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
The history of lab-created or synthetic gemstones is much longer than you might think. Scientists began making synthetic ruby back in the late 1800’s. Initially, rubies were made for industrial rather than decorative purposes. Ruby is harder than steel, so it can hold up to moving metal parts. It actually helps reduce friction in devices like watches or compasses, allowing the metal pieces to move with a consistent pattern.
In the early 1900’s, a young boy named Carroll Chatham tried to grow diamonds in his garage. He was fascinated with the work of Henri Moissan, a French chemist who also tried to grow diamonds but ended up with Moissanite. Making diamonds requires more heat and pressure than Chatham could produce at the time, so he re-directed his focus to emeralds. Even then, the work wasn’t easy. In fact, his first emerald crystals were accidentally formed. By this time Chatham was in college, and it took him three years to figure out how to replicate the “accident.”
Lab-created Emerald Rough Crystals
Lab-created Cut and Polished Emerald
By 1938, Chatham had perfected the process of growing emeralds for jewelry, and he moved on to creating other valued gems like sapphire, ruby, opal, spinel, and alexandrite. Chatham began selling his lab-created gems under the Chatham label. The company is now 80 years old and is one of the leaders in the making of lab-created colored gem stones. Carroll never gave up on his dream of growing diamonds and, in the late 1980’s, the company was successful. Unfortunately, Carroll didn’t live to see this dream come true.
In 2018 there are many, many companies that produce diamonds–companies like Brilliant Earth, Clean Origin, and EcoStar. Years of refining the High Pressure, High Temperature technique has led to better quality diamonds. While diamonds have many industrial uses, today’s lab-created diamonds are beautiful and can also be used in jewelry. Anyone purchasing an engagement ring today has a decision to make that his/her parents and grandparents didn’t have to make–Should the center stone be natural or lab-grown?
Photo courtesy of Rogers & Holland
There are pros and cons to purchasing a synthetic diamond or colored gemstone. Some of the advantages are 1) synthetics are less expensive than their natural counterparts; 2) growing synthetics is kinder to the environment than mining for natural stones; and 3) gem cutters can sacrifice more synthetic material to create the perfectly cut gem because, well, you can always grow more! Partly because of these advantages, we’ve seen more customers move towards this option.
One big disadvantage of a synthetic stone is that it’s, well, synthetic. Fine jewelry symbolizes pure and natural feelings of love, gratitude, or friendship. How will it feel to wear or give jewelry that has a lab-created stone? Another disadvantage is that synthetic stones will only go down in value. They are a manufactured item and, as the technology improves in the making of them, the cost to produce will decrease. Fine natural gems are rare, and that rarity will keep values high.
It’s a decision every consumer has to make for him/herself. What’s imperative is that consumers are presented with clear options, and that they know what they are buying. Gemstones are not obviously natural or synthetic, so customers must rely on reputable jewelers to distinguish between the two. For an important jewelry purchase, go to an A.G.S. (American Gem Society) member store. There you will find associates dedicated to the highest integrity in the jewelry industry. Ask questions and do comparison shopping. And feel lucky to live in a time when there are so many gem stone options.
A few months back I wrote about Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry, based on her book, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Little did I know that the blog would spark so much interest, both in me and in others. After more research and a presentation at our store, I feel empowered to add to the topic.
Elizabeth Taylor was always a lady, always “put together.” These were the words of a friend of hers who I was fortunate to speak with. She wore jewelry appropriate to the occasion. She owned big, dripping, diamond, emerald, and ruby jewelry which she wore on the ‘red carpets.’ But she also owned more modest pieces like strings of beads and charm bracelets. According to her friend, she never left her room without jewelry adorning her outfit, but she made sure the jewelry fit the occasion.
