World-renowned stone cutter visits Steamboat jewelry store
November 7, 2010
Steamboat Springs — On Saturday morning in Hofmeister Personal Jewelers, Brian McHardy bent over and peered at the diamond on Tracy Barnett's finger. The stone was set into a gold ring and glittered in the late-morning sun.
After just a few seconds, McHardy popped up and named the time period when the diamond was cut: more than 100 years ago, based on the indications that it was done by hand.
Barnett revealed that the diamond had belonged to her husband's grandmother.
"I didn't ever want a diamond," Barnett said. "But when there was a family diamond, it really meant something."
McHardy, a world-renowned diamond cutter of 40 years, said people show him their heirloom diamonds with a sort of reverence he rarely sees anywhere else.
"A diamond is benign until someone owns it, until someone is given it," he said. "It's the stories that come out of them."
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McHardy is a diamond cutter for Hearts on Fire — hailed as the industry standard of perfectly cut stones — from South Africa, where he is a third-generation diamond cutter.
He returned to Hofmeister this weekend for the fourth year to give an educational demonstration on the process of cutting and polishing diamonds.
In three presentations Saturday, he touched briefly on geological science, geometry and the tools used to cut facets on the face of the diamonds to release the stone's refractive qualities.
He showed a group of about six people how the only thing used to cut and grind diamonds are other diamonds.
"It's crazy," said Mariam Worster, 9, Barnett's granddaughter. "It's so cool. My favorite part was when he put the diamond on the wheel and it glowed red."
She watched as he demonstrated the cutting of two tiny diamonds with his hand tools and a spinning wheel dusted with a thin layer of diamond dust. He also demonstrated the stone's highly thermal conductive qualities by heating it to hundreds of degrees in just seconds.
"It's just to bring the excitement of it," McHardy said about the presentations. "And to show people that it's something magical. It's not just marketing, it's not some random value."
McHardy's passion for the stones was clear as he spoke about their properties with wide eyes.
He told the group, who listened with the same intensity, about the perfect structure of the carbon molecules and the perfect equilateral triangles etched into the diamond's skin, called trigons.
He talked about how a roomful of ore would yield just one carat of diamond, the hardest bulk material in the world.
"They were revered because they were unconquerable," he said about the discovery of diamonds more than 3,000 years ago. "There's a reason it's the symbol of eternal love and all that emotional stuff."
About 500 years ago, when humans found ways to grind, cut and polish the stones to enhance their brilliance, it added another element to their value.
Tom Cox, who operates Hofmeister with his wife, Shirl, said McHardy's personal attention to the hand-cutting process gives the diamonds an extra quality.
"There's an irreplaceable human touch and feel that goes into diamond cutting," Cox said.
He said it is an honor to have McHardy share his passion for the symbolic stones.
"To have this in our small town, we feel very fortunate," he said. "It's very unique."