Gem Cutting: History of Faceting Gemstones
Natural Gem Carving & Faceting
Article Copyright © 2012 AllAboutGemstones.com
Gemstone cutting as a professional discipline has been practiced for thousands of years. Each generation of lapidary artisans and stone cutters has improved on the proceeding generation's ability to perfect nature and amplify the beauty and wonder of the naturally formed crystal.
Crystals and Gemstones form when they undergo a process of solidification. Under certain geological conditions, the resulting formation may be a single crystal or multiple crystals formed simultaneously during solidification, leading to a polycrystalline solid. A crystal's atomic structure (unit cells, lattice structure) and growth pattern (crystal habit) can create natural geometric 'faceting' that amplifies the beauty of the mineral by refracting and reflecting light from within the stone. These naturally forming geometric patterns are also directly intertwined with a mineral's refractive optical properties.
Naturally occurring facets in crystals were undoubtedly the inspiration for early gem-cutters, motivating them to attempt improvements on nature. It is, and has always been the gem cutter's task to take maximum advantage of the stone's potential with a minimum amount of wasted material. Each stone's optical properties dictate the way in which it should be cut. It is up to the gem cutter to discern the optimal cut for each stone.
History of Facetted Gemstones
Facetted Gemstones and diamonds made their appearance in European jewelry during the late 13th and early 14th centuries. With the advent of the horizontally turning cutting-wheel (horizontalen Scheiben) in the late 1400s came the possibility of designing and repeating elaborately conceived geometric faceting schemes, thereby controlling and enhancing the light coming from within the stone.
Starting with the burgeoning Renaissance gem-cutting trade in Bruges (Flanders), to Venice, Florence and eventually the whole of Europe, the management of light became the central theme in gem cutting . During the same period, Flemish painters, such as Jan Van Eyck (c. 1390-1441) also took up the obsession with light and reflection in their artwork. Using the laws of optics as a guiding force, the exterior shape and facet scheme of a cut gemstone would now be preordained by the refractive and reflective properties of the mineral itself.
Construction drawing (left) of the first gem-cutting machine which could cut facets precisely, by Heinrich Arnold of Zwolle 1439 - Biblioth¸que Nationale, Paris. Model of gem-cutting machine (middle), private collection. Woodcut of "The Gem Cutter" using a foot-powered cutting wheel, 1568.
Images above are from "Bernd Munsteiner, Reflexionen In Stein" (Reflections In Stone) by Wilhelm Lindemann ©, Arnoldsche Publishing. The "diamond cutter" engraving (far right) is by Dutch artist Jan Luyken (1649-1712) from his book 'Book Of Trades' Het Menselyk Bedryf (c.1694).
Squaring the Circle
There appears to be a direct linkage between Euclid's mathematical principles (c.330 BC - c. 275 BC) or the Medieval fascination with geometric architectural patterns used to 'square' a circular form (octagons, hexagons, polygons, penrose tilings and pyramids) , and the geometric faceting patterns used by Renaissance gem facetters.
The photographs of 'Wheel' or 'Rose Windows' at the Notre-Dame Cathedral (below) show a rigid adherence to the laws of Euclidean geometry, axiomatic systems, equivalence, and symmetry.
Symmetry, or 'absolute symmetry' has played a fundamental role in the faceting of gemstones since the mid 1400s. Although faceting schemes have become increasingly complex, they are all based on several basic repeating geometric forms.
Early gem-facetters had two challenges to overcome: the first being to devise a pattern that was mathematically symetrical, and second, to taylor that faceting pattern to the refractive qualities of a given mineral. Each mineral's unique optical properties will determine if the faceting produces brilliance and fire or kills it.
Italian & Flemish Renaissance Gem Cutters
Historical Gem Cutting Regions
Old European Gemstone Cuts
Fancy Gem Cuts & Fantasy Cuts
Gem Cutting Technology, Equipment & Techniques
Bibliography & Suggestions for Further Study on Gem-Cutting and Lapidary
1. Rock Hounds, Faceting By Hand . www.rockhounds.com
2. Wilhelm Lindemann (ED.), Bernd Munsteiner: Reflexionen in Stein . Arnoldsche Art Publishers
3. Gemstone Artists, The Gem Cutting Process . www.gemstoneartist.com
4. Gem Society, Fundamentals of Lapidary Faceting . www.gemsociety.org
5. Dartmouth Math Dept., Paul Calter, The Circle, The Wheel & The Rose Window . www.dartmouth.edu
6. Gloria Chiarini, Florence - Jewellery of the Past . www.mega.it
7. Diamant Museum Brugge, The Bruges Diamond Museum . www.diamondmuseum.be
8. US Faceters Guild, Faceting Diagrams & Gemstone Designs . www.usfacetersguild.org
9. Bowers Museum, The Art and Nature of Precious Stones . www.bowers.org
10. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, The Six Voyages.
11. Lapidary Journal, Lapidary Journal Gem & Jewelry-Making Magazine . www.lapidaryjournal.com
12. Richard Kurin, Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem . Collins