How Were Gemstones Cut in Ancient Times?

Gemstones have been prized for their beauty and rarity for thousands of years. From ancient times, people have sought out these precious stones and valued them highly.

But have you ever wondered how gemstones were cut in ancient times? Let’s explore the fascinating history of gemstone cutting.

Early Gemstone Cutting Techniques

The earliest gemstones were likely polished rather than cut. They were shaped using abrasives such as sand and water. This process was time-consuming and did not produce the precise shapes that we see in modern gemstones.

In ancient Egypt, artisans used copper tools to carve and shape gemstones. They would first create a rough shape by chiseling away at the stone, then use finer tools to refine the shape and add details.

The Rise of Faceted Gemstones

Faceted gemstones first appeared in India around 2000 years ago. The technique involved cutting small flat surfaces, or facets, onto the surface of a stone to enhance its sparkle and brilliance.

The process of faceting involves three main steps: planning, cutting, and polishing. In ancient times, this was done entirely by hand using tools such as a bow drill or a hand-cranked lathe.

The Bow Drill

The bow drill was one of the earliest tools used for cutting gemstones. It consists of a bow-shaped piece of wood with a string attached to either end.

The string is wrapped around a spindle that is inserted into the stone to be cut. The operator moves the bow back and forth to spin the spindle and create friction against the stone, which cuts away small pieces.

This method was slow but allowed for greater precision than earlier techniques. It also allowed for more intricate designs to be created on the surface of a gemstone.

The Hand-Cranked Lathe

The hand-cranked lathe was another important tool used in ancient gemstone cutting. It consisted of a wooden frame with a spindle that could be turned by hand. The stone to be cut was attached to the spindle, and a cutting tool was used to shape the stone as it rotated.

This method was faster than the bow drill and allowed for more complex cuts to be made. However, it required a skilled operator who could control the speed and direction of the cut.


Gemstone cutting has come a long way since ancient times. Today, we use high-tech equipment such as lasers and computer-controlled machines to create precise cuts and shapes. But the techniques developed by our ancestors laid the foundation for modern gemstone cutting and are still used by some artisans today.

Whether you prefer ancient or modern methods, one thing is certain – gemstones will continue to be treasured for their beauty and rarity for generations to come.

  • Key Takeaways:
  • Ancient gemstones were likely polished rather than cut.
  • The earliest faceted gemstones appeared in India around 2000 years ago.
  • The bow drill and hand-cranked lathe were important tools in ancient gemstone cutting.
  • Modern gemstone cutting uses advanced equipment such as lasers and computer-controlled machines.