On Saturday evening February 3rd, Karen and I attended the 7th Annual Faceters Hobnob which is hosted by Tucson's Old Pueblo Lapidary Club. This informal hobnob of faceters during the Tucson Show has grown and evolved in just seven years into a world class gathering and event for faceters.
The OPLC Hobnob was founded by Rob Kulakofsky and myself with the first gathering held during the Tucson Show in 2001. Several years later Tucson's own Art Kavan emerged as a sparkplug for the Hobnob. It is world class competition faceter Art Kavan who is primarily responsible for nurturing the Hobnob and developing it into the premier social event for faceters.
When we arrived just after 6 PM the OPLC clubhouse was already well on the way to filling with faceters who were devouring the Hobnob's traditional pizza dinner. I haven't heard the official head count from the OPLC guest book yet but our clubhouse was packed by the time everyone arrived and I estimated the attendance at over 100. Many of these participants are either directly associated with the United States Faceters Guild as members, or indirectly associated as participants on the USFG Faceters List, a topical online discussion group for faceters which is sponsored by the United States Faceters Guild and hosted on Yahoo Groups.
All present at the 2007 Hobnob and pictured above is the current best faceting team in the world and the winners of the 2006 Australian International Facet Challenge team competition. Left to right are US 2006 teammates Dick Fairless (292.38), Art Kavan (297.53), Wing Evans (297.57), Jack Freeman (281.64), and Jim Clark (295.01). 300.00 was the highest possible score in the 2006 AIC. The top individual scorer and winner of the 2006 individual competition was J. Rose of Australia with a 298.27 score. Wing Evans and Art Kavan of the US team placed second and third respectively in the 2006 AIC individual competition.
A History of the International Challenge Cup Competition will fill you in on the origin and history of the Australian International Facet Challenge if you are unfamiliar with it. This year's US team win is only the second time in the history of the Australian International Facet Challenge that a non-Australian team has won the team competition. A US team won the 1984 AIC which was the first time this competition was held. So the US team win in the 2006 AIC was somewhat of an historic landmark, as was this gathering of the team members at the Hobnob, which was the first time in history all the members of a AIC winning US team have been gathered together under one roof.
Also announced at the Hobnob were the winners of the United States Faceters Guild 2007 North American Faceting Challenge.. Gathered in the 2007 NAFC winners picture above left to right are Dick Fairless (2nd), Jack Freeman (3rd), Jim Clark (1st). It is not coincidental that Dick, Jack and Jim are present in the winners pictures of both competitions. Their wins in the both the 2006 AIC and 2007 NAFC validate Dick, Jack and Jim as being among the top competition faceters in the world. I should mention in fairness to Art and Wing that they were ineligible for the 2007 NAFC due to serving as judges for it.
Although the OPLC clubhouse was filled with faceters of high accomplishment and standing, to my way of thinking the real star of the 2007 OPLC Faceter's Hobnob was this magnificent 14,550 carat (that's approximately 6 pounds) quartz faceted by Art Kavan and his "Monster Faceters" faceting team. This stone was started on August 29, 2006 and completed on Jan 25, 2007 with 233.5 hours of work performed on it by the Monster Faceters during that interval. This is the first stone cut by Art's team and constitutes a proof of concept for the Monster faceting machine.
The Monster Faceters are reminiscent of the Daredevil Faceters, a group of Northwestern faceters who made their mark in the annals of faceting history with the motto "Bigger Is Better" and the stones to walk their talk. However, it appears to me the Monster Faceters are gearing up to cut even larger stones than the Daredevils highest bars with their custom built Monster faceting machine, first unveiled to the faceting community during the 2006 OPLC Faceter's Hobnob. Karen demonstrates the awesome scale of this machine in the picture above. That's a 110mm dop in her hand. You most likely won't be finding one of these in stock at your local rock shop, or anywhere else for that matter...
Shown in the close-ups above are some details of the Monster faceting machine's faceting head and elevation angle protractor and vernier. This design is really basic faceting machine - just executed on a much grander than normal scale.
Virtually every major component of the Monster faceting machine had to be been custom fabricated and was created under Art Kavan's oversight and patronship. OPLC member Billy Bob Riley has served as the primary machinist and fabricator of the Monster and has also endowed the project with a fair amount of the raw material consumed from his personal stash of salvaged and surplus plate and bar stock. Billy Bob also serves Old Pueblo Lapidary Club as an class instructor and open shop monitor.
Depicted above left is one of the custom fabricated copper laps employed on the Monster. This 20.5" cutting lap is charged with diamond bort. It has approximately 330 square inches of total surface area. The Daredevil's custom built machine employed 14" laps, which works out to approximately 154 square inches of total surface area. By way of comparison, an 8" lap which is the standard for many contemporary, commercially produced faceting machines has approximately 50 square inches of total surface area. Whether this increase in scale and doubling of lap surface area over the Daredevil's laps ultimately translates into stones twice the size of those cut by the Daredevils remains to be seen.
I note that bigger stones require not only bigger machines, they also require bigger rough...
Everything else has to scale up proportionately with the machine to cut these monster size stones. Shown above are a transfer jig, 90° adaptor and vee dop that all had to be custom fabricated, all essential parts of the entire shebang. God is in the details...
Depicted above right is a motor with worm drive gear head which are yet to be linked to the Monster to provide automated, reciprocating sweep of the facet head and dop and relieve its operators of some of the drudgery that accompanies faceting really big stones.
