Archive for the ‘Lapidary’ Category

Sacramento Mineral Society Gem Show Review, Part 2   1 comment

Hello again rock-heads:

On Sunday, I returned to the Sacramento Mineral Society’s 75th Annual Gem Show.  After not seeing people on Saturday (I had several other things going on — I will probably write about one of them in the next few days), I returned on Sunday to see people in high spirits — vendors, customers and club members.  The floor was not packed, but people came to spend some money.  This seems to be a turn-around from the last couple of years.  Does this mean we have an uptick in the rock-hound consumer confidence index?   Did we have the vendors with the mix of things people wanted to buy?  Hard to say, but as I mingled shopped and photographed, the feedback was positive.  Vendors made money and people went home with nice new prizes.

At the silent auction, business was a bit slower than on Friday, but for those who came up, there were deals to be had: labradorite, agate, jasper, thundereggs, geodes, jade, fluorite, sheen obsidian, vesuvianite… slabs, rough, specimens… I even acquired what I’m pretty sure is a fulgurite.  Toward the end of the  afternoon, the already cheap prices dropped further.  Rock bottom prices (bad pun intended) were available and taken advantage of

The “take” on the auction was a bit over $1200, clearing the $1000 needed to award the scholarship to a Sac State geology student in his junior year.  The student was actually unable to be there, as he was on a field trip.  Many thanks to our many customers who made this scholarship possible (some spend in excess of $100, returning again and again as new treasures went out onto the table).

At 4PM, the fun was over (not really), and it was time for the real work to begin — clean-up.

Rarely have I seen such chaos move so smoothly.  As the vendors packed up, and it was clear that they had done this once or twice before, club members lent a hand, assembled the club’s property (many folding tables, power cords and display cases, as well as left-over rock and various other goodies) and generally performed a thorough cleaning.   It was not necessary to have ADD to be there, but it probably would have helped.  By 7PM, it was hard to believe there had been a show with about forty vendors, a score of club members, and hundreds of customers.  We were all intact, tired, but in good spirits.  Vendor vehicles were riding low, though higher when they’d arrived; customers’ and club members’ vehicles were lower than they’d arrived….

Hope to see you next year.

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Sacramento Mineral Society Gem Show Review   3 comments

Hello rock-heads, and happy 11.11.11….

Today I attended and worked at the first day of the 75th Annual Gem Show for the Sacramento Mineral Society.   As in previous years, it is being held at the Scottish Rite Center at 6151 “H” St., Sacramento, CA (very near CSUS aka Sac State).

The show boasts dealers of slabs, specimens, beads and jewelery making supplies (findings).  The club also provides the ever-popular prize wheel for juniors, geode cutting, hourly and daily raffles, a grand prize raffle, educational materials and a silent auction.  The auction raises funds for an annual scholarship for a CSUS student majoring in Geology or Earth Science.  I worked this table, helping Joy who is always a gas (I will avoid the obvious pun).  And, of course, I also made a few purchases toward this worthy cause (some of which are shown in the gallery below):

(Joy helping a customer)

(Thunderegg slice with Montana-like agate)

(Blue lace agate)

(Colorful “Onyx” i.e. calcite, not actual onyx)

Sharing the stage on which auction takes place, is the skeleton of a Siberian cave bear (approximately 50,000-70,000 years old).  It is on display courtesy of Applegate Lapidary, and is the last time this skeleton will be shown to the public.

(I will also get a side-view when I return on Sunday).

