Over thirtyfive years ago, a young Sydney University graduate with an interest in gemstones came to outback Queensland to take a look at boulder opal mining. Smitten with the brilliant beauty of the boulder opal, he turned his back on a career as a biochemist and bought his first parcel of rough opal.
Today Alan Thomson is recognized worldwide as one of the premier opal cutters in the trade and is renowned for his skill in presenting boulder opal in exciting and innovative ways. Always conscious of the character of the stone, Alan’s designs range from the utter simplicity of a single stone on a sterling silver choker to intricate patterns influenced by native fauna electro-cast on to superb boulder specimens.
The tiny town of Quilpie is located in the heart of Queensland boulder opal and it is here Alan lives and works. A perfectionist by nature, Alan’s opal artworks are of an enduring quality and it is this precision coupled with outstanding artistry that makes an Alan Thomson piece one of the most collectable in the trade and can be found in many collections throughout the world.
Donald C. Rankin had always found nature and wildlife fascinating. Even as a young boy he found crafting stones an interesting pastime. At 15 his father gave him a present of a 6 inch flat grinding wheel, which he used to produced petrified wood earrings - his lucky mum the proud recipient. As an Eagle Scout Don found nature even more challenging. He could appreciate the beautiful colours found naturally in earth's "stones". Don attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania and attained a degree in Geography and Geology. His youthful interest in nature found fuller appreciation as he studied both the geography and geology of the land. To broaden his horizons Don went to Australia in 1969 where he was employed by the South Australian Educational Department. This new country provided him with unique opportunities. During school breaks he explored the opal fields in South Australia and the sapphire fields in Queensland. These adventures fuelled his keen interests in nature. In 1975 Don enrolled in a 41 week opal cutting course resulting in his becoming a qualified opal cutting instructor. While teaching in Australia Don initiated a lapidary curriculum at Christies Beach High School for junior and senior high school students. He also taught adult opal cutting classes.
When one considers gemstones and nature, an automatic association develops. For Don, a marriage of the two was inevitable. Birds seemed to be the obvious subject as they lent themselves perfectly to the patterns and colours inherent in gemstones. Thus resulted Don's passionate hobby-creating birds out of gemstones. To be able to capture forever the elusive spirit of birds is what Don has tried to do in his cabochon art forms. Cabochon artistry is the cutting, shaping, grinding, sanding, polishing and fitting together of pieces of gemstones to create the finished art piece. Don has had exhibitions in Australia and overseas and some art works have been purchased for museum display as well as for gifts, presented to world dignitaries.
Nature itself provides the ultimate source of material. Don is also a keen photographer and has captured on film many precious moments of birds in their natural environment. From these photos he has created gemstone pictures which are rich in form and colour. Obtaining material for his gemstones pictures has not always been a simple task. But as a guest exhibitor at gem and mineral shows throughout Australia he interacts with many who are able to provide slabs of material, from around the world, which are suitable for his art work. Another source for materials used is obtained by Don's fossicking in the outback regions of Australia. Once materials are gathered Don draws a pattern which becomes a template for the subject on which he is working. Each part of the bird is colour-matched to ensure as authentic a replica as can be produced. Each piece is then positioned, traced and cut out of the actual gemstone or semi-precious material. Individual pieces are then ground to the template shape and once these are aligned the process of cabochoning, sanding and polishing takes place. The final step is then to secure each individual piece on to the glassed surface which results in the formation of the bird. It is the hope of the artist that the birds he produces provides a source of pleasure for the audiences who view his work.
Regine Maeckle is a Master Goldsmith and Designer, who completed her qualification in Pforzheim, the German Goldsmith capital.
She worked in different workshops designing, gold smithing, gem setting and other skills like silver smithing, enamelling and gem cutting. She came to Australia in 2001 on a working holiday and joined ‘The Opalcutter’ team. Regine permanently settled in Australia in 2004. She works as a freelance Goldsmith for ‘The Opalcutter’ and a Jewellery company in Darwin as well as Designing and making her own range of jewellery.