By Barbara Akelaitis

Beba Adams and I recently attended the International Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, Arizona. We were determined not to be overwhelmed as we were last year, and prepared lists and a disciplined plan of attack. This was certainly the best way to take in the show. By knowing what to look for and skipping those areas that we were not interested in, we were able to see more exhibitions and concentrate on the selected artists and their amazing work. Out of hundreds of vendors and artists we chose our favorites. Each of these artists works in a different discipline and is internationally renowned for their work. .
Through our research prior to attending the show, Beba and I knew that Dale was going to be in attendance and we put the Jewellery tent at the Kino Sports Centre on our list of must do’s. Those who are Wire Artists know Dale “Cougar” Armstrong from her daily jewellery blog and weekly Gem Profile articles featured on What most of us do not know is that Dale is wildly popular and has a glorious career above and beyond Dale’s career began as a child rock hounding with her family in New Hampshire. She was collecting rocks at seven and slabbing and cabbing by the age of twelve.
Dale has an artistic as well as scientific heart. She attended the University of Southern Florida, studying Fine Arts and Geology. Dale has successfully married her interests by incorporating fine cabochons and gemstones into her famous wire sculpted pieces of jewellery. Her work is displayed at juried art shows throughout the United States where she has received many awards. As a renowned artist, Dale has been interviewed on live television and has works for sale at prominent museums and galleries.
Articles written by Dale have appeared in many jewellery magazine publications. She has made many educational DVDS and has written the book “Wirework”, an international best seller.
She is also a gifted teacher who genuinely wants to share her knowledge with you. As we approached the tent we knew that classes were going on. As luck would have it, Dale was teaching a class to one student and they graciously invited us to come in and join them. We were greeted by a woman with bright sparkling eyes and a warm open smile. She immediately inspected my wire sculpted pendant and, as a true teacher, happily shared some different ways to make bails with us. Beba gave one of her flowerstone pendants to Dale as a gift of appreciation.
Just like the rock star that she is, Dale consented to having her picture taken with us and we were awestruck!!!! Please get to know Dale at

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We found Lynn & Ryszard quite by accident. Beba spotted the FIRE AGATE ART STUDIO sign and, not knowing a great deal about Fire Agate, we decided to go in and investigate. The room we entered was radiating with lovely shining stones displaying
amazing rainbows of colour. Beba saw an extremely beautiful stone under the glass and asked if we could examine it more closely. As we were admiring the agate, I asked how much it cost. The answer $1700.00. OOOPs can’t afford that one!!! Obviously we did not know enough about the value of Fire Agate.
We continued to visit with Lynn and Ryszard and somehow the fact that we were from Vancouver Island was mentioned. To our surprise, Lynn said,”Oh, we are from Bowen Island.” Small World !!!! Ryszard then took us out to where we belonged… in the back with the raw rock. We found our way to the $5.00 and $10.00 buckets!!! Just right!!!
Fire Agate, as Ryszard explained is formed as nodules in the pockets of void spaces of volcanic rhyolite. Due to hydrothermal activity a mixture of molten silica and impurities fills the spaces in the rhyolite. Botryoidals (grapelike clusters) form infused with colour. A milky or clear chalcedony cap forms over the Fire Agate safely preserving it. Fire Agate was first documented in the 40’s and 50’s and has a hardness of 6.5-7. Ryszard explained that is a difficult stone to cut due to the colour being trapped in the grape like clusters. He uses Dental drills and bits to follow each nodule, and contour and layer to maintain the grape effect and the colour.
He carves dragons and other animals into the small pieces of stone and then designs and makes lovely pieces of jewellery. Ryszard helped us choose some raw pieces which he assured us would make some lovely ring stones. This will be my experiment for the year.
When we arrived back at our hotel, I picked up a magazine and there was a huge article about Ryszard . I learned that he is considered the best Fire Agate Artist in North America. Please learn more about Fire Agate and get to know Lynn, Ryszard and their family at
Tucson rock star: JOHN DYER
This young man is simply a genius in the art of faceting and gemstone cutting. As the son of missionaries, John had the opportunity to live in many exotic countries and was captivated by a variety of the world’s lovely pebbles while reading a book on gemstones. It was in Brazil that John was given his first loose gemstones.

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At the tender age of sixteen John and his father made a life altering decision to purchase their first lot of rough stone in Zambia, with the ominous sounds of machine gunfire in the background. Their immediate plan was to source out the cutting of the stone to others, but when the finished product arrived John and his father were initially disappointed then outraged by the poor quality of the finished gems. John, who had no experience cutting, decided that he would educate himself and, through trial and error, cut his first stone on an Ultra Tec faceting machine, at the age of seventeen.
As his flat faceting technique improved, John became eager to push the boundaries of traditional faceting and experimented with concave cutting, eventually using a combination of carving and faceting. In order to facilitate John’s creative genius his father David has developed the machines needed to implement the groundbreaking cutting patterns his son visualizes. John says, “Combination cutting is about creativity. Pretty much anything goes in this broad category and many different techniques are used, all often on the same gem. A short list would include flat, concave, and convex facets, bufftops, bubbles, dimples and grooves of various shapes, and freeform carving. The techniques employed are limited only by the cutters creativity.” Not surprisingly this talented young man has won 37 international awards for his uniquely designed gemstones.
While attending the high end gem show at the Tucson Convention Centre, I passed booth after booth of lovely flat faceted cut stones selling for $600.00 a carat or more. However, having just viewed John Dyer’s optically unique gemstones, I could only think, how boring, -- just more of the same! There is only one word to describe Mr. Dyer’s gemstones, BRILLIANT! Please view John Dyer’s amazing creations at
What do these artists have in common?
While each artist we have introduced to you has reached national and international prominence in their fields of endeavor we noted that they had many traits in common. They are innovative, passionate, dedicated and disciplined about their art. What I appreciated most was their generosity in sharing their joy, knowledge and encouragement with those who are less gifted. What I gained from these artists was inspiration and a greater appreciation for their tremendous accomplishments!
MY DREAM JEWELLERY DESIGN: Pairing a Fire Agate Studio carved stone with a John Dyer gem and having it wire sculpted by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong into an amazing pendant. Now that would definitely be an award winner!


Photo of Beba, Dale Armstrong and Barb taken by Rose Marion of




 Photos courtesy of John Dyer & Company