Piece by Anthony DeMarco – Forbes Contributor
Gem carving is a craft that takes most people decades to perfect. Somehow, Naomi Sarna has become a world-class gem carver in about five years. Her carvings and jewelry made from her gems and pearls have won numerous Spectrum Awards, considered by many to be the most respected and prestigious creative awards for the jewelry design industry.
This year alone, she took honors in the competition sponsored by the American Gem Trade Association for “Best Use of Pearls,” for an 18k rose gold necklace with white cultured pearls accented with pink diamonds; Platinum Honors for Men’s Wear for her “His and His” rings featuring brown natural diamonds; and First Place for Gem Carving for her “Rose de France” 1,015-carat amethyst carving.
Sarna became successful enough in other businesses to have the financial freedom to dive full-time into gem carving and jewelry design. This and her longtime love of art and design is what she credits for her fast rise. As an art student she said she was fascinated by drapery in classical sculpture and Renaissance painting.
“I like to incorporate this love of the flow of fabric into my gem carvings and set pieces,” she said. “I think of my pieces as more than sculpture; the carving of the gem is only one part of the vision. The gem in its setting must also be in balance because there is a harmony between the jewel and the wearer. I enjoy the challenge of finding that balance and harmony.”
Sarna treats her pearl jewelry differently. Whether using natural or cultured pearls, she will leave them in their original shape, although she often uses unusual-shaped pearls.
Her work has taken her to many places including Tanzania, where she teaches the local Maasai people how to make jewelry. She does this in collaboration with TanzaniteOne, the largest and only commercial company that mines Tanzanite from the world’s only known source of the precious gem. Other mines in this region are set aside for artisanal miners from the local area.
Her first time there she gave them 30 pliers so they create jewelry with wire. “I held them (the pliers) up and asked does anybody know what these are? They have never seen pliers before. I taught them how to do this. I knew they would be able to do it because they do fantastic bead work so I knew they would be able pick this up very quickly.”
She adds, “It was love at first sight.”
On her return trips she bought basic items like pencils and sunglasses.
One of her Tanzanite carvings, the 275-carat “L’Heure Bleu” mounted on a silver base serves as a special fundraiser for the Maasai. The cost of the piece includes a trip for four to Tanzania.
“The mine gave me this crystal to carve and the sale of this crystal, which is pretty expensive, will include a trip for four people to Tanzania, go to a wonderful safari, and they’ll also get to meet the Maasai ladies and their families and go down to the mine. Most importantly, it will benefit people who are impoverished.”
Sarna works with a variety of gems but some of her other favorites includes opal and topaz.
Her brooches and rings are designed to fit properly so when they settle into place, it has the proper appearance.
“You know how rings flop over to the side,” she said. “Mine are designed to go over to the side right away. The way I designed the shank it has to go over this way. It becomes a part of your hand.”