Gemstone cut and shape combinations are endless. Styles like the princess cut and emerald cut earned their popularity for their enduring beauty, but gems can be fashioned into many other unique and stunning designs. Gems are faceted, cut, and polished to intensify their natural beauty--a craft that requires artistry, expertise in gemology and physics, and years of practice. Recognizing different gemstone cuts is simple if you familiarize yourself with the characteristics of different styles. If you're searching for an engagement ring or other custom jewelry, recognizing different shapes and cuts will help you choose the best option for your gemstone of choice.
Gem cutting styles
Cut gemstones are either faceted or non-faceted. The extra sparkly stones common in jewelry today are likely faceted to reflect the most light. Non-faceted gems are either rough or smooth. Cutting gems into a desirable shape for jewelry is an ancient practice, but faceting did not begin until the 15th century.
Gem cutting styles differ for colored gemstones and diamonds. The two different types of stones are valued for different characteristics. Lapidaries, or gem cutters, must first assess each unique stone to determine the best practice for cutting. The most desirable colored gemstones retain their color intensity in the cutting process, but retaining color is not usually the goal for diamonds.
Facets are flat, angled planes cut into transparent stones to enhance their clarity and beauty. Faceted gems reflect light off the surface of the facets, which provides additional scintillation or sparkle. The table, or the flat surface on the crown of a gemstone, is the largest and most prominent facet. Star facets surround the table, break facets encircle the midsection, and pavilion facets are located on the bottom half of the gem. Each different type of facet reflects light in a different direction.
Parts of a faceted stone
Table: The top and largest facet of the gem
Pavilion: The bottom half of the gem, mounted into a jewelry setting
Girdle: The midsection of a gem
Crown: The top section of a gem
Why facet gems?
Transparent gems are often faceted to increase their clarity and brilliance. The round brilliant cut sparkles the most because of its arrangement of facets. Not only do facets reflect light off a gemstone, but they also turn stones into works of art with interesting and complex patterns.
Gemstones don’t have to be faceted to achieve beauty. The cabochon cut is a smooth, domed gemstone with no facets. Opaque or translucent gems are cut and polished into a cabochon to show off their unique features, like asterism or play-of-color, that would be diminished by adding a layer of facets. The cabochon is often the best option for softer gems, like the moonstone ring below. Soft gems could be easily damaged in the faceting process.
Gem cuts vs. shapes
A gemstone style has both a shape and a cut. A gem shape refers to the outline of the stone and includes any geometric figure. A gem cut is characterized by its number, style, and arrangement of facets. Many gemstones are named for their combination of shape and cut. The princess cut, for example, is characterized by a square shape with around 50 facets and chevron patterns.
Heart:a pear shape with two scallops at the top
Round:the most in-demand shape for diamond rings
Pear:also called a teardrop shape
Oval:cut similarly to a round gem but contains a bowtie reflection in the center
Square:with beveled or sharp corners
Rectangle:with beveled or sharp corners
Marquise:(pictured below) symmetrical diamond shape gem with a large surface area
Octagon:a square or rectangular gem with rounded edges
Trillion:atriangular gemstone cut, also called Trilliant, Trillian or Trielle. It has many variations with curved or uncurved sides. The shape of the table at the top of the ring also varies.
Any cut that is not the classic round shape, is referred to as a fancy cut. This includes common shapes like a rectangle or triangle or more unique shapes like a heart or cross.
Step cuts are a category of gemstone cuts that include styles like emerald and baguette cuts. A step-cut gemstone has a narrower table that descends in layered steps toward a wider pavilion. This type of cut exhibits less sparkle than multifaceted gems but increases the clarity for bold, colored gemstones.
How are gems cut and polished?
The technique of cutting, faceting, and polishing gems is called lapidary, and the gem cutters are lapidaries. The lapidarist studies a stone’s features and quality to determine the best cut and accomplishes the cutting process by hand, with a machine, or both. Circular saws with diamond-impregnated edges are often used to cut a gem. Diamonds are the hardest gems, so diamond grit is often used to sculpt other stones. Gems are faceted and polished on a lap, a disk with abrasives on its surface. They go on a revolving platform and are changed as needed. Cutting and polishing are done in stages. First, the excess material is removed with a coarse lap. Faceting machines allow for precise execution, however, faceting a gem by hand is more laborious but can showcase the skill of a lapidarist.
Gem cutting process
Assessment:First, the lapidarist analyzes the gem to determine the best cut to enhance color and/or clarity, minimize inclusions, and determine the placement of the facets.
Sawing:A piece of rock is cut and used to form a gemstone.
Preforming: Any obvious inclusions are removed, and the gem receives a rough shape. A lap is used to shape a gem. As the process progresses, a finer lap is used.
Sanding:The roughness and scratches are removed.
Faceting: The table is the first facet created; other facets stem from the table.
Polishing: This final step removes scratches and brings out the gem’s luster and brilliance.
For lesser quality gemstones polished en masse, tumbling is used for polishing in a rotating barrel at slow speed.
Lapidaries create unique gem cuts regularly. Technology has given us many modern cuts to choose from. Antique gem cuts were created when most of the cutting processes were conducted by hand, and many have withstood the test of time and remain popular favorites. Below are a handful of popular antique and modern gem cuts.
The brilliant cut is the most popular cut for diamonds since it is also the most sparkly. It can come in any shape, but the round brilliant is the most desirable. No matter its shape, the name is always referred to asbrilliantbecause of its distinctive radiance achieved with mathematical precision.
The princess cut is the modern, square spin on the classic round brilliant. It’s risen second in popularity after the round brilliant cut. This cut is a square with rounded corners and utilizes more of the gemstone than the round stone. The princess cut resembles the cushion cut but is sharp and angular, while the cushion cut is soft.
This classic cut, also referred to as Old European, is a square with beveled corners, which give it a soft, vintage appearance. This style was created before faceting machines and is not as reflective as some modern cuts because of its larger facets. The elongated cushion cut is the more rectangular style.
The emerald cut is a rectangular step cut with few facets. “Emerald” is in the name because of this cut’s ability to emphasize the color of the stone. Because of the emerald's natural inclusions, or jardins, a step cut with fewer facets is preferred to prevent breaking.
This century-old style is a type of step cut in an octagonal shape that looks like a square when mounted in a setting. This cut is a square version of the emerald cut that has a cross in the center of its table. Like the emerald cut, the appeal of the asscher is maximum clarity rather than brilliance because it contains few facets in the crown.
The rose cut has remained a favorite since the 16th century. Its beauty is more subtle and less flashy than a brilliant cut since it includes only 3 to 24 facets. Rose cuts are usually circular with a flat or slightly rounded pavilion. They resemble a rose with two layers of facets that unfold like petals from the table. The pattern of facets in a rose cut gem can vary, resulting in different styles like the double rose cut, the recoup rose cut, or the half-dutch rose cut. As the name suggests, the single rose cut has one layer of facets, and the double has two and a little more luster.
This Victorian style is adorned with facets all over like a disco ball in the shape of a teardrop. The cut has a hole drilled at the top and is used for pendants or earrings so the many facets can be admired from all sides. Because of its unique shape, the briolette is often used for pendants and dangle earrings.
The trilliant or trillion cut is triangular and most frequently used as an accent stone. When a trilliant cut is used as a solitaire stone, it’s convex or slightly curved on the sides, giving it a softer appearance.
The radiant cut is the most dazzling step cut. It’s a square with cropped corners, similar to the princess cut, but it also includes stepped facets. The combination of step and brilliant cut provides luster and depth of color at the same time.
The baguette is a type of step cut with even fewer facets than the emerald cut. It’s slender and rectangular, like a French baguette. Its small and narrow frame makes it a great accent gem. The sides can be straight or tapered, which makes baguette cut gems easy to stack side-by-side.
This unique cut is covered in square-shaped facets that give it the appearance of a checkerboard. It has a wide surface area of facets that can enhance the luster of opaque gems. The cut can be used on any gem shape, but has the best effect on square shapes, particularly a cushion cut.
Just like its name suggests, the facets of a scissor cut gem look like the criss crossed blades of scissors. The style is a type of step cut, but it’s more reflective than an emerald or asscher cut because of its facet pattern. The scissor cut makes darker gems look deeper and bolder with a little extra shimmer.
The Portuguese cut is intricate and time-consuming to create, but its multi-layered facet pattern is fascinating. It has five rows of facets--two above the crown and three below. The extra layer in the crown gives the gem extra scintillation. This cut rivals the round brilliant cut for sparkle, but it’s much more difficult to create and find on the market.
What’s our favorite gem cut?
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