Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cabochon? Cabachon?

According to Wikipedia, "A cabochon or cabachon, from the Middle French caboche (head), is a gemstone which has been shaped and polished as opposed to faceted. The resulting form is usually a convex top with a flat bottom. Cutting en cabochon is usually applied to opaque gems, while facetting is usually applied to transparent stones. Hardness is also taken into account as softer gemstones with a hardness lower than 7 on the Mohs hardness scale are easily scratched, mainly by silicon dioxide in dust and grit. This would quickly make translucent gems unattractive—instead they are polished as cabochons, making the scratches less evident.

In the case of asteriated stones such as star sapphires and chatoyant stones such as cat's eye chrysoberyl, a domed cabochon cut is used to show the star or eye, which would not be visible in a facetted cut.

The usual shape for cutting cabochons is an ellipse. This is because the eye is less sensitive to small asymmetries in an ellipse, as opposed to a uniformly round shape, such as a circle, and because the elliptical shape, combined with the dome, is attractive.  An exception is cabochons on some watches' crowns, which are round.

The procedure is to cut a slab of the rough rock, then to stencil a shape from a template. The slab is then trimmed to near the marked line using a diamond blade saw—called a trim saw—and sometimes followed by "nibbling" to the line. The purpose of nibbling is to speed the shaping of the material when using silicon carbide grinding wheels. Most lapidary workshops and production facilities have moved away from silicon carbide to diamond grinding wheels or flat lap disks.

Once the piece is trimmed and nibbled, it is usually mounted on a handle to assist manipulation. This procedure is called "dopping"; it is normally done by adhering the stone with hard wax onto a length of wooden dowel called a "dop stick". The piece is then ground to the template line, the back edges may be bevelled, and finally the top is sanded and polished to a uniform dome."

 I first discovered these wonderful creatures in a wire-wrapping class at a local bead store.  They are perfect for wire wrapping as they are flat on one side and have no holes drilled in them.  They come in a variety of materials, shapes and colors and are priced for many different budgets.  Below is an example of a wire-wrapped cabochon (much like the one I learned to make).

They can also be placed in settings to be used as earrings, bracelets, pendants and even rings!  

So, don't be scared of them because they don't have holes!  See what beautiful things you can create!


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