The Cabochon Cut September 14 2015
Gemstones come in a variety of shapes. Round, oval, princess and cushions are some of the most widely used shapes by lapidarists but one, the cabochon, is by far the oldest and simplest cut to reveal the true beauty of a rough. Derived from the French word, caboche, this cut refers to a shape that has a highly polished curved face with a slightly domed bottom. Some of the gemstones that are almost always cut using the cabochon include star sapphires, opal, turquoise and moonstones.
Achieving the cabochon cut is rather simplistic and primitive in nature.
The gemstone is not really ‘cut’ but rather grinded and then polished using diamond grit or paste.
As the jewelry industry in many European countries developed in the late 15th century, machines capable of faceting the gemstone, using a horizontal cutting wheel came about. As lapidarists became entranced with the diffusion of light through the gemstones, highly elaborate and exotic geometric patterns emerged on the faces of these gems.
Today, we even have automated, laser guided cutting machines which will easily maximize the hue and clarity of the rough with minimal effort. So, why are cabochons still being used as a preferred method of cutting gemstones?
One of the main reasons involve the simplicity of nature. Incorporating our human complexities through our adoration of the art of faceting into certain gemstones, inhibits their natural beauty. For example, many gemstones exhibit optical features such as asterism (star sapphires), iridescence (opals) and adularescence (moonstones) which cannot be highlighted using our faceting techniques.
The cabochon allows these gemstones to display their simple and elegant character with minimal artificial changes.
The next time you see a sapphire or an opal in a cabochon cut, know that it was nature’s intent to safeguard its natural beauty. The technique maybe old and primitive but it allows the best features to stand out and shine. The lapidarist often claims that ‘she finishes what Nature forgot’ but in this case, perfection has already been achieved.