A new group show at Aaron Faber gallery showcases work from around the world which flaunts spectacular—and unusual—gems. These gems are rare curiosities and, to some extent, they fall outside the conventional market for precious stones. When set by studio makers, they generate a niche market—somewhere between haute jewelry and contemporary practice. AJF editor Benjamin Lignel catches up with gallery co-director Patricia Faber, and asks her about the makers’ backgrounds and specific skill sets, and what the gallery’s collectors are interested in.
Benjamin Lignel: Your latest exhibition, Phenomenal Jewelry, gathers a cast of 21 makers or design houses from around the world who busy themselves with rare, spectacular gems. Can you tell us what spurred you to curate an exhibition around this theme, and how long it was in the making?
Patricia Faber: As a gemologist (G.G., Gemological Institute of America), the idea came easily to me, but was spurred by the serendipity of language: phenomenal in everyday/slang use, meaning something like “fabulous” or (forgive me) “awesome,” and the gemological meaning of phenomenal, which is a specific category of gems, those which demonstrate a change of color or play of light. These gems, which include moonstone, labradorite, opal, are often of particular interest to artist-jewelers, I think for their nuance and less commercial use in general. The show was nine months in the making.
Gems are the focus of this show. How is that reflected in the exhibitors’ practices? Are they all—to a smaller or larger extent—gemologists, and if not, where do they get their expertise?
Patricia Faber: Michael Boyd and Jeff and Susan Wise are studio jewelers who are also lapidaries, cutting their own gems from rough. Claudio Pino cuts many of his gems. Tom Munsteiner is a gem sculptor/cutter, and he and his wife and goldsmith-partner Jutta Munsteiner collaborate on the design of the mounted gem. Élise Bergeron and Paula Crevoshay are gemologists. But the expertise on display in the exhibition is not gemology itself, but the unique way each of these participants uses this particular group of gems in the work.
These gems are nature’s bounty (Sydney Lynch in fact says, “In an era of special effects and astounding technology, the natural world still provides some of the best light and magic around.”) So one way to look at the craftspersons participating in the show is that they are “just” highlighting the beauty of a rare rock. But there are in fact two very distinct groups of makers: those who play up the roughness of the rock, by giving it a very sleek setting, and those who tend to emulate “roughness” through sophisticated fabrication and finishing techniques (distressing, granulation, reticulation). Is that a useful way of categorizing them?
Patricia Faber: In very few cases are the makers just highlighting the beauty of the gem. Most often, they are taking the opportunity to investigate how the gem challenges their mode of expression, and how the process of making resolves that challenge.
Everything in the show is superlative, which must translate into superlative prices and a rarefied client base. Do these works tend to have a specialized collector’s base—people who actively look for the rarest stone? What is their usual background?
Patricia Faber: Most of the collectors gravitate visually first toward the artist’s style or work and respond to that. Gems add to the conversation but most collectors in our gallery are looking for jewelry that sparks their imagination, or expresses or complements their aesthetic taste.