Discover the Storytelling Powers of Master Gem Carvers

Deborah Mazza FGA explores how contemporary gem carvers are continuing an age-old artistic tradition of storytelling through gemstones.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was...How often have we all heard these words? This is the most common beginning to a story that fires the imagination, transporting one into a magical world full of marvels and wonders, starting in our childhood and possibly continuing into adulthood. But, what has this to do with gemmology and gemstones? Well, let me tell you my story starting in Idar-Oberstein, a little town in Germany, where gem carvers continue to tell stories through stones, carrying on an old tradition that started in ancient times. Any good story has interesting characters, here are mine...

Erwin Pauly

In his little workshop in Veitsrodt (Idar-Oberstein), surrounded by nature, Erwin Pauly creates objects of beauty and is in very high demand by VIP's worldwide. He learned the art of gemstones carving from masters of the time and has now become a master carver in his own right. Erwin Pauly is generous in giving his insight and helping aspiring artists who want to learn from him, he trained his three sons who have now acquired their own worldwide fame, one of them in Hand-Ulrich Pauly whose works can be admired in Tucson.


Example cameos preformed from gemstones. Far left is a citrine preform by Bernd Munsteiner, worked as a cameo by Erwin. Note the use of Munsteiner's lines and circles in Erwin's creation. He uses the line as a divider between face and hair, working it to then develop in a wheat sheaf. The circles are then part of the hairstyle. Image credits Erwin Pauly.

Mr Pauly started out with traditional agate carvings, consisting of an oval cameo on layered agate with classical motifs, or head portraits either shown in profile or front view. These portraits are also of living people, and can now be admired in his studio or in the museums of Idar-Oberstein.

Erwin Pauly thinks of himself as an artist who speaks through gems. He wanted to break away from the classical oval carvings to tell his own stories, so he started introducing other cameo shapes. In some of these carvings the face or the hair breaks out of the confinement of the frame bringing a new contemporary quality to the piece and adding another essential part to the story. He also started using other gemstones for his creations, opal, ametrine, citrine, beryl, rock crystal, and collaborates with Bernd Munsteiner for some of his pieces.

Munsteiner

Munsteiner has become a very well-known name in the trade. At shows everyone rushes to visit the Munsteiner booth and admire the latest creations this workshop produces. Munsteiner's introduced something new to the trade; inspired by nature, they challenged conformity and tradition, embracing the inherent inclusions and irregularities in gemstones, which unleashed a wave of creativity in many new artists. Their understanding and feeling for gemstones seems to continue exactly where nature left off. Munsteiner is made up of Bernd Munsteiner, his son Tom, and Tom's wife Jutta who is a very talented jeweller and channels the mood set by the lapidary artist into individual jewellery pieces. The final designs that emerge from Munsteiner's gemstone sculptures remind one a little of the Bauhaus movement and minimalism due to the simply, unfussy lines in pieces. But there is much more behind these pieces than what meets the eye.

'Magic Eye', Brooch with a 43.95 ct citrine, agate and diamond in 18 ct yellow gold. Image credit Munsteiner.

Munsteiner uses the optic laws of refraction and reflection to produce interesting three-dimensional effects in pieces; highlighting that the essence of a crystal can be sft and organic, not just angular and hard. Munsteiner believes that nothing is more powerful than an idea, and sometimes this idea has to wait until the right gemstone, with the right set of inclusion in the right arrangement, comes along. Only then will it be able to tell us a story.

Bernd, Jutta and Tom Munsteiner. Image credit Munsteiner.

Herbert Klein

Nothing really prepares you for the surprise you feel when presented with this company's miniature creations, including leaves, flowers, blossoms, fish and mammals all carved out of various gemstones. The attention to detail is stunning, the cuteness of some almost unbearable. All these little creations, some no larger than a one Euro coin, appear to have a life of their own and tell a story, all with a certain sense of humour.


Carved animal creations with a stunning amount of detail engraved. Image credit D.Mazza.

The current artist-carver at Herbert Klein is Stefan Klein, who started as an engraver in his father's company and developed his skills. Stefan's creative process is long, leading to a perfect creation; he carefully studies pictures and films of the nature he intends to represent in his pieces, he establishes a connection with the piece until he declares it finished and only then reveals its fairy tale.

The smallest tourmaline frog, placed on a one Euro coin for scale. Image credit D.Mazza.

None of his pieces are exactly the same. They all have small differences, whether that is the materials used, the inclusions within or the representation chosen. Each aspect contributes to telling a fantastic tale.

Stefan Klein in his workshop. Image credit D.Mazza.

Conclusion

There are many more stories and tales I can tell you about these artists and their creations: Patrick Dreher, for example, creates stunning gemstone animal sculptures that seem to come to life as they give the effect of muscles rippling beneath the skin. Michael Peuster creates stories out of different materials, gemstones and elements put together, while Manfred Wild sees a single, lonely stone in a gem parcel, picks it up and creates a story around what he sees.

But these are all stories for another day.

To find out more please visit: erwin-pauly.com, munsteiner-cut.de and herbert-klein.de.

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image Erwin working in his workshop in Veitsrodt. Image courtesy of D. Mazza.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more