Intermediate
Lapidary Fundamentals: The Cabochon Cutting Style

Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting StyleWelcome to another addition to our lapidary fundamentals series! In our first article in this series, we covered gemstone faceting. However, there's much more to know than cutting alone and in this article we’re covering the cabochon cutting style.

As a quick refresher: the term "lapidary" describes a person who cuts, facets, and polishes gemstones to prepare them for marketplace distribution. When you shop for gemstones, you only see the final stage of a complex and intricate process.

Before a gem goes on display at a jewelry store, they are precisely cut, polished and shaped. Usually, lapidaries implement a technique known as faceting. As you likely assumed, faceting is the process of cutting gemstones.

Facets are cut into a rough specimen to bring to life the three-dimensional, polygonal look of a gemstone. While the surface of each facet is very smooth, the gemstone is not, because as you run your finger along the top of the gem, you'll feel sharp, faceted points all over the surface.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
While faceting is an immensely popular way of shaping gemstones, it's not the only method in play. Another type of cutting process is called cabochon cutting. Unlike the angular, pointed surface of a faceted gem, cabochon gemstones are ultra silky-smooth. Ready to dive into the principles and fundamentals of cabochon cutting? Allow us first to define this stunning style of gemstone cutting.

What is Cabochon Cutting?

Cutting a gemstone in the cabochon style produces a rounded and smooth surface. The soft finish gives this style of gemstone its namesake. A cabochon gemstone has a smooth, rounded surface that's in the shape of a circle or oval. Either way, there is one distinguishable feature from faceted gemstones: they are entirely smooth with zero cuts. The actual shape and physical appearance of a gemstone indicate whether it's faceted or cut cabochon. Another way to differentiate between the two styles of gemstone cutting is to view the gem under bright lights.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
Gems polished via the cabochon cutting method won't sparkle like a traditionally faceted diamond, emerald, or amethyst gemstone. Instead, they take on glistening, even lines similar to that of a polished opal gemstone.

In place of that sparkle opals and other cabochon cut gemstones are more shimmery, colorful, and reflective. They even exhibit an evenly distributed transparency that faceted gemstones cannot achieve. How do they get this smooth, signature aesthetic?

Cabochon gemstones are not faceted; they are polished. Though the process is a bit more complicated than this quick summary, think of them as gems that have skipped the faceting process altogether and jumped straight into polishing.

The Main Tools Used For Cabochon Cutting

Cabochon cutting is no easy task, but then again, nothing about shaping gemstones is simplistic. Lapidaries spend years practicing the art of polishing gemstones and perfecting their skill into a mastered art form.

Thankfully, there are a few tools that help expedite the process for lapidaries who specialize in cabochon cutting, including:
  • The Genie Cutting Machine
  • The Lortone Cutting Machine
  • The Rock Rascal Cutting Machine

The CabKing 6" Cabbing Machine

This machine is a complete set that will meet all of your cabbing needs. It features 6" wheels which create a fantastic polish on any gemstone material.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style

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The Genie Cutting Machine by Diamond Pacific

Used most commonly by lapidaries worldwide, the Genie by Diamond Pacific is a trusted cabochon cutting tool. Equipped with six different wheels that are all mounted, this tool gives lapidaries the option of various wheel styles.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
*photo credit Diamond Pacific Tool Corporation

The most appealing aspect of this tool is its exquisite craftsmanship. Designed in a way that promises long-lasting durability, you'll never find yourself frustrated with wheels that fall apart or experience wear-and-tear over a short period. In other words, the Genie is built to last.

Like all good things: there is one caveat. You'll have to invest a pretty penny on these luxurious cabochon cutting machines. If you have the funds to allocate an investment on this excellent product, the Genie pays off in the long run. You'll experience a simple, streamlined and effective process, saving you the most valuable thing of all: time.

The Lortone Cutting Machine

The Lortone Cabochon Cutting Machine is less expensive than the Genie without sacrificing its multiple-wheel feature. Expect to switch out the accessories a few times, which you'll rarely have to do so with the Genie model. Still, for a slightly lower cost, the Lortone is a great competitor.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
*photo credit lortone.com

The Rock Rascal Cutting Machine by the Rock Shed

If your budget is limited or you're just starting with cabochon cutting, we suggest the Rock Rascal cutting machine. With a lower price point than the Genie and the Lortone, the Rock Rascal still enables you to get the job done without breaking the bank.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
**photo credit therockshed.com

Of course, the lower price point has its disadvantages. Most notably, the Rock Rascal doesn't have multiple features, meaning you'll have to swap out accessories frequently. However, it's a solid solo station for polishing gemstones. It's also a reputable machine, as it has been around for seemingly forever, and there's a good reason for it! Despite the low price tag, it's got everything you need in one spot.

Cutting Techniques For Cabochon Cutting

Cabochon cutting is an overarching term for polishing gemstones without incorporating the technique of faceting. Within this method are three popular polishing styles:
  • The Slabbing Style - Most cabochons start with slabbing, a process in which you plate a template over the slab to outline the most appealing portion of the rough stone.
  • The Shaping Style - In this process, you start actually cutting away material according to your outline.
  • The Smoothing Style - Now that you have your shape in hand, it’s time to smooth away all of the coarse marks and scratches until you have a polished, cabochon gemstone.

Lapidaries usually go step-by-step and incorporate all three of these cabochon cutting styles into their polishing processes. They start with the slabbing style, then advance to the shaping style, and finally graduate to the smoothing style. However, no two lapidaries are the same and the progression of skill varies. Plus, you may spend more time perfecting slabbing than smoothing, and vice-versa. Each of these styles of cabochon cutting is a necessary skill for polishing gemstones.
Lapidary Fundamentals The Cabochon Cutting Style
As a lapidary, you exert control over your craft; the possibilities of your potential are as glistening as the gemstones you polish! We hope this article on the cabochon cutting style opens up new and exciting possibilities for your future creations.

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