Couple brings love of rocks, minerals to Grass Valley’s Crystal Empire Gems |

Couple brings love of rocks, minerals to Grass Valley’s Crystal Empire Gems

Violet Moore, Malachite Hill and Deborah Hill inside of Crystal Empire Gems. Hill and her husband James opened the store at 139 Mil St. in October.
Emily Lavin/ |

Deborah Hill still remembers the first time she uncovered a crystal from the earth.

She was 19 years old, and rock hunting in Herkimer, N.Y. She was on her stomach, with her head inside a cave-like hole in the dirt. As she was digging, she felt something sharp; it looked like a drop of water, Hill remembered.

She pulled it out, and it was a crystal. The experience was “life-changing,” said Hill, now 37; she was amazed that the earth could cut and produce something so beautiful.

And she’s been rock hunting ever since.

“It just became this hobby that was just fun, because you got to go out and get dirty,” Hill said.

Hill and her husband James are bringing a variety of rocks, crystals and gems to downtown Grass Valley. The couple opened Crystal Empire Gems at 139 Mill St. in October. The store also features James’ handmade, wire-wrapped jewelry.

The business is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; the couple has plans to eventually open on Tuesday as well.

The Hills moved to Nevada County from Santa Cruz about three years ago to raise their family, which includes sons Malachite and Azurite — both named after the gems, of course.

For the couple, opening a gem shop was a “do what you love, love what you do” venture, she said.

Still, being first-time business owners is like “taking a big step out into the abyss,” Hill said.

She wasn’t confident that the couple’s love of gems and minerals would translate to a wider audience.

“Are people really going to spend money on rocks?” she recalled thinking.

She has had that question answered by the success of the shop so far.

“It turns out, people really love the stones and minerals,” she said.

The couple has tried to cultivate a wide variety of rocks from across the United States, including amethysts from Georgia and California and opals from Utah. They also sell the gems they uncover during their rock-hunting trips, Hill said; that includes the smoky quartz the couple recently dug up on a trip to Peterson mountain in Nevada.

But the couple wants their shop to be more than simply a storefront. They’re hoping to offer wire-wrapping jewelry classes, taught by James, organize a monthly potluck rock night at the store and coordinate rock-hunting field trips.

The couple has already joined the Nevada County Gem & Mineral Society, and Hill leads the group’s junior gem and mineral club, which meets monthly at the shop.

“We’d like to see this place become an epicenter for ‘rock heads,’” Hill said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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