Deborah Aguado
Lapidary Journal March 1986
An imaginative goldsmith designs jewelry using the gemsof an equally imaginative stone cutter with vivid and singular results.
BY MERLE BERK • Managing Editor

Deborah Aguado is a goldsmith and jewelry designer with very particular ideas about design and construction. She is forthright in describing her art and clearly pursues it according to the well-defined principles of her aesthetic. Her works are imaginative, varied, distinctive – and yet give evidence of a consistent sense of direction and attention to the whole.

In a recent interview, Aguado discussed her approach to jewelry design. Asked specifically about her pieces that include Bernd Munstcincr’s free-form cut stones, sometimes known as “fantasy” cuts, she not only described her interest in them, but gave a detailed analysis of Munsteiner’s work as well.

Nearly all of Aguado’s pieces are one-of-a-kind. An Aguado work that includes a unique Munstciner stone, then, is indeed a singular piece of jewelry. Both artists insist upon discovering and emphasizing the unusual qualities of their raw materials, she explains, giving each of their works a wealth of character. A piece that incorporates two such intensely characteristic components is neccssarily a work of uncommon interest and coordination.

Form and Function

In all her pieces, Aguado works from her sense of weight and proportion. Geometry has long held an attraction for this artist, and 12 years ago she devised a series of geometric formalisms in metal. The task of converting line drawings into three-dimensional objects while preserving the crisp precision of the abstract forms, she says, challenged her technical skills as a metalsmith. The experience then launched her into an exploration of the effects of varying perspectives on shapes and of distortions of the pure geometrical figures.

Her jewelry reflects a concern with function and its mechanical nature. Her mechanisms, hinges and clasps, for example. are often part of the design and are not, as they are in traditional jewelry, subordinated to the “decorative” aspects of the piece — a gemstone, planal interest, surface texture and so forth.

Fantasy Cuts

“Fantasy,” Aguado maintains, is an inadequate description. though the term has been widely applied to Munsteiner’s work. In his native German, the term used in describing his cuts is “Frei-Schleiferic,” or “free cuttings”
As Aguado puts it, Munsteiner’s approaches gem cutting freely. with out preset ideas about how a stone should be cut. He works in a world unbounded by the finite notion of so many precisely laid out cuts — brilliant, emerald, and so forth — and no more. Every piece of rough is unique; every cut is unique.

“Any serious gem cutter appreciates the internal structure of the material with which he works,” .acknowledges Aguado. She goes on to say that the standard formal cuts in use today were developed over time and were refined as new discoveries were made about gem propertie’s and their effects on the return of light.

Munsteiner, according to Aguado, goes beyond this quest for fiery sparkle and “considers the natural character of the mineral for light play as well as its potential for dynamic shape. He extends and expands the ‘literature’ or ‘history’ of stone cutting and its gradual evolution, ever adapting his work to make use of the individual mineral at hand. He cuts a stone not only with facets and ‘negative’ cuts, but would drill holes through diamonds if the effect would be stunning and beautiful.”

One of Munstcincr’s free-spirited trademarks is this “negative” cut. “He attacks the stone by cutting into it, creating a crevice, rather than the traditional simple plane of the facet,” explains Aguado. “This produces not only spectacular linear interest, but a double reflection or refraction. This effect is augmented by the peripheral shape of the finished stone.”

Munsteiner uses only the finest quality gemstones and has applied his free-form cuts to dear quartz, amethyst, citrine, garnet. tourmaline, aquamarine, beryl, blue topaz and an occasional smoky quartz. Aguado uses all of his gemstones in her pieces, and concentrates on line-colored citrine, beryl, aquamarine and tourmaline. When working with a Munsteiner stone, she uses gold or a combination of gold ami silver.

Additional Element

Aguado creates jewelry in metal alone and in metal with other elements. Some of these other elements are gemstones. When creating a work that includes a gemstone, and in particular one that has been facetted. Aguado examines that stone for some special visual phenomena.
She is concerned with two points in particular: How· the stone will appear as part of the finished piece. and how it will rest within the setting. The first is a visual factor. The second is in addition a mechanical factor, as the stone must be secure. She hastens to add, however, that the visual impact of all elements, the setting included, are important. What can be seen is seen. and must lit into the work appropriately.

When using a Munsteiner gem, stone in one of her pieces, Aguado is faced with that much more character to take into consideration. Aguado’s works are intricate and irregular. Munsteiner’s are the same. To include his stones in her work. she must take not only the separate interest of each’s work into account. she must appreciate the reciprocity that results from combining the two.

This can be a lengthy process. Some Munsteiner stones sit on her bench for as much as two years, quietly defining themselves and revealing their idiosyncrasies under her patient scrutiny.

Dynamic Line

Because Munsteiner’s gems do not conform to a predetermined cut, thev may have as many as a dozen differently shaped sides. “This produces a dramatic, dynamic line,” Aguado says. “lt goes up, down and zigzags about.” Her metalwork both enhances this dynamic quality and is itself enhanced by it. Sometimes her work stands in contrast to that motion, highlighting it. Sometimes it takes on a moving character as well, a subtle dance between two strengths.

A finished piece of such Aguado Munsteiner jewelry typically costs in thc range of $300 to $3000. The price can go much higher: A large: necklace of her design with a 30 carat golden beryl set in 18k gold and silver prices between $6OOO and $7000. The type and size of the stone are principal factors in determining where within the general range a retail price falls.

Longstanding Ties

Aguado has known of Munsteiner’s work for some 15 years. She first became aware of it while a graduate student at the Akademie für Bildende Kunst in Salzburg, Austria. She found his work to be “the freshest approach ever to gemstone cutting.”

She made the effort to vsit him at that time and returns frequently to buy his work and to continue what has evolved from a business connection into a personal friendship and something of a professional collaboration.
The work of each artist inspires that of the other. Just as Aguado finds Munsteiner’s stones invigorating, so Munsteiner finds her use of them, occasionally leading him to cut a stone with her in mind.

About the Artist

Initially self-taught in metals. Deborah Aguado has also studied at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University. did graduate work in gold and silver at the Akadcemie für Bildende Kunst, as mentioned previously, and holds a master’s degree in Crafts Administration and Studio Arts from New York University. She has been working in metals since 1965.

She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts for her work in metal. Aguado has exhibited in many parts of the world, primarily in Europe.

She has been teaching for 14 years. and conducts workshops across the country. Currently she divides her professinal time between her studio work and teaching at The New School/Parsons School of Design. Both her studio and the school are located in New York City.