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The Doctor of Beach Stones

Originally Posted: January 10, 2008

R. B. Stuart

Over three decades ago East Hampton resident David Posnett studied medicine in Switzerland. Although his second choice would have been the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he took drawing classes for several years knowing upon retirement he would continue in the arts.

David Posnett

Posnett was born in Aftrica to a British father and Swiss mother. His mother was a graphic artist, who worked as a silk designer and art teacher, who instilled a love for art in her children. "She put crayons in front of us, encouraging us to draw and paint," Posnett recalled of his childhood in Uganda.

He left his mother country at eight, never to return, and his career in Medicine and Medical Sciences took him to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, then onto Cornell for a Fellowship in Hematology and Oncology. "My childhood memories of Uganda are still vivid and fantastic, and I feel privileged to have lived there. Africa had a lot to do with my love for nature, and was a great place for a kid to grow up," he admits.

Posnett's research career took him onto Rockefeller University in NYC with faculty appointments at Weill Medical College of Cornell University where he is a Professor of Medicine. Then six years ago he began taking jewelry classes at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, studying with internationally renowned teachers - Jonathan Wahl, Klaus Buergel, Honey Jeanne Laber and Susan Sloan - and fell in love with it immediately. "It's all nature for me. Biology is about how cells work, how life works. I'm fascinated by nature, there's something about it that captures the equivalent of God," Posnett explained of his transition from bones to stones.

Posnett, who lives near the beach, says it was natural for him to start making jewelry from objects found on the beach - stones, shells, beach glass. "I think they're like a found treasure. Nobody else found them, I did. And when they're washed and tumbled they look so beautiful." Through his studies he's learned how to identify semiprecious minerals found on the beach including quartz variants, how to professionally tumble, polish, and cut the stones using a diamond knife.

Why are people naturally drawn to rocks? Posnett thinks it is because touching a smooth surface triggers the sensation of touch. "You're feeling something beautiful," he remarked.

Although he has retired from patient care, he still does research with colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Melanoma cancer vaccines, and continues to teach annual classes for first and second year medical students. His ability to use a scalpel transferred his authority as a lapidary, a person skilled at cutting stones. "I am good with my hands," Posnett admits. "While making jewelry isn't as intricate, the dexterity is something that has similar aspects to the medical field."

He informs that bone is much softer than stone. "Dentistry and drilling teeth is similar to drilling stone. In both instances you must use cold running water to cool the apparatus bit while drilling. The stone must be kept cool during this procedure because they heat rapidly and are susceptible to cracking."

Posnett, who headed a NIH-funded research laboratory in the field of Immunology for 25 years, says in retrospect he's happy the way his life turned out. "I'm very content the way it happened. I am lucky to do both medicine and jewelry," the professor of medicine said.

He has recently added to his repertoire, silversmithing and goldsmithing, hollow construction and marriage of metals, Epoxy techniques, and Mokume Gane. What started as a hobby, in 2005 became a commercial business when Maidstone Jewelry was founded.

Using beach stones Posnett found was an interest the whole family loved. "It was a feeling I wanted to do something unique. I thought how cool to wear a rock we'd found." When designing the setting for the stone, Posnett tries to design pieces that would house irregular objects, and be adapted to different shapes. "I don't want to make mass produced jewelry. These stones force you to make one-of-a-kind pieces. We have to adapt to the stones," he explained of his practical design technique.

The design of the piece is determined by the shape and size of the stone. Because of the weight around your neck, some are better used for rings than chains and pendants. Stone selection poses difficulty when needing a pair. "You can take two stones that look similar and cut and shape them, but they are too heavy for a pair of earrings, so we use Jingle shells. They're very fine, so we put two-ton epoxy on them to preserve the luster and keep them hard."

Cultured Pearl Flower necklace by David Posnett

The biggest mistake other rock collectors make is not looking at the stones while they're wet. Posnett informed, "When you see stones along the beach they are bleached by the sun and are dull. You should always look at them wet, and that will determine how they'll look once they've been tumbled." The tumbler makes them smoother, softer to the touch, and shiny. When he decides to cut the stones it's always from an angle. And hopes there's not a crack inside. "Nearly every beach stone has a crack and fissure in it. They've been hammered by the elements since the last ice age. So looking at the stone and the shape gives you the visual cue on how to cut it."

The stones on Long Island were left here as a result of the last ice age (Tioga) about 10,000 years ago, when the ice reached down from Canada all the way to the present shores of Long Island. His handmade jewelry is made with relics up to 30,000 years old.

Posnett also makes custom pieces. Local customers bring him their favorite beach stone to feature as a pendant, brooch, or ring. Many of his own pieces are on display at Maidstone Jewelry studio, and if you don't have enough time to collect your own rocks you can choose from 10,000 of the tumbled stones he keeps in his basement. "My tumbler machines are working constantly. We've been tumbling rocks for the last six years," he exclaimed of the hefty electric bill.

Maidstone Jewelry is a family affair that he is thankful for, "My wife Maria, and my daughters Kim and Yelyi often help with the crafts fairs. And I'm grateful they have taken interest in my hobby and have supported me, thus turning it into a profession. Usually in a lifetime you only get to do one thing professionally, and I've done two." Posnett concluded, "I feel blessed and lucky - both have been equally fulfilling." In 2008 they are planning to set up tables at about 40 different arts and crafts fairs selling their hand-made jewelry throughout LI and NYC.

 • Visits to the Maidstone Jewelry Studio in East Hampton are by appointment only. David Posnett can be reached by phone at 631-379-2200 and you can view his unique creations on the web and search for their 2008 event listings at www.maidstonejewlery.com.

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