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Gems for a sweetheart, gems for a lifetime

Whidbey Island Gem Club member Chip Batcheller demonstrates how to make an arrowhead out of a piece of obsidian. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Whidbey Island Gem Club member Chip Batcheller demonstrates how to make an arrowhead out of a piece of obsidian.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Many may not realize this, but a person can never have too many rocks.

Oak Harbor resident Dick James is quick to point this out and quick to invite people to the 46th annual gem show so they can add to their meager, thriving or nonexistent rock collections.

The 80-member Whidbey Island Gem Club will host the Sweetheart of Gems show Feb. 12 and 13 at the Oak Harbor Senior Center. The center will be lined with vendors from around Puget Sound with stones coming from places like Argentina, Mexico and Australia. According to event organizer and club member Chip Batcheller, there will be dozens of glass cases filled with rocks, gems, fossils, tools, jewelry and other accessories. Additionally, the event will include demonstrations by the Puget Sound knappers on how to make tools by shaving obsidian, as well as silversmiths and seasoned wire wrappers. Furthermore, food will be on site, there will be a “Wheel of Fortune” activity, silent auction and door prizes. Admission to the show is free, but club members will be working to raise money for their yearly $500 scholarship awarded to an Oak Harbor or Coupeville high school senior.

Batcheller said people will be impressed with the work of the knappers, boasting that some of the best in the region will be at the exhibit.

“We’ve got some premier knappers here,” he said. “They can put their work up against anybody’s. A good knapper can make an arrowhead in about 15 or 20 minutes. It takes me about two hours, and that’s if it doesn’t break on me.”

But James said one of the best reasons for people to come out is to learn how to make their own accessories or gifts. Gem club members are able to make beautiful customized rings, necklaces, bracelets, belt buckles and earrings in hours or even minutes.

“Think about the money you’d save on jewelry,” James said. “You can make it tonight and wear it tomorrow, whip together a pair of earrings in about a half hour to match your outfit or suit your mood.”

The men hope that the interest in rocks and will persuade them to try out the Gem Club, which costs only an annual $15 to $20 membership fee. The club meets once a month at the Senior Center, but all people ages 14 and up are encouraged to join. The members discuss their collections, share tips and tricks and take rock-hunting field trips. Members also teach newcomers how to wire wrap and produce jewelry, which usually costs at least $25 or more to learn through private classes. Also, Gem Club participants are granted access to the rock shop which is filled with cutting and polishing equipment.

Batcheller said it’s to know a special kind of joy to cut open a rock and discover its unique pattern and colors.

“You’re the first person in the world to ever see it,” he said.

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