To the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society: A Love Letter

Originally Published in the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society Newsletter, November 2017

I first discovered gemstones after I moved to San Francisco. I was taken to a gem show in the Bay Area and was immediately intrigued. What was this strange new world full of colorful stones and equally colorful people from around the world? I wanted to go deeper.

I knew almost immediately that I wanted to learn to cut stones. I wanted to know how people were doing all the artistic and creative designs with natural materials. I searched online to see if there was a class in San Francisco and discovered the SFGMS. Suddenly, attending the meetings and fulfilling all the requirements to join the club became a race against the clock because I wanted to learn to cut before I went to Tucson so I would have an idea of what I needed to buy as cutting rough. Luckily everything worked out, and I became a club member in early January. The first stone I ever cut was asmall piece of jade that became a cabochon. I went to Tucson, my second visit, and bought lots of nice lapidary material that I spent the next few years cutting as I learned more and more at the club.

I made friends, I attended First Friday lectures, went on mining trips, sold some of my rough and cut stones at the club garage sales and generally had a great time being a club member. Living in the Sunset suddenly had an extra bonus of being only 10 minutes from the club so I could do some cutting almost everyday before work.

My passion was growing along with my cutting skills. Still, I wanted to know more, and I started thinking about proper schooling. I was learning a lot from club members and books, but I could feel my brain yearning for more and also I had this idea that I might change jobs and enter the business world of

I left San Francisco for a summer to work on another project and when I came back, I found that my name had come to the top of Harry’s wait list for the faceting class. Faceting was something I knew I wanted to do, and after I took one class at the club, I knew it was for me. I bought a used faceting machine on eBay within a few weeks of my first class, and I was hooked. To this day, it has become my favorite creative passion, and I don’t think I can live without it in my life anymore.

Still, the craving for knowledge was in me, and I paid my tuition to go to GIA for formal gemology training. I moved to Bangkok to save money on tuition and living expenses. Four years to the day after joining the SFGMS, I finished my Bangkok GIA classes and got a job offer in Bangkok and also the chance to go on a Field Gemology expedition with Vincent Pardieu. I couldn’t say no. I returned to the States for a few months to get my possessions and then returned to Bangkok in time for a month long trip through Cambodia and eastern Thailand, exploring Zircon, Ruby, and Sapphire mines.

The job I was offered didn’t work out, but I stayed in Bangkok, with my faceting machine, and tried to meet as many people as possible because I knew that Bangkok would eventually offer me what I was looking for. In the meantime, I continued to cut as many stones as possible to increase my skill and speed. I started dating a French stone cutter in Bangkok which created
an interesting dynamic at home with two faceting machines in the house.
In this jobless period, I started a very ambitious project — to write about about the different regional histories of colored gemstone faceting. The plan is to visit every region of the world where faceting exists and trace its roots and histories.

So far, I have started with Europe where faceting started and have been lucky enough to visit workshops and museums and meet faceters throughout Europe; Idar-Oberstein, Germany, Jura, France, and Geneva, Switzerland. My book will take me all over Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia before I return to the States to interview the top names in American faceting and see what the future holds for the art with concave faceting and light performance cuts.

When I returned from my journey through Europe, I found the job I was looking for. The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences was looking to start a faceting class at the same time that I was thinking about starting to teach basic faceting. They hired me, and I am now planning the class and sourcing machines for them while also preparing to teach some of their gemology classes.

Without the SFGMS, I couldn’t have done any of this. Without the club, I would have never learned to cut, and I would have never found this passion that fuels me. I would have never been able to play with a faceting machine to know if it was the thing for me. Without the SFGMS, I would have never found my love of gems and my love of the industry. Without the members of the club, I would have never known how friendly and nice rockhounds are. The SFGMS literally changed the course of my life ,and I wanted to let the club and its members know how grateful I am that it opened its doors to me and greeted me with such warm smiles.

When I joined the club, I knew almost nothing about stones and now almost five years later, I’m a gemology teacher in Bangkok with two faceting machines at home, a budding gem cutting business, and a faceting history book in the works.

Thank you for everything you have freely given. I look forward to paying that energy forward: I hope to start a lapidary club in Bangkok and help foster the sense of community among rockhounds and cutters that I saw in San Francisco.

I will forever be a student of Mother Earth and her gem babies and of course, the art and craft of gem cutting. The San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society gave me my first lessons, and I will never forget that. I look forward to returning to the club from my world adventures and present a First Friday talk about the history of gem cutting, a subject that I am quickly becoming very knowledgeable on.

Thank you again to the club and its lineage of incredible members.

About the Author

Justin K Prim is an American lapidary and gemologist living and working in Bangkok, Thailand. He has studied gemcutting traditions all over the world as well as attending gemology programs at GIA and AIGS. He is currently working on a book about the worldwide history of gemstone faceting. He works as a Lapidary Instructor for the Institute of Gem Trading as well as writing articles, producing videos, and giving talks about gem cutting history.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some of my other gemstone related articles: