Fantasy Cut Inventor Bernd Munsteiner Dies at 81

SourcingJun 17, 2024

Fantasy Cut Inventor Bernd Munsteiner Dies at 81

Known to many as the “Picasso of gems" who modernized the gem cutting field, he is remembered by his family as going through life with open eyes.

Bernd Munsteiner
Bernd Munsteiner, the gem cutter renowned for developing the fantasy cut, died on June 6 surrounded by his family in Stipshausen, Germany.
Stipshausen, Germany—Bernd Munsteiner, the inventor of the fantasy cut, died on June 6 at age 81.

He was surrounded by his family in Stipshausen, Germany. 

Often credited as the artist who modernized gem cutting, Munsteiner’s non-conventional style focused on concave cuts made on the back of precious gemstones.

Today, his works are featured in dozens of museums across the world, and many reside in major global gem collections. 

Munsteiner was born on March 2, 1943, to a gem-cutting family, and he began working as an apprentice at age 14. He studied at the Pforzheim School of Design in Germany and won his first award for his craft at age 25.

Munsteiner set out to challenge traditional cutting methods, which were, in the 1960s, based on a strict set of specifications. He eventually developed the style he’s well-known for—the fantasy cut. 

It took time for his new methods to reach the level of popularity they have today, but Munsteiner continued his work.

He established Munsteiner Atelier in Stipshausen in 1973 and created many masterpieces over the course of his life, such as the “Dom Pedro Aquamarine,” which is considered the world’s largest cut aquamarine and likely Munsteiner’s most notable creation. 

Bernd Munsteiner Dom Pedro Aquamarine
Bernd Munsteiner’s “Dom Pedro Aquamarine” weighs more than 10,000 carats.

Made in 1993, it took 10 months to complete. The finished piece is 2 feet tall and weighs 10,363 carats. It resides in the National Gem Hall at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, near the Hope Diamond.   

Another masterpiece, “Metamorphosis,” is a Brazilian rutilated quartz weighing 2,900,000 carats.

Bernd Munsteiner Metamorphosis
“Metamorphosis” was part of the private collection belonging to Michael Scott, the first president of Apple Computer, with whom Bernd had a unique relationship with for many years. It once resided in the company’s California headquarters.

Jewelry designer Susan Helmich first came across one of Munsteiner’s pieces in 1984 while at the Tucson gem shows. She flew to Germany to find the gem cutter and was able to locate his atelier. 

She introduced herself, purchased more pieces that day, and the two continued their friendship, with Helmich telling AGTA that Munsteiner was her “North Star … confidante, colleague and inspiring artist.”

Shelly Sergent, curator of the Somewhere in the Rainbow (SITR) collection, said Helmich introduced her to Munsteiner.

“There was an immediate connection to the stunning works of gem art they produced, both masterful and exemplary in every detail, which SITR stands for. The gemstone and jewelry relationship was a natural fit for us. But more importantly, being invited by Bernd into their home, gardens and sanctuary in Germany was like sharing time with gemstone royalty. An intimate experience that will never be forgotten and led to a deeper understanding of the richness and the passion of the Munsteiner legacy,” she said.

Munsteiner’s legacy will be carried on through his family.

In the later years of his career, he spent three years working with his son, Tom, who died a little over six months ago, creating agate windows for the family’s church in Germany.

The two are remembered by their family for their character, ethics, charm, love and passion.

Munsteiner agate church windows
The church windows created by Bernd and his son Tom are approximately 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide, made of agate cut into 1-inch squares and one-half inch triangles.

“Our hearts are broken at the loss of Bernd and Tom, and yet, the world is brighter, and we are proud to showcase these remarkable art pieces for generations to come to know. I will always be grateful for my time with this extraordinary man, who always had a smile and always shared his time freely,” Sergent said.

She added that her first and only gem carving, a rutilated quartz that she calls “a treasure for [her] life,” was produced working alongside Bernd and Tom Munsteiner.

Bernd Munsteiner is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Hanne; his daughter-in-law Jutta, who was married to Tom; and his grandson Philipp, all of whom will continue the family business as the fifth generation of Munsteiner cutters.

Munsteiner family
Bernd, Hanne, Jutta, and Tom

“Bernd loved and enjoyed his family the most. Getting up in the morning to start the day with his family and then going straight to his passion for gemstones,” said Jutta. 

“He was a very cheerful person and brought back something he found from every walk to inspire new gemstone designs. Going through life with open eyes was his motto.”

Philipp said Bernd “opened the door to the magical world of gemstones” for him and his father.

Munsteiner family
Bernd, Tom, Philipp, and Jutta

“He was the first to change the way gemstones were cut and I am very proud of him and am his biggest fan,” he added. 

“With a lot of patience and love, he taught me how to cut at an early age. Bernd looked after me during every phase of my childhood and is therefore my childhood hero. He left a mark in my heart and will remain in my memory forever. I am very grateful that I was able to spend so much time with him.” 

Munsteiner was pre-deceased by Tom, as well as his other son, Jörg, both of whom were accomplished gem cutters. 

Sergent added, “[The gem community] shares the sorrow of Bernd’s passing, but we more so celebrate the life he lived and the colorful and memorable gifts he shared with the whole world. Godspeed, Bernd Munsteiner, and thank you.” 

Lauren McLemoreis the associate editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments.

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