A lapidary (the word means "concerned with stones") is an artisan who practices the craft of working, forming and finishing stone, mineral, gemstones, and other suitably durable materials (amber, shell, jet, pearl, copal, coral, horn and bone, glass and other synthetics) into functional and/or decorative, even wearable, items (e.g. cameos, cabochons, and more complex faceted designs). The adjectival term is also extended to refer to such arts. Diamond cutters are generally "not" referred to as lapidaries, due to their highly specialized techniques which are required to work diamond successfully.

The arts of a sculptor or stonemason are generally too broad in scale to fall within the definition, though chiseling inscriptions in stone, and preparing laboratory 'thin sections' may be considered lapidary arts. The term is most commonly associated with jewelry and decorative household items (e.g. bookends, clock faces, ornaments, etc.) A specialized form of lapidary work is the inlaying of marble and gemstones into a marble matrix, known in English as "pietra dura" for the hard stones like onyx, jasper and carnelian that are used, but called in Florence and Naples, where the technique was developed in the 16th century, "opere di commessi". The Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo in Florence is completely veneered with inlaid hard stones. A lapidary specialty developed from the late 18th century in Naples and Rome are the "micro-mosaics" assembled out of many minute slivers of stone to create still life, cityscape views and the like.

In China, lapidary work specializing in jade carving has been continuous since the Shang dynasty.


There exist three broad categories of lapidary arts. These are the procedures of tumbling, cabochon cutting, and faceting. The distinction is somewhat loose, and leaves a broad range within the term cabochon.

At present, most lapidary work is accomplished using motorized equipment and resin or metal bonded diamond tooling in successively decreasing particle sizes until a polish is achieved. Often, the final polish will use a different medium, such as tin oxide, glasitite or cerium(IV) oxide. Older techniques, still popular with hobbyists, used bonded grinding wheels of silicon carbide, with only using a diamond tipped saw. Diamond cutting, because of the extreme hardness of diamonds, cannot be done with silicon carbide, and requires the use of diamond tools.

There are also many other forms of lapidary, not just cutting and polishing stones and gemstones. These include: casting, faceting, carving, jewellery, mosaics (eg. little slices of opal on potch, obsidian or another black stone and with a clear dome (glass or crystal quartz) on top. There are lapidary clubs through-out the world and in Australia there are numerous gemshows including an annual gemshow, the Gemborree which is a nation-wide lapidary competition. There is a collection of gem and mineral shows held in Tucson, Arizona at the beginning of February each year. This group of shows constitutes the largest gem and mineral event in the world. The event was originally started with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society Show and has now grown to include dozens of other independent shows.

econdary meanings

A secondary meaning of "lapidary" is pertaining to, about, "of inscriptions." Since inscriptions were laboriously chiselled to stone, a "lapidary" writing style is crisp, accurate, formal, and condensed. Only the most accomplished can express themselves verbally in a lapidary style: "Brevity is the soul of wit," as Polonius told Claudius.

Another meaning is a treatise on the subject of precious stones, one example being the so-called "Old English Lapidary", a tenth or eleventh-century translation into Anglo-Saxon of earlier Latin glosses on stones mentioned in "The Book of Revelation".

ee also

*Naturalis Historia
*Pliny the Elder

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  • Lapidary — Lap i*da*ry, n.; pl. {Lapidaries}. [L. lapidarius, fr. lapidarius pertaining to stone: cf. F. lapidaire.] 1. An artificer who cuts, polishes, and engraves precious stones; hence, a dealer in precious stones. [1913 Webster] 2. A virtuoso skilled… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Lapidary — Lap i*da*ry, a. [L. lapidarius pertaining to stone: cf. F. lapidaire.] 1. Of or pertaining to the art of cutting stones, or engraving on stones, either gems or monuments; as, lapidary ornamentation. [1913 Webster] 2. Of or pertaining to… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • lapidary — (n.) one skilled in working with precious stones, late 14c., from O.Fr. lapidaire (12c.), from L. lapidarius stonecutter, originally an adjective of or working with stone, from lapis (gen. lapidis) stone. Meaning a treatise on precious stones is… …   Etymology dictionary

  • lapidary — ► ADJECTIVE 1) relating to the engraving, cutting, or polishing of stones and gems. 2) (of language) elegant and concise. ► NOUN (pl. lapidaries) ▪ a person who cuts, polishes, or engraves stones and gems. ORIGIN Latin lapidarius, from lapis… …   English terms dictionary

  • lapidary — [lap′ə der΄ē] n. pl. lapidaries [ME lapidarie < LL lapidarius < L, of stones < lapis (gen. lapidis), a stone, akin to Gr lepas, ult.? < IE base * lep : see LEPER] 1. a person who cuts, polishes, and engraves precious stones 2. the art …   English World dictionary

  • lapidary — /lap i der ee/, n., pl. lapidaries, adj. n. 1. Also, lapidist /lap i dist/. a worker who cuts, polishes, and engraves precious stones. 2. Also, lapidarist /leuh pid euhr ist/. an expert in precious stones and the art or techniques used in cutting …   Universalium

  • lapidary — lap•i•dar•y [[t]ˈlæp ɪˌdɛr i[/t]] n. pl. dar•ies, adj. 1) jew Also, lap′i•dist. a worker who cuts, polishes, and engraves precious stones. 2) jew Also, la•pid•ar•ist [[t]ləˈpɪd ər ɪst[/t]] an expert in precious stones and the art or techniques… …   From formal English to slang

  • lapidary — I. noun (plural daries) Date: 14th century 1. a cutter, polisher, or engraver of precious stones usually other than diamonds 2. the art of cutting gems II. adjective Etymology: Latin lapidarius of stone, from lapid , lapis stone Date: 1724 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • lapidary — 1. noun /ˈlæpɪdəri/ A person who cuts, polishes, engraves, or deals in gems. 2. adjective /ˈlæpɪdəri/ a) Pertaining to gems and precious stones, or the art of working them. , 2000: The sole truth was that supplied by mathematics or by such… …   Wiktionary

  • lapidary — lap|i|da|ry [ˈlæpıdəri US deri] adj [only before noun] [Date: 1300 1400; : Latin; Origin: lapidarius, from lapis stone ] 1.) formal well written and accurate ▪ the lapidary style of the poem 2.) technical relating to the cutting or polishing of… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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