Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Hues on first

The winners of the 34th AGTA Spectrum Awards dazzle with a cornucopia of gems.

By Deborah Yonick
It’s difficult to call out trends in a competition that celebrates the unique and rare. But among the 45 winners of this year’s American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Spectrum Awards, several favorites rose to the top. Blue and fancy-color sapphires, emeralds, aquamarines, opals, tourmalines, garnets, and zircon stood out in the contest, which received more than 400 entries in its 34th year.

“While blues and greens in any variety of gemstones consistently maintain a stronghold...[one] characteristic of this year’s entries was the breadth of unique color combinations and gem pairings, such as rubies mixed with fire opal or tourmalines coupled with sapphires,” says Michelle Orman, who manages the press event for the design contest. “We also saw more monochromatic pieces and jewelry incorporating a complexity in their design.”

For AGTA CEO Doug Hucker, the most notable trend this year was a wave of young new designers and first-time entrants. First-timers took over a dozen awards, he pointed out following the August event, describing them as bringing “fresh perspectives and a willingness to embrace creative risk in their work.”

Statement pieces were another trend, according to Dallas Prince, one of Spectrum’s five judges. As the only woman on the judges’ panel this year, Prince — who heads Dallas Prince Designs in Los Angeles, California — also noticed that some of the more feminine designs, despite looking fabulous, were not advancing through all the elimination rounds. In general, her advice to designers is “to remember that every single detail of the design will be judged. Overall style, quality, workmanship, gemstones, cutting and wearability are all factors. It cannot just be pretty. It must be superior in all other ways.”

Bridal Wear
Zoltan David, a 13-time Spectrum Award winner based in Austin, Texas, nabbed two first prizes this year. One was this bridal necklace featuring a 46.12-carat opal, a round, 3.60-carat opal and 2.40 carats of blue sapphires in 22- and 18-karat rose gold.

Best Use of Platinum Crown
Platinum had its day in the sun with the Solar Blossom ring by first-time Spectrum winner John Haynes of Schmitt Jewelers in Phoenix, Arizona. The ring, inspired by a sunflower, features a warm, 14.73-carat orange zircon accented with tsavorites and diamonds. Haynes incorporated a platinum reflection dish underneath the zircon to elevate its color. The ring was cast in five separate pieces, he says.

Men’s Wear
This ring was the second of Zoltan David’s wins this year. He relates that a client of style and vision presented him with a 25.53-carat zircon to create a bespoke piece. “The end result was the Wizard’s Ring, a bold and powerful piece in steel and 24-karat gold, incorporating materials and techniques unique to my work.”

Best Use of Pearls
Another spectacular necklace came from four-time Spectrum winner Avi Raz of Los Angeles-based A & Z Pearls, featuring multicolor baroque freshwater pearls and baroque-shaped, 14-karat rose, yellow and black rhodium gold beads. “I love these pearls, their superior luster, their metallic overtone, and their baroque shapes have such interesting characteristics,” he says. “The high-polish gold beads mixed in bring out the natural color of the pearls.”

Best Use of Platinum and Color
Following the statement-piece trend, the Wonder Woman cuff bracelet won Deirdre Featherstone of Featherstone Design her 11th Spectrum award. “Preparing a cuff of this size was quite a challenge,” says the New York-based designer. The piece includes aquamarines, tanzanites, blue zircons, lavender spinels, tourmalines, and star-set diamonds. She describes the cuff as unprecedented in its sheer use of platinum and its fabrication that, when worn, “feels like a strong embrace.”

Business/day wear
Another mesmerizing stone appears in Erica Courtney’s Emerald City necklace: a pear-shaped, 105.99-carat emerald accented with a swirl of diamonds on an 18-karat yellow gold chain. “I was sent a beautiful tumbled Muzo emerald to see. I couldn’t imagine why this was sent to me, but I couldn’t put it down,” the Los Angeles-based designer recalls. “I just kept turning it around. After about three minutes, I took a Sharpie and started drawing directly on it. I turned it around a few more times and sent it to the jeweler to have it made. It was amazing to me that I was so inspired with a gem that was totally not my style. I just fell in love with this giant Muzo emerald.”


Niveet Nagpal of California-based Omi Privé took first place in this category for a platinum ring with a 10.23-carat cuprian tourmaline. French-cut baguette diamonds run down the shank, flanked by round diamonds that bring balance to the piece. Paraiba tourmalines surround the edge of the ring and underside of the basket.