As a lapidary, I tend to visit the slab/rough dealers.  A few of the dealers carried some slabs, but it is not their primary focus.  Garth Duncan, proprietor of Gems of an Idea, however, carries slabs galore.   With at least 20 linear feet of table space, largely occupied by tubs of slabs, one can purchase an astonishing array of jaspers, agates, jade, tiger eye, rhodonite, and some mystery rocks.  Among other purchases from Garth, I was unable to resist some very unusual old-stock a slice of possible Botswana agate, a heel cut of Dryhead agate,Stone Canyon jasper in deep orange colors and a piece of tiger eye embedded in some (Graveyard Point-like plume agate):

Further scrutinizing what dealers have to offer, I succumbed to the sweet siren song of some gemmy Utah dinosaur bone (“gembone”) from Tom’s Rocks:

Of course, any gem show is incomplete without visiting the jade dealers.  We are lucky enough to have Mike and Joan Burkleo of Friends of Jade come to our show most years.  Not only do they sell suiseki, slicks and cobbles, but also carved and crafted jade items.  Of these, my favorite (and completely out of my price range) are the jade knives, displayed illuminated to show their translucence:

Perhaps one day…

Since I was working, I was unable to get photos of all the dealers.  Some I could not get due to lighting issues or not wanting to interfere with customers.  In any case, I will try again on Sunday.  These fine folks include sellers of magnificent crystal specimens, a mind-boggling array of meteorites and other fine  materials.  To finish, here are some more assorted photos I did get:

Gil Gonzalez, benitoite dealer/club member:

Joy Shopping at Garth’s booth:

Carrie helping a lucky winner at the prize wheel:

Bobbie working the raffle booth:

Floor activity:

Green River Formation fossils atApplegate lapidary (owners of the cave bear):

Well, that is all for now.  I have other plans for tomorrow, but I will be returning on Sunday.



Owl Faces in Picture Jasper   Leave a comment

Previously I discussed my budding love affair with working on jade.  Another favorite stone “family” is jasper.  Jasper, like agate,  is characterized as a “microcrystalline (or crytocrystalline) quartz.”  This just means that chemically it is mainly quartz — silicon dioxide — but does not form scepter crystals like “normal” quartz

Jasper can have a variety of of origins — sea-floor mud, volcanic ash, a mixture of both…. that has been cemented by the intrusion of silica-rich water, which left tiny quartz crystals as a sort of glue.  In geology-speak this is called silicified mud.  The minerals in the mud impart the colors; the silicon dioxide the hardness (and jasper is often very hard).  The process can be more complex, but that is the basic idea.

Many of my favorite jasper-types come from Oregon, where conditions historically were such that much of the jasper formed patterns that resemble pictures  or landscapes.  For this reason, they are called landscape, picture or scenic jaspers.  Many of the scenes resemble mountain ranges with blue skies and other, sometimes fairly wild, landscapes.

Often what is seen varies from person to person.  It can be kind of like cloud-watching.  One of the most valued varieties is Biggs jasper from Biggs Junction in Northern Oregon, just across the Columbia River from Washington.

A while ago I bought a box of slabs from a rock-hound friend/dealer in Oregon (Jason Hinkle of  I had asked him to put together a box of “Oregon lapidary rock,” and he kindly included a few small pieces of Biggs jasper.  I’ve had some ever-changing ideas about one piece in particular.  It was a high-quality piece.  Quite literally harder than nails, it gave a satisfying porcelain-like “ting” sound when struck.  It’s only flaw was that it contained a small, circular druzy depression that was located where removing it would have meant removing some of the nicest features.  Often druzes can enhance a stone, but this one looked distracting.

The other day I decided to finally just work on it (I can be a bit indecisive, sometimes, and just have to force myself to actually act).  I decided on an oval, which isn’t usually my favorite shape, but it seemed right for this one.  As I ground, another druzy hole appeared, but I kept slowly grinding them down until they were smooth, but visible.  As I mentioned this stone is hard, so it took a bit of time, but gradually yielded a satisfying mirror polish.  As I worked, the patterns of the stone gradually changed, morphing until the section around the two “holes” took on the appearance of an owl’s facial disk, with the two “holes” as the eyes.  The surrounding patterns resolved into a hole in an ancient tree, from which the owl’s eyes peer.

Barn owl-face jasper

While I see a barn owl (unfortunately it looks de-beaked), I showed the cabochon to a friend who immediately turned it over, and showed me that it is also a burrowing owl.  In this orientation, the critter retains its beak.

