This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: Korner Gem
Ever since I received an unusual Fordite necklace from my husband I’ve wanted to stop in and meet the jeweler at Korner Gem. But I’d never found the time or opportunity.
Then I began my mission to explore 10 Places I’ve Never Been. And I realized…we don’t find time, we make it.
Korner Gem is located in a small plaza called Brewery Creek, across from the marina on the West side of M-22 as you head towards Suttons Bay. The best way to spot the entrance is to look for the big blue building that looks like a lighthouse (but houses a Subway). With a giant blue diamond sign on the white building it’s easy to find once you know where it is. This is the type of place you’ll be sharing with family and friends once you’ve seen what’s inside.
As soon as I opened the door I was greeted by the owner/designer, Kevin Gauthier. Although we’d never met, the jewelers glasses perched atop his head were a dead giveaway. Before I explained my mission I spent a few minutes absorbing the surroundings.
Most shoppers would go straight for the jewelry cases to see what treasures await just behind the glass. But I couldn’t help looking at my feet. Just inside the front door, and sprawling across the tile floor was a beautiful stone mosaic river. The cut stone slices shone with a high polish and flowed across the floor in a rainbow of colors. But the story behind it was even more beautiful.
Kevin has honed his skills in gemology and rock collecting for decades as of the oldest—albiet youngest—members of the Grand Traverse Rock & Mineral Club. He’s met many friends along the way, some of whom have passed on. The stones in his river were collected and purchased from fellow rock hounds and vendors, only two of whom had the chance to see his creation before passing. The river remains a beautiful tribute to a lifelong journery collecting precious fossils and friends.
There are over 600 slabs of stone in Kevin’s river, represending some 70 varieties of rock from across the world. Having designed and laid a tile mosaic in my own home I have a special appreciation for the time, toil and back pain associated with a project like this! It’s worth a trip just to see it.
The first impression that struck me in Korner Gem was the atmosphere. Perhaps the stone river carried me away, but there’s something very relaxed and comfortable about this store. I think it’s the rocks. They’re everywhere. From agates and petoskeys, to fossils and geodes exploding with amethyst.
Then Kevin said something that explained what I was feeling, "The jewelry profession supports the rock habit."
Indeed, Kevin has created a fabulous jewelry collection by focusing on what he loves: rock collecting. Since the age of nine when he floated along the waters of Lake Leelanau on a surfboard wearing a dive mask and scanning the shallows for stone, Kevin has had a rock habit. At fourteen he started is entrepreneurial adventure selling polished petoskey stones at the Holiday Inn gift shop. Years later, he’s turned that childhood pastime into a 12-year-old jewelry business. After two moves, Korner Gem has found a home in Brewery Creek.
His work ranges from elegant to whimsical. Display cases throughout the store showcase custom necklaces, pendants, rings and charms. But what strikes me the most is Korner Gem’s use of Michigan beach stones in creative settings that reflect the area. Petoskey stones, Leland blue and even Fordite (or Paint, as he calls it) have been fashioned into creative charms in familiar shapes.
First known for his signature design, the ‘Beachcomber’ —a flip-flop sandal crafted from beach stones and sterling silver—Korner Gem now creates several charm designs with a Michigan theme. From the mitten state (upper and lower peninsulas) to sailboats and lighthouses, shells, frogs and turtles, each design is crafted from sterling silver and local stones, and polished to a beautiful sheen. What a perfect souvenir from a trip Up North.
What’s even more exciting to a rock scavenger like myself…is Kevin’s interest in creating custom designs. I love the idea of bringing in stones I’ve picked up along the shore and having them made into a charm, a ring or even a beaded watch band. And Kevin is more than willing to create a custom shape for his customers. If you’re into birding, how about a chickadee? Or maybe a fish ring for the angler in your life.
Some of the most popular items at Korner Gem are the Michigan stone beads designed to fit today’s charm bracelets like Pandora, Camille and Troll. Imagine creating a memory bracelet from stones you collected along the shore at grandma’s cottage? Or how about a necklace featuring the petoskey that took all afternoon to discover? I’m always on the look-out for unique gifts and this is a great place to find them.
I’ve spent many hours searching for petoskey stones on the shores of Lake Michigan, and I happen to have a pretty good eye. So I brought some of my stones in with me to see what Kevin could do. After looking at the beads I fell in love with his idea for a four-sided bead featuring four different stones. He’ll use my Petoskey, a Leland Blue, a Favosite fossil (which I didn’t know that I had) and Fordite—because I’m a huge fan.
Kevin identified my stones in no time at all, which should come as no surprise since he’s written three books on the subject. Rock Picker’s Guides to Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron. What a great cottage coffee table read, or gift for a child who needs something to do at the beach besides chasing seagulls and fighting with their siblings.
Kevin also took the time to share some rock facts with me. I asked about the creation of Leland Blue and Frankfort Green, since these are "misfits" found only in this region. He pulled out samples of iron ore and the glass-like by-product that formed in the smelting process. This "slag" was deposited in Lake Michigan from several processing operations in the late 1800s. The source of the color (blue vs. green) is debatable, but most likely determined by the process used at each location.
I also learned that rocks smell. Didn’t know that, did you? There’s something called a stink stone that smells like rotten eggs when you break it open. When grinding the stones for shaping and polishing some produce a pleasant smell, like turquoise. Petoskey stones have an oily smell, and the aroma from a ground piece of amber is like pine. The grinding process is a dusty one, but sometimes it too yields an interesting result. Lapis creates blue dust, where most stones are white.
Part of the magic at Korner Gem is the knowledge you receive when talking with Kevin and the staff. Their passion for jewelry making, and rock collecting is infectious. I left my stones there for a make-over, and picked up the Lake Michigan Rock Picker’s Guide to share with my kids. Hopefully our next trip to the beach will yield many more colorful memories to treasure.
In the back of the book there’s a line I just love, "We don’t own rocks, we only borrow them…so enjoy them while you are their keepers."
The next time you’re cruising through your hometown on auto-pilot, thinking about the grocery list and searching for the dry cleaning ticket you thought was stuck to the bottom of your cup holder, put that thought on hold. Look around you, at the OPEN signs on doorways your pass every day. Find one that calls to you and take a mini detour. I’d highly recommend a stop at Korner Gem, in Traverse City.
Korner Gem is located just off M-22 in Traverse City, on the West side of town. 13031 S. Fisherman Cove, Traverse City to be exact. For more information reach them by phone at 231.929.9175 or visit them online at www.KornerGem.com. They are not yet on Facebook, but you can find them on the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
If there’s a place in northern Michigan you’ve been dying to visit, but you’ve never made the time, I’d like to hear about it. Join the conversation on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page, and let me know where you’re going.
And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: Woodland Creek Furniture.