Alabama State Symbols - State Gemstone Blue Star Quartz

Designated in 1990, the state gemstone of Alabama is star blue quartz. It's a very specific type of quartz that appears to be clear to milky, but shows its blue color in direct sunlight. It is a macrocrystalline (big crystal) quartz with fibrous inclusions of magnesiorbecktite or crocidolite. These fibrous inclusions cause asterism (a star to show on the surface) when properly cut and polished. Some of these blue stones have multiple stars or single stars with up to 10 rays! This picture of star blue quartz rough is from the archives.Alabama.gov site.

You can actually find many types of quartz in Alabama, including amethyst, but this rare star blue quartz is most often found in the red dirt of the east central Piedmont Upland, especially in Chambers and Cullman counties. I've been unable to locate any pictures of cut star blue quartz that show the star, but here is a pretty faceted star blue quartz from crystalcure.com

 

It can be difficult to locate pictures or samples of the star blue quartz that show the star - but I did find one picture from the Alabama state web site.

 

The State Symbols - Rocks and Minerals from Each of the States

A while back I started a Facebook page and over the years that I've had that page, I've shared information about rocks and gemstones.  Right now, I'm covering the rocks, minerals, gemstones and fossils of our fifty states.  Because the information can be difficult to locate in a Facebook timeline, I've decided to share the information here on my blog as well. 

Moving a Rock and Jewelry Studio

It sounded like a good idea.  Moving that is.  My home is just too big  now that it's just me and a few furry friends rattling around in the house.  So, it seemed reasonable to downsize.  I don't know what I was thinking.

I moved about ten years ago, and at that time I wasn't making jewelry.  I only had to move the house, the gardening gear, lots of plants, some kids, some pets, and my rock collection.  Not too bad.  I did what most of us do - I gave away lots of stuff that no longer seemed necessary or at least not important enough to move across four states.  The Kidney Foundation received 5 truckloads of stuff!  I gave away fancy cake pans to people who still bake.  I gave away furniture I was tired of looking at.  I cleaned house!  It felt pretty good.  But I did NOT give away any of my rocks.  They all had to move with me.

Fast forward a few years and here I am with approximately a ton of rough rocks, four large tool boxes for making jewelry, two large saws for cutting rough rocks, a cabbing set up, grinders, polishers, bench vises......you get the picture.  I've filled a shed, a sunroom and a garage with my rock and jewelry shop equipment and supplies; not to mention the furniture dedicated to holding all that equipment.  And none of it is well organized - like Topsy, it just grew.

I have a few final projects to complete before I pack it all up.  It's driving me crazy though - I just bought new rocks at the shows and I can't make anything out of them yet.  Not until I move.  Of course, I HAVE started packing.....

Probably the best part of packing it all up is that I'm finding things I forgot I had.  I've uncovered sketches I made for jewelry I stuck in a folder and forgot about.  I've found gemstones I thought I already used.  And have found out that I used some I thought I still had in stock.  Apparently I needed to update my inventory.  I found my first cab.  Thought I had lost it.  It isn't good enought to set or sell - but it was my first and I don't want to lose it.  I found the business cards from my father's long ago closed rock shop.  And that leads to the worst part.  All these "finds" sidetrack me.

I decided to frame one of my father's business cards with one of mine.  That entailed finding a frame that they both would fit in (mind you they were all already packed), cutting a mat for the frame and cards and assembling the "picture."  Only took an hour or so, but that was time not spent packing.  The sketches all needed to be added to my actual sketch book (now that I have one).  Rocks needed to be measured, weighed and labeled.  As I find rocks I get new ideas - and that means more sketching.  The inventory update is done.

As you can imagine, packing is taking a little longer than it probably should.  On the other hand, I have lots of ideas to tackle once I get the new studio set up and an updated inventory so I know what is available for construction.  And that leads to the best part.  Right now, my studio is scattered between rooms.  In the new studio, everything except the rock saws will be in one room.  So, one of the most important sketches I am working on is the layout for the new studio.  I'm looking at this as an opportunity to make my work space more efficient and pleasant to work in.  I don't suppose I'll get it right the first time.  When I moved last time, things in my kitchen were rearranged several times; likewise in my home office.  I suspect the studio will be the same.  Still, once all the grunt work is done it will be great to have a new space - and room for more rocks.

 

 

 

 

Rock Finds and Rock Shows - Family Entertainment

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it's rock show season.  Lots of places to go look at rocks, buy rocks, get information about rocks and find jewelry.  I have a bad habit of going to these shows and getting sidetracked.  I always make a list of specific rocks and metals that I'm looking for, but somehow I always come home with items that were NOT on that list.  I am easily distracted by shiny things!

Straying from my list isn't always a bad thing.  I've found some great new rocks and minerals to add to my collection.  I've found some really interesting and different silver and copper beads and findings too.  That's part of the fun - you never know what you're going to see at one of these shows.  True, the same vendors come to many of the same shows year after year.  That allows you to plan - usually they have the same type of items sold in the past.  But these vendors always manage to come up with something new you just have to have.

Last year I went to the shows in the greater St. Louis area (they are coming up this weekend, and I'll be there again) and checked out a vendor I met the previous year.  I was planning to purchase some Red Creek stone from him, but found gorgeous deep orange calcite instead.  I did end up buying some more Red Creek stone too, but I could not pass up that calcite. 

Another vendor I've worked with for over 20 years has always had nice faceted stones at very reasonable prices. I always check out what they have since I am still learning to facet and don't have any of my own I would set or sell.  Last year this vendor had lots and lots of cut cabochons in stones I don't currently have.  It was a little like Christmas for me.  I could get some stones ready to set until I located some rough to cut my own.  They ended up in some of my favorite jewelry I made last year.

At another vendor I found rough petrified wood from Madagascar.  It is gorgeous.  I ended up buying three different types - and so far all the stones I've cut have stayed in my jewelry collection.  Eventually I'll get around to cutting more and sharing.  I just hope this year he has more of them!

These shows can also be great places to find used equipment for cutting stones and making jewelry.  At one show in early April, you have to get there very early to check out one vendor who brings used equipment - they all go fast!  Notice I'm not telling you which show - I don't need the competition.

I've also found vintage settings for stones - belt buckles, necklaces, earrings, rings, etc.  I've found 1950s, 1960s and 1970s items that are all back in style.  And the prices on these are usually quite reasonable. 

One great family activity at many of these shows is the fluorescent rock displays.  Yep.  Rocks that glow in the dark.  Some shows also include other activities - things your children can make or prizes they can win to start their rock collections.  The St. Louis show had a baby mastadon two years ago - one cool fossil.  Most shows have lots of fossils to explore - one show in Iowa City is JUST fossils!  How cool is that?

I've posted shows I've found through mid-April on my facebook page.  Just click on the link at the bottom of my web page to see them all.  I'll be posting more soon.

I hope you get to enjoy at least one rock show this year.  Bring a friend - it's fun to share.

 

Never Enough Tools

I don't know if I somehow missed it, but usually this time of year one of my favorite supply houses has a big sale on jewelry making and rock cutting tools.  I'm disappointed I haven't seen the sale posted this year, but that didn't stop me from compiling my annual wish list of tools to buy. 

My youngest son works on cars and welding - we have a contest going over who spends the most on tools!  It's not that we want to spend the money, it's just that many tools are very specific to a job or task, and when it's something like making jewelry, those tools are often quite expensive.  I guess it's a function of supply and demand; if more of us made jewelry and cut rocks, the tools would cost less, but then who would we sell jewelry to?

In any case, as I learn new jewelry making skills and new stone cutting skills, I need tools that allow me to use those skills.  (That's my story, I'm sticking to it!).  Lapidary Journal has an ongoing contest to make jewelry using only 5 tools.  So, specialized tools aren't exactly required, but as I've discovered in nearly every thing I do - the right tool just makes the job so much more enjoyable.  It's true when I garden, when I cook, or when I'm at my full time job, and especially when I'm trying to work out a new design for jewelry. 

For example, you may have seen the ring I recently set with a faceted lab grown ruby as I posted it on my facebook page.  Setting faceted stones is a very different skill than setting cabochons.  Not necessarily more difficult, but different.  I used my cabochon setting tools to set that faceted stone - and it worked fine.  If you don't mind taking twice to three times as long to set a stone.  They make pliers that are designed specifically for setting faceted stones into prong settings.  Quick and easy.  Also more likely NOT to damage the stone.  So, as you might guess, those pliers are now on my wish list.

I'm also teaching myself to make new kinds of chains.  I often use purchased chain for a necklace or pendant but sometimes there isn't any chain that quite suits the peice and so I make the chain.  Turns out, those handmade chains are quite difficult to polish by hand, but you can do it fairly quickly in a vibratory tumbler with some stainless steel shot.  After I spend nearly as long polishing one chain as I did making it ( and believe me it does take some time to solder each individual link) I added both of those items to my list as well. Actually, I added another soldering tool that should make it quicker and more efficient to solder all those chain links too!

Then there are the tools that I don't need but want.  I have a jeweler's saw.  It works just fine, but I want a Knew saw.  Costs lots more than the one I have but so much easier to change saw blades - and it swivels so it's easier and faster to cut out shapes from metal sheet.  Other jewelers who have one tell me it's also more stable and therefore causes less fatigue on your hands when sawing.  Sounds good to me.

