In jewelry use, cabochon gemstones are especially popular for earrings, pendants and rings. For men, cabochons are ideal for accessories such as tie bars, tie clips, cuff links and especially large masculine cabochon gem rings. Today, most high quality gemstones tend to be faceted, but there are some gem types that are still typically cut as cabochons. At one time, all gemstones were either carved or shaped and polished into cabochons. Cabochon cuts are excellent for specific gemstone types because they preserve special optical traits or perhaps they may be too opaque for faceting.
Considering the long history of gemstones, faceted gemstones were a relatively recent innovation. Gemstones were not cut with multiple angular faces and geometrical patterns until 15th century, when the invention of the horizontal cutting wheel came into play. Prior to this turning point, most gemstones were primarily fashioned into cabochons. This style of cut is often seen with opaque or softer gems types. The cabochon cut is one of the oldest and basic cuts, and most jewelry professionals should be familiar with the terminology. Cabochons cut gems are typically described with having a flat back, and a gently curved or domed upper surface, which allows for easy setting of the gem.
Even though most fine gemstones are now faceted, cabochons often referred to as cabs in the gem trade, are still very popular. Some of the popular gem types typically fashioned as cabochons are moonstone, opal, turquoise, star sapphire, star ruby and chrysoberyl cat's eye.
Faceted gemstones will always have superior brilliance and fire, because they have been cut to maximize reflected light. Despite this, cabochons have their own unique charm and continue to maintain their popularity for several reasons. With so-called phenomenal gems, such as those that display a star or cat's eye reflection, these gemstones can only display their interesting optical effects when finished as a cabochon, making some of the most interesting jewelry spectacles ever seen.
Other gems can be cut as cabochons because they are way too opaque or translucent, rather than transparent. Reason being is that faceting these gems would simply not produce optimal results, but they would have still an admirable end result if shaped into cabs. In addition, you can often found lower grade specimens of fine gem types, such as sapphire, ruby, quartz and garnet cut as cabochons. If an individual gemstone specimen has a very attractive color, but is not sufficiently transparent or clean enough to be faceted, it can still be shaped and polished to be a very attractive cabochon to be used as finished jewelry design.
From time to time, gem buyers who are fond of cabochons may seek out a high quality sapphire or ruby cut en cabochon, but these cases are extremely rare, because facet-grade gemstone material is almost always faceted instead for simple economics reasons: High quality, transparent sapphire will no doubt command higher prices once faceted, and so, lower-grade materials, known as "cabbing rough" in the gem trade, are better off being salvaged and cut en cabochon.
So, as a buying tip, look for high quality cabochons. To achieve this, look towards star sapphires and star rubies. You can also find excellent jadeite and opal specimens. This is because these gem types are rarely, if ever, cut into facets, meaning the finest specimens of these gem types will always be cabochons, rather than utilizing scraps or cabbing rough.