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What does a Lapidary do?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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A lapidary is a master craftsman or woman who creates designs and sculptures out of stones, gems, minerals, shells, and other hard raw materials. He or she cuts, forms, and polishes items that are used in jewelry, fine art pieces, and standalone decorative displays. A lapidary uses a number of motorized and hand tools when practicing the trade, including saws, sanders, and chisels. Professional lapidaries usually work in specialized shops, producing items for commercial sale and creating custom pieces for clients. Lapidary crafts are also popular with many hobbyists, who dedicate hours to forming their own jewelry and decorative pieces.

There are many types of highly specialized tools and techniques used in lapidary work. A professional can polish rough, jagged rocks by using a tumbling machine, which resembles and operates like a miniature clothes dryer. Rocks are lubricated and tumbled over one another so that they rub together and smooth away rough edges. Rocks may need to be tumbled several times over the course of a month or more to achieve the desired smoothness.

Lapidaries also utilize delicate saws, knives, drills, and chisels to shape and sculpt materials into their final forms. Some traditional craftspeople insist on carving pieces entirely by hand, though many experts take advantage of new technologies and automatic tools to make the work both easier and more precise. They usually draw templates for their designs and follow them carefully while cutting and sculpting.

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Many lapidaries are experts at faceting, the process of grinding a series of flat faces onto gemstones to enhance their attractiveness and allow them to reflect light. Most professionals use specialized faceting machines to help them ensure perfect results. A gem or mineral is attached to the end of a metal rod and lowered onto a grinding wheel to create each facet. The operator must take exacting measures to ensure the proper angles, spacing, and depth of each facet on a gem. The process is usually very time-consuming; some finished gems have more than 100 perfectly formed facets.

An individual who is interesting in trying lapidary work can find information online about lapidary schools in his or her area. Many schools offer both hobbyists and prospective professional craftspeople the opportunity to learn the trade through hands-on instruction by trained lapidaries. The lengths of programs vary, though most take from six weeks to three months to complete. Graduates receive esteemed certificates and information about where they can obtain minerals, tools, and jobs. With enough dedication and experience, individuals can learn to create masterful, attractive, and highly desirable pieces.

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