September 20, 2014

Elyria
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15 Minutes: Meet gem collector Terry Murray

Terry Murray
Age: 67
Lives: New Russia Township
Pursuit: Precious stones

What did you do for work before you retired?

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I taught in Elyria, I taught in Oberlin, and I worked in construction throughout the county. At Eastern Heights, it was math; Oberlin High School, it was math and computer programming. I built my house from scratch.

Your hobby is gems, jewelry and semi-precious stones?

Yes, well, some are semi-precious and some are precious stones. The opals that I really like to deal with are precious stones. We go down to the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro (Ark., which is a diamond-producing site in Arkansas that is open to the public), and we hunt for real diamonds. For a small fee ($7 a day for adults) they let you hunt around for diamonds. Anything you find in there is yours to keep.

So you can go down there and find a diamond?

Oh, definitely. I found three. One of them I had on the Oprah show in ‘98. Her film crew came up to the Crater of the Diamonds when she was having the problem with the beef cattle in Texas. They asked if anybody found a diamond recently, and a girl at the campsite pointed me out. I found a 1½ carat diamond, though they normally run about 20 points, which is a fifth of a carat. The carat and half was a little bit smaller than a pea.

How did you start collecting cool rocks?

When we had gone to Colorado on vacation, I picked up some stones and rocks, so when I got home I took some classes on how to cut gemstones. It combines treasure hunting with fixing jewelry and it grew from there.

Do you have a favorite gemstone?

My favorite is from the Virgin Valley high desert in Nevada and its opals.

Describe an opal.

It’s a piece of fire. It varies in colors. … One will just stay this color (green) indoors and will change to pink in sunlight. It’s what they call a chameleon titan. Opals from the high desert in Nevada are very fragile, so I encase them in a resin — similar to what they make eyeglass lenses out of. Then I finish the outside, polish it. Opals have a high water content in them and they can shatter. Ohio has flint — famous at Flint Ridge, east of Columbus. Ohio has Apache tears — it’s like a little agate that’s clear, it looks like black onyx, but when you hold it up to light you can see right through it. There are a couple places in Ohio, supposedly two counties where you can find gold — pushed down by the glaciers. Also, diamonds, but they’re also here from the glaciers and very rare. Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas is an actual diamond pipe, or part of a volcano where diamonds are formed.

What do you do with all these polished rocks?

That’s why I set them in wire sculpturing. I use sterling silver wire, form it up and set the stone in a ring, earring or brooch. It’s similar to someone knitting or crocheting. I use square cross section wire. I have a diamond saw that I use to slice rocks.

Do you feel your math background helped you with gems?

Definitely in the faceting aspects — the different angles when you cut a stone and the hardness scale. There’s math in just about everything you do, but then you’re talking to an ex-math teacher.

Do you ever enter your jewelry in any contests?

I was a finalist at the Fire Mountain Gems contest a couple of years ago. I made a blister pearl pendant with black velvet neckpiece. I try to keep it simple. The KISS method — Keep It Simple Stupid.

Are you a veteran?

Yes, I was in the Navy on board the USS Wasp aircraft carrier from 1966 to ’68. We picked up (astronauts on the Gemini missions). I was a yeoman in the air intelligence office, which helped in briefings for the pilots — that sort of thing.

Who’s in your family?

Elizabeth “Johnie” they call her the “Rock Lady” at EMH, where she works; Chris, Cindi, Jeff, Annie; 12 grandkids and nine great-grandkids.