It will be quite interesting to see what Art and his team of Monster Faceters tackle next. During the Hobnob Art showed me a whopping big chunk of CZ he had been interested in purchasing to cut into a really big briolette with the Monster. Unfortunately, somewhere along the supply line a well intentioned but uninformed person cut and significantly shortened that rough so as to proportion it for a more conventional stone and make it more economic to purchase. Which ruined it for the briolette and rendered it too "small" to be of interest to the Monster Faceters. So Art is left still searching for another big rough suitable for their next stone.
The Hobnob has traditionally hosted a fun type competition for the "Most Beautiful Stone" and the first were conducted under rules of my specification. My primary concept behind this competition was to provide an event that anyone who facets could enter with a stone that is judged solely on the basis of its "effect" or "beauty". This criteria and desiderata is ignored by more conventional faceting competitions which are judged on the basis of the faceter's technical skills as evidenced by the quality of their stone's meetpoints, symmetry and polish.
The skill competitions typically dictate the design(s) to be cut along with the material to be used, which is almost inevitably a man-made material like cubic zirconia or synthetic spinel or corundum, or simply specified as "any quartz" which also encompasses synthetic material. The reason for this bias toward synthetics is to keep the specified rough available and affordable and level the playing field so the competition does not reduce to a money contest of who can afford the best pieces of natural rough. Any inclusion breaking the surface of a facet is points off on the polish in the skill competitions, even though the inclusion was put there by God and not the faceter... The United States Faceters Guild's annual Single Stone Competition Rules provide an example of what a faceting skill competition involves and the criteria by which the faceter's work is judged.
Skill competitions serve several purposes, but the reality outside the world of conventional competition faceting is that most recreational faceters simply cut for "beauty". For every competition faceter there must be at least a thousand others who have never entered a skill competition, never will, and who are concerned simply with the beauty of their stones, as nebulous as that may be to define. A beautiful stone is something you can't quantify to judge but like a beautiful woman, you simply know it when you see one.
I also wanted to provide all those attending the Hobnob a chance to participate in the "Most Beautiful Stone" competition by serving as its judges. The judging process is about as elemental and democratic as you can get, you simply pick the stone that you consider most beautiful and vote for it. There is no handling, inspection of the stones under magnification or numeric scoring as goes on during the judging process for skill contests. Instead the stone receiving the most votes as most beautiful wins, very similar to the "best of show" competitions held during some gem and mineral shows where the public at large participates as the judges and votes for their favorite display.
Above left is this year's winning stone in the natural division of the Hobnob's Most Beautiful Stone Competition, a 4.3 carat, 10mm concave faceted topaz faceted by Old Pueblo Lapidary Club member Dieter Irmischer, who is depicted beneath his stone showing off his trophy plaque. Dieter reported that this stone was faceted "on the fly" and not from a faceting diagram, which is fairly typical for concave faceted stones. Dieter is a former competition faceter with a number of wins notched on his machine's mast, but he is no longer active in skill competitions due to now less than perfect eyesight. I note that Dieter is a former Hobnob Most Beautiful Stone Competition winner and this repeat win provides testimony that Dieter still has it where it really counts.
Above right is this year's winning stone in the synthetic division of the Hobnob's Most Beautiful Stone Competition, a 15mm Gram Portuguese design faceted from cubic zirconia by Dick Fairless, who is depicted beneath his stone showing off his trophy plaque. Dick did not recall the weight of his stone offhand, but a 15mm Gram Portuguese cut from cubic zirconia calculates out at approximately 24-25 carats. Cubic Zirconia has a high specific gravity (5.60 - 6.00), so stones cut from this material can be deceptively heavy for their size. I note that Dick was also a member of the winning 2006 Australian International Facet Challenge team and the second place winner of the 2007 North American Faceting Challenge. Now Dick seems to be winning a in lot of competitions and his win in this Hobnob's Most Beautiful Stone Competition just goes to show that even a world class competition faceter can get lucky every once in a while and cut a beautiful stone. ;)
The initial Hobnob's Most Beautiful Stone Competitions were simply specified as the faceter's choice of any design, any material and there was no distinction drawn between natural and synthetic material. However, Art Kavan and Dieter Irmischer were slaughtering everyone else with big CZs, so to provide a more level playing field in subsequent competitions, the natural and synthetic stones were separated into independent divisions, effectively making it two competitions rolled in one. Each Hobnob participant is allowed to enter one stone of their cutting in each of the divisions.
Another change which has been made in the judging process in more recent Hobnob Most Beautiful Stone Competitions is that of restricting the pool of judges from all the attendees at large to 10 judges who are unrelated as family or friends of the entrants. This change was implemented to circumvent de facto packing of the judges by a competitor bringing their entire families through second cousins and all their friends to vote for their stone(s). Karen was selected by Art to participate as a judge in this year's Most Beautiful Stone Competition as I did not enter a stone and she was unfamiliar with all of those who did. She was pleased when the winning stones were announced, and reported that both were the stones she selected and voted for as the most beautiful.
I am not entirely comfortable with this restriction on the judges pool as a good thing, as everyone at the earlier Hobnobs seemed to enjoy participating as judges. It is unfortunate that this change was deemed necessary, but I also understand endeavoring to assure a level playing field for the participating faceters.