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 facetted 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 chiselling 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 hardstones 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 hardstones. 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 exists 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 , or cerium oxide. Older techniques, still popular with hobbyists, used bonded grindwheels 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.
Lapidary has a secondary meaning, "of inscriptions." Since inscriptions were laboriously chiselled into stone, a "lapidary" 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 Hamlet told the players. The drawback to a lapidary style is, when you are good, people think you are quoting Voltaire.