Seniors rock every week at Whidbey gem club

‘It gets addicting’

Pat Watt didn’t know she’d get wrapped up in making jewelry when a friend suggested she check out the gem club.

“That was three years ago. My friend said to come to see if I’d like it,” Watt recalled. “I’ve been coming ever since.”

Watt discovered a new hobby and a hidden talent.

On a black display case, she proudly displays the many pieces of jewelry — bracelets, brooches, necklace — that she’s made entirely by her own hands.

She selected the stone, cut and trimmed it into shape, then carefully held it steady against a grinding machine that soothes edges and curves.

Buffing to a gleaming sheen is the final step.

“Tuesday night is shop night and you’ll find me here,” she said. “Thursday night is wrapping class and people learn how to wrap wire for the jewelry.”

The Whidbey Island Gem Club just held its 53rd “Sweetheart of Gems Show” at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, which owns the club’s small work space set-up next to the center.

The two-day show, featured demonstrations, rock identification, educational displays, handmade jewelry and vendors.

All Whidbey residents are welcome to join the club, however a majority of its 108 members are age 60 and up.

Twice a week, the rock shop buzzes with cutting saws, grinders and the language of lapidary.

Some are buffing and polishing stones, known as cabochons.

Others create shapes for animal figures, belt buckles or to set in artwork or jewelry.

Dick James, club treasurer, says he loves his rockhound the hobby because “it’s always unexpected what you’re going to see inside.”

Active since 2003, James said club members often travel together to rock shows and go out looking for specimens. “There’s jade all over the beaches if you know what you’re looking for,” he said.

Sara Gray said the gem club was most welcoming when she and her husband, George, moved to Whidbey Island six years ago.

She likes to turn earth’s minerals into jewelry while her husband cuts stones into oval and square pieces and sets them into belt buckles. He also creates small stone animals,

“It gets addicting,” he said.

Joining the gem club means getting a lesson in precious and semi-precious stones, learning how to safely use stone-cutting machines and tips on how to tell gemstones from plain old pebbles.

The first two visits and instruction are free.

“We’ll give them a stone or they can bring in their own,” said Dave Baumgartner, club vice president.

Annual membership is $15 per person or $20 per family. A $5 shop fee is also charged per visit.

There’s no charge for members of the Oak Harbor Senior Center.

Many Oak Harbor senior members have tried the various skills of lapidary over the years and enjoy the new challenge, social time and creative process, Baumgartner said.

“There’s such a wealth of information from the elders and they like to share it,” he said.

Pat Barstad, nose to the grindstone smoothing a pink rock, agreed.

“We’re user-friendly in our club,” she joked. “You can come in your pajamas if you want.”