It’s easy to forget that behind every piece of Natalie Marie jewellery, are the many hands that contributed their own craft to creating the final piece. Through the many different processes involved in creation, from mining and sorting to cutting and crafting; each piece holds the combined skills of many artisans who contribute to the creation of a modern-day heirloom.
Our latest One of a Kind collection heroes Australian Sapphires. It is an ode to the Australian landscape and celebrates the culture of artisans, in a show of appreciation for slow craftsmanship.
Doug Menadue is a true artisan, an expert gemstone cutter who has honed his skill for gemstone cutting over the past thirteen years. Doug believes that every stone deserves to be honoured for its’ natural beauty and unique nature.
An expert cutter has the innate ability to pick out the hidden features of a gemstone and bring to light the beauty that is hidden beneath the rough exterior of an uncut stone. As we watched Doug transform a raw sapphire into a brilliant-cut round stone, he shared with us his knowledge and wisdom from a side of the jewellery industry that often slips beneath the radar.
You left a corporate career in computer programming to pursue a passion in gemstone cutting, tell us about your journey into stone cutting?
In a past life I spent 20 years programming and designing computer systems and databases. In 2008 I began gem faceting as a hobby. I bought some equipment, a few rough stones and a book on how to cut five gemstones and off I went, I had to teach myself. One day by chance I read a small ad in a gem magazine asking for someone to help out in a gem shop in a small town called Mt Surprise in North Queensland over the winter three months. I thought that sounded interesting and a nice break from computers so I applied for it and got the gig. However when I asked for three months off from my employer at the time they wouldn’t give it to me. So I told them in that case I just have to quit.
It turned out to be one of my best decisions ever and I had a great time taking folks out to the mining claim at O’Briens Creek to dig topaz, helping out in the gem shop and talking about and cutting gemstones all day. Those three months turned into five years going between Mt Surprise in the winter and Bowen on the coast during summer. I spent all my time either digging stones or cutting them. I began developing my own website to showcase and sell my cut gems and gradually began selling gems to people all around the world.
In 2013 I returned to Sydney to live and took a small office in the centre of the city where I now have my workshop.
I cut and carve gemstones professionally and it is a source of much joy for me to have the opportunity to do so. I’m very grateful and fortunate to be able to work with gemstones on a daily basis and for the creative outlet they provide me.
Our latest collection of Australian Sapphire pieces are inspired by the beauty of the Australian landscape. Gemstone fossicking has taken you all over Australia, what are some of the places that have stood out to you and why?
Fossicking is a pretty good excuse to get out there and experience some of Australia’s great outback landscapes. You realise just how special and ancient Australia is. There is a place called O’Briens Creek in Far North Queensland outside of Mt Surprise that is situated over 300 million year old pink granite hills where you can dig for topaz. There is the Harts Range in the Northern Territory which is a truly rough outback landscape with a rich history and many gemstones and minerals are found there. In Central Queensland there are of course the gem fields where our beautiful sapphires come from.
Your passion for geometry, patterns and shapes is contagious, what is it that you love about this industry?
Well I don’t really know if I’d call it an industry that I’m a part of. It’s more a calling doing what I do. It’s an unusual thing to be doing but it’s something that I can see myself doing until the end of days. I have the great good fortune to be able to work and handle beautiful gemstones each day and to be given the opportunity to create something with them - hopefully something that honours the stone.
There is also a moment when you take a stone off the dopstick after you have been quietly polishing it and you get to see it for the first time as a gem. All the gem’s colours dance in the light for the first time and wink at the world.
What do you think are main skills required to pursue a career in gemstone cutting?
Perseverance and tenacity. Those would definitely be two good things to have a decent measure of. To add to that, you need to be the sort of person who can sit at a desk focused on a single task for hours on end each day and be able to get along with yourself and not go too crazy. For me, having a deep creative spirit and drive is what gives the fuel and sustains what I do.
You will also need a lot of self-drive and motivation because you’ll have to do everything yourself - get or make equipment, begin learning the skills knowing that it’ll be just like going to university in that you’ve got at least four or five years of learning ahead of you before you really start to get the hang of gemcutting. You also will need the self-discipline to make sure all the mundane everyday business side of things get done too. They are important and allow you to keep doing what you want to do.
Cutting a stone to absolute precision is an art form and skill that takes many years to hone, tell us about your favourite part of the cutting process?
Geez, that’s a tough one. Favourite part, well it’s pretty much the whole thing. It’s the stones themselves, they are colour incarnate and it is deeply rewarding to create and shape gems and carvings. I like that each stone is a learning experience and I am always challenging myself to improve and problem solve and achieve a better finish for a gem or carving. It’s nice to be able to bring an abstract concept or idea into fruition especially when carving. I suppose my most favourite part is that I look forward each day to doing what I do.
We recently launched our Australian Sapphire Collection, where Rubyvale mined sapphires are the hero. What do you love about Australian sapphires?
Australian sapphires are superb and rare gemstones. They are intimately linked with the outback landscape, this ancient country. These sapphires were born deep beneath the earth hundreds of millions of years ago and were brought to the surface through volcanic activity. The colours and chemistry are of the minerals and molecules that were present in the ground at that time.
The sapphires were spread over a large area and subject to the forces of nature, of a thousand floods and fires, baking sun, they would even have seen dinosaurs tromping around. The colours of these Australian sapphires are rich and complex, sometimes mysterious, always strong. It’s mind-boggling to imagine the journey a sapphire has taken and the time spans involved for it to arrive into our hands; mine for shaping, yours for wearing.
What is your favourite gemstone?
They’re all my favourite, each stone has a unique story to tell. Each have their own particular colours, feel and personality. I do have a soft spot for O’Briens Creek topaz, especially the natural blue topaz. I spent five years digging and cutting topaz when I first started this gem-powered journey. I loved the country where they were found and the thrill of finding a good stone. Of digging and moving tons of dirt and rock by myself with just a shovel and crowbar, hours in the hot sun, the dust, and just the birds and lizards for company. And there was topaz there to be found and every now and then the elusive natural blue topaz would appear in the dirt when you turned over a rock. They cut a beautiful and elegant iceberg blue that is cooling to the spirit and always look good, especially at night under the lights.
Who and what inspires you?
There are a great many people and things that inspire me. Where does one begin? I’m inspired by people of all countries who work in the fine traditional crafts and arts, in the making of things by hand, through time and skill.
We’re at a time of great creative possibilities and there are a lot of folk out there doing some incredible things. It’s inspiring seeing what people are doing right now creatively.
We’re proud to be able to provide full gemstone traceability for this collection, what are your hopes for the industry moving forward?
I hope that we can deepen our awareness and appreciation for the natural wonders that we work with, the gemstones and metals. I feel there is a strong move away from the mass-produced stock to an item that more personal and hand-wrought. Knowing more about the provenance of the gems, where they come from and maybe how they were found or mined is increasingly important and expected. People are rediscovering the possibility and beauty of a finely handmade jewel and a well cut gem. We need to educate ourselves and our buying public about these beautiful gemstones and the hand making processes required to bring a special piece of jewellery into being.