Studio Notes: Mining Gemstones for Their Stories

Enjoy making one-of-a-kind jewelry? Stretch yourself even more by making jewelry that include gemstones with a story. Like Dave Otteson’s rare bubbly turquoise I pinned into an invisible sterling setting with a bunch of half-drilled pearls, below. (See page 42 of the September-October issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.)

ABOVE: Denver gem and fossil show. Photo courtesy of

I found this lump of beauty in 2015 at the Denver Coliseum during the region’s mega gem and fossil show. And this year, between September 5-16, the multi-venue event is going to be bigger than ever. More than 900 vendors will converge on this sprawling metropolis in the middle of the United States, offering tons of material for you to choose from.

One website casually mentions 8 miles of vendor tables at their event, selling gemstones, minerals, fossils, and more.

Usually, I ignore everything displayed under hot lights in glass cases. While these glittering gemstones are artful, they are so carefully cleaned up and edited that they have become separated from the grit and sweat of their origins. They are coveted jewels, to be sure. But about the only story to be had is how much of a bargain you thought you got when you bought them.

Instead I head over to cramped hotel rooms or places like the Miner’s Co-op Mineral Show, located indoors this year at the National Western Complex (4655 Humboldt St., Denver, off I-70). Beware: Denver area highways are about as tangled as spaghetti twirled onto a fork. So use a digital navigator.

gemstones: bubbly turquoise and pearl pendant by Betsy Lehndorff

In 2015, I found Otteson sitting in front of dozens of trays of giant turquoise nuggets on the Denver Coliseum concourse. (He’s there again this year but didn’t know his booth number.) I took a chance on buying a piece of matrix-free turquoise he unearthed outside Mina, Nevada, where he and his family have numerous claims. Other dealers were very skeptical of his finds (buyer beware), but I decided to invest $100 in a small piece.

It took a three-year wait before I could write about this find, because I needed verification. The GIA assay report Otteson promised got misplaced. His truck broke down. Someone else made promises and didn’t come through. Folks got sick or aged overnight. And of course, I now wish I had bought more of Dave’s material. But at the time, there were so many unknowns.

But that’s the allure. These men and women have grubbed these gemstones out of the ground themselves, and many have time to talk. So ask questions. Cross-reference with experts if they have a moment. Buy samples. Make contacts for more. Make friends. Make jewelry.

For more information on September’s huge venue of shows in the Denver Metro area, check out Xpopress Gem Show Directory, Rock and Mineral Shows, and Coliseum Show.

Here’s a short summary. You’ll find dates, times, and buyer requirements on the websites above.

  • Colorado Independent Warehouse Show located in the west suburb of Lakewood
  • Denver Fine Mineral Show, Denver West Marriott off of I-70 and Denver West Parkway in Golden, CO
  • Colorado Mineral & Fossil Show, which has relocated further east at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Aurora
  • Denver Gem & Mineral Show, known as “The Main Show” at the Denver Mart at I-25 and 58th Ave
  • The new Denver Mineral Show at the National Western Complex, including the Denver Coliseum Show, Denver
  • Expo Gem Show and Miners Co-op Mineral Show at the National Western Complex
  • Jewelry, Gem & Mineral Expo at Quality Inn Central Denver
  • International Gem & Jewelry Show and Bead Renaissance, both at the Denver Mart and both open along with the “Main Show” at the Mart

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at [email protected].

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