How a Master Cutter Cuts a Garnet: An excerpt from “Exotic Gems, Volume 2”

Garnet is a generally straightforward gem to cut. It is durable, singly refractive, and takes a beautiful polish. Although inclusions in garnet are regularly easy to spot and remove during cutting, some of the darker varieties, especially from East Africa, will often have silky inclusions throughout the body of the material that cannot be seen in the rough. To be able to see them, one must cut a “window” or a polished flat place on the gem to know if the material is clear of these minute inclusions.

Another factor that relates to the cutting of garnets is the type of geological deposit in which they’re found. The alluvial, or water-worn deposits, of malaya, rhodolite or spessartine garnets will contain solid, rounded off crystals with a frosted surface. In contrast, the mint green garnets of Merelani are often broken off from their host rock, and will contain glassy feathers and fractures from this damage. However, the crystal surfaces of the Merelani mint garnets are clear and easy to see into. Tsavorite garnet rough is often angular and fractured – suggestive of the surface and in siu environment it comes from. The high price of tsavorite, coupled with the irregular shape of the rough, creates a particularly daunting task for cutters. The result is often windowed and asymmetrical cuts on commercial goods, and low yields on finely cut gems.

In a word, garnet is particularly rewarding to cut. When time is taken to create a gem with symmetry, order, and a fine polish, the effects are especially beautiful on a garnet.

-Clay Zava

AGTA Spectrum Awards

Clay Zava judges in the 28th Annual AGTA Spectrum Awards

American Gem Trade Association – Since it’s inception in 1981, AGTA’s Membership has grown to over 1,100 Members representing the leading colored gemstone and cultured pearl wholesalers, industry professionals, colored diamond dealers, estate jewelers, manufacturers and retailers in the United States and Canada. AGTA Members agree to the disclosure of gemstone enhancements on all commercial documents and to abide by the Association’s Code of Ethics and Principles of Fair Business Practice. Annual affirmation of the Code of Ethics, and enforcement by the AGTA, holds an AGTA Member to a stricter disclosure policy than required by the Federal Trade Commission. AGTA is recognized as the authoritative source on natural colored gemstones – The Authority in Color.

2012 AGTA Spectrum Awards – The AGTA Spectrum Awards competition, created in 1984, honors, recognizes and promotes designers and lapidaries in the United States and Canada whose work utilized natural colored gemstones and cultured pearls. It is the true contest of workmanship, creativity and innovation, where winners set the standards of excellence for our entire industry.

Through the Spectrum Awards, the American Gem Trade Association has been honoring excellence in jewelry design and lapidary arts for almost three decades. The AGTA Spectrum Awards competition is viewed by the industry as a mark of outstanding quality and achievement. Earning a Spectrum Award is regarded as one of the industry’s most esteemed honor, and winners of this illustrious award truly define greatness.

AGTA Spectrum Award Categories 

Bridal Wear – Whether gracing the bridesmaids or donning the bride, herself, this category captures all looks coming down the aisle. Engagement rings, wedding bands, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and tiaras should be considered.

Business/Day Wear – Stylish, yet practical jewelry, for work, shopping or play. Entries should have simple elegance for a woman on the move.

Classical – Traditional looks and timeless designs prove superior here. References to consider might be your grandmother’s pearls, a three-stone ring or an elegant pendant – all with a fresh twist for modern-day beauty.

Evening Wear – Jewelry in this category should gall nothing less of spectacular. Whether brazenly bold or softly subtle, each submission should strive for red carpet fabulous, stunningly chic or delicately delicious all with exceptional color.

Men’s Wear – Men’s fashion is heightened by the savvy style of the modern man who sports jewelry. Rings, bracelets, pendants, cufflinks, tie and lapel pins, stud sets and belt buckles are just a few of the ways a strong man can express himself.

Fashion Forward Honors – recognizes the outstanding use of colored gemstone and/or cultured pears in artful, trend-setting jewelry.

Manufacturing Honors – recognized outstanding use of colored gemstones and cultured pears in jewelry appropriate to be manufactured in production quantities.

Platinum Honors – sponsored by Platinum Guild International, recognized outstanding use of platinum in colored gemstone and /or pearl jewelry in the five Spectrum Award categories and for the Best Use of Color and Platinum. Platinum Honors has added: Entry Platinum Honors – Bridal Wear under $2,500 (semi-mount only), Platinum honors Innovation – Classical under $3,500 and Platinum Honors Innovation – Day Wear under $2,00. All prices retail.

Professional Jeweler Feature Article

Sweet Harmony

A talented musician and deep thinker facets some of America’s prettiest gemstones.

Balance and symmetry are critical to gemcutter David Clay Zava. The rough material subjected to his touch generally is converted into classic gems with recognizable outlines. “The outline of a gem is the essence of its aesthetic,” says Clay (who uses his middle name professionally). Admirers note another reason his gems can be categorized as classic: the faceting reminds them how a traditional emerald cut or round cut should look.

But Clay often modifies a cut, though always with an eye toward symmetry. “I like cutting gems people can easily understand, and I also don’t want y pieces to look dated; I want gems to be usable, salable and timeless,” he says.

Southern Comfort

Clay’s life also demonstrates balance. Along with his gem work, Clay has a degree in anthropology. He also plays saxophone, rhythm guitar, pennywhistle and flute. His musical talent, cultivated as he grew up in Knoxville, TN, once led to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. (Oh, and he sings too.) Clay downplays these achievements: “It’s part of the southern culture. In Tennessee we always bread out the guitar after dinner,” he says. These days he breaks out the guitar and croons to an enthusiastic audience of two: his wife, gem dealer Cynthia Marcusson of Cynthia Renee Co., and their new daughter, Mathea.

Clay reads about three books a week and, in his younger days, delighted in attending thorny mathematics and geometry presentations. Plato is his hero.

Thank Grandma

His interest in gems and gem cutting began early. When he was 8, his grandmother took him to meetings of the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society Rock Club. A couple of years later, through the club, he began cutting cabochons. In 1995, he worked with Colorado-based cutter Steve Avery for a year. “Hi taught me to be fast and precise,” he recalls. “Through him I learned more technical patterns and techniques.”

Rooting for the Underdog

Among the gems Clay specialized in cutting is spinel. “it has been the red-headed stepchild of ruby ad sapphire for the past 100 years and is under-appreciated,” he says. “People who like spinel ten to be gem lovers because they know of spinel’s rarity, that it’s not treated and it’s found in so many undefined colors. It also polishes beautifully.”

Clay, who avoids gems treated in any way, also likes tourmalines and their wide color palette. And he especially likes the green apple, mint and sea foam color ranges of Afghani tourmaline.

Excerpt from 'Professional Jeweler' October 2002