Buying Gemstones with Becky Thatcher

Becky Thatcher Designs Glen Arbor

A visit to Glen Arbor isn’t complete without a stop at Becky Thatcher’s studio.

I’ve been a fan of Becky Thatcher Designs since the first day I walked into her Glen Arbor studio and saw her jewelry displayed in cases filled with birch, sand and stones collected from the nearby Lake Michigan shoreline. A pale purple and blue landscape was painted on the walls, and I felt as though I’d never left the beach. From her petoskey stone watches, to freshwater pearls and signature rings that blend gold, silver and gemstones, Becky has a gift for crafting exceptional jewelry. She has a passion for sharing her knowledge as well. I thought it would be fun to share a piece of her world with you.

I asked Becky if I could get a behind-the-scenes look at the world of jewelry design for the Traverse Traveler blog, and Becky had the perfect solution.

Invitation to a Gemstone Roundtable

Earlier this summer I had the privilege of joining a gemstone roundtable hosted by Becky Thatcher and gemstone dealers from Mayer & Watt. Twice each year Becky Thatcher welcomes a handful of guests to join her in experiencing what it’s like to purchase gems directly from dealers who travel the world in search of beautiful stones. This was to be my glimpse behind the scenes of the gem buying process.

Our presenters, Simon & Laurie Watt, of Mayer & Watt, are accomplished gem dealers with whom Becky has worked for many years. Simon has served on the board of the American Gem Trade Association for more than 9 years, and Laurie was one of the first three women in the gem business.

Becky Thatcher Designs | Traverse City store

Becky Thatcher Designs, located on Front Street in downtown Traverse City. Becky also has stores in Glen Arbor, Leland and Harbor Springs.

We met at the Becky Thatcher Designs store in downtown Traverse City. A lovely light dinner and refreshments awaited while guests mingled and met our hosts. We sat at a long narrow table carefully prepared for the process of examining stones for purchase.

For over 30 years Mayer & Watt have developed relationships with a network of cutters and miners in every corner of the gem world, to bring stones to jewelers like Becky. Fair trade and fair labor are of utmost concern to be sure their products do not fund terror. They specialize in rare and unusual stones, many of which we had the chance to see and to hold.

Guests were seated around a long table with Simon at the head. He held a box with dozens of simple paper envelopes inside. We were asked to pass the envelopes around the table one by one. The outside was labeled with the name of the stone, the cut, the carat weight and the price. Since all stones were available for purchase we employed a special process for laying claim to a certain stone.

Becky Thatcher Designs | gemstone roundtable

At the roundtable event we viewed over 150 gemstones which ranged in price from $99 to over $100,000.

As the envelopes passed round the table each guest carefully opened the paper folds to reveal the loose stone(s) inside. Some were single stones and others were cut and sold as a pair. If one of the stones caught our eye and warranted a second look we called “dibs” along with our name and the number on the envelope, then passed it along. Dibs wasn’t a commitment to buy, “just a flirtation,” said Simon. A chance to see the stone again, handle it, and perhaps compare it to another stone that came along.

 

Becky Thatcher Designs | gemstone roundtable

Guests had an opportunity to view each stone up close as they were passed around the table. To see a stone a second time you call ‘dibs’ and they placed the stone on a tray in front of you.

 

Becky Thatcher Designs | gemstone roundable

Stones were packaged in a folded paper envelope, numbered and labeled. Each guest had the opportunity to see the stones unveiled for the first time upon opening the final fold. After viewing we passed them on folded inside just as they had been received.

I saw amazing gems that evening. Stones I’d never heard of. From Spinel, Chrysoberyl, Nephrite and Alexandrite to the familar Opal, Amethyst, Sapphire and Ruby. But the most unusual name and the most amazing story go hand-in-hand. We waited for the Rhodocrosite. Simon came across this award-winning stone 16 years ago. He offered to buy it and was told to “get in line.” Years went by and he never forgot the beauty of that stone. Just weeks before coming to Michigan he received a call about a special stone for sale. Lo and behold it was one in the same. The stunning Rhodocrosite (shown above) was finally his. You’d think this one would be marked “not for sale” but in the gem business that’s not how it works. The stones are always for sale. “It’s like getting to fall in love all over again,” said Simon. And he hopes someone will fall in love with this beauty.

Becky Thatcher Designs | gemstone roundable

Some stones were presented and sold as pairs.

It took hours to make our way through the entire box of stones. We all had fun calling “dibs” to see some of the stones up close. We marveled at the beauty of these treasures and imagined what Becky could do with them in her capable hands.

Becky Thatcher Designs | gemstone roundtable

This amazing gem is a green beryl. What a stunning cut, and surprisingly affordable.

Attending a gemstone roundtable was a fascinating experience. If you’d be interested in seeing this first hand I’d suggest you pay a visit to Becky Thatcher Designs in Glen Arbor, Leland, Harbor Springs or Traverse City and inquire. Becky will be hosting another roundtable yet this year. It could be a great place to start shopping for Christmas!

But wait, there’s more! Have you heard about Becky’s Tuesday Tea & Talk series? Throughout the summer she hosts a formal tea in her private garden behind the Glen Arbor store where Becky’s husband David shares a lecture on gemstones. The topic changes each week. Click here for the Tuesday Tea & Talk schedule and stop by for high tea in the garden and a glimpse into the world I found fascinating.

