Between a rock and an auto body shop
When Tobin Rupert sits down to cut a gem, he’s doing more than making a piece of jewelry.
“You can feel the energy coming out of the stone when you’re cutting it,” he said. “I think all stones are living, I really do. You’ve got to wake them up. They’re Mother Earth’s greatest gift to us as far as material things go.”
The secret, he said, is in the precision cut that allows light to flow freely through it.
“If you cut a perfect gem,” he said, “you have zero light loss. That’s what makes a gem really glow.”
And it’s more than aesthetics.
“It spins an energy that goes through your body like divine light,” he said. “It takes care of you. It makes you look good and feel good.”
That’s the feedback he said he’s gotten from customers who’ve purchased gems from his new store, Rupert’s Precision Gem Cutting, 2800 S. Curry St.
But he didn’t set out to be in the jewelry business.
Raised in Carson City by his grandparents, Rupert learned to work on cars from his grandfather, who started Rupert’s Auto Body on Curry Street at the edge of the Carson Indian Colony.
“I was good at it, and I liked doing it,” he said. “It just seemed to fit.”
After graduating in 1989 from the University of Nevada, Reno with a business degree, he took over the auto body shop that had since gone defunct.
“It was hard work, and I was very poor,” he recalled. “You don’t make much money when you’re starting up a new business. It takes a few years.”
Over time, however, he and his brother Ted turned it into a successful operation. So much so, that Rupert started feeling antsy.
“After 30 years of working on cars, it was time to pursue other things,” he said. “They do good work over there, the shop pretty much runs itself now.”
So three years ago, he left on a year-long, cross-country odyssey to reconnect with himself and God and reignite an old passion.
Ever since he was a little boy, he remembers digging in the dirt looking for rocks.
“My family would go on hunting trips,” he remembered. “They were hunting deer, and I was hunting rocks.”
He took up that hobby again. Using a book to help him identify different types of stones, he set about searching for them across the U.S.
“I was digging up stones, and seeing all kinds of cool stuff,” he said. “I didn’t stick around any cities, I hiked remote mountains. That’s where you find the good stuff.”
But he wanted to be more than a rock hound in his spare time.
“I can’t pursue my hobby unless I have an end product,” he explained.
Over the past three years he’s attended classes in North Carolina to earn certification in gem cutting and setting as well as gold and silver smithing.
“I can’t create an end product unless it’s the best. I don’t want to be middle of the pack.”
Rupert said the trick is in the facets of the gem, which reflect the light rather than letting it escape out of the bottom. He said he cuts around 100 facets into each gem, at 1/100th millimeter accuracy.
His jewelry is set apart from the mass-produced kind, he said, where the cut is just “eyeballed” or the stone is heated or treated with oil, lessening its authenticity.
“My stones are all real,” he said. “They come straight from the earth to here.”
Although he enjoys cutting and setting the stones, his favorite part remains finding them – even though it’s labor intensive.
“This is the 21st century,” he said, “there are no more treasures on the top of the earth, you’ve got to dig. It’s hard work, but it’s gratifying.”
For some stones, he has to travel as far away as the Great Smokey Mountains, like in January when he went to Georgia in search of rubies and emeralds.
For others, he need not travel far. He has a section of jewelry in his store made from stones found in Nevada, including a necklace made of petrified wood from Brunswick Canyon with turquoise accents.
Although they can be hard to recognize at first – “It’s amazing what some people have kicked off their shoes at some point in time,” he said – there are true treasures to be found buried in the dirt.
His pieces range in price from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. But the true significance is determined by the customer.
“If you like it, that’s what makes it valuable,” he said.