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Native Cut Gemstones
Traditional Gem Cutting
Traditional Gem Cutting

The term "native cut" is a term that has unfortunately been widely adopted in the gemstone trade. It is typically used to refer to badly cut gems that display faults such as windowing, poor polish and imperfect facet meets.

Certainly we need a term to refer to poorly cut gems, but the term "native cut" is probably not the best term. It implies that the stones are cut by primitive people ("natives") in developing countries who lack the skill and technology to cut gemstones properly.

Some people defend the use of the term "native cut" by explaining that it doesn't have these negative connotation at all -- it simply means that the stones were cut in the country where they were mined, whether it be Burma, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand or Brazil. But this hardly seems correct, since many "native cut" African gems that originate in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique are actually cut in Thailand. It also seems that no one refers to Montana sapphires cut in the United States as "native cut."

"Native cuts" are distinguished from "Custom cuts", where these terms refer to gems cut on modern faceting machines. Faceting is a process of grinding flat planes on a piece of gem material by pressing the gem against a rotating disk (called a lap) that is impregnated with an abrasive such as powdered diamond. Modern faceting machines feature sophisticated metallic control arms that allow precise control of cutting angle and rotation of the stone.

There is no question that it takes more skill to cut gems using less sophisticated control arms, such as the traditional jamb peg device, to position the gem on the lap. Modern faceting machines allow the operator to "dial-in" the desired settings, and therefore allow better control of the angles and proportions of the cut. Traditional cutting requires a practiced eye and a good feel for the material being worked. The symmetry on machine cut gems is usually better since it doesn’t depend on the eye of the cutter alone.

Half automated processes allow cutting quicker and help to achieve matching shapes and sizes for calibrated gem cutting.
A standard machine cut is not the same as a "Precision Cut".
The name "Precision Cut" tells us; it is very precise in all respects! That means angles, facet sizes, proportions and polishing is at the highest level of the gem cutting business. The precision cut is the most time consuming cutting process of all.

Skilled practioners in the traditional gem-cutting craft consistently turn out high-quality gems. However, there are differences in style as well as economics that account for some of the differences between "native cut" and "custom cut" gemstones.

Modern Faceting Machine
Modern Faceting Machine

Gem cutters in Thailand, Sri Lanka and India have traditionally cut colored stones to maximize their color. Dark-colored gems are often cut with a slight window to lighten the color, while less saturated colors are cut with a larger pavilion to deepen the color. Custom-cut gems follow the precision cutting style of the diamond industry, that aims to achieve optimum angles to maximize brilliance.

In many developing countries it was common to maximize weight retention when cutting a gem. This meant that, given a particular piece of rough material, the goal was to cut it in such a way that the carat weight of the final product would be as high was possible. This economic strategy undoubtedly led to some of the cutting defects associated with so-called "native cuts." It wasn't actually bad cutting that led to the less than desirable results; the stone was cut that way by design.

These days many Asian cutters know that well-cut stones will attract a better price in the market so the economic strategy has changed. But they still tend to cut to maximize color. The slightly bulbous pavilion you see on some "native-cut" stones means that many of these stones have longer light paths resulting in a gem with richer color than many "precision cut" gems that remove all excess material from the finished stone.

  • First Published: November-07-2009
  • Last Updated: May-12-2011
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    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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