Justin K Prim
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Justin K Prim

An Afternoon with London’s Oldest Gemcutters

Exploring British Lapidary Tradition with Charles Matthews Ltd.


I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with John and Peter of Chas Matthews Ltd in December of 2018. They were kind enough to let me come in and pick their brains for a few hours and take photos and videos of everything in their studio. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting cutters from such a distinctly different cutting generation than the one I came up in. Their ideas are old fashioned, yet time tested and it was very hard to leave when the time came. Their acquired wisdom oozed out with every story they told me and I wish I would have had time to absorb more. If I lived in London I would sign up to be their apprentice in an instant but sadly we live a world apart.

John and Peter. Photo by Justin K Prim

Charles Matthews Ltd.

Modern lapidary work brings innovative design and techniques that often dismiss traditional practices. Some of the finesse and purpose of those old practices may soon be forgotten and lost. Approaching retirement in the small shop of Chas Matthews Ltd. in Hatton Garden (London’s jewelry district), two artisans proficiently exercise their skill, side by side, each having earned the jewelry trade’s esteem and respect over the decades for their mastery.


Cutter Peter Rome. Photo by Al Gilbertson
The 19th Century Style Jamb-Peg Head Still in Use. Photo by Justin K Prim


Polisher John Taylor. Photo by Al Gilbertson
Polishing a Gemstone. Photo by Justin K Prim


Chas Matthews has had an interesting history–commencing the lapidary shop in 1894. Kashmir sapphire rough that came to the European market after its discovery in the 1880s often found its way into the hands of Charles Matthews and the firm cut many that were sold throughout Europe. By post-WWI, it was one of the most respected shops of its kind. Just as Bernard Oppenheimer, with the support and assistance of DeBeers, was tapped by the British government to begin a diamond cutting shop and train disabled British soldiers in post-WWI England, Matthews was also asked to begin a lapidary shop for returning disabled vets.

World War I Veterans turned Gemcutters.


For almost two years now, I’ve been traveling around the world trying to piece together the untold story of gemstone faceting. This experience has led me to meeting dozens of gem cutters in most of the historical cutting centers of Europe; London, Idar-Oberstein Germany, Paris, Jura France, Turnov Czech Republic, Antwerp, Geneva, as well as some of the important cutting centers of Southeast Asia. Almost everywhere I’ve gone, I have heard the same story: The new generation does not want to be gem cutters. Whether they lack the interest, the patience, the time investment, or whether jewelry has simply gone out of fashion and replaced by technological toys, it seems that the professional lapidary industry is quickly dying out, all around the world.



The collected written works of Justin K Prim : Travel Adventurer / Gemologist / Musician / Author of The Secret Teachings of Gemcutting

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Justin K Prim

Gentleman Lapidary / Faceting Historian / Author of The Secret Teachings of Gemcutting / www.justinkprim.com