Let me think now. How was it that it began? It was down in Larry Kidner's basement so long ago. I was just nosing around in lapidary at the time. I remember him, the seasoned faceter, showing my new bride and I his faceting machine and his dizzying array of cut gems. The astonishing precision and the in-depth knowledge that would have to be achieved was so intimidating that I couldn't imagine even beginning to be interested in actually setting out to learn it. I was enthralled by his stones but I left his house that day without an inkling that someday I would be faceting as well...
But real life is so much stranger than fiction. As I think back the images come floating by like dandelion seeds on the wind. I see the first little piece of amethyst I bought from Stan Pierson at Western Gem and Mineral and saying to him, " I've been thinking lately I'd like to get into faceting", and he saying, "You should!" and now I see him showing me a large free-form Topaz he had just cut. At that time I had never seen it done and could not fathom how it could be. That kind of repeatable precision, for me, was like the dark side of the moon and it scared me. It seemed that to be able to achieve it must be extraordinarily taxing. I can see that big box sitting there holding my brand new faceting machine. Day after day for a year it sat there before I finally got the courage to take it out of the box.
Our Faceting Machine
The light goes on. The diamond lap begins to turn. There is a piece of clear quartz descending for it’s first kiss from the surface of the spinning disc and I am feeling like an astronaut on my first lift-off. I guess the first surprise was that the silly thing began grinding just like the book said it would instead of shattering as I imagined it would. Nerves are funny things.
While sitting in that office chair I began a flight through a dimension I had never encountered before; a journey through the microcosm that could be tedious and fascinating at the same time. It was a realm where one struggled like a miser gone mad to save precious material, where concerns were measured by tenths of a millimeter and the yield from those long hours were shown and fawned over again and again.
Today I have a Tanga Garnet I’m working at. I started it when I began this article. I’ve never seen or cut a Tanga garnet before so I’m very much interested in the result. It was very exciting when I got it as a rounded river worn pebble, a rosy warmth glowing deep within. I’ll be reporting on it as we go along. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to show it to you. It was like breaking free of the Earth’s gravitational pull when we found a good supplier. His price lists were actual color photos of his goods taken in full sunlight and it wasn’t just pale amethyst, washed out topaz and small dark garnets. It was glorious flashing hues of red and pink Tourmalines, lifesaver orange Mandarin Garnets and Aquamarine of practically unheard of deep blue. The lush jungle greens of Zambian Emeralds, Diopsides or Tsavorite Garnets. For purples there were dark Amethysts from Zambia and lately Nigeria so deep you could taste the concord grapes. Sapphires from the Umba Mountains in yellow and padparadshah, peach and orange, purple, pink, green and blue, many from there and from Songea having that rare ability to change color with the lighting. Tanzanites would often be available and with these I learned about heat-treating to change themfrom their often-drab natural state to that beautiful royal violet blue. They would go into the sand-filled pottery jar and then into the burnout oven looking sometimes like oddball high-grade Smoky Quartz and come out the next day an astonishing blue. Yield is what I’m after with this Tanga Garnet – Yield and plenty of it. Vargas tells me that 25% is acceptable recovery but I like to average quite a bit higher than that, say high 30% to 45%. My best was almost 53% but that only happened once. The “pavilion” (the pointy part) has gone beautifully. Not a hitch and polished perfectly. I had hoped to get a perfect 14 X 10 oval but it came in slightly smaller than that. No matter. It will still go into a 14 X 10 mounting. That is a bonus because if it is a nonstandard size and shape then I have to go to the gold bench and make a new setting or modify an existing commercial setting. All do-able but if I can save myself the bench-time I will.
Tanga Garnet Tsavorite Garnet
And what a feeding frenzy there seemed to be when his lists went out, especially when the Mandarin Garnets were up for grabs. Ihad just gotten a list and the photos were liberally sprinkled with the bright orange gems. I was hearing busy signals but I just kept hitting the redial button. "Hello!" "Well hello there! You must be busy!" "Yes Allan, we sure are!" "Do you have any Mandarins left?" "Only three!" "Well I'll take them!" And that was how it was. I never knew when I called if there would be anything worthwhile left. I would choose the numbers I wanted but I always had a few backup choices ready. If I got each one I had chosen I would consider myself fortunate indeed. It happened that way once. When I called I was told I was the first to call from North America. I had beaten the Western Hemisphere! Cool!
The Tanga Garnet has been transferred to another stick now so that I can begin work on the "crown" . The color is probably going to be a fuchsia from what I can see so far. Even now with the top still in the rough grind it is close to breathtaking. All of the facets are laid onto the top except for the table facet. I was a little concerned about a shiny line in the upper portion of the stone in case it should be a crack but I was able to cut below it as I was laying in the star facets – those just around the table. I have been asked why I didn't go to these countries myself to get rough gems. Well one reason is simply that I couldn't afford it but for another, even if I did have the money for such a venture, when I got there what would I be? I would be just another inexperienced tourist unable to speak the language of the country or the local dialect. I would have to make contacts with the right people and establish a trust with them and then, should such a miracle happen, I would have to do a volume of business with them which would persuade them to show me their best etc. etc. I believe it would be just as profitable for me to appear before the locals with a sign round my neck, written in their dialect of course, saying, " Hi, I am incredibly naïve. Bring me to your chief for I would make "speak speak" with him and he has probably never seen anyone in such need of a good fleecing as I am. Run along now, there's a good chap, and be quick about it. Opportunity like this does not come every day."
No thanks! My supplier has been doing this for over forty years and I consider it just good business to pay for his expertise. The stones come from the miner to him to me. Only one middleman. That's not bad. The Tanga Garnet has been finished now. I have a rose in my garden called a "Winnipeg Parks". It is an excellent hot pink, which is about the color of the Tanga. The cut is an easy one called a Lazy Oval and appears to be superlative for light return. The stone looks flawless to me. My recovery was over 43% coming in at 5.99 carats. I don't know what it is worth. I'm no gemologist; I just like to cut stones!