From Prism Volume II 2024: Cutting Remarks, Jack of All Gem Trades, Darryl Alexander

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Jack of All Gem Trades

Darryl Alexander’s early love of gems and jewels paved the way for him to learn their intricacies and become proficient in cutting and carving gems and making jewelry.

After Darryl Alexander learned the basics of jewelry making and stone cutting in high school, it didn’t take long for him to realize he’d found a career path. As he made his way into adulthood, taking some fashion design and architecture classes, he eventually became a prolific self-educator in jewelry and gemstones. He taught himself so much that he landed a bench jeweler position at Borsheims in Omaha, Neb.

There, he became familiar with high-end brands and über-talented cutters like Bernd Munsteiner, whose works passed through the shop. He also saw Judith Leiber handbags and top watch lines, all of which gave him an appreciation for fine design.

“Being exposed to different cutting techniques and wax models inspired me to experiment with them at home,” he says.

Ever resourceful and industrious, Alexander applied himself in many areas of jewelry. He made some of his own tools, such as Dremel hangers and torch holders, and continued perfecting his jewelry making and budding gem-cutting skills in his free time.

After spending five years at Borsheims, learning everything he could, he moved on to run the bench department at Service Merchandise, a 400-store chain of retail catalog showrooms that shuttered in 2002.

“I had two assistant jewelers, and we did work for five stores,” he explains. “I learned how to make repairs efficiently and picked up a lot of tips and tricks along the way. I was one of their highest-performing jewelers, completing up to 150 jobs a day! But after four years I developed carpal tunnel symptoms because of the high-volume production. I left to do custom work for a private jeweler, also in Omaha.”

Westward Bound

During these periods of employment, Alexander became familiar with the gem shows in Tucson, Ariz., traveling to many annually to purchase rough gems to cut. He had private clients, too, including a number in Phoenix, for whom he cut and carved gemstones and made jewelry, since he’d taught himself to do both. He was so highly regarded that he got a job offer from a local business to help them bolster their sales. So he and his family picked up and moved to Arizona.

It was a short-lived arrangement, though, lasting only a month. The fit was not a good one. Fortunately, Alexander had his private business to fall back on and build up further. He took on repair and custom jobs from area stores in Phoenix; others knew him mainly as a jeweler. But three years after the move to Arizona, he got more serious about his backburner passion, stone cutting.

He started cutting all kinds of material, including abundant U.S.-mined Sunstone, for which he’s become well known. He cut so many pieces that he realized he needed a sales outlet and decided to join the ranks of merchants at the Tucson gem shows. Over 26 years, he sold at one location until his most recent move to the Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show.

Cutting & Carving

As Alexander spent more time cutting rough, some signatures emerged: “Plush,” “Snowflake,” “Transition”, “Flower,” “Holographic,” and “Frost.” Each is a unique fantasy style for which collectors know him. “I sell traditional gems, too, but people have come to know me for my one-of-a-kinds,” he says.

“Snowflake” and “Plush”—the latter a nod to the town’s name in Oregon where Sunstone is found—were the products of a collection cut for and donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum as part of the American Gemstones project, a collaboration between miners, artists, and museums. All the special cuts are faceted gems that can be set into jewelry. Alexander sells as many carvings, though, as he does faceted gems.

“Most cutters don’t do both,” he says. “But I wanted to be proficient in everything.”

The commonality in his designs is their movement and flow, an organic freeform aesthetic, as if you found items in nature. “It’s what I like and what people relate to,” he says.

And while peers know him today for his love of carving Sunstone, he had an earlier affinity which some might remember: Pearls. He used to carve blister pearls in shells out of a passion for the material. In his early days, he bought them from John Latendresse of American Pearl Company when it was in Camden, Tenn.

“People knew me as the ‘Pearl Carver,’” he says. “I won many awards with them and was featured in a lot of magazine articles.”

His Pearl carvings, however, struggled for recognition in the gemstone community. When he entered his gem carvings into competitions like AGTA’s Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards, however, his peers were liberal with their praise, and he’s earned quite a few AGTA Awards. In total to date, Alexander has won more than 50 industry awards for his jewelry and carvings.

From Prism Volume II 2024: Cutting Remarks, Jack of All Gem Trades, Darryl Alexander
2015 3rd Place, Carving Cutting Edge Award, Sunstone

Work in Progress

Despite Alexander’s obvious talents and inner drive, he still reels from impostor syndrome.

“I don’t see myself as having ‘arrived,’” he muses. “Besides, when you think you’re that good, you’re done!”

Modesty aside, he acknowledges one important career moment, the creation of his “Got Paint?” carving, which took an Honorable Mention in the 2011 Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards. It’s a lifelike painter’s palette complete with brushes, spilled paint, and a No. 2 pencil. It looks so real that someone unfamiliar with it saw and asked, “Who was painting?” Alexander beamed—that was the reaction he was going for. He picked up the pencil, made of yellow Mookite, petrified wood, and Hematite and handed it to the man.

“That’s a heavy pencil,” he said.

“That’s because it’s stone,” replied Alexander.

The entire sculpture is fashioned out of opalized wood, Sugalite, Turquoise, Onyx, and more. Its design is an homage to the painters, “the true artists like Monet,” he says. He spent two months making it, including many elements cut just for it—think paintbrush tips—that just didn’t quite fit. “Got Paint” is the culmination of a lifetime of work for Alexander and a tribute and appreciation for the art of others. It has a permanent home in the Somewhere in the Rainbow Collection.

“When clients buy a gemstone, he or she is buying a piece of the artist,” he says. “Stone cutting is a passion.”

From Prism Volume II 2024: Cutting Remarks, Jack of All Gem Trades, Darryl Alexander
2020 2nd Place, Innovative Faceting Cutting Edge Award, 123.0 ct. specialty-cut Beryl titled “Seaweed & Bubbles”

Reach Alexander at 480-215-9729 or [email protected]

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