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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, 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 term Lapidist is used to describe the person who practices the art of lapidary, which may include cutting, carving, faceting or polishing rocks or gemstones.
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.