Every year, since 1984, the AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) hosts competitions to bring out the best jewelry designers and stone cutters in the industry. Qualified judges are selected to narrow the many entries down to first, second, third, and, sometimes, fourth place finishers. The Spectrum Awards and the Cutting Edge Awards are considered the world’s preeminent competitions for design with colored gemstones and cultured pearls.
Here at Dearborn Jewelers, we design a lot of jewelry, both to sell in the store and for individual customers. We purchase colored gemstones to put into our designs, and the cutting of those gemstones is of ultimate importance. If a stone isn’t cut properly, it will not reflect light well and could look ‘sleepy’. A great stone cutter can add tremendous value to the gemstones he/she cuts.
This year saw an increase in the number of loose gemstones that were entered in the Cutting Edge competition. According to Douglas Hucker, CEO of the American Gem Trade Association, “diversity was evidenced in the absolute cornucopia of color and variety.” The entries were placed into one of four groups– 1) Classic Gemstones; 2) All Other Faceted; 3) Innovative Faceting; and 4) Carving. Five judges, well-known in the jewelry industry, were selected to select the winners. The competition was held in New York City on August 4-5, 2018. Our congratulations goes to the winners! And here they are:
Classic Gemstone-1st Place (PRNewsfoto/AGTA)
This 91.36 carat gem is an unheated yellow Ceylon Sapphire, cut by Kenneth Blount.
All Other Faceted-1st Place. (PRNewsfoto/AGTA)
Cut by Mikola Kukharuk, this oval tsavorite Garnet is 80.25 carats.
Innovative Faceting-1st Place (PRNewsfoto/AGTA)
Mark Gronlund took the honor for Innovative Faceting, with this 96.30 carat round spiral brilliant-cut Topaz.
Carving-1st Place (PRNews/AGTA)
This carving of a Frog Prince looking out over his lily pad pond features Sunstone, Sapphires, Diamonds, Opals, black and green Jade, Chalcedony, Calcite, and 14K yellow gold. Created by Dalan Hargrave.
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
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!
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!
My goal, for the last three years, has been to become a graduate gemologist. I was the kid who had the rock collection and walked the beach looking for Petoskey stones. I am the adult who loves gemstones and jewelry. After years of teaching mathematics (another love of mine), the time seemed right to give gemology a chance. It’s been a wonderful and, at times, difficult journey. Gemology is not an easy science.
Gemology (or Gemmology) is the science dealing with natural and artificial gems and gemstones. It is classified as a geoscience, a branch of mineralogy. A gemologist studies the formation, localities, and physical properties of gemstones. He/she must be able to assess gemstones, using equipment and techniques to identify and evaluate the gem material.
I’m taking my classes through G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America), which is based in Carlsbad, California. But there are plenty of places that offer gemology education. Some of the more well known schools are the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (GemA), the Canadian Institute of Gemmology (CGA), the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, and the Deutsche Gemmologische Gesellschaft (DGemG) in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. I don’t know a lot about the other schools, but I have been impressed with the education I’ve received at G.I.A.
A graduate gemologist diploma from G.I.A. means successful completion of three lab classes that teach you how to use the equipment and master the techniques needed to assess and identify diamonds and colored stones. There are also four reading courses that go over the history, localities, formation, crystal structures, and chemical/physical properties of diamonds and colored gemstones. Finally, there is a comprehensive gem identification course which requires both reading and lab work. During the course you are required to identify 500 gemstones. The course is designed to prepare you for a 20-stone exam which can be passed only if all 20 stones are correctly identified. You get five tries at the six-hour exam. If you don’t pass, there is an opportunity to do remedial work and try again.
Gemologists work in jewelry stores, wholesale gemstone companies, auction houses, insurance companies, and appraisal firms. If a gemologist wants to become an independent appraiser, additional education is needed. And all gemologists need to keep their skills updated by taking courses and being active members in organizations such as the American Gem Society. It’s a scientific job that often requires good people skills. So, tip your hat to those gemologists! They have worked hard to gain their title.
If you love gemstones, ask your jeweler if he/she hosts roundtable events. These are usually evening events that last 2 – 3 hours, taking place after your jewelry store closes. Food and drink are often served, and you are introduced to a gemstone expert. This expert shares knowledge and stories about gemstones and the gemstone industry. Sitting at a, usually rectangular, table, guests are given the chance to see, touch, and dib on approximately 100 different gemstones. Dibbing simply means that you would like another look at that gemstone after it has gone around the table. These gemstones are for sale, but there is never an obligation to buy. The goal is to have fun learning about and playing with gemstones.
