Every year, fine jewelry designers, manufacturers and lapidary artists submit their colored gemstone and pearl jewelry designs plus ingeniously carved or faceted gemstones; objets d’art for competition in the American Gem Trade Association AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards™. The 2022 awards showcased a rich and colorfully varied array of creations, which this writer had the opportunity to view in the Dallas, Texas Arkenstone Gallery of Fine Minerals, which is open by appointment only. According to AGTA CEO John Ford. “While there were a number of first-time and multi-award winners this year, the artistic and technical accomplishments of all entrants impressed all the judges with their choice colored gemstones and pearls, design originality and creative excellence.”
Having been formed in 1981, the AGTA is based in Dallas, Texas and refers to itself as “The Authority in Color” and is a not‐for‐profit association serving the U.S. and Canadian natural colored gemstone and cultured pearl industries. Members include colored gemstone and pearl dealers, jewelry designers and manufacturers. The Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards™ which have existed since 1984, remain an important annual competition for the North American jewelry industry, and for the global jewelry business. Along with honoring artistic innovation, the awards recognize technical finesse, conceptual ingenuity, trend-setting originality and also help ignite design trends when the winning designs are publicized through jewelry trade media. What’s more, because the AGTA Cutting Edge Awards™ honor excellence and creativity in lapidary arts, including natural colored gemstones and cultured pearls, carvings and other gem materials, these influence the style and substance of jewelry as well as table top and home accessories. Given the reach of Internet imagery and social media, AGTA influence spans the globe, and with high speed.
Founded by colored gemstone and pearl purveyors committed to such business practices as fully disclosing all treatments and other evidence-based information, “The AGTA championed ethical and sustainable practices four decades before such issues entered mass consciousness,” Ford noted in a face-to-face interview.
While AGTA has always referred to itself as the Authority In Color, Ford explained that, “Enhancing our trade by defining sustainable and ethical business practices for our members, and requiring that they commit to them, lives at the heart of AGTA’s mission.” Indeed, the AGTA Code of Ethics And Principles of Fair Business Practice, created over 40 years ago, is a nine-page document that defines how the organization’s members should represent their products to protect the trade’s reputation, with the goal of informing and assuring jewelry-loving consumers about the origins, nature and artistic value of the creations they are buying.
While the number of Spectrum & Cutting Edge entries totaled about 10% more than in 2021, notable gem trends and gem cutting tendencies among entries included abundant and skillful use of richly hued tourmalines and spinel in yellow, white and rose gold jewelry, step-cut gemstones and 18-karat yellow gold and higher karat yellow gold jewelry designs. A prismatic spectrum of colored sapphires animated many designs for ALL categories, yet kornerupine and dumortierite were among the most unusually beautiful and rare gemstones animating the finished jewelry and gem cutting entries. In the Spectrum division, jewels in the Evening Wear and Bridal Wear categories were executed largely in platinum and yellow gold, while loose gems in Cutting Edge ranged from a sparkling suite of Portuguese-cut zircons to a pair of fabulously faceted, bubble-cut amethysts.
“Telephoning the award winners was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had with AGTA,” said Kimberly Collins, owner of Kimberly Collins Colored Gems and president of the AGTA board of directors. “More than a few people wept tears of joy, excitement and artistic fulfillment.” According to Ford, who became CEO of AGTA in the summer of 2022, “Winning a Spectrum or Cutting Edge Award brings one’s work to the attention of many, and it can help enhance one’s business. I’ve won 10,” he related, “so I know firsthand how the recognition it brings can positively influence one’s evolution and stature in the industry.” Having dealt in Australian Lightning Ridge opals for 16 years, Ford pioneered ethical business practices by supplying his clients with mining claim numbers and other primary documentation. (This writer knows from having attended many an AGTA GemFair™ in Tucson, Arizona that the Lightning Ridge Collection by John Ford was one of the gem sources behind many a leading luxury jewelry brand.)
The Spectrum Awards are judged by a panel of North American jewelry industry leaders who are masters of their respective realms; many of them are internationally recognized for their creations. This year’s judging panel included Susan Harrison of Jewelry Emporium in Fort Collins, CO. and the multiple AGTA award winning artist, gem cutter, metalsmith, and gemologist Derek Katzenbach of Farmington, Maine-based Katzenbach Design. Along with Mark Patterson, jeweler and co-owner of Mark Patterson Fine Jewelry in Corona del Mar, California, Carter Malouf, of Carter Malouf Private Jeweler in Dallas, Texas and jewelry designer Sharon Khazzam of Great Neck, New York’s Sharon Khazzam Studio also weighed in. As Khazzam wrote in an email, “It was truly a pleasure, an honor and a delight to participate in these awards and meet with AGTA in person” after the past two years of working in COVID-imposed isolation.
Among the award recipients, Ian Delucca and Khobe Delucca were double award winners with their 18-karat yellow gold and ruthenium plated art deco-style ring, which features a 4.84 ct. blue emerald-cut tourmaline accented with round tourmalines (.38 ctw.) and diamonds (.42 ctw.) Taking home third place in the Classical category, the ring also captivated jewelry media members who lauded it as the first place design in the Editor’s Choice Spectrum award.
As for the winner in Best of Show for Cutting Edge, Dalan Hargrave of GemStarz Jewelry created an intricately beautiful and poetic 210.55 ct. ballerina carving in green beryl. Claiming first place in Best Use of Color was Robert Galustian, of Robert Guild Jewelry Corp. His 18-karat blonde gold QEII earrings featuring 2 cushion-cut mint green tourmalines (21.54 ctw.) accented with 2 matching pair keystone-cut yellow sapphires, calf-cut kornerupines, 72 round amethysts, 66 round diamonds and 6 marquise-cut green tourmalines wowed with their design, material richness and technical excellence. In the Best Use of Pearl category, Laurie Reid of LFR Studios with her 22-karat yellow gold ring featuring a 13.2 mm cultured Golden South Sea Pearl scored first place.
Winners of the 2022 AGTA Cutting Edge Awards™ for Classic Gemstones were Joseph Ambalu of Amba Gem Corp., for his 4.43 ct., no oil emerald-cut Colombian emerald. Jeffrey Bilgore of Jeffrey Bilgore, LLC took second place with his 28.45 ct. natural emerald-cut blue Ceylon sapphire. Also in the Classic Gemstone category, third place went to John Bachman, of John M. Bachman, Inc., with his 25.28 ct. cushion-cut natural yellow sapphire. As John Ford noted, “Our AGTA team is intent on growing the competition so that the organization can continue celebrating and awarding the work of well-deserving jewelers and cutters and imparting information to the jewelry industry about best ethical and sustainable gemstone and pearl business practices. Many of this year’s winning pieces,” he concluded, “will be on display during AGTA GemFair™ in Tucson, from January 31st through February 5, 2023.”