She obviously loved receiving gifts of jewelry, but she was always willing to share her pieces with the world. She didn’t lock them away. As she said in her book, “When I wear it anyone can look at it, and I’ll let anyone try it on.” For all that she owned, I’m not convinced she was materialistic. I think she cared most about people. She related to people and had many friends. The people who knew and loved her most understood that the receiving of gifts was her top ‘Love Language.’ Malcolm Forbes once gave her a suite of paper jewelry that she treasured. A gift was an expression of love, and that was most important to her.
Paper Jewelry from Malcolm Forbes
Elizabeth always knew that, when she died, most of her jewelry would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Her collection would not remain intact. She hoped that the new owners would love the pieces as much as she did, and that they’d see themselves as caretakers. “Nobody owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians,” she said.
In December, 2011, nine months after Elizabeth died, her jewelry did indeed get auctioned by Christie’s, both in a live auction at New York’s Rockefeller Center and also through an on-line auction. The live auction was the most valuable jewelry auction in history, raising almost $116 million. I spoke with someone who went to the auction. She and her husband had hoped to purchase some of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry for their store, just for promotional purposes. But the pieces were fetching two, three, and up to ten times the auction estimate. They ended up buying the paper jewelry, and even that sold for $6,875!
The on-line auction had over 950 items–jewelry, clothing, accessories, and decorative arts–that sold over the extended period of December 3rd – 17th. Altogether the auctions raised over 150 million dollars for the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and its beneficiaries. The Trust completely funds the operating costs of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
One controversy regarding the auction casts a shadow over its success. In May, 2017, the Elizabeth Taylor Trust filed suit against Christie’s for misrepresenting one of Ms. Taylor’s most iconic diamonds, the Taj Mahal. In 2012, the buyer of the diamond claimed that he was led to believe the diamond was once owned by Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. He wanted his $8 million back when he learned there was no proof the Shah had ever owned it. Christie’s refunded his money, but the Trustees felt that Christie’s action was inappropriate. The trustees never portrayed the diamond as something that had belonged to the Shah, and they were upset that the best opportunity to sell the diamond was gone because of miscommunication. As it stands right now, Christie’s possesses the diamond and the Trustees have the cash. After years of trying to resolve the controversy through mediation, the decision was made to go through the courts. It sound like a terrible mess which will probably take years to untangle.
Elizabeth Taylor lived a complicated life. She was often misunderstood. It makes sense that, even after she’s gone, there’s some untangling to be done. But I hope you agree with me that learning more about this fascinating celebrity is worth the effort.
We have two full-time bench jewelers at our store. They are always busy, repairing and creating jewelry. We know them well but, for the general public, they seem a mysterious breed–tucked out of sight in the dark recesses of the shop. They work with tools and heat and chemicals that can be dangerous. From the shop come loud noises that sound like wheels whirring, metal clinking, or compressed air escaping. “What’s happening back there? What motivates them to do this kind of work?”
I asked them the pros and cons of being a bench jeweler. From the comments and letters of other bench jewelers there is a broad consensus on the following:
A bench jeweler is fulfilled by making pieces of art that people will treasure. Clients are usually full of admiration and gratitude for the jeweler who can repair a sentimental favorite or create a masterpiece.
A bench jeweler gets to be creative. Whether he/she is making a custom piece for a client or for the store, there are a lot of decisions to be made on gemstone colors, metal design, and the engineering of the piece. Even if the job is a repair, there’s creativity involved in solving the problem.
Bench jewelers have lots of variety. Each repair, each creation poses different challenges. If you don’t like a steep learning curve, don’t be a bench jeweler.
No college degree is needed, however it helps to study at a trade school or design studio. Much of what a bench jeweler needs to know is learned on the job from a mentor.
The environment back in the shop is one of collaboration. Our bench jewelers have shared memories of repairs they’ve done and jewelry they’ve made. Camaraderie is the natural state for a bench jeweler.
As with all careers, there are downfalls. The work of a bench jeweler can be dangerous. It’s not uncommon to get cut or burned. One of our bench jewelers described hot metal flying out of a centrifugal casting machine and being burned in several places.
