BETHEL —”The Maine Tourmaline Necklace,” crafted in the 1970s by Bethel native Addison Saunders from Oxford County gems, has been worn over the years by the first ladies of Maine, often at inaugural events.

On Jan. 3, it was worn for the first time by a governor.

Janet Mills, the first female governor of Maine, wore the state necklace at her post-inaugural celebrations.

The necklace is an all-Maine creation, featuring the tourmalines and gold of Oxford County.

Annemarie Saunders of Bethel, Addison’s daughter, recalls being at the 1977 presentation of the new necklace to Gov. James Longley and his wife, Helen.

“Everything about the necklace is Maine,” said Annemarie.

The idea to create it was born in 1976, four years after a huge tourmaline find at Plumbago Mountain in Newry. Jeweler/gemologist James Vose proposed it to the Maine Retail Jewelers Association (MRJA).

At that time Saunders, who passed away in 2008, was working as a self-taught goldsmith. He had grown up on Main Street in Bethel, according to Annemarie, and from the age of about 10 followed his interest in gems searching for them at the Songo Pond Mine in Albany and keeping his own little workshop in a corner of the family barn.

He graduated from Gould Academy in 1951, attended the Colorado School of Mines for a time, but then went into jewelry crafting. He first operated The Gem Shop in Bethel and then worked in Bar Harbor.

As Vose wrote in his book, “The Crown Jewels of Maine – The Maine Tourmaline Necklace,” the MRJA board unanimously accepted Saunders “to be the goldsmith to create and design this most magnificent necklace, which will represent the State of Maine’s mineral and historical wealth for all to see in future generations to come.”

Saunders took a year off from his job to work on the necklace at no cost, Annemarie said.

Its centerpiece is a 24.58-carat pink tourmaline donated by Dean McCrillis of Plumbago Mining Corp. of Newry, according to Vose’s book. The 23 smaller tourmalines were purchased from Plumbago.

The gold for the necklace came primarily from the Swift River in Byron, and had been panned over 27 years by two couples: Elinor and Alton Hamlin of Norway and Margelia and Norman Hamlin of Otisfield.

“I remember seeing [Addison] fabricate the gold strips,” Annemarie said.

Three pear-shaped gems above the centerpiece tourmaline are surrounded by 16 gold nuggets that symbolize the 16 counties of Maine, she said.

After Saunders completed the piece, it was presented by the MRJA to the Longleys at the Maine State Museum. The same day the Maine Legislature passed a resolution recognizing the gift to the people of Maine, according to Vose.

The necklace resided at the museum over many years, but more recently has been on display at the Blaine House, Annemarie said. She visited the house recently to see it.

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