Bill Heher from Rare Earth Mining

by Metalwerx on March 26, 2019

You may know Bill Heher as the friendly and enthusiastic vendor from Rare Earth Mining at Metalwerx Marketplace. Rare Earth Mining is a small and family owned gem company that offers fine and unusual gem materials. Bill collects and sells some amazing and rare specimens of gems and minerals from all over the world. 

Metalwerx recently sat down with Bill to get to know more about what started his career in the gem business.

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bill mktpl2018

 

MWX: What first got you started in gem stones? 

BH: After teaching Earth Science in the early 70’s in inner city Bridgeport, CT for five years, I decided there were better paths to walk. I had been working on my masters in Experiential Education and the courses were about kayaking, climbing, mountaineering, orienteering and survival skills. I worked as a counselor in leadership with young men who faced prison time.

Pennsylvania had a program for their troubled youth to come with me into the mountain ranges of America and begin to see the natural world and build self-confidence and try and straighten out their lives.

It was a highly successful program and after four semesters of leadership, I found myself going on my own to climb in Africa. By coincidence in Mombasa Kenya, between climbs, I happened on a jewelry store with a new find of Tanzanite. I was immediately intrigued by these stones and worked my way to the mines in 1975.

Once I was exposed to the fantastic business of mining and selling stones, I traveled back to the US and because I was completely broke had to take another teaching job, this time in a wealthy school district.

After one year, I knew teaching was no longer for me, and I hitch hiked out west and met a man cutting and selling picture jasper.

With my last thousand dollars, I bought these beautiful stones that had natural landscapes on them. By late 1977, I was a traveling gemstone dealer living in my van and driving around New England selling stones to silver and goldsmiths.

MWX: How do you source your stones? Do you travel to source your products?

BH: I source my stones by asking all the questions I can think of.

Where is the most obvious?

Traveling to more than 30 countries has been one of the greatest rewards, as I became rich in friendships and culture. Most of the source countries that I visit have small scale mining operations and dealers who are eager to share their knowledge and inventories with me. I’ve become a man of many couches.

MWX: What are some challenges that you encounter in the industry as a reputable gemstone vendor?

BH: The challenges that exist in sourcing and later treatments of the stones is always changing. My job is not only the finding of who the real suppliers are, but also finding out if the stones have been irradiated, heated, surface coated and recently if the stones are being sold to support conflict and terror groups.

MWX: Do you make jewelry yourself?

BH: I don’t make jewelry myself but have been cutting stones for 25 of the 45 years
my career has spanned. My wife Cynthia designs jewelry and we make a line of silver and gold which we build with our many partners overseas.

MWX: How many shows do you do a year?

BH: We’ve cut back from the early days of about thirty-five to fifteen each year.

MWX: What materials and stones do you like the most?

The many scenic gems with natural vistas of Savannah or mountains, snow or blue sky and beach are among my favorites.

I now make a market in over 300 materials including fossils and very unusual occurrences of different minerals which have mixed well below the surface and through erosion and upwelling of the crust have been dug up or mined.

MWX: What is your favorite part of your job?

BH: People often ask me what my favorite part of being a gem dealer.

I love cutting stones now, making something beautiful out of a piece of rough rock. There are the wonderful people of the world who really make the business what it is. The adventure of this business never gets old. I would never retire, there are too many rocks to find!

MWX: Do you have a personal collection of gems? If so, do you have a prized piece?

My personal collection of stones is remarkable. I visit the safe from time to time and the collection of favorites is in the thousands of individual wonders to me.

I really believe stones have an intrinsic power over people and I can’t help but smile and laugh when I view them. While very few people have ever seen the collection, their universal commentary is always shock that the earth has so many beautiful occurrences.

Visit Bill at his booth at Metalwerx Marketplace 2019!

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Tucson Rocks!

by Metalwerx on February 27, 2019

Tucson Rocks!

La Paloma 2

This February, Metalwerx director Lindsay Minihan and I were fortunate to venture to Tucson, AZ for the Tucson gem show. Every February, thousands of vendors from all over the world come to Tucson to sell their gems, stones, tools and various other goods. The entire city is inundated with over 45 shows, each housing hundreds of vendors. It is an international event of an overwhelming size and scale where you can find nearly anything!

