Most of us think of Michelangelo, Picasso, or Rodin when someone mentions sculptors. But here are three more names of skilled artists who sculpt and polish gem stones. Tom Munsteiner, Steve Walters, and John Dyer have all won multiple awards for their work. Here are some examples:
Tom Munsteiner is a fourth generation gem stone carver from Germany. His father, Bernd Munsteiner, is famous for the development of the fantasy cut, and he even has some of his work in the Smithsonian! Tom knew early on that he wanted to carve gems. At age 16 he began training with his dad. One thing I found very interesting is that his dad first taught him how to classically cut gems before attempting any fantasy cuts. By the time he was 22, he had been trained as a Gemologist and was beginning to win awards for his gemstone creations. His work is distinguished from his father’s for its softer, less angular designs.
Steve Walters grew up in California. He taught himself how to carve gemstones by reading books and practicing. For a short period, he produced gemstone sculptures for his parents’ company. In the mid-1980s he started to carve gems for jewelry. His work is very recognizable as many of the pieces are composites. He might put gems like onyx, citrine, and hematite together, backed with mother of pearl. He’s won several A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association) Cutting Edge Awards, and his booth at the Tucson Gem Show is always one of the most popular.
John Dyer grew up in Brazil, the son of missionaries from the United States. When his parents saw his interest in gems, they bought him books and helped him obtain his first rough gem stone material. John tells the story of taking his rough to a cutter who overcharged him and did a terrible job. That’s when he decided to cut his own gems. With lots of practice and a few “disasters”, he’s become one of the most recognized gem stone cutters and has won over 50 cutting awards.
At Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth, we’ve been fortunate to set gem stones cut by all three of these artists. It’s so gratifying to see these gems being worn and appreciated. Here are some of our designs. If you’re inspired to have your own creation by one of these well-known artists, come and talk to us. We’d love to help.
Blue Topaz by John Dyer
Composite with Watermelon Tourmaline by Steve Walters
Peridot by Tom Munsteiner
Want to spend a couple of hours lost in the ancient worlds of the Romans and Greeks? Take a pleasant drive to Ann Arbor and visit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. As an alumnus of the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.), I was recently invited to attend the Michigan chapter’s tour of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. What a fun and educational experience!
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Tied to the University of Michigan, the museum is situated on South State Street in Ann Arbor. It’s not a large place, but it’s packed with delightful artifacts from ancient cultures. The focus is on classical Greek, Egyptian, and Near Eastern archaeology. Over 100,000 artifacts are housed there, with about 1500 on permanent display. On our tour we saw Greek and Roman coins, Egyptian jewelry, and Etruscan pottery. We also toured their special exhibit called “Less Than Perfect,” celebrating the lessons learned from failure. It showcases art that went deliberately awry.
The museum is named after a professor at U of M back in the early 1900s. Born in 1858, Francis Kelsey grew up in New York, went to school in Chicago, and was hired as a Latin professor in 1889. During his 38 years in Ann Arbor, he led two archaeological expeditions to Egypt, the near East, and Asia Minor. Many of the artifacts in the museum were unearthed during these expeditions. Kelsey lived during a time when there was huge fascination for all things ancient. Discoveries like Pompeii and King Tut’s tomb contributed to this fascination. He was able to gain funding for his expeditions and his collection by seeking help from financiers like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Kelsey worked tirelessly to create a collection that would help educate archaeology students, right up until his death in 1927.
I hope you can go to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. For me, it was just the right size museum. It’s open year-round and every day of the week except Mondays. And it’s always free, although donations are appreciated. For more information, the website is https://lsa.umich.edu/kelsey/
I have some very good news for all of you born in August. Just recently, the American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America announced that SPINEL has been added to the birthstone list as an alternative to peridot. Not everyone is a fan of peridot’s yellowish-green color, and the gem stone has a narrow range of hue. Spinel, on the other hand, comes in almost every color of the rainbow! The most prized color is red. Pink and blue are two other popular hues. So, because spinel is a relatively unknown gemstone and because changes to the birthstone list don’t happen often, it seemed important to write about it.