Burrowing owl-face jasper

To me, this is the fun of working with picture jasper — letting the imagination run, which is something I can often forget to do.  Too many responsibilities and “adult” things (wait, maybe grown-up; “adult” often has an entirely different connotation) to do.

Since I dearly love owls, this cab will never be sold.  It can be my totem.  Not just an animal with which I feel a deep connection, but also a reminder not to lose the connection with my kid-self.



Posted October 20, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Jasper, Lapidary

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Snyder’s Ranch 37th Annual Pow-Wow   Leave a comment

Yesterday I decided to head out to the annual Pow-Wow and rock show Snyder’s Ranch in Valley Springs (located in Calaveras County, CA.) for my first time ever.  This is the first time that it has been held over Labor Day weekend, due to rain and muddy conditions in previous years.  I had not attended in these years, when it was held in May, because of a conflict with the Whole Earth Festival.  This year with my son at his mom’s (too bad, he would have loved it), I made the hour-and-a half trek from Davis.  From the point where I exited Hwy-99,the drive drive through rolling, golden hills was quite pleasant.

I arrived a little bit after noon (I had gone to the Davis Farmers Market first), and parked in a bumpy, dry cattle pasture, along with many others.  Parking and admission to this event are both free, which is nice.  In the less than 100 yards that I walked to enter the show, I acquired a nice coating of red dust.  Free sunscreen, I suppose.

Once in, I was treated to booth after booth of rocks, minerals, crafts etc.  I’ve never been to the Quartzite or Tucson shows, so this was impressive.  Boulders, slabs, cabochons, spheres and other products of agate, jasper, jade and other lapidary materials (including man-made materials) were available in droves.  Selenite wands and other metaphysical products were on display as well.

Most items were reasonably priced for what they are, though some seem expensive at first blush. When looking at an item, I always like to remember the advice of Joe, the president of the Sacramento Mineral Society.  To paraphrase, he tells that once you’ve determined that the quality is there (that it is likely take a polish, that there aren’t excessive fractures or pits…), ask yourself, “how many cabs do I have to sell to make my money back?”  If the answer is one or two, and that you will have sufficient material leftover for myself, then don’t feel too bad.

I decided to wander before purchasing.  Off to one side, I saw a bunch of old-timers doing the “antique gas engine demonstrations,” which consisted mainly of the engines sitting there sputtering, but not really running anything.  I don’t really see the point of this, but then I’m not any sort of gear-head or car buff.

Of the actual Pow-Wow, there was little evidence.  Mainly, there was a booth selling fry-bread and “Indian tacos,” but little else.  A healing ceremony was performed for a local woman with kidney issues who had apparently outlived the doctors predictions by several years, but that was the extent of it while I was there.  I have attended Pow-Wows at UC Davis, and also at Deganawida-Quezalcoatl (“D-Q”) University, just outside Davis, before this Native American University was closed, due to financial and accreditation issues.  Having been to these Pow-Wows, that portion of this event was a little underwhelming.

After some wandering, I came across the booth of the Sacramento Mineral Society, staffed by the usual suspects (Terry, Paul, Carrie, Mike and a few in-and-outers).  They were giving information and cutting a few geodes.

After a while, I resumed my shopping.  I, of course wanted far more than I could afford.  I don’t know if it helped that nearly all of the dealers were willing make good deals for buyers of multiple items.  It was nice, of course, but made deciding harder.  I finally opted for a few slabs from J2B2 rocks.  I bought a small slab of bumblebee jasper, which essentially looks like yellow tigers eye.   Apparently the miner in Indonesia is not able to produce as much as he’d initially hoped, so there wasn’t much of this.  I also purchased a slice of Prudent Man agate, which, while pricey, ended up being cheaper than what the mine itself sells it for.  My favorite buy, however, is a slice of Indonesian orbicular river jasper.  This stuff looks like Ocean jasper of a quality that is hard to find.

