Last night I headed to the Bloomfield School in Brooklyn for a lecture by Jean-Noel Soni of Top Notch Faceting.
Jean-Noel is widely known in the industry for his incredible eye and talent for faceting gemstones. His precision cutting is incredible- each of his stones is a work of art. Instead on focusing on popular commercial cuts (ovals, princess, round brilliants), he cuts his gemstones in a way that really showcases the beauty of the crystal based on the rough. He eyeballs his way around inclusions and cuts his gems in beautiful untraditional shapes that make the most of the material without generating too much waste. Colored gems can be so scarce in nature, and I have so much respect for the fact that Jean-Noel really maximizes the potential of each piece of rough that he gets by not sacrificing nature's beauty for consumer demand. Much in the way that his custom cuts retain more of the rough than commercial shapes would, when he finds a beautiful colored stones, he doesn't heat treat them to create a more commercially "desirable" color. He works with what nature provides him.
The most incredible part about his talent is that he is primarily self taught! He took a cabochon making class twice in California, fell in love with lapidary art, and asked the teacher to train him in more advanced faceting. The teacher refused, and Jean-Noel took it upon himself to read up on stone cutting, buy his own equipment, and get to work. Its amazing how much he has been able to finesse his art in just around 5 years.
He travels frequently to Nigeria and Sri Lanka to source his gems. His stories about gem hunting, the ethics of sourcing gems, and the dangers of the profession were really fascinating after my recent trip to Minas Gerais, Brazil. There is so much about the gem industry that intrigues me- like the way that good marketing has established diamonds as the most "desirable" stone (despite the fact that they aren't exceptionally rare compared to other gems). Or the way that the majority of all new gem deposits are bought and depleted by the China or India immediately because they have the majority of the worlds cutting centers. The politics and history of the gem trade are really interesting, and it must be amazing to work with the rough and have the inside scoop on the inner workings of the industry.
He showed us a lot of the rough that he works with as well as his faceted pieces throughout the
lecture. I suppose I should stop myself from calling it a lecture. I would refer to it more as a hangout for like minded artists and jewelry nerds. It was a fourth floor walkup in an industrial brooklyn building that had been converted to artist studios. I got there and about 18 people were hanging out in a small metal shop- sitting in folding chairs and drinking Rolling Rock. It was not what I expected, but it was even better. Super chill and intimate- the "lecture" was really more of an open conversation between Jean and us. He passed around much of his work- and it was truly stunning. He even played a part in discovering a color-change garnet (turns blue in certain light) that GIA and AGL labs had never seen before, and let us see some of that material that had been sent to him from Nigeria.
One of the other endearing things about him, and the lecture is that he showed us his "pocket rock". Its a piece of phenakite that he carries around with him for luck. Now that I'm working at a jewelry store, I can honestly say that 1 out of every 5 people I sell a piece of jewelry to are interested in the metaphysical energy and healing properties of the gems that they buy. I'm not sure yet what my thoughts are on the powers of certain gemstones, but if wearing a certain stone (or carrying it it your pocket) helps you get through the day with positivity and optimism, then I say go for it! For a while, I had a pocket shell that I used to carry around because it made me feel lucky. Since Sea + Stone will be launching soon, maybe its time I start carrying a shell in one pocket and a rock in the other?
The hangout with Jean-Noel was amazing. So glad I got to participate in the event while he's on the East Coast, and so happy I was able to meet such interesting people at the Bloomfield school. Check out Jean's work at http://topnotchfaceting.com/home.html .