By |2018-12-12T09:31:14+00:00August 5th, 2014|Arts & Culture, Events, Made in Michigan|0 Comments

10 Places I've Never Been: Country Christmas

10 Places I've Never Been image

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: Country Christmas

 Country Christmas exterior image

 

This is another one of those places that every local has driven past at one time or another. Located on the uphill side of highway M-72 as you’re headed out of Traverse City towards Empire is Country Christmas. This cozy cottage-like place, painted red with green gingerbread trim is the perfect spot for a crafty couple like Bill and Lee Smith.

Country Christmas interior view 

 

It was Tuesday when I walked in, completely unannounced and was met with a smile by Tracy Smith. Standing behind a desk, and in front of a beautiful antique hotel key box, was his father, Bill. I was immediately impressed when the first question they had for me was, "Have you been in to visit us before, or is this your first time?"

 

I introduced myself and explained the concept for the 10 Places I’ve Never Been article series. With a nod of recognition, they quickly responded, "You’re going to want to talk to Lee." Around the corner she came.

 Country Christmas interior image

 

The story of Country Christmas always goes back to Lee, and her love of homemade holiday crafts. For years Lee sold her creative Christmas decorations at arts and crafts fairs. She recycled and repurposed every piece of material, paper or holiday-themed gift that she came across. Pipe-cleaners, old spools, candy boxes, corks, cards, bits of fabric and ribbon all became materials for Lee’s creations. She saw potential in everything, and nothing was wasted.

 

In 1983 the antique store on these grounds came up for sale, just as their dreams of living on the bay were dashed by the housing market. A move to the country was in store, and their house suddenly sold to make it possible. That’s when Lee, Bill and their three sons went into the Holiday business.

Country Christmas spool angel imageCountry Christmas cork ornament image

Country Christmas driftwood santas imageCountry Christmas handmade ornament image

Upon taking a tour to learn more about their products, Bill really came to life. As he guided me through the three main rooms he was so proud to show off each of his wife’s creative designs. We saw angels made with spools and tulle, simple clusters of corks loved by wine-tasting tourists, Santas painted on driftwood and little boxes designed from bits and pieces she collects. Each ornament brought a smile to his eye and a nod towards Lee.

Country Christmas manger

 

But the store isn’t just filled with Lee’s handiwork. Over the years they’ve built relationships with artists all over the Midwest. In fact I began noticing red tags hanging on nearly half their merchandise — a sign that the piece is handcrafted and locally made. They were approached by one of the first Bronners employees who asked if the Smiths might like sell his handmade mangers. Since then Bill has begun decorating some with stones he finds along Lake Michigan.

Country Christmas santa ornamentsCountry Christmas bird ornament

Country Christmas antique tinsCountry Christmas chalkware image

They also have handcarved Santas, bells on leather straps from Ohio, and some very colorful handpainted ornaments from Traverse City artist Keith Smith. If handmade Christmas ornaments are what you’re shopping for, this is the place to go.

 

Another unique item Lee began to make and sell is called Chalkware. They started collecting antique tin folding chocolate molds. Lee fills the molds with a chalky plaster and when set, she paints the figurine. Each piece is handmade and unique.

Country Christmas Buyer's Choice carrolersCountry Christmas baby blocks 

 

There are many well-known collections available at Country Christmas. They carry Buyer’s Choice Carrolers, Santas, nativities, German glass ornaments and vintage pieces. Trees throughout the store show off collections of ornaments that will suit any holiday decor. I even found some lime green trees and modern fused glass pieces that fit the theme in my house.

 

If you’re looking for a personalized gift, you’ll love the solid cherry baby blocks which are laser-cut and personalized with your choice of designs on each side. With Lee’s steady hand she will paint a personal message or family name on nearly any item you wish.

Country Christmas Waldo-ClauseCountry Christmas Waldo-Clause

 

One of my favorite features is actually something the Smith’s started doing to keep children busy while shopping with their parents. Pasted on the front door before you even enter the store, is a sign announcing that Waldo-Clause is hiding inside. The children spend their time searching all the nooks and crannys of the shop looking for Waldo-Clause. Once he is discovered and reported the kids get to select a small prize. But perhaps the bigger reward is the priviledge of hiding Waldo-Clause for the next eager hunter.

Country Christmas purchase

 

After wandering the store, in search of my purchase, I was immediately drawn to some whimsical lime green trees I could use for display. I sheepishly admitted, the holiday I’m really addicted to is Halloween. Sure enough I found a couple candy corn glass ornaments that will look great with my Halloween decorations. So I had my purchase. Now all I needed was a photo of the happy couple who started this quaint little store on the side of the road.

Country Christmas owners

 

"I always told the kids, ‘Don’t buy me something, make me something’," said Lee. And it’s that philosophy that keeps her creating every day.

 

With our crafty backgrounds, and ability to see creative opportunities everywhere we look, I knew Lee and I were kindred spirits. It was my pleasure to meet such a sweet couple. And I’m sure I’ll be back to the Country Christmas store.

Country Christmas interiorCountry Christmas entry

 

Country Christmas is open from Memorial Day to Christmas Eve, Monday – Saturday from 10-5pm, and 7 days a week starting on October 1st. You can find them at 9005 M-72 West, Traverse City, Michigan 49684. To place a special order call 231.946.6294. Visit their website at www.countrychristmastc.com. As with all my 10 Places locations, I’ll be adding them to 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, you have one more week to tell me about it on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page. I’ll be choosing my last place from your suggestions!

 

And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour:  Two Fish Gallery.

 

By |2011-08-19T09:01:39+00:00August 19th, 2011|Place's I've Never Been, Traverse City|0 Comments