The “slag,” or leftovers from the smelting, was discarded in the waters nearby.
The smelter ceased production by the early 1900s. But today, that slag shows up on nearby Lake Michigan beaches as a unique local treasure called Leland Bluestone.
AM I BLUE?
Jewelry designer Becky Thatcher says that Leland Bluestone captures her interest in part because it’s a by-product.
“As best as we can tell, it was discovered as a ‘stone’ sometime within the last thirty years,” said Thatcher, who has stores in Traverse City, Glen Arbor, Harbor Springs, and right in Leland. “We have come to repurpose it, in essence making it sustainable.”
Sustainable… and unusually beautiful.
Leland Bluestone can be a wide range of colors, from pale blue to cobalt, turquoise to celadon, olive to puce.
There’s even a variety of textures. It can be found either worn smooth by the lake, or in rougher chunks with plenty of geometric edges, some with bits of coal and sand still embedded.
The trick is transforming it into jewelry.
OUT OF THE BLUE
Thatcher said working with bluestone can be “tricky.”
“It can indeed be tricky working with Leland blue, because it often has fractures or fissures,” she said.
She got her start in jewelry design actually working with both Leland bluestone and Petoskey stones, eventually branching out to other unusual, obscure gems from other parts of the world, including Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Sri Lanka.
But the appeal of Leland bluestone has stayed with her.
“The color of it glistens on the beaches like little gems,” Thatcher said. “I was delighted by the depth and range of the color.”
The connection to her home state adds another layer of meaning, she said.
“After working with Petoskey stones, the brilliance of Leland Blue struck me as yet another local connection to our area,” she said.
“And there’s almost a tribal aspect to it that I find very appealing.”
Cris Telgard of Tampico Imports in Leland is another Bluestone fan, in spite of the challenges.
“My stonecutter is not fond of cutting it because it always has lots of fractures,” he explained. “Sometimes a finished stone will break as it’s being polished, wasting the time and effort of cutting it - yet he cuts thousands of cabochons for us because of Leland Blue’s popularity.”
“It’s pretty much industrial waste,” Telgard continued, “but, like beach glass, nature and time have transformed a waste product into something charming and attractive.”
Jesse Shattuck, co-owner of On the Rocks in Traverse City, agreed with the hype, saying that “there is nothing else like Leland Blue - the uniqueness and range of gorgeous shades of blue and the interesting patterns.”
“It is fun to work with a material that’s local and so versatile,” Shattuck added.
Korner Gem, also of TC, likes Leland Bluestone so much, they’ve just designed an entire new jewelry line around it that they’re calling Stonescaps©.
“Pictures of coastlines, dune scenes, and more are all created in Leland Blue and natural stone, and then framed in sterling silver,” explained Korner Gem’s owner, Keven Gauthier. “Leland Bluestone is the king of the Blues, and is the ‘turquoise of the north.’”
FOREVER IN BLUE
Beachcombers and others who know where to look can still find Leland Bluestone in the area; a big cache was found fairly recently at Leland Harbor.
Summer folk, who may not even be aware of Leland Blue’s value as a “gemstone,” often have little bowls of the stones in their cottages simply because it’s pretty. But perhaps its greatest value is the fact that it’s become identified with Northern Michigan itself, much like the Petoskey stone.
“Our local stones incorporated into wearable art have such a depth of meaning,” Thatcher said.
For locals, she continued, it’s a way to carry part of Leland with them; for visitors, it’s a symbol of the memories from their trip.
“It is reminiscent of the geography of where we live,” Thatcher said.
For more information on Becky Thatcher’s jewelry, visit beckythatcherdesigns.com. More Leland Bluestone can be found locally at Tampico Imports (find them in Leland and on Facebook), On the Rocks (ontherockstc.com), and Korner Gem (kornergem.com).