Daniel and Cynthia Stair are the owners and gem cutters at Custom Gemstones and I have known them for many years, after first striking up a conversation when I was looking for my engagement ring stone. I recently reached out to Dan with a whole bunch of questions and he answered every single one! Something that I really love about their website is that they take before and after pictures and it’s fascinating to see how the rough turns out, and recently started posting video of every single stone that goes up on their website.
How much of the cutting do you each do?
I cut full-time and do one or two per day. Cindi works at the local hospital, so she only has time to cut a few stones each month.
What are your favorite stones to cut?
That’s a tough question. If I had to pick one, it would probably be natural sapphires. However, I really like tourmalines, spinels and garnets too. I tend to favor higher RI or more dispersive gemstones, regardless of the hardness of the stone or the fact that harder stones take a little longer to cut. They also last longer in jewelry, so that’s something I feel good about. I don’t like to hear that people have rings made and then the stones get all scuffed up.
Do you have a favorite shape you like to cut? Or a favorite cut design?
No. I don’t like cutting pears, but other than that, don’t really have a favorite. Variety is a good thing when it comes to cutting stones.
Do you typically cut more from diagrams or more by instinct?
Actually, I only use diagrams less than 10% of the time. I usually cut using a “style” such as step cutting as with emeralds or Asscher cuts, or brilliant cutting as with Portuguese, standard round brilliants, etc. I also do a lot of radiant or princess type cuts if the stone is shallowish, and scissors cuts if it’s deeper in shape. While I work, I figure it out as I go and make notes about the angles, index gear (rotational) settings, etc. as needed so I can remember what I did when I go back to prepolish, then polish the stone.
How did you get started cutting gems? What did each of you do before?
I was a photographer, writer and graphic designer for a large fishing lure manufacturer, and also did a lot of work for other area business and print shops when they needed full color printing done. Back in the early 1990’s, I was probably one of the very first people to successfully use a desktop color computer for production of things like catalogs, magazine ads, etc. Cindi was a housewife for many years and a gem collector. She started cutting stones about ten years ago. I started in 1998 if I remember correctly.
What’s your favorite type of customer?
I don’t really have a favorite type of customer other than maybe people working on engagement ring projects because it’s fun to be a part of that, or gemologists because it’s nice to work with someone who knows a lot about gemstones.
What’s the percentage split between commissions vs what you choose?
It’s gotten to be about 50/50. Right now, we’re backlogged about a month with other peoples stones to cut, but also have to keep the ebay store and regular website interesting. I try to cut one of my own, one for someone else, one of my own, etc.
I noticed that you added videos of your stones to each listing. What brought that on?
I was getting a lot of request for “more photos”, particularly from pricescope.com members. What they don’t realize is how much time that takes and often, they were more looking for reasons to not buy a stone than anything else. So, I decided to try videos because that shows so much more about how a stone looks in person that still photos alone. Since I started doing that, I have noticed a huge reduction in requests for additional pictures as well as a major decrease in how many people get stones in the mail then decide to return them because they aren’t exactly as expected. Neither the photos nor the videos are perfect, but between those and the written description, a person should be able to get a pretty thorough idea of what a stone will be like in person.
You seem to have gained quite the reputation in recent years for recutting less than perfect stones, or damaged stones. How did that come about?
I used to send all those projects to other cutters, but started getting complaints that stones were being held for six months or more and the cutters were not returning emails. So, I finally decided to do the work myself rather than referring people to others that did not provide a good service. Since I have cut thousands of stones, and have that experience, I was able to develop some cutting concepts to fix a lot of the commercially cut stones without losing a ton of weight or having to do total recuts. The tops are usually not too badly cut. The pavilions are almost always 90% of the problem so learning to fix those has been the real key to improving the stones. As far as reputation goes, I really can’t say much about that other than I always try to do a good job and keep the overall value of the stone in mind so people don’t lose money on their gemstone investments.
How long does each stone take to cut? Do certain shapes take longer to cut?
Most smaller stones that cut to be 2 carats or less take 2-3 hours to cut. Bigger stones take longer, but not proportionally so. For example, a two carat finished garnet might take three hours, and a 10 carat more like 5 hours. simple shapes like rounds, squares and emerald cuts are fastest. Shapes with long curved sides take a bit longer. Examples would be ovals, pears, marquise cuts, etc.
What’s each of your favorite colors? Do you tend to try to cut those more often?
After all the years of graphic arts and now colorful gemstones, I have no favorite color. I don’t, however, like olive green or brownish pink colors. Cindi’s favorite colors are pink and green. She tends to like all colors, even some of the “ugly” ones, except red.
How often do you cut stones and keep them?
Me, less than one per year. Cindi, every few months. I very rarely keep a stone. I have a nearly flawless emerald, some opals and a blue to pink color change garnet that I’ve kept. After 17 or so years, I only have about 10 stones total…if that. Cindi, on the other hand has hundreds.
Does Dan have any jewelry made with the stones he has (Or Cindi) cut?
Yes. I have a silver ring Cindi made for me using a welo opal and a Tripps setting. I also have a small blue Australian sapphire that I cut in my simple, comfort fit wedding band.
How do you manage working together as a couple? How did Cindi get started and involved?
We both love gemstones in general and met when she start collecting stones I was cutting. Oddly, we work together very well and almost never fight or argue about anything. Cindi got started cutting gemstones as a hobby, which is how I got started also.
What is your favorite stone that you ever cut? Did you sell it or keep it?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but the first one I ever kept for myself was an almost flawless, untreated Colombian emerald that even shows dispersion or spectral color flashes in sunlight. I am fond of this one because of the clarity. The somewhat odd step cut pear shape isn’t necessarily what I like about it. Under magnification, I could only spot three little specks of “jardin”.
What’s the weirdest stone you’ve ever cut?
Cindi has a really unusual gray tourmaline that is almost a charcoal color and super dispersive that I cut about 13 years ago. The thing has big spectral flashes coming out of a completely gray colored stone.
Whatever happened to those corpse colored tourmalines you had listed? Weird as it may sound, I’m sorry I missed out on them…
The first of the two “corpse” colored tourmalines was purchased by a nurse (funny huh?). I can’t remember who bought the second one.
A huge thank you to Dan for taking so much time to answer all of my questions and being so frank with his answers. Most of the images in this post were taken from the website, of some gemstones that are currently for sale (minus the pear emerald and the “Ugly Tourmaline”!) I have a particular weakness for Dan’s step cuts!