Rockhounds: Digging for Inspiration
March 27th, 2014 by Hannah Doyle
A shelf full of rocks, crystals and gems from Kim’s extensive home collection.

A shelf full of rocks, crystals and gems from Kim’s extensive home collection.

Buried treasure most often is referred to in American discourse theoretically rather than literally. It exists in the folklore of Long John Silver and in the imagination of children wearing eye patches and foil on their teeth, pretending to be pirates on the hunt for something magnificent.

The search for buried treasure usually is abandoned by middle school, but Kim Martin never stopped. He just knew where to look.

“Whether maybe you’re digging (rocks) out of the ground or chiseling them out of a cliff, you feel like a treasure hunter,” Kim says.
Kim, 50, has been a rockhound since he was 7, when he would accompany his father to areas near their home in Pennsylvania to look for rocks that could be refined into jewelry.

“I wanted his attention, too, so I’d go out and try to find interesting rocks and bring them up to him,” Kim says. “That taught me really quickly how to choose rocks that were interesting and not just run-of-the-mill rocks that you’d find anywhere, because he wouldn’t give me any attention if I showed him run-of-the-mill rocks.”

Kim Martin of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, examines one of his pieces and tells the story behind it.

Kim Martin of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, examines one of his pieces and tells the story behind it.

His father, Frank, mined for rocks, crystals and gemstones in search of rare colors and patterns that someone would want to wear around their neck or wrists.

Kim calls it the “oh wow” effect.

“He could take a piece of glass and turn it into something that would look like a diamond,” Kim says.

Kim helped his father mine rocks until he died of a stroke in 1978, when Kim was 15.

“That’s probably why I pursued it so much afterwards because it was kinda like he got yanked away from me,” Kim explains.

After studying electrical engineering at Northern Arizona University and getting a job in the Northwest, Kim settled with his wife, Suzy, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

He joined the Spokane Rock Rollers—a local club that rockhounds everything from garnets at Emerald Creek in Idaho to quartz at Lolo Pass between Idaho and Montana. Using the club’s lapidary shop, he made earrings for his wife and decorated their home with crystals, stones and petrified wood.

But the jewelry box was getting tight, and so was shelf space.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to die and have a bunch of these sitting around that no one has had a chance to enjoy,’” Kim says.

Cherry Creek Jasper (also called Red Creek Jasper) from Kim's Etsy shop, Stone Pendents.

Cherry Creek Jasper (also called Red Creek Jasper) from Kim’s Etsy shop, Stone Pendents.

He explored various avenues to share his stones—from gem shows to eBay—but ultimately decided to open a shop on www.etsy.com.

Kim refines everything from gemstones to natural glass and wire wraps them to make necklaces and rings. They are sold through his shop, Stone Pendants, and shipped out of his home.

“I’ve learned which rocks actually are worth money and which aren’t,” Kim says. “I’ve learned how to use the tools to shape the rocks and polish them and turn them into jewelry or flagstones. And I’ve gotten a lot better at where to look for the rocks that I want.”

Between owning a shop and being an active participant in the Rock Rollers, Kim’s learning curve has come a long way since he was a boy swinging a hammer for rocks and gems. Workflow efficiency has allowed him to spend more time on jewelry shaping when he returns from a rockhounding trip.

“It’s patience and it’s the willingness to sit there and try to make something perfect—that’s part of the challenge,” Kim says. “You can tell sloppy work.”

Accelerated does not necessarily mean fast. But slow is a relative term, too.

“Time flies by,” Kim says, “sitting there working with magnifying lenses, working on a wheel, sanding, polishing and shaping the stone, inspecting it very carefully for the tiniest little cracks. It’s nice.”

The precision and attention paid to each rock, crystal and gem brings a sense of peace for Kim, despite the possibility of a sharp cut or over-sanding.

“It turns into what I’ve never experienced in my life, which is what its like to be an artist,” he says.

As much as Kim enjoys the delicate motions of an artist, he likes to hammer and dig away like a treasure hunter even more, swinging for the hope of what is beneath the surface.

“Being out there and finding it—the finding feeling—it’s great,” Kim says.