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A person who cuts and polishes gemstones is  known as a Lapidarist. Lapidary is one of the  most skilful jobs in the creation of fine jewellery.  I have personally had one of the very best attempt  to teach me how to facet gemstones. After days  of endless concentration and studying, I decided  that it was a skill that could not be taught, unless  you had a natural flair for it. I believe it is similar  to art or music. Sure, you can go to art classes or  take guitar lessons, but unless you already have a  modicum of natural ability, you are never going  to be top of your class. When it comes to cutting  gemstones, I am definitely tone deaf!

There  are  many  tasks  involved  with  cutting  a  gemstone  and  even  before  they  begin,  the  Lapidarist  must  decide  the  best  orientation  of  the gem - in other words, at what angle the gem  should be cut out of the rough to best show its  colour,  and  to  maximise  any  optical  effects.  There are five main steps that we go through  when  we  cut  gemstones.  Each  one  is  vitally  important and an error at any stage can either  dramatically reduce the final carat weight of the  stone or in some instances destroy it completely.

Step One

The most underestimated step is the very first one. This is known as the gemstone orientation step. Here very knowledgeable gemstone experts will make the decision of which part of the rough  stone will ultimately finish up being the table  facet. If a mistake is made at this point, there  is every chance that the gemstones brilliance  and fire will not be maximised. As you were  probably taught if you ever did woodwork or  metal work at school, at this stage it is crucial  to measure twice and cut once!

Step two

To actually make the first cut.  Often this is done by the same person who  makes the vital decision on orientation, but  in other cutting houses this is a separate task.  A saw with Diamond tips is used to cut rough material into the required number of pieces.

Step Three

The  gemstone  is  then  ground  on  a  lap  (horizontal wheel) to get an outline shape.

Step Four

A paste is used to grind the gem into a pre-formed shape, which is often done in several  steps with finer and finer pastes being used at  each stage.  The paste is often is often made  of small, tiny pieces of Diamond.  

Step Five

After  being  cut  and  ground  to  the  right  shape, the gem is then polished to a mirror- like  finish.  To  apply  the  finish,  extremely  fine grades of Diamond dusts are normally  used.


Ancient artefacts show that Lapidary started in  approximately  3000BC  (Bronze  Age) where early techniques of sawing, drilling,  faceting  and  polishing  were  used  to  facet  gems. However, bruting (a technique using  one mineral to shape another by striking it)  dates back as far as one million years ago,  making Lapidary one of the oldest skills on  the planet!

Today, Lapidary has become widely accepted  as one of the most challenging forms of art  on the planet. Unlike an artist who paints, the  Lapidarist’s  raw  materials  already  possess  great value: one mistake could render them  worthless. The Lapidarist, alongside trying to  create his masterpiece, must also be mindful  of carat weight; the finished item will derive its value not purely from its visual appearance,  but also from its size. 

To recognise the achievements of this profession,  there  are  now  several  highly  profiled  global  competitions such as the “Cutting Edge Awards”  and  in  Germany  (still  one  of  the  largest  gem  cutting centres in the world) there is the highly  acclaimed  “German  Award  for  Jewellery  and  Precious Stones”.

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