Cast of Characters: Jeff Graham

A couple of months ago my friend Jeff Graham came by to sell me some stones, I bought a a citrine and something else I can’t remember right now. I told him about my blog and the pages for the cast of characters and asked it I could photograph and write about him. He declined saying that it is best for him to remain anonymous as far as photography since he often had to carry expensive stones with him. He didn’t want to be recognized. I was disappointed but understood.

Jeff was a friend of mine and he died last week. I’ll miss him, I was privileged to have worked with him as much as I did. Jeff was introduced to me by his apprentice of that time, Chris Byron. Jeff was a master lapidary and was looking for a metalsmith to work with his stones. He designed stone cuts and published many books about stone cutting with his designs. Jeff was not a production stone cutter, he was a rare breed of a rare breed. Stone cutting in the US has to survive by being the best since volume is not a game US stone cutters can compete in. Jeff was more than the best by designing and teaching and being very generous. Jeff was always generous to me, he was patient and understanding.

Jeff had been in the lapidary game so long that he had many suppliers who sought him out. Miners would fly from Africa to sell to him often arriving at odd hours of the night. It never ceases to amaze me how this business works with shoe string connections. If Jeff had not been at home when the miners showed up he would never had been able to buy the rough he bought. They rarely called ahead to plan the trip and would just fly from city to city to sell their stone to the buyers they had met at the gem show or some other way. Often times their prices would start very high only to be cut in half or more just so they could get home.

Jeff would high grade the rough and cut the best with a new design then sell some and send the rest to cutters in Bangkok to be cut by production cutting houses. He fleshed out his product line with those stones as well as stones cut by other US cutters. Jeff’s businesses were and . On his sites he had very good photography of his products which he took himself as well as much information to anyone interested in stone cutting. Jeff was not short of opinion and his sites were proof of that. Jeff was a man who said it like it was, he was honest and generous. He and I had very different political opinions but shared with each other, the trade that we both loved, jewelry. I set one of Jeff’s stones in my bracelet that was accepted by the Smithsonian for the permanent collection of the Renwick craft gallery.

I was privileged to be able to buy many of the stones he cut himself as design proofs. The best material cut by a world class cutter is not something I took lightly. I always used Jeff’s stones in my art work and built my work around his. His stones were always the center piece and my work was just to showcase his work. He taught me all I know about gems and how they should be cut. My office manager at that time, Pat Kula were treated to  our own private gem show every Friday afternoon when Jeff would bring in the pieces he had cut that week and any rough he wanted to show us. He would get Pat all worked up about politics and tell me that he didn’t have to live with her and leave. He had a sense of humor and I remember laughing  hard the last time he came in , like I always did with him. Often Pat and I would close the shop up around him then kick him out so we could leave, I think Jeff liked hanging out with us and I’m glad for that.

I am sad that Jeff is gone and very greatful for the time I had with him.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robyn Hawk June 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Sam – thank you for this. I have spent the the last couple days reading the outpouring of sentiment on the faceting forum I am on.

Jeff was a huge influence on the Industry and especially on new cutters. He was always willing to share and help a newbie through a tough spot…he will be missed.


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