Gem and Lapidary Adventures

After being back in New York for just long enough to remember what it is like not to live out of a suitcase, I packed up again and embarked on another adventure. This time I headed for the Gem and Lapidary Wholesale show in Franklin, NC. My grandparents have a house nestled in the mountains of the region, and I grew up visiting often. It was actually in Franklin that I discovered my love of gemstones and made my first piece of jewelry at the age of twelve, so I was looking forward to the trip for many reasons. While there, I visited family, found some great wholesale treasures, and took a walk (or dig) down memory lane.

The Gem and Lapidary show was enormous- much larger than I ever could have anticipated. Despite being a small town, Franklin is located in one of the few notable regions for gem and mineral formation in the United States, so there is a pretty big population of rock hounds and gem enthusiasts in the area. The show brought a diverse crowd of buyers. I met designers, shop owners, mineral collectors, metalsmiths, and spiritual healers hunting out stones for their metaphysical properties. The vendors were also unique and widely varied- coming from across the country and globe. It took me two days to finally make it through the entire show. I met a lot of fascinating people and found some exciting treasures that I can’t wait to use in Sea + Stone jewelry.

I noticed a huge showing of opal and of petrified wood when I was there. This year has really been the year of the opal, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m a huge sucker for gems with a special phenomenon- whether it’s the play-of-color in opal, the flashes of color in labradorite, or the color change of alexandrite. The abundance of petrified wood was more surprising to me. A man I met at the Gemological Institute of America in California first introduced me to petrified wood. He vacationed with his family- driving to forests, deserts, and mines scavenging for unique materials to form into cabochons. He showed me slabs of dinosaur bone, petrified coral and wood. I love the gorgeous patterns of these less traditional, organic materials. So I’m eager to see if the abundance of this material at the show is indicative of a jewelry trend.

After finally making it through the entire show and purchasing some great stones to take back to NY, I was able to get out and explore the beautiful landscapes of the region. I’ve always found time spent in nature to be so inspiring and invigorating, but now that I’ve spent the last few years occupying my small apartment in the concrete jungle, I really relish any time that I get to spend somewhere more natural, wild, and serene. The lush mountains, trickling creeks, wild blackberries, and cascading waterfalls were a much welcomed change of scenery. It was nice to hear my thoughts clearly in such a peaceful, quiet place and to take inspiration from my surroundings.

For old time’s sake, I convinced my mom and grandmother to tag along with me to a sapphire mine for a day of gem hunting. As a child, my parents would take me to the local mines and purchase a pale of salted dirt for me to sift through hunting for treasure. “Salted” means that the dirt is laced with gems and minerals from mines overseas. It’s a bit of a hoax, but its great for children, because they are guaranteed to find a beautiful souvenir in every bucket. Since I have a bit more patience now and am nearing the end of my gemology program, I decided that we should try some more legitimate mining. We headed to Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire mine- the only mine in the region that allows you to dig your own dirt from the mine itself. This was great, because it meant that all of our found treasures would be native stones and we got the bragging rights of using our own time and muscle to extract them from the ground.

Once we dug enough to fill our buckets, we headed to the flumes to put our dirt into screens. We spent hours rinsing off mud and trying to spot the six sided column-like structure of a sapphire hiding out amongst our worthless pebbles and rocks. It became a bit of a competition to see who could get the highest carat weight by the end of the day! We certainly won’t get rich off of our finds, but we had a great time and were proud of our combined 10 carats of small sapphires.

The trip was fun and productive, and my mind is spinning with ideas for Sea + Stone jewelry! Before heading back to New York to get busy, I’m taking a quick detour down to Florida where I grew up. The gorgeous coastal regions of the gulf have always been my greatest muse, and no matter how long I live in New York, I’l always be a Florida girl at heart. Can’t wait to reunite with my beautiful home!

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