Richard James, treasurer of the the Whidbey Island Gem Club, holds up one of many colorful rocks to be on display or for sale at this weekend’s 53rd Annual Sweetheart of Gems Show at Oak Harbor Senior Center. Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Richard James, treasurer of the the Whidbey Island Gem Club, holds up one of many colorful rocks to be on display or for sale at this weekend’s 53rd Annual Sweetheart of Gems Show at Oak Harbor Senior Center. Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Rockhounds ready to wow with worldly findings

Oak Harbor Senior Center presents 53rd annual gem show

Getting ready for a rock show is a noisy undertaking. Even when there are no drums, guitars or amplifiers involved.

Members of the Whidbey Island Gem Club know the sound well but seem attuned and immune to the ear-splitting vibrations of their hobby.

Monday night, the deafening whirr of spinning grinders and buzz of cutting saws signaled just another evening of slicing, polishing and beveling large and small slabs of the earth to reveal colorful, precious gems.

“It’s always unexpected what you’re going to see inside,” remarked Richard James as he sorted through drawers of cut rock showing shades and striations of pink, brown, green and blue.

“Look at this one,” he says, holding up a startling light blue gem stone called sodalight (rumored to purify your aura.) “But I think jade is my favorite. There’s jade rock all over our beaches but most people don’t realize that.”

James is a longtime member of the Whidbey Island Gem Club, and now its treasurer. He keeps tabs on the exact number of members — 108 — and the dues and fees paid for use of the club’s workshop.

This weekend, the club’s many precious mineral specimens, pre-cut slabs and buckets with “old rough stock to make your own masterpiece at home” are up for sale during the “Sweetheart of Gems Show” at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, which owns the club’s small work space.

The two-day event marks the 53rd year for the free show which attracts collectors, hobbyists and jewelry-makers from around the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Several hundred people are expected over the two-day show. Demonstrations, rock identification, exhibits, handmade jewelry, vendors and a barbecue will be set up.

“We’ll have nice displays,” said Dave Baumgartner, club vice president as he picks up a gleaming rose-colored gem called rhodonite.

“This came out of the Cascades, near Darrington.”

Many of the gems start out looking like ordinary rocks. Learning which chunks of earth contain mineral crystal takes time, rockhounds said.

“I’m trying to get better at that,” Baumgartner admitted. “A lot of what I’ve picked up is garbage. You slice it and it crumbles.”

Gems, on the other hand, can be cut on a wheel using a diamond saw blade. They don’t shatter or splinter, explains Pat Varstad as she lines up a piece to be cut on the corner machine.

Over at another small saw blade, George Gray carefully cuts black and white speckled stone into small shapes.

“This one will be a whale,” he says. “And this one, a bear.”

Gray also polishes chunks of gems into small oval and square pieces he sets into metal belt buckles.

“I’ve been doing this six years,” he says. “It gets addicting.”

The Whidbey Island Gem Club is hosting its 53rd annual “Sweetheart of Gems Show” 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Feb. 10 and 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Feb. 11 at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, 51 SE Jerome Street, Oak Harbor. Admission is free. Hand-crafted jewelry made from precious mineral gems and pre-cut slabs from all over the globe featured. Demonstrations, exhibits, vendors and barbecue.

Dave Baumgartner holds one of the bigger finds from his rock collection. Baumgartner is vice president of the Whidbey Island Gem Club that has about 100 members.

Dave Baumgartner holds one of the bigger finds from his rock collection. Baumgartner is vice president of the Whidbey Island Gem Club that has about 100 members.

George Gray positions a rock to be sliced at one of many cutting and grinding machines of the Whidbey Island Gem Club, located next to the Oak Harbor Senior Center.

George Gray positions a rock to be sliced at one of many cutting and grinding machines of the Whidbey Island Gem Club, located next to the Oak Harbor Senior Center.

Polished rocks abound at the Whidbey Island Gem Club.

Polished rocks abound at the Whidbey Island Gem Club.

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