A Quick History of Lapidary Technology Through the Ages
Lapidary is a wonderful hobby that many use to cut gemstones to create beautiful jewelry pieces. Perhaps even more interesting is how much this field has developed over the years. In fact, over the last couple hundred years, lapidary took rapid shape as investors came up with new tools to enhance this craft as gemstone cutting and polishing became more efficient. Let’s explore this fascinating history!
What Is Lapidary?
Before diving into a quick history of lapidary technology through the ages, let’s take a moment to discuss what this is and some of the tools used. Lapidary is the art of cutting, engraving, and polishing gems. And some of the common lapidary supplies include:
- Cabbing machines
- Carving tools
- Faceting tools
- Rotary tools
- Tumbling machines
These are some of the many tools used when working with gemstones, and those planning to make jewelry out of precious stones often need a few other tools to cut and shape metals then set the stone. This art has existed since the Stone Age, and continuous developments provide us with new techniques for cutting and polishing rocks.
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How It Began
Until the 1400s, lapidarist cut stones with an abrasive surface or a hammer and chisel to shape the rock. If we look all the way back to the Stone Age, individuals used hammerstones—they found a stone harder than the one they wished to shape. They’d collect the pieces that broke off during this process to use it as grit.
Gemstone Cutting Through the Ages
As civilizations developed, so did the way we cut and shaped precious gems. The 1400s was a breakthrough period for this art; we discovered new ways to cut and shape rocks. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most interesting developments.
1476: The First Major Development
The first breakthroughs occurred in 1476 when Lodewyk van Berquem received credit for inventing the horizontal grinding wheel. This tool made it much easier to polish diamonds and other stones. While Berquem received the recognition for designing this, many suspect that he didn’t develop the idea for this tool. Manuscripts of this invention actually date back to 1439.
One reason we credit Berquem with this invention could be that he made one massive development in the world of lapidary. Berquem covered this wheel in diamond dust to make cutting stones more efficient.
Due to this development in the art of gemstone cutting, lapidarist were then able to cut different shapes and designs. At the Duke of Burgundy, Charles Le Temeraire’s request, Berquen shaped a design now referred to as the Sancy design.
1609: Developments in Polishing
In 1609, Anselmus Boetius de Boodt created manuscripts of a new way to smooth and polish gemstones.
Rather than relying on diamond powder, he used emery, sapphire, and ruby, as they’re all hard materials like a diamond. Although it took much longer to cut stones with emery, it was also far more affordable. Eventually, lapidarist mixed emery with water to polish emeralds, amethyst, garnets, agates, and other select stones on a tin wheel.
1807: Revolutionary Changes
The Industrial Revolution was a time of change for various industries, including the art of lapidary as new tools to cut stones were developed. In 1821, John Mawe drew up designs for the first portable faceting machine.
In addition to this new tool, experts also understood how crystals grew and overall crystal systems, which made cutting stones more efficient since lapidarist would rely on the appropriate tools.
In a couple hundred years, the art of lapidary leaped milestones as new inventions led to improved ways of cutting stones. Then, during the 1900s, new tools developed, making gemstone cutting all the more interesting.
The 1900s: Modern Lapidary Takes Shape
Things continued developing in the 1900s, specifically in the 1930s, where we could finally create laps plated with diamonds, which made cutting stones much more manageable. By using plated laps to cut stones, lapidarists did not have to rely on diamond grit or another grinding powder. However, these wore out rather quickly, so if you used it regularly, then you may need a new lap in a few months.
By 1954, Paul Blackmer created a new type of cutter—the laps had diamonds infused into the metal. While this tool was much pricier than other laps, it also lasted decades. During the same year, GE figured out a way to create a synthetic diamond that lapidarist could use as a cheaper form of diamond grit powder.
If you think that’s all that happened in 1954, then you’d be a bit off as this was also the year two inventors—Don Berry and Don Hurst—created the ceramic lap. This type of lap is great if you need to cut a hard gemstone such as corundum or diamonds!
Lapidary in the 21st Century
Thanks to the various developments throughout history, we have the incredible gemstone cutting and polishing tools we know today. Of course, thanks to modern technology, these tools are much more efficient and easier to use.
Interestingly, this quick history of lapidary technology through the ages doesn’t end here! In fact, lapidary is still developing as creative minds develop new techniques and tools.
For example, in 2017 Adamas Facet came up with a new type of polish that’s both fast-acting and improved the quality of the finish. This is because of the chemical reaction that occurs when mixing the diamond powder or oxide with an alkaline or acid additive. What you use depends on the type of gem you plan to polish.
Buying Lapidary Tools
Today we use modernized versions of tools from the past, as current technology makes them more efficient. If you’re looking for a lapidary supply store, then look no further than Cutting Edge Supply! We’re a father and son partnership who cater to those with a passion for gem cutting. We’ve got an extensive list of tools, including those for carving, faceting, rotary, and more. With the best tools readily available, you can focus on cutting beautiful gems or making gorgeous jewelry.