By Jacquie De Almeida
Lisa Elser is going to Washington. Well, at least her award-winning 14.24-carat red tourmaline is.
The Vancouver-based cutter—one half of Custom Cut Gems—placed third at the 2013 American Gem Trade Association’s (AGTA’s) Cutting Edge Awards in the ‘All Other Faceted’ category. And now the oval-cut stone is heading south of the border to be added to the Smithsonian’s permanent gem and mineral collection.
It’s a milestone in a career that almost didn’t happen, given Elser spent 25 years working in IT for companies like Bell Laboratories, NCR, and Sun Microsystems.
Trained as a cutter in Switzerland, Elser spent several years cutting as a hobby before leaving the IT world behind and starting up Custom Cut Gems with her husband, C. Tom Schlegel. The couple specializes in one-of-a-kind gemstones, and travel to buy rough at the source, donating part of their profits to support economic development in gem-producing countries.
A research mathematician, Schlegel designed a cut specifically for the Nigerian tourmaline. “Two years ago, I was offered the chance to buy a collection of rough material from a friend who was retiring,” Elser says. “Among the amazing stones was a partially preformed rubellite tourmaline that I loved as soon as I saw it. The piece was 49 carats and roughly oval-shaped, but shallower than I would have liked.”
Regulars among the Spectrum Awards competition scene, Elser and Schlegel collaborate every year on a design for a particular gem.
“This was clearly our choice for this year, so Tom designed and I prototyped a number of options to get the best return and best performance,” says Elser of the tourmaline.
“It finished at 14.24 carats and is bright red. The apex design maximized performance and gave us a unique cut.”
So what does Elser think about her work becoming part of a collection that includes more than 10,000 gems, 350,000 mineral specimens, and the likes of the Hope Diamond and the Dom Pedro Aquamarine?
“Winning my first Spectrum Award was a huge honour, and then having the piece accepted into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian is beyond what we could have imagined. Tom and I are thrilled to see this gem in the permanent collection.”