Stones, stone, stones! This is what greets the eye of a visitor to the workshop?
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Background: Stones, stone, stones! This is what greets the eye of a visitor to the workshop of the Souris Rock and Agate Display Shop in Souris, Manitoba, 70 miles west of Winnipeg. To the casual observer, uninformed about the art of lapidary (the cutting and polishing of stones), they are not likely to cause any excitement, but to a full-fledged rockhound the stones would be viewed with something bordering on awe and perhaps a touch of envy.
John and Lloyd Janz (pronounced YAUNTS) the owners and founders of the Souris rock and Agate Co. used stones as their raw material and from them process a fine line of costume jewellery. The Souris gravel pit, located on the eastern outskirts of the town, is the source of their material. In 1961 John Janz learned that it was probably one of the finest agate fields in North America. After visits to the pit and considerable reading on the subject, John became keenly interested in the stones and of what could be made from them. His twin brother Lloyd became interested and in 1962 they obtained a lease on this very special pit. Between them they collected two tons of stone which they stored in their basements. They built their own polishing equipment, a five-barrel tumbler and began to polish the stones. The sales of these first stones in the form of key chains was gratifying. The brothers then purchased an 18-inch slab saw with a black diamond blade, a 10-inch trim saw, a grinding and polishing unit and a vibralap for sanding and buffing slabs, and ventured into full-scale production of jewellery on a commercial basis. Rockhounding is still in its infancy in Manitoba but, as a hobby, it is second only to stamp collecting in the U.S.A., which makes it big business there.
Among the stones found in the Souris quarry are agates in shades of brown, gold, grey, green and black. The Montana agate, which the Souris pit has, is highly valued since known deposits in the United States are rapidly being depleted. There is also moss agate, which shows the imprint of very early forms of plant life. Agate is not a distinct mineral species but a term applied to a group of crystalline forms of silica. There are jaspers of pink, wine, yellow, grey or brown hues, agatized wood and petrified wood. There is a small amount of epidote which is a peculiar yellow-green in colour. The presence of iron changes its colour and it may be black, grey or even white. Another attraction of this pit is the presence of dendrites (a form of limestone). The finished stone is called a scenic dendrite and has a naturally formed picture in it - a tree, a bird, mountains or clouds.
The pit is easily accessible to visitors and rockhounds. In 1965, 7,500 registered guests visited the pits. They came from India, Pakistan, England, Australia, Germany, the West Indies, every state in the U.S.A. and from every province of Canada. Rockhounds vary in age from 4 to 78. A small fee is paid to enter the pit and entitles the rockhound to 10 lbs. of good material. The Souris Rock and Agate Display shop employees help with the recognition of the stones and the grading of the material so that only the better rocks are weighed. The Souris River, heavily treed, has a natural park which offers excellent camping facilities with electricity and water supplied. Souris has a 9 hole golf course and a fine motel.
In finishing the stones, the Janz' use two processes: 1. tumbling and 2. what they call the costume jewellery method. As mentioned previously the tumbling process polishes the small pebbles, those from one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch in diameter and with a fairly smooth surface. These stones are not matched and are used for baroque jewellery such as key chains, dangle bracelets and medallion bracelets. The tumbler (resembling a staved barrel) is a little more than half full of silicon carbide grit, into which the stones are placed, and then they are covered with water. The tumbler is placed on its side on specially made rollers which turn it continuously for 200 hours or a little more than 8 days. The stones are then thoroughly washed; the grit solution is made stronger and the stones are tumbled for another 100 hours. This latter process (with a stronger grit solution each time) is carried out twice more. On completion the stones are polished with aluminum oxide or chrome oxide and then washed thoroughly with soap.
In the costume jewellery process the stones must be cut and shaped before they can be placed in settings or "findings". Each stone is cut separately by hand and can be finished in an hour. The finished stones are placed in settings for brooches, pendants, earrings, ladies' and men's rings, cuff links, tie bars etc. Although at present they are concentrating on jewellery alone, they have plans for the future which will include table tops, pen stands, book ends and even faceted stones.
In 1963 the Janz brothers took top merit award for new industry in Manitoba. The quality of their workmanship is very high. They have every manufacturer's dream - a cheap, accessible source of supply and the equipment to turn raw material into a marketable commodity.
Rockhounds have a serene locale in which to hunt and are obviously a dedicated group.