The Lure of Lapidary

Gil Bennet's Story

Gilmore Bennet, known as Gil, was a Tamworth resident with an interest in geology – the study of the matter and processes that shape the earth, and lapidary – the art of cutting, polishing and engraving stones and gems. For over 20 years he collected geological specimens from Australia and around the world. In 2008 the Bennet family donated Gil’s collection of 1554 specimens to Tamworth Regional Council. His collection is a key point of interest on the Fossickers Way Tourist Drive and remains on permanent display at the Nundle Visitor Information Outlet.

Lapidary is considered an historic craft, some suggest its history can be dated from the ‘Stone Age’. But the use of the term lapidary is recorded to date from the fourteenth century in Europe, from which the Australian tradition of lapidary originates. The Europeans’ historic interest in stones and gems centered on their value as tools, having power to heal and cleanse, as well as for adornment or decorative use. Traditionally jewelers learnt and performed lapidary.

The first lapidary club in Australian was formed in Sydney in 1953 by Jack Taylor. Jack’s interest in lapidary stemmed from his work as a jeweler, and his father and grandfather worked in the craft ahead of him. Through the Club formed by Jack he shared his knowledge of gems and stones with other interested members. From this meeting and era a network of other lapidary clubs gradually formed throughout NSW, including the Tamworth Lapidary Club in 1965. Lapidary Clubs invited anyone interested in the beauty and geology of stones and gems to become involved. Between 1965 and 1980 Gil was president of the Tamworth Club, which he was instrumental in establishing.

Lapidaries often shape rocks into spheres to showcase their colours, patterns and layers. Each sphere in the Gil Bennet collection was cut and polished by him. Bennet designed his own machine, which used a vertical spindle with cups attached, for sculpting rocks into spheres. Other early lapidaries in Australia also made their own machines as, given the niche interest of the craft in its formative decades.

Gil’s large collection of spheres represents thousands of hours of work and devotion to unveiling the layers of colour and pattern in the stones he was drawn to.