Looking at a stone cut by world-renowned gem cutter Bernd Munsteiner is like peering into a kaleidoscope. The nooks and crannies carved into every gem and mineral are strategically and delicately placed, and when the light hits it, there is the illusion that the design is twisting and turning and changing before your eyes to reveal a completely new pattern. The effect is mesmerizing and leaves one wondering if even the largest, most sparkling diamond will now appear dull in comparison.
The German gem cutter is known as "the Picasso of gems" and is regarded as one of the best gem cutters in history. He also is credited with completely changing the way stone cutters work. Munsteiner will be in Vail on Tuesday evening for a Vail Symposium program in which he will discuss his life's work and share the history and stories behind some of his favorite pieces.
"Bernd is considered the best stone cutter in the world," said Jim Cotter, owner of the J. Cotter Gallery, which is sponsoring the event, and longtime friend of Munsteiner. "The guy changed the way stones are being cut, taking them and using them as sculptural pieces for jewelry - real works of art. His work has been so influential for other stone cutters. There aren't many people like him, who come along and change the way things are done like he has."
Gem cutting is in Munsteiner's blood; in fact, it's in his name. "Stein" means stone in German. His grandfather and father both practiced the art, and then Munsteiner passed the craft on to his son, Tom. According to Cotter, Tom's 8-year-old son is now learning the art, often spending time with his father and grandfather in their studio, asking questions and practicing the basics of gem cutting.
Born in Germany in 1943, Munsteiner trained at his father's lapidary workshop before attending the Arts and Crafts School (now the Academy for Design) at Pforzheim from 1962 to 1966. At Pforzheim, he studied metal sculpting, painting and jewelry design. In art-history class, Munsteiner learned that the art of cutting and polishing gemstones had changed little since the Renaissance; this revelation inspired him to break with the traditions of the craft and to experiment with bold new techniques.
Leaving behind the traditionally glitzy world of the jewelry trade, where facet-cutting and market valuation by virtue of carat and purity are the name of the game, Munsteiner would leave parts of a gem rough and unpolished to be contrasted with a polished and cut part of a gem, or he would integrate inclusions of a gem into the design of the cut gem. In fact, his artistic exploration of any precious stone he is working on (be it rock crystal, aquamarine, citrine or another rock or mineral) starts with the inclusions and impurities in the crystal because they represent the individual quality of the stone. His trademark is a bold, geometric, precise cut that often results in the gemstone appearing to be its own kaleidoscope.
"It is impossible to pick a favorite piece because each one is so incredible," Cotter said. "Not only is he an amazing stone cutter, but he is also an extraordinary goldsmith. The result is an amazing combination of the two talents; every piece he designs is truly museum-quality."
Munsteiner's crowning creation is his "Metamorphosis" cycle, cut from an 850-kilogram quartz crystal. He also polished the world's largest aquamarine (10,363 carats) into "Dom Pedro," which is more than five times larger than the world's second-largest aquamarine. His wall sculptures, which he simply calls "pictures," are created when he cuts rock crystals and citrines and then arranges these geometrically cut crystals onto quadratic steel slabs.
"I have learned from Bernd to not hold back your imagination, that everything is possible and that you can't be limited by branding or by what everyone else is doing," Cotter said. "Bernd takes materials and ideas and translates them into a much broader understand of what jewelry is. His work is extraordinary. It will stand the test of time."
Tracey Flower is the development and marketing associate with the Vail Symposium. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.