Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Jeannie Clinton of Jean’s Jewels believes in au natural. The avid miner-turned-jeweler sits down with me to tell me about her “weird” hobby and how she’s turned her passion-project into a lifestyle.
Born in Mississippi and raised all over, “Navy brat” Jeannie Clinton was attracted Rochester for the same reason most local musicians migrate here: the Eastman School of Music. Following the completion of her degree in Vocal Performance at Western Washington University, Jeannie enjoyed a successful career in performance. Locally she has worked with companies like the Opera Rochester, Off Monroe Players (OMP) and the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival (which she still performs with and teaches for!). Prior to taking her side-gig full time, Jeannie worked as a music teacher at a local private school for 13 years. She continues to substitute teach, but now lends more time to her passion for music, performing and of course, mining.
The first time Jeannie set foot in a mine was just eight years ago. She packed up her husband, Mike, son, Andy and father, Tim up on Mother’s Day and took them down to the Herkimer Diamond Mine in Middleville, NY. She had first seen the mine advertised on the Travel Channel and immediately knew that it was something she wanted to experience. Jeannie tells me, “We didn’t know what we were doing. We rented their equipment, paid our fee and just went as a family. We enjoyed it so much that we went back the next weekend!” She goes on to say they visited that same mine about 8 times that summer -- in all kinds of weather. “It was just so much fun! It was just a hobby, of course, but we started to learn more about what to look for when we would go.”
After a while, Jeannie’s husband noticed a significant crystal collection building in their home. She jokes that her husband wouldn’t let her go back for more if she wasn’t going to turn them over somehow, so she began playing around with some wearable concepts. She explains, “I had always thought about the small crystals and thought they were perfect for a pair of earrings. They were always something I would love to make something out of.” After a lot of research and experimentation with adhesives, Jeannie finally found some methods that showcased her gems without altering them. She says, “I knew I didn’t want to cut them or make them into something else. I’m not a geologist, I’m a rock hound. I do not want to get into drilling or figuring out how to alter them, because I think it takes away from the beauty of the natural stone.”
The initial response to “Jean’s Jewels” was incredible for Jeannie. She says, “There’s always a connection when someone comes by the booth or they first see them. There’s always something local that they can associate with it, and I think that’s cool.” Customers like the fact that she won’t make anything she doesn’t find herself. “That’s really important to me,” she affirms. Jeannie goes on to say, “There’s something about finding the stone and getting it from the earth. No human has ever touched the stone until the person who finds it does -- and they’re pre-dinosaur? That’s so cool.” Customers agree. Jeannie adds, “I don’t know very many people in this area who drive two and a half hours away, smash rocks, find gems, take them home and make something out of them.”
The originality and variety in Jeannie’s pieces comes from the abundance of gemstones she finds in her travels. She tells me, “We started to explore different mines in the area and found that -- dependent on what I was looking for -- different mines had different strata in their rocks. In some places you’ll find more druzy than completed stones, in other places you’ll find the druzy plus a crystal already embedded in it.” Druzy is the glittering effect of tiny crystals over top a colorful mineral. It is far less expensive than completed gemstones and therefore is commonly used in jewelry. Jeannie’s jewelry is made from a variety of the aforementioned.
In addition to exploration of design, Jeannie has recently begun learning about the energy properties of her stones. She explains, “I’ve sort of tapped into a new market for inspiration and it is those who have a metaphysical interest. Learning from them about the stone itself and how the energy of the particular stone works for individuals is something I’d never really thought of until last year.” Appreciating the stones for not only their beauty, but also their properties has opened a new door for Jean’s Jewels. Her pieces and raw crystals can now be found at Spirit and Crystal Connections in NOTA.
Jean’s Jewels offers a number of pieces, including bracelets, necklaces and earrings in addition to selling Jeannie’s finds separately. All of her pieces are everyday wear, as Jeannie wanted to create something that customers could wear for any occasion. The primary goal in all her designs is to showcase the jewels themselves. As she says, “It’s all about the natural beauty. There’s something about it. Some of them are kind of funky and really organic, and I love that.”
One of the best parts of owning Jean’s Jewels, for Jeannie, has been being able to collaborate with so many of Rochester’s local businesses, artists and jewelers. Through these collaborations she’s been able to refine her jewelry-making skills and develop her pieces with wire wrapping and more experimental designs.
This month Jean’s Jewels will be launching the Adirondack Garnet Collection. Jeannie says, “Garnets, at one time in our history, were ground up to use as abrasives.” After a weekend trip to mine in the Adirondacks, Jeannie found beautiful, dark red garnets to use in her pieces. She continues, “And they’re plentiful! I can’t wait to share those this month.”
Moving forward, Jeannie is going to let the universe lead her wherever she goes. She tells me, “I never thought I was going to be this jeweler, so I’m enjoying the ride while I can.”Want to visit one of Jeannie's frequent mining spots?
Join Jean's Jewels and 20+ other local vendors on Saturday, July 8th at our July Brainery Bazaar from 11am to 5pm. As always, the first 25 attendees will receive a free Rochester Brainery tote bag stuffed with free goodies from our vendors.