55 Shades of Turquoise

Richmond Gem & Mineral Society is more earthy than erotic, despite playing on title of raunchy novel turned movie for the naming of its annual show this weekend

UP a winding staircase, a left turn, then a right, down to the end of a hallway, chatter and ripples of laughter filtered out the door of a lapidary studio in Richmond.

If you’re a numbers kind of person, clustered at the far end of the room were eight members of a 100-strong, 58-year-old society, surrounded by millions — make that billions — of years’ worth of semi-precious, and not so special, stones, gems and minerals of all shapes, sizes and colour.

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Just what mused the Richmond Gem & Mineral Society clan gathered on the first floor of the arts and cultural centre on Minoru Gate was anybody’s guess.

It could’ve been the colour of the Richmond News reporter’s tie or the title of the organization’s annual show this weekend – 55 Shades of Turquoise, unashamedly scalped from the title of the 2011 erotic romance novel and subsequent 2015 movie 55 Shades of Grey.

The only difference — well, you’ll be glad to know there’s a plethora of differences between the raunchy movie and the gem show — is the number, 55, not 50, due to the fact it’s the non-profit society’s 55th annual, and the featured colour of gemstones on show, turquoise, not grey, representing the themed shade for the event.

“It’s great; we’re hoping it gets people’s attention and you’ll certainly see many different shades of turquoise on show,” laughed Darlene Howe, a member of 10 years, when asked about the naming of this year’s show, being held at the Richmond Cultural Centre Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1. 

“One of our members, Lisa Kew, came up with the name.”

This year’s show, expected to attract more than 1,000 visitors, is packed full, say the members, of demonstrations on stone polishing and beading, activities for all ages, mini educational seminars (including gemstone identification), prizes, silent auction and, of course, dozens of vendors displaying their fabulous collections of “rock candy.”

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Richmond Gem & Mineral Society member Linda shows off an ammonite, estimated to be around 300 million years old - Alan Campbell/Richmond News


ONE might ask, just how interesting can old relics — the rocks, not the members, who range in age from seven to 97 — be and what do the society’s members really get up to at their twice weekly, six-hour sessions in the lapidary (explanation to come later) studio? They can’t just be comparing stones, right?

“It’s a very social group; and not everybody collects rocks,” said society president George Howe, who’s been with the group for 10 years.

“It starts out that way, then you find out all the great things that you can do at this club. We pass on our rocks, trade them, sell them or keep for our own collections.”

For a start, there’s wire-wrapping, said Howe, silver-smithing and lost wax casting, which has nothing to do with finding actors for a movie about missing candles.

Lost wax casting, explained Howe in great detail, is a six-hour process which involves hardening wax around your stone; taking the stone out; melting down silver; forcing the silver into a hole to replace the wax (which you took out at some point) and leaving you with some very unique jewelry.

There’s also “micro-mounting,” which is much easier to explain than the lost wax; it’s simply the mounting of tiny crystals or minerals onto a miniature platform, all of which can only be admired properly through a microscope.

“We teach people to use our equipment safely,” added Howe, referring to the casting kiln, casting machine (sling) and the lapidary arbor, which polishes and shapes the stones.

“They have to complete the 14-hour lapidary course before they’re able to do anything else.”

Lapidary, in case you’re wondering, comes from Latin (lapidarius); an artist or artisan who forms stone, minerals, or gemstones into decorative items such as cabochons and engraved gems.

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Richmond Gem & Mineral Society member Rick buffs up a piece of jade on a lapidary arbor - Alan Campbell/Richmond News

A DIVERSE group of collectors and polishers, men and women, some retired, some part-time, some still working; all have a story to tell that’s equal in fascination to the history of every rock and mineral they’ve curiously collected and lovingly polished, shaped and often fashioned into very personal jewelry.

“My friend’s dog ate a small rock; the dog had an operation and the vet handed her this rock afterwards,” said Howe’s wife and fellow member, Darlene, who originally joined the society because she thought the rocks were pretty, but is now hooked.

“So, she asked me to make something with it because, given the cost of the operation, it was going to be the most expensive piece of jewelry she would have.

“I turned it into a really nice black, brown and tan thing, with some silver around it, with the help of people in the club. I gave it to her and she said, ‘wow, this is beautiful.’”

One of the society’s newest members, Karen, who joined last August when she retired, said she’d wanted to get into the hobby ever since she was a young girl, collecting rocks along a railway track in Manitoba.

“When I travel around the province now, I can’t help but pick up rocks, I just love doing it,” she said.

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Richmond Gem & Mineral Society president George Howe and fellow member wife Darlene show off some of the group's jade cabochon collection - Alan Campbell/Richmond News

IF you can’t make the show, which runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, the group meets every Tuesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and some Sundays and evenings. You can contact the society online at RichmondBClapidary.Wordpress.com/

“Not too many people know about us. We really are Richmond’s hidden gem,” said Darlene.

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