Bernd Munsteiner won his first gold medal in 1969 when he was just 26 years old. It would prove to be the first of many awards won both in his native Germany as well as internationally. His revolutionary style of gemstone cutting, known as ‘fantasy cut’, brought something new and startlingly beautiful to the lapidary world.
Until this point lapidaries had been primarily concerned with maximising the beauty of a gem in a traditional sense whilst simultaneously maintaining as much carat weight as possible. By freeing himself of this concern Bernd experimented with cutting shapes and facets into the back of gemstones in order to release the potential beauty of each individual gem as he saw it.
He started his training as a precious stone cutter when he was fourteen before going on to study at the design school in Pforzheim from 1962-66. Seven years later he set up the Atelier Munsteiner in Stipshausen (close to the famous gemstone centre of Idar-Oberstein) from where he designed and sold his gems and jewellery. His stones were often highly irregular in shape with asymmetric patterns and seemingly random designs. Despite this unconventional approach, Munsteiner gradually earned himself a wide and appreciative audience along with widespread international acclaim. His work found its way into galleries and museums and he was granted honorary membership to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London as well as the American Gem Trade Association.
Amongst his clients was the celebrated London jewellery designer Andrew Grima who appreciated Bernd’s skill and vision when it came to cutting original and unusual gems. His work would prove an inspiration to other lapidaries such as John Dyer and Michael Dyber and even to his own son. Tom Munsteiner followed in his father’s footsteps and joined him in the business in 1997 after years of training and now creates equally striking designs in stones such as aquamarine, citrine and tourmaline. Like his father he has won multiple awards for his work as has his wife Jutta who works alongside him designing and making jewellery.
Probably the most famous Munsteiner creation is the Dom Pedro aquamarine which resides in the Smithsonian Museum’s National Gem Collection Gallery in Washington D.C. Weighing in at 10,363 carats it is the largest faceted gem-quality aquamarine in the world, a spectacular obelisk standing 35cm tall and carved from behind with a series of elongated intersecting lozenge shapes that bring the piece beautifully to life. Bernd Munsteiner described his first impression of the original rough crystal as “love at first sight” which is just as well as he would go on to spend four months studying it and drawing up multiple different designs followed by a further six months of cutting, faceting and polishing before the finished piece was finally unveiled in 1993 at the Basel gem fair.
The Munsteiner atelier is still in Stipshausen and now run by Bernd’s son Tom along with his wife Jutta, a jewellery designer. The family exhibits at several fairs and exhibitions around the world, introducing an ever increasing clientele to their wonderful gemstone art and stylish jewellery.