South Charlotte

This club will turn your life into a real gem

Charlotte Gem & Mineral Club sparkles when it comes to gems, minerals, fossils, earth science, beads, precious metals or jewelry-making.

There are classes, field trips and speakers. Members meet the third Thursday of each month at Charlotte Nature Museum on Sterling Road near Freedom Park.

The organization totals 45-50 paid memberships, but that number may represent as many as 80 people, since some are family memberships, says Murray Simon, club president.

Members are a treasure trove of knowledge.

Murray and wife, Linda, are gem and mineral enthusiasts who live near Carmel Road. He is skilled in lapidary arts, cutting and polishing gemstones using a workshop of specialized equipment. She enjoys crafting jewelry and teaching jewelry-making techniques.

Their friend, Jack King, lives at Lake Norman but can sometimes be found sharing his gem and mineral expertise at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts in the north Georgia mountains. Another person is an authority on opals. At least one member has written a book.

"It's the aesthetics of it," said Murray, 74. "It's the geologic history of it. It's the adventure of going out there and finding something that's probably been under the ground for maybe millions of years, and you're the first to touch it."

Linda, 68, says gems and minerals are great things for parents, grandparents and children to share.

King, 69, says he started collecting as a child but quit as an adult until a grandson showed an interest.

"The passion was ignited again," he said.

The quest to learn has taken Murray and Linda to places like Tucson, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M.

In Albuquerque, they went to a seminar by a manufacturer of jewelry-related products and tools. King has taught himself wherever he could, mining library books and the Internet for information.

Low membership costs and social and philanthropic activities are CGMC benefits, Murray says.

Members welcome novices, gladly assisting in identifying items brought to meetings. It's part of club lore that some rocks are known as "AJ rocks," meaning "Ask Jack" (referring to King), and some are "AR rocks," meaning "Ask Ron" (referring to member Ron Gibbs).

Murray says volunteers work the Matthews Alive! and Mint Hill Madness festivals.

At Matthews Alive! over Labor Day weekend, they cut geodes to expose crystals inside using saws with diamond-coated blades and then sell the goods.

Funds support scholarships for geology and earth science students at UNC Charlotte.

At Mint Hill Madness, later in September, there's a sluice, or water-filled trough, for kids to sift bags of dirt for gemstones. Volunteers wear signature emerald green hats and shirts. The emerald is North Carolina's state stone.

An individual membership in CGMC is $20. A family membership is $25.