Even without injuries on the job, years of sitting and bending over tiny jewelry is hard on the eyes and the back. It’s a sedentary job, complete with the multitude of health issues that can come with not moving much.
Bench jewelers often feel pressure to complete jobs. Clients don’t want to be without their jewelry. There’s additional pressure around holiday times, so overtime during the Christmas season is common.
It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be good at this work. In the meantime, you are someone’s apprentice and probably not making much money.
A bench jeweler has to be very patient. He/she has to be able to concentrate for long periods. Just imagine having to work daily with tiny parts, gems, and tools!
IN THE END
Bench jewelers are a special breed– good-humored, courageous, sympathetic, and humble. They must be willing to put up with interruptions from their colleagues and impossible requests from their clients. They must be prepared to take on difficult jobs with potentially expensive consequences because, as one bench jeweler put it, “Somebody has to do it!” They must understand that, regardless of the quality of the jewelry, it has special value to the owner. And they must accept that, stuck in the back of the shop, they won’t always receive credit for their efforts.
And that final quality attributable to bench jewelers–playfulness. They jokingly say that they love playing with fire and banging away with their hammers. They may be kidding, but I think they really mean it!
One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry. Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry. She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories. She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it. As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”
The first story she told was one of the best! She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor. There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother. It was pretty expensive–about $25. That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week! But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day. It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.
La Peregrina, before and after re-mount
Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing! Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms. Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below. All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone. In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina! Amazingly, it was not scratched. “I did finally tell Richard,” she said. “But I had to wait at least a week!”
The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson
Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life. Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much. It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales. When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research. She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.
If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor. And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing! I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share. Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs. I don’t understand that mentality at all. Each piece is different, each piece is unique. And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”
For centuries jewelry was designed by men. Seems odd, doesn’t it, when most all jewelry is worn by women? But the design field was male dominated for the same reason most fields were–men were seen as the more capable sex and the bread winners of the family. When did it become clear that women could design for women?
Perhaps the first to recognize this talent in a female was Rene’ Boivin, a Parisian goldsmith and engraver in the late 1800s. He married Jeanne Poiret, a woman who became his business partner in his jewelry workshops. Together they created fabulous designs which were in high demand among their elite clientele.
Egyptian Emerald Ring by Maison Boivin
When Rene’ died in 1917, everyone assumed that Jeanne would sell the business but, instead, she and her daughter, Germaine, assumed control. Jeanne, though not trained as a jeweler, knew a lot from working with her husband. She’d think out the designs and have someone else render them. She also had a talent for finding good talent, hiring young Suzanne Belperron in 1921 and, when Suzanne left in 1931, the talented Juliette Moutarde took her place.
Suzanne Belperron opened her own jewelry design firm with Bernard Herz, and later, his son, Jean, in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. Her designs were so distinctive–very fluid and organic. Even while those around her embraced Art Deco, with its straight lines, Suzanne elevated a more modern design. Famous women like the Duchess of Windsor and Mona Williams (pictured below) bought her jewelry. Her work was never signed, though. She always said that her style was her signature.
Sketch and finished piece by Suzanne Belperron
Juliette Moutarde worked with Jeanne and Germaine at House Boivin until they sold the company in 1976. Jeanne had died in 1959, but her daughter, a talented jewelry designer in her own right, kept the business going. Throughout these successful years, custom pieces were never signed by the individual artists. Perhaps it was seen as too bold, too assertive, for a woman to sign her work back in the early 1900s.
Design attributed to Moutarde, made for Claudette Colbert in 1936.
