Your Ultimate Guide to the Different Types of Gemstone Cuts
Humans have been working with stones since prehistoric times, and the beginnings of the gem cutting arts date back to one million years ago. Today, there are many types of gemstone cuts and shapes, thanks to technological innovations in this field.
We often hear about gemstone cuts in terms of the 4Cs of diamonds, but the cut of a gem is a crucial factor to consider when purchasing any semi-precious stone. In this guide, we're going to walk you through some of the most popular gemstone cuts, their history, and what makes them unique.
A Brief History of Gemstone Cutting
The practice of shaping gemstones and minerals is called lapidary, which comes from the Latin word 'lapidarius,' meaning stone-cutter. Traditionally, a person who uses this practice is called a lapidarist, although, in modern contexts, we call these individuals gem cutters.
We can see evidence of early gem cutting worldwide from Europe, East Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa. However, Europe laid the foundations of what we know gem cutting to be today, particularly France and Germany.
In the late 14th century, diamond cutting became a regular practice in France, and the early shapes of the diamond point and diamond table cut were developed. These early cuts relied on the crystal's natural facets to obtain a shape based on an octahedron.
How Gemstones Are Cut Today
In order to cut gemstones, we use a process of progressive abrasion, meaning that we cut gems using progressively finer grits of harder substances. Diamonds are often used in the gem cutting process because they are the hardest naturally occurring material, rating a 10 on the Mohs scale. Human-made compounds are also used, such as silicon carbide, which rates at 9.5 Mohs.
Gem cutters use seven different techniques in gemstone cutting:
Drilling: Utilizing a small rotating rod (often with a diamond tip) to drill a hole into a stone (e.x. beads).
Grinding: Using high grit abrasives to create an initial rough shape to a gemstone called a 'preform.'
Lapping: The process of using a lap (rotating or vibrating flat disc) to create flat surfaces on a gemstone.
Polishing: Done after a gem is shaped and sanded, polishing agents such as metal oxides are applied to the stone to give it a mirror-like finish and increase light reflection and refraction.
Sanding: The process of using finer abrasives to remove scratches left during the grinding process.
Sawing: The process of using a thin circular saw blade to cut down raw gemstone material.
- Tumbling: Turning stones at slow speeds in a rotating barrel filled with abrasives and water to produce smoothed and polished stones in organic shapes.
Creating Faceted Stones
A majority of fine jewelry today includes faceted stones, and gemstone cuts get differentiated by the number of facets a gem has. To create these gem facets, gem cutters use a gemstone cutting machine called a faceting machine. Faceting machines employ a motor-powered lap and an adjustable handpiece to create precision facet cuts to a gemstone, which get polished to a brilliant shine.
Types of Gemstone Cuts
When we're thinking of gemstone cuts, we think of both the shape and cut of a gemstone. Different types of cuts influence the overall shape of a gem, whereas some cuts refer to the facets' layout. We're going to go over the facet cuts first before diving into the types of shape cuts.
This cut utilizes complex facet placement to create the maximum amount of sparkle in a gemstone. Spreading outward from the gem's center, triangular and kite-shaped facets give the brilliant-cut its defining shape. Brilliant cuts come in several variations depending on the intended effect and size and shape of the rough stone.
A simpler variation of the brilliant cut, an eight-cut, is defined by having only eight facets around the gem's crown.
A divine cut, a recent variation of the brilliant cut, consists of a smaller gem table (flat top) and a facet layout similar to a parachute, rather than the more common trapezoid shape in a standard brilliant cut. This design increases the brilliance and light refraction of the gem for maximum sparkle.
Step cuts put the color and clarity of a gem in the spotlight rather than its brilliance. It does this through horizontal facets that resemble a set of steps. The most recognizable step cuts are the emerald and baguette cuts, which we'll touch on in a bit.
A Ceylon cut combines the advantages of both the brilliant and step cuts. The sides of the stone are step cut and ascend to the center, which features a brilliant cut. This cutting technique is still used in Sri Lanka today.
Another cut that combines step and brilliant cuts is the barion cut. They can vary in appearance depending on the gemstone shape they are applied to (round, triangular, square, or rectangular). The defining feature of this cut is the cross-shaped pattern it creates in the center of the gem.
A checkerboard cut utilizes square facets to create a checkerboard look and is often used with a cushion-shaped cut on translucent gems to show this cut's intricacy.
Predating the brilliant cut, the old mine cut is an older cutting style that aimed to achieve maximum brilliance. Stones cut in this style were taller and had larger facets due to the technical limitations of the time they were used (between 800 BCE and 1900 CE).
Popular during the Art Deco period, the old European cut is another predecessor to the brilliant-cut that focused on carat weight rather than brilliance. This design was cut and polished with candle-light in mind. This cut is recognizable by the small circular gem table and its significant facets.