 

Big gems

In the two short days we were in Tucson, we managed to see three shows. The first we visited was the AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) GemFair. This show is not only impeccably organized, it is beautifully laid out with wide aisles, friendly vendors, and carpeted floors that dampen the “oh my!” and “wow!” exclamations coming from those shopping. Buyers from all over the world, including The Smithsonian, come to this show to find rare and interesting specimens for their collections.

Bigger gems

First, we headed to Rare Earth Mining booth. Bill Heher from Rare Earth had personally invited Lindsay and me to attend the AGTA show and we happily accepted! Rare Earth had the most interesting assortment of stones. Corals, opals and countless trays of druisy are just some of the eye-catching specimens they had for sale. We could have spent all day in just their booth!

We talked with some interesting people like Fernando Cortes, a distributor for B9Creations (a 3D printer manufacturer) who described his journey, starting as a bench jeweler to owning and operating a multifaceted jewelry design and fabrication business in Los Angeles, Red Door Distributions.

We also had some time to talk with David Aizenman from Pepetools who was in the A&A Jewelry Supply booth demonstrating the new oval disc punch!

oval disc

One of the highlights of the AGTA GemFair was watching Alan Revere receive the Benne award, given to him by The American Jewelry Design Council. The Benne Award is named after Benvenuto Cellini and has been given only four times over the past 30 years. The award is presented to a person who has made significant contributions to the jewelry field. Among many of Alan Revere’s accolades, he is well known for his books and being the man behind the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco, which he ran for over 35 years.

alan with award

The second show we went to was GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange). This largely international show hosts vendors from all over the globe like Poland, Australia, Africa, and India. Among the vendors at GJX, we found our friend Diane from Dikra Gem! She showed us some of the amazing cabochons that David Kramer hand cuts and pairs.

Lindsay Diane Dikra

Last but certainly not least was the To Bead True Blue show at the Casino del Sol. Located just outside of Tucson, this show was worth the drive for so many reasons.  Seeing the desert landscape is such a great way to clear your head, especially when you have been looking at stones all day!

Not only was there an amazing selection of tools, stones and beads, some of our favorite Marketplace vendors had booths at this show! We bumped into Ashley Bunting from Xuron, Anie Palagian from Jooltool, and Rita Punnulla and Michelle Knabbe from ImpressArt.  We also met some great new vendors!

Liz Lindsay Ashley

Curt Fargo is the owner and president of Micro-tools, a company from the Midwest specializing in pliers. However, Micro-tools carries way more than just pliers! Melissa Muir, who has over 21,000 subscribers to her jewelry Youtube channel, was in the Micro-tool booth giving a great demo on cuff bracelets using a Fretz hammer. Melissa is a wealth of knowledge, a fabulous metalsmith and Curt is a proud supporter of her!

Curt and MelissaOn our last night, we met up with some lovely jewelry ladies (Laura Wood, Anna Johnson, Kari Rinn, Elizabeth Garvin, Stephanie Ellis) to eat dinner talk about our Tucson treasures. We had a great discussion about ethically sourcing materials and the difficulty in purchasing quality goods from a trusted source. Lindsay and I shared our experience at the AGTA GemFair, explaining AGTA’s belief that the gem trade should be as transparent and ethical as possible and that all vendors participating in the show are heavily vetted. AGTA also has high disclosure standards for the enhancement of gemstones. This limits issues for shoppers allowing them to feel good about the purchases they make and the vendors that they are supporting. It also builds a trusting relationship for vendors providing quality goods and clients who are more likely to leave happy and repeat business.

Dinner with NC ladies

To say that Tucson was overwhelming would be an understatement! We made so many great connections with vendors, jewelers and friends on our trip. Two days was not nearly enough time to spend to what Tucson has to offer.

As a first timer at the show, I now know how to prepare for my next visit:

Pre-register for shows for easy check-in.

Bring lots of water and snacks.

Wear good shoes.

Bring a “want” list.

Make connections with vendors.

Ask lots of questions.

If you are going to regret not buying it, buy it!

Marking my calendar and saving my pennies for next year, Tucson 2020!

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