METHODS used by
gem cutters have hardly changed in hundreds of years, but in
Myanmar, the development of the gem industry means there are
now more companies exporting expertly cut gems out of the
The lapidary (someone who is skilled in cutting and
polishing jewel and valuable stones) has become all -
important be - cause the quality - and value - of a gem is
determined by the cut.
Daw Kyu Kyu Hlaing, the owner of the Mir and Alpha Gem and
Villia Gem Cutting Factory, has been in the gem cutting
industry since 1995 when she inherited the busi- ness from
her mother, also a lapidaiy.
"We used to cut gems by hand, but now we use a gem cutting
machine that was bought in Bangkok," she said. "The machines
were invented by a Myanmar man called U Saing Maung Kun in
Like many gem cutters, Daw Kyu Kyu Hlaing keeps her cuting
methods secret from other lapidaries. But she has trained 10
gem cutters who now work at her factory.
"There are two steps in gem cutting: First a rough cut is
made before the second, which is the final cut, " she
"We used to use sapphire powder to polish the gems but now
we use diamond powder, which gives the diamonds beautiful
colour, and hopefully a high price," Daw Kyu Kyu Hlaing
Mr James Firmin, a leading gem trader from London, agrees
that gem cutting has become a more refilled art.
"Cutting in the past was less accurate ... mainly due to
less advanced equipment. Often the cutrers would merely
polish the faces of the gem crystal, rather than making a
predetermined shape like a diamond cut," he said.
The cutters would use a lap (circular polishing wheel)
coated with diamond or sapphire powder, if available, which
would usually be turned through the use of foot pedal. A
primitive example can still be seen in use in Sri Lanka
today, in the form of a stick attached to the wheel axis by
"On a modern machine, the stone is held by a 'dop' (the part
of the machine that holds the gem), which is turned for
accurate symmetry," Mr Firmin said.
"The angle of cutting is important to ensure the gem
sparkles; each mineral has its own specific angle. For
example, a diamond must be kept shallower then an amethyst.
Some stones - especially rubies and sapphires - must be cut
in the correct direction of the crystal since the colour
changes With the direction."
Gems should be cut in a way that empasises their qualities,
said U Kyaw Thu, the assistant production manager at Myanmar
YES Joint Venture Company Ltd, "which include colour, lustre
"To cut a stone, we need a tougher material. ... For
instance, to cut a diamond you need another diamond as it's
the hardest stone," he said.
There are two styles of cutting: A 'cabochon' cut is the
oldest form of cutting in which the stone is smoothly
rounded; while the faceted cut, which produces symmetrical
plain surfaces on the gem, is a popular method for cutting
"The most common cut is the brilliant. In addition to the
round brilliant, stones are cut in a variety of square,
triangular, diamond-shaped, and trapezoidal faceted cuts.
The use of such cuts is largely determined by the original
shape of the stone," U Kyaw Thu said.