By Antoinette Rahn
How often have you heard someone say, or perhaps you’ve told yourself, “When I retire, I’m going to… (fill in the blank)”?
As is common in rockhounding, mineralogy, and lapidary, many people don’t wait until retirement to dive in. Still, there is a certain amount of freedom in choosing to feed such a passion in retirement. Just ask Tom Mitchell.
Before retiring and moving to Florida with his wife, he had no lapidary experience, Mitchell explained. Well, he has made considerable strides since getting started. That’s not to say he did not appreciate geology before developing a passion for lapidary. For years, he would always bring along various gold panning equipment during camping trips and seek areas to pan. Plus, he took a few geology classes during college. As a child, he said he thoroughly enjoyed picking up pretty rocks, and he believed he would have had an amazing rock collection if his mother had not discovered the geological treasures in his pants pockets while preparing his clothes for the laundry.
“What I have found since becoming interested in lapidary endeavors is that there is an infinite amount of beauty in what God has created, and if you are willing to put a little effort into it, you will get to see it,” Mitchell said. “I never dreamed that I would become so involved in this art form. It just happened, and I have not had a day of regret since my first bucket of rocks. I am still amazed at how beautiful nature is and love creating something that others appreciate and cherish.”
While multiple experiences led Mitchell to his present, one of the most memorable was when he learned about faceting. While camping and panning in Cleveland, Georgia, he opted to purchase a bucket of rocks offered by the mine. While sorting through the bucket’s contents, he found a few pieces, which the mine clerk explained were pieces of citrine, amethyst, garnet, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Then the clerk said they could facet the stones for Mitchell. Do what now, he thought? Then the clerk showed Mitchell faceted stones in the mine office display case. His first thought was, “Wow, I can make these into jewelry for my wife.” The door was open. On the second day, he purchased a $60 bucket and brought his finds to the mine office, where they helped him choose some stones to be faceted.
On the final day of their trip, as Mitchell was heading to the mine office to purchase a bucket, his wife said, “Wait for me. You’re having too much fun with those rocks. I want to get a bucket of rocks, too.”
Long story short, they purchased a couple of buckets, and as they were sorting their finds at the mine office, Mitchell’s wife held a three-inch-long, six-sided green crystal. After the clerk regained her composure, she informed the Mitchells they found an emerald in that bucket, and the piece was cut into two. One piece became earrings, and the other a 15.1 carat pendant.
As he continued to amass more knowledge, Mitchell thought it wise to contact a Floridan gem appraiser to take a look at the stones. The 15.1 carat emerald was appraised for more than $20,000.
“That’s when I decided that I needed to learn how to facet myself,” he said.
It was the desire to learn faceting that led Mitchell to ask the mine owners if they taught classes, and although they didn’t, they referred him to the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts (www.lapidaryschool.org). After taking a few faceting classes and asking instructors about their equipment recommendations, it was a resounding ULTRA TEC.
Mitchell’s initial purchase from ULTRA TEC included the V2 digital right hand mast (which he later had converted to a V5), a flex neck lamp, three additional index gears besides the 96 index gear that comes with the machine, a 33 dop set to supplement the 12 dop set that comes with the machine, a complete set of emerald dops, the facet saw kit and two saw blades, a faucet kit, and two sets of Guiu Doppers for small and larger stones.
“Over the years, I have made several suggestions to ULTRA TEC on little things that they could do to improve their machines, and so far, they have come through with all of them,” Mitchell said. “They are the only faceting machine manufacturer that responds to suggestions from their customers.”
As 2021 gets underway, Mitchell enters his 11th year teaching at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts, concludes his sixth year as a board member and nearly four years as President of the United States Faceters Guild, continues as president of the Tomoka Faceters Guild, and works with his wife running Mitchell Jewelry Studio.
It’s a busy schedule, but this “retiree” wouldn’t have it any other way. Rockhounding, doing lapidary work, teaching, and serving the community that gives him so much are how Mitchell makes the most of his time on Earth.
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