Skip to main content
our twitterour facebook page pintrest youtube

 History of Lapidary 

The craft of lapidary can be traced back to prehistoric times when man first began to clothe himself and fashion weapons. Probably his first weapons were rocks that he sharpened by chipping the edges to form a spear point. The spear heads could be lashed to long poles and used for hunting. Smaller rounded rocks could be chipped on one side only to form a sharpened tool for scraping animal skins and using them as clothing. He made hammers or clubs by lashing rounded or elongated rocks to the end of a short, heavy stick or tree branch.

Man was also attracted to shiny pebbles which he could use as decorative objects by tying vine tendrils around them and hang around his neck or fastening around h is wrists and ankles. Witch doctors often ground stones into powder, used as medication or good luck omens, which was probably the beginning of the many superstitions and lore we have today about gemstones.

Some of the earliest records indicate that the first forms of gem cutting and carving or engraving were the ancient seals made from the joint of a reed such as bamboo, or the curved surface of a conch-like shell used by the Babylonians and Assyrians, and similar to the Egyptians' scarabs, which date back to 4800 BC or earlier. The ancient Egyptians fashioned jewels and jewelry from lapis lazuli, turquoise and amethyst.

From about 500 BC to the third or fourth century AD, Babylonian and Assyrian craftsmen cut circles with a hollow drill made from bamboo embedded with sapphire (corundum) dust. The 10th and 11th centuries in Europe saw a gradual transition from engraving and cabochon cutting to faceting (cut with a flat bottom and rounded top).

In 1290, a guild of gem cutters and polishers was formed in Paris, France and a century later, diamond cutting and polishing was being carried on in Nuremberg, Germany. Subsequent to that date, the "tablecutters" of Nuremberg joined with the stone engravers to form a guild that allowed young men to become apprentices. An apprentice was bound to serve 5 or 6 years under a master lapidary before he was considered skilled enough to set up his own shop.

At the beginning of the 14th century, cabochons were the main decorative feature in the German, Austrian, and Russian crowns. In 1407, diamond cutting techniques improved under a gem cutter named Hermann. In 1456,  in Bruges, Belgium, Louis de Berquem, a long-time resident of Paris, announced that he had discovered a much better method of diamond cutting. Ten years later, his contemporaries and peers considered him the "father of diamond cutting." During the Renaissance, carving and engraving flourished and even surpassed the work of the early masters.

Diamond cutting flourished in France until the French Revolution, when many cutters fled from Paris to Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Lisbon where they continued their trades. About this time in England, lapidaries were unsurpassed in the working of colored gemstones, and Idar Oberstein became the ornamental and colored gemstone cutting and carving center of Germany.

In the USA, there was little activity in the field of lapidary until the 1930s when European craftsmen emigrated to New York to serve the jewelry industry. With little information available, some of the earliest American lapidaries persevered in their craft and began a correspondence with each other to exchange information since few references or tools were available. George Frederick Kunz, a collector of gemstones and carvings and a buyer for museums, published one of the first books on lapidary.

In 1933, the late HC Drake started the Mineralogist Magazine and Peter Zodac started Rocks and Minerals Magazine. These two men attempted to keep the channels open to other amateur lapidaries such as James Harry Howard and LE Bowser, a machinist built his own lapidary equipment by trial and error. Thanks to these four men, lapidary methods were introduced to other amateur gem cutters.

In 1935, J. Harry Howard compiled all the available information into his book entitled Handbook for the Amateur Lapidary. The demand for the book was so great that Howard had to revise and update it to include the latest improvements and techniques. In 1946, he published the Revised Lapidary Handbook that contained diagrams and instructions on faceting and cutting and polishing cabochons.

In 1937, the magazine Mineral Notes and News was started in the Southwest, and later renamed Gems and Minerals. This publication catered to the lapidary and jewelry-making hobbyist until it ceased publication in 1986. Then in 1947, Lelande Quick founded The Lapidary Journal for the lapidary, jewelry maker, and collector. The number of lapidaries and collectors of gems and minerals continue to grow, and today many reference and how-to books are available on every form of lapidary.

Over 50 years ago, Lortone began as a small company that hand-built durable rock tumblers to satisfy the demands of the growing lapidary field. Now in its second generation of family ownership, Lortone is a leading manufacturer of tumblers, saws, polishing arbors, and a supplier of packaged abrasives. They continue to build products with one goal in mind: to deliver quality machines and honest value. Located in Washington state, the company’s products are manufactured here in the USA by dedicated, local workers with years of experience with in-house laser and CNC production capability. As customers already know, the benefits to manufacturing goods in the United States are extensive— greater quality control, manufacturing flexibility, and true cost savings are powerful factors in today’s marketplace.