I didn’t quite realize just how sparse the available information
seems to be until I did some research to answer this question.
Most of the really useful is found in general gem
carving books. I consider the books by Henry Hunt essential to anyone
interested in carving gemstones in any style. They are “Lapidary
Carving for Creative Jewelry” and “American Lapidary: Designing the
Carved Gemstone”. These are currently available from Mt. Mist
who are also an excellent source for high quality sintered diamond
There is also a great book from the late sixties by Gordon Kennedy
"The Fundamentals of Gemstone Carving" that has a small but useful
section on intaglio and cameo carving. The rest of the book is chock
full of interesting ideas and techniques.
The best current source is probably the much maligned Lapidary
Journal magazine. John Kuehn wrote a Step-byStep in January 1997,
there was an article by Falk Burger in July 2001, their website
contains a feature article by Helen Serras-Herman on carving
techniques that are can be readily applied to intaglio and cameo,
and a January 1999 article by Franziska van Kracht on cameo carving
which is available online. Intaglio and cameo are literally the
reverse of each other, so the same tools and techniques are often
used. Many intaglio carvers also carve cameos and visa versa.
I don’t know of any videos or classes on the subject of intaglio
carving in stone. There are scads of videos on intaglio carving in
wood which have that can be of use.
The important thing about intaglio carving is to think in reverse
and be patient. It seems easier to overcut intaglio than other forms
of gemcarving. Unlike wax carving, there is no going back and adding
some more on.
It is important in the design stage to decide whether or not you
want a reverse of the actual image. Signets are traditionally a
reverse of the final image so that the wax impression is true. I use
the computer to draw the design and then reverse the image. I print
out both versions for comparison while carving. The best way to
think in reverse is to use a wax or clay to examine your carving as
you go. Straight beeswax is traditional, but I like using Crayola
brand Model Magic clay. It is an air hardening clay that can be
moistened to extend its working time. I keep the final impression as
an archive of the carving. It comes in a variety of colors but I
prefer red as it most closely resemble sealing wax. Start with
blocking in the rough shapes and slowly add the finer details at the
end. Go slower, take more breaks and more clay impressions as the
Intaglio can be sandblasted or carved. I use the carving method. You
can use a flex shaft, a micromotor, or a dental handpiece. I prefer
diamond burrs, but nova wheels, carbide burrs, and mizzy wheels can
also be used depending on the material. The cheap diamond plated
point sets found in many hardware stores are good for beginners. You
can move up to dental burrs from dental supply companies and then
sintered burrs from Mt Mist. When carving it is vital to keep water
on burr. This extends the life of the burr as well as keeping stone
dust out of the air and hence your lungs. The amount of water needed
is directly related to the intensity of the carving. During the
initial blocking I have a forced stream of water directed at the
burr, when carving the final details just a drop or two keeps the
The last thing I do with an intaglio is repolish the surface to
remove any scratches caused by a runaway burr and any edge chipping.
This does wonders to make a carving look like a true work of art.
Good magnification and better lighting will contribute immensely to
your success and comfort. Stay relaxed and have fun.
I spend a lot of time perusing “Ancient Gems and Finger Rings -
Catalogue of the Collections - The J. Paul Getty Museum”. Not cheap
book, but a wonderfully inspiring collection of ancient intaglio
For those interested in gem carving or supporting gem carving I
highly recommend GANA - the Gem Carvers of North America
.I directly attribute my advances as a glyptic artist and a
businessman to this group of talented, sharing, like-minded people.
In full disclosure I am an Artist member, a member of the Board of
Directors, and their webmaster so I cheerfully proclaim my bias.
I hope this helps. If anyone has more specific questions please
don’t hesitate to ask.
Gryphon Song Creations
Signet rings and custom gem carvings