The Lapidary

Both Phill and Ty have a deep and abiding fondness for stone. Perhaps it comes from bearing the name 'Mason'...

Phill first joined a lapidary club - the Parramatta Lapidary Club - in 1965, and has been a member of such a club ever since. He remembers in those early days of easy pickings, club members driving direct from Agate Creek, Far North Queensland, back down to Sydney towing a trailer overloaded with world-class agates, directly to the club rooms in time for the monthly meeting, just to awe everyone. And it was awesome in those days when fine stones could be picked from the surface of the earth without digging...

Phill casting harsh shadows, deep digging at Agate Creek, Queensland, 2004

Agate Creek has been visited by Phill and Ty since, but it now involves deep digging in the tropical heat.

Petrifactions attract Ty more than agates. He collects the rare petrified manferns (Osmandacaulis) that occur in Southern Tasmania at Lune River. In contrast to the conditions at Agate Creek, digging manfern can be muddy, wet and cold.

Phill retrieves a chunk of petrified wood from Lune River, Tasmania.

Travelling overseas every year, Phill has seized opportunities to source interesting stone, and maintains a stockpile or rough which varies from opal to chrysoprase, and about a ton of his first lapidary love - agate.

Finessing the cutting of stone, and innovation in its setting,  is a pursuit of Masons. Rather than simply cutting cabochons - smooth, round-topped shapes - Phill prefers tablets and columns; and Ty prefers stone-carving. Ty was awarded third prize in the international Opal Jewellery Design Awards, 2002, held at Lightning Ridge every two years, for an innovative opal carving and setting.

'Charging the Storm': Ty's articulated opal carving brooch.

Links of Interest

At the Bench


Because Phill and Ty work before the public, they must restrict their use of machinery, and largely confine their efforts to working by hand at the bench. Fortunately, this suits their interest, which is hand-fabrication, rather than mass production; so, very little use of machinery is called for, anyway.

               

Phill fabricating at the bench, 1994, before apprenticing son, Tyrus.

The workshop is small and tightly organised, like a refined kitchen, with the wet area, the dust-extracted polisher, and the acid bath all within easy reach, and set before the shop window which separates the workshop from the public. This layout allows viewers to easily follow each stage of the making of a piece, without being able to interrupt the process.

Phill and Ty have a policy of not interacting with the spectators, who are standing facing them, only a meter or two away on the other side of the glass. Rather, they concentrate on the job at hand, absorbed in the process. Once someone has entered the display area, then they are able to engage with them from the side of the workshop.

Apart from the sounds of filing or sawing, or the quiet hiss of the oxy-propane torch during gold soldering, the background is radio music from ABC's Classic FM.

Frequently, however, the peace is broken by laughter and banter between Phill and Ty, as they exercise their keen appreciation of the absurd...

Away from the Bench


Heavier, hotter, or dirtier work than is advisable to perform before the public, is undertaken at workshops away from the studio. This will include tasks as varied as pouring ingots from crucibles, through to swaging or raising hollow-ware, to lapidary processes.

Teaching sometimes takes both Phill and Ty to other benches. Because Phill is a qualified gemmologist, being a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Australia, he teaches gemmology under the auspices of the Association on occasion. He also taught jewellery design and fabrication in the Hobart College of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) for five years in the late 'eighties.

Tyrus taught silversmithing for a similar period at the Hobart Lapidary Association.

Benchmarks...


A sometimes overlooked reason to be away from the bench is the need to refresh the soul. Often this takes the form of fossicking in the bush and digging agates or the rare petrified manfern of Tasmania. In the summer it is a ritual to seive for sapphires in the abandoned tin mining areas of the North East.

This January (2006, Southern Hemisphere Summer) Tyrus found a sapphire of over 6 carats worth cutting; his biggest yet. [Phill faceted the best sapphire that he has found so far, and Ty set it in a ring he made, for a jointly-given birthday present to daughter/sister Bronte.]

The need to get away and 'wash the eyes' sometimes requires an even bigger break. At such times may be needed a visit to Antarctica; or to seek out an active volcano in Java; or simply to go SCUBA diving in the Great Barrier Reef...

              

Phill passes an enourmous caverned iceberg on the way to Antarctica aboard the 'Icebird', 1993

Faceting the Stones

Phill facets all the major stones used in Masons studio jewellery. This is considered unusual for a goldsmith to do, and has several advantages, which give leverage to the pieces Masons make, compared to other makers.

Firstly, the scarcer gem rough can be sourced and imported directly from the mine. This allows Masons to sidestep the usual fare offered by wholesalers to jewellers. Phill travels overseas annually to maintain contacts, and then regularly imports such seldom seen stones as colour-change and green garnets, and blue tourmalines, or even more common stones of uncommon clarity, including facetable moonstone and opal.

The second advantage of Phill faceting the stones is that the larger sizes can more frequently be gleaned, and more economically, in the rough, than already cut.

   

20 carat green garnet rough, dopped ready for cutting 

Thirdly, more satisfying cutting designs can be used. Even with the traditional cuts, the number of facets can be maximised, increasing scintillation; whereas many professional cutters cut only the minimum number of facets, and still consider the job done...

            

The 5.85 carat gem cut from the above rough, and set as a ring.                             

Moreover, new cutting styles can be employed, producing gems which, for instance, show the appearance of checkers in the stone, or other visual illusions.

And, best of all, stones can be cut in Masons own designs. Phill has developed new styles of cutting, using computer aided design (CAD), resulting, for example, in the Quilt Cut Designs and the Cupola Designs

 

One of Phill's 'Cupola' facetting designs, developed 2004

Phill uses an Imahashi faceting machine, and has two: one in the Studio, and another at home. Such is the accuracy of these machines, that Phill can commence a stone at the Studio, take the faceting head home, and finish the stone on that machine...

In the Studio, Phill facets right in the exhibition area, amidst the public browsing through the display. People love to watch, and are generally somewhat awed into respectful observance by the obvious concentration needed. And it's great to share the creative process... 

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