Lapidary Journal

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.