Mary Rafferty became intrigued with the idea of cutting gemstones as a child. It took a couple decades before she finally had the opportunity to purchase a faceting machine in the 1980s. Unlike the coursework from the Gemological Institute of America to earn Graduate Gemologist certificate, learning to facet was a self-taught process. She has focused on natural gemstones such as garnet, tourmaline and beryl that would be suitable for jewelry. Initially she was attracted to trying the many patterns published faceting diagrams for her stones. That quickly gave way to less standard approaches including use of concave facets to create “one-of-a-kind” gems.
Mary lives with her husband of forty plus years in their home located along the California Central Coast in rural San Luis Obispo County. When not faceting, she can often be found working in her garden.
It started as a child collecting shiny objects (rocks) and imagination most likely inspired by the gem mine in Disney’s Snow White.
If there was any chance of losing interest, that ended with the trip to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. I don’t recall seeing any dinosaur fossils that day. The Egyptian mummy was yucky looking. There were lots of dioramas with stuffed animals. Then we got to the hall of minerals — and I was awed. There were all sorts of examples of the precious metals, crystals and gems. And a display of fluorescent materials of that seemed magical. (This was some years before the psychedelic trends in the late 1960’s when black light posters were commonplace.) I could have stayed there for hours.
Before we left, in an unusual pattern for us, Dad allowed me to get a souvenir — a piece of rose quartz– which I still have. (Only it is now in two pieces.) That may also be where I got the paperback “Golden Nature Guide on Rocks and Minerals” — and my introduction to faceting. It was only a couple of pages, but it sounded like fun to the ten year old.
Rock collecting was a very uncool hobby for a girl in those years. When the family moved to a new home, many of the rocks did not come with us. However, a few items did survive in the disguise of fish tank ornaments. Subsequently some even made the cross country trip with me a few years after graduating from college when I moved from the east coast to California. There I was lucky enough to have a good job doing software applications in the area that was to become known as “Silicon Valley”. That allowed me to pursue long time interests such as gardening and eventually the interest in “rock collecting” began to surface again. Only this time the rocks were a lot smaller shiny objects — gemstones.
Of course, after I had accumulated a few gems, I began to think about having them mounted in jewelry. I had the great fortune to connect with a very talented San Francisco based metalsmith. He responded positively to my interest in gemstones and jewelry and when I started taking the Gemological Institute of America home study classes, he encouraged my studies. During visits to the store for one of my projects, he and his partner would show me unusual or exceptional material that they had. There were also the sneak peaks at some of the other, much bigger, in-process projects they were doing. A couple of these later showed up as a cover photo on the GIA quarterly magazine. I learned a lot about gems, jewelry and art while I was having my own piece created there.
Eventually I passed the exams needed for their Graduate Gemologist certification. But while I was working on that, the two pages on faceting in the old nature guide paperback were still on my mind. One January I went to the Faceters Fair held at the nearby Santa Clara County fairgrounds and had the opportunity to see the various manufacturers’ machines first hand. It looked a little intimidating – but not that much more than my sewing machine – just messier.
A short time later I decided on a Fac-Ette GemMaster and set off on another learning adventure. Like learning to sew, it took practice to get it right. When I was learning to sew, my grandmother sat next to me ripping out the crooked seams for me to redo again and again until they were straight. With faceting I had only a few books for guidance. I did not keep count of the early mistakes, stones that popped off the dop or were simply poorly done. It took quite a few practice stones to get acceptable results. As I struggled, I imagined my grandmother encouraging me to get each little step right before moving on. Eventually I started being able to cut my very own shiny objects.
Most of my early faceting was done attempting to follow the directions in the Vargas “Diagrams for Faceting” volumes. The smoky and clear quartz that was purchased for learning ended up being ignored for more interesting materials — garnets, tourmaline, topaz, peridot and spinel, for instance. Occasionally I cut something like andalusite, iolite or scapolite that is less commonly seen in jewelry.
As time went by and I purchased more expensive rough, I found the diagrams in the books did not work for getting a good yield from the rough. I started to adapt the pattern to the individual rough using the concepts learned from the books in new ways. With larger and less expensive rough such as amethyst and citrine, I experimented with shapes and facet patterns that were fun and unique. I’ve always been one who goes to the beat of the “different drummer” so of course my faceting would go along the same lines. Naturally, when I read about the introduction of machines to do concave facets I was intrigued. The result was that I purchased a Poly-Metric OMF and began another period of learning experiences.
By then we were living in a rural area along the California Central coast. My career was on the “mom track” and sales of stones along with some repair work for local jewelers provided some extra cash. Unfortunately, the rate was not even close to being at a living wage level, so when the opportunity arose, I began working in the growing Internet field. One thing led to another and I ended up with a more than full time job with a local Internet provider and the faceting machines spent over a dozen years collecting dust.
It took retirement and a few false starts over several years for things to click with faceting again. After that much time the machines needed maintenance. Only a couple of the rough dealers with whom I had done business in the past were still around as was also the case with the lapidary supply businesses. There were new types of laps for cutting and new polishing media but the traditional resource, Lapidary Journal had turned into a jewelry crafts magazine and all the others were long gone. But there were the Internet discussion groups – and it was yet another big learning curve to get somewhat current in the state of the art.
Except for some special requests, my faceting has been limited to natural rather than lab grown materials. While some faceters enjoy the challenges of cutting unusual / rare gem quality material or those with low hardness values, my interest is those materials that could be included in a piece of wearable art (AKA jewelry).
Currently I find I am cutting two different types of stones. The first type is my stock of assorted, mostly smaller rough that was accumulated before the hiatus. This group includes peridot, beryl, and a lot of garnets. These stones, because of size, end up as rounds, squares, trilliants and so forth cut with conventional flat facets. Of course, like most faceters, when given the chance, I cannot resist adding a few new parcels of rough, particularly some of the new garnets.
The other group I have been cutting recently includes citrine, amethyst, blue topaz and similar materials that are affordable in larger sizes and allow for “fun” cutting. These allow for fancy facet patterns, concave facets, and other non-standard elements to make a one-of-a-kind gem.