BlogThe history of gemstone cutting styles

The history of gemstone cutting styles

The history of gemstone cutting styles

For most gemstone jewellery buyers, the unique nature of a gemstone adds to its attraction. Every natural stone will have its own history and an association with the place where it was mined. Occasionally Joe Milner at Tustains receives specific requests for a particular size, colour and shape of stones that customers would like in an individual setting. Here he describes the most common gemstone styles and a little about the history of cutting techniques.

Gemstone experts talk about the shape of a gem, which usually means their face up outline. The most common gemstone shapes include cushions (square or rectangular), ovals, pear, heart and marquise (an elongated oval).

The cutting style then refers to the way that the stone has had its edges and facets cut. Before the 1300s gems were usually cut into rounded and domed shaped stones called cabochons. Cabochons make coloured gemstones look attractive; however diamonds cut this way appear dull. It was this challenge to make diamonds look more attractive and bring out their inner beauty, that craftsmen solved by starting to add facets or flat faces. Initially these were added in a haphazard manner, but as early as 1415 more symmetrical arrangements of facets began. By flattening one point or by cutting it off altogether the craftsmen created a symmetrical style called the table cut. With new advances in cutting tools and technology more complicated styles were gradually used. 

Around 1900 the new rotary diamond saw was introduced. This technological advance  allowed gemstone cutters to bring out even  more brilliance and sparkle in the diamonds. In the 1920s the most modern round – brilliant cut became popular. Excited by the new developments, gemstone cutters started using more faceting with coloured gemstones including sapphires, emeralds and rubies as well as diamonds.

Today the most popular cuts include the traditional cabochon,  as well as faceted cuts including step cuts, emerald cuts, brilliant cut, princess cuts and (briolette) faceted beads.

•    Cabochons – have a domed shaped top together with a flat or a rounded bottom. This simple cut for a stone is often seen in antique jewellery.

•    Step cuts - as its name suggests these have rows of assets that resemble the steps of the staircase. They are usually four sided and elongated. By adding clipped off corners a step cuts can be changed into an emerald cut, so named because it was most popular with this particular gemstone stone. The emerald cut protects the gemstone corners and provides good places for prongs to secure the stone to the metal of the jewellery.


  • A brilliant cut usually has three side facets, arranged to radiate out from the centre of the stone. The best known example is a full-cut round brilliant which has 58 facets. A brilliant cut can also be applied to different shapes the gemstones including ovals, pears, Marquise and heart shapes. A square stone cut in a brilliant style is called a Princess cut.

•    Finally by adding both step cuts and brilliant cut facets, a gemstone cutter creates something known as the mixed or Ceylon cuts. 


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Case Study 3 - Tustains Jewellers independent family run business in Leamington Spa, provide fine Jewellery, Designer Watchers, Wedding Rings etc. to all our valued customers

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