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