American lapidary artist Dalan Hargrave is a master of reverse-intaglio gem carvings.
By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
For 26 years, Dalan Hargrave of Gemstarz Jewelry has been setting the lapidary world on fire with cutting skills some call the work of a god. From his abode in the Texas Hill Country, Hargrave has turned out more Spectrum & Cutting Edge AwardTM-winning pieces than he can remember—well, almost.
“My first two carvings received Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards, one of which was a collaboration with Thomas Harth Ames and Art Guyon that received Best of Show in 1999,” he says. “There isn’t a humble way to say this, but I stopped counting awards after 80, and that was years back. I do feel honored to have received Best of Show and Best of Competition (from Lapidary Journal’s Gemmy Awards) six times. But the best reward of all is for clients to appreciate my work enough to buy it.”
Genesis of a Master
While attending college in 1976, Hargrave took a jewelry and lapidary class, which piqued his interest in the field. From there, he went down a rabbit hole of discovery, devouring books on cutting and befriending any mentor he could find to learn. His journey of self-discovery gave way to a style and niche that is legendary in the trade, though you won’t hear Hargrave boast.
“When you find something you’re truly passionate about and reasonably good at, the path paves itself,” he says.
Hargrave’s handiwork is evident in reverse-intaglio carvings like the Best of Show ballerina in the 2022 Spectrum & Cutting Edge AwardsTM (on the cover). It’s also evident in Hargrave’s signature 3D style of faceting with steep pavilion facets that reflect a pattern on the bottom—“much like a kaleidoscope,” he notes. “Most of what I do has my signature 3-D faceting, with the patterns ranging from straight and circular line cutting to floral and reverse intaglio,” he says.
Other uniquely Hargrave looks include spirographic cuts, celestial and floral themes, and an American Brilliant Series of cuts inspired by the American glass industry circa 1900. He adapted some of those fancy cuts with steep angles, reflections, and repetitious patterns for use in his own work.
Most stones he cuts start from rough, but the occasional recut occurs on better-quality gems cut for weight, not for optical performance and beauty—Hargrave’s specialty. The minimum size rough Hargrave starts with is a 50 ct. stone, and some of the largest have been 200 cts.
Body of Work
Ninety-five percent of Hargrave’s time is spent cutting specialty gems and the occasional standard faceted rock or cabochon. He also manufacturers some finished jewelry for private clients. To complete his coveted carvings, he uses faceting machines, micro motors, and diamond-tipped laps and burs, among other tools. His most reliable are call centered, which means a Diamond is embedded in a layer of bronze versus Diamond-tipped numbers like bits that bear only a surface coating.
Completing a specialty cut can take anywhere from one full day to several, depending on the details. The ballerina falls into the latter category, and it took a couple hundred burs to bring her to life. Even Hargrave admits it was one of his more complicated reverse works. Objects of art require even more patience, given they usually comprise multiple components. Plan on waiting a few weeks for one of those.
Hargrave’s favorite designs to carve are celestials and florals. “I’ve had the most fun with those,” he says. “The Celestial Series stimulates the imagination about what might exist beyond our limited perspective, and lots of people like flowers.”
Fave gems are largely those found in abundance and large sizes—think Quartz—and vibrant colors like Amethyst, Citrine, Prasiolite, and his personal darling, Ametrine. Sunstone, Tourmaline, and anything in the Beryl family round out his top picks.
As for his most treasured carving, that honor goes to his “Genesis 1:16” celestial city that took Best of Show in 2004. It is a Sunstone on the top carved to depict a verse from the Old Testament: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” The Moldavite on the bottom is glued to a gold plate for a rich reflection and is further secured with some gold pins (the type you find in earrings), which adhere to the carved top.
Hargrave got the raw materials when he first started going to the Tucson shows. The Sunstone was a piece of scrap from the Dust Devil Mining Co., and the Moldavite set him back all of $5. It took about 20 hours to cut and is still in Hargrave’s possession. “It will be my legacy piece that I pass on to my daughter,” he says.
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