The Gem Cutters

Rich History of Gem Cutting

As gemstones have fascinated people for thousands of years, so too have we endeavoured to excel at the art of gem cutting to show them at their best. From the earliest methods of polishing stones to today's most complex faceted cuts, gem cutting is a splendid blend of art and science to take the beauty of nature and enhance it through artistic skill and scientific understanding of each type of gemstone.

Knowledge of gemstone properties is critical in skilled gem cutting as a stone's advantages, such as colour, can be accentuated or the stone can be destroyed by one injudicious cut. Early faceting techniques wasted as much as half of the original stone. A proficient artisan seeks a balance between utilizing the greatest possible portion of the stone and still making the most of its natural aesthetic properties. Balance must be maintained between these two goals.

Early Styles of Gem Cutting

One of the earliest styles of gem cutting is still in use today. Known as a cabochon cut, the lapidist or gem cutter creates a flat or slightly concave bottom on the stone, with a dome-style on top. It was essentially the only style of cut until the introduction of faceting in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Cabochon cuts are often also carved to increase the artistic impression of the stone. This is usually done in one of two styles: intaglio or relief, where the carving is done raised on the surface, such as with cameo. Reverse intaglio is often carved on the back or bottom of a translucent stone and the design is viewed through the window of the stone itself.

Fascinating Facets

Gemstones form in nature with natural facets, and by working with these facets, truly remarkable results can be achieved. As gem cutting techniques advanced, craftsmen began to take advantage of the natural crystals and work with symmetrical proportions to create the greatest brilliance. Symmetry continues to be an important aspect of gem cutting, as even today's most complex cuts utilize the same group of geometric structures as their basis.

There are many cut shapes, from the round brilliant cut diamond to the rectangular emerald cut, through to many fancy shapes such as hearts. All of these cuts must transition from rough mined gemstone to stunning polished jewel through similar stages.


The stone is marked to determine its grain, also known as cleavage. By working with this cleavage, the gem cutter can work around any inclusions or other faults for greatest beauty and minimal waste.


This is the first cut to the stone, done along the grain, this is where effort is made to remove any flaws to create the best possible final gemstone.


The shape of the final stone begins to take place at this stage, but there are not yet any facets in place.


Also known as sawing or bruting, another stone or dop, usually a diamond, is used to round the stone to a more conical shape, particularly for diamonds.


Each facet is cut and polished to precise angles for ideal symmetry.


Where a more standard cut will have approximately 18 facets, a brilliant cut has 58. Stones that move to this stage have the additional facets cut by specialized gem cutter, known as a brillianteer.

Gem Cutting for Shape

For diamonds, the most common shape is the Round Brilliant, known for its uncommon beauty and "fire". A very popular cut is the square Princess, as well as Oval, Pear, the teardrop-like Marquise and the rectangular Emerald cut. The Emerald cut is the most common shape for emerald gemstones, but can also be used for other types of stones, including diamonds.

While the shape may vary by personal preference, collectors should aim to purchase quality gemstones that have been refined and faceted by only the most skilled gem cutters.