Confessions of a Rock Nerd by Laura Hunter Heavner

Confessions of a Rock Nerd – Laura Hunter Heavner

One of my favorite aspects of making peyote beaded jewelry is the hunt for interesting gemstones. Since beginning to work in this medium I have discovered many materials that are (1) new to me, or (2) stones labeled “top shelf,” meaning the finest examples of the material, and (3) those called “old stock,” meaning old material of excellent quality, not previously used. Many gemstones at the top of a mine are stunning, and as the mine is depleted, the stones are poorer quality with less interesting patterns, and colors less impressive than those first mined.

Tanzanite from Tanzania, Africa

I visited Tanzania several years ago and was introduced to Tanzanite, a gem mined in the area. An acquaintance on the trip had visited this African country many times and wore a stunning tanzanite ring. It was a huge emerald cut with a distinctive deep blue-violet color. She had bought it when the stone was plentiful, and therefore fairly inexpensive. When I visited, the mine was nearly depleted, and the stones were a pale version of the earlier stones. They were also smaller and much more expensive because the stone was in short supply.                  

But the materials that interest me the most are those that are no longer mined at all, either because the mines are depleted or inaccessible, because mining has become dangerous beyond acceptable limits, or because further mining would endanger the environment. Death Valley Plume Agate is a good example of a gorgeous stone with no access to the mine. The U.S. put a military shooting range in the China Lake region of Death Valley, right on top of it, so mining is off limits and illegal.

Death Valley or Wingate Pass Plume Agate from Death Valley, California

Michigan’s state stone, Chlorastrolite or Greenstone, is no longer legal to mine because decades of mining have compromised the beauty of several national parks and the shores of the Great Lakes. You can pick up examples on the beach if you are lucky enough to find any, but if you start chipping at the stone cliffs along these waters, you will be arrested and fined or jailed.

Chlorastrolite, Greenstone, or Turtlebackstone  from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula      

I belong to several Facebook groups of people who shape rough rock into polished cabochons used in the making of jewelry. Recently one of the members had attended an annual rock sale and returned with several pieces of a stone he was really excited about – Stefoinite – and the other members were willing to pay $200 for a cabochon the size of a half dollar. No one had seen the stone in years and were clearly envious of his new find. I couldn’t afford this man’s prices, so I began a search for alternate sources.

Stefoinite Jasper, SW Wyoming

I found a lapidarist online, John Allison of Hill Country Lapidary, who had an abundance of the stone he had bought a decade ago. He wasn’t aware of the jasper’s renewed popularity and soon started cutting some cabochons for me while telling me the story behind the stone.                                                                                              

In Wyoming during the 1950s, a miner named Rudy Stefoin discovered the stone, probably in the Green River basin area. He kept the location of the mine a secret – which he took to his grave in 1988. Miners have been searching for the mine ever since, with no luck. With its scarcity and the real possibility that no more will ever be found, sellers can get any price they ask. Stefoinite is a jasper of earthy colors, black veins that look like thorny vines, and deposits of light blue chalcedony. I bought several stones from the Texas stone cutter and was hooked. I bought more. Most of the stones were excellent, but there were a few that were too big, too dark, or just not what I was hoping for.

I listed my least favorite on eBay, and a woman bought all I had and asked for more. I was able to get her what she wanted, but it wasn’t until the third or fourth email that her name hit me: Linda Stefoin. She was the great-granddaughter of Rudy Stefoin. She was buying pieces of the material to frame in shadow boxes for her sons, along with a photograph of their grandfather and a map of the general location of the mine.

I have just begun to make jewelry from the stones I have acquired. I continue to buy stones from the Texas lapidarist because when the limited supply is gone, I may never again find any of this lovely jasper. If the stone interests you, come by the gallery for a closer look. I would be happy to make a custom piece to your specifications.

Tan and pale blue peyote beadwork captures the colors of the jasper.                                                             The bale connecting the pendant to the rope is a suspension hinge.


This pendant is constructed with peyote beadwork. The light blue chalcedony drop at the bottom of the stone accents the deposit of chalcedony at the top of the stone and adds movement to the piece.


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