The bright, sparkling stones that nature yields in all their colourful glory are as fascinating as any other inexhaustible topic. Whereas people used to differentiate between precious and semi-precious stones, nowadays we only speak of precious stones. We asked jeweller Anton Heldwein – who also runs Vienna’s Pomellato store – why that is the case and how long it takes to transform a pile of gemstones into a piece of jewellery.
Green, blue, yellow, orange, red, pink, brown, turquoise: there is simply no end to the spectrum of their shades. Jeweller Anton Heldwein gets out a couple of boxes. At first sight, they look like the bead boxes that little girls use to make necklaces. So colourful, so glittery, so attractive that you immediately want to plunge your hands in amongst them. An entire box filled with nothing but red to pale pink tones: tourmaline, rarer, pink topaz, kunzite, morganite (pink beryl). A box of just orange to light yellow shades: yellow beryl, tourmaline, citrine, imperial topaz (rust brown). In blue: aquamarine, zircon, blue topaz, opal, blue moonstone, Paraíba tourmaline (which is a neon blue shade of turquoise), tanzanite (a bluish purple). In green, in violet. The stones are cut according to whether they have clouds, inclusions or fissures, and so that their colours can come into their own. Heldwein picks up a bluish red garnet cabochon. It has been hollowed out on the underside. Only when light shines on it does it become red. Had it not been hollowed out, it would be dark brown, almost black.
Playing puzzles with gemstones
When Heldwein designs a piece of jewellery, it’s a bit like doing a puzzle to find the answers to questions such as, “How and with which combinations will I achieve the best intensity? Which stones bring out the best in each other, which don’t? Sometimes it’s a very close call. One combination is overwhelming, while another seems pallid.” Twice a year the lapidary visits Heldwein, at which point the boxes of brightly coloured stones are topped up. Searching for a gemstone can be compared to the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. “When I search for a particular stone, that demands patience and endurance,” says Heldwein. Nature doesn’t deliver to order. Describing precisely what it is you’re looking for is a real challenge, because “you can’t communicate in colours, you can’t send a photo, you can’t use a colour chart; a stone either is the right shade or it isn’t.” That is, in the truest sense of the word, a matter of perspective.
Gemstones like beautiful women
Heldwein lies a necklace that sparkles in every imaginable colour on the table. It is a magnificent specimen, like a brushstroke through shades of yellow, green and red. There is row upon row of stones, your eyes are drawn along the colour gradations, stopping here and there to admire one stone or another. It’s like admiring a landscape. Places where the glow is particularly intensive alternate with areas where your eyes have the opportunity to relax. It took him one and a half years to find the perfect array and arrangement of stones for this piece. The necklace unites various shades of tourmaline with tanzanite, citrine, diamonds and beryl. Semi-precious stones and precious stones. “Please delete the word ‘semi-precious stone’ from your vocabulary,” says Heldwein, as if he were personally offended by the term. They are all precious stones – other accepted terms are gemstones or coloured stones. A finest-quality kunzite and a “lousy” emerald – why should the emerald be higher quality? As a designer, for Heldwein “the name of the stone is not important: it should fill me with enthusiasm, should have that je ne sais quoi. Just like a beautiful woman.”