Lapidary luxuries

Barbara Solors

PHOTO BY Ashiah Scharaga

Chico “rock hound” Barbara Solors remembers discovering a beautiful rock weighing nearly 50 pounds while kicking up rock and dirt along the American River about 40 years ago. It was the biggest piece of “leaverite” she or her husband, Tom, had ever seen. Barbara laughed at the endearing term among rock hunters for finds that won’t amount to anything if cut or sold—pieces to leave right where they are found. She kept it anyway, a testament to her love of rocks and lapidary art—the cutting, polishing and engraving of stones and gems. During the 35 years since the Solors opened Tom’s Rocks & Gifts, they have sold everything from rough rock pieces and cut and polished stones to bookends and jewelry, many of which were discovered on similar rock-hunting adventures and handcrafted later by the Solorses. Though they recently closed their Main Street shop, Barbara will continue to sell lapidary supplies and stone items from their home and participate in gem shows. For more information, call Barbara at 873-1945.

Tell me about the business.

When my husband worked for an industrial laundry outfit, he started getting into rocks. On our vacations we’d travel and visit rock shops and gem shows. He would go to this little shop in Auburn and they taught him how to cut and polish rocks. [His] company wanted him to move to Stockton and we didn’t want to move to Stockton. So we decided, well, we have the equipment, we have the rocks, we love rocks. So we opened a rock shop. And within three months, it started paying all the bills.

What’s it been like having a business for 35 years?

Learning to do business with your husband can’t always be easy. We decided to do his and her shops. He did his part and I did my part—it worked out great. It’s still a hobby, even though it was a business. That’s why I’m not gonna give it up.

What prompted your change of business from downtown to your home?

I turned 70, for one, and I did not want to sit behind a desk anymore. I wanted to do other stuff while I still have my health. And enjoy my grandkids.

What do you love about the lapidary art form?

I like all parts. I’m not into the cutting part as much as [Tom] is, because it’s messy. I like more of the slabbing and the shaping and polishing the stones. Going from your rough to your finished piece is really fun. And the rock hunting, that’s the most fun. Even if you find only one nice piece, it’s worth it.

Do you have a favorite rock-hunting memory?

A special one was when we went to Nevada and we were digging for obsidian and sat down on this hill. Some friends and I were sitting there snacking and we looked out and there was a huge herd of wild mustangs running down the ravine below. That was neat. It was like something you see on westerns. I mean, there must have been a hundred or more of them.

What’s one of the most unique things you have sold?

I had a huge, 6-foot-long dinosaur leg bone. We don’t know what kind of dinosaur it was from. I wish, now, I still had it.