The Lapidary's Art, by G.F. Kunz-- on gem cutting & polishing for jewelry, from the August 2, 1896 LA Times

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The Los Angeles Times,
    August 2, 1896, p. 11:


THE LAPIDARY'S ART.

Wonderful Skill in Cutting and Polishing Precious Stones.
Some Fine Work is Done in Boston And New York.
Twelve Million Jewels Used in American Watches Alone...

    In precious-stone cutting the first step is to chip it with a large, square-edged hammer on an iron plate, or to slit it by means of a circular disk of thin sheet-iron placed horizontally, and made to revolve by simple machinery.
    Diamond dust is mixed with sperm [whale] or other oil, is applied to the edge of the iron plate, a raised edge around the table preventing the loss of dust. A small quantity is put on the disk, and from time to time renewed.

    When cut the stone is ground on horizontal wheels called laps, made of lead, iron, copper, tin or alloys, and sometimes of wood of different degrees of hardness. On these is spread emery, diamond, or corundum powder.
    For some gems wheels are used covered with cloth, leather, or hard brushes. The emery, finely ground, gradually embeds itself firmly in the lead or other soft metal, of which the wheel is made.

    The stone, firmly cemented to a gem stick with shellac and brick dust, is pressed against the wheel. The facets, or flat surfaces which give brilliancy to transparent stones, are cut by a simple contrivance.

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    By the side of the horizontal grinding wheel is placed an upright, heavy, club-like piece of wood, resembling a long-necked, very narrow bottle reversed. In this, in different places, notches are cut. As it revolves, the gem presses on the wheel, and the surface is cut away.
    To make a new facet, the rod holding the gem is held against a notch which gives it a new inclination, or a new angle. A wooden instrument is used by some lapidaries to hold the gem stick, the facets being adjusted by a mechanical contrivance. Only in the very commonest imitation work is the stone held in the hand.

    The diamond powder used is made from bort, or imperfect, coarse diamonds, selling from 75 cents to $3 a carat. The workmen acquire wonderful facility in shaping and polishing stones, and from a given pattern will produce the required object with great rapidity.

    The finest cutting of precious stones is done in London, Paris, New York, and Boston, and in the Jura; of semi-precious stones in Paris and the Jura, of garnets in Bohemia; of amethysts, citrine, Spanish topaz (brown topaz,) in Paris, Oberstein, etc.; of blue, white, and green topaz, amethyst, green garnets, jaspers, agate, rock-crystals, etc., in wonderful perfection in the Ural mountains.
    Imitation stones are cut in Paris and the Jura; in Turnau and Gablonz in Bohemia and in Providence, R. I.

    Until the fourteenth century, all gems were either cut en cabochon, that is, convex on one side like a carbuncle, or in the form of beads drilled from both sides in such a rude manner that the two perforations met very imperfectly. The latter may have been the Oriental custom brought to Europe by Phoenicians or other merchants from that quarter, or introduced during the period of the crusades. Some of the finest gems in the crowns of Austria, Germany and Russia are sapphires and emeralds that have been pierced in this manner.

    The Orientals polish precious stones in all manner of irregular shapes, according to the form off the piece when found, and even lately in India gems have been cut partly with facets and partly rounding, according to the form of the piece when found, and even lately in India gems have been cut partly with facets and partly rounding, and drilled in a number of places to be suspended by wire.
    Rubies, sapphires, chrysoberyls, alexandrites, moonstones, and Indian garnets are almost entirely cut in London, Paris and the Jura. These are sent to Europe, principally to London, where the commission houses receive offers on the various parcels from America, France and other quarters of the globe

    Gem-cutting is carried on in Ceylon, but almost entirely in the primitive Ceylonese style, viz., with little regard for beauty, but simply for the purpose of retaining as much weight as possible.
    The English Oriental stone-cutters are preferable, although some of the most remarkable work ever done is that of the French lapidaries.

    In modern times the cutting of garnets has been almost entirely confined to a single district in Bohemia, where the industry has flourished since the early part of the sixteenth century. It may be that many of the garnets found in the early Etruscan and Byzantine remains, consisting of flat plates, garnets set in gold, as well as beads, and gems on which were incised mythological subjects, were originally brought by traders from Peru and other localities in India, rather than from the Bohemia district, where there are now 500 miners, 500 cutters and 3000 dealers engaged in this single industry in the kingdom.
    At Jeypore in India are also situated large cutting works, employing native workmen, who have been taught the art by foreigners.

    About 1,200,000 watches with jeweled works are annually manufactured in the United States, requiring about 12,000,000 jewels, or from seven to twenty-one for each watch; of these 5,000,000 are ruby and sapphire, and 7,000,000 are garnet jewels, valued at over $300,000. Most of them are imported, but one large company does its own cutting, employing about 200 hands, and it is hoped that American jewels will soon be used.
    To be of value for this purpose, the material need not be of fine color and brilliancy, but must be flawless, of some decided shade of red or blue, and of greater hardness than quartz.

    Many of the aboriginal stone objects found in North America and elsewhere are marvels of lapidarian skill in chipping, drilling, grinding and polishing. Few lapidaries could duplicate the arrow points of obsidian from New Mexico, or those of jasper, agate, agatized wood and other minerals found along the Williamette River, Oregon. No lapidary could drill a hard stone object truer than some of the banner stones, tubes and other objects made of quartz, green stone and granite that have been found in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, or make anything more graceful in form and general outline than some of the quartz discoidal stones found in these same States.
    The latter objects are often from four to six inches and occasionally seven inches in diameter, ground in the center until they are of the thinness of paper and almost as transparent, and the great regularity of the two sides would almost suggest that they had been turned on a lathe.

    In the museum "Volkerkunde" at Berlin is a remarkable specimen of lapidary work. It is an obsidian ear ornament, two and one-half inches in diameter and one and one-fourth inches in height, a perfect circle of smoke-gray obsidian, the thickness of the stone in the center ring being not more than one-twenty-fifth of an inch. Few of our present lapidaries, with all the modern appliances, could produce better work.
    In the same collection is a unique and intergating object; a cornhusk of jadeite, clinging to which is an animal resembling a monkey...
GEORGE F. KUNZ

    Note: Largely self-educated mineralolgist and numismatist Dr. George F. Kunz (1856-1932; his degrees were honorary) was employed by Tiffany & Company for 53 years, and became Vice-President of Tiffany's in the early 1900's. After his death, his books and papers became part of the US Geological Survey Library.

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Classic Gem Articles:
Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds 1895
Semi-Precious Stones 1896
Gem Cutting & Polishing 1896
Where Gems are Found 1904

Classic Diamond Articles:
On Diamond Cutting 1867
De Beers Diamond Mine 1888
Diamond Cutting Industry-Art 1895
Cutting the Cullinan Diamond 1908

Classic Pearl Articles:
Bahrein Pearl Trade 1914

Classic Watch Articles:
Making Watches in Waltham 1867

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