the transparent stones have been cut to produce brilliance and sparkle,
finally coming to the ultimate scientific calculation of maximum
angle of reflection. The consideration of transparent stones as
'transparencies' bring about an entirely new type of design for
their shape and use." 1
De Patta well understood that in the development
of what she called "opti-cuts,"she and Sperisen were breaking
new ground. The title of Moholy-Nagy's 1942 book, Vision in Motion
, sums up De Patta's objective. For De Patta, a piece of jewelry
was a dynamic object. The wearer moved and the spectator moved,
creating dynamic visual effects. She was excited by the possibilities
of creating "optical and visual effects...reflection, illusion,
distortion, etc." 2
Around the beginning of World War II, Sperisen
developed the Lens Cut, (a precursor of the Opposed Bar), which
was designed to distort light as it passed through a gemstone.
3 The lens effect, though considered a fault in traditional
gem cutting, was a conceptually radical departure that crossed the
boundary from craft into art.
by Margaret De Patta.
De Patta brooch with a Sperisen double lens "opti-cut"
smoky quartz. When observed by a spectator, the stone creates
a "see through" effect that distorts and gives the
illusion of movement to the chased decorated surface behind
One of De Patta's most famous pieces is a pendant
currently part of the De Patta Memorial Collection in the Oakland
Museum of Art. In this piece she crafted a "Y" like shape
in white gold and ebony, mounted behind, and meant to be seen as
distorted through, a Sperisen Double Lens Cut quartz. The effect
was a conceptual tour de force. A realization of what art critic
Norbert Lynton calls "the Constructivist ideal of massless
sculpture inserted into space."4
As the viewer's eye moves, the metal mounted behind the stone also
moves, and the metal appears to move and change shape.
We can trace a direct link from the radical innovations
of Francis Sperisen and Margaret De Patta to the work of some of
the most important contemporary American art-cutters.
The New Cutters may be roughly divided into two
groups: faceters and carvers. I say roughly because often one artist
will work in both disciplines. Faceters such as Michael Dyber, Larry
Winn, Arthur Anderson and Sherris Cotter Shank are concerned with
optical possibilities of the materials and tend to work in transparent
materials such as amethyst, tourmaline and ametrine.
Carvers like Glen Lehrer and Stephen Walters are
more concerned with shape, color, texture and luster and favor opaque
to semi-translucent gem material such as banded agate, gem silica
Glen Lehrer is a California native and the only
artist among the New Cutters to receive some formal training in
Europe. He began cutting in 1975 and taught himself many of the
techniques he used before going to Idar-Oberstein. Lehrer also acknowledges
a debt to Henry Hunt who, in turn, counts Sperisen as his technical
Lehrer's wing forms, executed in agates, show a
deft mastery of flowing line as well as an inherent feeling for
his material. Although well grounded in art history, Lehrer says
that most of his inspiration and influence comes directly from organic
forms. He looks into the agate and visualizes in his imagination
the gem's proto-form as it emerges from the super hot magmatic soup.
Many of his pieces retain sections of drusy--tiny clusters of quartz
crystals that are part of the original skin of the rough agate.
These carefully outlined clusters form a counterpoint to the sensuous
flow of his carving, and serve as a focal point completing the;
Photo: Glenn Lehrer
Lehrer wing form executed in gem chrysocolla (chalcedony)
Carver Steve Walters, also a California native,
grew up around the family gem business. He spent most of his early
years working as a production cutter. In the early 1980s he first
saw the composition pieces of the German cutter Dieter Lorenz. He
considers Lorenz's carved onyx pieces to have been a major inspiration.
Walters is a craftsman who sees his work as a component
of the jeweler's process. Where Lehrer is a conceptualist who shapes
his pieces, sensitively molding the agate to complete his vision,
Walters works without preconceptions and goes where the material
takes him. His curves are soft, flowing, feminine and melodic. His
best work reminds you of the overlapping currents of a fast moving
stream. His favorite media is opaque to semi-translucent onyx and
There are many notable lapidary artists working
in faceting. Space restrictions limit our discussion to just two
of the most representative. The term "faceter" itself
is something of a misnomer, as much of their work bears little resemblance
to traditional faceting and its overriding concern with refraction
Photo: Jeff Scovil
Steve Walters gem sculptures in
Mojave blue agate.6
Earrings by Douglas Canivet.
