Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Carrying on The Name

Jutta and Tom Munsteiner continue to revolutionize gem cutting and design with their cutting-edge creations.

By Brook Showell
For Tom Munsteiner, gem cutting is in his genes. A fourth-generation lapidary, Tom started his career at his grandfather’s company, cutting gemstones for fun. As a boy, he made drawings for his father, the famed gem cutter Bernd Munsteiner, who took his son’s ideas into consideration in creations that revolutionized the concept of gem cutting. Bernd’s masterful eye elevated the craft to art, creating optical illusions and remarkable expressions of light in gemstones — an exciting endeavor that empowered his son.
   “There was never another decision. I always wanted to be a stone cutter,” Tom recalls. He studied the craft from the ground up during a ten-year apprenticeship in the family business, from learning the traditional cuts to the more free-form designs for which the Munsteiner name is known.
   Of course, formal study was also involved. Tom met his wife and design partner, Jutta, while both were students at the High School of Gemstone and Jewellery Design in Idar-Oberstein, a German town famous throughout history as a gemstone cutting center. The two were studying for their master’s degrees — his in gem cutting, hers in goldsmithing. Though they still collaborate with Bernd, Tom and Jutta took over the Munsteiner atelier in 1997, with Tom creating masterful cuts and Jutta incorporating them into wearable pieces of jewelry art of her own design. Although the couple is based in the small, 900-person farm town of Stipshausen, about ten miles from Idar-Oberstein, their creations can be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Arts & Design, New York, as well as the Aaron Faber Gallery in New York City, with whom the family has been working for more than 35 years.

   Now, the prolific pair is showing off their work in a new book, Munsteiner: The Young Generation, Tom + Jutta Munsteiner, a 200-plus-page, comprehensive, illustrated overview of the past 20 years of their unique cuts and designs in gemstones like Paraiba tourmaline, aquamarine, amethyst and morganite. Tom explains that the book is divided into 11 “work groups,” from the mantis cut, which features zigzag incisions in the back of the stone, to his most recent cut, the magic eye.
   In the latter, a bubble created inside the stone allows the gem to reflect color from behind the stone to create the illusion of a flower inside. “It starts with an idea. We play with the material; we play with the light. Then I look, then I see that if I make a facet here, it reflects over there. This is the fun part of our work,” Tom says of developing new techniques.
   Through their travels, Tom and Jutta look to everything they see — museums, architecture, fashion, nature, even car design — to inspire their work. “It’s not just that you have the perfect idea. We go through the world with open eyes. Then you try to put it into the stone,” Tom says. Always thinking ahead to the finished piece, Tom looks at the high-quality rough stones with which he works to gauge their potential to become a Munsteiner design. “We already have an idea when we buy rough stones. When I go to Brazil and I’m sitting there with one ton of quartz, I sit for two hours and pick out maybe 10 or 18 kilos. If I have it in my hand, I already have an idea,” he explains. “We don’t work against the nature, we work with the nature. We talk with the stone. Or the stone talks with us.” It’s a fluid process, Tom goes on to say, since one concept can transition into another as he works. “I have the idea in my mind, I sit down and then I start cutting. In the moment when you’re cutting — because there was a small crack on the stone, or you had to change the form — we come to ideas.”

   Rather than optimizing carat size, Tom says the Munsteiner philosophy centers around bringing out the optimal beauty of a stone. “For us, it’s all about the color inside the stone,” he says. For example, “in bicolor tourmaline, I can change or separate the two colors with my cut. I will put the red on one side, then I will make another cut and push the green to the other side.” Jutta then highlights the life of the finished stone in her settings. For example, a nearly 25-carat aquamarine cut to reflect its brilliant blue is set as a necklace in handmade links of matte-finished platinum, or a pair of rectangular amethyst stones in Tom’s mantis cut become wide bezel earrings set in 18-karat gold.
   Tom calls their customers, who are a mix of jewelry enthusiasts and collectors, individualists. “If you buy a piece from us, you are the only woman in the world who has this piece. It’s one of a kind,” he states. Influenced by artists like the sculptor Brancusi and, of course, his father, Tom has developed his own style that differs from Bernd’s creations. Jutta compares the styles of the two: “If Bernd cuts a stone, he gets the most reflection. Bernd likes it loud. If Tom makes a stone, it’s more quiet; there’s a dynamic.”

   Tom is also building upon the legacy of his father. The Munsteiners are currently the owners of the eight-facet patented Context cut for colored gemstones. Bernd also created the Dom Pedro, the world’s largest cut aquamarine, which was mined in Brazil in the 1980s and cut in an obelisk shape of 10,363 carats. Put on displayin 2012 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Dom Pedro demonstrates the concept of modern gem cutting to the general public.
   Looking ahead, the Munsteiners have several large projects in the works. Moving toward the realm of sculpture, they are in the midst of building a wall ornament consisting of 245 amethyst stones. They have already completed a similar project made up of 160 stones in natural-color citrine. The duo are also developing, together with Bernd, a window for their church in Germany, which involves 10,000 to 20,000 pieces of agate that will be pieced together like a puzzle.
   And it looks like the Munsteiner dynasty will continue into a fifth generation. Tom and Jutta’s son Philip has displayed a knack for the family business. “He already cuts stones at age 9 — and he likes it,” Tom states. Jutta adds, “When he was born, my father-in-law said, ‘Come into the cutting room; he must smell it from the beginning.’” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2013. To subscribe click here.

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