Tourmaline by the Ton: Maine Museum Celebrates ‘The Big Find’ 50 Years Later

SourcingFeb 23, 2022

Tourmaline by the Ton: Maine Museum Celebrates ‘The Big Find’ 50 Years Later

Twelve artists are crafting jewels set with gems from the historic 1970s discovery that will debut at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.

Three of the tourmalines given to designers to create pieces that will appear in the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum’s “The Big Find: The Legend Continues” exhibition this fall.
Bethel, Maine—It’s been 50 years since one of the largest and most significant gem tourmaline finds in North America, and one museum wants to celebrate the occasion by telling the story through design.

In October 1972, four men unearthed a huge source of tourmaline crystals at the Dunton Mine on Plumbago Mountain in Newry, Maine, according to the museum.

The discovery came to be known as “The Big Find.”

It resulted in more than a ton of gem tourmaline produced between 1972 and 1974 and revived gemstone mining in Maine, the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum said. The discovery included everything from green to red to watermelon tourmaline.

The museum already has several specimens from the find in its permanent exhibitions, including a 100-carat tourmaline and the “Newry Necklace,” comprised solely of tourmaline from the Dunton Mine, the largest of which weighs 40.82 carats.

Since 2022 marks 50 years since the big discovery, the team wanted to find a special new way to tell the story.

“The Big Find: A Legend Continues” does just that, celebrating the material through the lens of modern artists and their jewelry creations using historic tourmalines found during that two-year period.

Watch: An MMGM Video Discussing the Newry Find 
The museum put out a call for artists last year and then created a selection committee comprised of industry professionals who went through all the entries to narrow it down to a final 12. 

The artists chosen for the project were: Andy Lucas, Nick Noyes, Derek Katzenbach, Paula Crevoshay, Naomi Sarna, Matt and Lauren Tuggle, Matt Fischer, Gerardo Gonzalez, Stephen and Tamberlaine Zeh, Patty Daunis Dunning, Steven Manchini, and Eric Stewart. 

About two weeks later, the museum held a Facebook Live event for a random selection of which gemstones each of the 12 would work with for the exhibition.  

The stones range from 9 carats to 45 carats, from pink and green to bicolor and watermelon tourmalines. 

The designers have a budget of $5,000, for which the museum will reimburse them, and total artistic control over their jewels. 

They have until Sept. 1 to complete it. 

“I was delighted to be a gem recipient of the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum’s ‘The Big Find’ exhibition. Many people are unaware of the gem richness in Maine; supporting regional museums that celebrate local gem treasure is so important and I’m happy to participate in this endeavor,” Sarna said. 

“The jewel I will create from my green tourmaline will be a challenge for me as I almost never design jewels with emerald-cut stones and straight lines. I have some ideas how to use my signature curves to embrace the tourmaline, and of course, there will be colored diamonds and sapphires. Making a jewel that will be sold is a perfect way for us to support the museum.”

The collection of their works will be the highlight of “The Big Reveal” event on Oct. 8 in Maine, where they will be featured in a fashion runway show, styled with clothing from Maine designers.

The event will serve as a fundraising opportunity for the museum, which hasn’t had the chance to fundraise or even celebrate its opening since the pandemic hit right after its grand opening.

The pieces will be exhibited in the Museum Store after The Big Reveal event and then will be available to the public via a fundraising auction, the details of which will be announced at a later date. 
Until then, the museum is handing over its Instagram to the artists, who are giving followers a behind-the-scenes look at their process.

Follow the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum Instagram account to see their takeovers and get updates on the fall exhibition.

 Related stories will be right here …
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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