Professional Jeweler Archive: Martial Faceting

July 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Martial Faceting

The philosophies of karate are put to use by one of North Americašs best gem cutters

David Brackna sizes up a piece of rough gem material as he would a worthy karate opponent: With utter respect but with an eye toward conquering it. Brackna – accomplished in martial arts, particularly karate, and consummate at faceting spectacular gemstones – says the two disciplines have a lot in common.

“The old master Samurai warriors were expected to be proficient at a variety of disciplines, like flower arranging, calligraphy and tea service,” he explains. “Doing these various things well helped these masters maintain an important spiritual balance.”

Brackna has been cutting gemstones for more than 25 years. He’s been involved in martial arts for more than 35 years, and it forms an important part of his cutting philosophy. “We warm up by doing 500-1,000 jumping jacks in a session. I kick and get kicked an average 1,000 times a week, but believe it or not, this enables me to clear my mind.” Karate, he says, improves his mental state by teaching him patience and concentration. Those virtues he turns toward cutting gems, a process that can be notoriously time-consuming and laborious, especially when he’s developing new cuts.

Black Belt in Quality

You’d have to be patient to cut a delicate mineral like cerrusite, which has a Mohs’ hardness rating of only 3.5. Brackna remembers cutting one of the world’s largest cerrusite samples that weighed 120+ carats when he finished. “The material had to be cold-dopped and water-soluble,” says Brackna. “That’s because cerrusite is heat-sensitive and can fall apart with even a small temperature change.” [Editor’s note: Dopping is a process that affixes a gem to a cutting arm on a faceting machine. Normally, it’s accomplished by using hot dopping wax]. Brackna has faceted several other rare gems as well, including petalite, kyanite, barite, sphalerite and anglesite. Many of Brackna’s faceted gems are featured in Joel Arem’s The Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones, 2nd Ed. (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York City, 1987).

Brackna says he prefers cutting gems everyone can enjoy, and among these he counts aquamarine, morganite, heliodor, tourmaline, spinel, peridot, corundum and quartz as his favorites.

These days, Brackna cuts only from rough material, though years ago he would “repair” native cuts. Brackna says he also likes to facet gems with traditional outlines because retailers and designers can better understand how they can use them. Brackna admits some gems can be more challenging to cut, particularly the abstract ones. “Innovative new cuts can be time-consuming and can take days to develop,” he says. “Getting frustrated or flustered does not work in cutting. Cutting takes patience, training and character.”

Quality is a Brackna trademark. If he doesn’t think a gem is perfect, it revisits the cutting wheel. There’s also no shortage of innovation at the Brackna studio. Brackna’s stones have won 15 prizes in almost all divisions of the American Gem Trade Association’s Cutting Edge Awards over the years.

Brackna’s influence in the field extends far beyond the physical act of faceting. Along with emerald dealer Ray Zajicek of Equatorian Imports, Dallas, TX, Brackna wrote the original proposal for the creation of the Cutting Edge Awards, a yearly competition that recognizes many new American cutters.


Gem-cutting talents also have caused Brackna to explore other frontiers. “If you can open your eyes and ears, you are influenced,” says Brackna, quoting from a Bob Dylan song. With that credo in mind, Brackna has gone on to create new gem carvings, holograms and optical inlays, all based on concepts in art, architecture and music.

The optical inlays are among his newest developments and have invariably turned heads because they are so different. To create optical inlays, Brackna essentially carves a cavity in a gemstone with a large culet and inlays opal affixed with a special glue. Later, the gem’s culet is recut so the inlay lies flush with the rest of the gem. But the real action is the view you have from above – looking down at the gem’s table and crown, you see the opal’s play of color radiated throughout the gem.

Data Collection to Master Cutter

In the early 1970s, Brackna collected data on air pollution as a technician for the U.S. government. He stayed active with his karate but started to moonlight by selling gems on the side for a friend. “These were gems cut on an Ultratech machine, and as such the quality of the cutting was fantastic,” he recalls. He got hooked on the notion of cutting gems to exacting standards to truly unlock their beauty. So he started taking basic lessons in faceting at Treasure of Pirates, a business in the Washington, DC, area.

Soon afterward, the government made a decision that changed Brackna’s destiny. A grant that paid for his position with the government was terminated. Brackna looks back with no regrets. “The decision was made for me,” he says. “A year later I was selling my own stones,” he recalls.

Brackna kiddingly says he thanks the government for the path his life has taken. “I was extremely lucky. How many people do you know who truly love what they do?”

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

This group of Brackna creations comprises (top arc, from left) a 32.64-ct. antique-cut aquamarine, 20.75-ct. trigon amethyst, 38.24-ct. kaleidoscope heliodor, 39.69-ct. antique cushion-cut aquamarine and 22.02-ct. flash-cut heliodor; (center arc, from left), 12.07-ct. round tourmaline, 13.14-ct. roulette heliodor, 13.64-ct. syncopated horizon tanzanite, 12.52-ct. fancy trillion amethyst and 7.54-ct. shield-cut tourmaline; (bottom, left and right) 4.98-ct. shield-cut peridot and 5.09-ct. fancy antique-cut peridot. Photo by Robert Weldon

Amethyst with an opal optical inlay.

David M. Brackna

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications