gem: Gem Cutting
Gems are generally cut to bring out their natural color and brilliancy and to remove flaws. In the cabochon cut, the upper surface of the stone is smoothed and rounded into a simple curve of any degree of convexity; the lower surface may be concave, convex, or flat. All the remaining cuts have flat facets. In the table cut, the facets of the natural octahedron of the diamond are ground to smoothness and polished; one facet, the table, is ground much larger than any other and made the top of the gem, while the opposite facet, the culet, is left quite small. The rose cut consists of a flat base and (usually) 24 triangular facets—resembling a cabochon with facets. The brilliant cut is scientifically designed to bring out the maximum brilliancy of the stone. The crown of a brilliant consists of a table and 32 smaller facets, of which 8 are quadrilaterals and 24 are triangles; the base, of a culet and 24 larger facets, of which 8 are quadrilaterals and 16 are triangles. The base and crown are separated by a girdle. The brilliant cut has certain proportions—in general, the depth of the crown is one third the depth of the stone and the width of the table one half the width of the stone. The trap, step, or emerald cut consists of a table and quadriangular facets above and below the girdle with parallel horizontal edges. Diamond cutting and the cutting of other precious stones are distinct trades.
In diamond cutting the stone is first cleaved or sawed to remove excrescences (outcroppings) or to break it into smaller stones. Cleaving is accomplished by making a groove in the surface in the direction of the grain, inserting a steel knife, and striking the back of the knife a sharp blow. The next process was formerly bruting, i.e., roughly shaping two stones by rubbing them against one another. In modern practice the stones are sawed with a revolving wheel coated on its rim with diamond powder, then shaped by inserting a holder, or dop, containing one diamond into a turning lathe that revolves it against a stationary diamond. The cutting of the facets and the polishing are done by a revolving iron wheel charged with diamond dust. After the facets are cut, the diamonds are cleaned and are ready for sale.
The cutter of gemstones other than diamonds is known as a lapidary. Precious and semiprecious stones other than diamonds are cleaved or slit by a revolving diamond-dusted wheel, faceted by being pressed against a lap (a smoothing and polishing tool) charged with diamond dust or a carborundum wheel, and polished with a softer abrasive. Most (and in the case of some gems all) of the work of faceting is done with only the eye of the lapidary as guide.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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