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From RAGS to riches

Cedar Crest neighbors rock out

Created date

June 22nd, 2010

CC RAGS may sound like a rock band, but it s actually a rock club Cedar Crest Rock and Gem Society. Founded and led by Jim Johnson, who lives at the Pompton Plains retirement community, CC RAGS meets once a month from September through May to discuss geology, minerals, and semiprecious gems. Year-round, the group takes bus trips to local rock quarries, museums, and mines like the zeolite mines in Paterson, N.J. During the society s off months, some members travel in search of interesting stones or locations where they can see their studies in real life.

Art to industry

Ladies like the jewelry; men are into mining, Johnson says of the 49 group members. For each meeting, Johnson chooses a topic to discuss, from the classification system for earthquakes to the history of lapidary (the art of cutting gems that dates back to the ancient Egyptians). Additionally, he brings specimens from his own rock collection to meetings. He has a piece of petrified wood, a fossilized dinosaur bone, and various colors of agate or quartz, among others.

Mining for knowledge

A former businessman from Dover, N.J., Johnson was first introduced to geology in college. I took geology courses to fulfill my science credits, and I found it so interesting, he says. Later, he started the Dover Rock and Gem Society and also adopted the hobbies of lapidary and silversmithing. He incorporated his hobbies with traveling across the globe, from Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico to Sweden, Norway, Estonia, and Poland, collecting stones and making jewelry. My wife, Verna, has always liked my hobby, he laughs. I make all kinds of jewelry for holidays and birthdays. One of his favorite aspects of lapidary and silversmithing is studying the techniques of different Native American tribes. For example, he says, the Zuni tribes use small beadwork to create mosaics of color and pattern, while the Navajos use turquoise stone and silver.

Four agreements

Johnson tells a story of Native American beliefs in relation to jewelry design: They believe four things are important in life. If one of the four doesn t appear, there would be no life on Earth. In most Native American jewelry, a color or stone symbolizes one of these four key elements: Mother of pearl represents clean water. Turquoise represents blue sky and clean air. Red rock or horn coral represents earth and land. Black represents the sun and the black spots you see when you look at the sun. These are some of the things that I teach, says Johnson of how his knowledge fits in with CC RAGS. I don t think most people would learn this on their own.

Jewelry 101

CC RAGS founder Jim Johnson teaches members what to look for when shopping for handmade jewelry and the dos and don ts of caring for it. Do be knowledgeable of appropriate color, price, and natural stone characteristics. For example, If something is too perfect, be wary. If lapis stone is all blue with no metallic specks, it s most likely dyed, he says. Likewise, if the price of jewelry is significantly less than what you expect, you should question its authenticity. Don t do dishes while wearing turquoise or opal. Opal is 90% water and has layers that will crack if placed in extreme hot or cold, Johnson says. Do clean your semiprecious gemstones with a soft cloth moistened with warm water instead of soaking them in soap to retain their natural vibrance. Don t wear pearls or gemstones in the shower. Do try to clean pearls after every use, as natural oils, hair products, and perfumes can diminish their natural luster.