By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Like the pearl of an oyster, a gemstone brings beauty from nothing.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, it all starts out ugly,” said Bryan Fritch of Salado, a member of the Temple Gem & Mineral Society.
He’s holding a potato-like rock the size of a softball.
“You think you have nothing,” Fritch said. “But then clear away the dirt, you sand down the edges and then shine a light on it. Only then do you see the pretty stuff.”
For Fritch, finding gemstones is a detective game — one he began digging into 30 years ago. He has more than 70 types of stone from across the United States and from as far away as Hong Kong.
“It’s like treasure hunting,” Fritch said. “It’s something that was formed millions and millions of years ago, and you’re the first person to touch it, to find the beauty.” He was in Arizona when he discovered his interest in gemstones.
“Turquoise jewelry was all the rage. Everybody just had to have it,” Fritch said. “But the prices were fantastic, outrageously high.”
But that was no reason for his wife to go without a turquoise ring.
“I watched how it was done and learned how to cut stone,” Fritch said. “I learned where stones could be found, went and looked for them and got some.”
His wife didn’t like the first set of jewelry he managed to make for her.
“Yeah, the first ones didn’t turn out so well,” Fritch said, smiling. “It looked kind of bad.”
But she’s got a chest full of jewelry that she now wears “all the time.”
“Stone cutting and setting takes a lot of time and patience,” Fritch said. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”
Locating places where gemstones can be found takes some research.
“Texas is a difficult place to collect because so much of the land is privately owned,” Fritch said. “So you’ve got to get permission from the owner, which is often hard to do because they either want money or they’re afraid you’ll sue them if you fall down and get hurt on their property. You also have a bunch of ranchers who don’t want you digging holes in their land.”
But there are few places in Texas where collectors can hunt for gemstones.
They’re called rock ranches. Owners let collectors explore their hundreds of acres in exchange for an admission price or a dollar-per-pound purchase.
The most popular rock ranch in Texas is the Llano Uplift. The state tourism department calls it “a geological mecca” for amethyst, azurite, dolomite, galena, garnet, quartz, serpentine — and llanite, which is found only in Llano County.
Other Texas rock ranches are located in Mason and Alpine. The most abundant gemstone in these cities is topaz — the Texas gemstone. Because it’s only found in the Texas Hill Country, the state legislature recognized blue topaz as the state stone March 26, 1969.
Jewelers often sell blue topaz under the slogan of “Lone Star Jewelry.”
For those who don’t wish to search for gemstones themselves, there’s a myriad of businesses that sell stone samples.
Fritch turns to eBay these days for his stone purchases.
“But sometimes I’ll buy a stone I see on vacation, one that I like.”