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Tuesday, January 23, 2018
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The Rural We: Richard Wise

Locals will recognize Richard Wise as the proprietor of the former R.W. Wise Goldsmiths in Lenox, Mass. Wise is an internationally renowned graduate gemologist, goldsmith and the author of “Secrets of the Gem Trade: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Precious Gem Stones,” which has recently been re-released in a second edition. In 2013, Wise sold his store, which he’d had for 35 years, to pursue his other passion: writing. His first novel, “The French Blue,” about a 17th-century French gem merchant, won a 2011 International Book Award in historical fiction. He is now working on his second novel.
I’m originally from Rhode Island, but I came to the Berkshires because it was the furthest point I could afford to go. The business actually started in New Bedford, Mass., but I was interested in making fine handmade jewelry, so I needed to go someplace where there were people with some resources. I had come to the Berkshires for many years to go to Tanglewood, so I opened my store in Lenox.

I started as a craftsman, and learned much of the trade on the job. My interest was in the colored diamonds, and that became the basis of our business. I’d ask gem dealers about criteria and they gave me insufficient answers. Gems are an industry where no one told anybody about anything; it’s been secretive since the Middle Ages. I decided I would find out everything I could, and tell people about it. But I had to discover much of it by myself. There’s very little written about gems. I traveled around the world seeking gem-bearing areas. After a while it became clear that if you looked at a beautiful stone to write a paragraph about it, all the elements of connoisseurship become apparent. You discover what separates the truly great from the mediocre. My book was the first to really lay it all out.

I retired from retail three years ago so I could do more writing. The first thing I did was finish up the second edition. It’s been a bestseller for 14 years, but I expanded and reworked it. Most jewelers are not able to explain stones, why some cost $50 and some cost $50,000, and the book is very accessible to both the trade and consumers.

Now I’m working on a novel set 30,000 years ago. I’ve been fascinated with cave painting. It’s pretty clear Paleolithic folks were doing more than scribbling graffiti on cave walls. They’re part of a tradition of exceptional artists.

Working the jewelry trade was an enjoyable and interesting thing to do, but I’d always wanted to write. You reach a certain point and you realize that the one irreplaceable luxury is time. When I retired at 68, I became one of America’s oldest young writers.

Richard Wise photo by Scott Barrow.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/24/17 at 05:57 PM • Permalink