James Woodrow received a donated award in the San Diego County Fair’s Gems, Minerals and Jewelry competition for one of his cabochons.
Woodrow’s purple agate, found in Arizona, received the Best Cabochon, Worldwide award from the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Woodrow. “It’s a great honor that I will probably remember for the rest of my life. That’s determined by one of the oldest and best gem and mineral societies in the entire country. I’m very pleased to have the club and the fair recognize my artwork.”
A cabochon is a gemstone which has been polished but not faceted, or cut. Woodrow hand-carved the purple agate he entered this year into shield form.
“That’s a culmination of all the years and effort it took to learn how to do it,” Woodrow said of his award.
Burro Creek is in western Arizona off the Colorado River, and the purple agate was obtained from that site. The extraction area is now closed to the public, and Woodrow believes that the agate which won the 2017 Best Cabochon, Worldwide award was extracted in the 1950s or 1960s.
Woodrow’s craft work also includes sand painting, and the purple agate he entered this year was acquired in a trade for one of Woodrow’s sand paintings.
Woodrow first entered the county fair’s Gems, Minerals and Jewelry competition in 2012 and has won awards in each of the six years he has entered. He also received the Best Cabochon, Worldwide award in 2013 and 2015.
“That’s quite substantial,” Woodrow said. “Everybody that shows there are extraordinary people.”
Woodrow’s 2013 cabochon was a marcasite agate from Nipomo, Calif.
“That actually is a very rare mineral, only occurs in a couple of places in the entire world,” he said.
The marcasite agate was self-collected.
“I came through after some heavy storms,” Woodrow said.
Woodrow hand-carved the marcasite agate into the shape of a heart.
“It’s all done free-form by hand,” Woodrow said of his hand-carved stones.
A purple agate provided Woodrow with the 2015 Best Cabochon, Worldwide award.
“Purple is one of the rarest colors in agate,” he said.
Woodrow faceted that agate. He noted that as much of 75 percent of the stone could be removed during faceting.
“When you’re cabbing, you don’t lose that much of a stone,” he said.
In his 2012 fair debut, he entered a 96-carat faceted quartz gemstone in the amateur beginner’s class and won first place in that class while also winning the Best Single Item in Gem Faceting donated award.
“I beat the advanced; I beat professionals,” he said.
Woodrow trained at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and GIA gave him the quartz to cut. Woodrow noted that the quartz had three times more facets than a commercial diamond. The entry included a piece of the rough stone as well as the finished cabochon.
Woodrow, who moved from Sage to Bonsall in 2009, was raised in Laverne and Clairemont, California.
“When I was a kid, I had a love for collecting minerals,” he said.
He moved to Oregon in 1970 for college because Oregon State University had a craft shop.
“There were gems and minerals everywhere up there,” Woodrow said.
Woodrow taught himself lapidary work while in Oregon and began his collection activities.
“I’ve been in lapidary for 40 years,” he said.
Woodrow has also been involved in sand painting for approximately 40 years. While at Oregon State University, he began selling sand paintings at local stores and galleries and began cutting gems.
Woodrow’s work includes designing and polishing as well as shaping.
“I wanted to do it all,” he said.
Although Woodrow was an aeronautical engineering major in college, he also has Gemological Institute of America certification for faceting color stones. He also studied at the Hazeltine School of Fine Jewelry in Pasadena.
Woodrow has also served as a gem cutting instructor at the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society museum, and he has worked at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Riverside.
“You meet some amazing people in this field,” he said.
Woodrow notes that exhibiting at the county fair allows him to share his collections and work with the public.
“This is something I love to do,” he said. “I’ve been graced.”