Jay Shaw and his wife Chelsea Thompson fell in love with Walker Lake the first time they saw it.
The couple had come from San Diego, Calif. to reopen the rock and gem shop on US Highway 95, now called Mineral County Treasures, at the request of a geologist friend named Chris. Thompson said the couple was at first unsure about moving to the small desert town, but when they saw the lake, and the view from their home and shop near Cottonwood Drive, their doubts vanished.
They first discovered Walker Lake on a weeks-long mining and gem hunting trip that stretched from San Diego to Oregon. When Chris asked them if they wanted to run the store, they dragged a 31-foot motor home on a two-hour detour to investigate.
“I’m thrilled, I’m so excited, I get to see my new home, maybe,” Thompson said. “We get here, it is locked tighter than Fort [Knox]. It was very, very peek proof. I could not just get a glimpse [inside].”
And so, without seeing inside the house, Shaw and Thompson returned to their avocado farm outside San Diego, and prepared to move into a Walker Lake home they’d only seen from the outside.
“I said this view is beautiful, I think this is something we can work with, we were here for about 10 minutes,” Thompson said. “We go home, we’re home for about a week, a week later we give our landlord 30-days [notice that we’re leaving], 30 days later we’re here.”
That adventurous spirit is what guides the couple.
“Think about the mining history of Mineral County,” Shaw said. “I think they were on to something. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that they all landed here.”
“And how can you not be attracted to sparkly things?” Thompson asked as Shaw trailed off. “I say we’re like crows. You see something sparkly and you’re instantly drawn to it. You want to explore it, you want to investigate it, you want to kind of find out why. Why is it sparkly? Why is it purple?”
Shaw and Thompson are both in their mid 20’s with blonde hair and blue eyes. Shaw, a jeweler, has a relaxed demeanor and when he talks about his work his face lights up. He is tall and clean shaven.
Thompson is possessed with a frantic energy that often crystallizes and explodes from her in short giggles.
They finish each other’s thoughts, and are both nearly uncontrollably excited about their work.
The shop, which opened last month, has the feel of a new apartment. Some walls and shelves are heavily laden with rocks, gems, and photographs; others are dominated by a fresh coat of stark white paint. A brand new LED open sign hangs in the front window.
Thompson said the couple is still stocking up, and ideally there will be rocks and gems “just piled high” in the store.
Along the back wall hangs a wide array of Shaw’s jewelry.
“It’s funny being a jeweler and just cutting stones and making jewelry, I’m sort of a part of people’s lives. And forever,” Shaw said. “I’ve made numerous engagement rings, wedding bands and things like that, and I always think to myself while I’m making it ‘This person is going to wear this ring for the rest of their life.”
“And that’s going to get passed down to their kids, and then potentially to their kids’ kids,” Thompson chimed in. “That’s something that he created that is a memory that they cherish. That gives me goose bumps.”
All of the jewelry is handmade by Shaw, and about 80 percent of the stones were dug up by the couple, Thompson said.
“The entire process from finding the stone to actually polishing the stone, to actually setting the stone is not done by anybody else but him and I,” she said.
Shaw also custom makes jewelry, and said he’s accepting custom orders for Christmas. Shaw said there isn’t a deadline for orders for Christmas — he joked that Christmas Eve might be too late, but it’s also possible he won’t have anything to do that day and might be able to get something together at the last minute.
The couple discovered the world of rocks, gems and minerals at a state fair they visited to celebrate Thompson’s birthday in 2008, they said.
“There was a big room full of gems and minerals, and it said where they were all from,” Shaw said. “So it said ‘This specimen is from Arizona,’ or ‘This is from San Diego County,’ and so that sort of sparked an interest of ours, researching where we could find these gems and the places we could go to dig these gems. So we just started looking for them.”
When she got home from the fair, Thompson jumped on the Internet and started researching where she could find gems around San Diego, she said.
“We got a couple of books, a couple of gem train books, and went out for the hunt,” she said.
“I ended up with a giant pile of rocks in my back yard, and I was still roofing at the time, trying to start my own business landscaping, and I started making jewelry,” Shaw interjected. “And people started buying it. People thought I was crazy at first.”
“Everyone would go ‘Jay, a jeweler? A construction guy doing delicate work, are you serious?’” Thompson finished.
Soon, Shaw was selling jewelry at street fairs and art shows. A little help from the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society, and Shaw and Thompson were selling the creations over the Internet.
The first encounter with the world of gems and minerals sparked a passion for the substances and lead Shaw to abandon his job as a roofer in San Diego and take up lapidary.
“It’s great to have a job where you don’t ever feel like you’re at work,” Shaw said. “I work 24-7, but I feel like every day is a day off. That’s a plus.”