Facets of gem industry on display

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BETHEL – A rekindled childhood passion for rocks and minerals has turned a gemstone-cutting hobby into a business for a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman from Fryeburg.

Lapidary artisan Guy Pilla and his wife, Kim, were among 17 vendors from Ohio to Maine displaying a wide variety of wares and talent at Saturday’s 46th annual Western Maine Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Festival inside the SAD 44 Telstar Regional High School gym off Route 26 in Bethel.

The show, which continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., marks the Pillas’ multifaceted business debut into the Oxford County Mineral and Gem Association event.

It is also the first time in the festival’s 46-year history that a faceter participated, offering live demonstrations of the fascinating, but tedious, art of cutting and shaping gemstones, association member Nancy Holden said.

“We came here to learn what kind of reception we’d get with our products. Hopefully, we’re building the right products,” Guy Pilla said of their business, Mainely Gems of 186 Mountain View Road. On the Web, visit www.MainelyGems.com.

His demonstrations using a $2,000 Jarvi Facetron faceting machine and their booth attracted large crowds of adults and young children, many of whom got free mica samples.

Faceting is one of four basic styles of gem cutting, the others being tumbling, cabbing and carving, according to the International Gem Society Web site on gem cutting. Pilla does cabbing – cutting gems so they have a flat bottom and domed top – and faceting, which reveals the inner brilliance of gems.

Guy Pilla, 47, who also does construction work, has been cutting and shaping gemstones for the past five years after retiring from his buoy-tender ship-driving job of 21 years with the Coast Guard and moving to Fryeburg.

A native of Wallingford, Conn., Pilla said his father used to hunt in Maine, while his wife is from Kennebunk.

“We came up here to go skiing, fishing, boating and hiking, but had no idea that Maine, and especially Western Maine, contained some of the largest tourmaline and beryl deposits in North America,” he said.

Pilla learned faceting from Bob Prouty, owner of Northeast Gems in Fryeburg, and Ron Gelinas of Farmington. The Pillas buy their rough gemstones either through a broker or by attending shows like Saturday’s.

“This year, we were lucky to get to go to the 30-day Tucson Gem and Mineral show in Arizona, the largest gem and mineral show in the world. They have 48 shows, each the size of a Home Depot store. We were there for 10 days, and it was overwhelming.

“Walking around in there was like going to New York City for the first time. They had woolly mammoths from Siberia that you could buy for $250,000 and, you could even buy crystals as big as me that weigh tons,” said Pilla, who stands 5 feet 7 inches tall.

There weren’t any woolly mammoths at the Bethel show – or even human-sized crystals – but there were plenty of smaller fossils and matrices of crystals of all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes.

Another debut vendor was Rock and Crystal Emporium of Florida, Mass. Owners Travis, Laurie and Ashley Burdick had hundreds of uniquely odd items from around the world.

“We’re working on expanding our business (into other states) and, we decided to try Maine,” Laurie Burdick said.

“We try to carry stuff that nobody else does, like this lamp of hand-blown glass,” Travis Burdick said of a pretty blue-colored globe. “Fifteen percent of ash from (active Washington volcano) Mount St. Helens was used in its glass-making process, so, you can own a piece of Mount St. Helens and, that is not something you’re going to find around here.”

By late afternoon, though, they’d sold more jewelry than ornate gemstone spheres, normally hot items.

“Hopefully, we’ll do enough business so that we can come back next year,” Travis Burdick said.

More than 300 people had visited the show by 3:30 Saturday.

Today, a free field trip to the Tamminen Mine is scheduled for 11 a.m.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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