Charleston is blessed with a significant number of artists, musicians, chefs and creatives that shape the culture and experience our city and make it like no other. I’ve always felt that artists create because they must. More than a choice, it’s a drive and the obedience of it. Rick Reinert paints every single day from dawn to dusk and has a significant following to collect what he is compelled to create. He also vets and invites other artists to share his space at 179 King Street. Sharing is another element of the creative process.
Goldsmith Michael Corneau is driven by colored stones. He has been fascinated with them since his work with Richard W. Wise, renowned goldsmith and gemologist, author of The French Blue and Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To Precious Gemstones. When Corneau speaks of primary hue, secondary hue, tone, saturation etc. it is with respect. “What is the potential for the best color for this breed of gemstone? Why is this better than that?” He loves the science of it. “Why is most of your jewelry diamonds? Diamonds are a safe bet. Without having someone to guide and educate about other options, they’re a safe bet. But women are more adventurous, and they love the colored stones.”
Not that there aren’t diamonds in the Corneau Gallery on Hasell Street, there are. Procured from a company based in Antwerp’s Diamond District, all stones are ideal-cut VS1 F-G and he uses a higher grade melee for extra sparkle. “Commercial quality diamonds lie flat and go dead,” Corneau says. “I want my pieces to flash from across the room.”
Technology and materials aside, Michael’s designs are the main attraction. He creates each piece the way a painter creates a portrait. “I want to feel customers out and know them and their personality. The same with gemstones, when I see stones, I let them speak for themselves. It’s challenging, there’s a lot of sketching and hair pulling.” He’s good at getting an idea of what people want, even when they don’t know themselves. And, his clients are almost always thrilled, whether they brought a family heirloom to be redesigned into something they will actually wear, or commissioned an original piece that will be fleshed out with pen and paper before it is birthed. He’s a constructivist, everything is by hand from scratch, going a different direction from the masses.
Influenced by his study of Interior and Architectural Design at Rochester Institute of Technology where he earned a BFA, Corneau creates simple statement pieces with unexpected elements like swirls of gold punctuated by pearls and the colored stones he loves so much.
As with other gallery owners, Michael and his partner Meredith Scott curate a collection of local and regional jewelry makers to complement Michael’s work. Britt Anderson from Raleigh is popular for his simple contemporary work featuring anticlastic raising. Giussipe Chillico trained at the base of the Spanish steps at Bulgari and now lives in Myrtle Beach. Trunk shows are held regularly like the one planned for June with Australia’s Lightning Ridge Opals, considered by some to be the most beautiful gemstones in the world. Damien Cody, one of Australia’s leading opal cutters and exporters, will be there with a collection that makes Michael Corneau whistful. He describes the gems as “fine opals with rolling flash of color—that’s what a good opal is supposed to look like.”
Corneau was recently selected for the book 500 Gemstone Jewels by Lark Books due out in June. I’ll be there for that launch.
Meet Michael Corneau and Meredith Scott at the Corneau Goldsmithing Jewelry Gallery, 92 Hasell Street or at 2nd Sunday on King Street, where you can talk diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals and all things sparkly and good.