Locked inside luminous Australian Opals are scents cigar smokers love – soil, wood, dust, crushed leaves, and forest undergrowth.
To release these aromas from the stone, all you have to do is press an opal against a diamond-coated grinding wheel spinning at 1,800 RPMs. Or, you can take the word of Aaron Hayes, a lapidary artist, who crafts luxury cigar picks from precious and semi-precious stones like emeralds, sapphires, jade, lapis, and turquoise; fossilized ivory, dinosaur bone, and coral; metals like titanium and gold – even human finger bones.
Hayes brings out an opal’s earthiness during the shaping, or “cabbing”, process, and compares the notes that fill his studio to those of a Tatuaje Cigar. Specifically, the brand's Black Label Corona Gorda.
“These picks are not only functional, but they are also works of art.” - Aaron Hayes.
An avid cigar smoker, Hayes has been cutting gems and doing repairs for jewelry shops in Connecticut for over 10 years. In 2018, his love for cigars and a desire for a new creative outlet came together. It was while browsing Instagram that he noticed most picks on the market were simple offerings, made from stainless steel and epoxied beads. Looking back now, he say had one thought as he scrolled, “I can do better than what I’m seeing.”
Blades and Bones: Early Pick Designs
That summer, Hayes started work and completed the first set of Maven Gems picks: a jade sword blade with a silver guard, grip, and pommel; an apple-green chrysoprase dagger nestled in a fossilized walrus bone handle, and a human pinky bone with black onyx poker rising from the metacarpal’s tip and capped with silver on the bottom.
All the materials Hayes works with are ethically sourced, including human bones, which are legal to possess and sell in the United States.
The image of these prototypes on Instagram garnered the attention and love of Steven Cigale, founder of Les Fines Lames; the Lounge Experience’s Amy Tejada, and the German-based Cigars Smokers Lounge among others.
The post also provided Hayes useful advice, creative momentum, and a custom commission request.
"The glint of 24-karat gold or the unmistakable shape of a human finger bone, as Hunter Marosits can attest, is hard to ignore."
Hunter Marosits, owner of Sir Louis Cigars in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, came across Hayes’ human bone pick on Instagram and reached out to learn more about the unique cigar accessory.
“I liked the cool factor of [the nubber] and after speaking to him about it, I decided to commission a finger bone pick of my own design,” said Hunter. “He was awesome to work with and very professional. Aaron took my rudimentary idea and procured the stones and gold to create my design from scratch. It feels great in my hand. I use it every day and it's a constant conversation piece in the shop!”
From there, Hayes expanded his collection to about two dozen designs ranging from stone picks sharpened to a fine point to more complex nubbers featuring precise carvings or etchings inlaid with gold leaf.
Creating a Luxury Cigar Pick
No matter how many parts or materials go into a design, all Maven Gems picks start in the same place: Aaron’s mind.
“The design process comes together slowly,” he explains. “Often, certain parts will sit next to each other for weeks before I can figure out what I want them to end up as.”
Once he has a mental picture, the work begins with the first step, shaping the handle.
For most nubbers, he uses a cabochon machine, a large, desk-mounted lapidary tool with a powerful motor that spins sets of specialized wheels and pads at high velocities (1,800 RPMs or more) to grind, shape, polish and cut rough stones into a cabochon – a rounded gemstone with a flat back.
Hayes shapes, or “cabs”, the handle’s material against the wheels and pads of the cabbing machine in a succession of steps that strip away bumps, ridges, scratches and other tactile irregularities until the stone is smooth and rounded, matching Aaron’s vision for the cigar pick.
"Spinning at speeds of up to 40,000 RPMs, the drills cut precisely into stone or bone..."
After cabbing, Hayes moves onto detailing. Fine lines, pits, holes, channels, and grooves are created using an NSK Micro Motor or Foredom Flex Shaper. These are high-powered, cylindrical-shaped handheld drills similar to those found at dentist’s offices.
Hayes says his studio often sounds like he’s performing endodontic surgery when using these machines, especially when working with fossilized coral. These ossified organisms, he notes, sound and smell just like human teeth when drilled.
Spinning at speeds of up to 40,000 RPMs, the drills cut precisely into stone or bone thanks to a library of bit, bur, disc and brush attachments. With over a decade of experience and artistic skill, Aaron is able to use these drills to carve human skulls out of delicate turquoise, dig tapered grooves into fragile phosphosiderite, or cut intricate patterns into harder stones like jade or agate.
Some of these details are left as is; others, like lines and dots, are filled in with a layer of gold, silver, or other precious material. The cigar pick’s cap and end also may be embellished with a precious gem or fossilized claw.
Finally, when the work of grinding and embellishing is done – which can take eight hours or more – Hayes completes the process by inserting and securing a sharpened gold or titanium point, finishing a one-of-a-kind Maven Gems Cigar Pick.
The end result is a luxury cigar accessory that feels great in your hand and is sure to turn heads wherever you smoke; the glint of 24-karat gold or the unmistakable shape of a human finger bone, as Hunter Marosits can attest, is hard to ignore.
“These picks are not only functional, but they are also works of art,” said Aaron.
When Aaron’s not crafting luxury nubbers, he’s using them on some of his favorite cigars: aged Tatuajes, Davidoffs, and Destino al Siglo from Arturo Fuente.
He’s tempted to smoke while working, but the tools, materials and chemicals used in his studio hinder him from enjoying the occasional stick. However, he does indulge another vice while crafting: music.
“I love jazz. Django Reinhardt, Hot Club Detroit, Billie Holiday, and Etta James just to name a few favorite artists,” said Aaron. “I am from the ‘90s too, so I listen to a lot of alt rock for the nostalgia and because I know all the words.”
Cleaning a Luxury Cigar Pick
If you consistently smoke down a cigar down to the nub with one of Aaron’s picks, you’ll eventually need to clean tobacco stains off of the metal or stone point.
This process, he assures his customers, is a breeze. All you need to do is dampen a soft cloth with 90% Isopropyl Alcohol and gently rub off the discoloration. If soaking is required, only soak the point in alcohol. Keep the fluid off any areas of inlay or gold leaf.
A goldsmith can also re-polish a metal point to bring back that original shine. Important note: make sure you ask the smith to wipe the polish residue off the metal’s surface with 90% Isopropyl Alcohol. Polish is toxic if heated.
Whatever you do, be gentle with one of Aaron’s creations. “The picks I make are made from natural stone or fossil; a drop or hit against a hard surface may cause damage,” said Aaron.
However, with the right care and cleaning, these picks can and will bring cigar lovers years of enjoyment.
Aficionados can purchase Maven Gem’s high-end cigar accessories directly from Aaron by direct message through his Instagram profile, @mavengems, or on ViceMerchant.com.
Images used with the permission of Maven Gems.