By Suzanne Vanderhoef
There are very few people in the US who still do engraving the old-fashioned way: by hand …and only a small handful of those who are so skilled they are referred to as Master Engravers.
But one of those rare artisans makes his home right here in St. Louis.
Richard Neustaedter is the owner of Neustaedter’s Fine Jewelers. He’s also an award-winning designer and Master Engraver. He uses an old set of German-made tools that look somewhat like finely-honed nails to create his art.
“Years ago, when I was learning the trade, they asked me to operate the machine equipment,” Neustaedter says. “It was a little machine operated by hand. Some places now call that hand engraving because of the computer. No. This is actually drawn on by hand, carved by hand.”
Neustaedter creates his art by drawing a freehand sketch, then making individual cuts in the metal, blending the individual characters together to create an integrated final piece.
But, despite the obvious skill and dexterity he uses to make these one-of-a-kind creations, being an engraver is not originally where Richard thought his career path would take him.
“I started out playing baseball and my desire was to be a ball player,” Neustaedter explains. “And I was really a very highly talented baseball player and I hurt my arm. People ask me if I’m an artist. I say no, I wasn’t an artist, I was a ball player. But I had the hand-eye coordination to see things.”
More than 6-decades later, that hand-eye coordination has certainly paid off. Neustaedter’s work is so well-regarded, he was even commissioned to engrave the plaque marking the entrance to Big Cat Country at the St. Louis Zoo. And his famous clientele includes Cardinals’ greats Stan Musial and Whitey Herzog, to name just a few.
But Neustaedter gives that same attention to all his clients, regardless of how many world series rings they’ve earned.
And even after all these years, he still loves what he does. As he puts it, “The fun part is when people tell me that they’ve been different places and they’ll run into someone that’s wearing one of my pieces say Oh, that came from Neustaedter’s. That’s exciting, because people feel good about what they have. They say, you know, I have a Neustaedter piece, I have a Richard piece. That’s fun.”