By Lisa Elser
“A finished gem can not only be a beautiful object, but it can tell a story of its birth and creation.” Lisa Elser
“For the past 12 years I’ve been looking to create a deeper connection from the mines all the way to the finished piece. A fine gemstone is captivating – the colour alone draws me in. A finished gem can not only be a beautiful object, but it can tell a story of its birth and creation. It can help and support the people who work to mine and broker it within the country where it’s excavated. It can be shaped by my hands into a piece worthy of heirloom jewellery for many generations to treasure. It can be an offering of love to the wearer, even self-love when the buyer is the wearer.
The first time my husband and I went to the mines was Madagascar. We met with families of farmers who mined their lands in the off season, working long days in narrow holes dug by hand, hoping for a jewel that would improve their lives. My love affair with tourmalines, tanzanite and tsavorite (just a few of my favourites) has fueled our adventures to the mines in Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Sri Lanka. On each trip we have the opportunity to build relationships locally to find the rough when we visit mines, and experience even just a little, the effort it takes to find excellent gems. Once you’ve seen the work and hardship involved in mining gems, it’s impossible not to want to treat the miners fairly. In addition to paying “ethical prices”, we are committed to donating 25% of the profits back into the people who make our business possible.
I try in my cutting to treat each gem with respect. Because I have the luxury of cutting for my own inventory and not to someone else’s specs, I can take the time needed to ponder the characteristics of the specific rough gem and find the angles that will bring out the true beauty of the stone. Some gems, though, deserve special care and for these my husband will often create a design to showcase it. Tom is a research mathematician and also an artist. Between his knowledge of light, and mine of gem cutting, we create pieces that enhance the charm of the gem rather than overshadow it.
Through the relationships I have forged with the miners, I had the opportunity to purchase some old stock Afghani tourmaline a few years ago. Like many tourmalines, the rough was long and thin. Creating a design that would move light perfectly through it was a challenge. We worked for several weeks, designing, and testing those designs in synthetic material until we found exactly what we were seeking. When I was sure we had it right, I cut the rough into this 11.35ct finished gem. I think you’ll agree that the days of design and cutting made the mint green tourmaline come to life with its own natural fire and exquisiteness.
That gem started us on the road to creating our own designs so that our work is unique and personal. We shape the design around the gem instead of forcing the gem into a set “design”. Typically my yield for a finished gem is 25-30% of the rough carat weight. Today we work closely with designers and goldsmiths who share an affinity for my style, and also offer my custom cut gems through my website.
The proudest moment of my career was when my Spectrum Award winning 14.24ct Nigerian Tourmaline was placed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, USA.
The rough for this gem had been started by a colleague but the proportions weren’t “right”. I loved the colour, but it was shallow for its length/width. We sat with it in hand and began designing. Eventually I created an oval that gave the maximum size without losing performance. The final cut, I hope, honours the people who mined it, and who brought the rough to me.”
About Lisa Elser
A gemcutter trained in Switzerland and living in the Vancouver, BC area, Lisa Elser has published articles on gem travel, ethical buying, heat treatment of gems, and numerous gem cutting techniques. Her gems have been featured in Canadian Jeweller, More Magazine, Canadian Jewellery Business, and Jewelry Artist Magazine, and she is the winner of an American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Spectrum Award and 5 Lapidary Journal Gemmys. Her Spectrum Award winning Tourmaline is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
She and her husband travel the world to buy rough gems, ensuring that the stones purchased are ethically mined and benefit local communities. www.lisaelser.com