One of my favorite discoveries from our Scottish adventures is a unique company called Heathergems. The only manufacturer of its kind, the Heathergem company produces beautiful jewelry and other gift items from the stems of the heather plant.
I first saw these interesting creations at the James Pringle Shopping Outlet in Leith, Scotland (a decent place to look for a few souvenirs, if not a tad bit on the kitschy side – I did once find a very good hat!). I have since seen Heathergems for sale at the Celtic shop near my hometown here in the States.
Aside from the Scottish thistle, perhaps no other flower epitomizes Scotland the way that the heather plant does. It makes me think of the movie Brigadoon – Gene Kelley capturing the heart of the beautiful Cyd Charisse as he sings sweetly to her of the heather on the hill. The song follows with a dance number that has the pair gliding over the moor and I think that maybe Cyd Charisse isn’t the only one who is falling in love. We do too a little.
The Heather On the Hill
Heather is an indigenous, low growing, hardy plant that grows wild in Scotland. It is known for its lovely blooms which typically range from lilac to purple, although other less common varieties can be found.
The first Heathergems were produced in the 1950’s but it wasn’t until 1970 that a small factory was established in a town in South Lanarkshire. From there, the factory relocated to Blair Atholl in Perthshire and today, the family-run business is operated from a factory in Pitlochry, Scotland. Heathergems can be found throughout the United Kingdom and at shops around the world.
I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at just how these unique creations are made.
- The heather is hand-picked, the green foliage still clinging to the upper part of the stems.
- The plants are cut into lengths of about 25 cm.
- Each plant is put into a sand blasting machine where it is cleaned of its bark and foliage. The plants come out of the blaster as bare, dried out, delicate wood.
- Bundles are formed which then get put into a vacuum dye chamber for two days. The dye penetrates deeply into the heather wood.
- The bundles are opened and new bundles are formed by combining the different colors.
- After soaking in an epoxy resin for 2-3 minutes, the bundles are drained of any excess resin and are put into a mold press which applies eighty tons of pressure for a minute.
- The molds go into an oven for an hour to cure. They come out of the oven as rock-hard resin-bonded heatherwood.
- Rough edges are trimmed off with a band saw and slices are cut.
- Slices are glued onto a plastic backing and a robotic cutter cuts out gem shapes. The plastic backing is then popped off.
- Gems are polished on a belt sander. Four to five coats of clear lacquer are applied by hand. This brings out the colors and also protects the wood.
- Each gem is glued onto its designated pice of jewelry or gift.
Because the gemstones are created by the random bundling of the plant’s dyed stems, no two gemstones are alike.
Aren’t they neat?
I do hope you have enjoyed today’s blog and I wish each of you a terrific rest of the week!