Gem Cutters: Gem & Mineral Society show off skills at annual gathering

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

Over the robust clangs of metal hitting metal, symphony music echoes through the dim, expansive garages of Eddie Jarzembski’s auto repair shop in rural Fayette. Buckets of stone, slabs of rock and fossilized fauna sit near walls or lean against old equipment.

Crusty and unrefined, the stones seem out of place next to the streamlined classic cars lined up for service.feature.rockman

However, the dazzling aquamarine mineral affixed to Eddie’s belt buckle indicates a promise that one day these unmodified slabs will be just as beautiful as their automotive roommates are.

Eddie is an amateur lapidary—an artisan who cuts, polishes and engraves precious stones and minerals, often for use in jewelry, as beads or for decoration. The craft  fascinated Eddie his entire life, but he didn’t take a turn at the trade until five or six years ago.

That’s when he joined the State Line Gem and Mineral Society, a non-profit organization that recently purchased the old depot in downtown Morenci to use as a workshop, teaching venue, and display area.

Thanks to research and tutelage from the society’s 40-some members, Eddie can spend an entire Saturday in his studio, refining ongoing projects and starting new ones.

Eddie likes to work with stones that polish very well—jasper, flint, and feldspars, for example. They are stones with good luster that are ideal for use as jewelry and mounting on silver. These stones should be reserved for more experienced lapidaries. Eddie suggests novices start out with simpler stones, such as one of the area’s richest mineral resources—Ohio flint.

Mineral collectors from all over the United States travel to Flint Ridge in eastern Licking and western Muskingum counties for the rock, which is ideal for use in a typical beginner’s project—a cabochon, or a gemstone that has been shaped and polished rather than faceted, or cut.rock.sample

The stone’s rich pink, yellow and blue tinges, combined with sporadic streaks of quartz, make for a specimen that’s easy to handle and appealing to the eye when polished correctly, Eddie said.

As a lapidary gains more experience, Eddie said, it’s customary to move on to minerals that are a little more delicate and unpredictable—moonstones and labradorites—stones that must be handled with imagination and patience.

“When you start cutting and grinding, you don’t want to cut or grind too far. A lot of stones we call ‘leave-rights.’ You want to find that which is unique about the stone; that’s what you work out.”

“It’s understanding what you can bring out of the stone. You have some stones that are just small pieces, so you have to find a way to transform them into something that’s interesting and lasting.”

Lapidaries often travel all over the country and world to acquire specimens. Society members have taken group field trips to upstate New York, Missouri and Iowa to forage minerals unique to the locations. Raw samples are also available through mail order and from dealers at local shows. It’s a lot easier to pick up a sample of labradorite from a dealer than to travel to Paul’s Island, Labrador, Canada—the only region the mineral is found—to pick up a slab of the stone.

Labradorite and stones like it are tricky to work with because they are comprised of sections of varying iridescence. That is, when held at different angles to a light, different sections of the rock will appear to light up. The trick is to cut the stone down to a piece that is uniformly illuminated at a given angle.

This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to assign even a rough estimate to how long it takes to finish a given project. Each stone is different, both physically and chemically, Eddie explained. With easy-to-handle minerals, he can polish six stones in four hours, but he has devoted more than 20 hours of studio time to fabricating a single labradorite bola tie.

Some samples can be so tricky to work with that Eddie will put a project on hold until he can consult fellow rock hounds in the gem and mineral society.

“Every once in a while you want to talk to someone seasoned,” Eddie said. “That’s what’s good about being with people who have shared experiences.”

Another benefit to having the society nearby is the array of stone working tools the members have collectively acquired. While Eddie has only a small saw and grinder in his Fayette studio, members plan to install larger, harder to obtain equipment in the new  downtown Morenci clubhouse. This will also give novice lapidaries a chance to get involved in the hobby without spending a lot of money, he said.

The Stateline Gem and Mineral Society’s 46th annual jewelry, rock and mineral show is scheduled this weekend in the Junior Fair Building at the Fulton County Fair Grounds in Wauseon.

The show will feature a number of educational courses, including a soap stone carving course, a class about making woven jewelry and a bead making class. A number of educational demonstrations are also scheduled.

This year’s show also marks the society’s first ever bead rally with beads from six skilled craftsmen scheduled to be on sale and display.

The show is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.

    – May 31, 2007 
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