I could go on and on.  My list is an entire page long  and I know  I won't get many off that list this year.  But, it's always fun to look through the catalogs and think about what I could do if I only had the right tool.  My dad used to tell me I shop like a man.  I prefer to shop for tools and know what I want when I go to get them.  I think it was a compliment.

Lots of Rock Shows

The Tuscon Gem and  Mineral Show has come and gone for another year, but late winter and spring are a time when there are dozens of smaller gem, mineral, and fossil shows going on all over the country.  I just spent about an hour looking up shows listed just for the rest of February and March.  And, I'm sure I didn't find them all.  Still, I posted all that I did find on my facebook page.  If you are looking for a show to attend between now and mid-March, lots of them are posted there.  I'll be posting more for the last half of March and April over the next couple of weeks.  You can find them at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jewelry-Box-Rocks/330574873658119 or by clicking on my facebook link at the bottom of my web page.

One of the aspects of the shows I really enjoy is that I usually take a friend along so the trip does double duty.  I get to spend time with a friend, and then spend lots of time looking at, learning about, and talking about rocks and minerals.  We usually make a day of it.  Have lunch.  Dinner too if we travel very far. 

Last spring I was louping some gemstones that were marked down when a young boy tapped me on the shoulder ( I had borrowed a chair from the vendor as I was looking over quite a few rocks).  "Lady" he said to me, "can you tell me if this is a good rock?"  He was holding a small tanzanite cabochon that was lighter in color and slightly included, but he couldn't see those incluclusions because he didn't have a loupe.  So, I showed him how to use my loupe, asked him what he saw, and we had a nice conversation about all the interesting things you can find inside stones.  And, I found him a nicer purple stone (also a tanzie) that he could buy for his collection.  I wondered where his parents were - turns out they were standing a couple of feet away watching us.  They also ended up getting in  on the conversation and I enjoyed sharing the little I know about stones with some newbees.  It's great to see younger children getting interested in rockhounding.  Their parents too!

This spring I'm going to drag a friend along that has never been to a rock show.  She doesn't know that yet, but I'm hoping she'll enjoy the trip and catch the bug.  I always need more people to go rock hunting with. 

Until you can get to a show, enjoy reading up on the latest finds and places to look for rocks - and I hope I'll see you at a show or two.

OH!  And for those of you looking to buy rough rocks to cut and polish or tumble, Kingsley North is having a sale right now.  Just got my new catalog today, so we know how I'll be spending my evening.

 

It's Nearly Mined Out!

Although no one would suggest I actually need more rocks at my house, that doesn't stop me from looking for more.  And, when I'm at home I sometimes have the gem and jewelry shopping channels on in the background.  The hosts are usually pretty knowledgeable about gemstones and jewelry.  Many are GIA certified. And, they have to keep up on what is going on in the field of gemstones and jewelry - it's their job!

But, I am a little tired of hearing - nearly everytime they show a gemstone for sale - that this rock is nearly mined out.  Take tanzanite for example.  For at least 5 years, these hosts have been saying that tanzanite is going to mine out any day now....yet when you go to any gem and/or jewelry show there is no shortage of good quality tanzies.  Morganite is another rock that is apparently on the endangered species list.  And the list goes on and on.

It's true.  Many mining sources for gems and  minerals do mine out.  One of the Australian crystal opal mines recently closed down.  A morganite mine in Madagascar also closed.  The Sleeping Beauty turquoise mine here in the US recently closed.  But, that doesn't mean we don't have access to those stones anymore.  Opals are found on nearly every continent.  Recent finds in Africa - Ethiopia actually - have very good quality crystal opals.  Morganite is found in other places.  And, nearly every continent has turquoise - heck, there's still lots of it here in the US. Plus, there is stock of these "mined out" gems - vendors are still selling them.

The other refrain you keep hearing is that the Chinese market is taking all the good quality gemstone material.  I'm sure that as China's economy grows, more and more Chinese people will want to own pretty rocks and jewelry.  Especially if they are green or red (lucky colors for the Chinese).  But again,  you can find very high quality rocks of all types right here in the US.  And, pretty much every where else for that matter.  Prices may go up due to greater world wide demand.  I would expect that.  Good quality stones have always been considered an investment, and so for those who invest in rocks, this would be a good thing.  For those of us who just like to have rocks and make them into jewelry, the rising prices are not as welcome.  Still, the sky isn't falling.  Rocks are still (mostly) pretty affordable and very available. 

And, I probably need some more of them.

 

The Really Big Show

If you are a rock hound or someone who loves gems, minerals, fossils, and/or jewelry, the place to be right now is Tucson, Arizona.  As Ed Sullivan used to say, "ladies and gentlemen, we've got a really big shew."  And it is - big. 

