Top Notch Faceting’s Jean Noel Soni

By Roxy on September 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Jean-Noel Soni is the mastermind behind Top-Notch Faceting. Jean creates award-winning, precision cut gemstones that are ethically-sourced, cut by hand, and created without the use of computer-aided design . In his words, the unique facets in his gemstones are “all figured by man.” I had the opportunity to take a peek at his notebook and the degree of detail and geometry that goes into every gemstone is remarkable. Speaking with Jean, it’s clear that he is incredibly knowledgeable about the materials he sources, and is passionate about his process and unique perspective on the industry.

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Jean-Noel Soni’s interest in gemstones began at an early age. Raised by his mother, a collector of antique jewelry, Jean was surrounded by intricate vintage trinkets as well as his mother’s talented jeweler friends. His introduction to gemstone cutting started in 2009, taking a once-a-week class at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. The curriculum was solely in cabochon cutting, or stones that are polished and shaped without facets. Jean’s interest in gemstone cutting took off.  Jean states that cabochon cutting is very precise and this experience aided his understanding in creating the dimensions for a stone.

Since Randall didn’t offer classes in facet cutting, Jean decided to take matters into his own hands. Saving money to spend on gem cutting equipment every few months, Jean turned to how-to books in gemstone faceting, including a vintage German book his mother owned from 1896.  At this point, it seemed clear that gemstone cutting was Jean’s calling. Jean picked out other books from the library, paying close attention to the detailed diagrams, illustrating interesting facets and techniques.

16.10ctOregonSunstoneBefore 16.10ctOregonSunstoneAfter

More or less self-taught, Jean’s work is precise and thoughtful.  He strives to create heirlooms from gemstones with the understanding that the material is finite. Never creating the same stone twice, Jean takes the needed time to design each stone. “For me, I really enjoy the challenge of taking whatever shape is presented to me and changing that into a gemstone. It can be challenging depending on the shape of the stone.”

Browsing through Jean’s instagram he is clearly prolific. “I love to work. I love the challenge and the ritual.” He was kind enough to send us a few before and after shots of stones, as well as a few shots from his studio. The transformation of a rough stone into a gem is quite magical and even sculptural.

17.46ctRhodoliteGarnetBefore 17.46ctRhodoliteGarnetAfter 4.82ctImperialGarnetBefore 4.82ctImperialGarnetAfter 1.87ctBenitoiteBefore 1.87ctBenitoiteAfter 1.79ctNigerianSapphireBefore 1.79ctNigerianSapphireAfter

“I use an older faceting machine. By machine, it is only a motor that spins round grinding wheels in different grits, horizontally. Each facet on every stone is ground down in finer and finer grits until each is polished. The trick lies in keeping all the facets at the proper depth and keeping symmetry. [This is] all done by eye and hand. There is also a whole other slew of things that go into cutting a gem including orientation of the crystal, dopping (attaching) the stone to a quill with wax so it doesn’t fall off and polishing, which is it’s own science by itself. I do not use any computer programs for my work at all. The materials are all very different and I feel that computers can only account for so much. Besides it’s more fun to figure out the stones with my own head.”

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I asked Jean about his views in the gemstone industry and appreciated his honest and critical approach. He mentioned that often in the industry, gems are cut for optimal weight, rather than precision cutting, which brings out natural beauty of the stone. “In the commercial gemstone cutting industry, it’s business as usual.” Jean notes that in the industry, people source cheaper materials rather than the quality of stone, but notes that a few people, such as himself, are searching for high quality products.

Jean prides himself in his ethical sourcing, saying the best way to ensure that a stone is ethical is to work small and stay local. Jean works directly with miners, traveling to places as diverse as Romania, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. His stones are  vibrant, clear, and untreated. Some of his favorite stones to work with are garnets and zircons. Every once in a while, Jean will find a zircon stone with a phenomena called double-refraction, which creates an almost double-vision effect. “You’re essentially watching the molecules vibrate.”

Please join us at NextFab Studios for a discussion with Jean-Noel Soni about his practice on September 24th, from 5-7PM.


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Saturday Reading: EPA Decision on Bristol Bay Pebble Mine, Mountaintop Removal Victory, Polar Vortex Linked to Climate Change

By Roxy on September 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Photo of the Bristol Bay in Alaska by Jim Klug

EPA Propose Limits on Alaska’s Pebble Mine Project via the Washington Post:

Dennis McLerran, the regional administrator for EPA Region 10, told reporters Friday the agency had concluded that even a mine much smaller than the one currently envisioned by Pebble’s sponsors would produce “almost unfathomable amounts of rock” which “posed significant risks to the fragile ecosystem” in Bristol Bay.

The EPA was taking this step “to protect the world’s largest salmon greatest fishery what would certainly be one of the world’s largest open pit mine developments ever conceived of,” he said.

Movement to End Mountaintop Removal Wins Huge Court Victory, via

In a huge victory for our water and our future, a federal appeals court stated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are authorized to enforce laws on water pollution from mountaintop removal mines.

After years of effective organizing, our movement pressured the EPA to issue a water quality guidance in 2011 that used peer-reviewed science to show the devastating impacts that mountaintop removal coal mining has on Appalachia’s water. Unfortunately, a coalition including the National Mining Association and the state governments of Kentucky and West Virginia sued to prevent the EPA from protecting our water from dangerous coal pollution.

This important ruling says that the EPA was correct to enforce the law and follow the science to protect Appalachian waters and community health.

Remember that brutal, frigid winter we had here on the east coast? This seems obvious, but a new study has linked the polar vortex to climate change.


As the last few days of summer linger, you’d be forgiven if you feel a wave of anxiety upon the inevitable return of crisp, cold mornings. There’s no two ways about it: Last winter, replete with polar vortexes galore, was brutal. And we may not have seen the last of them.

New research published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications attempts to track the polar vortex disturbances back to their source.

The study, written by a team of Korean and American scientists, is the latest (and perhaps most comprehensive) attempt to answer a question that’s as hot as any in climate science right now: What’s the impact of melting Arctic sea ice on extreme weather?

Through a blend of statistical analysis of recent weather and computer modeling of a world in which rapid Arctic ice loss hadn’t occurred, the study establishes a link between the warming ocean, melting ice, and weakened polar vortex. For the first time, the study also proposes an epicenter of action where years of extreme ice loss in particular appear to dominate this process: a remote part of the Arctic between Scandinavia and Siberia.

I reached study co-author Seong-Joong Kim, a climate scientist at the Korea Polar Research Institute, by phone in a Seattle hotel room, where he was preparing to discuss his work with American colleagues at a conference devoted to extreme weather and Arctic sea ice.

As strange as it sounds, Kim believes the intense cold air outbreaks in recent winters across Europe, Asia, and North America are, in his words, “a side effect of global warming.” Building on results released in the new paper and his interpretation of other researchers’ findings, here’s his best guess of what’s going on. Abnormally warm waters in the tropical Atlantic travel up the Gulf Stream toward Europe in the late summer and fall months, motivating exceptional sea ice melt in the Barents-Kara seas north of Scandinavia. When that area is ice free, the open water releases heat into the atmosphere during November and December, and sets up an anomalous blocking pattern over the Ural Mountains. By midwinter, as more and more heat is being transferred to the Arctic, the troposphere and stratosphere can link updestabilizing the polar vortex, weakening the jet stream, and sendingwaves of cold air southward.

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Fairmined Initiatives Funding Education in Relave, Peru

By Roxy on August 28, 2014 at 10:21 am

We recently received a lovely e-mail from Ethical Metalsmiths to jewelers using FAIRMINED gold: “Responsibly sourced, fairly mined, fairly traded, transformative and fully traceable gold is no longer an idea, but a reality and you are the ones making it happen in the United States [...] What I am most excited about and think you may be too, is that the premiums you paid on your certified gold has been applied to the building a of a new high school in Relave, Peru. The use of the premium is democratically decided by a committee.” We are so proud to see the benefits to the mining community and their families. Images courtesy of Ethical Metalsmiths.

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Top Notch Faceting Discussion at NextFab Studio

By Roxy on August 23, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Bario Neal is pleased to announce that we will be hosting a discussion at NextFab Studios with Top Notch Faceting‘s Jean-Noel Soni. Soni specializes in unique, ethically-sourced, precision cut gemstones. The prolific gemstone cutter is the winner of multiple AGTA Awards in Innovative Faceting and Phenomenal Gemstones. No cut is ever done twice and every facet is “figured by man.” This event takes place September 24th and NextFab Studios in Philadelphia from 5-7PM.


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Jessica Hans Interview and Collaboration: Strata Studs and Ceramic Pieces

By Roxy on August 14, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Bario Neal interviews Jessica Hans and Anna Bario.

Jessica, you are known for your functional ceramic sculptures, but I read that you originally had a background in textiles. Does this still influence your work today?

J: Yes, it’s true that I previously worked in textiles. I studied textiles in undergrad and focused predominately in weaving and print design. I spend a lot of time thinking about pattern and surfaces through print design and weaving, and I incorporate a lot of those themes into the way that I work with clay. I typically include some type of pattern element on the surfaces of my objects and am very interested in extreme texture and glaze.

How do you balance art and functionality?

J: It’s really important to me that I retain some sense of functionality in the work that I make, even if it’s to the slightest degree. Many of my vase forms are barely functional, with a couple of holes spread almost randomly throughout the object or with glazes full of craters covering the surface. I prefer to balance right on the edge of sculptural art object while keeping the piece functional. The earring collaboration as well as the jewelry trays are are just that; I think of them as useable or wearable art objects.

Some of the textures on the ceramic pieces mimic natural rock formations like pumice and slate, while others are smooth and brightly colored. I’ve read that you sometimes use rocks and gravel from places you’ve visited in your pieces. Do you experiment with glazes? What glazes did you choose for the earring pieces? How was it working on a smaller scale for the ceramic pieces?

J: I do often experiment with different additives in my clay bodies and glazes. I add foraged rock pieces to the wet clay as I’m building vases and sometimes mix gravel into clear glazes that I’m working with. At high temperatures some of the rocks and gravel begin to get glassy and melt out, especially the iron-rich bits. I have a couple of glaze recipes that I’ve come across in the past couple of years that are especially textured and weird. I use a lava glaze recipe for one of the earring styles.. it’s definitely one of my favorites. I work with these glazes alongside some very bright, fun commercial glazes that pop much more than the earthy crater recipes. I especially like the contrast between the two surfaces.

Working on a smaller scale for the earrings hasn’t been a problem. It’s been an interesting challenge because I typically prefer to work larger, but it’s a nice chance to step outside of my comfort zone and really focus on the small earring pieces. It’s been fun for me thinking about the relationship that the ceramic piece has with Anna’s earring stud. I keep this relationship in mind for each of the shapes that I make.

How did you both decide on earrings as a collaboration? How long has this collaboration been in the works?
A: Earrings were the first idea we had for the collaboration. Page & I have talked for years about doing a mix and match series of earrings- they are so gratifying- and this seemed like a great way to bring variation to simple studs. Jessica ran with it. It was at least a year ago that we first met to talk about a collaboration. Our first session we explored some wilder ideas like firing metal alloys & ceramics together in the kiln.
A lot of the pieces in Bario Neal’s boutique collection are cast from natural objects like shells, fossils, shale, et cetera.  Anna, how were the studs fabricated? What was your process in creating the studs?
A: I wanted the studs to integrate with Jessica’s pieces, and to have a similar feel. I actually made the oirignal models for all the studs in clay, and then we made wax models based off those clay pieces.
What are your inspirations?
J: I am definitely inspired by geology, rock formations, volcanos, sea creatures, plants; much of nature in general. I’m interested in chemistry and raw materials. I also look at the work of a number of creative people including ceramic artists Jun Kaneko for his pattern on ceramic and Peter Voulkos for his towering functional sculpture. I really love the graphic pattern qualities of Keith Haring’s illustrations. I look at a lot of fashion designers, especially Eckhaus Latta for their weird textures and Céline for their choice of colors.

Visit Jessica Hans’ website and view her work here and buy the Strata Studs and Ceramic Pieces here.

Roundtable Discussion on Responsible Gold Mining Hosted by JA and NRF

By Roxy on July 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Aurelsa Fairmined Gold Ready for Export


Fairmined Gold from Aurelsa

We’re excited to let you know that Anna Bario, co-owner of Bario Neal, will be a part of a roundtable discussion on the importance of responsible gold sourcing, hosted by Jewelers of America (JA) and National Retail Federation (NRF).

“Gold and other minerals have been known to fuel unspeakable violence in Congo and the surrounding region, when mined and traded illegally by armed groups who use them to finance their activities.” says Holly Dranginis, Policy Associate at the Enough Project, a Washington-based nonprofit. “Jewelry companies have a major role to play in curbing that violence and improving the conditions for peace by developing responsible sourcing practices.”

You can register for the event here.

Australian Diamonds

By Anna on July 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Bario Neal is proud to offer ethical, traceable Australian diamonds. Currently, all of our Australian diamonds originate from the Argyle Diamond Mine (ADM) in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia. We are also exploring a new source for rough diamonds from the Ellendale Diamond Mine, in West Kimberley, but for this post we’ll focus on the Argyle Mine.

Far from any populated areas, in a region of precipitous mountains and severe cliffs that descend into lakes and rivers reflecting the bright red soils and deep green scrubby foliage, lies the Argyle Diamond Mine. The Argyle mine is the world’s only significant producer of rare pink diamonds, and produces a large portion of the world’s supply of naturally colored diamonds, including champagne, cognac, and rare blue diamonds. The Ellendale mine is especially known for its production of rare yellow diamonds.

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Reading: The Death of Satao, The Ivory Trade and NY’s Ivory Ban, Silenced on Fracking, and One Year Since DOMA

By Roxy on July 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

Recently, Satao, Kenya’s largest elephant with tusks that reached the ground, was slaughtered at the hands of poachers involved with the ivory trade. Kenya has only less than a dozen Tuskers left.  This is sad, gruesome news, especially for the conservationists keeping a watchful eye on the last of this megafauna.

New York recently banned the sale of ivory and rhino horn:

The Wildlife Conservation Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Humane Society of the United States praised the New York State Legislature today for passing landmark legislation that bans the sale and purchase of elephant ivory and rhino horn. It now goes to Governor Cuomo where it is anticipated he will sign it into law.

The legislation amends the state’s environmental law to ban elephant ivory sales with only a few exceptions for antiques with small amounts of ivory, certain instruments made before 1975, and transfers for educational and scientific purposes or through the distribution of estates.


Via NPR, Former State Health Employees Say They Were Silenced on Drilling.

This is disturbing coming from our home state of Pennsylvania. State health employees were not allowed to respond to residents’ concerns about natural gas drilling and their health. There are a number of illnesses that may have been linked to fracking including nausea, nosebleeds, rashes, as well as other complaints.

 For drilling-related calls, Stuck said she and her fellow employees were told just to take the caller’s name and number and forward the information to a supervisor.

“And somebody was supposed to call them back and address their concerns,” she said, adding that she never knew whether these callbacks occurred.

Sometimes, Stuck said, people would call again, angry they had not heard back from anyone from the department.

Stuck did not usually answer the phone at the Uniontown office. But on the few occasions when she did pick up and the caller was making a drilling-related complaint, she never found out what happened after she passed the information on to her supervisor.

Stuck said she has spoken to employees working in other state health centers who received the same list of buzzwords and the same instructions on how to deal with drilling-related calls.

“People were saying: Where’s the Department of Health on all this?” Stuck said. “The bottom line was we weren’t allowed to say anything. It’s not that we weren’t interested.”

Marshall Deasy worked in the Bureau of Epidemiology in Harrisburg for more than 20 years, retiring last June. Deasy was a primary investigator of food- and waterborne outbreaks and his work put him in contact with community health nurses across the state, such as Tammi Stuck.

He said some nurses told him they were not allowed to respond to complaints about gas drilling.

In his office in Harrisburg, Deasy said the subject of natural gas development was considered “taboo” and was not openly discussed among fellow employees.

However, he was aware that a colleague in the Bureau of Epidemiology was maintaining a list of drilling-related calls. When reached by StateImpact Pennsylvania, that person declined to comment.

In lighter news, it has been more than a year since the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act was struck down!! Since then, many states have struck down their gay marriage bans, including mostly recently, Kentucky. I know I say this often, and the fight for equality in America still has a long way to go, but luckily, we are on the right path towards marriage equality in the US.

Custom Allium Ring in Progress

By Roxy on June 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Here are photos of one of our jewelers, Jen, working on a custom ring last month. The customer has already proposed and is now happily engaged!



Fairmined Gold Now Available On Our Website

By Roxy on June 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

We are excited to announce that Fairmined gold is now available on our website in all of our wedding bands and engagement rings! Read more about Fairmined Gold..

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