Professional Jeweler Archive: The Critical Balance of Slava Tulupov

March 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/News

The Critical Balance of Slava Tulupov

A rich blend of artistry and technical skills makes this man the new czar of gem carvers

You just can’t repress a creative spirit, as award-winning gem-artist Slava Tulupov has proven. He collected two top awards in the American Gem Trade Association’s Cutting Edge competition last year, after receiving similar honors in 1998 and 1997.

That’s an impressive showing for someone who just a decade ago was an underground artist, furtively carving gemstones in what was then the Soviet Union, where such activity was illegal.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, less than a mile from the House of Fabergé and within walking distance of the venerable Hermitage Museum, Tulupov spent his early years gazing at artistic relics of a bygone era. He especially loved Carl Fabergé’s whimsical gem carvings, but any serious study of Fabergé was discouraged in Russia because of the jeweler’s connection with the last czar, for whom he made countless precious objects. So Tulupov scrutinized Fabergé pictures in secret (at the height of the Cold War, a few Christie’s and Sotheby’s catalogs and Fabergé texts quietly circulated among enthusiasts in St. Petersburg).

Rough-Hewn to Polished

Tulupov also took some art courses covering jewelry and objets d’art as part of his 10 years of study of architecture and interior design. Eventually, he made and sold jewelry in some galleries. But he felt limited by the lack of three-dimensionality in the gems he worked with. By 1984, he had decided to teach himself to carve gems. But he faced two serious obstacles:

  • Russia had no formal training for gem lapidaries and few books on the subject. He did find a Russian translation of John Sinkankas’ book Gem Cutting: A Lapidary’s Manual. “Here was a book telling how to do it and showing the details in beautiful, clear pictures,” he recalls.
  • No tools or cutting machinery were available. Instead, Tulupov and a friend engineered their own machines by looking at Sinkankas’ book or magazines such as Lapidary Journal. “If I could not devise a solution to a challenging engineering problem, he could,” Tulupov says. “There was nothing like this in Russia because no one cared about gem carving. So I started from scratch.”

After a few years of fine-tuning his technique and perfecting his tools, Tulupov found his carvings were being sold as Fabergé pieces. At that point, he knew some changes were in order.

Coming to America

In 1991 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service recognized Tulupov’s artistic ability and allowed him to move to New York City. In 1995, he presented a tribute to Fabergé at a Soho Art Gallery. The exhibit showed Fabergé’s influence on Tulupov as well as the distinctions between the two men’s styles. “The pieces had a more contemporary sense and superior execution,” he says.

Tulupov’s delicacy in handling hard material such as jade and chalcedony often defies explanation. His carvings are bold and representational, but also flowing and seemingly liquid. He incorporates a proud countenance in his black jade representation of a frog, but also depicts every minor wart and pucker on its skin. He turns solid rock into a ribbon of extraordinarily fine, seemingly translucent fabric. You’re compelled to look – and look again.

Tulupov calls his realistic creations naturalistic and the more abstract carvings metaphorical. “But even the abstract pieces must have a critical balance of aesthetics, technical skill and expression,” he says.

Tulupov produces a half dozen exceptional pieces yearly, some requiring months of study and painstaking work. Customers for these pieces are mostly international. In addition to the elaborate carvings and jewelry, he works on commission and carves gems directed at the U.S. market.

  • Slava Tulupov, New York City; (212) 206-6106. His carvings are shown also at Korinsky Fine Jewelry Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; (505) 820-7756.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

“The Balance.” This snail has a Mojave blue chalcedony body with diamond eyes and a smoky quartz and gold wire shell. “The challenge was carving the delicate, long antennae without breaking the chalcedony,” says Slava Tulupov.
“Nighthawk.” Carved from black chalcedony. “Nighthawk is an example of my metaphorical carvings. It is a contrast of high polished details with matte textured surface.” “Frog.” The 2.25-in. frog was carved in black jade and has 18k gold and citrine eyes. “In this tribute to Fabergé, I finished the general shape in two days. The detail and skin texture – as well as polishing and personality – took several months.”

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications