Design Portfolio: Mineral Rites

The lapidary Bernd Munsteiner employs age-old techniques to uncover nature’s hidden works of art.

The small German village of Idar-Oberstein, which is renowned for its surfeit of highly skilled gem cutters, traces its history in this exacting trade to the 15th-century discovery of once-bountiful agate mines. While these sources have all but been depleted, the talent for perfectly cutting precious stones continues to thrive there—particularly in the workshop of the third-generation lapidary Bernd Munsteiner (munsteiner-cut.de) and his son, Tom, whose latest creations highlight the very mineral that brought the community to prominence in the world of gemology. 

“There are tons of agates out there, but finding the right one is not easy,” says Bernd, who unearthed the raw materials for these two new designs from mines in southern Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul region. Part of Atelier Munsteiner’s Agate Impressions series, these pieces start at about $5,500 each and are gently worked to retain much of their natural form. The pendant (right), which features a quartz-lined core and a striking amethyst, was carved to maximize its reflectivity, while the brooch —set with a tourmaline—reveals exquisite striations of white, charcoal gray, and deep blue.  

To the layperson, most rough stones appear to be little more than common rocks, but Bernd’s well-trained eye and keen intuition guide him in realizing the extraordinary beauty immured in each fragment. “All the stones have different personalities,” he says, “and we prefer to follow what nature has created.”  

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