2014 marks the 60th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (TGMS),  held in the Tucson Convention Center.  Admission is only $10.00 and for that small amount, you would have access to much more than you would be able to see in one day.  So, two day tickets are available for $17.  The TGMS started out like most gem and mineral shows - to educate the public and share information among those who like rocks, minerals and fossils.  There are always educational programs for young and old alike.  But this one really grew.  And grew.  And grew.

Tucson has gone global!  It's the largest gem and mineral show in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.  People do come from all over the globe just for this show.  The event has gotten so large, that the TGMS is actually just the main event held the last four days of a two week gem and mineral extravaganza that goes on all over the city.  Lapidary Journal prints guides to the show ever year.  The city puts out a mobile app to help you get around to all the shows and events.  And, you would need a guide to find all the events and plan where to go to see and find what you want.  It sounds like chaos and I would love, love, love to be there.  Every year I try to figure out a way to make this happen, but so far, no luck. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love going to the local gem and mineral shows.  They are really nice because you can talk to the vendors and other rock hounds and it's always fun and educational.  I truly encourage everyone to check out their local shows.  Tucson is sooo big I'm not sure how much you would really get to talk to anyone and the crowds could be intimidating.

  But, it is the big show.  Oh well.  Someday.

Styles Change, Rocks Don't

The trends in jewelry over the past few years have been toward really large jewelry with really large stones.  I like some of them. I was actually a little surprised when this trend continued during the Great Recession.  But lately, I've noticed that more of my customers want smaller jewelry - and that means smaller rocks.  Fortunately, I have small rocks too!

Styles change.  We're told they become obsolete, but they don't.  The just recycle.  I have jewelry that belonged to my great grandmothers.  My grandmothers.  And my mother.  Plus all the jewelry I've collected throughout my lifetime.  I don't get rid of so called fashion jewelry - it ALL comes back in style.  Besides, I don't wear jewelry to be in style.  I wear it to enjoy my rock collection.

Still, lots of people do like to be "in style" and if I want to sell jewelry I have to decide whether to just keep making jewelry I like based on the stones I cut, choose or find OR whether to follow or try to create trends.  I do like some of the newer trends - others not so much. 

 I'll probably just keep making jewelry I like....and hope others like it too.  For me it's always been about showing off the stones.  Sometimes that means modern, sometimes that means traditional.  Whatever that rock wants, that's what I'll try to give it!

Meanwhile, I'm working on jewelry with NO stones - I'm learning new chain making techniques.  I have to because sometimes that stone and its new setting needs a special kind of chain to go with it.

Traveling rocks

I've mentioned that my father taught me lots about rocks and gave me the equipment to get started cutting rocks and making jewelry.  This weekend, I was back home visiting my mother and the gifts from my father just seem to keep coming.  I was looking for some of my son's workout gear in the basement when I found yet more crystals and rocks and templates for cuttting cabochons.  I really thought I had them all, but Dad apparently had them stashed everywhere.  My house is like that.  I think I have all my rocks very organized - and for the most part I do.  Rough rocks are in crates in the shed and (mostly) labeled.  Slabs are in labeled boxes.  Chips to be tumbled are in labeled boxes.  Cut and polished stones are stored individually so they don't get scratched and they are all labeled.  So I sound really organized.  BUT,  I keep stashing stones every where.  I often don't even remember why I had the rock in my hand or what I was doing with it, but they show up in the darndest places.  I found one in my purse in the cell phone pocket.

Sometimes I carry one around because I'm thinking about what I'm going to do with it.  Rocks often tell you what you should make out of them, but sometimes inspiration is a little slower to come.  So I look at the rock frequently.  Carry it in my pocket.  I'll be outside working and hold the stone next to a flower or another rock.  And then sometimes I get an idea of what to do with that rock.  Which is fine if that only takes one day.  But if I change clothes at any time during the process, the rock gets transferred somewhere else.  And from that the rock can end up anywhere.....of course, it's always fun to find them again. 

They also get scattered when I share them with people who stop by.  Rock hounds like to share their rocks.  We go to each other's  houses just to look at rocks.  (Crazy, right?)  And then someone will carry one around and put it down when we get to another rock....they travel that way.  From the garage to the work room to the kitchen to the living room.  I even found one in the bath room.  Sometimes I just leave them where they landed.  I do like having rocks around to look at and they are interesting conversation starters (although not in the bathroom).  I've even converted some visitors to rock hounds because there was an interesting rock lying on the coffee table that started a conversation.

Meanwhile, the rocks I found that my father stashed are making another trip - this time to my house where - eventually - they will probably travel around my house too.

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