Making The Cut: Gem Cutting Styles

How do gemstones become gemstones? Before they become the coveted sparkling precious stones, mineral crystals found in nature go through gem polishing and cutting to achieve that enticing sparkle that we all love.

Dating from as early as 3000BC, gem cutting is an art that has evolved tremendously. Today, expert lapidarists often use lasers, diamond impregnated blades and other methods on top of traditional cutting techniques to achieve the most brilliant cuts.

Let’s start off with polished gems.

Cabochon Cuts

Cabochon means polished like a “bubble”, or “half a marble”, usually in round, oval, or cushion shapes. This cutting style displays the lovely natural colour of the gemstone, and cabochons are very suitable for more casual jewellery designs and pieces that feature exceptionally large stones. The gems shine and glow in a yummy way, like colourful, precious candies! Many men find cabochon cut gems to be a suitably masculine style, and very wearable for use in men’s rings, cufflinks, and shirt buttons. 

Rough gem crystals can also be faceted to produce superior surface lustre, plus internal refraction and reflection. Faceted gemstones are the most valuable, and are most popular for use in jewellery.

The three most basic cutting styles are:

1. Brilliant Cut

2. Step Cut

3. Fantasy Cut

Brilliant Cut

As the name suggests, this cutting style gives off the most brilliance of any cut. Brilliant cuts consist of many triangular and kite-shaped facets that spread outward from the center of the gem, which maximise the light return through the top of the gem. These precious gems usually come in round, oval, square, rectangular, pear, or heart shapes. These brilliant cut gems exhibit “gem fire”, a scintillation that captures your attention and mesmerizes with its outstanding beauty and sparkle. 

A lovely gemstone sparkle wonderfully enhances a lady’s style and beauty. Rounds, ovals, hearts and teardrop shapes have soft, feminine curves, and lend themselves well to flowing, curvy jewellery designs which have a lot of artistic appeal for many people. Square “Princess Cut” brilliants are appealing to people who like crisp, geometric, symmetrical designs, while still having that “sparkle” that catches the eye. 

Step Cut

Step cut styles enhance the natural superior surface lustre of gemstones, and emerald cut diamonds have a pure white “shine” like no other stone. Skillfully step-cut coloured stones showcase the pure natural colour in a most lovely way, and the very finest gem crystals are often cut in this very traditional manner as it is seen to be the “purest” way to exhibit the colour. There is often a premium for step cut fancy coloured diamonds, and these can be the costliest of gems. 

Step cutting is the most critical lapidary style for retaining the body colour of the gemstone from the rough crystal to a polished gem. This precise, exacting, geometric style of cutting is beloved for its clean lines and pure, uncluttered shine. Step cut gems are usually square or rectangular, with the classic “Emerald Cut” being the most familiar example. 

Fantasy Cut 

Invented by Bernd Munsteiner, fantasy cut gems are usually cut using laser-cutting technology, making non-traditional cutting designs on the gems. This unique faceting artistry creates stunning displays of light and colour, almost appearing magical.

The only limitation is your imagination! Animals, objects, faces, or virtually any shape can be “projected” inside the rough gem crystal using computer assisted design programs (CAD), and then the lapidarist must painstakingly follow the blueprint to produce the desired Fantasy Cut. Custom options abound, and such stones are often truly one-of-a-kind. Lower cost gems are usually used, but fantasy cut diamonds and precious sapphires are also available.

Munsteiner’s Dom Pedro – Ondas Maritimas, 1993, was an exquisite 10,363 ct fantasy cut aquamarine gemstone. Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert, courtesy of the Natural History Museum, the Smithsonian Institute

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