Gemstone of the Month: Leland Blue Stone
By Karla Rosenbusch, Managing Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
When some people think of gemstones, they think of the “big ones”–diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and the like. Me? I like the more unusual, esoteric stones. And one of my all-time favorites is actually recycled industrial waste, Leland Blue Stone.
Leland Blue is a by-product of the iron smelting industry that was active during the 1800s in the town of Leland, Michigan, on the Lelanau Peninsula. Iron ore was heated to extremely hot temperatures in order to separate the metal from the non-usable impurities. Those impurities, when cooled, formed a blue-tinted slag glass waste, which was considered useless junk. This waste was dumped into Lake Michigan. Over time, the waves and sand of the lake tumbled the chunks of slag, polishing them and turning them into amazingly beautiful pitted stones.
Leland Blue, while usually a light blue, can actually range in color from dark purple to green. Some examples are strongly pitted with lots of “bubbles,” while others have almost no pits or bubbles at all. Most of the stones feature fabulous highlights of brown, white, gray, and/or black.
As it’s relatively rare, Leland Blue Stone can be moderately expensive compared to similar gemstones. Well-cut and polished cabs can range from $12 to $30 for small ones while larger cabs can cost up to $50 to 60. You can also get drilled Leland Blue beads in a variety of sizes.
Leland Blue tends to be soft (nonpitted examples are stronger than pitted ones), so it’s best set in pieces like pendants or earrings, which take less abuse than rings or bracelets.
As a Michigan native, I’m particularly fond of this unusual bit of industrial history, and I like to pair Leland Blue with Petoskey stone and/or copper for a nice “home state” theme. It’s also fun to use it with pearls for an odd-stuff-from-the-water look.
You can find Leland Blue gemstones online or at venues like BeadFest, Tucson, or Quartzite. Gary Wilson (a Michigan native himself) always has a great selection.