More people want to be involved in the making of their jewelry. Mountings can mask flaws of gemstones, so it’s to the buyer’s advantage to see gemstones un-mounted. And mountings can be unique if you work with a custom designer. On-staff designers are generally at the roundtable event and they can help you with ideas for any gemstone you select for purchase. The whole process of 1) picking out the gemstone; 2) deciding on a design; and 3) having the piece made by your local jeweler is a memorable one.
Dearborn Jewelers recently hosted a roundtable event with gemstone dealer, Judith Whitehead. Our next event will be in September. If you are interested in attending, give us a call and we can put you on the list. It promises to be a great time.
Haven’t you ever wondered, when you look at beautiful art, what inspires the artist? How does he or she find that initial spark that leads to a fabulous painting, sculpture, poem, or piece of jewelry?
Inspiration often comes from nature. Heather Gardner, a jewelry designer from California, said, “As I travel, I am constantly observing the environment that surrounds me, taking in the beauty of each unique place, from color palates to habitats. I absorb it all and it seeps into my skin, creating a longing inside to express the emotion I feel from the beauty I’ve experienced.”
Manmade objects can also be inspiring. Anne Bower, a jewelry designer based in London, said, “I’m inspired by the beautiful and interesting objects that I find on my travels around vintage fairs, Parisian markets, antique and curiosity shops and on the internet.”
In a similar way, New York artist, Jill Platner, commented that her jewelry is inspired by organic and urban found objects. “They all spin. They move with the wind. I am fascinated by movement, mechanics, and the way things go together.”
Sometimes artists struggle to be inspired, which, I’m sure, isn’t an easy thing to admit. They must always be ready in case inspiration decides to strike. Jennifer Welker of Houston, Texas revealed, ” I always keep a sketchpad with me. Sometimes in the middle of the night I have an idea and I’ll start drawing things. . . I draw inspiration from our daily life, from our travels, and from architectural pieces.”
Jewelry design is a melding of engineering, the principles of design, and inspiration. When you look next at a piece of jewelry, marvel a little at its design and remember that it started with a sketchpad and a bright idea.
This may be my favorite show because it has such an inclusive, comfortable atmosphere. Held at Riverpark Inn, a conveniently located hotel near the convention center, this show has all the amenities you could ever want. There’s lunch seating underneath palm trees by a clear blue swimming pool. There’s a bartender who will happily get you a water, soda, or even something a little stronger. The hotel is air conditioned so, if you get warm in the outdoor exhibition tent, you can always look at the many exhibits inside the hotel.
The show is open to the public, but many jewelry dealers come to the show, too, so vendors sell at both retail and wholesale prices. In many ways, having the show open to the public creates a more relaxed atmosphere. People come to this show for fun, not just for work. The vendors, too, seem more at ease. I had one vendor tell me to jot down the prices he was quoting me, because he might forget them if I chose to come back later. He had nothing written down, and couldn’t even hand me his business card because he only had one left. When I finally left his booth, I had a list of prices and a photo of his card.
There’s such a variety of merchandise at the Pueblo Gem Show. While cut gemstones are certainly represented, there’s also a lot of rough, uncut stone for sale. And there’s a huge selection of both large and small mineral crystals. (You can buy amethyst crystals in their 3 – 4 foot tall host rock, or you can buy tiny samples of emerald or ruby that show their natural crystal structure.) There’s also finished jewelry and even a place to buy props for displaying jewelry.
Variety is also a good word to describe the people you meet at the Pueblo Gem Show. Ryszard Krukowski is a stone cutter/sculpter of fire agate, a brilliant stone that reveals its beauty as its outer layers are “peeled back.” He and his wife live in northern Canada but travel to northern Arizona to mine the agate or purchase the rough from the Native Americans that also mine there. A dedicated rock hound, he is passionate about his work. Inspired by the stones and by other places he’s visited, he carves dragons, serpents, and sea creatures from the rough. He talks about the “journey” he takes with each stone, and he has great stories to tell about the last 35 years of traveling.
Mr. Krukowski fit right in with the Pueblo Gem Show. Artsy and eclectic, passionate and fun are words to describe both. Along with the A.G.T.A. and the G.J.X., this show makes the perfect trio for anyone in the jewelry business. And, if you’re not in the business but go to Tucson for the fun of it, make sure to start with the Pueblo Gem Show. I promise you’ll have a good time.
The 110,000 square foot tent that houses the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) is crowded, noisy, and busy. Vendors’ booths are small and packed together like puzzle pieces. Walking is treacherous with all the “speed bumps” covering the web of electrical wires that light each booth. As you slowly make your way down the aisles, you’re likely to see jade bangles next to faceted gemstones and microscopes next to strands of pearls.
