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Master Jewelry Designers: Atelier Munsteiner

Bernd Munsteiner Photograph

Bernd Munsteiner Biography

Known to jewelry aficionados as "the Picasso of gems," Bernd Munsteiner - whose last name includes the word "steine," or stones - was destined to be a stonecutter. Born in 1943 in Mrschied, Germany, he grew up near the lapidary Mecca of Idar-Oberstein and trained at his father's lapidary workshop. From 1962 to 1966, Bernd Munsteiner attended the arts and crafts school (now the academy for design) at Pforzheim.

At Pforzheim, Bernd Musteiner, like another premier jewelry designer of the 20th century, Michael Zobel, studied under Professor Ullrich. In addition to Zobel, Munsteiner met other young pioneers of a nascent new aesthetic in the jewelry genre including Karin Strand from Denmark, Robert Smit from Amsterdam, and Gnter Krauss from Germany. All of these young artists shared one goal: to reinvent jewelry as an art form by infusing it with new artistic content.

Munsteiner Fantasy Cut Aquamarine 1

Fantasy Cut Aquamarine 1

Bernd Munsteiner - Amethyst & Curly Jasper Brooch

Amethyst & Curly Jasper Brooch

Munsteiner Fantasy Cut Aquamarine 2

Fantasy Cut Aquamarine 2

At Pforzheim, Bernd Munsteiner studied metal sculpting, painting, and jewelry design. In art history class, Munsteiner learned that the art of cutting and polishing gemstones had changed little since the Renaissance; this revelation spurred him to break with the traditions of a craft at which he was a master in favor of bold new techniques. He would leave parts of a gem rough and unpolished to be contrasted with a polished and cut part of a gem; he would integrate inclusions of a gem into the design of the cut gem. His trademark is a bold, geometric, precise cut that often results in the gemstone appearing to be its own kaleidoscope.

Munsteiner - Bernd and Tom with Rough Quartz

Marking Rough Quartz

Munsteiner - Dom Pedro Aquamarine

Dom Pedro Aquamarine

Bernd and Tom with Rough Quartz

Cutting Rough Quartz

Munsteiner's professors were very excited with his ingenuity, and enlisted his assistance in establishing a gemstone department at Pforzheim. Outside the school, however, his work was initially viewed with skepticism by many of the established lapidaries, who claimed that Munsteiner's "fantasy gem cuts," or "fantasieschliffe" actually disfigured the gems! Despite the negative criticism in Germany, Munsteiner sold his first stones in Denmark in 1966, where modernist jewellery was embraced. It was there that he also met his future wife, Hanne. Back home in Germany, Bernd and Hanne received a visit in 1967 from Andrew Grima, a court jeweler from London, who was extremely enthusiastic about Munsteiner's stones. He went on to win international awards and a reputation as possibly the greatest living gem cutter in the world.

Bernd Munsteiner - Tourmaline & Quartz Brooch

Tourmaline & Quartz Brooch

Bernd Munsteiner -

Tourmaline, Agate & Diamond Pin

Bernd Munsteiner - Spessartite, Platinum & Gold Ring

Spessartite, Platinum & Gold Ring

In addition to cutting smaller stones for use in jewelry, Bernd Munsteiner cuts larger stones as stand alone sculptures or for use in geometrically designed wall sculptures. In "Metamorphoses" (1990), an jumbled mass of rutile needles is naturally captured within the large rutilated quartz. Munsteiner continues these internal geometric lines to the outside of the sculpture with his incisions. Munsteiner polished the world's largest aquamarine 10,363 carats - into "Dom Pedro," which is more than five times larger than the world's second-largest aquamarine. Bernd Munsteiner's wall sculptures, which he calls simply "pictures," are created when he geometrically cuts rock crystals and citrines, and then arranges these geometrically cut crystals on quadratic steel slabs.

When assessing the merits of a rough stone, Bernd uses the natural imperfections and inclusions as an integral part of the final piece, looking at them as "an opportunity" rather than an obstacle. With his "seemingly" random cuts and grooves, Bernd exploits the play-of-light that is inherent to the stone's internal architecture, known as its crystalline lattice structure.

