Catch a Cab!
The word itself is from the Old French for 'head' or in "the style of the head". And if you're crossing your t's and dotting your i's, these fine jewels are not actually cut at all. Once they are given their shape (or outline) they are simply but expertly polished into smooth curved surfaces until the desired level of polish is achieved and the symmetry is acquired.
Spoiler here: It's most common for cabochon ('cab' for short) gemstones to be cut in elliptical forms as the eye is much more forgiving of the oval shape when 'seeing' symmetry in a stone.
The Edwardian necklace shown above is over a 100 years old but regales us with its tear drop cabochon cut amethysts. They bring the piece forward for a very modern feel despite its age.
Cabochon cutting predates faceted gemstone cutting which began sometime in the 13th or 14th century. With the advent of the horizontal disc polishing wheel, stone cutters could let loose their creative spirit and begin experimenting on different faceting patterns in hopes of upping the sparkle factor of diamonds and other precious stones.
|Early Roman ring|
But stones polished en cabochon date back to at least the 1st century AD when they gained popularity, but were polished that way much earlier. Above is a 2nd century Roman ring boasting 2 garnet cabochons set in a wide gold band. It sold at Christie's auction house for $6,000 against a $2-$3,000 pre-auction estimate.
|An array of cabochon gems at Gem Select|
There are so many reasons to choose a cabochon stone over a faceted one. Its ancient provenance is just one of its charms--but having a smooth plain surface means that you are much more able to see intrinsic internal characteristics of the particular jewel.
Look for this endearing stone type to create your own individual and very expressive jewelry style.