- Susannah Gai
A Secret World
The world of a gem carver is largely a secret one for a number of reasons. To gain the skills, one is required to spend thousands of solitary hours perfecting their craft.
Because of the limited amount people who pass on their skills, this trade is largely self-taught and learnt through hundreds of hours honing the micro hand-skills and ability to translate a design into a material that allows for no mistakes.
A healthy degree of confidence is required to cut into a perfectly cut and polished gemstone. Each cut reduces the carat weight of the stone and there is simply no room for any slips or a runaway diamond burr, that could be easily sanded back and re-polished if it were literally any other material!
Because there were no pathways, other than the local lapidary classes, (which are quite different to learning to carve) I learnt with instinct to understand gemstone behaviours and how to work around and with flaws.
My father was a stonemason and worked on restoring many of the heritage buildings around Adelaide including St Peter's Cathedral & Adelaide University buildings. Carefully matching both the stonework and the carving, I inherited his carving ability and the understanding of translating a 2D image into 3D.
These skills were transferrable to the world of gem carving and certainly had far less physical requirements than lifting large blocks of sandstone.
I don't think it was a disadvantage to learn the craft this way, it meant I had no preconceptions on how to do something and developed my own techniques and specialised tools to get the results I wanted. I learnt what I needed from the lapidary classes and working a couple of nights a week on Opal with Murray Thompson after working at the bench during the days during my jewellery apprenticeship.
Most people will not stick with something this challenging and there are far easier materials to work with than gemstones. Because it's a specialised field, the work demand is not always high and the need to subsidise it with a 2nd job is usually required. That generally brings in more money and people chase the higher income earner.
The jeweller that finds a gem carver do their best to hide their carving source from the trade as standing out in a saturated jewellery market is a difficult thing to do. So we are kept secret and I thought it was time to step out of the studio and let others know that not only do you not need to go to Germany or Asia to get your gem carvings done, you can connect directly right here in Australia.
This is an excellent article and a very good insight into this very specific skill-set courtesy of the New York Times.