What is a cabochon?
Lapidary is the art of cutting, grinding and polishing rough rock into a finished piece of art. When that piece of art is intended for jewelry the cut is usually referred to as a either a faceted stone or a cabochon.
Faceted gems have many geometrically shaped flat polished faces. This method is usually reserved for transparent gemstones such as diamonds and those known in the gemological world as colored stones; such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. These stones are cut this way to enhance their appearance and allow them to reflect light. Hence the sparkling diamond!
All other stones cut for jewelry fall into the cabochon definition. Though technically the cabochon definition refers to a highly polished stone with a convex or rounded top and a flat bottom, or flat back, and commonly cut into an oval shape, jewelers have become much more creative in their settings and often sculpted, tumbled, and even carved shapes are used as cabochons in jewelry. Cabochons can be high domed, low domed, sculpted topped or flat.
The cabochon cut is usually used when the stone is translucent (not transparent but light passes through) or opaque. It works better for softer stones and for stones with special phenomenon such as chatoyancy (Tigereye) or schiller (Labradorite).
Cabochons are not always just semiprecious stones. They can be cut from wood, glass, plastic, resin, old plates, bowling pins, shells, bone, etc.
The name cabochon is derived from the Old Norman French word caboche which means head.
Cabochons, pronounced cab-ah-shawns and often called just cabs, are one of the oldest and most common forms of gem cutting. Cabochons are used in pendants, bracelets, brooches and rings. Cabochon are cut in matched pairs for earrings.
Because most cabochons have a flat back, they are easy to set. They can even be glued to things. In history, cabochons have been used to decorate swards, crowns, and even clothing.
Cabochons can be set in precious metals, through many techniques including lost wax casting or fabrication. They can be wirewrapped, embroidered, or inlayed.
People also use cabochons in other art projects; they can be put on purses, jewelry boxes, gear shifts, scrapbooks, and on walking sticks. I have even sold them to be used as door knobs!
Some other types of cabochons include:
Intarsia- where pieces of similar thickness are cut and shaped to fit closely together without spaces or gaps, forming a pictorial or geometric design.
Intaglio- a gem carved in negative relief.
Cameo- a gem carved in positive relief.
Doublet (or Triplet)- when a thin layer of stone is glued to another. This is seen often in opal, when the original opal is too thin to cut into a stone. Sometimes the top layer enhances the color of the stone beneath and sometimes a stronger material is put on the bottom of a stone to bring stability to the stone.
Buff top cut- a gem that is domed on the top but has facets cut into the bottom. This works in a transparent stone and shows the illusion of depth and brilliance. Also a stone can be cut flat on the bottom, but cut with facets on the top.
Fancy cut- gems cut into fancy shapes such as flowers, leaves, stars, kites, etc.
Natural cabochons- some people prefer more natural cabochons that may be tumbled or slabs just polished on one face and rough on the edges.
Non-stone cabochons- cabochons made from other materials such as wood, plastic, porcelain, glass, etc.
Also see our Guide to Designer Cabochons to discover some of the shapes we cut.
And read Cutting Custom Cabochons for an explanation of why our cabochons are "designer cabochons".