Professional Jeweler Archive: Optical Collusion

August 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Optical Collusion

This award-winning lapidary artist sets up a design and then lets the gemstone's optics complete the work

Arthur Anderson’s peers often call him America’s most creative cutter – a high honor. Anyone looking through the table of one of his holographic gemstones understands why. You are transported through that table facet into a mesmerizing three-dimensional world of never-ending patterns or lines reminiscent of Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s famous sketches.

“The effect of my gemstones on people who look at them is the same whether they are seven years old or 70,” Anderson says. “Wonder and delight is the universal response these gems receive. In fact, I get excited too. The sense I have when I complete a new gemstone is the same I had with the first gem I ever fashioned years ago.”

A Shelf Full of Ideas

Gem materials always interested Anderson. He recalls the pivotal moment in the late 1970s when he traveled around the world looking for his muse. “In Afghanistan, someone showed me a fantastic emerald from the Panjshir valley, and my interest in the beauty and possibility of gemstones really began in earnest.” Back in the U.S., Anderson took a class on cabochon cutting from a geology instructor. Upon examining his first completed agate cabochon, he was hooked. “It was an epiphany,” he recalls. “I got this realization all through my body that gem art is what I am supposed to do in life.”

Obsession set in. “I started reading everything I could get my hands on and gathering faceting equipment,” he says. A house-painting job landed him an old rickety gem-cutting machine in exchange. It was like an ancient jamb-peg machine without the notched gears found in newer precision cutting machines, so Anderson had to look at where facets were being placed on the stone and imagine how they would look. It was from that rickety machine Anderson’s hallmarks were born. These include open table facets and elegantly curved facets that can be done only by the precise coordination of eye and hand pressure. Anderson’s natural, freehand pulse combined with today’s high-precision cutting machines result in gems with unequaled symmetry and reflections that create illusions of infinity. “In my designs, what you look at is actually half to three-quarters a creation of optics,” he says. His perfectly balanced facet designs create optical illusions.

Anderson brims with ideas, an attribute he describes as his greatest strength. He says these new concepts come to him in meditative moments, such as when he’s driving. “Long-distance driving is like being in an altered state of consciousness,” he explains. “Every time I’m on the road, I come up with a whole lot of gemstone designs. I joke with my family that I will be creating the I-95 series of gems next.” While Anderson has not compiled a master book of sketches of these ideas, he says they slosh about in his head until they are ready to come out. “I sometimes frantically sketch a design on the dashboard pad while I’m driving,” he admits. So far he has not combined this creative genius with an accident.

Cast in Stone

It was an accident, however, that accelerated his gem artistry considerably, and one that he says turned out to be quite fortuitous. On a house-painting project in 1990, Anderson toppled off 25-ft. scaffolding and broke both of his ankles. While bedridden in casts, he says, “I saw that as an opportunity to learn some of the most time-consuming techniques possible, such as intarsia and carving of large objects,” he says.

Compulsory immobility also forced him to grapple with the meaning of what he was creating with gemstones. “I’m designing for the subconscious,” he says. “There is something intrinsic and primal about stone, and people connect to geometric shapes.” As an exercise, Anderson decided to write an introspective article about his holographic cuts and (just for the fun of being rejected) submit it to Gemological Institute of America’s prestigious quarterly journal, Gems & Gemology. The folks at GIA took the article seriously and published it in the 1991 winter issue.

Anderson has fashioned gems from most species but is best known for his work with amethyst, citrine, most forms of beryl, opal, tourmaline and obsidian. His alabaster and intarsia sculptures are designed to be lifelike and are created painstakingly with specially designed tools he creates. Among his best-known gem intarsia sculptures are his continuing series of ancient Minoan goddesses, which he says have evolved in step with his own talents as a gem artist. At the Tucson gem and mineral fairs this year, Anderson’s fourth statue in the series, Leigha, was stolen from his booth at the GJX Show (Professional Jeweler, April 2000, p. 37).

The theft hasn’t deterred Anderson, who has begun to work on the fifth of nine statues he hopes to complete in the series.

Anderson’s ideas, translated into beautiful gems, have put him on the map. He has won 12 Cutting Edge Awards from the American Gem Trade Association and, in 1997, became only the second American cutter to win first place at the prestigious German Award for Jewellery and Precious Stones competition in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.

• Arthur Anderson, Alexandria, VA; (540) 834-4195,

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Anderson uses the natural color zoning patterns in this 30.76-ct. Bolivian ametrine to create an interlocking pattern. He used carving, lathe turning and faceting to create the effect. Photo by Robert Weldon.
These feathered cuts in a 33.32-ct. lemon citrine, 30.56-ct. orange citrine, and 24.77-ct. aquamarine are new creations. The feathered effects are visible near the gems’ points where color is concentrated. Photo by Robert Weldon.
Arthur Anderson’s holographic cuts depend on careful symmetry and the precise placement of geometric facets. Optical reflections finish the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality. Pictured here, a suite of Nigerian tourmaline. Photos by Robert Weldon.
Arthur Anderson and his sculpture of the ancient Minoan goddess Leigha. Photo by Harold and Erica Van Pelt.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications