Making the cut –
What inspired Glenn Lehrer to become a leading gemstone carver?
Women Talking interview with Glenn Lehrer, internationally renowned gemstone carver and longtime Gemporia collaborator.
“If it's been done before, I am not interested in doing it. My work and art are about creating gem designs the industry has never seen before.” Glenn Lehrer
How did you become a gem carver? I have to confess I haven’t met many…
Art has always been my passion but studying it at college wasn’t for me so I quit and spent years travelling in Europe and Asia and India. When I returned to the USA after living in India for 2 years, my brother handed me a piece of cut Quartz crystal which had been polished into a very unusual shape, kind of a long obelisk globe. Whether you believe in all of this or not, I genuinely felt a visceral vibration go up my arm and hit me in my heart. I literally felt it go up my arm and - bam! - into my heart.
Maybe it was all the years I spent meditating in India, maybe I was super sensitive, but I remember that feeling to this day. So I asked my brother what the crystal was and I remember thinking “Where can I learn to do this?
Who was your mentor?
This is a great question because when I set about finding a teacher to help me learn how to work with this material - in the 1970s - I found that there was absolutely no tradition of gem cutting or carving in the USA whatsoever.
I knew I wanted to take this exotic material and transform it into art like an artist would have done with clay but I assumed I could never make a living cutting gems. But I was passionate to explore this art form that existed outside the box here in the United States at the time. Wanting to know more about this medium I re-enrolled back into college and to study the science of Geology, mineralogy, and crystallography. While I was back in college a friend told me about the GIA (The Gemological Institute of America), “The school where you get your gemology degree”, where I was able to pursue the science of gems. They don’t teach gem cutting there but I was able to learn the science of Gemology which is the field of identifying all the various gem species. So having travelled the world, I ended up at the GIA which was only 2 miles from where my mother lived!
But you have been classically trained?
Originally for the first ten years of my pursuit of gem cutting and carving I was self-taught. During my first time at GIA I had heard about this small village with over 500 years of gem cutting tradition called Idar-Oberstein, Germany. Yes, all of the gemstone artists in America I'm probably the only one who had any real classical training.
This happened some years after graduating from the GIA and started when I visited Idar-Oberstein in Germany with my wife. Idar-Oberstein is like the holy grail of gem cutters, the birthplace of the finest cutting techniques, it has over 500 years of tradition but it’s shrouded in secrecy. All I knew was this was where the best-cut stones in the world came from.
The owner of the B&B we stayed in introduced us to Bernard Becker, a fourth-generation cameo engraver, and carver. His great-grandfather had carved for Fabergé, he could sit down and open up a Fabergé book and point out individual pieces and identify which pieces his family had created.
I showed him some of my pieces and explained that I was self-taught, which he couldn’t believe! We exchanged addresses and – to my surprise – he sent me letters saying, “Come visit me, come work in my workshop, show me how to do what you did!”
For the next five years I would go back and study with him and I would buy equipment that had been refined over centuries. Eventually, all of the equipment in my workshop was German, and I still use that equipment today because it’s the best. I later found out that in those days I was the only outsider that was ever allowed into the Idar-Oberstein workshops and school of cutting, most people had never even seen it.
After working with Bernard Becker I became good friends with the famous cameo engraver Hans-Ulrich Pauly where I continued to study and eventually we co-created gemstone sculptures and objects of art we coined, “Lehrer-Pauly Visionary GemArt”. To my knowledge, I am the only American who has co-created with an Idar-Oberstein master.
What is your role working with Gemporia?
I am a regular guest on Gemporia TV channels and I have been since 2011. We have a great partnership and regularly collaborate on exclusive limited-edition Lehrer designs for Gemporia. It’s always great to visit the UK and I’ve built up a real rapport with the viewers over the years – lots of them buy my pieces again and again!
Do you have a particular trademark style/specialism?
My most famous is called the TorusRing cut. I had always wanted to set a stone within a stone and I had tried to do this early on in my career – not the Torus but the idea. No one had ever done this and I just thought a circle within a circle was the most prevalent form in nature and I wanted to capture this. I always observed though that putting a hole in a round brilliant makes it reflect badly and just kills the fire and brilliance.
I had crudely produced a stone within a stone in the 1980s but it just didn’t have the life, colour, and brilliance that I had envisaged and so I kept refining this cut for well over a decade. I finalised the design in 1995 and registered and was awarded a patent for it.
Glenn Lehrer is Gemporia’s master carver and collaborator. Glenn’s Lehrer Collections for Gemporia can be bought on Gemporia’s website or on its specialist TV channel Gems TV: www.gemporia.com ; Gems TV is live 24 /7 on Sky channel 665, Freeview channel 43, Virgin Media channel 755 and Freesat channel 805
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