The orbs are floating in a lovely clear agate, and there are druzy vugs everywhere.  There may make placement of cabochons on the slab a tad difficult, but the same vugs should also provide a nice sparkle-accent to cabs.  One things I expect to see soon (if it isn’t already happening) is for this stuff to be passed off as OJ at a three- or even five-fold mark-up on eBay.

I also had a hard time resisting a milk crate of assorted jade pieces that sold for less than what the chunk of Clear Creek  jadeite (probably nearly 15lb) is worth.  The dealer, Sam Brown, was well aware of this, and was just happy to clear out some material he’d acquired at a recent estate sale.  It probably didn’t hurt that we chatted for a while, and it turned out that he had previously worked and lived in Davis.

The other person I spent some time with was Adam “The Agate Hunter.”  Those of you on Yahoo rock-hounding groups probably know of him.  Not only is he an inveterate advocate for public lands access, but not too long ago, there was a standing invitation to his (and Theresa’s) wedding and subsequent rock-hunt in Afton Canyon (in the Mojave).  From our conversation, I am quite sure that we are on nearly opposite ends of the political spectrum, but that through rocks and some other issues, we also found a great deal of common ground.  From him, I purchased some Wyoming jade and a couple of agate slabs from his Sandy Mesa claim.

Luckily, by this time it was a little past 5:00, and time to head home, as my wallet was sorely depleted.  Luckily, for each item I bought, Joe’s “rule” is intact: I should be able to more than break even if I sell a single cab, with enough material left over for Christmas gifts and such.  Proceeds from any other cabs that are sold will be used to bolster my son’s college fund.  Now, all that remains is to make and sell a few cabs….



Working with jade   1 comment

Quite recently I have become enamored of working with jade.  I have been involved with lapidary work, and for most of that time, my favorite stones were jaspers and jasp-agates, followed by agates.  While I have liked the finished jade products, I found it somewhat frustrating to work with at times.  While it is no harder than a high-quality jasper or agate, jade tends to be much, much tougher, so removing the scratches can be a chore.  Also, nearly all of my experience is in working with the nephrite variety of jade, which is far more common in California than jadeite is.  In fact, I have only cut one jadeite cabochon, which was largely akin to working with agate, so my discussion here will focus on on the nephrite variety.

Nephrite jade is essentially a mat of tough, interlinked fibers, so this gives it a grain.   It forms in subduction zones, which it can be found in California.  Typically it is formed two to ten miles underground, under high pressure, but with relatively low temperatures for such a depth (less than 400F).  It stands to reason, that deeper subduction leads to higher pressure, which, in turn, creates a more compact, tougher stone.

Three years ago, I was in the midst of planning a family vacation (I was still married at the time) to Big Sur, when the state spontaneously combusted, beginning with Big Sur.  Yep, that would be 2008.  Down went the dreams of hunting at Jade Cove, not really knowing that beach-combing for jade there now leads to few finds. We went to the Sonoma Coast instead.  It turns out that there is jade to find there.  Maybe not tons, but a complete newbie managed to find some (the stone on the left is probably jasper, but the other two…).

The following year, chaotic from a divorce.  I was not able to plan the trip with adequate time to secure a spot where I wanted to camp

When I began doing lapidary work, I knew none of this.  I joined the Sacramento Mineral Society, armed with a single slab of jade I had purchased at a mineral show.  I needed to cut and polish five cabs for Christmas presents.  How hard could it be.  I had drawn the four onto the slab, got my talk-through on the trim saw and went to work.  The first cut when fine.  The second one snapped in half.  I’m sure I torqued it.  Knowing nothing at this point, I was not really familiar with the concept that many f*&^-ups can be rescued (I now think that this is behind far more freeforms than most lapidaries care to admit).  The last three cut okay, but I snapped one of these on the genie.