As you’d expect with a tent, creature comforts are at a minimum. There’s no place to sit except near the food booths. Choices for lunch are limited to foods like hotdogs and tacos. The temporary restrooms are located outside the tent. Inside the tent, the air is warm and a little stagnant.
Still, this highly reputable show is for wholesalers only. You must present the G.J.X. sticker to enter. Some of the vendors are A.G.T.A. members but, for whatever reason, were not able to be part of the A.G.T.A. show. Other vendors are grouped together by geographic origin such as the Idar-Oberstein group from Germany, famous for its magnificent stone cutting.
It was there that I met a young gem cutter named Christopher Kreis. Christopher travels with his mother and father to gem shows around the world, selling his creations. Trained in traditional cutting methods, he felt that these methods limited the stones’ potential. He wanted, like a sculptor, to bring out the natural beauty of each specimen. This meant creating new styles of cutting that are actually patented under his name. Creations such as “the fluid drop”, made from natural blue topaz, are the result. Looking at the stone, you feel like you’re looking at a captured droplet of crystal clear water.
I asked him if he’d ever thought of another career. At first, he didn’t seem to understand the question. Of course, his father’s family has been in the jewelry business for over 200 years and his mother’s family for even longer! Perhaps he never thought of working outside the jewelry industry. But then he spoke of how he loved the variety of his work. He gets to explore gem mines in the great outdoors, create beauty in the solitude of his workshop, and travel the world meeting people who love his work. It does sound like a good life!
The personality of this bright man was distinctly different from the show where he was exhibiting. Christopher was so unassuming and peaceful. He seemed youthful but with a wisdom beyond his years. The G.J.X. is robust and loud. It lacks the sophistication of the A.G.T.A., but, with over 700 vendors, it makes up for it with energy, enthusiasm and wide selection.
Tucson Gem Show 2015 at the A.G.T.A.
The Tucson Gem Show attracts interesting people. People come from all over the world, and they have stories to tell. But the individual shows also have personality. This series will concentrate on three different shows–the A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association); the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange); and the Pueblo Gem Show–and the stories I heard at each show.
The A.G.T.A. gets top billing at the Tucson Gem Show. It takes up the Convention Center, the fanciest venue, during the peak days of the two-week show. Its exhibitors must be members of the association, which has the highest ethical standards for full disclosure of any gem enhancement or origin.
It always feels calm and safe at the A.G.T.A. Everyone’s there to make a living, but there’s enough mutual respect and integrity to keep an honest exchange. It’s also very comfortable at the A.G.T.A. Booths have more elbow room, the environment is cool and carpeted, and the restrooms are of the permanent variety. At lunchtime, open doors lead outside to tables and chairs surrounded by food trucks offering wide variety.
The other shows know that you have to pre-register and meet the standards of A.G.T.A. before they’ll let you in the door. So, if you have your A.G.T.A. badge, you’re usually guaranteed entry to any other show. The A.G.T.A. deals only in wholesale, so the general public is not allowed.
Loose, cut gemstones are the specialty of the A.G.T.A. Only a few, high-end jewelers show finished pieces. The show also has booths set up for the top gemological schools and laboratories. There are educational seminars bringing in well-known speakers of the gem and jewelry industry. The Smithsonian Institution shows off its new gemstones and jewelry.
So, what is the “personality” of the A.G.T.A. Tucson Gem Show? It’s cool, cultured and full of integrity. It might also be just a little bit snooty. Everyone is well dressed at the A.G.T.A. People drink lattes for breakfast and have salad for lunch. There’s no one noisy or hot or grumpy at the A.G.T.A.
Maybe it’s this abundance of high class culture that draws me to the more down-to-earth vendors at the show. One such woman who, along with her husband, owns turquoise mines in Nevada, told a great story about a piece of turquoise I bought for my mother. It came from an area near the Ajax Mine, found in the Candelaria Mountains. She told me that one day she and her husband were walking their property and stumbled upon some pieces of turquoise just lying like gravel. They looked around and found a pick ax handle pounded into the ground nearby. It looked old, and they determined that it was probably left by a miner back in the 1930s. They think the miner saw what they saw and marked the place with the intention of returning. But, for some unknown reason, he never did.
When they started mining, they found a vein of turquoise. It’s called the Candelaria Pick Handle Mine. I can’t wait to tell my mom this story. And I’m so glad the owner took the time to tell me. Jewelry is best when it comes with a story. This one was like a good Western–rough and tough, with a little bit of mystery. And what a far cry from the classy, sophisticated story of the A.G.T.A. It was wonderful to experience both.
Next week’s story focuses on the G.J.X. show and a young stonecutter from Germany.