“I didn’t want to over-embellish the design to distract from the beauty of the rare center stone, so a white diamond halo was crafted to frame its vibrant hue,” explains Nagpal, a 14-time winner. “I wanted to create a statement ring for the tourmaline that would allow its intense color and brilliance to stand out.”

Best use of Color
The Phoenix Rising necklace by Ricardo Basta of E. Eichberg is one example of the statement pieces judge Dallas Prince observed. The 18-karat yellow gold necklace consists of over 28 carats of mandarin garnets, along with Paraiba tourmalines, sapphires, rubies, fire opals, tsavorites and turquoise.“I got the spessartites first with nothing in mind for them for five or six years,” says the California-based Basta, who has won two dozen Spectrum awards and boasts more than 60 other award-winning pieces. When he took the spessartites out and brainstormed with his team, they came up with the phoenix design, which took more than three years and over 20 prototypes to complete.

Best of Show
There were some great gemstone stories in the finished-jewelry competition, and the outstanding 7.16-carat untreated Russian emerald ring that took the top Spectrum prize was one of them. Crafted in platinum and 18-karat yellow gold with diamond accents, the ring by Joseph Ambalu of New York-based Amba Gem Corp. also took second place in the Classic category.

Judge Randy Coffin, cofounder of Coffin & Trout Jewelers in Arizona, says he advocated hard for this piece to receive the accolade. The judges met over two days, undergoing several elimination rounds to reach the final selection.

“It’s an amazing emerald,” he declares, “for its exceptional color, rarity and the uniqueness of the stone. Every time I passed it, it evoked strong feelings, because I knew I might not ever see anything like it again.”

Evening Wear
Gross & Currens of the New York-based David Gross Group received this honor for a platinum ring with a cushion-cut, 20.26-carat, unheated yellow sapphire at its center and marquise diamonds wrapped around the prong and sides. As soon as he saw the sapphire, designer David Gross recalls, he was blown away. This was his second Spectrum award.

Fashion Forward
This award went to a pendant necklace by Patrick King from Jewelsmith in Durham, North Carolina. The piece showcases a 13.31-carat sapphire in 14-karat white and rose gold with sapphire and diamond accents. Contemporary yet organic, it was almost entirely hand-fabricated by King, who says it took three days to set the 180-plus stones into the cast rose-gold component. This is his second Spectrum award.

A cut above
The Cutting Edge segment of the Spectrum Awards saw a rise in entries this year, according to AGTA’s Doug Hucker. The division, which recognizes lapidary artistry in seven categories, was added to Spectrum in 1991 and received 138 submissions this time around.

Mikola Kukharuk of Nomad’s in New York took first place in the All Other Faceted category with an oval, 80.25-carat tsavorite garnet. In the Classic Gemstone division, Kenneth Blount of New York-based jeweler 100% Natural won with a 91.36-carat, unheated yellow Ceylon sapphire. Joel Price, also of New York, topped the Phenomenal Gemstones category with a 34.63-carat oval harlequin opal, while gem cutter Mark Gronlund of Florida headed up Innovative Faceting with a 96.30-carat round spiral brilliant-cut blue topaz. Nicolai Medvedev of Virginia-based company Impressions in Stone impressed the judges with an intarsia box made of malachite, turquoise, azurite, sugilite, lapis, opal, cultured pearl, emerald and diamond; it won in the Objects of Art category.

The top spot in Carving went to Texas-based jeweler Dalan Hargrave of GemStarz Jewelry, who presented Frog Prince: a charming tableau in 160 carats of sunstone, accented with sapphires, diamonds, opals, jade, chalcedony, calcite and 14-karat yellow gold.

Stephen Avery of Colorado, who led the Pairs and Suites category with a pair of indicolite tourmalines totaling 41.45 carats, traces his tourmaline tale back to September 12, 2001 — the day after 9/11. While at the Denver Gem & Mineral Show, he saw an Afghani friend with a natural “Windex blue” rough tourmaline, the best material he had ever seen. “I’m feeling emotionally traumatized, thinking the world is going to end,” he recalls, and was unsure if he should even consider the purchase. But he knew he might never see a parcel like this again, so he bought it and then sat on it for most of 17 years. At the urging of family and fans, he has been faceting the material for the last two years. He intends to make a set of earrings from this pair as a future Spectrum submission.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2018. To subscribe click here.

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