Whidbey club is a true hidden gem

— Created February 7, 2024 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
This small building next to The Center in Oak Harbor can open up a world of exploration through lapidary arts. The Whidbey Island Gem Club shop is open Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. Club members are on hand to answer questions and share their knowledge with people of all ages.

A small, nondescript, brown building next to The Center in Oak Harbor holds one of Whidbey Island’s hidden treasures – the Whidbey Island Gem Club.

The club will hold its 58th annual Sweetheart of Gems Show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Center, 51 SE Jerome Street. Literally thousands of people will make the pilgrimage to see this small, but mighty, display of lapidary arts. Admission is free and those attending will see live demonstrations, educational displays, information on rock identification, vendors with handmade jewelry and other items, games, door prizes and rocks – lots and lots of rocks. There will also be a food truck on hand for those who work up an appetite.

“It’s our really big, small show,” said Harriet Vick, treasurer of the Whidbey Island Gem Club and one of the show’s organizers. “We had around 2,000 people attend last year. I like to say some came from out of the country – they came from Canada. I was so excited to hear that, to find out someone came all the way from B.C. to come to our show, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Shaping and polishing rocks can reveal color and texture that might go unnoticed if it weren’t for lapidary arts. Members of the Whidbey Island Gem Club are always willing to share their knowledge and skills with those interested.

Vick said many of the people who attend the show come from Bellingham, Bremerton, Seattle and the surrounding areas. She said one family, who has family that lives in the area, has planned their vacation around the club’s show for the past two years, which goes to show people know a gem when they see it.

“They’ll find everything rock related – rocks, gems, minerals; there should be some jewelry,” Vick described. “We go from opals to raw opals to crystals – kind of everything. You can buy little fluorite towers. And demonstrations. We have a knapping group that makes arrowheads and knives, things like that, and one of them will be doing demos.

“There are also display cases. I do one on beach rocks,” she continued. “I show what it looks like plain, then I show a slice of it and then a finished piece of it, It’s really pretty and educational, too. We will also have games for kids, but adults can play, too. We’ll have prospector bags with lots of goodies in them, but you have to soak them in water in order to find the goodies, so that’s pretty fun. We sold out last year.”

There are nominal charges to participate in the games and all the funds raised through the games and the prospector bags go directly to the club to help maintain and replace equipment.

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
A member of the Whidbey Island Gem Club works on a rock at the club’s shop, located next to The Center in Oak Harbor. An annual membership in the club is $15 per person or $20 per family.

And there is a lot of equipment. When one walks through the door of the club’s workshop, it is abuzz. There are rock saws, tumblers, grinders and polishers. Finished pieces adorn shelves and buckets full of rocks await their turn on one of the saws. The rock shop, as club members refer to it, is open to the public every Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesday evening from 6 to 9 p.m.

“We’re open for anybody who wants to come in,” said Vick. “We teach people to use all the machines, teach them how to cut rocks, how to shape rocks, and how to polish rocks. We promote the lapidary side of things. We do like people to join the club – because we need new members and new people all the time – but our membership fee is only $15 a year for a single person and $20 a year for a family.”

The Whidbey Island Gem Club has been around since 1936 and has about 70 members today, ranging in age from 8 to 85 (or so). When Whidbey Weekly paid a visit last week, there were a few members there working on projects – all of them women.

“I think there’s actually more women in the group now, come to think of it,” said Vick. “Six years ago [when I joined] it was really male dominated, but a lot of them moved away or they got too old and don’t come anymore. And then COVID hit and we lost a lot of members. I would like to do more with kids so they can have this experience, too. They just have to be really safe and [a parent] has to be right there with them.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Buckets of rocks grace the floor of the Whidbey Island Gem Club’s shop, waiting to be cut and shaped. The club will hold its 58th annual Sweetheart of Gems Show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at The Center in Oak Harbor.

Vick said she has always looked at rocks, and said when she lived in Tennessee, the roads in her housing area were covered with fossils, so she always picked them up. Her natural curiosity led her to learn more.

“I think I’ve always had that interest, but to cut a rock open and see what’s inside it – oh, my gosh! – it’s glorious,” she shared. “I’ve only ever had one bad rock. And it was gorgeous on the outside. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to get here and cut it open. And it was the ugliest rock inside I’ve ever seen.”

Vick encourages people to not only come check out the Sweetheart of Gems Show this weekend, she ighly encourages people to check out the Whidbey Island Gem Club, which meets at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at The Center. Visitors are always welcome.

“If you’re walking on the beach and you find something and it’s just a plain little rock and it has all this depth and color to it, bring it in, see if it polishes. If it polishes, you cut it. It’s fun. I enjoy it immensely,” she said.