By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
In true Somewhere in the Rainbow Collection style, Shelly Sergent’s Annual Lapidary Extravaganza is another way to celebrate the talent and beauty of the gemstone business.
Since 2017, Sergent, SITR Curator, has invited a dozen cutters to participate in an annual challenge: accept a piece of synthetic Sapphire boule and cut the gemstone as you like according to a theme. The end pieces remain in the SITR Collection—most of which is on constant loan to gemstone groups and museums nationwide—meaning the works will ultimately be on display in myriad locations.
Cutters are not compensated for their handiwork, which is executed simply for the love of lapidary, but because of Sergent’s creativity—every participant gets a package with treats and silly props related to the challenge’s theme—they have a good time with it.
“They begin with essentially the same piece of rough, and the goal is to educate the industry and the public as to the varied styles of lapidary artists,” she explains. “Boule is a way of creating synthetic Sapphires and other synthetic gems. We choose Sapphire because it’s durable and challenging for the cutters but creates gorgeous gemstones one would never know were synthetic!”
Bernd Stephan of Stephan Gems in Idar-Oberstein generously donates the boule every year.
While every participant’s aim is to cut a pretty gemstone, it’s their varied approaches and signature styles that are the ultimate stars. To date, 65 cutting greats have participated—including greats in the making! A 15-year-old Philipp Munsteiner of German Munsteiner cutting house fame faceted a bubble gum pink Sapphire for the 2020 challenge.
The first event in 2017 was dubbed “Blue Buddha,” complete with a chunk of blue Sapphire boule. Sergent based that theme on a natural Sri Lankan Sapphire housed by SITR.
“The Sapphire was cut in a concave style and dates back to the 1400s!” she says. “I wanted to use this gem as a vehicle to showcase today’s cutters. The question for year one was posed, “If your work is found 500 years in the future, what would it say about you as an artist?”
Finished pieces were fashioned into many forms—all oversize—including ovals, hexagons, cushions, and carved numbers.
Other years included red boule cut to a “Rag to Riches” theme in 2018, green for 2019’s “Garden of Eden,” 2020’s orange for “Fant-Om,” and 2021’s deep pink for “Bubble Gum.” Fant-Om elicited lots of fun photos from participants given Sergent sent them all Fanta soda and a Phantom of the Opera mask.
The next theme, pieces of which will be on display at the 2024 AGTA GemFairTM Tucson, will be “Purple Rain.” Participants have been posting photos of the fun packages shipped to them by Sergent. Contents include purple boule, a “Purple Rain” cocktail recipe, edible purple glitter, a “Purple Rain” CD by Prince, and purple sunglasses.
“We are so proud to keep this tradition going,” says Sergent. “I truly love every piece our artists create because they’ve poured themselves into a project for education, not profit or a sale—simply to elevate the viewer’s experience and make one say ‘Wow!’”
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