A SLICE IN TIME

BY AMANDA BLACK | PHOTOGRAPHS BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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How often do you get the chance to hold a piece of history in your hands? Museums have strict rules about picking up and touching anything other than their gift shop replicas, and private collectors often keep their prized possessions squirreled away in back rooms for their eyes only. But at Cornerstone Minerals on King Street (and soon to be on Market Street), touching the sometimes thousands-of-yearsold gems is often encouraged.

But let’s start from the beginning. First, forget what you know about minerals and gems. You might have grown up with a geode or two, or maybe you had a clear quartz bracelet that all your friends wore, too. One step inside Cornerstone Minerals and you’ll see that the store has much more than just little trinkets. Rare fossils, minerals and even meteorites line the walls and aisles—it’s impossible for your eye not to be drawn from one shiny object to another. It’s not at all overwhelming, though. In fact, just ask any of the store’s employees and they’ll be able to provide a wealth of information on any given item.

“Every person we’ve hired in the store has experience in either paleontology, geology or both,” says Greg Turner, part-owner of Cornerstone Minerals. He says, joking, “I probably have the least amount of knowledge at a scientific level than any of our staff.”

Just over a decade ago, after years of dealing at trade shows, Cornerstone Minerals opened its first storefront in Asheville, North Carolina. Since then, it’s opened one in Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, with plans to expand to other locations. Its success has been due, in part, to having hands in multiple markets. Not only does it find items wholesale, Conerstone also goes out into the field to find new and exciting mineral pockets around the world. That means that it has some of the only gems from certain mines—like the darkest, richest amethyst from Uruguay or the clear-as-Tiffany-crystal needlepoint quartz it uncovered in a Colombian mine.

LifestyleCornerstoneVer2-Image-2But possibly the most unique items you’ll find at Cornerstone are the natural décor pieces. From a white onyx sink to an amethyst geode-slice table, customers can walk into the store and leave with a piece of history. “Most interior designers will go and spend several thousand for décor pieces, but the reality is, only a few of those pieces ever hold their value,” Turner explains. “Natural art or high-end mineral specimens are considered the top items to hold as an investment. They don’t go down in value.” What’s more, he says, “you’re helping to preserve nature, presented as an art form.”

And you can feel good about it, too. Not only does Cornerstone search worldwide for mineral pockets, it works to teach locals how to mine for the gems. Because mining for the delicate minerals cannot be done with dynamite and bulldozers, unlike deposits such as lead and zinc, extracting the specimens is largely pick-andshovel work. Turner says, “We go into these communities, take them tools and teach them how to do this, thereby creating a little cottage industry.” He says that in one particular jungle community in Colombia, the workers were able to build a church with the money Cornerstone paid them.

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While you can certainly hold a piece of art in your hands, or move a trendy couch from your living room to your bedroom, few décor items hold as much history and natural beauty as the high-end gems and crystals found at Cornerstone Minerals. And, many people keep their museum-quality masterpieces in climate-controlled rooms for few to enjoy. Turner says, “These things could go sit in a box with some scientist’s stuff, but to have it out for everyone to enjoy is the true gift.”

Amanda Black is a full-time writer and editor and part-time freelancer living in Charleston.