June 2021
Rock Star
The lapidary art of Keith Horst

When you buy a piece of jewelry it often has a cabochon or gemstone set as an accent in the piece. Have you ever wondered who made that stone? Or where it came from? 

Photo by Lee Anets

If you’re like me, the provenance of the stone and the lapidary artist who made it are just as important as the metalsmith who created the piece of jewelry.

Over my 35-year career as a jeweler I have met and bought stones from lapidary artists across the country and around the world. I feel very lucky that one of my all-time favorites, nationally recognized Lapidarist Keith Horst, lives right here in Prescott!

Keith began cutting stones in 1975. Living in Denver at the time, Keith and his brother-in-law owned a jewelry supply store. He started cutting turquoise to sell to jewelers who came in to buy supplies. This proved to be very popular and profitable. One thing led to another, and he joined the Denver Lapidary Club and started rockhounding with his son Alex.

Our cover piece, bumblebee jasper

He started doing gem shows in Denver and attending the Tucson Gem Show looking for rough material. He was, as we say, bitten by the rock bug. Always open to new adventures, an opportunity to move to Arizona and run a Morgan-horse ranch out near Kirkland with his brother-in-law offered a chance to expand the lapidary operation too! He moved his family to the Prescott area in 1981 and they built the ranch, including a huge shop filled with lapidary equipment. Arizona is mineral-rich and a rockhounding mecca, and many days were spent rockhounding and cutting stones. Over the subsequent years Keith’s love for stones grew and he amassed a huge cabochon collection. In 1991 he took a chance and went to the Quartzsite Gemshow, where he sold out in two days!

The family moved into Prescott in 1997 and Keith began networking with the local jewelry teachers at Yavapai College, Bill Ford and Dick Marcusen. They invited him to do a lapidary demonstration at the college.

Petrified palmwood

“It was like someone opened a book in my mind and all this information I had accumulated over the years about lapidary came pouring out. I loved it, and the students loved it!”

Shortly after that he was invited to create an ongoing lapidary class. For the next 21 years Keith’s Lapidary I and II classes filled up every semester, with waiting lists. “I loved teaching,” he says, but last year Keith finally retired, to the great sadness of his dozens of students.

I feel blessed to have been able to study under Keith for the last four years he was teaching. His enthusiasm and knowledge of lapidary and geology made him an outstanding teacher, fueling a love for the art in many, many amateur rockhounds. Keith is also the founder of the Prescott Gem and Mineral Club, one of the most successful clubs in the country, which produces the Prescott Gem and Mineral Show, the second-largest gem show in Arizona.

I asked Keith “If you got picked up by an alien spaceship and could only take one rock with you, what would you take? He laughs and says, “Who knows, they might keep me someplace new with all kinds of new rocks, imagine that!” Your favorite rock? “‘My favorite rock is the one I’m currently cutting.”

A selection of different jaspers in cabochon

It is hard not to spend hours talking about rocks with Keith. At six-feet-six Keith is a gentle giant with a deep love for geology that is contagious. The skill of understanding the complexity of a given stone and reading the best way to render a beautiful cabochon out of it takes years to learn. Keith is a wizard at this, his stones are elegant, with beautiful lines capturing the essence of the stone perfectly. If you get a chance to attend the Prescott show, be sure to stop by and say hello.

So next time you buy a piece of jewelry, stop and think about the knowledge and skill that went into creating the stone. Lapidary is an art, and Keith Horst is a master.

Keith Horst shows every year at the Prescott Gem and Mineral Show.

Lesley Aine McKeown is a jewelry artist in Prescott. Photos by Lesley.

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