Many people have never heard of spinel. It was recognized as a separate mineral about 200 years ago, but, until then, red spinel was often mistaken for ruby. Some famous gems, like the Black Prince’s Ruby, which is set in England’s Imperial State Crown, are actually red spinel. Those who have heard of it often associate it with something “cheap” or “common.” Synthetic (aka man-made) spinel has been used for years to make the stones for high school class rings because it’s inexpensive to produce in lots of different colors that mimic birthstones like emerald, ruby, and sapphire. Synthetic spinel is also used as the top, bottom, or both of a “triplet” that substitutes for a natural gemstone.
Natural spinel is a beautiful mineral made of magnesium, aluminum, and oxygen. It’s colorless unless a trace element such as chromium, iron, or cobalt makes its way into the recipe. Chromium leads to a pink or red spinel. Iron and cobalt lead to violet and blue spinels. A combination of trace elements produces orange or purple spinels. These colors need no enhancement, so spinel is rarely heat-treated or irradiated. It’s a fairly hard gemstone, scoring 8 on the Mohs Scale, and it forms in the cubic crystal system. These qualities mean that spinel is hard enough to take a good polish and easy enough to cut and facet. And the gem is usually eye-clean when it comes to inclusions.
Spinel is traditionally associated with Asia–especially Myanmar, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. More recently deposits have been found in Tanzania and Madagascar. Large crystals are quite rare, so the value goes up exponentially, not only for great color but also for size. While not as expensive as fine ruby or pink sapphire, natural spinel is not an inexpensive gem. Red spinel would cost approximately 30% of the cost of a similarly sized ruby. And pink spinel would be about 85% of the cost of a same size pink sapphire. It’s not easy to find spinel in a jewelry store. Maybe that will change now that it’s a birthstone, but, up until now, it’s been more of a collector’s stone.
So, take heart all of you who longed for another birthstone! It’s spinel to the rescue!! Ask your jewelry store for a peek at its spinel. Here’s a peek at ours.
1.28 carat pink spinel
Paraiba tourmalines photographed from the GIA Collection for the CIBJO project from the Dr. Eduard J. Gubelin Collection.
This blog is the first of a series on gemstone treatments. The truth is, all gemstones have been modified by man. We’d like to think that a gemstone’s beauty is completely natural, but the reality is man plays a part. Cutting and polishing bring out the sparkle and color. Shaping and setting is all done by man. So a gemstone’s beauty can be attributed to both man and nature. Each consumer must decide what level of man’s contribution is acceptable. Everyone sees that man must be involved to some degree, but opinions vary on enhancements such as irradiation, dyeing, or fracture-filling. Is there a point where man’s contribution to a gemstone’s beauty goes over the fine line, when the stone just doesn’t seem natural anymore?
Another fine line is the one jewelers walk everyday when conversing with customers about gemstones. There are laws and guidelines, set by the government and the AGTA (American Gem Trade Association), for disclosure of gemstone treatments. But jewelers adhering to those guidelines also have to make sales in order to stay in business. Some customers are truly interested in learning about how gemstones arrive at their beautiful state. But many would be bored by a lesson in gemstone treatments and might walk away from a sales representative who insisted on giving all the details. Certainly anyone who sells jewelry should honestly answer customer questions about gemstone enhancements or treatments. We want our customers to understand as much as they’d like to understand about gemstone treatments. We want them to understand that, if treatments didn’t exist, most of us would be unable to afford pretty gemstones.
So that’s what the series will be about. It will give you an overview of some of the main treatments on some of the most common gemstones in the market. The series will also discuss some gemstones that are not treated–ONLY cut, polished, and set. If you find this fascinating, I will include some sources for learning more. And remember, if you want to know more about the gemstone you’re buying, just ask.