Closer Look

Leaf Lookers Gemboree celebrates area’s abundant natural resources

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Deena Bouknight

For many years, the community has had the opportunity to attend the annual Leaf Lookers Gemboree, presented by the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. The October 20–22 event at the Macon County Community Building attracts gem and mineral dealers from across the country who display and sell their gem-related products, including jewelry, rough and cut gems, lapidary equipment, minerals, fossils, and more. Custom jewelry dealers will also be available.

“We have a lot of new dealers setting up at our show this year because the Franklin shows are among the best in the country,” said Linda Harbuck, executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. “A variety of dealers and special displays setup by the Gem & Mineral Society of Franklin add great value to this show in contrast to similar shows in the southeast.”

Macon County is considered a gem capital because of geological forces involving the right amount of applied heat and pressure over millennia to forge varied and valued natural substances. While not to the extent that people flooded various western U.S. areas in search of gold in the mid to late 1800s, Macon County has attracted gem miners for more than a century.

In fact, close to a dozen gem mines exist either immediately in the town of Franklin or within a 30-40 mile driving range.

Gem mining is primarily for fun and participants can purchase bags or buckets of what looks like dirt, until the soil and silt is washed away to reveal stones of various shapes, sizes, and hues. Yet, there are some people who have made gem mining, collecting, and gemology their life’s work – or, at least a serious hobby. Some businesses offer cutting, polishing, and setting services. Gems commonly found in Western North Carolina include aquamarine, beryl, citrine, emerald, garnet, moonstone, ruby, sapphire, smoky quartz, staurolite, rose quartz, topaz, tourmaline, and many others. In fact, the N.C. General Assembly of 1973 designated the emerald as the official state precious stone. And rubies and sapphires aplenty have been found over the years throughout the area.

Two gem museums are located in Franklin: Ruby City, located on Main Street, and the Gem and Mineral Museum, located in Franklin’s old jail on Phillips Street. Residents and visitors can attempt to find their own gems at places like Rose Creek Mine, near the Tennessee River, Old Cardinal Gem Mine in Cowee, Gold City Mine, just outside of Franklin on Sylva Road, Sheffield Mine, and more. Most gem mines have been in operation for decades and many are family-owned. And local mines are typically open from spring to fall.

There are even gem galleries, such as the stone castle-like edifice on Georgia Road called Artisan Jewelers Mineral and Gemstone Gallery, where all types of minerals and gems are on display and “expert lapidary work [the practice of shaping gems into decorative items, such as jewelry]” is offered.

For the Leaf Lookers Gemboree, admission is $2, and under 12-year-olds will be admitted free. Hours are from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday.