Phoenix, Ariz. March 16, 2020. Given that Darryl Alexander of Alexander’s Jewelers has won upwards of 50 awards—including roughly 20 Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards from the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), his name should familiar. The cutter, jeweler, and industry fixture (his passion for jewelry was born in high school) has worked for and with some of the most respected names in industry, a feat even more impressive when you consider he’s mostly self-taught.
Onetime high school teacher Miss Anderson nurtured his early interest, allowing him to do independent studies after taking two introductory jewelry-making classes. She directed him to a tool supply store in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, too, the owner of which also gave him industry-specific guidance. By the time he graduated high school, Alexander had a little custom jewelry business of his own.
He took that accomplishment to Borsheims, where he worked for five years at the bench, doing repairs and custom work, including making wax models. While there, he invented a torch holder and a special hanger for the drills jewelers use. He sold the rights to those tools to the Rio Grande company for three years before shopping them to other firms for distribution.
After Borsheims, he went to Service Merchandise, where he served as the lead jeweler for five stores, working with an assistant and teaching bench work to others. But all that high-volume work paved the way for carpal tunnel issues, so he and his family (including wife Linda and their seven kids) moved to the Phoenix area for a series of job interviews. One position panned out for a short time before Alexander decided to hang a shingle, doing private jobs for both collectors and jewelry stores of all sizes.
Around the same time, and after attending many years of the Tucson, Ariz., gem shows, Alexander got into carving shells, both natural abalone and cultured mabe or blister pearls from the Tennessee river. He bought the latter from the Latendresse family of American Pearl Co., and his carvings—including leaves and flame patterns—started earning recognition. Family patriarch John Latendresse would sell what Alexander carved and gave him additional prestige through about five design awards in the now-defunct American Pearl Design Competition. The carvings also graced the pages of trade magazines in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
“I always admired cameo work and wanted to create a look that was uniquely mine and creatively different than what was already in the market,” he explains.
Motivated for more recognition, Alexander started entering shell designs into the AGTA Cutting Edge and Spectrum Awards. As masterful as the pieces were, however, they never placed in the competition. Why? Alexander thinks it’s because shells are soft and perceived as easier to carve than hard stones.
“I spend as much time working on a shell as I do hard stones,” he says. “It takes skill to get clean details without scratches or marks.”
So Alexander shifted gears again, this time to cutting hard stones in an effort to earn recognition in the AGTA awards. His first hard stone entry? A carved agate, which took honors. Inspired, Alexander kept carving, moving into sunstone, a gem with which his handiwork is synonymous. Some of his sunstone carvings can be seen on the website of the Gemological Institute of America.
As for Alexander’s signature style, it is fluid, sculptural, and freeform, unlike German counterparts who are known for their precise angles.
“My early work is not as refined,” he says. “You can see it’s mine, but I had a lot to learn about finishing, flow, and the creative aspect of carving stones into fluid and pretty designs.”
Alexander read books about carving, including “Lapidary Carving for Creative Jewelry” by Henry Hunt, admired the works of Steve Walters and Glenn Lehrer, and would go home and experiment. It took Alexander about two years to master the art. A highlight of his cutting career? When he took a class with Bernd Munsteiner of Atelier Munsteiner at the Revere Academy.
“It was one of the biggest and most life-changing events of my career,” he says. “I got to hang out with my idols Bernd and Michael Good, who saw me as a peer.”
Today, Alexander’s carvings and jewelry can be seen in museums nationwide—including the Smithsonian—and son Nick can be spied in a nearby booth at the AGTA GemFair Tucson show displaying his own carvings and developing style.
“He won his first Cutting Edge award at age 17,” says the proud pop. The pair have a cutting supply business as well, dubbed Cutting Edge Supply.
Shelly Sergent is a fan of Alexander’s work. “I think of Darryl as an extension of Somewhere in the Rainbow,” says the curator of the gem and jewelry collection whose mission is to offer education and enjoyment of fine colored gems to museums, galleries, collectors, and the trade.
The collection has amassed about 80 pieces of Alexander’s work, including loose gems and art objects—think the Cutting Edge-award-winning Got Paint and Doctor’s Orders—and he is currently working on a larger commission for it. Alexander was also integral in making a gemstone mobile for Sergent’s granddaughter, a project son Nick even contributed to.
“We just fell in love with Darryl’s stories of mining, cutting, and making jewelry,” she says. “He is a fascinating story of industry success, and one of the nicest individuals you’ll ever meet. He was considered an underdog for so long but has really made a name for himself.”
Darryl Alexander with one of his many awards.
Carved deep red schiller sunstone, $8,000; available online at Alexander’s Jewelers
Carved Tahitian pearl shell, email firstname.lastname@example.org for information
Seaweed & Bubbles, a 123 ct. specialty-cut golden beryl, took second place in Innovative Faceting, AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards 2020
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