But because of these women, and a few others like Italian Elsa Schiaparelli, female jewelry designers today feel empowered to open their own studios, sign their names to their pieces, and earn their own success in the design world. Thanks to these pioneers, we know names like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Ippolita Rostagno, who have had their own jewelry lines for decades. And because of THEM, contemporary female designers–from Kendra Scott and Irene Neuwirth to Farah Khan Ali and Erica Courtney find success in the always competitive jewelry industry.
contemporary Ippolita design
Today we don’t think much about gender when choosing a designer. If you like the creation, you respect the designer! But it wasn’t always like that, and I wanted to lift up the courage of Jeanne Bouvin and her team of female designers. They worked and made their way successfully in a male world. Good for them and thank goodness for us. Their combination of talent and determination allowed women who came after to enter the field with confidence. Because of that, I want to nominate Jeanne Poiret Boivin for Mother of Female Jewelry Designers!
Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. I feel that the emphasis on appreciation makes me, at least temporarily, a better person. When you spend more time thinking about what you’re grateful for, you end up being happier, kinder, and, in general, a more pleasant person. One of the many things I have to be grateful for is my colleagues here at Dearborn Jewelers.
Not everyone has the encouraging, optimistic work environment that we have here. We respect and understand each others’ strengths, and we support and help each other when help is needed. As one of my colleagues said, “We work as a team. We want to make the other person successful.” It’s not that we never have disagreements or times of stress. But we have so much trust in the good intentions of our team members that small disagreements are quickly resolved.
This camaraderie is part of what makes our store so comfortable to our clients. And because we don’t spend time thinking “grumpy thoughts” about our co-workers, we have more time to think about helping our customers find exactly what they are looking for. Especially at holiday time, it’s nice to know there’s a place you can go and be treated to a genuine smile and a true desire to help.
As always, we are so thankful for all of you who are friends and clients of Dearborn Jewelers. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, friends, and good cheer. But we are also thankful for the family we have here–Nick, Teri, Matt, Emily, Joy, Joan, Jill, and Ellyn. Happy Thanksgiving!!
The romance and history of colored gemstones has always fascinated me. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story. Here are three I thought you might like.
TANZANITE: It’s said that we are all members of the “Tanzanite generation.” Discovered in 1967 by a Masai tribesman in Northern Tanzania, Tanzanite is mined in only one, 4 square kilometer, location. And the mines are getting deeper and harder to mine profitably. We will be the ones who can buy a new Tanzanite. Future generations will only see the stone in heirloom pieces. It’s estimated that Tanzanite One, the largest Tanzanite mining company, has less than 30 years of production left.
The gemstone was named by Henry Platt, great-grandson of the famous Louis C. Tiffany. Tiffany and Co. realized the importance of the gemstone and quickly made themselves the main distributor. Their marketing efforts made tanzanite one of the most popular gemstones by the 1990s. The beautiful gem hit the big screen with a “splash” as the Heart of the Ocean in the movie, Titanic.
MORGANITE: This pink to orange/pink variety of beryl was originally discovered in Pala, California in the early 1900s. It was named for J.P. Morgan, a great financier and collector of minerals. Tiffany’s gem buyer and gemologist, George Kunz, was the man who named the gem, buying up all he could find for his wealthy client. Incidentally, another pink gemstone, discovered at about the same time, was named Kunzite in honor of George Kunz. So, he got his own gemstone, too!
Morganite is the same species of mineral as Emerald and Aquamarine. Like Aquamarine, it is usually an eye-clean stone that can be cut in larger sizes. It’s a good thing, too, because a larger stone usually shows a more saturated color. Pale Morganite often needs that advantage. It’s generally heat-treated to improve its pink color and minimize its yellowish tint. The treatment is stable, so no fading occurs.
ALEXANDRITE: First discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the early 1830s, Alexandrite is the quintessential color-change gemstone. It was found by miners who thought they’d found emeralds, until nighttime came and they were sitting around the campfire. Alexandrite’s trace elements of iron, titanium, and chromium make it greenish in sunlight and reddish in incandescent or fire light. Boy, were those miners surprised when, the next morning, their red gemstones had turned back to green!
Legend says that the gem was found on the 16th birthday of young Alexander II, future Czar of Russia. The stone became the National Gem of Czarist Russia. It was the perfect fit with the red and green color scheme of imperial Russia’s military. Every Russian had to have an Alexandrite. Unfortunately, for all of us, the Russian supply was depleted. Fortunately, other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil.
