Professional Jeweler Archive: Mathematical Brilliance

April 2005

Merchandise | Gemstones

Mathematical Brilliance

Mark Gronlund's unique concave-faceted gems shimmer with brilliance and color

By Robert Weldon, G.G.

Once people acquire a Mark Gronlund creation, they never see gems the same way again. That’s the passionate assessment of retailers who carry Gronlund’s work. For example, Sharron Owens of Griner’s Jewelers, Winter Haven, FL, once got a call from a customer who was distressed she couldn’t attend a Gronlund trunk show at the store because she was having a medical emergency. A 10-year-old boy, meanwhile, spent the day poring over the treasures Gronlund brought to the show, peppering the gem artist with questions and threatening, er, suggesting he might come back the next day with more questions.

Large or small, male or female, young or old, consumers know a good thing when they see it.

Sheet Metal to Concave Gems

Gronlund’s signature concave-faceted gems have delighted consumers since he ventured into the field in the early 1990s. A few years before that, at age 30, he was at the top of his form as a unionized sheet metal worker in an industry where precision metalwork is recognized and rewarded. “But I was burned out and bored,” he says. A fellow worker who had visited a craft show suggested Gronlund try making jewelry because it also involves precise work, albeit with precious metals. “Working with raw sheet metal requires precision, but generally you’re OK if you’re within a quarter-inch tolerance,” he says. “I was precise to the point of splitting lines on tape measures, so the transition to making jewelry was easy. I studied and learned what I could about working with gold.”

As Gronlund began setting gemstones, he thought: “I could cut these too.” First he tried flat-facet, or traditional, cutting, but quickly lost interest. Then he read a Lapidary Journal profile of American cutter Richard Homer, who pioneered concave faceting. The technique and beauty that resulted from this type of faceting electrified Gronlund. He met with Homer, who, without divulging his trade secrets, did provide some basics of the gemstone business. “I began fooling around with concave gem cutting and loved it,” says Gronlund. “I’ve never looked back.” Among Homer’s important tips was the American Gem Trade Association’s annual Cutting Edge faceting competition, which Gronlund promptly decided to enter. “In 1996, before I’d even cut 100 stones, I entered three gems, and all three entries won,” he says. His 1997 and 1998 submissions to Cutting Edge won also, placing Gronlund squarely in the realm of America’s most talented lapidary artists.

Mathematical Precision

Customers see character and beauty in a Gronlund gem, say retailers. “They feel they’re buying something special – his gems have a depth you don’t normally see,” says Ron Lodholz, designer goldsmith and part-owner of Stonehaven Jewelry Gallery, Cary, NC. Sharron Owens agrees. “Customers who have bought a Gronlund gem always want to see any new item he’s working on,” she says. “They become collectors.” And what retailer wouldn’t appreciate the repeat business?

A Gronlund gem typically has uniform, pure color and uncharacteristic brilliance. Concave faceting, particularly in the gem’s pavilion, increases reflection and refraction because light waves reflect off of convex surfaces internally. He also places curved facets along the crown and table of some gems for even stronger brilliance and color. Owens says the first time she saw the intricate patterns and precisely interlocking facets, she decided Gronlund must be a “math whiz.”

Over the years, Gronlund adapted to meet jeweler’s needs. “Commercially, I stay away from scalloped outlines, which tend to scare jewelers and gem setters,” he says. “Instead, I focus on making gems with traditional outlines but with optics that set them apart.”

He also encourages designers to create jewelry with contrasting colored gems rather than using diamonds as accents. “I feel diamonds are an excuse to make a bad-looking gem look better,” he says. “Aquamarine and pink tourmaline look great together, as do tanzanite and yellow beryl, amethyst and citrine. When I create suites like this, they sell very quickly and profitably.”

Gronlund never cuts for weight retention. However, he shops carefully for rough, looking for material that will yield slightly bigger pavilions and crowns than normal.

Gronlund says retailers interested in selling gems like his should follow a few basic rules:

Embrace the revolution in gem cutting. Market well-cut gems as something special and distinctive.

Understand quality color. There’s a difference between a $50-per-carat tourmaline and a $500-per-carat tourmaline.

Invest in enough pieces to represent the category properly. One stone is not enough to make the point that your jewelry store is different. Five to six stones make a good beginning. Have some loose and some mounted stones.

It’s helpful to have a jeweler on the premises who has experience setting unusual colored gems.

Gourmet gem cutting requires its own showcase.

Understand and know the lapidary artist. Gronlund provides retailers with his biography and just unveiled a signed registry card that accompanies his gems.

Understand who buys lapidary arts. Aside from the young enthusiast at the beginning of the story, most customers are 40-60 years old and want something different. They tend to be more affluent, well-traveled, educated and art collectors. Most are women, but men with technical or analytical minds are captivated by the symmetry and optics of the gem.

While Gronlund appreciates the attention his gems have attracted, he is quick to remind admirers that it’s all about the gems. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world – I’ve been given a gift to work with the most beautiful creations that come out of the earth,” he says. “Love goes into what I do; that’s what drives me.”

Mark Gronlund, G.G., Umatilla, FL; (352) 771-8925.
“The Erupting Volcano,” a 24.64-ct. fancy hexagon citrine, is an American Gem Trade Association Cutting Edge winner.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

This Gronlund rainbow (from left) comprises a 4.36-ct. yellow beryl, 5.51-ct. Madeira citrine, 7.97-ct. pink tourmaline, 6.99-ct. blue-green tourmaline, 8.87-ct. peridot and 8.18-ct. aquamarine.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Concave facets in the pavilion, crown and table jazz up the traditional outline of this 13.96-ct. light green tourmaline.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Gronlund’s handcrafted gold jewelry is designed to showcase the gemstones he cuts. He espouses the idea of setting contrasting colored gems together.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

The matched square cushion/concave starburst cut yellow beryls weigh 4.36 and 4.26 carats. The matched pair of triangular cushion/concave starburst cut peridots weigh 7.16 and 7.06 carats.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications