What is a Triacontakaitertragon?
Cutting a crystal is an adventure. My tendency is to embark on a challenging project as if I’m setting sail for a new land. There is that feeling of freedom and discovery and a momentary bliss of blind exuberance as we launch into unknown territory . As I become fully immersed in the project I inevitably hit waves of daunting obstacles and painstaking effort. But by then it is too late to turn back; I am already fully committed to the course. The momentum of the proverbial ‘can do spirit’ is a current that carries me beyond the seemingly impracticable.
But when a client named Sam asked me to cut a 34 sided double terminated generator from a 43 pound smoky quartz crystal my reflex response was to try to talk him down from his far flung idea. Instead of enthusiasm and “can do spirit” my mind offered only practical skepticism as to why it couldn’t be done. First of all, why did he need a 34 sided crystal? I could probably cut 24 sides, a numerical extension of the natural hexagonal crystal shape. 34 sides seemed crazy, like flying a kite in a hurricane. Why did he want to do that? What was underneath my questioning was the fear that I might not be able to pull it off?
I was back on my heels from the start on this one, not sure that it was possible to accomplish such a feat. All of my past experience was telling me that this couldn’t be done without a sophisticated machining type lath or faceting machine adapted for the huge size I was working with. Something that Buzz & Mike Grey, Harold Van Pelt or some of the great lapidary technicians from Germany might do. I don’t have those tools. All of my pieces are worked by hand.
The problem with being an expert is that to get beyond what seems impossible you must fly in the face of your own self documented experiences that have established the boundaries of what (you believe) is possible.
When I questioned Sam about the significant size and 34 sided configuration he told me how this was the last component of a matrix that he had been working on for several years. He figured that if he could imagine it, then it could be done. But of course, he wasn’t the one that had to do it. There was no talking him out of what he had dreamt, envisioned and committed to having. I think he knew that I was a sucker at heart for this improbable challenge.
Like playing an instrument, crystal cutting demands a great deal of practice. It takes years to become proficient at laying down facets with accuracy. Like a concert pianist, there is physically demanding articulation. And like a musician there is a “feel” required that is at the same time measurable and incalculable.
Quartz crystals grow with six sides, each face consistently measures a 60-degree angle to its adjoining faces. I have calculated that it takes a motivated and well supervised trainee about 1000 hours to be able to take a small, six-sided, double terminated crystal through the cutting process with complete precision of angles, symmetry and polish with no supervision.
I have cut many, many crystals with countless special specifications, incorporating unusual angle configurations that seem contained only by imagination.
The more faces a crystal is cut with, the more conical or rounder the body of the crystal becomes. A sphere has one face with infinite sides.
With each face one adds, the angle between the adjoining faces becomes flatter or shallower, and thus more challenging to execute. In order to cut a 34 sided crystal, the angle between faces is only 10.5 degrees.
Trust me, that is very shallow, i.e. hard to achieve with precision when done by hand. There is actually a name in geometry for a 34 sided shape; it is a triacontakaitetragon.
Multi faceted angles are traditionally achieved using a faceting machine, where the fixed material and the accuracy of the machine combine to create precise symmetrical facets. Using a faceting machine allows the operator to rigidly fix the stone into the arm of the machine. And then mechanically dial in the exact angle of the desired face. This is a very calculated method that has been used in the jewelry trade for centuries. But trying to cut these delicate facets by hand…?
I have seen this technique of employing a faceting machine to cut multisided crystals for use in healing and other metaphysical tools. But the crystals are relatively small, due to the confines of the machine.
The problem I ran into with the 34 sided crystal is that it was much too large to fit on a traditional faceting machine.
This left me with 4 options:
1. Build a suitably large faceting machine, which would involve a great deal of time and expense.
2. Find a suitable machine already in existence.
3. Abandon the project (an appealing choice initially), or
4. Do it by hand (a high wire act with an uncertain outcome).
I have noticed a clear “energetic” distinction between a crystal cut by hand, and one cut on a faceting machine. The faceting machine cut crystal can be dazzling to the eye, but to my sensibility they lack an ineffable quality that can only be achieved through a relationship between the hands of the cutter as he or she listens to and works in consort with the crystal. The hand cut crystal has an alive resonance that is palpable.
Back to the 4 options listed above. The expense of building a new machine for this project was prohibitive. While I was able to find an already existing large machine, the more I thought about the logistics of making this work the less I liked the idea; it just didn’t feel right. By now I had engaged the challenge, which left me with only one option. Cut the crystal entirely by hand. A daunting task to be sure. But now that I had dismissed all of the other options, I know it was time for me to just step up and do it.
I consulted with my assistant Tim Turco, knowing that he would also be spending a great deal of time, muscle and skill on the project. Both Tim and my other assistant Ingrid Mrencso have tremendous knowledge and experience with crystal cutting. I used them initially as a sounding board for my doubts and considerations, while I developed a strategy that I felt comfortable enough to proceed with. There is a point at which the analysis of the situation has been done, and the progression of techniques has been established. While there were still questions in my mind, I had reached the place that in my bones told me this will work. I would have to summons the strength of popeye arms, while applying focused mechanical precision, turning myself into a human faceting machine.
When I first began hunting for a suitable crystal I not only needed to find one that had the proper dimensions (according to Sam’s specifications), but also to find a crystal willing to take on the destiny of this configuration. In other words, was the crystal willing to transform in such a radical way?
I checked out several crystals to begin with. Pieces that were physically suitable, but when I talked to them, they made it clear that they did not want to take on this form. Finally I found the one that had the physical characteristics as well as a willingness to change so drastically.
Through the initial sawing process the size and weight of the crystal was symmetrically reduced. But once I took the piece to the 18 inch diameter flat lap grinding wheel, I had to summons the strength and concentration to hold such a large piece for hours on end as the shape was meticulously ground down. Because I could not see exactly where I was placing the crystal for each cut, it was a continual process of grinding, lifting, measuring and minutely changing the angle. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my fingers crying from the stress they had endured doing the work. My hands and for-arms ached for weeks afterwards. Tim, who logged as many hours as I did, had to deal similarly with the strain and exhaustion.
The strategy of establishing a calibrated 17-sided piece proved to be the winning plan. Then each face was split in half, in effect doubling the number of faces to reach the desired 34. In the process of getting the body of the crystal aligned we cut each tip constellation six times. After the precisely formed 17-sided conical shape was established on the lap machine, Tim split the faces into 34 using a hand held tool. A job executed by a high caliber marksman, for sure.
In the end we were able to manifest the dream that Sam had envisioned, challenge our own abilities, and give a form to the crystal that will serve for generations.