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South Arlington engineer reinvents his career, starting a company that cuts and sells gems

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

South Arlington resident Ricardo Buitrago brings an engineer’s eye to the delicate work of cutting and setting gemstones.

Trained as a mechanical engineer in Colombia, Buitrago worked with solar panels, and later glass and cars. He left all that behind and immigrated to Boston, without any knowledge of English.

Like many immigrants, he took hard jobs to learn the language and make ends meet. After 10 years, he moved to Arlington, where he has built a life with his wife and daughter over the last decade, and earned his master’s from George Washington University in systems engineering and computer science.

But Buitrago’s real love has always been energy production, and his white whale, a perpetual motion machine. These passions have taken him far from mechanical engineering and into the brilliant and — in his words — spiritual realm of gems. His deep fascination with their colors and the energy they produced compelled him to learn how to hew their rough exteriors; today, he sells jewelry made from gems he cut and fit into settings through a business called GalaxyGems.

“It was kind of a hobby at the beginning,” he said. “I was trying to make something beautiful for my daughter and wife. Later, as the pieces were getting more beautiful, we thought, ‘Maybe we can sell them as jewelry.'”

Ricardo Buitrago hand-cutting gemstones (courtesy photo)

He got his start watching videos and reading books and taught himself how to cut gemstones. He bought a cheap mechanism that he tinkered with until it could be used to make precise cuts into gems, saving himself between $6,000 and $9,000 on machinery. Everything for the company he and his wife did in-house, including videos for the website.

Like engineering, cutting gemstones gives him the satisfaction of turning a vision for a product into a real thing to enjoy.

“Every stone is a different product,” he said. “It gives us so much pleasure to start with something rough and make it something marvelous… It takes a lot of effort [to create] something that is so brilliant and perfect, in some way.”

In the near future, Buitrago says he’ll start designing his own settings and experiencing with alternatives to sterling silver settings and chains, such as wood or plastic.

“The idea is to make the whole product very original… something that is a trademark — to make a difference in the market,” he said.

What brings him the most pleasure, however, is when people move beyond the beauty of the stone, and talk to him about their power and properties.

“It’s rare to find someone like that,” he said.

Although GalaxyGems is a full-time job, Buitrago still finds some spare moments to tinker with designs for a gem-powered perpetual motion machine.

“People don’t understand how energy comes from stone and how that can translate to energy that helps us move things, but I think there is a path,” he said.

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