The name cabochon comes from the old Norman French word 'caboche,' meaning head. Despite being a type of gem cut, cabochons aren't actually faceted at all. A cabochon is a gem that is tumbled and polished to a high-shine, rounded finish and then cut to fit its setting.
Developed in 1520, a rose cut is a combination of a cabochon and faceted cut. The gem's base in a rose cut is has a cabochon cut, and the top is then faceted, typically with triangular-shaped facets.
Gemstone Cuts and Shapes
As we mentioned above, gemstone cuts are used in combination with a gem's shape (its outline when viewed from above) to produce the desired impact and style of a finished piece of jewelry. You may recognize several of these combinations due to their immense popularity.
Typically paired with brilliant, cabochon, or rose cuts, round-shaped gems are a classic that is particularly popular in the US and often called the American Standard. This cut dates back to the 18th century, originating in Italy, and is credited to Vincenzio Peruzzi, a skilled gem polisher from Venice. The facets of this cut optimize the dispersion of light within a stone to maximize its brilliance.
The most common shape for colored gemstones is the oval, which retains more of a gem's carat weight than other shapes. Designed in the late 1950s by Lazare Kaplan, the oval cut has 69 facets, one of the highest of all gemstone cuts. Its elongated silhouette creates the illusion of a larger stone while offering the brilliance of a round cut.
The marquise cut is an oval that has points at both ends. Also called a 'navette' cut, it is most often paired with a modified brilliant-cut to reflect the most light, offering maximum sparkle and color depth. The 57 facets of this shape are technically demanding to cut because symmetry is of the utmost importance.
Credited to Louis van Berquem, the pear cut (also called a teardrop cut) is a combination of the marquise and oval cuts with one rounded and one pointed end. This shape is popular for pendants and earrings due to its ability to draw the eye downward. This shape can have 56 - 58 facets when paired with a brilliant-cut and reflects light beautifully to dramatically showcase the color of a gem.
A variation of a pear cut, the briolette cut is faceted on all sides and is considered the most difficult shape to cut. Boasting 84 individual facets, this cut can produce incredible brilliance. While relatively uncommon today, this shape was popular during the 17th and 18th centuries after it originated in India in the 12th century.
Another variation of the pear cut, the heart cut, is most often paired with a brilliant-cut to produce incredible sparkle when hit by natural light. This style has an average of 59 facets and requires skillful cutting to create the symmetry that makes this cut beautifully romantic.
Square and Rectangle
Both square and rectangle shapes come in different varieties depending on the cut you pair them with.
A popular cut for diamond engagement rings, the princess cut is a square gemstone with pointed corners that utilizes a brilliant cut. Containing up to 78 facets, this beautiful cut highlights the color of the gem from the center to the corners. This cut is known for its excellent sparkle and is the second most popular behind the round brilliant cut.
Initially designed for emeralds, the emerald cut is a rectangular shape with cropped corners. While only averaging 50 facets, this shape allows light to bounce around a gem's interior to bring out a gem's clarity a color depth.
Named after the Dutch diamond cutter Joseph Asscher, the Asscher cut is a combination of the princess and emerald cuts. It features a square shape with cropped corners and step-cut facets to increase a gem's clarity and contains an X shape in the gem's table.
Popular for accent stones, the baguette cut is a narrow rectangular shape that utilizes step cuts along the sides. Introduced in the 1920s, this cut became popular during the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods due to its clean geometric lines.
The cushion-cut also called the Old European cut, is a variation of square and rectangle cuts with rounded corners and edges. It has larger facets, averaging at 64, to showcase the clarity, luster, and brilliance of a gem. The cushion-cut was initially devised to reduce wastage during the gem cutting process.
A radiant cut is a hybrid shape that combines the brilliance of a round cut and the clean lines of an emerald cut. It was first used in the 1970s by Henry Grossbard and contains between 62 and 70 facets. This cut's corners are cropped in straight lines rather than rounded as they are in a cushion cut.
Triangular gemstones are known as a trillion or trilliant cut and use symmetry and angles to maximize the color and brilliance of a gemstone. Typically paired with a modified brilliant cut, this shape contains between 31 and 43 facets. The rounded edge version of this cut is a trillion cut, and if the edges are straight, it is a trilliant cut.
What Is the Most Expensive Gemstone Cut?
Now that we've broken down all the different types of gemstone cuts, you may be curious to know which is the most expensive out of the entire list. That title belongs to the round brilliant cut, which has the highest degree of sparkle of all gemstone cuts. This cut is particularly popular for diamond engagement rings due to its fantastic fire and extreme clarity.
Do you have a favorite gemstone cut? Tell us which one it is and why you love it in the comments below!