Cabochons, Gemstone of the Week

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A cabochon is any gemstone that is cut with a highly-polished domed top. Typically, gemstones of this sort will also have a slightly domed base, though sometimes this is completely flat. There is no set shape that a cabochon has to be cut into; however, the most common shape is an oval. The term ‘cabochon’ comes from the French word ‘caboche’, which means ‘small dome’. In the gemstone world, the term is often shorted to ‘cab’ or ‘cabbed’. Almost any gemstone can be cut ‘en cabochon’, though there are cer-tain stones that are always cut this way. Notable cabochons include turquoise, onyx, opal, moonstone, and star sapphire. In this article, we explore cabochons in more detail.

What is a Cabochon?

A cabochon, or ‘cab’ as the term is often shorted to, is a highly polished gemstone with a domed top. The size and steepness of the dome vary between specimens. In the gemstone world, the shape of the dome is described using the terms ‘high-dome’ and ‘low-dome’. While the domed surface of a cabochon is highly polished, the bottom of the stone is often left rough. The rough surface makes it easier for the stone to be set into gemstone jewellery. If the cabochon bottom has been polished, the adhesive may struggle to bond the stone to the jewellery.

Many years ago, almost all gemstones were cut en cabochon. Today, there are many different cutting styles and techniques, but the traditional cabochon-cut still remains popular. In gemstone jewellery, cab-ochons are often used for pendants, rings, and earrings. Additionally, they are perfect for cuff links and tie clips. As many high-quality stones are faceted, cabochons can be regarded as low-quality. However, this is not necessarily true. Many coloured gemstones are always cut en cabochon, including high-quality specimens of moonstone, opal, and labradorite.

Why Are Gemstones Cut as Cabochons?

Technically, cabochons are not ‘cut’. Instead, the stones are shaped and polished. With this in mind, the process is easier to complete than faceting a gemstone. As cutting a stone en cabochon takes less time, money, and resources, gemstones of this nature are often cheaper to purchase.

Why is the Cabochon Cut still popular?

Before the horizontal cutting wheel was invented, cabochon was the only cutting style. During the 15th century, jewellers began to use a cutting wheel to create faceted gemstones. With multiple sides, facet-ed gemstones reflect the light far better than cabochons. Exhibiting a dazzling sparkle, faceted stones were popular amongst the upper-class. However, cabochons continued to be produced. With the ad-vance in cutting techniques, why is the cabochon cut still popular?

To start with, the cabochon cut displays properties that other cuts do not. For instance, asterism, chatoy-ancy, iridescence, or adularescence cannot be displayed unless the stone is cut en cabochon. This is why certain gemstones are always cut this way rather than faceted.
Another reason that cabochons remain popular is their ability to display colour. In faceted stones, the col-our is often obscured with brilliance. As cabochons are domed with a polished surface, the colour they exhibit is pure. Finally, cabochons are valued as they are as close to the natural material as possible. When a gemstone is faceted, the shape and appearance of the stone are altered to increase the lustre. When a stone is cut en cabochon, however, they have only been shaped and polished to a basic level. The domed surface of a cabochon makes it durable and hard-wearing. With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for cabo-chon jewellery to last for thousands of years.

What Gemstones are Cut as Cabochons?

Though any stone can be cut en cabochon, there are a few that are almost always cut this way. To start with, most opaque gemstones are cut as cabochons rather than faceted. Some translucent stones are also cut this way, especially lower-grade specimens of sapphire and ruby. Though faceted gemstones can look beautiful, the cut only works if the stone is transparent. If a gemstone has a pure colour but is not transparent enough to be faceted, it can be shaped into a good-quality cabochon, instead. Small scratch-es are less visible on a cabochon than on a faceted stone; because of this, softer materials are often cut en cabochon rather than faceted. Softer gemstones that are cut en cabochon include amber, azurite, and turquoise.

Stones with special properties are often cut as cabochons; particularly patterned gemstones and those that exhibit asterism, chatoyancy, or iridescence. This is because the special property will not be visible if the stone is facetted. Another reason to cut a stone en cabochon is to display colour. As a cabochon has a smooth surface, the colour is displayed without being obscured by faceted edges. Additionally, this shows off the natural beauty of the material in its purest form.

In Summary

Even with the advance in cutting techniques, the cabochon cut still remains popular today. Though any stone can be cut en cabochon, the cut works best for stones that are opaque to translucent and boast an attractive colour. The cut is also popular amongst softer materials, as the domed surface makes imperfec-tions less visible. Though some people prefer the appearance of faceted jewellery, cabochons show the gemstone in it’s purest form. This makes cabbed jewellery hold its value even though it is cheaper to pro-duce. Whether you’re looking for an iridescent piece of moonstone or you’re more interested in star sap-phire, a well-crafted cabochon will not disappoint.

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