Courtesy R. W. Wise, Goldsmiths,
Contemporary faceters are still working with light,
but are often more interested in producing holographic and other
types of internal effects, which draw the viewer toward and into
the gemstone, rather than simply refracting or projecting light
toward the viewer. Munsteiner's earlier work, for example, was,
despite the non-symmetrical outline and facet patterns, still very
traditional in its concern with producing brilliance. In a major
break with Sperisen-De Patta, most contemporary "opti-cuts"
are self-contained optical sculptures. Although designed to be used
in jewelry, they are not subservient to the art of the goldsmith.
All the optical effects are visible within the stone. In this sense
they are less of a radical departure and are very much in sync with
the traditional objectives of the lapidary art.
One artist whose work stands squarely in the European
tradition is Larry Winn. Like most of the New Cutters, Winn is a
westerner hailing from West Texas. His immediate mentors were Lou
Wackler and Arthur Anderson, both gifted Americans who in turn drew
technical inspiration from Sperisen and Henry Hunt.
Following an initial flirtation with Munsteineresque
free forms, which Winn says were part of his learning experience,
he has returned to symmetry. His stones have girdles and are easily
set. Winn's award winning "Cosmos cut" is an octagon,
which combines facets, narrow slash-like cuts and concave cuts,
sometimes called negative facets. This combination makes his stones
dance with brilliance, and at the same time draws the observer toward
the center of his composition. His singular approach has brought
him no less than five major cutting awards.
Photo: Helen Constantine Shull
techniques such as concave and negative faceting juxtapose
holographic effects against brilliance and scintillation
in this 52-carat aquamarine gem sculpture by Larry Winn
No article on the new cutters would be complete
without a discussion of the work of Michael M. Dyber. Dyber, considered
by many to be the preeminent American faceter, is a New Englander,
born in Connecticut and currently a resident of Rumney, New Hampshire.
He began cutting in 1983 after working as a goldsmith for several
years. He, like most of the other New Cutters, is almost entirely
Dyber works exclusively in translucent gem material
such as quartz and aquamarine, but some of his most dramatic pieces
are executed in ametrine, a naturally occurring bi-colored quartz
that contains both amethyst and citrine in the same crystal.
Dyber's compositions are best described as cool
and cerebral. When asked about his artistic inspiration he immediately
mentions the work of another Constructivist, Alexander Calder. As
a teenager, he admired the way Calder's curvilinear-shaped mobiles
"floated in air." Dyber made mobiles of his own in high
school and sold several of them.
Dyber via Calder is a true heir of the Constructivist
aesthetic. It is interesting to note that he was completely unaware
of Sperisen. His work resembles a miniature holographic mobile.
Moholy-Nagy spoke of elements suspended in space; Dyber defines
his own space, and his negative faceting technique creates icons
suspended in their own self-contained universes. Yet Dyber maintains
that he has no grand artistic plan. Rather he talks about an emotional
response to the rough. Like Michelangelo, his gemstone compositions
are the result of a continuing dialogue between himself and his
Photo: Jeff Scovil
Michael Dyber gem sculpture in amethyst
(48.85 carats). The holographic effects are a result of facets
ground into the back or pavilion of the gem which is roughly
triangular, similar to the pavilion of a standard faceted
The work of these New American Cuttersis every
bit as diverse as the personalities that create them. Yet, they
have a number of things in common. None is
menu driven. They have no aesthetic agenda, write no artistic manifestos.
Some call themselves artists, others prefer the term craftsmen.
Like most real craftsmen, their works are the result of a creative
conversation between themselves and their material. Like most true
artists, their aim is to create an object of beauty. For the most
part they are willing to work in an unusual subconscious collaboration
with metalsmiths whom they may never meet, to create a finished
piece of jewelry that they may never see. In all these senses their
work is revolutionary.
We are in the midst of a cutting renaissance, the
results of which will define American jewelry design in the twenty-first
Cutters throughout the world are exploring new
cutting styles in both traditional and non-traditional gem materials.
New cuts have provided an opportunity for designers to expand their
own creative potential. Traditional lapidary has improved because
the new cutters have focused attention on the importance of fine
technique. It is indeed an exciting time.
1_Statements of Margaret De Patta 'on
jewelry' Statement 3 On Stones: (Unpublished typed manuscript provided
to the author by Richard Sperisen, 1996)
3_Sperisen, F. J., The Art of the Lapidary , The Bruce Publishing
Co., N. Y. 1961 .p. 223)
4_Lynton, Norbert, The Modern World . McGraw Hill, New York, 1965,
5_Wise, Richard W., Secrets Of The Gem Trade; The Connoisseur's
Guide to Precious Gemstones. Brunswick House, Press, 2003. p. 114.
6_Ibid. p. 34
7_Ibid. p. 32
8_Ibid. p. 94