The Process

Bernd's keen instincts for the best optical attributes of a given mineral have enabled him to do with only a few strategically placed facets, what most cutters can achieve with far more. In fact, Bernd's patented "Context Cut" was designed specifically for diamonds, and can exhibit a similar play-of-light with only eight facets, as the mathmatically "perfect" round brilliant cut's fifthy-eight facets.

Munsteiner - Work In Progress 1

Munsteiner - Work In Progress 2

Cutting Rutilated Quartz

Munsteiner Cutting and Polishing Large Citrine

Munsteiner Polishing Large Citrine

Munsteiner - Work In Progress 4

The Munsteiner Family Legacy

Both of Bernd Munsteiner's sons (Tom and Jrg) followed their father into the world of jewelry design along with Toms's wife Jutta. Together, the Munsteiner clan has created a dynasty of contemporary jewelry design that has set fashion trends and created innovative gem cutting styles that will undoubtedly withstand the test of time.

Jrg Munsteiner

Jrg Munsteiner Photograph

Just like his father before him, Jrg was a master gem cutter and innovative jewelry designer. Tragically, Jrg's body of work was tragically limited due to his untimely death in 2003.

Jrg Munsteiner - Aquamarine & Platinum Pendant

Aquamarine & Platinum Pendant

Jrg Munsteiner - Amethyst & Citrine/Topaz Ring

Amethyst & Citrine/Topaz Ring

Jrg Munsteiner - Tourmaline & Yellow Sapphire Ring

Tourmaline & Yellow Sapphire Ring

Tom Munsteiner

Tom Munsteiner Photograph

Born in 1969, son Tom learned to cut and polish gems literally on the knee of his father and grandfather. A fourth generation gem cutter, Tom Munsteiner first learned the skills which he would need to successfully cut and polish gems into the classical faceted cuts before learning the special incisions required for the geometric cuts that his father pioneered. Tom Munsteiner has taken his skills on a path towards his own style, however, and has earned a reputation as a master gem cutter in his own right.

Tom Munsteiner - 50.20 ct Amethyst

50.20 Carat Amethyst

Tom Munsteiner - Amethyst, Pearl, & Tourmaline Pendant

Amethyst, Pearl, & Tourmaline Pendant

Jutta & Tom Munsteiner - Rutilated Quartz Ring

Rutilated Quartz Ring

Jutta Munsteiner

Jutta & Tom Munsteiner

Jutta & Tom Munsteiner Collaboration: Tom's stones are often set by his wife and creative foil, Jutta Munsteiner, a goldsmith and innovative jewelry designer who has attracted attention for her own creativity.

Jutta & Tom Munsteiner - Aquamarine & Platinum Ring

Aquamarine & Platinum Ring

Jutta Munsteiner - Aquamarine, Platinum & Yellow Gold Ring

Aquamarine, Platinum & Gold Ring

Jutta Munsteiner - Peridot & Diamond Ring

Peridot & Diamond Ring

Jutta's designs epitomize the motto "from having to being." Today, women prefer to wear jewelry to show who they are rather than what they have. Therefore, the design of the jewelry, rather than the value of its gems and metal, has taken on much greater importance.

Jutta & Tom at Atelier Munsteiner

Jutta & Tom at Atelier Munsteiner

"Be alert for felicitous opportunities and do nothing arbitrarily." Bernd Munsteiner heard these words during a jewelry exhibition in the 1960's; these are two fundamental tenets of design philosophy that are apparent in the work of the Munsteiner family.

Munsteiner Book - Reflections in Stone

Munsteiner: Reflections in Stone

Munsteiner Schmuck

Munsteiner Schmuck

Munsteiner Zeit

Munsteiner Zeit

Atelier Munsteiner's Website: www.munsteiner-cut.de

Munsteiner Retailers:

California: Ladyfingers Jewelry - Carmel

California: De Novo Jewelry - Palo Alto

New Mexico: Patina Gallery - Santa Fe

New York: Aaron Faber Gallery - New York City

Vermont: Grannis Gallery - Burlington

Switzerland: Golay - Lausanne

Gallery of Contemporary Jewelry Designers:

Jewelry Travel Bags
History of Modernist Jewelry

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