the Trip - part 3
The trip part 3
The next day our plan was to go to Gem Mountain in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. I had no idea what this would entail, but Jenny had been there before and said it was a lot of fun. Apparently, these mountains are rich in precious and semi-precious minerals like Ruby,(pictured above) Emerald, Turquoise, Moonstone, Sapphire, Rose Quartz, Garnet, Citrine, Beryl, Topaz and Tourmaline There is some gold there too, but not much now days.
We drove to the shop, come sorting office – about 40 miles away. It was a rainy day – so we felt lucky that we had done our mountain climbing the day before. This time, we would be sitting in shelter, and the rain didn't matter at all.
When we drove up to what looked like an ordinary shop, we parked and went in. There were piles of rocks in buckets or barrels, filled to the brim. Some very brightly coloured stones were popping out of each of the buckets – showing that no matter what we chose, we were going to go home with something. The buckets ranged from $55 to $250 each, and I chose the cheapest, and was even rather taken aback at the price. We were then told to go to the area outside where there was flowing water. There was a bench to sit on, and by taking a box with a sieve in the bottom, we could sort through the rocks in our bucket, taking out what looked the most promising. There were pictures along side showing what each rough rock would look like. We were told that the things to look for were colour, clarity and crystals.
All the rocks were beautiful, and but it was silly to keep anything with no potential gem value. We were told to throw our unwanted material over the edge of the raised water channel. One of the men on duty said they often went along after everyone had gone home, and found lots of gems that had been discarded, because their structure was not always obvious.
The rubies were the easiest to find. But they weren't bright shiny red – they were dull, sort of maroon colour, but what gave them away was their shape – perfect hexagons. They almost looked artificial because the shape was so consistent. The emeralds were green, but usually mixed in with other materials such as quartz.
Some of the stones called tormalines were jet black sort of like coal, and not very attractive to the naked eye. But when we saw what the polished state of the stone would be, we could see its value.
Jenny liked the tiny bits of bright colour, and although she collected the big rocks, which were the most likely to be of value, she also spent hours, literally, sifting through the smallest bits to find the shattered pieces of bright blue, green, yellow, pale blue, turquoise, orange.
I was rather fascinated by the moonstones, because I had never seen a rough cut one before. Both my daughters inherited moon stone necklaces from my husband's parents, which they wore on their wedding days. But the uncut stones were white or pale peachy colour, and not at all the sort of thing I would have picked out as outstanding.
We emptied our bucket after about two hours, and in the smaller container that we had each been given, we then took them to the expert inside who decided how well we had done. I was the first to undergo scrutiny.
The expert was probably in his late sixties – rather worn looking with a scratchy southern voice. He spent a lot of time looking over each stone – shining a tiny bright light through it. Of my perhaps 100 stones, he took out about 30 which he said were worthy of being polished and cut. (His price for doing this job was $100 per stone). In my collection I had some of most of the gems advertised for the site – but he said my best piece by far was a large emerald, and he said that if I didn't do anything with the rest of the material, I should take the effort to have this stone perfected, as it would be well worth my while. I said that I wouldn't do anything immediately, as I was interested in showing all my stones to my son-in-law who is a geologist.
The other two got the same careful scrutiny – and some other people who had just come to look through the things on sale in the shop, were also spellbound as he made his way through our hauls. My son's best stone was a sapphire, which he said was large enough to cut three stones from.
Jenny's best was a large tourmaline.
We each took back home a plastic bag with our “extra special stones” in, and another with our rejects. We decided that putting them in a glass vase with water in it would make a nice talking point decoration. Jenny thought we should each have one stone cut and polished – but she wasn't able to fork out the money to do it, and I wasn't willing to do it. If we'd chosen the $150 size bucket, one stone would have been polished free, which in retrospect, was probably a good deal.
But I did consider buying a stone polishing machine, and they had one in the shop for $150. I've since seen many on line for much less than that.
As we walked out we saw two older men who were working their way through a barrel of the stuff – which probably cost them $250. Either they were very stupid or they knew enough about what was in the mixtures that they felt they would more than get their money back out of it.
When I got home I looked up the history of the mines. Since my main stone is an emerald, I chose to concentrate on the Crabtree Emerald Mine in Franklin North Carolina. It was very lucrative from the late 1890's till 1990 – and was owned by Tiffiney's jewelers of New York. The mine has been closed now for 25 years, but no doubt there are still many stones in the ground and hillside. The area looks like a dump – rough roads with little vegetation – a stagnant pond which hides where the mine entries were far under ground. They offered for people to come and try their hand at salvage – for $25 (although you had to bring your own tools, or rent theirs for $25.) You could take away as much as you liked, but the internet evidence seemed to show that most who went down that route got far less than we did with our no doubt spiked buckets.
There apparently are no mines run by mining companies any more. The land is owned by private
individuals who have a “pay to dig” policy, inviting tourists to come and dig in the hillside for a fee, but no doubt their main income is in the cost of converting of the rough stones to proper jewels.
On the way home we wanted to stop for lunch, and Jenny seemed to remember a very good
restaurant in one of the little towns we went through. It had recently changed hands, and when we went in – at about 2, we were the only ones there. We had very good service, and good food
(hamburgers and french fries) and it was a pleasant end to the experience.
We went back to their house for awhile. I taught Jenny to play canasta – and she learned quickly and well, so we spent several hours doing that before I got my lift back to my motel and my frozen food.