I now think that my first problem was the quality of the slab I’d bought.  While I knew to test it by attempting to scratch it with a knife (I did, and it passed), that was about the extent of my jade knowledge.   In retrospect, the stone was soft and gave of a foamy grindate, much like serpentine.  If it was jade at all, it barely qualified.  To compound the problem, I’d cut, more or less,across the grain, leaving them running across the short dimension.  These days, I’d shoot for diagonal when working with softer jade.  To complicate my life even further, I had chosen ovals and tear-drops not realizing that symmetry isn’t the easiestthing to conquer.  Anyway, I made it out with three intact cabochons that I turned into necklaces.

By the time I attempted my second jade cabochon, it was to fulfill a request from a co-worker who had admired my work with agate and jasper for a while (I wear many of my creations).  She was in need of a present for a friend who likes jade.  I agreed to do it, and it went much more smoothly.  I had a higher quality slab, oriented the material better and had learned some patience.  Dopping also helped, providing better control, and supporting the stone. Still, the additional patience I’d acquired  was sorely tested.  The people at the Sacramento Mineral Society are wonderful folks, and Joe Shook, the shop steward, is a fantastic teacher, but we are not a rich club.  Consequently, the polishing wheels on the genies in the shop were nearly bald at the time.  Most of the 280-grit wheels were down to rubber.  It also took some time for me to discover that some of the “scratches” were actually not scratches at all. With some pieces, when a piece is viewed closely, the one can see the fibers in three-dimensional relief, and no amount of polishing will ever yield a two-dimensional surface.  This, coupled with the toughness of some better nephrite, made scratch removal difficult, but I got it done, and I am proud of the result.

In the intervening year or so, I have occasionally worked on jade of varying qualities, usually slabs that I have found in the club’s rock-pile.  Some of these have been quite nice.  Others have “orange-peeled,” with little pockets of jade stripping away on the polkishing wheels, leaving the cab looking worse after the 6000-grit wheel than after the 280.  This was happening as I worked at home.  I took one of the offending pieces to the shop, and was guided to the leather buffing pad, fortified with some 100,000-grit diamond paste, and was instructed to “get it hot enough to crack an agate.”  Okay.  Thank goodness for dop-sticks.  The result was beautiful, creating such a shine that I have not been able to photograph it (I don’t have a light-box and photograph my specimens outside, which has resulted in far too much glare for this piece in the sun.  This being the Sacramento Valley, we aren’t likely to have any substantially cloudy days for some time yet.

In any case, I felt encouraged, just as the club began selling off its vast rock-pile to prepare for a move.  With the help of Joe, a geologist club member, and three member jade-bugs, I have discovered a treasure trove of not only slabs, but some nice quality rough from a variety of California locations: Coulterville, Victorville (black), Porterville and Oroville (I may need to see if every California town ending in “ville” sports some jade deposits.  ;-P

I haven’t had much of it cut, due to the above-mentioned move for the club, but I have been able to work some of wonderfully semi-translucent slablets that I have found:

This is what working with California’s famous nephrite jade was supposed to be like: material hard and tough enough to make the grinding wheels scream for mercy; a glassy shine and translucence when held to light.  I had actually been beginning to doubt that real jade ever did this, as I had only seen it in vesuvianite (aka californite and idocrase), which is a beautiful stone, but is notorious for being used as a jade simulant, and being confusingly marketed as California Jade (as opposed to California jade, the real deal).

In any case, I can now say that I have been bitten by the jade-bug,  and love working with nephrite.  Jade does not yet haunt my dreams, and I still love to work with agate, jasper and other stones.  I must confess, though, that I do aspire to grueling treks through the wilds of the Trinity Alps, the Eel River and the back acres of Big Sur to find suiseki stones and boulders to slab.  I want the Clear Creek area re-0pened to join field-trips for jadeite.  I am eager to slab my club finds, and perhaps to cab a few beach finds (I will post pictures) from my recent vacation (Patrick’s Point see:

Well, back to finish another nephrite cab….



Posted August 29, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Jade, Lapidary

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