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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Woodrow wins Best Cabochon, Worldwide donated award


Last updated 9/8/2018 at 1:52pm

Lucette Moramarco photo

Carved by James Woodrow, the Bruneau jasper cabochon, center, is the winner of first place in the One Cabochon, Worldwide class and also of the Best Cabochon, Worldwide donated award from the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society.

James Woodrow entered a Bruneau jasper cabochon in the San Diego County Fair's Gems, Minerals and Jewelry exhibit which not only took first place in the One Cabochon, Worldwide class but was also given the Best Cabochon, Worldwide donated award from the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society.

"It's a really nice piece," Woodrow said.

A cabochon is a gemstone which has been polished but not faceted or cut.

"I had to coax it out of the stone, basically," Woodrow said.

Bruneau jasper is a one-source mineral, meaning that it is found in only one place in the world. Bruneau Canyon is in southwestern Idaho near the Snake River, and the mine has now been closed.

"Mother Nature puts the crack in the most beautiful places," Woodrow said. "What you have to do is work around that."

Woodrow personally prepared the jasper for display.

"There's a lot of time and effort that goes into this, and it takes special equipment, too," he said.

The work earned Woodrow the Best Cabochon, Worldwide donated award.

"That's from the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society," Woodrow said. "They judge the gemstone only. They're not judging the display, the labels."

During the judging for special awards and donated awards, the exhibitor's name is folded over so that the selectors of the awards are not influenced by their relationship with the exhibitor.

"When you win an award from your peers such as the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, it's quite a compliment," Woodrow said. "To have the best cabochon at the fair is a great accomplishment. It's just an affirmation of all the hard work and skills that I've accumulated over a lifetime."

Woodrow was raised in Laverne and Clairemont, California, and began collecting minerals as a child. College brought him to Oregon in 1970, and he took advantage of the Oregon State University craft shop. He taught himself lapidary work while in Oregon and also became involved in sand painting. Woodrow began cutting gems and selling sand paintings at local stores and galleries while at Oregon State. He was an aeronautical engineering major in college but now also has Gemological Institute of America certification for faceting color stones, and he has also studied at the Hazeltine School of Fine Jewelry in Pasadena.

Woodrow moved from Sage to Bonsall in 2009. He has served as a gem-cutting instructor at the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society museum, and he has also worked at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Riverside. He first entered the county fair's Gems, Minerals and Jewelry competition in 2012.

"The San Diego County Fair is just a fantastic exhibit," Woodrow said. "To be able to participate in the fair, it's a great opportunity for me to display my skills and continue to grow as a lapidary artist."

Anne Schafer is the coordinator of the Gems, Minerals and Jewelry exhibit.

"She and her volunteers have put on a great program," Woodrow said. "There's more competition than ever."

The competitors themselves often consider their displays as education to the public.

"My true love is to share with a child what it's all about," Woodrow said.

Woodrow's goal is to teach children and others about the natural world.

"It's an absolute blessing that puts positive energy into the world and into that individual," he said. "When it comes to teaching children there's so much potential."

In the future Woodrow plans to show the importance of gems and minerals in people's lives.

"I will do an educational case at some point in time," he said. "We rely on minerals and rocks to keep us alive."

Woodrow may integrate local mines in that display. Lithium is used both for medical purposes and for batteries, and the Stewart Mine in Pala was once the nation's largest producer of lithium.

Woodrow entered a 96-carat faceted quartz gemstone he cut at the Gemological Institute of America in the 2012 county fair. He won first place in the One Faceted Stone, Beginner category while winning the Best Single Item in Gem Faceting donated award for which entries from the advanced and professional groups were also eligible.

"That was a pretty good initiation into the San Diego County Fair," he said.

Woodrow has won awards at all seven of the county fairs he has entered including the Best Cabochon, Worldwide award in 2013, 2015 and 2017 as well as this year. Woodrow won the 2013 Best Cabochon, Worldwide award for a marcasite agate self-collected in Nipomo, California, won the 2015 award for a purple agate and won the 2017 honor for a purple agate found in western Arizona.

"There's much more than a rock and a gem involved here. It's a development of skills and the abilities that are latent in all of us," Woodrow said. "One of my favorite things to do is to slice open a rock and look inside. To bring the best pattern and gem out of that is a skill."

A larger stone reveals such properties in better detail.

"This year I wanted to put in an extremely large cab," Woodrow said.

Woodrow purchased the Bruneau jasper rock in Quartzite, Arizona, during the 1990s. "The rough at that time was expensive," he said. "The mine itself is in a very narrow canyon in a very remote location. It's very hard to access."

The jasper had to be polished to be displayed at this year's county fair.

"One of the best properties of Bruneau jasper is polish," he said. "It takes one of the best polishes of any mineral on the planet."

The polish was applied at the 60,000 diamond level.

"It's brittle. It can chip. It can crack, so it requires great sensitivity," Woodrow said.

Woodrow noted that the jasper wasn't all which was changed by the polishing.

"The person cutting it also goes through a transformation. You get to experience that," he said. "It teaches you many things: patience, focus, coordination. What this did for me is sent me to learning how it formed."

That includes families of gemstones and how gemstones obtain their color.

Woodrow wanted to ensure that the gemstone was free of flaws.

"I go beyond what most lapidary artists will do," he said. "I take a long time to sand properly step by step before I move onto the next."

Bruneau jasper can have differential hardness with the harder areas appearing as dark brown and light brown also being present.

"You've got to be very delicate with touch when you're sanding this," Woodrow said. "You've constantly got to be sanding those edges so they won't crack on you. You've got to be careful of overheating the stone, too, because if you overheat the stone it will crack."

Woodrow eventually obtained his desired result without damaging the jasper.

"It's very difficult to get a flat surface and a polish on that surface," he said. "That's where the skill is."

The county fair has a Three Cabochons, Worldwide, category, along with the One Cabochon, Worldwide class. Woodrow also entered the Three Cabochons, Worldwide competition with a blue Bruneau jasper, a blue hawks eye from Africa and a marcasite cabochon from Nipomo, California.

All four of the stones Woodrow entered were prepared for this year's county fair, and he began working on them about three months prior the opening of the county fair.

"I worked right up to the last day," he said.

When Woodrow was assembling his Three Cabochons, Worldwide entry, he was not satisfied with the look of the display following the application of the adhesive. He thought about not entering but decided to enter with the stones on only a base.

"The stones themselves were cut incredibly well," he said.

Workmanship accounts for 60 percent of the judges' scoring for cabochons with design and uniqueness comprising 20 percent and quality of materials providing 10 percent. Five percent for presentation and 5 percent for labeling completed the scoring process.

Woodrow did not place in the Three Cabochons, Worldwide contest.

"Even though the gems were extraordinary, the display wasn't," he said.

The emphasis on educating the public rather than on ribbons means that Woodrow has no regrets about entering the cabochon trio.

"We're in this for the positive impact it's going to have on the public in society," he said.

The San Diego Mineral and Gem Society had different criteria when evaluating entries for the Best Cabochon, Worldwide award.

"They're looking at the craftsmanship," Woodrow said. "They're looking at the gemstone itself."

Woodrow's Bruneau jasper was chosen for that honor.

"To have an organization like this think so highly of my work is one of the greatest honors that you can ever imagine," he said.

Woodrow was also honored by the state Senate through a certificate of recognition provided by state Sen. Joel Anderson.

The Best Cabochon, Worldwide award gave Woodrow four such awards over the past six years.

"That's a pretty extraordinary achievement," he said. "I've been very successful at the San Diego County Fair, and I've been very grateful," Woodrow said. "It's just an incredible experience."


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