Tom Munsteiner's freestyle gem creation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 6:31pm

Tom Munsteiner was seven when he cut his first precious stone. Three years later he drafted his first gemstone design on paper and gave it to his grandfather to cut. Now, the fourth-generation gem-cutter owns the German-based gem house Atelier Tom Munsteiner. He practises a freestyle approach to gem cutting.

"We just keep our eyes, ears and minds open to everything that is new; it's always an adventure," he says, during a visit to Hong Kong to talk on jewellery design at Hammer Gallery.

Munsteiner learned the freestyle technique from his father Bernd, who pioneered this approach in the 1960s. His father also taught him to value quality and beauty over profit. Unconstrained by production deadlines for seasonal collections, Atelier Tom Munsteiner cuts each stone independently of others. Munsteiner just keeps working until he's content with the shape. When he has 10 finished stones, he and his wife, master goldsmith Jutta Munsteiner, select one and turn it into a piece of jewellery. The other stones are either sold to jewellery houses or to buyers as works of art.

An illustrated book about the past 15 years of their work, Munsteiner - The Young Generation, was published at the end of last year.

"I don't follow trends," he says. "I'm free with what I do. We show our pieces to customers around the world and they decide if it's good or not." Munsteiner says jewellery houses often lack innovation as they are more concerned with preserving the value of a stone. When a stone is cut to create one of the house's avant-garde pieces, its commercial, or carat value, is reduced.

Each stone's natural form provides the starting point for his designs. For example, when quartz and tourmaline crystallise in nature, they are formed with six sides. So, when working with these stones, he begins with a hexagonal cut.

"We might cut a half bowl into the stone, or make a bubble, or get a reflection. We play with light by making different angles in the stone, but we always work with nature," he says.

While the Munsteiners' freestyle technique may not be taken up by the mainstream jewellery houses, the practice of creative cutting will continue with the family. "My son is doing what I did when I was young. He's eight and he's already drawing designs on paper and giving them to me to make," says Munsteiner.

Atelier Munsteiner at Hammer Gallery, 8 Tai On Terrace, Sheung Wan