Natural Alexandrites are very expensive, especially in larger sizes. Even the synthetic version is expensive, because it’s difficult to manufacture. But, if you’re lucky enough to own an Alexandrite, you have an “Emerald by day, and a Ruby by night.”
Perhaps you’ve seen the phrase, “Lazare. . .the World’s Most Beautiful Diamond.” Your mind might question the assertion. After all, aren’t all diamonds beautiful? How can a company make this claim?
The answer lies in the cut. In 1919, the cousin of founder, Lazare Kaplan, developed a mathematical thesis for cutting diamonds to precise angles and proportions to gain the optimum reflection and refraction of light. When a diamond is ideally cut, light rays from all sides are bent towards the center of the diamond and are reflected back through the top. If not ideally cut, light will “leak out” through the sides or bottom of the diamond. The beauty of a colorless diamond is all about its brilliance, scintillation, and fire. The Lazare Ideal cut maximizes all three.
A beautiful diamond is also tied to a company that does good work in its community. Lazare Kaplan International, Inc. supports a number of important causes in Namibia, where most of its diamonds are mined. LKI also supports policies that
protect fundamental human rights and the dignity of the individual
prohibit the trade in conflict diamonds (zero tolerance policy for conflict diamonds and strictly adheres to all protocols of the Kimberly Process)
prevent money laundering and combat the financing of terrorism
ensure business is conducted in an environmentally responsible manner
Finally, a beautiful diamond is one that can be yours forever. Every Lazare diamond of 0.18 carats and higher has the Lazare logo and an individual identification number, laser inscribed on the diamond’s girdle. This logo is your proof of authenticity as an ideal cut Lazare diamond, and the identification number is your proof of ownership.
Lazare Kaplan International, Inc. has been in business since 1903. It plans to be around for a long time to come. When it’s your turn to look for the world’s most beautiful diamond, be sure to remember Lazare.
If you’ve bought a diamond recently, it probably came with a diamond report. And that report might very well have come from the American Gem Society Laboratories (A.G.S.L.). The story of the American Gem Society is an interesting one that started back in 1934. Back then and still today, the A.G.S. is an organization dedicated to the maintenance of high ethical standards in the jewelry industry. Its primary purposes are 1) to encourage professional education within the jewelry industry and 2) build consumer confidence and trust in the knowledge, integrity, and competence of professionals in the jewelry industry.
Robert Shipley is the man responsible for starting A.G.S. He came from a retail jewelry background here in the U.S., but, after spending some time in Paris learning more about gemology, he felt that the industry lacked the education it needed. He started a correspondence school in 1931 called the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) Three years later he established the American Gem Society, a sort of alumni association of G.I.A. The society started out small, and it was housed in the same building as G.I.A. Mr. Shipley was the President of G.I.A. and the Executive Director of A.G.S.
Al Woodhill took over as Executive Director of A.G.S. in 1946, and in 1948 the organization moved into its own headquarters. In 1955, A.G.S. established a Diamond Standards Committee which published the first A.G.S. Diamond Grading Standards Manual in 1966. Diamonds are evaluated using the 4Cs–cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Carat weight is measured, but cut, color, and clarity are graded using a 0 – 10 point scale. Triple zero would be the grade given to the Ideally cut, Colorless, and Flawless diamond.
The American Gem Society , LLC opened in 1996 and became a leader in the grading of diamonds. Its Diamond Quality Document presents a complete analysis and documentation of the 4Cs. It provides both the professional and the customer with the details needed to fully understand what is being purchased.
Today’s customers can feel confident about their purchases if they are buying from an A.G.S. member store. Standards and regulations protect the consumer in a way that customers one hundred years ago could never have expected. Consumer confidence benefits everyone–customers, retailers, and suppliers. We owe our appreciation to Robert Shipley and the American Gem Society.