which the face of a stone was rubbed against another stone in order to make the surface smooth. It also created a dust called rubbings or diamond dust, which was commonly used during polishing. The grit was fine and therefore had the ability to remove large scratches within a stone.

River Rolling

Very early on, people realized that flowing water and mineral particles could polish a stone on its own. A paste was quickly invented that consisted of a mixture of water and sand to polish and smooth out gemstones. This was called river rolling and was commonly used for making seals during the Bronze Age. The interesting thing about these seals was that each one was individually made and was different for each person.


The process of lapidary drilling involves putting a hole into the gemstone so that it is able to be attached to a wire to make it easily wearable. This involves precision and extreme caution so that the stone is not cracked or broken.

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The Lapidary Process Today

When a gemstone is mined, it has a long process that it must go through before it becomes the beautiful gemstone you wear on your hand or in your favorite pendant. First, a stone must be marked in order to figure out which way the grain goes. This matters when it comes to cutting the stone. The stone will go through cleaving in order to split it along its grain. The next step is sawing, which is removing the unwanted portion of the stone in order to get it closer to the shape of the desired cut. Grinding the stone will continue to help shape it closer to the cut or shape wanted. Sanding is a continuation of the grinding process but uses an abrasive that is finer in order to take out deeper scratches in the stone. Lapping is used to make the surface of the stone flat and is done with a vibrating or rotating disk. Polishing is the final step in the process and is usually done by using leather, cork, tin, wood, cloth, or felt on the stone to achieve a shining and smooth end result.

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